Dr. David DeWitt of Liberty University discusses the take-home messages of the PBS–NOVA documentary earlier this week.
Editor’s note: This is the second perspective AiG is posting to our website about a PBS television program that was broadcast throughout America this week. See our prior review.
On November 13, PBS-TV aired a special-two hour NOVA program titled “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial.” The program was an exposé (complete with trial reenactments) on the 2004/2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover case. If you recall, Dover was the site of a school district in Pennsylvania whose school board wanted to make students aware (through a brief statement read by science teachers) that Intelligent Design [ID] offered an alternative theory of origins to Darwinian evolution.1
There were three take-home messages from the program:
While most ID proponents believe that the Designer is God, there are important distinctions between the ID and creation.2 First, biblical creationists readily acknowledge that God is the Creator and that they believe the Genesis account of creation. ID proponents in contrast tend to be more circumspect. While they may accept God as the designer as a matter of belief, they do not claim that scientific evidence proves that God created everything. Instead, they hold to the idea that design in nature is detectable and that scientific means may be used to demonstrate that there is some intelligent agency behind life. Such a view is not unlike forensics or archaeology where scientists distinguish between objects or events that result from natural causes or human intervention. ID proponents further claim that the naturalistic presupposition of science prevents even asking the question whether design exists in nature.
A key argument that is often leveled against creation and Intelligent Design theory is that molecules-to-man evolution is scientific while creation and ID are not. In most cases, evolution proponents blur the distinction between empirical and historical sciences. The theory of evolution, by definition, is used to explain what happened in the
Evolution proponents blur the distinction between empirical and historical sciences.past. Therefore, it is by nature a historical science (like forensics) rather than an empirical science (like chemistry, physics or molecular biology).
In empirical science, scientists make predictions or hypotheses and then perform experiments to test whether those ideas are correct. Historical science is quite different, in that the phenomena are not repeatable or subject to controlled conditions. Instead, this type of scientist proposes a model to explain how something might have happened. They use multiple competing hypotheses to determine which one best explains the observations. They must come up with an explanation, after the fact. Thus, much of evolution involves organizing organisms based on their characteristics into a probable sequence of alleged common ancestry. They cannot predict how or which animals will evolve. These post-hoc explanations are unlike predictions that can be made about the trajectory of a projectile or the function of a drug.
Despite the claims of many self-proclaimed Christian evolutionary scientists (individuals such as Francis Collins and Ken Miller), the theory of evolution is not compatible with Christianity. While there are plenty of Christians who believe that God used evolution to create, this is a biblically inconsistent view. Darwinian evolution provides a naturalistic explanation which substitutes for the biblical account in Genesis. Specifically, it describes the origin of life and the origin of all of the different organisms on earth independently of a Creator and without reference to any biblical accounts. Regardless of whether a proponent of evolution might also “believe in God,” Darwinian evolution makes Him irrelevant.
Molecules-to-man evolution negates the need for Jesus Christ to come and pay the penalty for our sins and thus dismisses the fundamental point of the gospel. If natural selection, death, disease, bloodshed, and survival of the fittest were the means that God used to “create” man through natural selection, then death is not the enemy that Jesus came to defeat. Jesus’ death on the Cross was necessary because of Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden. Since death is “the wages of sin” (Romans 6:23), it cannot be the means that God used to create.3
Noticeably absent from the NOVA program was any serious cross-examination of evolution. Instead, the validity and truth of evolution was assumed throughout the program, with the flimsiest of evidence presented. On the website to accompany the program4 there is a section on fossil evidence.5 Front and center are the fossil remains of a half-fish, half-amphibian named Tiktaalik (briefly discussed in the program). To claim that it is half-fish, half-amphibian is a significant exaggeration of the data.6 Use of Tiktaalik in a documentary on the Dover trial is ironic since this fossil was described after the trial was over! Another key transition mentioned is reptiles to mammals (although amphibian to reptile transition is curiously absent). Important intermediate fossils mentioned include Dimetrodon (280–265 mya) and Morganucodon (210-200 mya). Unlike the page describing fish to amphibian transition, this one lacks a disclaimer that the images are not to scale. This is quite ironic since the Dimetrodon could swallow a Morganucodon whole.
Whale evolution is highlighted beginning with Pakicetus which “looked somewhat like a dog with hoofs.” The proof that it was a whale ancestor is the ears “which are intermediate between those of terrestrial and fully aquatic mammals, and in its triangular, whale like teeth.” Ambulocetus is another transition that is presented as an intermediate and has been discussed previously on this Answers in Genesis website.7
The most irritating “fossil evidence” that I found was the presentation of Australopithecus afarensis. The artist’s depiction of the same creature known as “Lucy” is as an ape-man. The creature is drawn with a mostly upright posture, although the head is in an awkward, far-forward position. Artwork aside, more recent evidence has been pushing the australopithecines out of the human lineage.8 Further research has confirmed the ape-like nature of Lucy and her kind. Indeed, the finding of a juvenile australopithecine confirmed that most of the characteristics of the creature were clearly more ape-like than human-like.9 Whether or not these creatures walked upright is still a matter of contentious debate within the scientific community.
The question whether creation or ID should be taught in America’s public schools is relevant. Surprisingly, most of the leading creation and ID organizations are not in favor of requiring that either be taught in science classrooms.10 Forcing a science teacher who does not believe in creation to teach it in the science classroom is most likely a recipe for disaster. However, for those teachers who desire, they should have the freedom to present evidence that calls evolution into question. They should be allowed to acknowledge that there are scientists (such as myself, plus the many scientists on the AiG staff) who believe in creation.
Dr. David DeWitt is the Director of the Center for Creation Studies and a Professor of Biology at Liberty University. He has published numerous peer reviewed scientific articles. Dr. DeWitt teaches History of Life at Liberty which is a required course on the creation/evolution debate from a biblical creation perspective. In addition, he is the author of the new book Unraveling the Origins Controversy.