Ray Suarez: From American Public Media, this is an American RadioWorks documentary, Intelligent Designs on Evolution.
Suarez: I'm Ray Suarez. In the coming hour, from American RadioWorks, Intelligent Designs on Evolution, how a rival concept about the origins of life is defying the cornerstone of biology. First this news update.
Suarez: From American Public Media, this is an American RadioWorks documentary, Intelligent Designs on Evolution. I'm Ray Suarez.
Suarez: Questions about our origins as a species have been plaguing us as humans, prodding us as scientists and dividing us as Americans for more than a hundred years, if not for all time.
Suarez: Gallup polls show that nearly half of Americans believe God created humankind 10,000 years ago, as the Bible says. And another third believe man evolved, but God had a hand in it, while only a third of the American public believe Darwin's theory of evolution is supported by evidence.
Yet nearly all scientists and teachers do believe in the evolutionary process. So when it comes to how we teach this topic in public schools, the controversy gets even more heated.
Suarez: Most recently, the debate has evolved to include a concept called "intelligent design," which argues certain aspects of the natural world are so complex they must have been the work of a designer. During the last year alone, elected officials in almost 20 states have raised questions over how to teach evolution in their schools.
During the next hour, producer Mary Beth Kirchner explores the far-reaching roots of our origins debate and the genesis of this contemporary clash over evolution.
Mary Beth Kirchner: It's a windy November afternoon in the parking lot of the brand new Giant supermarket in Dover, Pennsylvania, where locals are simply trying get on with their daily lives, loading groceries into their cars. And the press is after them again.
Kirchner: Residents of Dover have had enough of all the attention in recent months, to the point where some shoppers were literally pleading, "Please, leave us alone … and go home."
Kirchner: Dover, Pennsylvania is a small town of 19,000 people, surrounded by corn fields, with one high school. One high school that until now, had always attracted all the outside attention for its marching band. Then in October 2004, the Dover school board passed a change requiring biology teachers to recite a four-paragraph statement. The statement says Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is "not a fact" and has some inexplicable "gaps," and it suggests that students read an intelligent design textbook titled Of Pandas and People.
Kirchner: David Napierski is a former school board member.
Kirchner: The new policy in Dover didn't say who the intelligent designer was. But the American Civil Liberties Union says the designer is clearly God, and God doesn't belong in the classroom. So the ACLU and 11 parents filed a lawsuit, which became the landmark case Kitzmiller v. Dover.
Kirchner: Tammy Kitzmiller stands on the steps of the federal courthouse in Harrisburg, visibly uncomfortable in front of a horde of microphones and TV cameras.
Kirchner: Kitzmiller is a soft-spoken office manager whose two teenage daughters attend Dover High School.
Kirchner: Tammy Kitzmiller's daughter, Jessica.
Kirchner: Kitzmiller v. Dover will certainly go down in the history books. This was the first ever court case over intelligent design in schools. And it may serve as a cautionary tale to other school boards. In November, Dover residents ousted eight of the nine school board members who backed the intelligent design policy. And in December, the parents won their case.
Kirchner: Again, Tammy Kitzmiller.
Kirchner: Federal Judge John Jones said the Dover policy violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which bars the government from favoring one religious view over another. Judge Jones said, "The overwhelming evidence at trial established that intelligent design is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism and not a scientific theory."
Kirchner: One of the lawyers for the ACLU, Vic Walczak.
Kirchner: But supporters of intelligent design say, "It doesn't matter what one judge says. The scientific evidence will determine the future of intelligent design, not the courts."
So what is intelligent design? And where's the science behind it?
Kirchner: Michael Behe was the lead witness for the school district in the Dover trial and is often tapped as the key defender of intelligent design as legitimate science. He's a professor of biology at Lehigh University, where he talked with Aries Keck of public radio station WHYY the week before the trial.
Kirchner: Michael Behe is the author of one of the first books to bring some scientific heft to the intelligent design movement while reaching a mass audience, a book called Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. Behe's book has sold more than 200,000 copies, but he says his argument would never have seen the light of day if he tried to publish it in professional journals, where scientific ideas are generally advanced.
Kirchner: Even his own colleagues in the biology department at Lehigh have put a disclaimer on their Web site saying that the department unequivocally supports evolutionary theory, with Behe as the sole dissenter.
In fact, the book that drew Michael Behe into the intelligent design movement was not written by a fellow scientist, but by a lawyer, Phillip Johnson, called Darwin on Trial.
Kirchner: That's Phillip Johnson himself, a professor emeritus of law at the University of California at Berkeley.
Kirchner: Always the lawyer, Johnson is quick to say that's just his opinion that God is the intelligent designer. Scientific writings and position papers on intelligent design, or ID, make no mention of the identity of the designer.
Kirchner: Phillip Johnson, at age 65, now works mostly from his modest home office in a cardigan sweater. Here he's catching up on email and finds a message from a young fan.
Kirchner: Johnson has suffered two strokes in recent years, and that's impaired some of his movement. But there's still a vibrancy in his eyes and he has a quick, warm smile.
Johnson's passion evolved after he became a Christian more than twenty years ago, a change that coincided with a difficult time in his personal life.
Kirchner: Johnson started thinking about the existence of an intelligent designer while he was taking a sabbatical in England and reading the acclaimed writings of Richard Dawkins, a British evolutionary biologist. Dawkins is author of many books, including The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design. So Phillip Johnson decided to take him on with writings that later became Darwin on Trial.
While in England, Johnson met a student of the philosophy of science, Stephen Meyer, and they teamed up to spread the word about intelligent design.
Kirchner: Dan Abrams of MSNBC television grilling Stephen Meyer. Meyer is now director of the institutional home for the intelligent design movement, based at a conservative think tank in Seattle called the Discovery Institute.
Kirchner: Although its supporters were interrogated by the mainstream media and were shunned by the scientific community, the intelligent design movement was gaining visibility, thanks, in part, to the establishment of the Center for Science and Culture, a headquarters for intelligent design at the Discovery Institute. Ten years ago, Stephen Meyer secured lead funding for the Center from a billionaire banking heir from California, Howard Ahmanson, who had a history of backing Christian causes. And intelligent design's challenge to evolution steadily advanced.
Kirchner: Next moving into the political arena and America's schools with one deftly written amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, sponsored by Republican Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Phillip Johnson, intelligent design's architect, helped write the language.
Kirchner: Which basically said that, "Good science education should prepare students to understand the controversy and be 'informed participants in public discussions regarding the subject.'"
The amendment overwhelmingly passed the Senate in the middle of the night, but when opponents found out about it, they rallied their forces and had it removed from the bill.
Kirchner: Four years later, the intelligent design movement garnered its most important political endorsement.
Kirchner: Yet Phillip Johnson maintains he has never been a proponent of teaching intelligent design in schools.
Suarez: So how did intelligent design end up on the agenda of school districts across the country? This is Ray Suarez. Coming up after a short break, intelligent design makes it way into classrooms. You're listening to an American RadioWorks documentary, Intelligent Designs on Evolution. Our program continues in just a moment, from American Public Media.
Suarez: From American Public Media, this is an American RadioWorks documentary, Intelligent Designs on Evolution.
Suarez: How should we teach evolution in our schools? For some, the question is better phrased, "Should we teach evolution?"
Suarez: Should we teach the controversy over Darwinian evolution?
Suarez: Should we teach intelligent design? Originator, Phillip Johnson.
Suarez: Yet, despite doubts on both sides, intelligent design has spread into the classroom, where producer Mary Beth Kirchner takes us next.
Kirchner: Roger DeHart has been a biology teacher for almost 30 years, and for at least half of his career, he says he's taught intelligent design in his high school classes.
Kirchner: DeHart is a soft-spoken, shirt-and-tie kind of teacher. He is now at Oaks Christian High School, a prestigious private school outside Malibu, California. But five years ago, he was teaching at a public school in Burlington, Washington.
Kirchner: DeHart was showing the film Inherit the Wind, drawing on articles from science journals challenging evolution, using the intelligent design textbook Of Pandas and People. He did that for a decade and no one complained. But one day, one student did, and DeHart was soon on the front page of the local papers. Editorials raged, and an aggressive campaign of letter writing to get him fired began.
Kirchner: Did the student raise complaints in the classroom? No? They silently just were thinking, "Hmmm, maybe you shouldn't be teaching me this."
Kirchner: The school didn't fire him, but instead slowly took away the biology classes from his teaching load. So DeHart resigned.
Kirchner: Roger DeHart tries to avoid being back in the spotlight, but he agreed to testify last year in Kansas when its Board of Education held courtroom-like hearings deciding whether to include evidence against evolution in their science standards.
Kirchner: It didn't take long before the heat of the controversy of five years before came right back to the surface.
Kirchner: Today, Roger DeHart says he enjoys teaching at Oaks Christian High School, but still he yearns for his days in the public schools.
Kirchner: But if DeHart went back to the public schools and brought up intelligent design, he'd again face the threat of a lawsuit. That's why the Discovery Institute and Phillip Johnson call his case "reverse Scopes," referring to the Scopes trial of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee.
Kirchner: That's actor Ed Asner as William Jennings Bryan, in a radio drama taken from transcripts of the Scopes trial, now touring nationally as a stage performance.
Bryan was a former presidential candidate who led the prosecution against a high school biology teacher, John Scopes. Tennessee was the first state to pass such a law, part of a fundamentalist movement in the early 1920's that attempted to push through anti-evolution legislation in several states. Bryan sparred with Clarence Darrow, the most famous criminal lawyer in America, played in this L.A. Theatreworks production by Charles Durning.
Kirchner: Not unlike Dover, Pennsylvania, Dayton, Tennessee was an unassuming little town hosting an impassioned national court case. It was dubbed "the trial of the century" before it even began.
Kirchner: Ed Larson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian from the University of Georgia, author of Summer for the Gods about the Scopes trial and multiple books about the teaching of evolution. Larson was invited to kick off a 50th anniversary production in Oakland California of the Broadway play Inherit the Wind, based on the trial. He knows as well as anyone why this issue has had such enduring attention going back to Charles Darwin and his publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859.
Kirchner: In the 1980s, more than 20 states and school districts passed laws to teach creation science in the classroom, wanting to include evidence from nature that the Genesis account of the Bible is literally true. Among them were the Louisiana schools whose case set an important precedent.
Kirchner: Not long after, Phillip Johnson wrote his book on intelligent design, Darwin on Trial. Opponents say Johnson was simply "slopping a new coat of paint on the same old issue." Yet advocates insist there are differences between intelligent design and creation science.
Kirchner: That's a docent with a museum display of Noah's ark, complete with sound effects of the flood and a model of the ark, at the Institute for Creation Research in San Diego, world headquarters for creation science. Creationists have a wide range of beliefs. Some think that the earth is flat. Others accept the Bible literally, believing God created all life in six days, that the earth is 6,000 to 10,000 years old and that Noah's flood was an authentic happening.
Kirchner: The Institute for Creation Research was founded by Henry Morris, perhaps the most prominent creationist of the 20th century. His son, John Morris is now the director.
Kirchner: Yet creationists are split with their allies from intelligent design over one key issue.
Kirchner: While creationists think intelligent design's proponents are too timid, historian Ed Larson says, "Creationists still represent the biggest block of citizens behind the intelligent design movement."
Kirchner: But those who promote intelligent design in schools have a good reason not to identify the designer.
Kirchner: Eugenie Scott, from the National Center for Science Education, or NCSE, an advocacy group supporting the teaching of evolution.
Kirchner: Scott says, "Contrary to what they contend, Phillip Johnson and the Discovery Institute, throughout the late 90s, did promote the teaching of intelligent design in the classroom." But, she says, they changed their tactics in 2002 to what she calls "teach the controversy" or "evidence against evolution," presenting what they call "holes" in the Darwinian theory.
Kirchner: Scott is based in Oakland, California, across town from Phillip Johnson. She travels the country educating teachers and community members about the controversy.
Kirchner: Here a biology teacher tells her story to Eugenie Scott at the annual meeting of the National Association of Biology Teachers in Milwaukee. The two had never met, but this is a tale that Scott has heard countless times.
Kirchner: Another champion of biology teachers is Ken Miller, a biologist at Brown University. Miller was the key witness for the parents group in the Dover, Pennsylvania trial. He is the author of numerous biology textbooks, used in as much as a third of America's high schools. He's also written a book called Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution.
Kirchner: Miller is a Christian himself. He points to a quote from philosopher Francis Bacon for a possible answer.
Kirchner: A survey of scientists conducted by historian Ed Larson in 1997 suggests that as many as 40 percent of biologists, physicians and mathematicians are believers in God. However, there isn't a single scientific organization in the United States that has endorsed intelligent design. And nearly all have come out with statements strongly supporting the scientific status of evolution.
Kirchner: Miller acknowledges most scientists would admit, "We cannot explain everything about our natural history. But we know enough to be sure that Darwin's mechanism, natural selection, was at the heart of it." Miller argues intelligent design is far from an alternative scientific theory. It's merely a critique of evolution.
Kirchner: Miller says they like to cite the "big bang" theory of the expansion of the universe, pointing out that this theory wasn't very popular either when it was first advanced. But eventually it won the scientific battle of opinion.
Kirchner: Instead, Miller and other opponents point to something called the "wedge document," written in 1999 by the Discovery Institute. Obtained anonymously and circulated on the Internet, the document details a 20-year plan to "overthrow" materialism and exchange it with a "theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God." Intelligent design, the proposal said, "will function as a wedge."
Their use of media has been one of the Discovery Institute's most powerful tools.
Kirchner: For the past several years, the Discovery Institute has been funding the production of documentary-looking films for national distribution, generating press releases and placing op-eds nationwide, and providing a savvy institutional structure to get its message out.
Kirchner: The Discovery Institute even attempted to control the content of this radio documentary by calling up fellows of the Institute with whom we'd scheduled interviews, saying, "Don't talk to them," claiming they were afraid we would portray them as "religious fanatics."
To the credit of the Discovery Institute or not, the press has been dogging this story, playing its own role in the intelligent design movement's growing momentum.
Again, Eugenie Scott.
Suarez: I'm Ray Suarez. You're listening to Intelligent Designs on Evolution from American RadioWorks. Coming up: tales of two schools that may be indicators of what's to come in the evolution of teaching evolution.
Suarez: Intelligent Designs on Evolution is a production of American RadioWorks. To find out more about this and other documentaries, go to our Web site: AmericanRadioWorks.org. There you can download the program, sign up for our email newsletter and find out how to order a CD of this program. Major funding for American RadioWorks comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Our program continues in just a moment, from American Public Media.
Suarez: From American Public Media, this is an American RadioWorks documentary, Intelligent Designs on Evolution. I'm Ray Suarez.
Suarez: In November 2005, Kansas became the fifth state in the U.S. to change its science standards to include "other explanations" for the origins of life on earth.
Suarez: The Kansas Board of Education took a new tack: to change the definition of science so that it's not restricted to natural explanations but leaves room for supernatural causes.
Suarez: Who will follow states like Kansas, or school boards like Dover, PA? As we conclude this hour, Mary Beth Kirchner asked two leading spokespeople on both sides - Eugenie Scott, an advocate of evolution from the National Center for Science Education, and Phillip Johnson, the "architect" of Intelligent Design - to direct us to one place each. These are places Scott and Johnson felt might be signs of what's to come in the months, if not years, ahead.
Kirchner: This is the start of the monthly school board meeting in Blount County, Tennessee. Eugenie Scott directed us here. She's afraid what's happened in Blount County will happen elsewhere around the country, too.
Kirchner: A rural community just outside Knoxville, Blount County has the Smokey Mountains at one end and an Alcoa aluminum plant on the other, with dairy farms and tobacco fields in between. It's a county of some 200 churches. One resident called it, "the buckle of the Bible belt."
Kirchner: Vandy Kemp is the former principal of Heritage High School, one of two large rural high schools in Blount County. She's lived in east Tennessee for the last 30 years, and came to Heritage High in 2000, where she lasted for four years.
Kemp began to worry early in her tenure when the school board refused to purchase new biology textbooks with content pertaining to evolution.
Kirchner: Kemp stayed for two more years before moving on to another job, as dean at a local liberal arts college. And as she feared, the school board continued to take an even more conservative/fundamentalist turn after she left.
Kirchner: And in January of last year, the Blount County School Board unanimously passed a resolution to include "a variety of scientific theories about origins." The vote happened quickly and without a word of opposition.
Kirchner: Don McNelly is the school board member who wrote the language for the new resolution. He's a retired professor of education.
Kirchner: Biology teachers were due to implement the new policy during this school year, but the new principal of Heritage High wouldn't talk to us, saying that was a kettle of fish she didn't want to stir up.
But the parents in Blount County seem to agree with the Board.
Kirchner: Opposition in Blount County seems largely from the outside. In the last few months, a small group of opponents has been discretely meeting, calling themselves GENES: Great Education Needs Evolution Science.
The GENES group met in October at a local private school to brainstorm about what to do next. There were only about a dozen men in attendance, not a single parent of a student in the Blount County schools, mostly science faculty from the nearby University of Tennessee and a few local educators. Former principal Vandy Kemp was invited as a guest speaker and advisor to the meeting.
Kirchner: We met with Vandy Kemp the morning after the GENES meeting where she stressed her fundamental words of advice to the group: "Don't talk of creationism versus Darwinism. That's nothing but a dead end debate in Blount County. Instead, direct the discussion to the improvement of science education and evolution will find its way, even with the school board that's currently in office."
Kirchner: How many more school districts like Blount County might there be, quietly and effortlessly changing science standards? That was Eugenie Scott's concern when she sent us there, as a defender of the teaching of evolution.
By comparison, Philip Johnson, the "architect" of intelligent design, was looking toward the future, too, when he directed us to an alternative high school in San Diego, a school he'd only read about in a small Oregon newspaper. In the end, Phillip Johnson had the same question as Eugenie Scott about the place we were going to visit, although with a more hopeful tone: "How many more schools like this might there be?"
Kirchner: Students come to High Tech High from all over San Diego county and beyond. The charter school is located in Point Loma, a wealthy neighborhood on the San Diego harbor and is housed in a former metal foundry. With classroom walls made of glass, exposed ceilings and what feels like 50 different colors of paint on beams and walls and floors, this looks more like the offices of a cutting-edge architectural firm than a public high school.
And although it's a public school, teachers have more freedom than in a traditional school to try new methods with their students.
Kirchner: This student is talking about Andrea Cook, the biology teacher at High Tech High, and Brett Peterson, who teaches history and English. Together they tried an experiment two years ago.
Kirchner: Andrea Cook says she went to Brett Peterson and said, "I'm about to teach evolution. What if we were to teach it over six weeks across disciplines? So while I'm covering Darwin's theory in my biology class, you can read from Darwin's Origin of Species. And while we're at it, why not try reading from the Bible and various creation myths? We could visit the Institute for Creation Research, with headquarters a short drive away, have speakers come and talk about intelligent design. And, it all could culminate with a debate between the students, sort of a mini-Scopes trial."
Kirchner: But outside of High Tech High, friends and colleagues, especially fellow teachers, had mixed opinions about this particular lesson on evolution.
Kirchner: But nothing did happen. The teachers say there were no complaints from parents.
Peterson says he was surprised by his own conclusions when the lesson was over.
Kirchner: So what did the students learn at High Tech High? Ten of some 40 kids who took part in the all-sides-to-evolution lesson joined us for a large cheese pizza to tell us what they thought.
Kirchner: There was universal agreement on this issue. These students at High Tech High had all come away from their lesson in evolution with the same personal beliefs that they held when it began.
Phillip Johnson holds this school up as an example of success, but it would hardly satisfy most supporters of intelligent design. They want intelligent design taught in science class, not in humanities, as another creation myth. And that's what Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education can't tolerate.
Kirchner: Yet Phillip Johnson is equally firm in his belief about the benefits of opening up the discussion. Intelligent design or evidence against evolution, he believes, can be constructively debated.
Kirchner: But will there ever be a winner or a loser in this debate? William Jennings Bryan made a prediction at the conclusion of the Scopes trial in 1925.
Suarez: Eighty years later, William Jennings Bryan might admit that he was wrong; this issue is still far from settled and, is perhaps only getting more impassioned. The theory of intelligent design does not resolve the conflict many people see between religion and science. Instead, it fans the coals of a fire that has never really gone out in the years since Darwin first published his theory. The debate over intelligent design shows faith and science still locked in conflict, a conflict fought in America's courts, legislatures, and schools with no sign of resolution.
Intelligent Designs on Evolution was produced by Mary Beth Kirchner. It was edited by Catherine Winter. The senior producer of American RadioWorks is Sasha Aslanian, associate producer, Ellen Guettler, project manager, Misha Quill, mixing by Craig Thorsen. Production assistance from interns Bryant Switzky, Elizabeth Tannen and Larissa Anderson. Special thanks to reporter Aries Keck and field producer Emily Botein. Web production by Ochen Kaylan. The executive editor is Stephen Smith. The executive producer is Bill Buzenberg. I'm Ray Suarez.
To see photographs from Dover and the Scopes Trial, and learn more about the evolutionary debate, visit our Web site at AmericanRadioWorks.org.
There you can download the program, sign up for our email newsletter and find out how to order a CD of this program. American RadioWorks is the documentary unit of American Public Media. Major funding for American RadioWorks comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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