Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial

PBS Airdate: November 13, 2007
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Chapter 4

Tammy Kitzmiller is the mother of a 9th grade student who would be read the one minute statement at Dover High. She called the A.C.L.U. to see what could be done.

TAMMY KITZMILLER: I just didn't agree with what they were doing. I did not like how they were trying to mix religion and science.

WITOLD "VIC" WALCZAK (American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania): We had parents, we had students, we had teachers, all calling us and saying "Hey, there's a problem here. Can you help us?" And we said, "Sure, we'll help you."

NARRATOR: On December 14, 2004, 11 parents of Dover school students, including Tammy Kitzmiller and Bryan and Christy Rehm, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Pennsylvania, alleging the Dover school board was violating their constitutional rights by introducing religion into science class. They would be represented by the A.C.L.U., which had joined forces with the organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton.

STEPHEN HARVEY (Pepper Hamilton, LLP): Eric said at the time, "This is the case I been waiting for my entire career."

NARRATOR: The School Board would be represented by the Thomas More Law Center, the firm that had told Bill Buckingham about the Pandas book.

A court date was set. And as depositions were being taken, the science teachers took a stand of their own against reading the intelligent design statement.

JENNIFER MILLER: We stepped up and said, "We're not going to read it."

BERTHA SPAHR: We met together and agreed that as a unit we would stand together.

ROBERT ESHBACH: I mean, I have principles and standards of my own, and there was no way that I was going to go into a science classroom of mine and make a statement about this so-called intelligent design, knowing full well that it was not science.

NARRATOR: They notified the board of their refusal in a memo that proclaimed, "Intelligent design is not science. Intelligent design is not biology. Intelligent design is not an accepted scientific theory."

With the teachers refusing to read the one minute statement, Dover's assistant superintendent walked into ninth grade biology class on January 18, 2005 and read:

Assistant Superintendent, Dover, Pennsylvania School District: 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.

NARRATOR: On September 26, 2005, almost exactly a year after the school board devised the intelligent design policy, six weeks of testimony in the case of Kitzmiller versus Dover Area School District got underway in federal court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

JUDGE JOHN E. JONES, III (Dramatization): Good morning to all of you. Are you prepared to open?

ERIC ROTHSCHILD (Pepper Hamilton, LLP/Dramatization): Yes, I am.

JUDGE JOHN E. JONES, III (Dramatization): You may do so.

ERIC ROTHSCHILD (Dramatization): My co-counsel and I represent 11 parents who are challenging the Dover Area School District's change to its biology curriculum.

Dover School Board members announced their interest in the topic of evolution in starkly religious terms. They looked for a book that could provide a religious alternative to evolution, and they found one here in Of Pandas and People.

They did everything you would do if you wanted to incorporate a religious topic in a science class and cared nothing about its scientific validity.

PATRICK T. GILLEN (Thomas More Law Center/Dramatization): Patrick Gillen, your Honor, on behalf of the defendants in this action, the Dover Area School District and its board of directors. The board believed that intelligent design was not creationism. They knew what that was, the Book of Genesis. They believed it was a legitimate educational goal to make students aware of the existence of another scientific theory.

Defendants' experts will show this Court that intelligent design theory is science, it is not religion. This expert testimony will also demonstrate that making students aware of gaps and problems in evolutionary theory is good science education. It's good liberal education.

NARRATOR: By the time the trial started, challenges to the teaching of evolution had cropped up in dozens of other states. And intelligent design was attracting some heavy hitters.

Rick Santorum, then Pennsylvania senator, had commended the school district for its intelligent design policy. And President Bush had thrown his support behind intelligent design, saying, "Both sides ought to be properly taught so people can understand what the debate is about."

Now, the eyes of the nation were on Dover, the latest battleground in the war on evolution.

WITOLD "VIC" WALCZAK: I don't want to sound melodramatic, but I actually think very important things were at stake. One is the future of science education in this country.

STEPHEN HARVEY: If the school board can do this, what would prevent them from doing more things like this in other classes? Presenting pseudo-science or pseudo-math or pseudo-history in promotion of one particular religious view? It's wrong.

PATRICK T. GILLEN: Does science education have to be so narrow, so technical, so deferential to the existing paradigm that we can't even introduce students to what may be the next great theory?

NARRATOR: Presiding over the case would be Judge John E. Jones, III.

JUDGE JOHN E. JONES, III: I could never have imagined, in August of 2002, when I took my seat, that I would be presiding over a case that would attract, literally, worldwide attention.

NARRATOR: Jones had been recommended for his position on the bench by Senator Santorum and appointed by George W. Bush. Before becoming a judge, Jones was head of Pennsylvania's liquor control board, where he banned the sale of Bad Frog beer because it showed a cartoon frog making an offensive gesture.

ERIC ROTHSCHILD: Initially, you find out you've got a judge that's been appointed by President Bush, who has come out himself in favor of intelligent design, and that makes you a little nervous.

NARRATOR: Members of the defense, however, were optimistic about their chances in Jones's courtroom.

STEVE FULLER: What the Dover school board had done...they weren't requiring that intelligent design be taught, and they weren't removing evolution from the classroom. So, it seemed to me this was pretty modest. And so I did think it had a pretty good chance, if it was presented properly, of being accepted.

RICHARD THOMPSON: We didn't have to show that, you know, one theory was better than the other, merely that it was a credible theory, and that the students would gain something by understanding the controversy surrounding the theory of evolution and the origin of species.

NARRATOR: The parents who opposed intelligent design, or plaintiffs, had launched the lawsuit, so the burden of proof was on them.

And because the parents were asking for the teaching of intelligent design to be halted, an order that only a judge can render, there would be no jury. Instead, the jury box was packed with reporters and writers from around the globe, including one with a surprising connection to the case.

MATTHEW CHAPMAN (Charles Darwin's Great-Great-Grandson): I think of myself as being a sort of living disproof of evolution, because my great-great-grandfather was Charles Darwin, who obviously wrote one of the most important books of the last 2,000 years, and I'm a screenwriter. This is not evolution in the right direction.

NARRATOR: To win, the plaintiffs' lawyers would have to show the judge that the Dover School Board's one minute statement promoted religion or that board members had religious motivation.

In addition, both sides asked the judge to rule on a fundamental question: "Is intelligent design science or not?"

WITOLD "VIC" WALCZAK: In order to show that intelligent design is not science we had to talk about, well, "What is science?"

NARRATOR: For help, the plaintiffs turned to researcher Nick Matzke and his colleagues at an organization called the National Center for Science Education, which tracks challenges to evolution in public schools.

NICK MATZKE (National Center for Science Education): The last time any lawyer took biology was probably in 9th grade. And I spent months and months on e-mail, at meetings, explaining science, explaining evolution to the lawyers.

NARRATOR: To make their case before a judge who had no particular scientific training, the lawyers for the parents assembled a team of expert witnesses.

And as their first witness they called biologist Ken Miller, co-author of the textbook that Bill Buckingham had called "laced with Darwinism."

Chapter 4

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