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NOVA's "Judgment Day:
Intelligent Design On Trial"
Follow-up

Hope you all had a chance to see (and maybe record) the show (13 November 2007). Lots of excellent segments that could be used in class to illustrate and explain evolution (and ID, too, in terms of the reasons why ID is NOT a valid scientific alternative to evolution, as was well-presented). This was especially true from about 40' into the program until about 1h 20' into it. Be sure your kids notice precisely how theory vs fact was explained (by Dr. Padian), and which is most important for science (and most appropriate for evolution).

I have a couple of comments, and one question:

1. Ask your kids if they noticed what the expert witnesses said (several times) about the results of the tests of evolution that had been done, in terms of their predictions. [They could have turned out two ways: one way that would confirm evolution, and other ways that would weaken evolution. This is known as a FAIR TEST, something seldom presented in textbooks, but lies at the heart of most scientific work. Furthermore, the tests involved making predictions of expected findings IF evolution had happened, and different findings if evolution had not happened.]

2. If you liked the segment in which scientist witness Ken Miller showed how a predicted chromosome pattern would indicate shared common ancestry of humans with chimps, then you really should do one of the two classroom activities with your kids: either the activity posted in the Teacher's Guide on the Judgment Day: Intelligent Design PBS web site OR the Mystery of the Matching Marks lesson (using the PPT provided) here on the ENSI website.

In addition, HHMI has released a free DVD of a most engaging lecture by scientist, expert witness and biology textbok author Ken Miller. As part of his remarks on the Kitzmiller-Dover trial, he effectively discusses "intelligent design" and other religious concerns related to evolution and science. Lots of material that could be useful to share in your classroom.

VIDEO CLIPS from NOVA's "Judgment Day" program:
These 12 short video clips (7-10 minutes each) collectively conatin the entire 2-hour program. You can access them directly online at. I especially recommend the following clips:
Ch. 5: The Fossil Record: Describes the recent discovery and analysis of Tiktaalik, a fish with primitive legs, transitional between fish and amphibians.
Ch. 6: A Very Successful Theory: Includes Ken Miller's demo of how our chromosome 2 was formed from two short chromosomes found in chimps today.
Ch. 7: Nature of Science
Ch. 8: Intelligent Design:
Michael Behe ("Irreducible Complexity" as "proof" of "intelligent design) demonstrates the bacterial flagellum; scientist shows exampe of similar structure but lacking some proteins, and with a different function, refuting Behe's thesis; Ken Miller also shows his mouse trap tie clip, anther example refuting Behe's IC assertion.
Ch. 9: Faith & Reason: Attorney Rothschild confronts Behe's assertions with tall stack of books and articles that do what Behe says hasn't been done; defense witness, scientist Minnich, asserts that evolution has not been properly tested, either! Pros. Lawyer Stephen Harvy resists rebutting that obviously erroneous assertion, and walks away.

I would suggest showing the Ch. 6 video clip before you do the activity. This gives your students a quick understanding of the idea of chromosome fusion, and the kinds of clues we can look for. The activities actually give them a chance to do their own Fair Test by searching more deeply for the specific DNA sequence associated with telomeres, which they find in the predicted region of our #2 chromosome, where it remains in all of us as a "molecular fossil." If students challenge the conclusion that this finding profoundly confirms the shared common ancestry humans and chimps, ask them for another explanation for the very clear evidence of telomere material in that location, an explanation that could be further tested with an objective study. [How about a search for the "old" centromere in the 2q arm of the chromosome? BTW, this has been done, and it has been found where expected!]

3. QUESTION: At about 1h20' into the program (in the Ch. 9 clip), the prosecution lawyer asserted that "...ID was not tested at all..." Whereupon the witness for the defense, Dr. Scott Minnich, replied "...Have [the major attributes of evolution] ever been tested?" And there was no rebuttal; the prosecution lawyer just shrugged and turned away. If you watched the show, is there anything you could say at this point? [You should! To me, this was the most glaring oversight in the program. But it also provides a teachable moment.] If you show this central portion of the video to your class (40' to 1h20'), ask your students that question. [Note that there were at least 3 major examples of Fair Tests that were described earlier in the program: transitional fossil between fish and amphibian, human-chimp chromosome fusion, and the bacterial flagellum studies. And these were just a sampling of the literally thousands of Fair Tests that have been carried out over the past 150 years.]

POSSIBLE CHALLENGES to the chromosome fusion evidence:
Some have suggested that this was merely evidence of God being very efficient by simply using the building materials and previously used sub-assemblies to create humans. Students should see that there are two things wrong with this:
1. Invoking a supernatural force (God) that cannot be critically tested does not follow the rules of science.
2. Even if it was done that way, why would an intelligent deisgner leave the remains of two telomeres in the fusion area? Telomeres function to protect the ENDS of chromosomes, and serve no discernable function in the middle of a chromosome. Likewise, why would an intelligent designer leave the thousands of mutated non-functional genes (pseudogenes) to take up space and waste the energy of replication? It's possible, but not necessary, and does not reflect the work of an intelligent designer. Stuff to ponder.