Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Intelligent Design's Day in Court on NOVA

Last night the PBS series NOVA featured a two-hour show on the 2005 Dover, PA Intelligent Design trial. If you missed it, go check out clips and some great evolution resources at the show's website. As a creation/evolution junkie, I had previously read all of the trial transcripts, but reading transcripts was no substitute for seeing and hearing the major participants on camera. And while the big players from the Discovery Institute refused to be interviewed, NOVA managed to get just about everyone else on camera, including one of the defense's expert witnesses and the two ex-school board members who started the whole mess. These guys made it abundantly clear in their own words that intelligent design in Dover was not about improving science education - it was all about pushing creationism among the students.

The show was generally well done, in spite of some badly acted (not to mention tacky) courtroom reenactments. There were excellently illustrated segments discussing science's success in some areas where intelligent design advocates have claimed there are problems, such as transitional fossils and the bacterial flagellum. I was happy to see that the show also spent time discussing how the development of genetics, and much later, genomics, were big tests of evolution. Darwin's ideas enabled scientists to make predictions that were borne out decades later in scientific fields that Darwin knew nothing about.

The most entertaining part of the show were the interviews with the two ex-school board members (who were caught lying during the trial) and a local Dover pastor. The founders of intelligent design have gone to great lengths to paint their ideas as serious science, not creationism. And yet on the show we hear Dover's local intelligent design advocates explain that they pushed intelligent design in school because they were concerned that the malleable students of Dover were having their good Christian faith weakened by evolution - not because the board members cared (or knew anything about) a good science education. Alan Bonsell and Bill Buckingham made it repeatedly clear that their main beef with evolution is that it offends their religious beliefs.

Judge John Jones, who presided over the trial, made a sobering statement towards the end of the show. He said that before this case he would have never have imagined that he would receive threats after an Establishment Clause case. Jones and his family were placed under the protection of the US Marshals for a time after his ruling, due to threats of physical harm Jones received. Of course I'm biased, but I can't imagine that Jones would have received such threats had he ruled the other way. And while I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of creationists would never, ever make such threats, much less act on them, the incident does expose the hatred that some people feel towards those who work to keep our science curricula untainted by religious dogma. This was a nasty episode in creation/evolution history, but with luck this trial will produce a lull in the battle for a couple of years. Unfortunately, we all know that this controversy is not over.


brad said...


enjoyed your piece, which i came across in 'scientific blogging'. it was a sad chapter in the creation/evolution saga. it's sad to see. it's also more sad to see 'christians' who care more about preserving their faith than they do seeking truth. i'm not sure the evolutionists wouldn't have threatened had it gone the other way...mostly because i've come to believe that people are people, and when they don't get their way, regardless of can get ugly.

good post.

Mike said...

I know I am biased on the issue, but I guess my earlier experience in a conservative Christian church has led me to see that some of these people have a militant edge to their beliefs that I don't usually see in secular crowds. As one of the reporters on the show said about her father's outlook, if eternal salvation is at stake, everything else (like the first amendment) pales in comparison. From that perspective, the nastiness is justified.

But you're absolutely right - people are people, and they can be nasty regardless of faith, and I'm just hazarding my own biased guess, for whatever it's worth.

brad said...

agreed, conservative(keyword) christians do seem to be some of the most militant, narrow-minded, self-centered, racist/bigoted/sexist people i've ever met. i added a lot, lol.

you say your biased. what is your bias if you don't mind me asking you to flesh it out a bit.

enjoying the conversation.


Mike said...

When I say I'm biased, I primarily mean that I'm an academic scientist as well as an ex-Mormon. Most people I hang around with think creationists are crazy, but wouldn't get worked up enough about the issue to write threatening letters. Especially since most scientists I know do have family who hold creationist beliefs - that inhibits some of the personal animosity scientists might otherwise feel towards creationists.

Having been raised with a conservative theology that I now vehemently reject, I tend to view conservative Christianity with possibly more disdain than someone who has never held such beliefs.

brad said...


thanks for letting me know a bit more about you and for your honesty.

i am biased as well. i was raised in a conservative christian home and church. however, i am no longer a conservative christian.

i do believe in intelligent design. i just don't discount science or evolution.

thanks again for the conversation.


Anonymous said...

Leave it to Nova to cover the irrelevant.
The issue is: do the various hypotheses of evolution floating around form from any observable data and "logical" conclusions or are they merely, as Darwin and some of his supporters candidly admitted in their letters to each other, just a way to try to encourage people to un-belief in God?

I have not seen any proposals on evolution that do not contradict the laws of Physics- which are demonstrable. The ideas (i personally do not think there is enough data to even call them hypotheses really) are not demonstrable nor do they agree with what has been observed. Variation is one thing that has been observed - changing from one creature to another hasn't been seen.

Where does "life" come from and why does it end? Our observations have not been able to tell us that. The Bible says it is the breath of God. Now some have a hard time believing in this kind of supernatural occurance but not others. Is this actual truth-seeking?
Is your life better if everyone you meet approaches you keeping in mind the 10 Commandments? (which one would you like personally broken on you?) or
perhaps what happens when people decide what is "good" on their own the commandment of Attila the Hun "because I can" or might makes it right.

The Church is a hospital for sinners. We are all diseased with thinking we know what is good without God's direction and help. Christianity is about seeking the Truth!
Let me ask you this? Is it truthful to teach half-baked hypotheses as facts???
I was force-fed in school, and i am not real young, classical Darwinian evolution, taught as a fact. Countless books i have read on animals are loaded with these "ideas" taught as facts.
I would say that i have been lied to. This has no business being taught as fact in schools, which it still is.
That is not education but indoctrination.
NOVA in my opinion is not a reliable nor a scientific source of information.
Thank you for your time and attn!

Mike said...

Thanks for helping to make my point that this controversy is about replacing science with religion.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry to see that you misunderstood the points i was trying to make.

1. Evolution is being taught as a fact in schools and on what basis? There is more "opinion" in evolution than fact.
2. Those who proposed evolution had an agenda to to undermine religion.
3. The various "opinions" on evolution out there contradict the laws of Physics.
4. If we are interested in education vs. propaganda then don't teach as facts what are only ideas or opinions - teach them as ideas and/or opinions!
Thank you for your time and attention!

Mike said...

To get my PhD, I had to learn about both evolution and physics. They don't contradict each other. You made it pretty clear in your previous comment that you came to you points because of your religious beliefs.

I cam to my conclusions because I have been educated in science.

Anonymous said...

i would ask you how evolution works with the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics?
Evolution says that the certain parts of the universe are becoming more
organized in very specific ways annnd
The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics states that the universe is heading to disorder or entropy. (see for explanation of this subject).
How is it while we can see this Law at work in ourselves and the objects around us that evolving creatures got a pass on this decay process?

Mike said...

Under your interpretation of the second law, the formation of snowflakes is impossible.

If you want a real explanation of thermodynamics in a biological context, forget web browsing and pick up a textbook. This one is quite good.

Anonymous said...

Your last post is illogical and shows a lack of comprehension of crystal formation as well as the Laws of Physics.
I would guess that this blog is more about snotty, pithy replies than science.

Just about anyone can do a search on the web for book titles.
i have posed several relevant questions on the lack of scientific evidence for evolution. You have not answered them with any scientific information.

brad said...

anonymous, what's with the 'snotty pithy' remark? i would suggest it's easy to say slighting remarks when you are signed in as anonymous.

did you come here for a fight? then why not share your name, a bit of who you are, and enter into a conversation instead of a pissing match.


Mike said...

Anonymous, I've read the textbook I recommended. I'm a professional biochemist - I use the the concepts of the laws of thermodynamics in my research. That book sits above my desk and I frequently use it for a reference.

You clearly don't have even a college student's understanding of the second law of thermodynamics, so I'm not about to debate it with you. Your question shows a basic ignorance of physical chemistry - if you want to understand how entropy works in a biological context, you need some education in thermodynamics, including the derivations of the relevant equations. A comment section on a blog is not the place to learn this.

Go check out the book, and when you can come back with a more specific question, demonstrating some understanding of the issue, I'll be happy to debate it.

Mike said...

Thanks for stopping by Brad, and for your support. :)

I'm happy to have a serious discussion here, but I swear, sometimes these questions are like trying to argue calculus with a fifth grader. There has to be some minimum level of understanding on a technical issue before it can be seriously debated.

It's probably easier to get into broader, more philosophical discussions around here than technical ones.

Amanda Tippy said...

amanda -
kind of a random request but I am wanting an explanation of the 2nd law of thermodynamics that a 5th grader can understand, but I am not sure I understand it all that well.
Could you help me with this? any resources would be helpful... not having much luck with my search.