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.