Printer Friendly

The Panda's Black Box: Opening Up the Intelligent Design Controversy.

THE PANDA'S BLACK BOX: Opening Up the Intelligent Design Controversy by Nathaniel C. Comfort, ed. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007. 156 pages. Hardcover; $20.00. ISBN: 9780801885990. The Panda's Black Box follows on the heels of two historic court rulings against teaching intelligent design (ID) in schools. In a series of six short essays, a group of contributors dissect ID into scientific, social, philosophical, and legal components. Nathaniel Comfort, an assistant professor of the history of medicine, is the editor and writer of the introductory chapter. Additional contributors are Scott Gilbert (a biologist at Swathmore College), Daniel Kelves (a historian of science at Yale University), Edward Larson (a historian at Pepperdine University), Jane Maienschein (the director of the Center for Biology and Society at Arizona State University), and Michael Ruse (a philosopher at Florida State University).

A survey of anti-Darwinianism is laid out in the Introduction, setting the tone for the rest of The Panda's Black Box. The title is a strike against "[t]he ID textbook, Of Pandas and People" (p. 9) that seeks to be "one of the few books on the ID issue that moves beyond mere name-calling and finger-pointing" (back cover). As with many editorialized volumes, some chapters succeed while others are peppered with pointed remarks that detract from the author's intention of providing a balanced treatment.

The first chapter provides an overview of ID by focusing on social interactions. While the main issues are clearly presented, the author's disdain for creationists detracts from the material. "One point on which anti-Darwinists and anticreationists agree is that this is a pitched battle between dogmatic religious fanatics on the one hand, and rigorous, fair-minded scientists on the other" (p. 3).

Ruse provides a much fairer perspective in "The Argument from Design," chapter 2. His conclusion is that ID is not new but has a grand historical position that began with Rev. William Paley's book, Natural Theology. Ruse concludes that "When Behe suggests (as he does) that he is authoring a breakthrough of the magnitude of Copernicus and heliocentrism, he is not just embarrassing, he is historically wrong" (p. 39).

Scott Gilbert dives into the biological nuts and bolts of ID in the third chapter. Gilbert deftly shows that the issue is clouded by less than complete honesty and provides some nuggets to explain why ID is so controversial, such as "evolution being perceived as the enemy of Divine Providence" (p. 59). Chapter 4 turns from the biology to the high profile legal battles that have brought ID into the public square. Larson concludes:
 Perhaps a better science education and deeper
 understanding of the popular appeal and scientific
 limits of the Intelligent Design concept can help both
 sides to appreciate the vital place of both scientific
 knowledge and religious faith in the evolving
 American experience. (P. 82)

Jane Maienschein dispels the notion of a simple battle of science versus religion by following Judge Jones' reasoning in the recent Dover decision. In the final chapter, Robert Young goes further by looking at the metaphysical connections emanating from natural selection. His rally against reductionism is couched as a historical survey, concluding that meaning and purpose is intrinsic to reality.
 The goal of reducing all explanations to matter,
 motion, and number impoverishes our worldview.
 Is it any wonder that sincere people reach for
 theological explanations to husband and celebrate
 the wonders of nature, life, and human nature
 and ground them in transcendent processes which
 continue to use poetic and celebratory language to
 characterize truth, goodness, and beauty? (P. 133)

The Panda's Black Box is a valuable source of ID history, arguments, and social influence. Despite the disdain of some authors for creationists, the book is something of an olive branch offering to uncover truth in a complex and heated issue--always a painful process. For this reason alone, the book should be required reading for zealots and is recommended for those interested in ID.

Reviewed by Fraser F. Fleming, Professor of Chemistry, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA 15282.
COPYRIGHT 2008 American Scientific Affiliation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Fleming, Fraser F.
Publication:Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2008
Previous Article:What About Science and Religion? A Study of Faith and Reason (Faith Questions).
Next Article:Eminent Lives in Twentieth-Century Science and Religion.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |