Judgment Day
No subject stirs up more fear and opposition among a lot of conservative and fundamentalist Christians than science and faith. And nothing stirred up passions, at least in recent years, quite like the famous Dover (PA) court case regarding the school board's mandate to teach Intelligent Design (ID) alongside of evolution. In 2004 the school board ordered teachers of science to read a statement to their high school biology students about an ID alternative to Darwin's theory of evolution.

For those who do not know the term Intelligent Design (ID) is the argument that life is too complex to have evolved naturally and thus there must be an intelligent agent behind the forces of nature. In Dover a textbook was donated to the school district, a book that taught ID. This prompted the teachers to sue the school board. The town was deeply and bitterly divided and the rage and emotional tempest reached a boiling point that finally impacted people and school boards all across the nation. The court case played itself out in a place where there was no jury. A lone judge, who was appointed by President Bush and was a man with a conservative judicial philosophy, heard the arguments and wrote the ruling.

The celebrated case of Kitzmiller vs. Dover School District produced arguments advanced by expert lawyers, scientists and witnesses for both sides in the debate. Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial is the television program that just aired on Public Broadcast (PBS), and is now available on DVD. (The link in the previous sentence will take you to the site where the entire presentation is discussed and argued.) This documentary, in my estimation, is both riveting and well done. It is a veritable crash course on questions such as "What is the theory of evolution?" and "Is intelligent design a scientifically valid alternative theory?" These probing questions really provide the meat of the entire presentation. The court case is re-created by enactments which use the actual court transcripts as the basis for the story. Important players in the drama, from both sides, are also interviewed during the course of the entire program.

As "hot" as this issue is the Nova documentary still does an extraordinary job of presenting the debate fairly. One would have to search far and wide to find a better and more complete analysis of the legal and technical arguments of this particular case. As many readers no doubt know the judge in Dover finally ruled against the school board. By the time of the court's ruling the citizens had completely removed the board by a contexted and heated election! The judge's argument is one that will likely continue to be cited in future debates about the "establishment clause" and the teaching of science and religion in public schools.

The fundamental question in Kitzmiller vs. Dover was this: "Is the theory of ID a valid scientific theory and thus can it, or even should it, be taught alongside of Darwinism in the classrooms of public schools?" The judge's decision was that ID was not a scientific theory as much as it was a religious explanation of creation and nature. This case had some unusual twists in it which reveal how this impressive judge reached his decision, one that I happen to agree with having studied the case back in 2004 and again by seeing this engaging video.

Many Christians argue that the "theory of evolution" is just that, a theory. This use of the meaning of theory means that evolution is not good science and to believe in evolution, in any meaningful sense, is ultimately a rejection of faith and Christ. Some would even say that evolution is just a bad guess, thus a bad theory created by evil people, who are being used as tools of the devil. Evolution is seen by such people as a great evil that has destroyed us as a culture and will continue to do so until we drive it out of our schools and nation. This kind of thinking was clearly embraced by the two leading men in the Dover case, as the video shows clearly. The battle became one of conservative local churches vs. public education and educators. To be fair, there are several Christians who do argue for evolution and faith both. These Christians opposed the school board as well. (I wish much more attention had been given to these kinds of voices and this kind of argument, which is the greatest weakness of this presentation that more of this is not included. Brief mention is made of the Catholic stance on this matter, one that is greatly at variance from the fundamentalist Protestant reading of Genesis.)

Court Room
Whether you agree with ID or not you should see this video. It might do several things:

1. It  will show you the complexity of this debate.

2. It will reveal the way in which serious scientists believe the theory of evolution is not a finished model but one that is much more than a "theory" in the sense that it is an untested and simplistic hypothesis that is believed on faith alone.

3. It will show you how bitter this debate remains in mainstream America.

4. It will also reveal, all too sadly, that the anger of conservative Christians does not accomplish righteousness or Christ's true mission in local communities across America.

5. It shows, very clearly, that serious Christians lied under oath in order to promote their use of ID. Such an approach, that "the ends justify the means" should never be used by serious Christians.

6. It will, very likely, convince you that ID is nothing more than a "revised" way to teach the older views of creationism, views which were legally defeated in the public schools debates in Arkansas back in the 1980s.

7. It will force you to ask a lot more questions, whichever view of "how" God made life you hold. Asking questions is always good for serious, intellectually curious Christians.

8. It will cause you to hope for a new day when Christians and scientists are not attacking one another in the courts and schools of our nation. This battle, now about a hundred years old, has yielded no observably good fruit for the kingdom of Christ, at least in my view.

9. It might prompt you to actually question the "wedge theory" proposed and promoted by some Christians and discussed by Phillip Johnson in this film. This approach is intended to "crack open" the consensus of the scientific community regarding evolution so that we can regain the culture for creation and Christ. Johnson sees himself as driving the first blow for others to follow and work to turn our culture around on this issue.

I am persuaded that Christians can do much better than some of them did in Dover (PA). I believe we need to at least see and hear the real story of Kitzmiller vs. Dover School Board if we want to understand the issues in this extremely emotional debate. Orthodox Christians surely do not need to attack other orthodox Christians regarding the question of the "method" of creation. And they surely do not need to lie to attempt to do God's work.

The movie ends with the judge revealing how his own life was threatened by some Dover citizens because he ruled against the ID position in his court decision. Further, Pat Robertson is pictured near the end making one of his many foolish public statements that could fill a book by now. Says the author/minister: "You should not attempt to pray to God for help in Dover since he will not hear your prayers. You have already driven him out of Dover by your votes and your actions." Unbelievable? No, sadly, all too common.

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  1. Joey Carter February 10, 2009 at 8:53 am

    In all honesty, ID belongs, if anywhere, in the philosophy classroom. It is a fundamentally metaphysical question, but not a question of modern scientific discourse. Science does not claim yea or nay on the existence of divinity; what it does is circumscribe the limits of inquiry. Scientific inquiry is fundamentally empirical, measuring that which by its very nature can be quantified. If we are going to be genuinely orthodox in our beliefs, we must hold that God cannot be measured. There is no empirical data, therefore, the issue of God is scientifically non-falsifiable. God does not belong in science; not because science does not need God, but because scientific methodology excludes anything that is non-quantifiable. Questions of divinity are invalid for modern science because of its method. However, ID is and always has been a topic in philosophy. If you’re interested in this, then pursue a career in philosophy of science, but one should not expect science itself to be modified when it has shown how its methodology is a reliable (i.e. sufficient, but not perfect) source of truth.
    I agree with the judge’s decision. But here is my personal take on the matter: Both sides do not really care about whether or not God or Science is being honored/threatened; it is a question of power. To take God out of science leaves many Christians feeling powerless since it leaves open the possibililty that what has been displayed in Scripture is allegorical/metaphorical or just plain false. On the other side, to include God in science leaves many scientists powerless to test empirically that which is not empirical, thus invalidating their research by contradicting the methodology.
    The psychology of the matter is much more interesting to me than the actual issues. The issues being discussed belong to philosophy since philosophy can pervade any discipline, where its own method is self-questioning. When issues like this end up dissipating into anger and malevolence, then I recognize its no longer about the issues at hand. Rather, its about fear and power(lessness).

  2. larry February 10, 2009 at 9:13 am

    I saw this about 18 months ago, and agree it was absolutely riveting. As a faithful Christian, I was appalled to see how many of the “Christians” in Dover acted, how the text book in question was so clearly a revised “Creationist” treatise, and simply floored to learn about the “wedge” approach. It made me sick . . . what an eye opening documentary, and you are right, done exceptionally well.

  3. Dave Moorhead February 10, 2009 at 11:30 am

    Joey has some very good points in his comment and I agree with the spirit of his points. It is hard to see how ID can be taught in science classrooms. In fact, it’s hard to see how the question of origins can be taught in a science class. Philosophy? Logic? I understand the scientific method. I struggled in science classes myself but have helped all my kids with their annual science projects. Propose a theory. Test the theory. Test the results. Can the results be falsified (bow to Joey). So scientists are offering a theory of origins and are trying to test it. So far…what?
    As a guy who has three girls still in high school, let me just say that there is material in almost every one of their classes that my wife and I have to clarify for them. Actually, what they are being taught in science is far easier to deal with at home than what they are being taught in history!

  4. ColtsFan February 10, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Concerning point 9, I think Johnson’s “wedge strategy” is needed to expose naturalism masquerading as science for the same reasons why creationism should be exposed as a religious doctrine (and not scientific).
    I do think Gordon H. Clark’s, “The Philosophy of Science”, should be required reading at all Christian colleges for it reveals that much talk about “evolution vs. creationism” is actually discussing issues in the philosophy of science, and not empirical science per se. “Anti-realism” (without going overboard and endoring Kuhn and Feyerbend) is a viable, Biblical option for the Christian thinker today.

  5. Keith Berndtson February 10, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    Our legacy and destiny on Earth seem to depend on our ability to integrate faith with reason. This cannot be done with a wedge.
    In theistic evolution we find a worldview in which creation, evolution, and emergence converge in a storyline where science and religion are drawn together as partners.
    As Pascal observed, the heart senses what the mind cannot know. When we fuse the evidence of empirical data with the evidence of subjective experience, we become whole in our attempts to metabolize reality together.
    Dover was a false and misleading attempt to protect the sacred from the equally false and misleading idea of the selfish gene.
    Yet emerging theories about convergent evolution are providing rational support for the idea that the universe has a purpose. This being the case, the real news is that a radically empirical view of evolution may be deriving a “law of theodynamics.”
    I imagine a law that would apply to every highly intelligent life form in the universe, holding that long-term survival for higher life forms requires an ability to:
    1.Be humble before the creative force that acted first upon you.
    2.Realize your ideals.
    3.Cultivate your highest virtues.
    4.Make ethics matter.
    Surprising as it may seem, the Way and the Life may in truth reflect a law that will describe the theodynamics of intelligent design. The only catch is that science and religion must come to this conclusion together. We must first become whole in the eyes of God.
    We have cause to believe that faith and reason will unite in our time. The vessel of humanity has entered the turbulent waters of the 21st Century. Who will navigate the way to a human relationship to the world that works?

  6. jls February 11, 2009 at 8:39 am

    Hi John,
    When you say “serious Christians” and “serious scientists,” I believe that you mean “intellectually honest Christians” and “intellectually honest scientists.” There is plenty (perhaps too much) seriousness on all sides of this debate, and not enough intellectual honesty. Not enough willingness to acknowledge how much we don’t know. So much about the origins of the universe, of life, and of human life–both from scientific and religious standpoints–is shrouded in mystery. Some people don’t seem to handle mystery very well. There are fundamentalist Christians, and there are fundamentalist (atheistic) scientists. In many ways, they are suprisingly similar.

  7. Emil February 12, 2009 at 11:10 am

    Agreeing with jls—the difficulty arises when people make claims about things which their own methods have eliminated. Biologists must assume a materialistic world as they work in the lab. They do not expect and indeed seldom see surprises. What they do not feel they understand, they set aside to study another day. And, we have found remarkable things. But biologists cannot view miracles because they have assumed that miracles do not exist to be seen. Thus, they may not conclude that miracles never happen; their very methodology makes it impossible to see one.
    My point is that if a biologist sticks with his assumptions, we expect that he/she will relations between chemicals, cells, etc. But he has no ground to conclude that his assumptions are true. He cannot prove them and he should not tell others that he has proven them.
    Many philosophers have shown that some of the well-known Darwinists are woefully poor logicians and philosophers. One said that after reading Dawkins, he felt embarrassment for Dawkins.
    The further problem comes if we really do believe Darwinism—-by chance we sprang up from mud which in turn is part of a universe that for some strange reason sprang from nothing at the big bang. If true, we have no ground to stand on for any ethical or moral position. Society is running on the inertia of past faith.
    We have learned that the universe is remarkably fine-tuned: if the pull of gravitation were just a tiny bit stronger, we think the universe would not have expanded—-if a tiny bit weaker, matter could not condense. There are lots such finely-tuned principles. In answer to how this could happen without an intelligent designer, some theorists suggest an infinite number of big bangs—the one we have just happened to have the right physics to support the evolution of life. Really? To get rid of the hypothesis of the intelligent designer we can hypothesis an infinite number of big bangs. This is Occam’s Razor? This is intelligent science?

  8. Jim May 19, 2009 at 6:03 am

    I found a streaming version of this documentary at http://www.documentary-log.com/watch-online-d/295/intelligent-design-on-trial/
    I also bought it on DVD. Thanks for the careful analysis John.

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