Is intelligent design science or religion? Nova chronicles the legal battle to settle the status of a new assault on evolution in a two-hour special
Posted November 8, 2007
Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial November 13, 2007 at 8pm ET/PT on PBS www.pbs.org/nova/id
NOVA captures the turmoil that tore apart the community of Dover, Pennsylvania in one of the latest battles over teaching evolution in public schools in Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial. Co-produced with Paul G. Allen's Vulcan Productions, Inc., the film will air as a two-hour special on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 at 8pm ET/PT on PBS (check local listings).
Featuring trial reenactments based on court transcripts and interviews with key participants, including expert scientists and Dover parents, teachers, and town officials, the program follows the celebrated federal case of Kitzmiller v. Dover School District.
In 2004, the Dover school board ordered science teachers to read a statement to high school biology students suggesting that there is an alternative to Darwin’s theory of evolution called intelligent design -- the idea that life is too complex to have evolved naturally and therefore must have been designed by an intelligent agent.
The teachers refused to comply, and parents opposed to intelligent design filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing the school board of violating the constitutional separation of church and state.
"There was a blow-up like you couldn’t believe," Bill Buckingham, head of the school board’s curriculum committee, tells NOVA. Buckingham helped formulate the intelligent design policy when he noticed that the biology textbook chosen by teachers for classroom use "was laced with Darwinism," in his words.
NOVA presents the arguments by lawyers and expert witnesses in riveting detail and provides an eye-opening crash course on questions such as "What is evolution?" and "Is intelligent design a scientifically valid alternative?" Kitzmiller was the first legal test of intelligent design as a scientific theory, with the plaintiffs arguing that it is a thinly veiled form of creationism, the view that a literal interpretation of the Bible accounts for all observed facts about nature.
During the trial, lawyers for the plaintiffs showed that evolution is one of the best-tested and most thoroughly confirmed theories in the history of science, and that its unresolved questions are normal research problems -- the type that arise in any flourishing scientific field.
U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III ultimately decided for the plaintiffs, writing in his decision that intelligent design "cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."
As part of his decision, Judge Jones ordered the Dover school board to pay legal fees and damages, which were eventually set at $1 million.
"Judgment Day captures on film a landmark court case with a powerful scientific message at its core," said Paula S. Apsell, NOVA Senior Executive Producer. "Evolution is one of the most essential and least understood of all scientific theories, the foundation of biological science. We felt it was important for NOVA to do this program to heighten the public understanding of what constitutes science and what does not, and therefore, what is acceptable for inclusion in the science curriculum in our public schools."
"Vulcan Productions has long been committed to the subject of evolution and its teaching," remarked Vulcan Productions Executive Producer, Richard Hutton. "When we co-produced the Evolution series with the WGBH Science Unit in 2001, we set out to bring the richness of Darwin's theory to life. The story of the Dover trial gives us another opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to helping audiences understand the nature of science through elegant and compelling storytelling."
For years to come, the lessons from Dover will continue to have a profound impact on how science is viewed in our society and how it is taught in the classroom.
Founded by investor and philanthropist Paul G. Allen in 1997, Vulcan Productions devotes itself exclusively to producing independent films of unique vision and artistic quality. With feature film projects such as Hard Candy, Far From Heaven, The Safety of Objects, and documentaries such as Rx For Survival, The Blues, Evolution, Black Sky: The Race for Space, and Black Sky: Winning the X Prize, the company commits its talent and resources to creating films of substance and enduring significance. Through collaborative partnerships with established and emerging filmmakers, Vulcan Productions explores creative opportunities that result in engaging and inspirational storytelling.
Now in its 34th year of broadcasting, NOVA is produced for PBS by the WGBH Science Unit at WGBH Boston. The director of the WGBH Science Unit and senior executive producer of NOVA is Paula S. Apsell. Funding for NOVA is provided by The DOW Chemical Company, David H. Koch, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and public television viewers.
NOVA is closed captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers and described for people who are blind or visually impaired by the Media Access Group at WGBH. The descriptive narration is available on the SAP channel or stereo TVs and VCRs. Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial will be available on DVD wherever videos are sold. To order direct from WGBH Boston Video, visit shop.wgbh.org or call 800.949.8670.