WETA will air a hastily assembled PBS "Special Report" at 11 tonight on the Arkansas creation trial, which ended only Dec. 18, with the judge's ruling coming two weeks ago.
Though cameras were not allowed in the courtroom during the trial, the PBS special does show us what the courtroom looks like empty, what the witnesses and lawyers said outside the official proceedings and what little bits of color -- a man in an ape suit, a vendor in a Satan suit selling chili -- surrounded the event.
The program does not attempt to make sense of the pro-and-con arguments about creationism and does not outline the legal case for either side. Rather, it skips from person to person, capturing snatches of talk about the issue.
We are not told which side each speaker is on, and the points each speaker raises follow no consistent order. The effect is to create a muddle on any one point. Oddly, none of the people interviewed gives any sense of confusion; each is quite certain of his position.
One gets no conclusion, only an array of disconnected impressions. This is what the trial must have seemed like, from outside the courtroom alone.
Within the courtroom, things were much simpler. The bill on trial, which called for the "balanced treatment" in public schools of evolution and creation, was very poorly written, by admission of those trying to defend it. The central question was whether the measure would bring religion into public schools. The bill itself was loaded with religious meaning and intent, only barely disguised, as the judge pointed out in his strongly worded opinion, and so it had little or no chance of passing the legal test from the beginning.
But the issue is more than legal and religious. It is social and political, and in this respect the impressions of the PBS special show us something.
The people we see may not be especially sharp on the legal points or the scientific arguments, but their genuine feeling is apparent. On the side of the creationists, we can hear the outrage -- their moral sense is being offended almost daily by the modern world.
This leads to political action, and a loss in Arkansas will, finally, do nothing but compound that sense of outrage and enliven the political action. As the program notes in its last words, just as the Arkansas decision was announced, Mississippi's state Senate passed another creationist bill.