Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"Judgement Day" and My Take

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Last night, PBS's premiere science program NOVA presented a two hour, commercial-free show called "Judgement Day: Intelligent Design On Trial," chronicling the events leading up to, and the duration of Kitzmiller et al. vs. Pennsylvania Board of Eduction, Dover. It's a real hot topic right now.

Overall they did a good job. They had re-enactments of the trial, included many details commonly left out of the story by those not inclined to dive into the situation in minute detail, showed the evidence that proves ID is not science including the Wedge Document and the revisions on Of Pandas and People, and very nicely dismantled Michael Behe's irreducible complexity argument by destroying his example of the bacterial flagellum, and even the discovery of Tiktaalik in the same year as the trial, a piece of evidence that directly contradicted testimony in the trial before it even occurred.

Yes, the show was juicy, but there are a few things that NOVA should have done better, details that are too important to miss, and I hold NOVA responsible for some misrepresentation of what happened.

  1. The show re-enacted Rothchild piling books and papers peer-reviewed by credible scientific journals that discussed, in sophisticated and minute detail, the evolution of the vertebrate immune system upon the witness stand. They had the actor playing Behe say that no, he had not read a single book or paper presented.

    But they left out the crucial dialog where Behe said, "I don't have to." Then they cut away to Thomas More dismissing this questioning as "a fancy lawyer trick; of course he hadn't read it all, nobody could have," thus leaving Rothchild look disingenuous, when in reality the opposite is true.

    There is a tendency by the Intelligent Design community, the Discovery Institute and their blog-group Uncommon Descent especially, to stick an unrealistic and unfair magnitude in burden of proof upon biologists when it comes to defending evolution. They demand every single hole, every single detail in the billions of years of evolution be shown or else they say we've shown no evidence at all. It's a form of reductio ad absurdum.

    The way NOVA treated the event with Behe and the materials, it left the un-informed viewer with the impression that Rothchild was trying to show that Behe hasn't read everything, therefore he may as well have read nothing at all. But this did not happen.

    Behe's statement of "I don't have to" [read a single paper or book on vertebrate evolution] makes all the difference. He wasn't just dismissing the need to read all, or even a majority of, the literature on vertebrate immune system evolution. He was dismissing the need or reading any of it. Behe made the that he knows the content of other scientists' work without reading a single letter, to hold an omnipotent view of it, and to dismiss the very existence of success in that area of study as impossible. There is no more arrogant and un-scientific approach to scientific literature or the natural world, and it shows just what kind of folks of which the DI is comprised.

    NOVA's omission and subsequent minimalizing of this testimonial event (by allowing Thomas More to dismiss it without criticizing his rebuttal as well) is egregious.

  2. NOVA made sure to note the fact that it was only the proponents of creationism in Dover that took to malice and deceit to achieve their goals. Tammy Kitzmiller was interviewed in person to show the death threats in her hate mail. The program even began with the incident that started it all, the theft and arson of a student's mural depicting the evolution of homo sapiens from a primate ancestor to its current form.

    Threats surrounding Judge John E. Jones III were left out. This is wrong.

    Within the last couple of years proceeding the Kitzmiller trial, two judges were assassinated either by defendants or sympathizers with defendants, unhappy with rulings with which they disagreed.

    NOVA noted that Judge Jones took an unusually long time to deliver a prompt ruling — about a month — but did not discuss why.

    Judge Jones E. Jones III and his family were under federal protection by the U.S. Marshalls Service to safeguard against assassination attempts. This is far too big a detail for NOVA to just forget.

    What more, fellows at the Discovery Institute have been caught several times dismissing these events, and even ridiculing Judge Jones for it, either at their home site Discovery Institute, the blog-group Uncommon Descent, or their media complaints division Evolution News.

    Surely if the death threats by creationists against the plaintiffs were worth mentioning, the scare Judge Jones and his family went through was relevant as well. Don't you think?

Those are my only complaints about the program.

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