40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, OxyContin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania - Matthew Chapman Matthew Chapman, author of Trials of the Monkey An Accidental Memoir, and great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin, had moved to the United States, tired of the English predilection for class distinctions. Never a diligent student, he fell in love with the story of evolution and visited Dayton, TN, home of the famous Scopes trial. "In my mind the anti-evolution movement remained a quaint Southern aberration resulting from a combination of moonshine and religions of the snake-fondling type. I had drunk of the aforementioned mountain dew and found it a powerful mind-altering substance, oddly delicious, with only the faintest leady aftertaste of the car radiator through which it had been distilled, but concluded it was not the best stimulant of intellectual cognition." Now that's a delightful quote.

When he learned that a small town in Pennsylvania was to be the site for a replay of the Scopes trial, he packed his bags. York County, PA is a land of contradictions. Militant in a state of pacifist origins -- they sent more troops to the Revolution than any area of comparable size and population -- they had evolved into the antithesis of William Penn's "holy experiment" in religious toleration, and the area was known for its religious zealotry.

Dover, sadly, reminds me of the rural town near where I live, except that we have no traffic light. As with Dover, the highpoint of the week is Friday night football/basketball, and the major traffic jam occurs when the old ladies drive to the post office to pick up the mail. A town of about the same size, we have 1700 residents and 4,963 churches. The school used to annually host a local minister who handed out copies of the New Testament to all the kids until they got a call from the ACLU when a local liberal (guess who?) called them. The debate over evolution and teaching of intelligent design (an oxymoron if there ever was one) tore Dover apart.

After the resignation of several school board members, the board appointment process filled it with fundamentalists. Even they realized they couldn't force intelligent design down the throats of the students so they had science teachers be required to read statement indicating that evolution was "just" a theory and students wanting another view should read Of Pandas and People, bordering on a violation of the Pennsylvania standards of education. An editorial in the York Daily Record suggested that," Watching what's going on in the Dover Area School District is like watching a train wreck in slow motion." To give you an idea of the backward climate, the town's mayor had just been acquitted by an all-white jury of having given bullets to local white gangs thirty years before so they could "go out and kill as many black people as they could during some very severe race riots."

One of the arguments of the school board was, "it's just a statement we want read to the students, takes only a couple of minutes, not that important, so what's the big deal?" To which the plaintiffs natural response was, "If it's not so important why are you taking this to court?" Not to mention that the statement provided an unequivocally false impression of what science is and what a theory is. In addition, while making the argument against evolution, the board and the defense team could never marshal arguments for intelligent design. "The logic of picking out intelligent design, which is inherently untestable, and saying that any evidence against evolution is evidence for intelligent design employs a logical fallacy that I think most scientists reject."

The plaintiffs lawyers were a congenial group, staying in the same hotel, eating together, and generally having a good time. The defense team, however, "was a dysfunctional family with a frequently absent father." Richard Thompson, who bore a resemblance to William Jennings Bryan, from the Thomas More Law Center, which he had founded with money from the Domino's pizza chain and who had made his reputation obsessively trying to send Dr., Kevorkian to jail,, would often disappear even while important testimony was being taken. Competition between the Discovery Institute and Thomas More Center would not help their defense.

One of the really nice things about Chapman is that he genuinely likes people, even people he disagrees with completely, once he gets to know them and you feel his sympathy for the participants. Humor abounds. One of the school board members was so fiscally conservative that she was described by another board member as being so tight "she could squeeze the nickel 'till the buffalo farts."

The linkage of belief in evolution and atheism haunted the debate. The plaintiffs at Dover put many people of faith on the stand who fervently believed in the evidence of evolution. Particularly effective was a Catholic priest, Haught, who in his friendly and non-confrontational manner effectively dismantled the defense questions. Often the defense misunderstood the implications of what was said. Chapman asked one of the plaintiff's lawyers about a line of questioning by the defense that seemed to bring out the weaknesses in the defense's own case, the lawyer replied, "We don't get it either, but the good news is that whatever we forget to bring out during direct, we can rely on them to bring out during cross." Haught, argued convincingly that science and religion were related but operated in two separate and distinct realms. His example is instructive:
Suppose a teapot is boiling on your stove and someone comes in the room and says "explain to me why that's boiling." Well one explanation would be it's boiling because the water molecules are moving around excitedly and the liquid state is being transformed into gas.
But at the same time you could just as easily have answered that question by saying, "It's boiling because my wife turned on the gas."
Or you could also answer that same question by saying, "It's boiling because I want tea."
All three answers are right but they don't conflict with each other because they're working at different levels. Science works at one level of investigation, religion at another.
The problems occur when one assumes there's only one answer.


Haught concluded his testimony by saying, "the God of intelligent design seems to be a kind of tinkerer or meddler who makes ad hoc adjustments to creation, whereas I wold want a child of mine to think of God as something much more generous, much more expansive, a God who can make a universe which is, from the start, resourceful enough to unfold from within itself in a natural way all the extravagant beauty and evolutionary diversity that, in fact, has happened. To put it very simply, a God who is able to make a universe that can somehow make itself is much more impressive religiously than a God who had to keep tinkering with the creation."

Apocalyptic thinking played a large role in the belief systems of those defending their desire to teach intelligent design. They truly believe the end was coming, that evolution was a hoax, and that science had evidence proving it to be a hoax but that evidence was being suppressed. The ignorance of the anti-evolution crowd of science and how it worked is truly saddening. They never forgive their antagonists. Scopes, who had never really taught evolution and was picked mostly because of his willingness to participate in the trial, had his life turned upside down. He had wanted to teach geology at the college level but had his much-needed fellowship revoked. "As far as I'm concerned you can take your atheistic marbles and play elsewhere," was the sentiment conveyed in the rejection letter. He realized the stigma of the trial would follow him and he spent his professional life working as a geologist in South America.

Contrary to popular wisdom, I think the hidden debate at Dover was between the God who employed evolution as opposed to the flaky God of instant creation. This formed the crux of the trial that made the outcome almost inevitable. This was not so much a battle between evolutionary atheism and God's intelligent creation, but between two very different views of God and how he/she/it operates. The judge was thus forced, in my view, to rule, quite appropriately, that science was to be taught in the classroom, that the water is boiling because the heat is exciting the water molecules, and not religion, which was suggesting the water was boiling because we want tea.

Excellent book. Very hard to put down.