Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial

John ArmstrongScience

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.