Monday, January 17, 2005

Boston Legal

Anyone watch Boston Legal yesterday? Last night's episode had an evolution/creationism storyline.

The plot line revolved around a Massachussetts school board that had mandated the teaching of Intelligent Design in science classes. The science teachers in the school refused to go along with this mandate, and they were fired as a result. The teachers were suing on Establishment Clause grounds. The show's stars were defending the creationists.

The trial got underway with the testimony of a supporter of the mandate (though I don't recall if he was the principal of the shcool or the head of the school board or something else). The witness was made to look very foolish under cross-examination. I especially liked the fact that the show's writers made it very clear that ID was nothing but a euphemism for creationism. The witness virtually said as much on the stand. Actually, they went a little far even for me by implying that ID was identical to young-Earth creationism. I usually say there is no important difference between the two, but there are some differences.

The episode continued to move along well with the next witness: one of the teachers who refused to teach creationism. She testified in no uncertain terms that evolution was science and ID was crap. There was no cross-examination.

Sadly, you just knew the show couldn't keep it up. Closing arguments came along and the plaintiff's lawyer (not one of the show's regulars) gave a competant speech to the effect that mandating the teaching of creationism was obviously an Establishment Clause violation.

Then, sadly, came the defendant's attornery, played by Candice Bergen (!!) She gave a stirring speech about believing in both God and evolution, then whipped out the usual canards about open-mindedness and Darwinian censorship.

The judge, preposterously, found for the defendants and ruled that mandating creationism was not an Establishment Clause violation. The judge's decision was based entirely on his perception that secularism had gone too far and that scientists need to be more open-minded. I interpreted this as the writer's way of saying that both evolution and creationism should be taught in schools, which leaves me wondering whether I should continue watching the show.

But then the closing scene showed Bergen and another attorney for the firm wondering about whether it was a good thing that they had won the case. Bergen closed the show by asking rhetorically whether they had opened the door for some future judge to outlaw the teaching of evolution. “God forbid” that should happen, they said. Fade to black.

It's never goes well when popular, not-too-serious television shows start wading into issues of public concern. It's even worse when it's a David E. Kelley show. I'll keep watching for now (William Shatner and James Spader are too good to pass up), but I hope this week's episode was just a momentary lapse.


At 8:24 PM, Blogger stopitplease said...

I saw only a very brief part of it toward the end. It's no wonder public education in this country is so screwed up - how do you compete with Hollywood in this day and age?

If it's on TV, said with conviction, with the right music playing in the background, and with the right camera shots, it just has to be true.

It seems we need good PR people to demonstrtate scientific truth these days. Oh well...

At 10:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On his blog, Nathan Newman has been arguing that liberals should abandon the courts as a means of combating the teaching of creationism in school - as part of an "aggressive strategic retreat" meant to win friends and avoid backlashes:
(and more recent posts) . . . If anyone would like to head on over there to comment - I'm all sputtered out . . .
-Dan S.

At 4:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Boston Legal episode was one long wrap on creationism -- even when the creationists won the case, the two lawyers celebrating with a penthouse victory cigar couldn't stomach its taste, and then said basically the same of their victory.

Reading between the lines, one could easily view this ending as a warning from the writers that legal victories that support science should not be taken for granted: scientists and anyone else who cares for the fruits science for the nation's wealth and defense -- which should be all of contenporary American society -- must work to avoid a loss like this in real life.

"The price of liberty is eternal vigilance."

At 1:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have the episode in discussion aired in Australia last night (06/12/2005).

I’m slightly unsatisfied with the writer avoiding the elephant in the room, despite being raised in the episode: why (ID) compete with science in the classroom while it is clearly not the same discipline? The answer is clear: this is a counter attack on science or secularity.

However, if we can accept that science is the discipline best explained our natural world at the moment, we should acknowledge that religion once was the discipline best explained the natural world (and much more).

I don’t think I can agree that the writer is embracing or sympathetic toward ID. I think the message was: we are conducting our secular society as furiously as we once conducted our religious society.

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