A landmark federal court decision banning the teaching of creationism, and the NOVA film documentary that recounts the case, will be the focus of a series of events at SMU Sept. 24-25.
In 2005, federal Judge John E. Jones III banned the Dover, Pennsylvania, school district from teaching “intelligent design” in the classroom, ruling that the course of study had been introduced by the local school board for religious reasons and did not constitute science.
But the case was far from the final word. Many Americans still question evolution and believe that an alternative should be taught in public schools. In Texas, controversy over the teaching of science continues to roil meetings of the State Board of Education.
Several of the major players in the Dover trial, as well as professionals who later helped analyze its impact through the media, will be featured at SMU through an assortment of lectures, film screenings and panel discussions.
The programs begin Sept. 24 with a 10 a.m. reception and 10:30 a.m. lecture at DeGolyer Library, featuring Paula Apsell (right), senior executive producer, and Melanie Wallace, senior series producer of NOVA’s documentary, “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial.” Those planning to attend should RSVP to 214-768-3225 or Cynthia Ruppi.
The documentary, “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial,” will be screened at 4 p.m. Sept. 24 in O’Donnell Hall, Owen Arts Center. A panel discussion on legal, ethical and journalistic issues surrounding the making of the film will follow from 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m. in Caruth Auditorium, Owen Arts Center. Panelists will include Judge Jones, documentary producers Apsell and Wallace, plaintiff’s council Eric Rothschild and Lauri Lebo, author of The Devil in Dover.
On Sept. 25, from 10-11:30 a.m., First Amendment issues will get closer scrutiny in a panel discussion at SMU’s Dedman School of Law. Jones, Rothschild (now in private practice), Liberty Legal Institute attorney Hiram Sasser and Dedman School of Law Professor Lackland Bloom will trade ideas and opinions in Karcher Auditorium, Storey Hall.
The series concludes Sept. 25 with reporter and author Lebo’s lecture from 2-3 p.m. in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Forum. Lebo will speak on “From Dover to Texas: Reporting on Extremist Views in a Fair and Balanced World” and sign copies of her book, The Devil in Dover.
NOVA Senior Executive Producer Apsell, who received an honorary degree from SMU in 2008, says the documentary underscores not only a historic court case, but also a critical science lesson.
“What happens when half of the population doesn’t accept one of the most fundamental underpinnings of the sciences?” Apsell asks. “Evolution is the absolute bedrock of the biological sciences. It’s essential to medical science, agriculture, and biotechnology. And it’s critical to understanding the natural world around us.”
The events are part of SMU’s yearlong “Darwin’s Evolving Legacy” series. All are free and open to the public.