Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial

PBS Airdate: November 13, 2007
Go to the companion Web site

Chapter 12

NARRATOR: After six weeks, the trial concluded with closing arguments that were as divided as the town of Dover itself had become.

ERIC ROTHSCHILD (Dramatization): "What? Am I supposed to tolerate a small encroachment on my First Amendment rights? Well, I'm not going to. I think this is clear what these people have done, and it outrages me." That's a statement of one citizen of Dover, Fred Callahan, standing up to the wedge that has been driven into his community and his daughter's high school by the Dover School Board's anti-evolution, pro-intelligent-design policy.

This trial has established that intelligent design is unconstitutional because it is an inherently religious proposition, a modern form of creationism. It is not just a product of religious people, it does not just have religious implications. It is, in its essence, religious. The shell game has to stop.

PATRICK T. GILLEN: In sum, your Honor, I respectfully submit that the evidence of record shows that the plaintiffs have failed to prove that the primary purpose or primary effect of the reading of a four-paragraph statement on intelligent design, explaining that it's an explanation for the origins of life different from Darwin's theory, letting the students know there are books in the library on this subject, does not, by any reasonable measure, threaten the harm which the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits. But instead, the evidence shows that the defendants' policy has the primary purpose and primary effect of advancing science education by making the students aware of a new scientific theory, one which may well open a fascinating prospect to a new scientific paradigm.

NARRATOR: Judge Jones said he would return a verdict promptly.

Four days after the trial ended, Dover residents rendered their own verdict on intelligent design, with a huge turnout for the school board election. By a narrow margin the people of Dover cleaned house. All eight of the nine seats up for election went to anti-intelligent-design candidates, including plaintiff and former Dover science teacher Bryan Rehm. Among the candidates who got the fewest votes was Alan Bonsell.

With the judge still deliberating, Dover's local school board election was national news and even provoked the ire of televangelist Pat Robertson.

PAT ROBERTSON (Founder and Chairman, The Christian Broadcasting Network – Clip from the 700 Club): I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover, if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city.

NARRATOR: Though Robertson had already passed judgment, Dover and the nation would have to wait another month for Judge Jones to render his verdict.

On December 20, 2005, Jones sent out his opinion by e-mail.

TAMMY KITZMILLER: I went to work that day. We pretty much knew it was going to be out by noon, so I waited at work for a phone call.

WITOLD "VIC" WALCZAK: The decision came across the computer; I think it was 10:37.

LAURI LEBO: The columnist behind me...I was reading it from the beginning, and he's standing over my shoulder, and he yells at me, "Go to the end! Go to the end!"

JENNIFER MILLER: I remember Mrs. Spahr, Bertha Spahr knocking on my door and interrupting my class.

NARRATOR: The 139-page opinion ruled that intelligent design is not science. Finding it had been introduced for religious reasons, Judge Jones decided it was "unconstitutional to teach intelligent design" in Dover science classes.

JUDGE JOHN E. JONES, III: 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.

To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis, grounded in religion, into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions. The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the intelligent design policy.

NARRATOR: Citing what he called the "breathtaking inanity" of the school board's decision, he found that several members had lied "to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the intelligent design policy."

JUDGE JOHN E. JONES, III: The crushing weight of the evidence indicates that the board set out to get creationism into science classrooms, and intelligent design was simply the vehicle that they utilized to do that.

NARRATOR: Jones recommended to the U.S. Attorney that he investigate bringing perjury charges against Buckingham and Bonsell for lying under oath. And "the overwhelming evidence at trial," he said, "established that intelligent design is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory."

JUDGE JOHN E. JONES, III: In an era where we're trying to cure cancer, where we're trying to prevent pandemics, where were 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.

NARRATOR: The school district was permanently forbidden to teach intelligent design in its science curriculum. The administration was ordered to pay the plaintiff's legal fees, totaling more than a million dollars. And the election of a new school board, opposed to intelligent design, meant no appeal of the ruling would be mounted.

In the wake of the trial, TIME Magazine named Judge Jones one of the 100 most influential people of the year, but not everyone was so pleased with the Judge's decision.

BILL BUCKINGHAM: To put it bluntly, I think he's a jackass. I think he went to clown college instead of law school or else he went to law school and slept during the Constitution classes, because his decision doesn't jive with the law. I think he should be on a bench, but it ought to be in a center ring of Ringling Brothers Circus.'s disgusting.

ALAN BONSELL: It makes me feel sad. We, as a board, were trying to make Dover the best school district it could be. That was our goal. At least mine was. I was trying to...we were trying to take it up to make it the best.

RICHARD THOMPSON: I think, first of all you, 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 he should have gone into deciding matters of science.

NARRATOR: The Discovery Institute also was displeased. Soon after the decision, the institute published a 123-page book distancing itself from the case and criticizing the ruling as "judicial activism with a vengeance."

The verdict turned out to be more controversial than Judge Jones had imagined. Following the trial, he received death threats. Jones and his family had to be placed under round-the-clock protection.

JUDGE JOHN E. JONES, III: I could never have imagined that I would receive threats to my person in an establishment clause case. But that's what happened in the Dover case.

NARRATOR: For newspaper reporter Lauri Lebo, the verdict was bittersweet. Her father passed away just nine days after the judge's decision. They had never reconciled their differences, though Lauri remains a strong supporter of evolution. Recently, her family took over management of her father's radio station, and Lauri began hosting a weekly show.

LAURI LEBO: Evening, folks. We're going to listen to some Johnny Cash now: "I Talk to Jesus Every Day."

NARRATOR: In the end, though, there is probably one thing everyone in the case can agree on.

WITOLD "VIC" WALCZAK: 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.

PHILLIP JOHNSON: I had thought, at one point, that we would make a breakthrough on this issue and change the scientific community in my lifetime. Now I'm somewhat sobered by the force of the counter-attack that we have received. And I see that it's going to be a longer process than that.

JUDGE JOHN E. JONES, III: I think history tells us that there is an enduring disagreement and dispute in the United States as it relates to evolution. By no means did my decision put a capstone on that. And that will proceed for generations, I suspect.

Chapter 12

Chapter 12 thumbnail
Watch online

This chapter of the two-hour program video is available to view online here.

About NOVA | NOVA Homepage | Support NOVA

© | Created November 2007