November 14, 2007 | David F. Coppedge

Judgment Day:  Will it Be the New Inherit the Wind?

The PBS-Vulcan film Judgment Day just aired on national TV (see 10/12/2007) and is sure to represent a new rallying point for both sides of the ongoing controversy over Darwinian evolution that has raged for 148 years.  For material on both sides, see the PBS website, which put Intelligent Design on trial, and the responses at the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News and Intelligent Design.org, which put Darwin on trial (per the title of Phillip Johnson’s influential ID book).  Also see the DI’s new intelligent design central, Intelligent Design.org.  For those who missed the show, the entire transcript and film will be available online November 16.
    The transcript of the entire interview with Phillip Johnson, of which only selected portions were shown on camera, is available on the PBS site.  It is about the only ID-friendly material on the entire site except for some listings on the Resources page.  The list of authors for every other pro-Darwin article or recording reads like a who’s who of lawyers, scientists, educators and activists who have made a career out of discrediting intelligent design.  Phillip Johnson had some pre-game thoughts on the show and his involvement on the ID the Future podcast for November 12.
    Just as generations of students were exposed to Inherit the Wind in school, it is likely new generations will study Judgment Day as the definitive depiction of “intelligent design on trial.”  The PBS website offers teachers a selection of resources for the classroom and encourages teachers to use the film as an instructional resource.

We recommend readers become familiar with the best arguments on both sides and avoid caricatures and propaganda tricks, a number of which were clearly in use in the program.  This film, indeed, could well be used as a case study in how to bias a controversy to favor one side.  It would be worth watching it side by side with Unlocking the Mystery of Life, The Privileged Planet and Icons of Evolution.  The key to understanding will be to discern what pieces of evidence are relevant to the central issue, and how they are portrayed.
    In the re-enactments, notice how the producer pretended to give an accurate portrayal of courtroom events but included subtleties that buttressed the anti-ID bias.  Darwin propagandists undoubtedly learned their lesson from Inherit the Wind, which did not even pretend to be a factual reconstruction of the Scopes Trial and has been roundly criticized by secular historians as completely misleading regarding what really happened in Dayton in 1925.  In Judgment Day, the producer tried to pick actors that resembled the main characters, and had them quote the transcript more-or-less verbatim, without overblown histrionics or garrish TV effects.  It was evident, however, that the Ken Miller character was made to look very sure of himself and persuasive to the audience, whereas the Michael Behe character, through body language and facial expressions, was made to start out with a phony air of confidence that degenerated into uneasiness and doubt.  You can be sure that the parts of the transcript quoted were carefully selected as well.
    The closing statements, similarly, contained the same subtle cues intended to reinforce the desired effect: that the anti-ID lawyers and witnesses were on the side of reason and science, and could see through the supposed duplicity of the other side with complete clarity, as if “come on, you guys, we know exactly what you are up to.”  The pro-ID lawyers and witnesses were made to look like bumbling, ruffled, evasive, almost sinister advocates who were not very good at covering up their hidden agenda – especially the two pro-ID school board members, who were portrayed as criminal perjurers who belong on America’s Dumbest Criminals.  The film was careful to quote enough of the opposition to sidestep charges that they were completely and utterly biased against ID – but in each case, either quoted them to knock down a straw man, or did not allow them to elaborate sufficiently to support their assertions.  The Darwinists always got the last word.
    In evaluating this film, it is essential to first toss out the irrelevant material.  There was a lot of that.  Consider a short list of vignettes the film focused in on that have absolutely nothing to do with the issue of whether Darwinism alone is science and deserves exclusive treatment in public education, or whether intelligent design can be treated apart from religious implications.

  • The ineptitude of the Dover school board members.  Irrelevant.
  • The outrage of the science teachers, and their brave stand against the “conspiracy”.  Irrelevant.
  • The tragedy of a town embattled in controversy.  Irrelevant.
  • The fact that school board meetings “erupted in chaos.”  Irrelevant.  They erupt just as readily over Walmart.
  • The tragedy of a reporter unable to reconcile with her Christian father.  Irrelevant.
  • The “smoking gun” evidence of clumsy editing changes to the book Of Pandas and People.  Irrelevant.
  • How hard Barbara Forrest had to work to find the “smoking gun.”  Irrelevant.
  • The glee the NCSE experienced over finding evidence that Pandas and People was construed as “creationist” before it used the term “intelligent design”.  Irrelevant.
  • The eagerness of the ACLU to help, and the prosecutors’ excitement over getting the case of a lifetime.  Irrelevant.
  • Whether the school board was religiously motivated.  Relevant perhaps to this particular case and the interpretation of the Establishment Clause as recently given by the Supreme Court, but irrelevant to the validity of Darwinism or intelligent design, and irrelevant to the original intent of the Constitution; also, arguably false or impossible to know one’s true motives or whether religion was any more motivating than a common human desire for fairness.  The policy statement made no reference to religion or to any particular church that would have been “established” had students been informed that alternatives to Darwinism exist (which is true).  A statement should be judged on evidence for its veracity, not by what motivated it.
  • Whether intelligent design can be construed as somehow violating separation of church and state.  Irrelevant.
  • Whether 1/3 to 1/2 of Americans doubt Darwinism.  Irrelevant.
  • Whether most creationists tend to be Christians.  Irrelevant.
  • Whether Christians usually feel the Designer is God.  Irrelevant.
  • Whether many creationists accept Genesis.  Irrelevant. 
  • Whether some evolutionists are not atheists.  Irrelevant.
  • Whether Ken Miller is a practicing Catholic.  Irrelevant.
  • Whether Christians would like to see a renewal of culture they feel was ravaged by materialism, for which they feel Darwinism is largely responsible.  An important issue, but irrelevant to the question of whether Darwinism deserves educational priority in science classrooms to the exclusion of anything else.
  • That the Discovery Institute wrote a Wedge Document with broad goals seeking a renewal of science and culture.  Irrelevant; the Discovery Institute was not on trial – in fact, they disagreed with the Dover policy.  For rebuttal, and a discussion of how this line of motive-baiting can be turned just as easily against Darwinists (for instance, because of Eugenie Scott’s signing of the Humanist Manifesto III), see Evolution News.
  • Whether Darwin’s finches are evidence for evolution.  Irrelevant; even creationists accept microevolutionary change.
  • Whether teaching ID would harm America’s future in science.  Irrelevant and absurd.
  • Whether minimizing Darwinism would hurt medicine or agriculture.  Irrelevant and absurd; most medicine and agriculture was advanced by creationists (e.g., Pasteur, Mendel, Carver).
  • Whether ID lacks a fully fleshed-out scientific approach, as Paul Nelson confessed.  Irrelevant.  Design-based science arguably does more real legwork in science than Darwinism does (e.g., biomimetics, archaeology, forensics, information technology); besides, Darwinism was little more than a suggestion in 1849, but that didn’t stop them.  Read Dembski’s The Design Revolution for more answers to this type of criticism.
  • Whether textbook writers have ever been afraid to present evolution in high school textbooks.  Irrelevant. 
  • Whether Behe, Minnich, and the lawyers for the defense made a good case.  Irrelevant; they are only human.  Other witnesses said they did much better than this movie portrayed.
  • Whether Behe was embarrassed by a pile of books and papers that claimed they explained the evolution of the immune system.  Irrelevant.  A detailed inspection of these publications would undoubtedly confirm the pattern reported in these pages, that evolutionists fill in the gaps with pure speculation in spite of evidence, based on an a priori commitment to naturalism.
  • Whether the trial produced a flap of worldwide media coverage.  Irrelevant.
  • What Darwin’s great great great grandson thought of the trial.  Irrelevant.
  • Whether evolution critics understand what a “theory” is in science.  Irrelevant.  Look how some Darwinists exhibit their ignorance by comparing the theory of evolution to the law of gravity.
  • Whether Michael Behe’s definition of science as presented at the trial was so loose so as to allow astrology.  Irrelevant; as all philosophers of science know, there is no universal definition of science, nor is there a universal scientific method, nor any epistemic justification that even the most basic science preserves an accurate reflection of external reality, whether or not it proves useful.  Definitions of science vary from extremes that it is The Truth to it is a socially-constructed set of cultural biases.  As philosopher J. P. Moreland claims, hardly any working scientist has a clue what science is; it is not typically a part of their education.  The definition of science is not science, it is a second-order claim of philosophy about science.  It follows that Michael Behe can work as a scientist without being expected to define science in a courtroom in a way that will satisfy his critics.
  • Whether the teachers and Judge Jones received hate mail and death threats.  Tragic, but irrelevant.  By the way, as if any readers here need to be reminded of the obvious, this is NO way to be effective for ANY point of view!  It is harmful, wicked and criminal.  If you are given to this tendency, repent.
  • Whether David DeRosier, whom Behe quoted, believes in Darwinian evolution or not.  Irrelevant.
  • Whether Darwinists can say “evolution is science, ID is religion” with feeling (or with a straight face).  Irrelevant.
  • Whether Judge Jones ruled that teaching ID is unconstitutional.  Irrelevant; he is just one unelected man who took on himself to decide issues far beyond what the case was about, and his decision is limited to the Dover area.  It has no judicial weight outside that district, for whatever propaganda chaff the victors want to glean from it.
  • Whether Darwinists were pleased that a judge decided what science was.  Irrelevant and counter-productive.  Scientists do not want to go to unelected judges to decide matters of science.  What if some day a judge decides federal funding for science is unconstitutional?

Now, we are not saying these elements of the movie were completely worthless.  They had entertainment value.  Like the mission statement in Paul Allen’s Vulcan film company stated, they wanted to engage in “elegant and compelling storytelling.”  For that matter, Inherit the Wind and even Birth of a Nation succeeded at that, too, in a perverse way.  The point is that none of this has anything to do with the truth claims or epistemic superiority of Darwinism.
    OK, we have just dispensed with about 75% of the program.  Another 5% consisted of baseless, unsupported assertions, like Ken Miller blurting out “ID is a science stopper!”  Sorry, unsupported assertions prove nothing.  (These were used to good effect in the Scopes Trial by the Darwinists, too.)
    Another 5% consisted of card stacking, or selective evidence.  For instance, Neil Shubin and Kevin Padian carried on and on about all the transitional forms, especially their star witness, the fish-o-pod Tiktaalik (see 04/06/2006, 05/03/2006, 10/20/2006), but said nothing about the Cambrian explosion, which makes Tiktaalik irrelevant because the Cambrian explosion falsifies Darwinism from the get-go.  Noticeably absent was any discussion of the origin of life, other than Shubin’s passing comment, “Many scientists believe life began in the water,” as if anybody cares what many scientists believe.  This is not supposed to be a matter of belief or faith, but science, remember?  Many scientists believe in unobservable universes.  Should they teach that in school?
    Another 5% consisted of wild extrapolations from these controversial examples to the claim that the entire fossil record is replete with transitional forms.  Which brings us to the out-and-out lies, like asserting that Archaeopteryx represents a transitional form between dinosaurs and birds, or that the Establishment Clause teaches Separation of Church and State, or that ID consists entirely of negative arguments, or that creationism is an attack on all that Galileo and Newton tried to accomplish (ahem, they were creationists).  (For more lies told in the film, see Evolution News).  Then there were the half-truths, such as that the Discovery Institute would not agree to be interviewed because of their refusal to abide by “standard journalistic practice” (see EvolutionNews for their side of the story), or that their scientists “dropped off like flies” from testifying, without explaining that they had tried to get the Dover school board and the Thomas More Law Center to abandon the policy because they felt it was an ineffective approach that was legally doomed.  Another half-truth: emphasizing the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the exclusion of the Free-Exercise Clause.
    Another 5% consisted of question-begging statements that assumed people know what science is, and that evolution is science, but ID is not.  An unbiased presentation would have correctly explained that there is no universally-accepted definition of science, there are no demarcation criteria that can successfully keep the desired sciences in and the undesirable sciences (including astrology) out – so Michael Behe had a point, when understood this way: if you want to exclude astrology, then guess what! you are going to exclude Darwinism, too.
Other questions begged in the movie:

  • Whether the Arkansas ruling made any and every kind of teaching creationism unconstitutional.
  • Whether creationism deserves to be regarded as a pariah.
  • Whether ID should be expected to have some overlap with creationism or not.
  • Whether discussions of ID must include the religious motivations of some of its proponents.
  • Whether ID proponents must identify the Designer.
  • Whether evolutionary explanations are any more successful at propelling science forward.  Consider the Darwinists’ science-stopping explanations about vestigial organs and junk DNA, for instance.
  • Whether all sciences are equally empirical, testable, falsifiable (consider political science, sociology vs the science used in space flight operations).
  • Whether ability to make predictions defines something as scientific.  Popper and other philosophers of science denied this.  Even astrology made predictions that sometimes worked, and few practicing scientists abandon a theory over a failed prediction.
  • Whether the ability to speculate on a possible gradualistic path to an irreducibly complex structure is equivalent to establishing that this is actually what happened.  The plausibility criterion is insufficient to make a speculation scientific.  Anybody can make up a story.  Maybe a meatball traveled across the Atlantic and resulted in music (08/26/2003 commentary).  It’s plausible, isn’t it?  If I expect you to prove me wrong, I am shifting the burden of proof.
  • Whether the rise of Darwinism was correlated with progress in science.  A case could be made that it was anti-correlated; that it rode on the coat-tails of a scientific revolution that was happening anyway (e.g., because of the work of creationist physicists Faraday, Maxwell, Kelvin).  A strong case can be made that Darwinism actually was parasitic on scientific progress, borrowing from its prestige while generating disasters like eugenics and racist criminal theory.

The worst example of question-begging of all was assuming that science cannot infer design because that requires a supernatural God.  How convenient—that makes science materialistic by definition!  Again, this is not a question science can address; it is a second-order claim about science.  But with a sweep of the hand, with an arbitrary and philosophically-indefensible rule (not scientific evidence), they cleared the playing field of any contenders, such that something like Darwinism must be true, no matter how implausible, simply because it is materialistic.  The film employed the either-or fallacy to make any references to so-called “supernatural” causes (should be intelligent causes) look as arbitrary as possible.
    Up to this point we have not addressed the few minutes of actual scientific evidence the film presented to support the dramatic claim that Darwinian evolution is so well supported, it deserves absolute supremacy in the classroom, to the exclusion of anything else.  Here are the main three instances of empirical observations that were adduced to show support for Mr. Darwin’s grand tale:

  1. Tiktaalik:  PBS clearly treated this as a showpiece in the film.  Too bad it is irrelevant.  See our earlier commentaries on this from 04/06/2006, 05/03/2006, and 10/20/2006.  Also, Evolution News has a refutation of this fossil’s relevance to Darwinian evolution.  Notice that Shubin bluffed that these rocks were from the “right age” for the fish-tetrapod transition, ignoring the fact that the dating of the strata was built on evolutionary assumptions.  Let Shubin deal with the Cambrian explosion then we will listen to his fish-o-pod story – and yuck it up around the cave campfire, where Truth doesn’t exist anyway.

    The 4 other fossil transitions presented on the PBS website (not shown in the movie) are even less convincing.  Notice how many times the feature uses the words “may have” and “probably” etc.  The reptile-to-mammal sequence looks as ad-hoc as placing a lizard, a wolverine and a mouse in a line and calling it an evolutionary sequence.  Look at the dates in the alleged dinosaur-to-bird transition; apparently they think evolution ran backwards in time here.  The whale sequence relies little on bone, and heavily on artist imagination.  The human evolution sequence is fraught with controversy among paleoanthropologists themselves, so this depiction is highly contrived.  Each of these exhibits has more gap than data, and each relies heavily on inference from similarities.  Have some fun; find evolutionary transitions among your garage tools.

    • Flagellum and Type-III Secretion System (TTSS):  The “co-option” argument for evolution was fully answered in the film Unlocking the Mystery of Life.  In addition, many scientists now believe that the TTSS is a degenerate structure from the flagellum, not a transitional form.  Furthermore, the use of a TTSS by disease organisms says nothing about whether they were designed or not, which is all ID tries to answer.  If Darwinists want to argue that God would not have made such a thing, then they have left science and are now arguing theology, so they had better not bring that up in science class.
    • Human chromosome #2 as a splice:  Ken Miller gleefully showed evidence that humans have one less chromosome than great apes because sometime in human history two chromosomes were spliced together, and this proves evolution.  It proves it only if you commit several logical fallacies.  Notice that the splicing of a chromosome was not a prediction of evolution, but an observation, with a made-up evolutionary story after the fact.  Miller committed the either-or fallacy by assuming that since he could not imagine God creating the chromosome this way, Darwinism is therefore established (this is also an example of the Argument from Personal Incredulity, one of his own favorite accusations in debate).
          Did Miller provide any evidence this change conferred fitness on evolving humans?  No.  Did he prove that this change occurred before humans came into existence?  No.  Did he establish a time frame for when it occurred?  No.  Did he rule out all other possible explanations, like a genetic bottleneck that might have occurred on Noah’s Ark or something?  No.  Does he or any other evolutionist have any explanation for the variety of chromosome numbers in animals, which seem to bear no correlation with fitness?  No.  It is a quirky observation that could lend itself to numerous explanations, none of which science has any way of establishing, so it is irrelevant to the film’s argument about why students should get only the Darwinian story.  Do apes get along great with their 24 pairs of chromosomes?  Do humans get along fine with 23 pairs?  Sure; that’s about all that science can say.  For more information on chromosome number variability, in answer to Miller’s claim, see Jean Lightner’s article on Answers in Genesis.

Since everything else in the film was irrelevant, the entire weight of Darwin-Only Policy in Education (D.O.P.E.) must rest on these, their best examples of actual scientific evidence in support of the claim that 9th-grade students must be taught only the belief that humans had bacteria ancestors.  You might have noticed that it was PBS that displayed the false dichotomy of Darwin vs Genesis.  Don’t these same people squeal when we call evolution “Darwinism”?  They had Charlie’s mug all over the screen, with his pet finches and Beagle and all.  Clearly, they were equating Darwinism with evolution, so that’s why their critics do, too.
    A huge, underlying assumption that was downplayed was that Darwinists, and only Darwinists of the NCSE stripe, understand the nature of science and the nature of religion, including what constitutes the terms natural and supernatural.  This was shamefully misunderstood and misconstrued by the entire pro-Darwin cast.  Philosophers of science around the world should rise up in horror at the sophomoric definition of science that Judgment Day merely assumed was universally accepted and defensible.
    This film was a grandstand for the usual suspects, a certain cadre of Darwin Party Hacks who make a career out of protecting their idol from criticism.  The names of these same People of Froth appear in just about every instance of an ID controversy.  Take away their bullhorns and disarm their attack dogs at the ACLU, and most of the commotion over intelligent design would probably calm down into a nice, rational debate among reasonable people.
    While thinking about these issues, you might review yesterday’s entry (11/12/2007), since the film showed, over and over and over in Dover, a mesmerizing animation of their mystical icon, Darwin’s tree of life (see also the 10/08/2007 entry, with the remarks of Nick Matzke, one of the PBS heroes, worrying about what ID proponents would do with the clear evidence against Darwin’s tree).  How can they reach a tree of life when they don’t even have knowledge of good and evil?

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