Panda Thumbs

Panda Thumbs April 6, 2018

Douglas Axe (Undeniable) is out to defend our intuition that something as intricate as a living things must have a designer. One of his tactics is to prick the bubble of scientific pretension. We don’t know nearly as much as we pretend we know.

For instance: “the giant panda has a protruding bone in its wrist that serves a thumb-like role, enabling the bear to grasp bambo . . . . The fact that this bone (called a radial sesamoid) isn’t a true jointed thumb like ours has led some people to view it as a makeshift adaptation that no good designer would employ. Not surprisingly, others argue that it is a good design.”

Axe is more interested in “evaluating the people more than the panda. None of these people, however earnest they may be, have any deep grasp of the principles of design and development underlying sesamoid bones or thumbs, to say nothing of pandas. Indeed, none of us do. Search the world’s top research centers and you’ll find no skeletal engineers—no one who has the faintest idea how to encase earthworms in exoskeletons or how to endow leeches with backbones. Surely, then, our total inability to answer these how questions categorically disqualifies us from serious engagement of the higher why questions. We’re free to form opinions on these matters, but they’re nothing more than that. My opinion, for those interested, is that the giant panda is yet another example of something perfect.”

More generally, he argues, “the affirmation that there is something uniquely compelling about living things as we now see them is an affirmation of completion. It rejects the idea that the designs of life are like leaves drifting on a pond, or like ever-changing mountains, or like frames in a video. So followers of Darwin seem to be faced with the dilemma of deciding whether to believe their theory or their eyes.”

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  • Paperboy_73

    Isn’t that just argument by incredulity? He makes no actual claims in that extract.

    If he expects scientists to come up with a mechanism for every single feature in every single form of life, he’s asking a bit much, and also comically missing the point. Scientists have done enough grunt work on the overarching scientific principles, and found enough plausible paths for enough features that, unless compelling evidence is provided, it’s reasonable to believe that similar work could be done on other features in other organisms. But unless there’s a pressing scientific reason to do so, it won’t tell us anything new.

    Saying “science doesn’t know X and therefore is incomplete” is a strategy that has never paid dividends. Historically, if X was an interesting enough question to warrant study, scientists have typically eventually figured out X without having to invoke supernatural explanations. There’s no reason to assume that current open scientific questions are somehow more magical and resistant to the same methods, just because we don’t know the answers right now.