Monday, November 19, 2007

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial

This from PBS/NOVA

In October, 2004, a war broke out in a small Pennsylvania town when Dover teachers became the first in the country required to tell students that evolution is not the only theory.

It started when the Dover Area School Board passed a policy requiring that its high school science classes include a controversial subject called Intelligent Design. The Dover school board directed science teachers read their students a one-minute statement stating that gaps in the theory of evolution exist - and putting forward intelligent design as an alternative - directing students to an intelligent design textbook called Of Pandas and People that would be made available.

Proponents of Intelligent Design claim that many features of living organisms are too complex to have evolved entirely through the natural process of evolution, as Charles Darwin proposed. Instead, they claim some aspects of those organisms must have been created - fully formed - by a so-called "intelligent designer."

But many Dover residents—and an overwhelming number of scientists throughout the country - were outraged. They say intelligent design is nothing but religion in disguise—the latest front in the war on evolution.

In September 2005, this battle would land the school board in Federal court. The future of science education in America, the separation of church and state, and the very nature of scientific inquiry were all on trial.

The climax of the trial would be the judge's ruling on a question stemming from a different line of evidence: when they introduced intelligent design into the classroom, were members of the Dover School Board motivated by religion?

If so, that would amount to a violation of part of the first amendment to the Constitution—the establishment clause—which mandates the separation of church and state. In order to prevail plaintiffs had to prove, either 1) that the school board acted for the purpose of promoting religion or 2) that its policy has the effect of promoting religion. Either purpose or effect. Either one.

Once the plaintiffs showed direct connections from an earlier explicitly creationist draft of the current text, Of Pandas and People, the court had strong evidence that religion was being thrust into the schools. Plaintiffs claimed intelligent design was creationism re-labeled. But they were surprised to find an actual paper trail that could be documented in a court case.
It became the best single piece of evidence at trial.

Four days after the trial ended, Dover residents rendered their own verdict on intelligent design with a huge turnout for the school board election. By a narrow margin the people of Dover cleaned house.

Televangelist Pat Robertson spoke out after the election saying, "I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city...

A month later the 139 page opinion (in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District) of Judge John E. Jones III ruled that intelligent design is not science. Finding it had been introduced for religious reasons, Judge Jones decided ID violated the establishment clause and it was "unconstitutional to teach intelligent design" in Dover science classes.

"Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of Intelligent Design make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general.

To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions. The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the Intelligent Design Policy."

Citing what he called the "breathtaking inanity" of the school board's decision, he found that several members had lied "to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the intelligent design Policy."

“...It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purposed behind the ID policy...”

"The crushing weight of the evidence indicates that this was ... a considered pattern by this School Board that the board set out to get creationism into— science classrooms. And intelligent design was— simply— the vehicle that they utilized to do that."

The Discovery Institute also was displeased. Soon after the decision, the institute published a 123-page book distancing itself from the case and criticizing the ruling as "judicial activism—with a vengeance."
The verdict turned out to be more controversial than Judge Jones had imagined. Following the trial, he received death threats. Jones and his family had to be placed under round the clock protection.

Since no cameras were allowed in the courtroom,
the PBS science education program NOVA
dramatized key scenes from court transcripts
and has been running the two-hour program this past week.

entire program AND MORE is available at PBS.

Watch Chapter 1
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The rural community of Dover, Pennsylvania is torn apart in the latest battle over the teaching of evolution, and parents file a lawsuit against the town's school board in federal court.
running time 10:50 chapter 1 transcript

Watch Chapter 2
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More than 150 years ago Charles Darwin developed the theory of evolution to explain how the diversity of life arose, laying the foundation for modern biological science.
running time 7:04 chapter 2 transcript

Watch Chapter 3
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The Dover School Board attempts to introduce into science classrooms the idea that life is too complex to have evolved naturally and therefore must have been designed by an intelligent agent.
running time 8:47 chapter 3 transcript

Watch Chapter 4
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The court is asked to decide whether the School Board promoted religion or had religious motivation, and whether intelligent design is science.
running time 9:32 chapter 4 transcript

Watch Chapter 5
inQuicktimeWindows Media: hi low
A 2004 discovery in the arctic of a transitional fossil from fish to land-dwelling animals is the latest substantiation of Darwin's theory of evolution.
running time 8:36 chapter 5 transcript

Watch Chapter 6
inQuicktimeWindows Media: hi low
The ongoing scientific quest to investigate the unknown has led to some of the strongest evidence for evolution, including findings in modern genetics and molecular biology.
running time 9:26 chapter 6 transcript

Watch Chapter 7
inQuicktimeWindows Media: hi low
After experts point out that supernatural causes cannot be tested scientifically, the defense begins its case for intelligent design.
running time 8:24 chapter 7 transcript

Watch Chapter 8
inQuicktimeWindows Media: hi low
In court, biochemist Michael Behe argues that the concept of irreducible complexity is evidence for intelligent design, while biologist Ken Miller points out the weaknesses in that concept.
running time 9:11 chapter 8 transcript

Watch Chapter 9
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As the legal teams battle it out in court, the clash between evolution and intelligent design takes a toll on the Dover community.
running time 7:25 chapter 9 transcript

Watch Chapter 10
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The court looks at evidence that the Dover School Board was motivated by religion.
running time 9:49 chapter 10 transcript

Watch Chapter 11
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Some proponents of intelligent design would like to see the theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral, and political life.
running time 8:52 chapter 11 transcript

Watch Chapter 12
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After six weeks, the trial concludes with closing arguments that were as divided as Dover itself had become, and Judge Jones renders his unequivocal verdict.
running time 10:38 chapter 12 transcript


Martin Cothran said...


Didn't know if you had seen my several posts on this at

Anonymous said...

After you check out "Cothran's Whinefest," check out

for the real scoop on the Dover Trial and ID.