2-hour 'Nova' reviews Pa. 'intelligent design' trial

2-hour 'Nova' reviews Pa. 'intelligent design' trial
The show offers courtroom reenactments as well as interviews with principals.

By Jonathan Storm - Philadelphia Inquirer Columnist - Tue, Nov. 13, 2007 - original
The board members who battled to include "intelligent design" alongside evolution in the Dover, Pa., public school curriculum weren't very intelligent themselves, tonight's Nova reveals in Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial, a two-hour special beginning at 8 on WHYY TV12.

To make their case, they offered a book that had been altered, overwriting the text to take "creationist" out and drop "design proponents" in. But it didn't work very well. The words came out "cdesign proponentsists."

And the judge who adjudicated the lawsuit brought by parents against the school board 100 miles west of Philadelphia in 2005, a judge who was nominated by former Sen. Rick Santorum, a creationist activist, and assumed to be safely in the fundamentalist fold, wasn't blinded by science.

He ruled that intelligent design "is a religious view . . . and not a scientific theory," and barred it from the classroom.

"Judges have to decide what is good science in a myriad of different circumstances," John E. Jones 3d, who presided over the Dover trial, told TV critics at their summer gathering in Los Angeles. "We use touchstones, such as, 'Is it testable?' 'Is it generally accepted in the scientific community?' 'Have there been published works, peer review, works about the particular concept?' And, you know, at the end of the day, intelligent design failed all those tests."

One of the people defending the "science" that an intelligent being created all living things just as they are, admitted that under his definition, astrology is a science, too.

Nova steers clear of archers with horses' bodies and other star-symbols, but it does take plenty of time from the surprisingly gripping re-creation of the trial and interviews with many of the principals to offer some science of its own.

Nova is there, contemporaneously with the trial, as paleontologists dig up a 375 million-year-old half-fish, half-amphibian fossil in the Canadian arctic. Named tiktaalik, the creature seems to represent a tangible example of Earth life's evolution from the sea to the land.

Nova looks at the science of genetics and molecular biology, unknown at the time Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution. A clear explanation - one of several great uses of animation to explain some of the scientific principles involved in the case - illustrates how the 24 chromosomes of apes evolved into the 23 of humans.

Nova also provides history, reminding us that evolution backers actually lost the famous 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial" in Tennessee, memorialized by Inherit the Wind, and that the theory of evolution was basically absent from American textbooks until the Soviet Union's launching of Sputnik in 1957 spurred a national science catch-up effort. It wasn't until 1987 that the Supreme Court deemed creationism a religious belief and not a scientific theory and banned it from the classroom.

Intelligent design is seen by many as an end run around that ban, and some Dover school board members acknowledged as much.

Nova, the science show, stoutly defends science against the attack of the surprisingly hard-to-pin-down intelligent-design brain trust. It does use such loaded words as "claim" and "so-called" to describe tenets of the supposed theory, but it is surprisingly clear of a "nyah-nyah, we won" tone. That makes this significant program more accessible to all.

"I think it's important for people to see this," Judge Jones, a practicing Lutheran, told the TV critics. "If you glibly embrace intelligent design, or if you're in that 48 or 50 percent who believe creationism ought to be taught in school, I hope [you] will watch this."