Nova recounts the latest defeat of gussied-up creation science in Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial. This fantastic two hour special explores the legal and scientific aspects of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. It’s also fantastic primer on the underlying question, “What is science?”
Born and raised here, I know “Mississippi in the middle” describes Pennsylvania all too well. A town outside of the very Republican state capital, Harrisburg, looked like a favorable battlefield for the religious fundamentalists. Having a Bush-appointed conservative federal judge presiding should have tipped the scales even more. (In retrospect a jury trial might have been worse if my personal experience with juries is any indication.) The fundamentalists were emboldened to fight the next round of the culture wars by Republican victories and Bush’s “mandate” (by barely getting reelected) in 2004. The odds didn’t look good.
The program shows how smart, dedicated people not only won this lopsided battle but trounced their opponents. Inspiring, even for a cynic like me! I was particularly struck by how articulate and even funny the plaintiffs’ lawyers and experts were. Nova uses a series of reenactments taken word for word from the transcripts since no filming was allowed during the trial. Don’t worry; they did a good job. This won’t feel like an unseemly episode of A Current Affair.
I particularly enjoyed the part where Barbara Forrest is testifying about how she compared versions of the Intelligent Design (ID) textbook Of Pandas and People before and after the Supreme Court ruling in 1987 that threw creation science out on its ear. Somebody makes a quip about the glaring search/eplace error “cdesign proponentsists” being a transitional form (i.e., missing link) between “creationist” and “design proponent”. I appreciated it on so many levels–as a science geek, a verbal fencer, and even as a Document Management expert!
My only gripe with the program is how it ends with the notion that science and religion can coexist. That’s just wishful thinking in a world filled with religious fundamentalists. Here’s why: Science and religion are trying to answer some of the same questions about natural phenomena like the origin of man, the Earth, and everything. They go about it in very different ways:
- Science uses processes for generating, testing, and refining assertions about the natural world based on experimentally validated facts. This continuous refinement means science gets more accurate over time as more facts accumulate and theories evolve to better fit the facts. Time is on science’s side.
- Fundamentalists believe their sacred texts are the infallible words of some deity, so their assertions about natural phenomena must all be absolutely true even though they were penned hundreds or thousands of years ago. Time works against religion because new facts accumulate over time that may challenge or contradict those infallible assertions.
Time has indeed favored science, and no burning bush or tablets of errata have appeared to reconcile any of those infallible sacred texts with the growing body of scientific knowledge. It’s not really a fair fight, and some religions have come to terms with that fact.
The Catholic Church doesn’t only acknowledge the Earth goes around the Sun now, the Catholic Church accepts the theory of evolution. These aren’t liberal secular humanists, they’re Catholics. They’re also pragmatists. It’s a losing battle, so why fight anymore and take more shots to the head? The Baha’i faith even builds an “until proven wrong” clause into their sacred texts to avoid conflict altogether. It’s certainly easier for science and religion to coexist peacefully when religion pleads no contest.
However, the United States is a country with a swelling fundamentalist Christian population at war with anybody believing differently. It’s not just the atheists or radical fundamentalist Islamics; in Dover they even attacked other Christians for not being Christian enough. These people know science will inevitably tread on their infallible truths by just doing its job. They aren’t pacifists despite lip service to their pacifist lord and savior. They’re going to fight, and there are only two ways they can win:
- Turn everybody into fundamentalist Christians so nobody questions their infallible truths.
- Outlaw any activity, belief, or lack thereof that conflicts with their infallible truths.
Either we all drink the Kool Aid, or anybody who’s different becomes a second class citizen in the Theocratic States of America. Let’s be clear about how this started. It wasn’t scientists persecuting fundamentalists. Biochemists aren’t in their labs sequencing genomes to discredit Genesis. Authors aren’t penning Biology texts because they hate the Bible. It’s the fundamentalists that have the agenda and use back-door political maneuvering to sucker-punch well-supported science like evolution.
Dover didn’t end this, but we can learn from Dover. Take heart that sometimes the good guys win. Prepare for the next onslaught by the fundamentalists.