Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial

PBS Airdate: November 13, 2007
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Chapter 2

Darwin published his theory of evolution in 1859, in a book called On the Origin of Species, and it has been sparking controversy ever since. It was the culmination of work Darwin started more than two decades earlier, after sailing around the world on a ship called the Beagle.

On that expedition, Darwin collected thousands of plants and animals that were unlike any he had ever seen before. And when he returned home to England, he became particularly fascinated by the many different birds he had found on a remote chain of islands off the coast of South America called the Galapagos.

KENNETH R. MILLER: There was a bird that looked to him like a warbler, and another one that looked to him like a woodpecker, and another one that looked like a finch, and so forth. And he wasn't sure what these birds were. But they were all clearly adapted for very different ways of life. Some ate insects. Some, for example, picked up small seeds. Some could crush the large seeds of certain plants which were found on the Galapagos. So they had different appearances, different beaks, different styles of life

NARRATOR: When Darwin asked for help identifying these birds, he was in for a surprise.

KENNETH R. MILLER: He was floored. He was stunned to discover that the expert ornithologists in Great Britain told him, "They're all finches. That's not a woodpecker, it's a finch. That's not a warbler, it's a finch."

NARRATOR: But why, in this small chain of islands, had he found finches with such different characteristics?

Darwin reasoned: in nature, individual organisms compete for limited resources like food. If, for example, a bird is born with a slightly larger beak than the other members of the population, that might give it an advantage on an island where large seeds are more common.

Over many generations, birds with large beaks would be more likely to survive and reproduce, handing down this advantageous beak shape to greater numbers of offspring than those with smaller beaks.

Darwin called this process "natural selection," because the forces of nature, such as the environment of an individual island in the Galapagos, select those organisms best suited to that environment. And he believed that, over time, this could give rise to new species.

KENNETH R. MILLER: What Darwin pointed out was a general principle, which is easily observed in nature: species are not fixed, that with natural selection pushing or pulling or splitting, species can change over time.

NARRATOR: Darwin thought all the different kinds of plants and animals we see around us today, including humans, could have arisen by this process.

He called the gradual evolution of new species from old "descent with modification," and he pictured the relatedness of all living things as a great tree of life, with each twig a different species ultimately springing from a common ancestor.

NEIL SHUBIN (University of Chicago/The Field Museum): As you follow the family tree farther and farther back, say, from our twig, which—we're just one twig on this vast tree—what you see our similarities with apes; and going further down, our similarities with other mammals; further down, our similarities with reptiles; further down, our similarities with amphibians, fish, all the way down to worms, and jellyfish and so forth. What you see is a continuity of life on the planet, because we're not exceptional in any great degree, we're just a twig on a giant evolutionary tree that includes everything.

NARRATOR: The common ancestry of all forms of life was one of Darwin's great insights. But he recognized disturbing implications in the idea that humans had evolved from ape-like ancestors.

KENNETH R. MILLER: In the eyes of a lot of people, once Charles Darwin had proposed that natural processes could have produced every species on this planet, including us, they felt that took God out of the picture.

NARRATOR: And about a century and a half later, many people in Dover, like the United States as a whole, agree. To this day, somewhere between a third and half the U.S. population does not accept evolution.

BILL BUCKINGHAM: I find it personally offensive, because I'm a Christian. I believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God, and that the Book of Genesis tells it like it is as to how we came into being. God didn't create monkey and then take man from a monkey. He created man.

NARRATOR: In Dover, hostility to the theory of evolution had already erupted in vandalism after a student at the high school painted a 16-foot mural depicting the evolution of humans from ape-like ancestors. The mural was on display in a science classroom, when someone removed it from the school and burned it.

Now, as Bill Buckingham continued fighting the purchase of the biology book at school board meetings, the science teachers began to suspect that he had been involved.

BERTHA SPAHR: This idea of man and monkey came into the conversation, and I immediately remember saying to him "Does this have anything to do with that mural that disappeared?"

ROBERT ESHBACH: And that's when he made the remark that he gleefully watched it burn.

JENNIFER MILLER: Right, sort of under his breath, though we heard what he said.

NARRATOR: Though Buckingham denied any involvement in the incident, when he reportedly announced he was searching for a biology book that included evolution and creationism, the school board meeting erupted in chaos.

CHRISTY REHM (Dover English Teacher): Typically, a school board meeting is a very dry thing, couple of people show up because they have a certain issue they want to discuss. But these meetings would be hundreds of people, and it would be hot, and people would be upset, and it was a zoo. It was just an absolute madhouse.

TAMMY KITZMILLER (Dover Parent): Ludicrous, bizarre...there's many adjectives I could use. They were disrespectful to the public, disrespectful to the teachers. They didn't want to listen to anybody. They were just on their own agenda.

ALAN BONSELL: Sometimes in a democracy, and when you have nine different personalities together, and you have a controversial issue, in the heat of the moment, somebody might say something they wish, 10 minutes from now, they wouldn't have said.

Chapter 2

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