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PBS Airs False Facts in its “Inherit the Wind” Version of the Kitzmiller Trial (Updated)

UPDATE: A tenth PBS blunder is now addressed, where PBS makes the false insinuation that intelligent design is no more scientific than astrology. Scroll down to read more.

More than 50 years ago two playwrights penned a fictionalized account of the 1920s Scopes Trial called “Inherit the Wind” that is now universally regarded by historians as inaccurate propaganda. Last night PBS aired its “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design” documentary, which similarly promotes propaganda about the 2005 Kitzmiller trial and intelligent design (ID). Most of the misinformation in “Judgment Day” was corrected by ID proponents long ago. To help readers sift the fact from the fiction, here are links to articles rebutting some of PBS’s most blatant misrepresentations:

1. PBS falsely claims that Discovery Institute sent the Dover Area School Board the “Unlocking the Mystery of Life” documentary and supported Dover’s ID policy.
In an attempt to rewrite history and claim that Discovery Institute encouraged Dover to pass its ID policy, PBS claims that “Unlocking the Mystery of Life,” a documentary about ID, was the “DVD that [Bill Buckingham] got from Discovery Institute.” This is a completely false statement. Discovery Institute never sent that DVD to anyone on the Dover School Board, but rather sent Bill Buckingham the Icons of Evolution DVD, which is not about ID and simply focuses on scientific critique of evolution. Discovery Institute has long-opposed mandating ID in public schools, and adamantly opposed Dover’s desire to pass a policy using Of Pandas and People and requiring the teaching of ID. For more information, see:

2. PBS falsely claims that Scott Minnich did not testify about his own scientific research on the irreducible complexity of the flagellum.
PBS shows a re-enactment of the Dover Trial where pro-ID microbiologist Scott Minnich is asked if he had performed an experiment to assess whether the bacterial flagellum could evolve. The fictionalized scene shows Dr. Minnich saying that he had not performed the experiment. But this scene is highly misleading because Dr. Minnich did testify about his own genetic knockout experiments that showed the bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex, and could not evolve in a Darwinian fashion. For more information, see:

3. PBS wrongly claims that Tiktaalik is “one of the most vivid transitional forms ever discovered” and is “the latest evidence to refute intelligent design.”
A centerpiece of “Judgment Day’s” attack on ID is the fossil Tiktaalik, which allegedly shows fish evolving into amphibians. It’s not clear why this would “refute” ID because ID is not incompatible with universal common ancestry. Regardless, Tiktaalik is not very impressive as a transitional form because it does not document the key aspect of the alleged fish-to-amphibian evolutionary transition: the transformation of fins into feet. But Tiktaalik wasn’t even discussed during the Kitzmiller trial (a point their program admits). This should raise suspicion in critically thinking minds: Why didn’t PBS discuss a fossil that was promoted during the trial?–Were there no convincing fossils discussed during the Kitzmiller trial that PBS could tout on its show? For more information on why the finlike fin of Tiktaalik does not explain how feet evolved, see:

4. PBS quotes an NCSE staff member wrongly claiming there is no “complete explanation” of why some pro-ID expert witnesses did not testify.
Two Discovery Institute senior fellows–Michael Behe and Scott Minnich–did testify in the Dover Trial. Discovery Institute has long explained why some other Discovery Institute senior fellows chose not to testify: “Meyer, Dembski and Campbell were all willing to testify as expert witnesses. They simply requested that they have their own counsel present at their depositions in order to protect their rights. Yet Thomas More would not permit this. Mr. Thompson has been quoted in media accounts as stating that to permit independent counsel to assert the witnesses’ rights would create a ‘conflict of interest’–a claim for which he can offer no legal justification. When the witnesses refused to proceed without legal counsel to protect them, Thomas More cancelled the deposition of Prof. Campbell and effectively fired all three expert witnesses. After dismissing its own witnesses, Thomas More made an 11th-hour offer to Dr. Meyer alone to allow him to have counsel after all. But Meyer declined the offer because the previous actions of Thomas More had undermined his confidence in their legal judgment.” For more information on this issue, see:

5. PBS wrongly claims that the Type III Secretory System (T3SS) refutes the irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum.
PBS features flagellum expert David K. DeRosier repeating the testimony of Ken Miller, claiming that the flagellum is not irreducibly complex because the T3SS “is a structure that functions that is missing several” of the proteins of the flagellum. In fact, this is not the correct test of irreducible complexity. Behe properly tests irreducible complexity by assessing the plausibility of the entire functional system to assemble in a step-wise fashion, even if sub-parts can have functions outside of the final system. For more information, see:

6. PBS wrongly claims that human chromosomal fusion evidence “confirm[s] … the common ancestry of humans and apes.”
PBS uses the evidence for fusion in human chromosome #2 as evidence for human / ape common ancestry. But in fact this fusion evidence represents an event that is specific to the human line, and it does not tell us whether the human line leads back to a human / ape common ancestor. The fusion event might have happened in the very recent past in a human population that has no relationship to apes whatsoever. This evidence is equally consistent with both human descent from an ape-like ancestor, or a completely separate design of the human species, and therefore does not offer decisive information regarding whether humans share a common ancestor with apes. For more information, see:

7. PBS wrongly asserts that intelligent design is creationism because of the contents of early drafts of the Of Pandas and People textbook.
PBS claims that the usage of creationist terminology in early drafts of Pandas indicates that ID is just creationism after the Edwards v. Aguillard ruling. As stated in our Montana Law Review article: “By unequivocally affirming that the empirical evidence of science ‘cannot tell us if the intellect behind [the information in life] is natural or supernatural’ it is evident that these pre-publication drafts of Pandas meant something very different by ‘creation’ than did the Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard, in which the Court defined creationism as religion because it postulated a ‘supernatural creator.'” PBS fails to mention that Charles Thaxton testified in his Kitzmiller deposition that he adopted intelligent design terminology out of a desire to limit statements to scientific claims that can be made based upon the empirical data: “I wasn’t comfortable with the typical vocabulary that for the most part creationists were using because it didn’t express what I was trying to do. They were wanting to bring God into the discussion, and I was wanting to stay within the empirical domain and do what you can do legitimately there.” For more information, see:

8. PBS quotes Barbara Forrest wrongly insinuating that Discovery Institute seeks to impose theocracy, and leaves off mention of Forrest’s own anti-religious motives.
During her Kitzmiller testimony, Barbara Forrest testified that Discovery Institute sought to impose “theocracy,” and PBS quotes her making statements to a similar effect. This is a blatantly false claim, for Discovery Institute has adamantly opposed any attempts to create “theocracy.” Moreover, Forrest is quoted talking about the alleged religious motives of ID proponents, but PBS hypocritically leaves off any mention of Forrest’s anti-religious motives or her membership on the Board of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association. For more information on this double-standard, see:

9. PBS falsely claims that intelligent design is a negative argument against evolution that appeals to the supernatural.
ID proponents have long-refuted these false characterizations of ID. For rebuttals on these points, see:

10. PBS makes the false insinuation that intelligent design is no more scientific than astrology.
PBS’s “Judgment Day” portrays a dramatized and sharply truncated account of Michael Behe’s Kitzmiller testimony, making it appear as if he said that ID is no more scientific than astrology during hostile examination from the plaintiffs’ attorney. Of course Behe and all ID scientists reject astrology, but PBS insinuates that astrology falls under Behe’s definition of a “scientific theory.” What PBS fails to acknowledge is that 500 years ago, the ancient scientific consensus would have claimed (erroneously) that astrology even meets the U.S. National Academy of Science’s definition of a scientific theory, as “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, and tested hypotheses.” The problem with astrology is not that it could have fit the NAS’s definition of a scientific theory, or Michael Behe’s definition of a scientific theory 500 years ago, for something that is “science” can still be wrong. The problem is that astrology is not supported by the evidence. That is why, unlike ID, no serious scientists are advocating astrology as a good theory which could be presented to students in science classrooms.

Why are we even talking about this? Well, in the Dover ruling, Judge Jones cited Behe’s definition of science to claim it shows Behe’s “mission … to change the ground rules of science to allow supernatural causation of the natural world.” So what was Behe’s definition of science that was supposedly so extreme and dangerous? Here it is:

“Under my definition, a scientific theory is a proposed explanation which focuses or points to physical, observable data and logical inferences.”

Yup, that’s it. Entirely. Do you see anything about astrology or the supernatural in Behe’s definition of science? I don’t.

It was the plaintiffs’ attorney who decided to bring astrology into the conversation. When pressed about astrology by the opposing attorney, Behe went on to explain:

“There are many things throughout the history of science which we now think to be incorrect which nonetheless would fit that — which would fit that definition. Yes, astrology is in fact one, and so is the ether theory of the propagation of light, and many other — many other theories as well.”

In fact, Darwinian evolution fits under Behe’s definition of science, but that doesn’t mean that it is anything like astrology (or requires the supernatural) any more than it means that ID is anything like astrology or requires the supernatural.

Unfortunately, Judge Jones and many ID critics cite Behe’s testimony and then use a logical fallacy (the fallacy of the undistributed middle) to claim that if ID and astrology both fit under Behe’s definition of science, then ID must be a supernatural astrology-like explanation. Of course, it’s a logical fallacy to claim that if two concepts (say, ID and astrology, or evolution and astrology) both fit under Behe’s broad definition of science, then therefore they share the same flaws. But if you accept Judge Jones’s false logic, then watch out because it might imply that Darwinian evolution is just like astrology too.

For more information, see:

Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



Judgment DayKitzmiller v. Dover Area School DistrictNOVAPBS