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Documentary Explores Key Case on ‘Intelligent Design’

The PBS series NOVA airs a documentary Tuesday about a 2005 landmark Pennsylvania court case that found it unconstitutional for schools to teach "intelligent design" as an alternate theory to evolution. The judge who decided the case reflects the legal battle.

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  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    In recent years, in many states around the country, a battle over teaching evolution has played out in local school boards, political elections, and sometimes in the classroom itself.

    Four years ago, a small town in Pennsylvania became the focal point for this fight, pitting proponents of a concept called intelligent design against teachers and parents who wanted to keep what they saw as a religious teaching out of public school biology classes.

    The legal case that ensued is chronicled tonight on the PBS series "Nova" in a special called "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial." Here's how the program begins.

  • NARRATOR:

    In October 2004, a war broke out in the small town of Dover, Pennsylvania.

  • PETER JENNINGS, Former Anchor, ABC News:

    Today, the teachers in a rural Pennsylvania town became the first in the country required to tell students that evolution is not the only theory.

  • NARRATOR:

    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.

    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. And, advocates contend, intelligent design is a bold, new, scientific theory with the power to overthrow the theory of evolution.

  • ROBERT MUSE, Thomas More Law Center:

    It's scientists debating science, based on the evidence, not based on any religious text or authority, and it's clearly, properly the subject of a science class.

    STEVE FULLER, University of Warwick: It's, in fact, opening the path of inquiry to new ways of thinking about things.

    PHILLIP JOHNSON, UC Berkeley School of Law: If evolution by natural selection is a scientific doctrine, then a critique of that doctrine is a legitimate part of science, as well.

  • NARRATOR:

    The Dover school board demanded that science teachers read their students a one-minute statement claiming that gaps in the theory of evolution exist and putting forward intelligent design as an alternative. The statement also directed students to an intelligent design textbook called "Of Pandas and People" that would be made available.

    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.

    EUGENIE C. SCOTT, National Center for Science Education: The goal of intelligent design is to try to re-Christianize American society.

  • KEVIN PADIAN, UC Berkeley:

    Intelligent design is not anywhere a scientific concept. It's not a field of science; it's not being actively researched by anyone.

  • KENNETH R. MILLER, Brown University:

    It's a violation of everything we mean and everything we understand by science.

  • NARRATOR:

    The stage was set for a battle that would pit friend against friend and neighbor against neighbor.

  • BILL BUCKINGHAM, Dover School Board Member:

    It was like we shot somebody's dog. I mean, there was a blowup like you couldn't believe.

  • JOHN E. JONES III, U.S. District Judge:

    It was like a civil war within the community, there's no question.

  • NARRATOR:

    Before it was over, this battle would land the school board in federal court.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    In December 2005, after a lengthy trial, Judge John Jones ruled that it was unconstitutional for the school district to present intelligent design as an alternative to evolution. He called the concept a "re-labeling of creationism."