PBS – Nova Program – “Intelligent Design on Trial”

SLAW has had some recent posts on the availability of the works of Charles Darwin being available online (here and here), presumably as a result of tomorrow being the 200th anniversary of his birth.

Likely because of that anniversary, PBS in Buffalo/Toronto broadcast last night a documentary called “Intelligent Design on Trial.” The documentary can be viewed in clips at the foregoing link where there are also transcripts and extra video clips and links.

The show was a documentary on the attempt by the Dover Area School Board (in rural Pennsylvania) in late 2004 to enforce a policy that its high school science classes be obliged to teach “intelligent design” (ID) as an alternative theory to Darwin’s theory of evolution, based on the following Board resolution:

Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design. Note: Origins of Life is not taught.

The controversy culminated in a 6-week trial brought by concerned parents and other parties.

According to this policy, teachers would be required to read the following statement in science class:

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. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.

With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families. As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments.

The 20 December 2005 judgment of Judge John Jones in Kitzmiller v. Dover School District (here in PDF, 139 pages) is worthwhile reading (and was briefly mentioned in an earlier SLAW comment on a different topic).

In thoroughly decimating the expert evidence of the defendant School Board that ID was somehow a scientific theory, the court ruled that this intelligent design policy was largely religious creationism in a new guise and therefore “unconstitutional pursuant to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Art. I, § 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution” (p. 3).

Rather than quoting heavily from the judgment, I offer one of the more damning passages from the court against ID:

After this searching and careful review of ID as espoused by its proponents, as elaborated upon in submissions to the Court, and as scrutinized over a six week trial, we find that ID is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, engage in research and testing, and gain acceptance in the scientific community. ID, as noted, is grounded in theology, not science. Accepting for the sake of argument its proponents’, as well as Defendants’ argument that to introduce ID to students will encourage critical thinking, it still has utterly no place in a science curriculum. Moreover, ID’s backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID. (pp. 88-89)

Towards the end of the show, the Nova narrator had these comments:

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 . . . .


  1. I found a streaming version of this documentary here. I also bought it on dvd. Thanks for the analysis on the subject Ted.