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40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, OxyContin®, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania Hardcover – April 10, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Chapman, Charles Darwin's great-great grandson and a successful Hollywood screenwriter, describes the 2005 intelligent design (ID) trial in Dover, Pa. The native-born Brit loves his adopted American home, but is terrified at the rise of a belligerent fundamentalism that seems to him invincibly ignorant and contemptuous of such scientific commonplaces as evolution. The 40 days and nights of the trial convince him that ID should indeed be taught in every science classroom in America: as an exercise in removing the kid gloves with which religion is treated in this country, science teachers should demolish ID before their pupils' eyes. The strength of the book is its function as an old-fashioned courtroom drama, which stays lively even as readers know how the trial will turn out. Chapman rightly describes himself as unable to "maintain animosity toward people with whom I violently disagree once I get to know them." He even checks his own agnosticism to compliment Jesuit theologian John Haught for having "the most beautiful mind in the whole trial." Chapman's exploration of the American soul finds not only cause for fear but also much that is good and decent. The book bogs down in forays into theology, which are marked by egregious misstatements about evangelicals in general (as opposed to just in Dover), and with a side story paralleling Dover with the Scopes monkey trial, which feels like a clunky addendum. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Charles Darwin's great-great-grandson offers the second 2007 book--the first: Edward Humes' Monkey Girl--about Kitzmiller v. Dover, the 2005 federal trial of a public school board's stab at getting evolution-aversive intelligent design (ID) into the high-school science curriculum. Chapman is glad the board lost yet maintains that ID ought to be in the classroom, anyway, so that real science can shoot it down like in the courtroom. Fortunately, his flaky opinion follows a bang-up job of reporting the trial. A movie writer-director by trade, and unimpaired by higher education, Chapman is a raconteur of a writer who treats informants sympathetically and congenially (he interviewed many trial principals afterward) and addresses readers as comrades. No match for Humes at historical and scientific backgrounding, he edits the trial testimony masterfully as well as obviously, telling whom and what he omits. Despite his tasteless digs at large Catholic families, such as those of the board's legal team, and breathtaking ignorance (or casuistry) about Evangelical Christians, he will please more readers than Humes will. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First edition (April 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061179450
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061179457
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #271,092 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By John Kwok HALL OF FAME on July 31, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Not since early Hunter S. Thompson or Tom Wolfe have I had as much fun reading a witty, provocative piece of journalistic writing as I've had in screenwriter Matthew Chapman's "40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, GOD, OxyContin AND OTHER Oddities ON TRIAL IN Pennsylvania". It's an enthralling, often humorous tome, that owes more to the mordant humor of Frank McCourt, in his bestselling memoirs "Angela's Ashes" and "Teacher Man", than it does to the rather dry, but never dull, prose of Chapman's great-great-grandfather, Charles Darwin, in his scientific classic, "Origin of Species". In the fall of 2005, Chapman attended the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District Trial, as an accredited journalist and filmmaker, intent on making a documentary film on the trial, the town and its people. However, this would soon become a personal trek of self-reflection and discovery, in which he would make a most remarkable conclusion on the teaching of creationism in science classrooms. A trek which took him back to Dover, PA often, holding substantive conversations with the key players on both sides of the issue. And while Chapman truly strives for a cinematic narrative, fading in and out between brief discussions of the 20th Century Scopes Trial, the Discovery Institute, and his illustrious ancestor's revolutionary scientific research, the book's emphasis remains focused upon himself and his conversations with the people of Dover.Read more ›
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By T. P. Casey on May 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What Matthew Chapman has written is an account of a trial and a report of an America suffering from a widening cultural gap between the secular protections of the constitution and a segment of the population who want to press a Christian agenda in public institutions. Richard Feynman, the physicist, in characterizing the aim of science and the aim of religion said that science seeks to uncover immutable laws that can predict events. The inverse square law of gravitation, laws of motion, and the effect of acceleration on mass, once revealed, changed how the universe is understood. Scientific method postulates a theory and then tests it, always open to new facts that will refine it. Oppositely, religion formulates opinions as dogma that, like conspiracy theory, is not accountable to fact. Dogma resists information that would compromise its premise. As long as science could not explain phenomenon, religion took as its providence superstitious understanding and assigned the mysteries of the world to an all-knowing God, who spoke to human creatures through inspired texts interpreted by anointed priests and ministered to the uneducated. Little has changed in the process of religious knowing, but much has changed in scientific understanding.

In this compelling report of a forty-day trial, arguments are heard for and against the inclusion of a textbook describing Intelligent Design as an alternative to evolutionary theory in a ninth grade science class at Dover High School in Pennsylvania. The board of education voted the text into the curriculum and several parents who objected, claimed that the content was religiously driven, scientifically invalid, and legally unconstitutional.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By K. N. VINE VOICE on August 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Chapman's account of the issues and personalities that shaped the famed Kitzmiller v. Dover case in Pennsylvania is a truly entertaining read. There's so much great material that one can't help but be fascinated by the trial transcripts, interviews, and examples of Intelligent Design (ID) "literature" that Chapman includes here.

In particular, Chapman does a fine job of illustrating the contrasting personalities that made up the school board which introduced ID to Dover-area public schools. Without editorializing too much, Chapman shows how the board did the public a disservice by letting their religious views blind their commitment to the education of an increasingly lethargic student body. It's sad to hear how Dover-area kids were let down by a cohort of fundamentalists who, as the trial proceedings demonstrate, actually had very little to no knowledge of what constitutes evolution and what constitutes ID (much less what the scientific method is all about). So as the board was busy legislating religion in Dover, students were tuning out amidst a crumbling school infrastructure and an uninspiring curriculum. That's the most unfortunate aspect of this tale.

For me, the problem with this book is simple: there's so much great material to work with here, but Chapman is a mediocre storyteller at best. There are long sections of the book where he quotes from transcripts or interviews without any narrative insight. He describes at least six or seven of the trial participants as "good-looking." His tone alternates between flippant and cavalier -- rarely sensitive to detail and nuance. His account of the trial's finale is reduced to saying, "You've heard this before, so I'll only quote this part of X's closing statement...
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