Thursday, May 15, 2008
PBS: Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial
Today, PBS Maryland Public Television showed the NOVA film “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial.” This concerns a controversy over the teaching of intelligent design in a small town of Dover, PA, near York PA.
The controversy grew slowly and would result in a federal lawsuit by eleven parents, decided in 2005 in Harrisburg. The case would be Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. Wikipedia has a detailed discussion of the case here.
The controversy seemed to start when a student painted an art mural showing the progression from apes or hominids to modern humans. The painting was taken from the school and burned. In the mean time, the school district reviewed a new biology textbook by Miller “Biology” (I saw it when substitute teaching myself in Virginia) and found that it often mentioned concepts of evolution. Because evolution has been so controversial religiously, it had previously been left out of high school biology curricula. The text would tend to bring it back. Evangelical interests tried to bring the book “People and Pandas” to advance intelligent design.
The school board had ordered that a one minute statement offering intelligent design as a theory be read to students. It did seem modest. The case would tend to concern whether such a practice would be promoting religion with public funds (related to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment). Lawyers and the judge were wondering how well they remembered their own ninth grade biology tests.
The show does explain the theory of intelligent design, which is caused by an “intelligent agent.” It maintains that life is so complicated that Darwin’s “tree” could not have assembled itself just by chance, even over a few billion years. The show also demonstrates Darwin’s theories, such as in the Galapagos, or in the Canadian arctic, where scientists found a fossil in 2004 of a “land fish” with fins turning into limbs, a mix of fish and amphibian.
The show did make the intelligent design case with a small creature that looked like a paramecium and an apparatus like a bacterial flagellum, where the various cellular parts were so specialized that they seem like manufactured parts, as for a car or machine tools.
As a whole, the film takes the position that the suppression of much material for religious reasons causes much evidence to be suppressed. The show examined the importance of modern genetics and the tendency to confirm elements in Darwin's theory. One interesting problem is that other apes have 24 chromosomes and humans have 23, but one human chromosome seems to have fused two original chromosomes with telomeres in the middle of one such chromosome (#2).
The show staged the trial in Harrisburg with actors, with a little "courtroom drama". The testimony of Michael J. Behe, author of "Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge" was shown. He claimed that the bacterial flagellum is "irreducibly complex" and appears to be "designed" like an automobile driveshaft. He says there are no parts for natural selection to work on until the complete "auto part" is assembled, but the expression of bacterial toxins confounds that idea, since here the flagellum transmits disease rather than helps it move. They refuted the idea of irreducible complexity by showing how a mousetrap becomes a tie clasp.
The documentary mentioned the classic film "Inherit the Wind" about the Scopes trial.
There was also an attempt to show that the Panda book started out as a creationist book by bringing up the book "Unlocking the Mystery of Life" from the Discovery Institute. This investigation showed that the Panda book had been affected by a 1987 New Orleans schools Supreme Court decision prohibiting teaching creationism as a religious concept. Intelligent design had been invented as supposedly non-religious concept, as showing some cleansed manuscripts associated with that case. A paperwork investigation had shown an ironic "missing link fossil" that showed some hypocrisy in the intelligent design movement. We find that people simply come back sometimes to wanting to defend faith on an emotional level.
The MPT link is here.
A related movie is called "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," review link here.
First Picture (above): PA Turnpike tunnels at Blue Mountain
Second Picture: Dover Area High School, from a July 10, 2008 day trip.