A strange situation has arisen regarding a paper in the well-respected, free online journal, PLOS One. The paper, called “Biomechanical Characteristics of Hand Coordination in Grasping Activities of Daily Living”, was published by four Chinese scientists in January. The paper appears to be in all respects a good piece of research into the complex biomechanical interactions among fingers and joints in the human hand. But there is something very odd about this paper. Towards the end of the Discussion, the text reads:
In conclusion, our study can improve the understanding of the human hand and confirm that the mechanical architecture is the proper design by the Creator for dexterous performance of numerous functions following the evolutionary remodeling of the ancestral hand for millions of years.
Not only that, but the abstract of the paper also includes reference to a Creator:
the biomechanical characteristic of tendinous connective architecture between muscles and articulations is the proper design by the Creator to perform a multitude of daily tasks in a comfortable way.
To be clear, there are no other indications in any other part of the paper that the authors have any interest in defending Intelligent Design, creationism, or any aspect of religious thought. It almost appears as if these two sentences were inserted as a mistake or a joke. It is very strange indeed.
As might be expected, there has been an outcry from biomedical scientists. James McInerney, Chair of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Manchester and Editor of the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, tweeted:
Other scientists have expressed their concern and dismay over the use of the word Creator on Twitter, in comments to the journal and elsewhere. Some commenters have defended the journal and suggested that McInerny’s tweet was unfair. The journal itself put out a statement promising to look into the matter to see how such language got past peer review and editors. In my view, PLOS One is a good journal, and in these times of print journals’ outrageous pricing behavior, its existence as a free access source is very much needed.
That aside, however, the question still remains: why did a reference to a Creator appear in a purely scientific paper (coming from China, not known to be a hotbed of creationism), and how did it get through to publication?
As a Christian who believes in a Creator of the universe, I share my scientific colleagues’ consternation at this insertion of a faith statement in a scientific paper, where it absolutely does not belong. I also hope that this incident does not spark a hunt to ferret out anything in the scientific literature that might be interpreted by some as having religious connotations or relevance. We have enough of that going on in academic science already. I also agree with those who think that McInerny’s reaction against the journal, was not called for.