A Review of the PBS NOVA Television Documentary Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article was written by two A.P. staff scientists: Dr. Houts holds a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering from MIT and serves as the Nuclear Research Manager for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center; Dr. Fausz holds a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from Georgia Tech and serves as Engineering Project Manager in the Space Systems Development Division of a subsidiary of SAIC.]
On September 26, 2005, a trial began in the federal court of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in which 11 parents charged the Dover Area School District with violating the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, thus infringing on their civil rights. Partly at issue was a resolution, passed by the Dover Area School board by a 6-3 vote, that stated:
Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design. Note: Origins of Life is not taught (Jones, 2005, p. 1).
The board passed this resolution on October 18, 2004. Also mentioned in the suit was the board’s vote on November 19, 2004, to require that the following statement be read to all 9th-grade students in the Dover Area School District, beginning in January, 2005:
The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.
Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.
Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.
With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families. As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments (Jones, 2005, pp. 1-2).
On December 20, 2005, United States District Judge John E. Jones III delivered a 139-page ruling in favor of the plaintiffs. Not only did the judge give the plaintiffs the declarative relief (stating that the establishment clause of the First Amendment was violated) and injunctive relief (forbidding the Dover Area School District from maintaining their ID [Intelligent Design] policy) that they asked for, he also stated in his ruling the monumental conclusion that Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory.
Almost two years after the conclusion of these federal proceedings, the PBS science series NOVA devoted an episode to a discussion of this landmark case, originally broadcast on November 13, 2007. The program may occasionally be re-run on PBS and other networks, but is also viewable in its entirety on the NOVA Web site (NOVA, 2007b). This article will examine the reasons given by the NOVA executive producer as to why she saw fit to draw attention to this anecdote in U.S. history, discuss the impact of the Dover decision on society and education, as related in the NOVA episode, and critique the substance of the program, which NOVA has titled Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial.
PURPOSE OF THE PROGRAM
On the same Web site where Judgment Day can be viewed (in 12 parts), there is a “Q&A” mock interview with Paula S. Apsell, Senior Executive Producer of NOVA. This Q&A provides a fortuitous opportunity, before viewing the program, to understand what motivated its production. The first question to which Ms. Apsell responded was, “This program tackles a contentious issue for many people, particularly for many devout Christians. Why did NOVA and Paul Allen’s Vulcan Productions, your coproducer, take it on?” Ms. Apsell stated:
I think the real reason that we made that decision is because evolution is the foundation of the biological sciences. As Theodosius Dobzhansky, one of the great biologists of the 20th century, once said, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” (NOVA, 2007a).
Ms. Apsell also responded to the question, “Why is this topic—and the teaching of evolution—so important?” Her full response to this question was:
Recent polls tells us that 48 percent—almost half of all Americans—still question evolution and still believe that some kind of alternative should be taught in the public schools. What happens when half of the population doesn’t accept one of the most fundamental underpinnings of the sciences? Evolution is the absolute bedrock of the biological sciences. It’s essential to medical science, agriculture, biotechnology. And it’s critical to understanding the natural world around us.
We’re a country built on our command of the sciences and technology. But we now face a crisis in science literacy that could threaten our progress in these areas and ultimately threaten our quality of life. So, at NOVA and at Vulcan, we feel that understanding the importance of evolution, and enhancing science literacy in general, are more crucial than ever (2007a).
Understanding what motivates someone to exercise their creative energy can be very useful in deciphering elements of their product that may be otherwise difficult to analyze. This is especially true when considering a controversial subject like ID. Ms. Apsell’s comments indicate a strong bias towards evolution (i.e., against ID), which will prompt us to look for that bias in the program content. Correspondingly, this review will be equally blatant in responding to both the motivation and content of the NOVA program.
For example, Ms. Apsell quotes one of Theodore Dobzhansky’s statements, which is actually the title of one of his papers (Dobzhansky, 1973). The quote does faithfully represent Dobzhansky’s view, as evidenced by the following excerpt from that paper:
The organic diversity becomes, however, reasonable and understandable if the Creator has created the living world not by caprice but by evolution propelled by natural selection. It is wrong to hold creation and evolution as mutually exclusive alternatives. I am a creationist and an evolutionist. Evolution is God’s, or Nature’s method of creation. Creation is not an event that happened in 4004 BC; it is a process that began some 10 billion years ago and is still under way (3:127).
In the first place, the idea that creation was either by “caprice” or by evolution is a textbook example of the logical fallacy of a “bifurcation” or “binary argument.” By creating the image of a capricious God as the only alternative to evolution, Dobzhansky thereby makes the godless theory of evolution appear more attractive. The idea that God would have created the Universe impulsively and without purpose (as implied by “caprice”) is completely foreign to the minds of most creationists, who believe that He created deliberately and with full design intent (purpose)—a third option Dobzhansky ignored. In addition, Dobzhansky does not appear to be sure whether evolution is God’s method, or “Nature’s.” Should we conclude from his statement that nature is, in fact, Dobzhansky’s god? One paragraph prior to this quote, he also states: “Only a creative but blind process could produce…the tremendous biologic success that is the human species….” On the one hand, he infers purpose and direction, calling evolution a “method” of God (or nature?); then, on the other hand, he states that it could only be a “blind” process. These statements suggest that Dobzhansky may have been highly confused, indeed.
Dobzhansky’s mental confusion notwithstanding, there are many who we believe would take great issue with Dobzhansky’s philosophy, as well as Ms. Apsell’s proclamation that “evolution is the foundation of the biological sciences.” For one, Louis Pasteur would certainly disagree. Pasteur formulated and thoroughly tested the germ theory of disease, invented inoculations, as well as the cure for rabies, and developed the process of pasteurization. Did Pasteur give credit to “the light of evolution” for his overwhelming scientific contributions to the welfare of mankind, as Dobzhansky implies that he must? On the contrary, Pasteur stated, “The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator” (as quoted in Tiner, 1990, p. 75).
Pasteur also empirically established, to the dismay of naturalists, the Law of Biogenesis, which states that life in the natural world only comes from life. With regard to this accomplishment, Pasteur stated: “Never again shall the doctrine of spontaneous generation recover from the mortal blow that this one simple experiment has dealt it” (1864), and it has not “recovered” to this day. Pasteur further confounded the spontaneous generation crowd, now called chemical evolutionists, with a discovery involving the phenomenon of chirality. This is the observation that certain organic molecules exhibit asymmetry, dubbed right- and left-handedness, and are mirror images of each other. With respect to this asymmetry, Pasteur discovered that all molecules associated with living things are single-handed, instead of a 50/50 mix of both types, as with most substances. Pasteur identified this as a defining characteristic of life, a characteristic that remains an enigma to scientists (evolutionary scientists, anyway). This discovery rendered the idea of life emerging from non-life, as hypothesized by the chemical evolutionists, statistically impossible.
It is also interesting that Ms. Apsell equates a lack of belief in evolution with “a crisis in science literacy that could threaten our progress in these areas and ultimately threaten our quality of life.” We have already mentioned Louis Pasteur, a “science illiterate” by Ms. Apsell’s definition, who has contributed overwhelmingly to “our quality of life.” Other “science illiterates” (a.k.a. creationists) who have significantly benefited mankind in their work include Francis Bacon, who first postulated the scientific method utilized by all scientists today, Carolus Linnaeus, developer of the classification system used by all biologists today, Johannes Kepler, who formulated the laws of planetary motion and confirmed the heliocentrism of our solar system, James Clerk Maxwell, father of the modern science of electrodynamics, and Isaac Newton, who formulated the law of universal gravity and formalized the field of dynamics with his laws of motion. The list of “science illiterates” who have contributed substantially to “our quality of life” is neither short, nor cloaked in obscurity. Thus, the motivation behind this NOVA production reveals either the naiveté or deceitfulness of those who blindly accept the philosophical premises of evolution, and eagerly embrace the movement to establish Darwinian evolution as the dogma of science education.
AN EPIC BATTLE
With their agenda firmly set, the makers of Judgment Day proceeded to cast the judicial proceedings that culminated in Judge Jones’ December 2005 decision as a conflict between the gallant forces of (scientific) truth and the wily imposter of creationism, deceitfully clothed in the disguise of “Intelligent Design.”
Chapter 1 of the on-line version of Judgment Day begins with the narrator stating: “In October 2004, a war broke out in the small town of Dover, Pennsylvania” (NOVA, 2007d). Following a few innocuous statements by ID proponents, the narrator further states:
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 (2007d).
Shortly thereafter, Judge Jones appears, stating, “It was like a civil war within the community, there’s no question.” The word “war” is used three times within the first 10 minutes of the program. In addition, the word “battle” is used four times in this same segment.
Not unexpectedly, the producers of the program do not leave us in the dark as to who they think the “good guys” are in this “war.” Consider the following sequence of statements from the program transcript, also posted on the NOVA Web site:
BILL BUCKINGHAM (Dover School Board Member): To just talk about Darwin to the exclusion of anything else perpetrates a fraud.
NARRATOR: But many say intelligent design is the fraud.
KENNETH R. MILLER (Brown University): Intelligent design is a science stopper.
KEVIN PADIAN (University of California, Berkeley): It makes people stupid.
NARRATOR: Eleven Dover residents sued their school board to keep intelligent design out of the classroom. And almost overnight, Dover was catapulted to the front pages of the nation’s newspapers and the front lines in the war on evolution (NOVA, 2007c).
Note that the statement of Bill Buckingham, one of the Dover School Board members in favor of ID, is countered by three statements, including one by the narrator himself, while the outrageous statement, “It [ID] makes people stupid,” is not even challenged. In fact, every statement by an ID proponent in the introductory segment is countered, while statements by evolutionists are more numerous and simply left to stand at face value. Though in her Q&A, Ms. Apsell insists that “it [ID] gets a fair shake in this program,” the introductory segment alone casts significant doubt on the veracity of this claim.
The characterization of ID as an enemy in the “war on evolution” worsens, however. Chapter 3 of the on-line version of the program, titled “Introduction to Intelligent Design,” begins with the story of Lauri Lebo, a journalist covering the trial:
NARRATOR: Lebo began reporting on the controversy. But her interest in the issue was not just professional, it was also personal. Lauri’s father had been the owner of a local radio station, but the oldies format wasn’t paying the bills, and the electric company was about to put him off the air.
LAURI LEBO: The next day a gentleman came in who belonged to a local church…wanted to lease programming on the radio station and offered to pay a decent sum of money. And overnight the radio station became a Christian radio station. My father became born again (NOVA, 2007f).
Later in the program, this story is revisited with the following:
NARRATOR: As the legal teams battled it out in court, the clash between intelligent design and evolution was taking a toll on Dover.
Local newspaper reporter Lauri Lebo sat through every day of testimony, and the conflict began to drive a wedge between Lauri and her father.
LAURI LEBO: He believed that God really should be in science class. He did not believe in science, and he was all worried about me and…because I believed in evolution. And he said, you know, “Well, do you really believe that we came from monkeys?” At that point, I was pretty burned out from the trial, and I didn’t really have the patience that I probably should have had with him, and I just said yeah, I mean, you know? “Yeah, I do believe in evolution, Dad,” you know? And so we’d fight every morning.
If you believe in heaven and hell, and you believe you have to be saved, nothing else could possibly matter. Not the First Amendment, not science, not rational debate. All that matters is that you’re going to be rejoined with the people you love most on this Earth (NOVA, 2007i).
The narrator’s leading statement that the “clash” was “taking its toll on Dover” makes the reason for including this anecdote more than clear. Not only ID, but Christianity as well, was portrayed as a subversive element—a plague spreading through Dover, driving “a wedge” in Lauri Lebo’s family and in the Dover School Board. According to the program producers, the enemy in the “war on evolution” is apparently not just ID, but also the Christian faith that drives it. It should come as no surprise that one of the final comments in the program, made by ACLU lawyer Witold “Vic” Walczak, is: “The issue is certainly not over. One of the things that we’ve learned is that the opponents of evolution are persistent and resilient. And they’re still out there” (NOVA, 2007j). Ominous words, indeed!
SCIENCE VERSUS RELIGION?
A core issue in this conflict, as well as in the trial itself, is the question of what constitutes “science.” Clearly, evolution is portrayed as being scientific, while ID is not, according to the program producers and Judge Jones’ decision. The judge’s ruling explicitly stated that ID is not a scientific theory; but is that really the issue? Since Darwinian evolution holds a monopoly with regard to the study of the origins of life within most of our classrooms, perhaps the more relevant question is whether evolution is truly science, or, as Judge Jones described ID, religion in disguise.
For example, a fundamental premise of evolution is that life spontaneously arose from non-life. This premise goes against every related fact we know about biology, especially the Law of Biogenesis, empirically and brilliantly established by Louis Pasteur. This point and others demonstrate that evolution, far from being “one of the fundamental underpinnings of the sciences,”is, in fact, a complete affront to science. Unfortunately, our society has become so willing to sacrifice anything (including science) on the altar of atheism that we now teach as scientific “fact” an atheistic theory that we know does not fit the facts.
The simplest life is far more complex than anything man has ever created. Would we allow our schools to teach as scientific “fact” that space shuttles randomly assemble and launch themselves? As absurd as that may sound, it would be more logical than teaching as scientific “fact” that life spontaneously arose from non-life. With great effort and expense, people assemble and launch space shuttles. However, with even greater effort and expense people have been unable to create anything close to what is considered “simple” life.
Ironically, NOVA and other pro-evolution organizations that claim to be “scientific” typically do not even mention this obvious problem. This fact is glaring when Judgment Day features three different segments designed to overwhelm us with the alleged evidence in favor of Darwinism: Chapter 2, “What is Evolution?” (2007e), Chapter 5, “The Fossil Record” (2007g), and Chapter 6, “A Very Successful Theory” (2007h). Yet, not one of these chapters mentions the fact that Darwinism requires spontaneous generation, nor discusses how it could have happened in spite of infinitely impossible odds. Evolutionists’ strong desire to suppress evidence and discussion, evident in their vigorous opposition to the decisions of the Dover School Board, is yet another indicator that their belief system has little to do with science, and is merely another false religion.
When dealing with evolutionists, it may be more useful to point out that the theory of evolution is not scientific, rather than trying to convince them that biblical Creationism is scientific. No theory of origins is observable, testable, and repeatable, which places the theories outside the realm of operational science, as the NOVA program and Judge Jones claim regarding Intelligent Design. Even though the evidence strongly favors biblical Creationism, as defined, we cannot claim that it is operational science.
It is also interesting to note that most of the arguments currently put forth by evolutionists and the media are completely irrelevant to the debate. The most prevalent example is the use of natural selection as supposed evidence for molecules-to-man evolution. Both biblical Creationists and evolutionists rely on natural selection, so the process is not a discriminator between the two worldviews.
CHURCH AND STATE
The crux of the legal case in the Dover trial was the accusation that the Dover School Board had violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—at least, the recent “separation of church and state” interpretation of that clause. It is outside the scope of this review to delve deeply into questions of constitutional interpretation (see Miller, 2006; Miller, 2008). Nevertheless, the Framers of our Constitution never intended for this amendment to impact the decisions of popular government at the Dover, PA (state or city) level. In any case, we will consider the issue of violation of the establishment clause within the context of the liberal First Amendment interpretation that is prevalent today.
The most remarkable statement in the NOVA program was in Judge Jones’ ruling:
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 (NOVA, 2007j).
It may be within the scope of the judge’s authority to make a determination that ID is not science, and that the Dover School Board members who introduced the issue were motivated by religious purpose, but to make a statement regarding fundamental religious and theistic belief goes far beyond any semblance of judicial prudence. It is crucial for every American to understand the full implications of this statement. According to the judge’s statement, now law, the idea that evolution could be considered antithetical (an opposing theory) to religion “in general” is “a bedrock assumption which is utterly false.” This is absolutely stunning—and frightening.
The Founders of our nation believed that religion is essential to the survival of popular government (see Miller, 2008). The recent liberal interpretation of the First Amendment seeks to remove this influence from government—to the detriment of our society. Judge Jones takes this one step further, however, asserting that the authority of judicial review (government) should have influence over religious thought in telling literal Genesis creationists, who reject evolution, that the bedrock foundation of their religious belief is false. Realizing that religion has been made impotent to challenge liberal constitutional interpretation, the legal ramifications of the ruling are positively alarming, as the ruling turns the intent of the Founders regarding freedom of religion on its head. It is no wonder that Judge Jones predicted that he would probably be labeled an activist judge because of the ruling.
Shortly after reading the statement above, Judge Jones made another statement in the program:
In an era where we’re trying to cure cancer, where we’re trying to prevent pandemics, where were [sic] trying to keep science and math education on the cutting edge in the United States, to introduce and teach bad science to ninth-grade students makes very little sense to me. You know, garbage in garbage out. And it doesn’t benefit any of us who benefit daily from scientific discoveries (NOVA, 2007j).
Clearly, Judge Jones has strong feelings that impacted the scope and language of his ruling, and may have even influenced the decision itself. Richard Thompson, a Thomas Moore Law Center attorney and representative of the Dover School Board in the case, commented:
I think, first of all, you have to say we had a fair trial. I’m just disturbed about the extent of his opinion, that it went way beyond what, what [sic] he should have gone into deciding matters of science (NOVA, 2007j).
This observation is an understatement. And we should not be less concerned about the extent of the ruling regarding matters of science, than we are about its precedent for judicial interference in matters of religion. Judge Jones stated in his ruling, “Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge” (2005, p. 137). We mark it as such because the facts presented above justify that claim.
THE WAGES OF COMPROMISE
Judge Jones not only believes that evolutionary theory is consistent with belief in God and “religion in general,” but also sees no problem with establishing his belief via the federal judiciary. How did we get so turned around in our society that religion is not allowed to have any influence on government, or public life for that matter, but a judge can dictate what creationists should believe (or not believe)? Consider the following statement from the Q&A with Ms. Apsell (NOVA, 2007a):
Q: Is evolution inherently anti-religious?
Apsell: Not at all. The view that evolution is inherently anti-religious is simply false. Evolution tells us that the diversity of life on this planet could have arisen by natural processes. But for many people of various faiths, this is perfectly compatible with their belief in God as the creator of all nature. I personally believe that the beauty of evolution can enhance your belief in a creator and God.
By definition science cannot address the realm of the divine or supernatural. This doesn’t mean that science is anti-religious.
And our program, Judgment Day, doesn’t promote either a religious or an anti-religious viewpoint. It accurately covers a trial. And the trial itself did not have an anti-religious viewpoint. I think it’s worth noting that both the judge and the majority of witnesses—including scientists on the plaintiff side—are people of faith (NOVA, 2007a).
Notice that Ms. Apsell does not claim any personal religious belief. In fact, when she says, “this is perfectly compatible with their belief in God,” and “I personally believe that the beauty of evolution can enhance your belief in a creator and God” (emp. added), she leaves the impression that she shares neither of those beliefs. Notwithstanding, she feels perfectly justified in prescribing religious belief to others: “The view that evolution is inherently anti-religious is simply false.” And with respect to the program not promoting “an anti-religious viewpoint,” significant evidence to the contrary has been given above.
Now consider the following excerpt from the first chapter of the on-line version of the program:
ALAN BONSELL: I personally don’t believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution. I’m a creationist. I make no bones about that.
NARRATOR: Creationists like Bonsell reject much of modern science in favor [of] a literal reading of the Bible. They believe the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, and that God created everything fully-formed, including humans, in just six days.
Although most mainstream religions made peace with evolution decades ago, many creationists still see evolution as incompatible with their faith (NOVA, 2007d).
Notice how the narrator claims that “Creationists…reject much of modern science” (emp. added) and “most mainstream religions made peace with evolution decades ago.” Unjustifiable, unsubstantiated generalizations such as these are often used to marginalize specific groups—in this instance, Bible-believing creationists. We are told that we are outside the “mainstream” and that we reject “much of modern science.”
No doubt, some religious evolutionists truly believe that there is no conflict between creationism and evolution. Perhaps though, there are some who hold no religious views, yet see no conflict between evolution and creation, because they desire a non-confrontational, subtle method of subjugating religious belief to modern scientific thought. Judgment Day wraps this viewpoint in a blanket of anti-Christian sentiment.
Those who first compromised biblical creationism with evolution have, without a doubt, opened a Pandora’s box of anti-religious abuse. Indeed, they have catalyzed the very process that has flipped our society on its head, giving place to scientists, judges, TV producers, and even atheists, who desire to dictate to devout people what their view of creation ought to be. We are paying a severe price for their compromise of the simple truths of God’s Word. And what we have witnessed until now is certainly only the beginning.
The conflict between evolution and creation is a very real clash of worldviews that has highly tangible implications for society, the church, and the very survival of our form of government. The NOVA program Judgment Day explores this conflict from the perspective of an evolutionist worldview. This fact is clear from the statements of Paula Apsell in the Q&A segment on the NOVA Web site. In light of her bias, we should not expect the program to be fair to Intelligent Design, much less to a creationist worldview, even though it alleges objectivity. The program’s lack of fairness to ID, creationism, and even Christianity, has been documented in this article by examples from the program’s own transcripts.
This leads to the conclusion that the purpose behind the making of Judgment Day was to build on the momentum of the Dover Trial to gain further ground in promoting Darwinian evolution in opposition to biblical creationism. This intent is evident in Ms. Apsell’s lament that so many people still reject Darwinian evolution in spite of its domination of public education for decades. In the spirit of true Orwellian doublespeak, she refers to this rejection of evolution as “scientific illiteracy.”
In support of its purpose, Judgment Day goes to great lengths to marginalize those who dare to question Darwinian evolution and those who choose to believe in biblical creation. Momentum for this purpose is derived from the presiding judge of the Dover Trial, Judge Jones, who stated that the creationist views of the Dover School Board members who supported ID were “utterly false” because those beliefs are based on the “assumption” that evolution is “antithetical” to a belief in a supreme being, or religion itself. By establishing a judicial view of “religion” as defined by that which is not antithetical to evolution (“establishment” in First-Amendment verbiage), NOVA is empowered in their pursuit to further marginalize those who disagree with them by the full authority of the U.S. government.
It cannot be overstated that a major contributing factor in the ability of evolutionists to marginalize creationists is that many creationists have marginalized themselves by accepting evolutionist views, in spite of empirical and biblical evidence to the contrary. NOVA capitalizes on these compromises as primary means to promote its agenda through the Judgment Day program. The most important thing Christian creationists can do, while engaged in this clash of worldviews, is accept God at His word, and esteem His Word above “science falsely so called” (1 Timothy 6:20)—and to encourage others to do the same.
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