From the don't know whether to laugh or cry department . . . .
Last Sunday's episode of Boston Legal ("From Whence We Came") was ripped straight from the headlines in typical David Kelley style. Hotshot young attorney Lori (Monica Potter), with help from Denny Crane (played by William Shatner, and for which he won a Golden Globe the same Sunday night) and Shirley Schmidt (the newest addition to the show, played by Candace Bergen), defends a school superintendent being sued by two science teachers who were fired for refusing to teach creationism.
Kelley's writing is always sharp and his dialogue is witty, but his take on the evolution issue merely regurgitates the old Inherit The Wind trope of religion vs. science. He never even bothers to really define evolution or intelligent design, which is used interchangeably with creationism.
The actor's portrayal of the superintendent was almost as if he was playing a televangelist, especially at the end when he says "Go with God." In his testimony he does mention the intricacy of the cell, and the new evidence in modern biology as the basis for challenging evolution with intelligent design. But, the scientist and science teacher testify that creationism is not science, design is not scientific and that scientists who support creationism/design also believe the earth is only 6,000 years old and that God created the world in six days. Clearly the idea was to conflate young earth creationism with intelligent design.
The "defense," led by Candace Bergen doesn't bother to rebut any of that. Instead she focused on defending the inclusion of design as a balance to evolution, and that we should allow both sides to be heard. Kelley certainly knows that recent polls have shown most people support this sort of approach and is obviously writing to the audience here.
Because Kelley's attorneys, from Alley McBeal to Alan Shore, are never allowed to lose, the judge ultimately rules that intelligent design should be allowed into the classroom along with evolution, apparently on the basis that there is so much beauty and design in the world it isn't that far out to think that someone created it. He hints too that our teaching of only evolution is too dogmatic.
With the success of Boston Legal and the ratings it has received this season (it averages 5.0 and occasionally wins its Sunday night timeslot), more people probably heard the phrase intelligent design last night between 10 and 11pm than heard it through all the news coverage of Dover last December. Which is good. But, they also probably came away thinking there is no difference between creationism and intelligent design, which is too bad.