Posted by Nick Matzke on September 30, 2005 10:05 PM

Due to the Kitzmiller case, it is now becoming widely known that the modern “intelligent design” movement originated as nothing more than a new label for 1980’s creationism. The intermediate form was Of Pandas and People, which was originally written as an explicitly creationist book, but when published in 1989, became the first book to systematically use the term “intelligent design.”

This was first reported in the local York press in July, and more details were reported on the Thumb just before the trial began. The fact was also highlighted in the plaintiffs’ opening statement on Monday, September 26.

It is expected that all of the scandalous details will come out when plaintiffs’ expert Barbara Forrest testifies on Wednesday, October 5. This fact appears to be driving the folks at the Discovery Institute crazy, if recent postings are any guide. (See: 1. Revisionist history pretending that the Pandas drafts don’t exist, 2. A desperate attempt to denigrate Barbara Forrest’s expert report, 3. Bizarre, juvenile parodies of imaginary issues.)

In the meantime, it is worth considering the implications. The intelligent design movement has sworn up-and-down that they are not creationists. They have given this spin to every member of the press who has ever called them. Googling the DI website on the phrase “not creationism” gives 28 hits.

However, the fact that Pandas was originally a creationist book means that core figures of the ID movement – many of whom contributed to, or reviewed, drafts of Pandas – must have been deliberately hiding this skeleton in their closet, for over 15 years. This is a scandal of the first order.

What have they got to say for themselves? On Thursday, a few details came out in the Wall Street Journal. (This article has not yet made it online, but it is available via ProQuest.) Jon Buell, one of the designers of Pandas, was interviewed. Check out what he had to say for himself:

Drafts of the book’s first edition contained this passage in an introductory chapter: “Creation is the theory that various forms of life began abruptly, with their distinctive features already intact: fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers and wings, mammals with fur and mammary glands. Gaps exist … not because vast numbers of transitional forms mysteriously failed to fossilize but because they never existed.”

According to the same chapter in the 1993 “Pandas” edition, “there is still no positive fossil evidence for evolutionary descent … Many scientists conclude that there never was a progression from one cluster to another – that each really did originate independently. This idea accords with the theory of intelligent design. Design theories suggest that various forms of life began with their distinctive features already intact: fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers and wings, mammals with fur and mammary glands … Might not gaps exist … not because large numbers of transitional forms mysteriously failed to fossilize, but because they never existed?”

Jon A. Buell, president of the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, says that despite the draft terminology, “Pandas” is not advocating creationism – “even though it was written by three people who were creationists.” The term “creationism” was “a placeholder term,” in the draft, says Mr. Buell, 65 years old, who has devoted much of his life to working for conservative Christian groups. “They had to put something in there until the terminology could be worked out … It does raise the suspicion. I acknowledge that.”

Are we really supposed to take this seriously? How about this?

“The concept of creationism – a divine being – is universal in human history,” said Nancy Pearcey, author of the overview and a senior fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a think tank that is intelligent design’s leading proponent. But she says the textbook “is not creationist … It doesn’t start with any holy text. Instead it starts with scientific data and says ‘what does that mean?’”

Nancy Pearcey, now a DI Senior Fellow, is the author of the Overview chapter of Pandas. In 2005, in the above Wall Street Journal passage, she follows the ID movement’s party line, that ID is not creationism. However, back in 1989, she was rather less clear on the distinction. As an editor for the young-earth creationist Bible-Science Newsletter, Pearcey more-or-less republished the entire Overview chapter in three 1989 issues of the Bible-Science Newsletter. The articles are:

Pearcey, Nancy (1989). “Of Fins and Fingers: Patterns in Living Things.” Bible-Science Newsletter, 27(5), pp. 6-9. May 1989.

Pearcey, Nancy (1989). “What Species of Species? – or, Darwin and the Origin of What?” Bible-Science Newsletter, 27(6), pp. 7-9. June 1989.

Pearcey, Nancy (1989). “Echo of Evolution? The Revolution in Molecular Biology.” Bible-Science Newsletter, 27(12), pp. 7-10. December 1989.

In the first two articles, there are large exact matches to Pandas text – basically Pearcey took chunks of the Pandas Overview chapter and put them in as articles in the Bible-Science Newsletter. The third article came out in December 1989, which was after Pandas was published. Pearcey references Pandas as a citation (not as a source for the text), and in this case the text is basically the same as Pandas, but with minor revisions (words flipped around, changes in phrasing, etc.)

For example, consider these two parallel passages. First, from the 1993 Of Pandas and People:

The Products of Design

If the sheer fact that living things can be classified leads inevitably to a Darwinian conclusion, it is surprising that for over two millennia classification didn’t have that effect. Classification went on quite successfully before the appearance of Charles Darwin in the 19th Century without employing the concept of family relationships. Instead, structures held in common by large groups of organisms were interpreted as the outworking and adaptation of an original plan.

Many things can be classified that are not derived from a common ancestor -things like cars and paintings and carpenter’s tools; in short, human artifacts. What makes all Fords look similar, or all Rembrandts, or all screwdrivers, is that they are derived from a common design or pattern in the mind of the person making them. In our own experience we know that when people design things – such as car engines – they begin with one basic concept and adapt it to different ends. As much as possible, designers seek to piggyback on existing patterns and concepts instead of starting from scratch. Our experience of how human minds work provides an indication of how a primeval intellect might have worked.

(Of Pandas and People, 1993, pp. 32-33)

Second, consider the parallel section from the May 1989 issue of the Bible-Science Newsletter:

Ideas in the Mind of God

If the sheer fact that living things are classifiable leads inevitably to an evolutionary conclusion, it is surprising that over several millenia no one drew such a conclusion. Classification went on quite successfully before the appearance of Charles Darwin in the 18th century [sic!] without employing the concept of family relationships. Instead, the organic world was seen as the handiwork of a personal Being. Structures held in common by large groups of organisms were interpreted as the outworking and adaptation of an original Idea or Archetype.

Consider: many things can be classified on a hierarchical basis that are not derived from a common ancestor – things like cars and paintings and carpenter’s tools. In short, human artifacts. What makes all Fords look similar, or all Rembrandts, or all screwdrivers, is that they are derived from a common design or pattern in the mind of the person making them.

Critics argue that if intelligent design created life, each major form should be completely different from all the others – the assumption being that the creative agent began from scratch in making each new design. But that assumption is unwarranted. By experience we know that when people create things – whether car engines or computers – they begin with one basic design and adapt it to different ends. As much as possible, designers try to piggyback on existing designs instead of starting from scratch. Our experience of how human minds work provides an analogy to how a primeval, creator mind probably worked.

(p. 8 of: Pearcey, Nancy (1989). “Of Fins and Fingers: Patterns in Living Things.” Bible-Science Newsletter, 27(5), pp. 6-9. May 1989.)

I doubt many theologians would have much sympathy for the piggyback view of God, but it sure applies – in spades – to creationism and intelligent design.