Having now read several “top ten news stories of the decade” lists, such as this one from the Associated Press, I was disappointed to see that one of my top choices was nowhere to be found.
What is my choice? It’s the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District “evolution” trial of 2005. Without doubt, it is the most significant such trial in U.S. history, easily outdistancing even the Scopes trial.
At least for supporters of evolution, the Dover trial showcased the arguments and motives of both sides of this debate in the starkest and clearest of terms. Scientists were permitted to offer evidence for evolution with a detail and scope rarely if ever before seen in a legal forum. The deceptions and religious motives of the opposing side were made equally clear. This culminated in a judge’s ruling that was a more thorough indictment of “intelligent design” than anyone had predicted — or might have even hoped for.
With related stories, such as the voting out of office of all the Dover school board members who supported the intelligent design policy, this story combined melodrama with science. No wonder than that it has been the subject of numerous books (including my favorite, The Battle over the Meaning of Everything) and a superb Nova episode (Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial).
The evolution debate casts a wide shadow — far beyond this trial. While there is no debate among scientists, the issue continues to play a role in national politics, cropping up for example in the 2008 presidential election via Sarah Palin’s support for creationism.
The Dover trial did not put an end to the creationist/intelligent design movement. No trial could do that. But it has apparently resulted in a permanent shift in strategy. The movement has curtailed, if not entirely cut back, its attempts to force intelligent design into school curricula based on claims that ID is science — especially so if a court challenge seems likely. If for no other reason, this trial deserves serious consideration as one of the top news stories of the decade. It’s certainly on my list.