Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial

PBS Airdate: November 13, 2007
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Chapter 7

NARRATOR: So if evolution has stood up to all this scrutiny, what about intelligent design? Does it play by the same rules?

KENNETH R. MILLER (Dramatization): If you invoke a non-natural cause, a spirit force or something like that, in your research, I have no way to test it.

WITOLD "VIC" WALCZAK (Dramatization): So supernatural causation is not considered part of science?

KENNETH R. MILLER (Dramatization): Yeah. I hesitate to beg the patience of the Court with this, but being a Boston Red Sox fan, I can't resist it. One might say, for example, that the reason the Boston Red Sox were able to come back from three games down against the New York Yankees was because God was tired of George Steinbrenner and wanted to see the Red Sox win. In my part of the country, you'd be surprised how many people think that's a perfectly reasonable explanation for what happened last year. And you know what? It could be true, but it certainly wouldn't be science. It's not scientific, and it's certainly not something we can test.

EUGENIE C. SCOTT: The fundamental problem with intelligent design is that you can't use it to explain the natural world. It's essentially a negative argument. It says, "Evolution doesn't work, therefore the designer did it. Evolution doesn't work, therefore we win by default."

But when you ask them, "What does intelligent design tell you about nature? Does it tell you what the designer did? Does it tell you what the designer used to design something with? Does it tell you what purpose the designer had for designing something? Does it tell you when the designer did it? Why the designer did it?" It doesn't tell you anything like that. Basically, it's a negative argument. And you can't build a science on a negative argument.

NARRATOR: After three weeks of testimony on the nature of science, the evidence for evolution and the failings of intelligent design, the plaintiffs had presented their case.

MATTHEW CHAPMAN: To watch the whole thing, you got an education in what evolution was, where evolution stands as a theory now in the 21st century. If you concentrated, you would get sucked into this thing, and the day would go by. And you'd come out, and you'd think, "That was amazing, what I heard here. These eloquent people," you know, "with these incredible educations." And it was fantastic.

LAURI LEBO: The plaintiffs' attorneys had put on an amazing case. But there was this idea, especially among those who weren't sitting in the trial every day, that when the defense started, you know, then we'll see some pretty interesting stuff, too, on the other side.

NARRATOR: The question now was, "Could the defense prove that intelligent design is a scientific theory? What evidence could they muster to support this claim?"

While the battle in federal court heated up, the atmosphere in Dover had gone from divisive to dangerous. Tammy Kitzmiller, the lead plaintiff in the case, who had a daughter in ninth grade biology class at Dover High School, had been receiving hate mail since the start of the trial.

TAMMY KITZMILLER: One letter was pretty disturbing. I think this was the one with the passage that...the last sentence especially: "Madeline Murray was found murdered for taking prayer and Bible reading out of schools, so watch out for a bullet." This was a letter that I made sure my lawyers got a copy of, and it was forwarded to the FBI.

ROBERT ESHBACH: Anywhere you turned we were getting attacked. I mean, the people in the community were attacking us in the newspapers, people in our own profession were attacking us saying, you know, "What are you guys doing in Dover? Why are you letting this happen?" People in the community were calling us atheists, which was a bit offensive to two of us in the department, because two of us happened to be sons and daughters of ministers.

BILL BUCKINGHAM: I fail to understand how teachers can call themselves Christians, go to church, talk about God, talk about Christ, and then go to five days a week and talk about Darwin, and teach it as if it's fact, not a theory, but that's how it happened. I don't understand it. To me that's talking out of both sides of your mouth.

NARRATOR: Having ignited much of the controversy that resulted in the lawsuit, Bill Buckingham had made a surprise announcement. Citing poor health and struggles with Oxycontin as a result of surgery, he resigned from the school board and moved out of state.

A school board election was only months away, and now eight of the nine seats would be up for grabs, putting intelligent design on trial in the voting booth as well as the courtroom.

Dover science teacher Bryan Rehm, who had already moved on to another school system, had thrown his hat in the ring.

BRYAN REHM: I couldn't work for a board that was going to mandate we teach religious ideas in the science classroom. I've got kids in the district, and that's not the kind of district I want my kids going to school in. So the choice was either move the whole family or try and fix the district that we live in. And we chose to fix it.

NARRATOR: But when he hit the campaign trail, Bryan found himself again in the line of fire in the war on evolution.

BRYAN REHM: The problems that I ran into in the campaign, being out door to door, where people just wouldn't listen to you and just automatically judged you in advance that, "You're this kind of person, and we're good Christians. We'd never vote for you." And they'd slam the door in your face, forgetting their windows were open, and call you an f-ing a-hole or tell you you're just a damned atheist.

NARRATOR: For the Rehms, this was particularly hurtful. Both are active in their church and run a summer Bible school program.

CHRISTY REHM: We have a neighbor, actually, who was appointed to the school board and was in support of intelligent design, and he was out campaigning and saying very negative things about our family, how we're atheists, and, "if you vote for those atheists, well, then, God is not going to be happy with you."

NARRATOR: To make the case for intelligent design, the defense had lined up eight expert witnesses, including several members of the Discovery Institute, the Seattle organization that promotes intelligent design. But of those eight witnesses, five never testified.

EUGENIE C. SCOTT: Witnesses started dropping like flies.

NICK MATZKE: We still haven't heard a complete explanation of why this happened, but there was some dispute going on between the Discovery Institute and the Thomas More Law Center over how the case would be run.

NARRATOR: NOVA made repeated requests to interview members of the Discovery Institute to talk about this and other issues, but the institute set conditions that were inconsistent with normal journalistic practice.

For the defense to win, however, did not require a large number of witnesses.

RICHARD THOMPSON: Our aim was not really to disprove Darwin's theory of evolution. Our aim was to merely show that there are credible scientists who believed that the empirical data was supportive of intelligent design. That's all we had to show.

STEPHEN HARVEY: It was our thinking, if they could prove that there was a scientific basis for intelligent design, that it would be possible that the court could conclude that there was a valid secular purpose for teaching intelligent design.

WITOLD "VIC" WALCZAK: I think everybody was waiting to see whether or not the intelligent design folks had a case, but by the time we finished presenting our case, I think it was pretty clear that everything rested on Michael Behe's testimony.

NARRATOR: A scientist and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, Michael Behe is the author of the popular intelligent design book, Darwin's Black Box and dozens of papers, unrelated to intelligent design, published in peer-reviewed science journals.

Behe refused multiple invitations from NOVA to be interviewed for this program, though he went on record in the trial.

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