A new theory

The first time Lebo heard the phrase “intelligent design” was a month after she had started tracking Maldonado’s reporting on the school board meetings. At a meeting on July 12, 2004, Maldonado noticed a sudden shift in rhetoric. Curriculum Head Buckingham did not once use the word “creationism,” as he had in previous meetings. He was now talking about intelligent design as the alternative to evolution he hoped Dover teachers would embrace. Maldonado later recalled:

[The meeting was] a whole lot less Christian and a whole lot more scientific sounding. They were no longer talking about taking a stand for Jesus. It was about taking a stand for our children’s education. [1]

When Maldonado visited the Daily Record office on July 13, the day after the meeting, he stopped by Lebo’s desk for a chat. She was intrigued by what he had noticed. She was skeptical about Buckingham’s intentions but, without much background in evolutionary theory, she was curious whether “intelligent design” was a valid theory that could bridge the seeming conflict between science and religion. If scientists had found evidence of the hand of God in biology, that would certainly be newsworthy, and even worth discussing in science class. Lebo decided to dig deeper; the theory might deserve its own story. She typed “intelligent design” into a search engine.

At first, there seemed to Lebo nothing objectionable about the theory, though the specifics were laden with scientific and mathematical jargon and somewhat confusing. She found a wealth of information at the website of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, the largest pro-intelligent design organization in the country. The theorists quoted on the site emphasized the scientific nature of intelligent design—and the theory certainly seemed much more detailed and complex than the simple biblical narrative in which God created the world in six days. William Dembski, a mathematician and philosopher at Baylor University who had written a 1998 book on intelligent design, summarized intelligent design on a section of the website:

Intelligent design begins with a seemingly innocuous question: Can objects, even if nothing is known about how they arose, exhibit features that reliably signal the action of an intelligent cause?... Designed objects like Mount Rushmore exhibit characteristic features or patterns that point to an intelligence. Such features or patterns constitute signs of intelligence . Proponents of intelligent design, known as design theorists, purport to study such signs formally, rigorously, and scientifically. Intelligent design may therefore be defined as the science that studies signs of intelligence. [2]

That seemed reasonable to Lebo. But she had never been a science reporter, and she was aware that she would have to research both evolution and intelligent design thoroughly to understand the terms of the debate. “I didn’t know [anything] about science at that point… The whole issue of evolution… I accepted it, but I didn’t really know what it meant,” she recalls.

She sought the help of a colleague and friend, Marc Charisse, who had been her editor at the York Dispatch and had moved with her to the Daily Record . Charisse was a former academic with a PhD in First Amendment Law. He had also read widely on evolutionary theory, though intelligent design was new to him, too. Lebo and Charisse had desks close to one another in the newsroom, and as Lebo began to research evolution and intelligent design through the summer of 2004, they had almost daily conversations about the legal, philosophical, and scientific issues surrounding journalism at the intersection of science, religion, education, and law. At the same time, Lebo tried to read as much as she could find about evolution and the new theory that had arisen to challenge it. After full days at work, she would return home and read late into the evening. Through her conversations with Charisse and her research, Lebo became more and more convinced that evolution and its newest critics deserved their own story in the Daily Record . “By late July 2004, I was obsessed,” she recalls.

[1] Lauri Lebo, The Devil in Dover , p. 30.

[2] William Dembski, “Intelligent Design,” in Lindsay Jones (ed.), Encyclopedia of Religion , 2 nd ed. (Macmillan Reference USA: Woodbridge, CT), 2004.