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Judgment Day & Evolution

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial and Evolution were two NOVA specials about evolution – a subject that’s as controversial today as it was during the Scopes Trial of 1925.

Judgment Day was a two-hour documentary highlighting one of the most contentious battles in the war over evolution in a tiny town in eastern Pennsylvania. In 2004, the local Dover school board ordered teachers to read a statement to their high school biology students suggesting there’s an alternative to Darwin’s theory of evolution called intelligent design – the idea that life is too complex to have evolved naturally and therefore must have been designed by an intelligent agent. The science teachers refused to comply, and parents filed a lawsuit in federal court contending the school board was violating the separation of church and state. Suddenly, the small town of Dover was torn apart by controversy, pitting neighbor against neighbor. NOVA captured the emotional and scientific conflict in interviews with the townspeople, scientists, and lawyers who participated in the historic trial, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.

The Evolution project was a seven-part, eight-hour drama and documentary series, an extensive website, a far-reaching educational outreach initiative, and a HarperCollins companion book by acclaimed science writer, Carl Zimmer. Evolution traveled the world to examine evolutionary science and its profound effect on society and culture. From the genius and torment of Charles Darwin and the vast changes that spawned the tree of life to the role of mass extinctions in the survival of species and the power of sex to drive evolutionary change, Evolution was far-reaching. The series also explored the emergence of consciousness, the success of humans, and the perceived conflict between science and religion in understanding human life.


Both projects heightened the understanding of evolution and how it works, dispelled common misunderstandings, illuminated why evolution is relevant to our lives, improved its teaching, and encouraged a national dialogue. Evolution engendered a massive campaign against it from the creationist community and the Discovery Institute (intelligent designers) that included a viewer's guide to the TV series, 13 press releases, and an advertising campaign.  The project worked with the National Academy of Sciences, National Center for Science Education, James Moore, Jerry Coyne, Bruce Alberts, Jane Goodall and a variety of religious leaders to respond, many speaking to the compatibility of science and religion. Judgement Day was equally inflammatory, and the project developed a high-profile influencers’ event with The Week, hosted by Sir Harold Evans. This attracted stories with the New York Times, “CBS Evening News,” NBC’s “Today Show,” Federal Judge Jones, attorneys, religious leaders, Darwin’s grandson, actors (Kathleen Turner), and more.

The lessons from Dover continue to have a profound impact on how science is viewed in our society and how it is taught in the classroom.

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