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A Second Opinion on the Giant Panda’s Thumb

If you have encountered Stephen Gould’s famous critique of Christianity, you will be glad to know that it has been contradicted in recent months by the work of six Japanese biologists.

Gould once argued that the giant panda’s thumb represents a clumsily adapted wrist bone, not the work of a divine Designer.1 A number of rebuttals to Gould’s assertion have been published since the mid-1980s when it appeared,2 but the most rigorous to date comes from a Japanese study published early in 1999.

Using three-dimensional computed tomography (CAT scans) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scans), the Japanese research team determined that certain bones of the giant panda’s “hand” (specifically the radial sesamoid and accessory carpal) form a double pincer-like apparatus that allows the panda to “manipulate objects with great dexterity.”3 Field observations of three giant pandas confirm that wrist flexion and manipulation of the double-pincer serve as essential aspects of the panda’s food gathering and feeding capacity. The Japanese researchers’ paper modestly concludes, “The hand of the giant panda has a much more refined grasping mechanism than has been suggested in previous morphological models.”4 The more we learn about a creature, the more wonders we uncover. The trend line favors divine design.