Tonight we watched the PBS Nova program, “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial,” which follows the story of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, the 2005 Pennsylvania case brought about when the local school district mandated inclusion of a disclaimer in science classes calling evolution “theory” rather than “fact,” and encouraging students to investigate “intelligent design.”
Nova’s bias was clear–it wanted to continue the prosecution. If you want an objective recounting of the trial, skip this program. I think it was particularly unfair to Michael Behe. It prided itself on its “refutation” of his idea of irreducible complexity, claiming that pieces from a bacterium flagellum could be removed and it would work fine–as a poison injector. That doesn’t answer the question he poses, of course. Are they suggesting that poison injectors evolved into motors? They tried to be cute, with one man showing that a mousetrap with pieces removed could function as a tie clasp. Again, are they suggesting that tie clasps evolve into mousetraps? That may work as a lawyer’s trick–but it isn’t a logical refutation of his argument.
The program also couldn’t deal with the fact that Behe is an evolutionist, albeit one who uses “intelligent design,” as he understands it, to fill in the gaps that natural selection can’t explain. He’s a theistic evolutionist, who sees God as guiding the process of evolution over its billions-of-years course. So it simplified things and lumped together all “intelligent design” advocates, portraying them as creationists who were playing a shell game with names to get Christianity in the public schools.
But this portrayal isn’t entirely a caricature. I think the Dover school board and its allies were creationists who were playing a shell game with names to get Christianity in the public schools. This was depicted powerfully by showing the changes in drafts of a book, Of Pandas and People, in which the term “intelligent design” simply replaced the term, “Creation.”
We had a family discussion afterwards. We saw we aren’t comfortable being entirely in one camp or the other. As Adventists, we believe in Creation–and we believe in Creation a because we believe in the Bible. But we also believe in strict separation of church and state, and don’t want to entrust teaching of religion to governmental institutions, nor do we want those governmental institutions to be the puppet of any religious body.
We’re concerned about the ultimate goals of those pushing for inclusion of religious ideas in public schools–they themselves see “intelligent design” as a “wedge” leading to “the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies” (or, put another way, as the restoration of a Christian worldview permeating culture, education, and government).
This Nova episode would have been better if, in its two hours, it would have done a fairer job of exploring the complexities of the issues involved, and omitted the corny dramatizations.
Update: Something else Nova didn’t mention–Judge John E. Jones III plagiarized his decision from materials presented by the ACLU, as I had noted in a link on January 9, 2007. Documentation of both the plagiarism, and of misstatement of fact in the decision (and documentation of courts frowning on the practice).