Keeping God Out of the Classroom

NUVO | November 4, 2007
Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial

8 p.m. Tuesday


By Marc D. Allan

You rarely get to see a true American hero in action, so let me recommend you turn on NOVA Tuesday to watch Judge John E. Jones III. He's the decider who ruled that "intelligent design" -- essentially creationism under a new and neutral name -- cannot be taught in public schools.

In Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial, an excellent and fast-moving two hours, we're taken through the arguments Jones heard in the landmark 2005 case Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, as well as the science, the outcome and the fallout. Viewers get clear, understandable explanations for why evolution is the accepted theory of the origins of man and why Jones decreed intelligent design to be "an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion."

"To introduce and teach bad science to ninth-grade students makes very little sense to me,' says Jones, a U.S. District Court judge appointed by President George W. Bush. "Garbage in, garbage out. It doesn't benefit any of us who benefit daily from scientific discoveries."

The issue came to a head in 2004 when the Dover, Pa., school board attempted to insert a statement into the high school science curriculum declaring that evolution is merely a theory and there are other explanations for man's existence. One of those, they argued, is intelligent design, which suggests that life is too complex to have evolved naturally and therefore must have been designed by an "intelligent agent." (Code words for God.)

Seen here in courtroom re-creations (with Jones presiding), the plaintiffs' lawyers in the Kitzmiller case tore apart the intelligent design proponents. By the end, their star witness acknowledged that intelligent design is a theory on par with astrology, and the real motive of the supporters of intelligent design -- to inject God into the science curriculum -- was exposed.

Jones is not portrayed as a hero, but he is, of course. He didn't decide the case based on what his benefactors wanted; he simply listened to the evidence and issued an impartial ruling. We used to expect that from every judge. Now, though, it takes extreme courage to weather the criticism and resulting death threats. Jones should be a role model for every judge who’s tempted to bend the law to suit a politician or political party.

If Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial is missing anything, it's an explanation of why some people can't reconcile that evolution and God can exist side by side. Advocates of intelligent design seem to fear the idea that if we're descended from apes rather than created by God, we are merely amoral animals. Why, though, can't we have evolved from apes and still adhere to the general tenets of morality and religion? It shouldn't be an either-or.

But I guess that's an argument for another show.


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