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40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, on Trial in Pennsylvania

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40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God on Trial in Pennsylvania, by Matthew Chapman

40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, OxyContin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania, by Matthew Chapman

One of the most important and fascinating events in the recent politics of evolution and science was the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in Pennsylvania. This case pitted parents and teachers who cared about teaching science against school administrators who were determined to inject as much of their religion into science classes as was legally possible. This case either created or merely revealed deep divisions in the community, but they are divisions that run through the entire nation as well.

Summary

Title: 40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, OxyContin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania
Author: Matthew Chapman
Publisher: Collins
ISBN: 0061179450

Pro:
•  Witty, engaging prose creates an easy to read book that's hard to put down
•  Sympathetic to all involved, including the school board

Con:
•  None

Description:
•  Analysis and background on the Kitzmiller v. Dover court case over Intelligent Design

Book Review

Intelligent Design is the most recent creation of America's creationist movement, a multifaceted force that exists to promote traditional, orthodox Christianity as a "correction" against naturalistic, materialist science. No past attempts to bring creationism into science classes had survived a court challenge and a lot of people had high hopes about this court case — but those hopes were dashed when Judge Jones not only rejected the creationist arguments, but made it clear in his ruling that Intelligent Design is religious pseudoscience, not genuine science.

Kitzmiller v. Dover is thus an important case on a number of levels, and there are fewer writers better suited to telling the story of this trial than Matthew Chapman. First, as a screenwriter he has a superb writing style which fleshes out the people and events in ways not usually seen in nonfiction books. In Chapman's book, 40 Days and 40 Nights, the people are not depicted in simplistic ways that divide them into "good" and "bad." By this point everyone who cares already knows how the Kitzmiller v. Dover case turned out, but as with this ability to make people seem more three dimensional, he is also able to make an already-decided case still seem fresh and dramatic.

Second, he recently wrote a book about his trip to Dayton, Tennessee, to better understand the Scopes Monkey Trial, the most famous of all creation vs. evolution court cases. In Trials of the Monkey: An Accidental Memoir, Chapman also makes use of his sympathetic approach and strong writing style to create a fresh perspective on a case that has seen far more ink than most. Finally, Chapman is a direct descendent of Charles Darwin, something which gives him a personal connection to all of these events. Indeed, it is the personal rather than the impersonal which has dominated Chapman's books on evolution — there isn't a great deal about evolution and biology, or religion and ideology, but a great deal about the people and personalities behind both sides of the debate.

This is not to say that ideology and religion are never mentioned, though. Chapman agrees with the defenders of science that no form of creationism, including Intelligent Design, should be taught or otherwise presented as if it were a legitimate scientific field. At the same time, though, he does think that Intelligent Design should be taught — but as an demonstration of the limits of faith.

40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God on Trial in Pennsylvania, by Matthew Chapman

40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, OxyContin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania, by Matthew Chapman

Usually defenders of religious faith try to protect it from scientific scrutiny, but if they want this aspect of faith to be subjected to scientific examination, why not accommodate them? There's no denying that he makes an excellent point, but I doubt that Intelligent Design would be taught in the way that it should. Moreover, it's also a problem that most biology students don't have enough knowledge yet to fully understand why Intelligent Design fails.

There are bound to be many books written about this trial and I don't know if Chapman's will be the best source of information — either about the trial itself or the larger issues involved. It will, however, almost certainly stand out as one of the most enjoyable and entertaining to read. You will definitely learn a lot about the people and events, but you'll never feel like you're reading dry history. Chapman's clever wit, never malicious in intent, ensures that this will be a worthwhile introduction to the trial and what it means in America.

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