on February 15, 2007
It appears that the "culture wars" are playing out even in these reviews, and it doesn't seem likely that we'll get any neutral observations. I wonder if people who gave it poor reviews even read it. To my mind, "Monkey Girl" is about as fair to both sides as you can get,... but the trial was a slam-dunk, after all. If you read the book without any pre-conceived ideas, I think you'll be amazed at how sympathetic - and how understandable - the author really is.
More importantly, perhaps, the writing is superb. I have rarely read a non-fiction book that kept my attention as well as this one. Honestly, I could not put it down. It covers not just the famous Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, but the situation leading up to the trial, including background on the entire evolution-creationism war. I learned a great deal from the book, while being even more greatly entertained by it.
If you're interested at all in our public schools, I strongly recommend this book. If you're on a school board, you NEED to read this book. Frankly, I think that nearly everyone should read it, simply because it explains the whole controversy so well - and explains the science, the history, and the politics behind it - while being such a darn good read. It WILL keep your attention. Highly recommended!
on March 15, 2007
This book is simply breathtaking. The Dover trial, in the mind of the public, has already lost its true details and has become little more than a rallying cry for polemicists on both side of the 'evolution war'. Humes strips away the misinformation and the sensationalism and erects in their place a well researched picture of human beings with families, goals and principles, all trying to do what is right.
Despite Humes bending over backwards to portray the full complexity of the school board members, they do not come out of this looking good - their frailties, arrogance and mendacity are on display for all to see and judge. Humes, however, successfully avoids turning them into caricatures of ignorance and backwardness - something other commentators have not been so successful with.
Other areas in which the book excels are its presentation of background details such as other trials and related controversies, its coverage of the science (showing an ability all too lacking in modern journalism - the ability to follow an argument from beginning to end) and its portrayal of the litigants, the legal team and Judge Jones who, along with Kitzmiller et al, certainly earns the title of hero in this book.
One review has claimed that Humes was biased, based on statements like this:
"Jones concluded -- correctly -- that the evidence in favour of evolution is convincing and compelling, and that the counterarguments are far less so" (page 340) . . . . . .
"Arguably, evolution has been more rigorously tested, and enjoys more evidence in its support, than any other theory in the history of science." (page 346)
Let us be clear - following evidence is not bias. Ignoring evidence while hiding behind claims of objectivity and fairness IS bias. If there is a bias in this extremely well written (despite its occasional typo) book then that bias is towards true investigation - true in the sense that one is willing to follow where the evidence leads and be convinced.
This book is an excellent account of 'the' trial of the decade and a great primer on the truth behind creationism's latest mask, Intelligent Design.
on March 23, 2007
Few areas of American public life are as fascinating at the continuing struggle between evolutionists and creationists. It's a struggle that involves Science and Religion, Theology and Philosophy, Politics always, and, more often then not, the Law.
Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District was the latest in a long series of trials about the teaching of evolution in American Public school. The first one was the famous "Scopes Monkey Trial", in which a replacement science teacher was prosecuted for teaching evolution against state law. The teacher, John Scopes, lost, and anti-evolution laws remained on the books in many US states until the Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional. Ever since, the shoe was on the other foot - Kitzmiller, dubbed scopes II (or III, or IV, or V, etc), went the other way around - it featured a group of parents, upset about a legislative attempt to sneak the newest repackaging of creationism - a glossed up version marketed under the moniker of "Intelligent Design" - into biology class.
Journalist Edward Humes wrote a fascinating account of the Dover Trial, setting it in context of the historical creation/evolution divide, recent development, and the general approached of the religious right and the Bush administration - memorably described as a "War on" - science.
Early in the century, a group of newly elected members of the Dover school board decided that the then current biology curriculum was unsuitable. The reason? It was "laced with Darwinism". Those board members knew little about science, evolution, or "Intelligent Design", and cared less. What they cared about was that "[2000 years ago] a man died on a cross. Can't someone stand up for him"? Standing up for him meant bringing creationist viewpoints to "balance" evolution. It meant bullying Board members who disagreed by branding them atheists. Finally, it meant lying under oath to hide the religious motives behind what they have done.
I have followed the developments of the trial as it took place, but the book exposed the board members as more dishonest, incompetent and ridiculous then I could have imagined. Judge Jones's reference to "breathtaking inanity" is apt. Witness the testimony of Board member Heather Geesey under cross examination (abridged from pp. 318-319):
Q: "You supported the change?"
Q: "And the policy talks about gaps and problems with evolution?"
Q: "You don't know what those gaps and problems are, do you?
Q: "Is it fair to say you didn't know much about Intelligent Design in October 2004? [When the Creationist policy was adopted]?"
Q: "And you didn't know much about the book 'of Panda and People' [The creationist test book supported by the board and the ID movement]?
Q: "You never read the book?"
Q: "So you didn't really think much about Intelligent Design?"
This was entirely typical. The leader of the Board Creationists, Bill Buckingham could not differentiate between the origin of life and the origin of species (p. 15), nor could he explain what either evolution or intelligent design were in any terms approaching coherence (p. 219). Clearly, the Board didn't promote the Intelligent Design policy in order to improve scientific education, as they had claimed. They wouldn't know science if it hit them in the face. Their motivation was entirely religious.
The other setback for Intelligent Design, the one even its more sophisticated advocated (such as biochemist Michael Behe) could not disguise, was that it simply is not science. In order to make Intelligent Design into a science, Behe had to redefine science in such a way as to include Astrology (p. 301). The plaintiff's attorney, Eric Rothschild, effectively challenged all of Behe's assertions, disclosing that his best selling ID book, "Darwin's Black Box", received scantly any peer review, that Intelligent Design could not reveal the mechanism through which design was supposed to work (p. 303), and that the only scientific paper published by Intelligent Design was entirely irrelevant, making a calculation too complex by a factor vastly exceeding 10 billion (p. 305).
The end result is well known, Conservative Republican Judge John E. Jones, appointed by George W. Bush, ruled that the board had a religious purpose in enacting its pro- Intelligent Design policy, and that Intelligent Design was not science. I find it encouraging that the Judge in the case was a Republican and a Bush appointee. In a time when we are seeing extremists taking over the Republican Party, it's good to know that a there is still a moderate, rationalist wing to it. I hope that with the failure of the "Faith Based Approach" to foreign Policy, crisis management, the economy, science, and civil rights, the US Republican party would return to its roots as a moderate, non radical party.
Perhaps most depressing in Hume's account is the revelation of how little evolution is actually taught in America's schools. As Hume described it, even before the change, evolution was briefly mentioned, minor issues about it were explained, and in less then 90 minutes, the heresy was forgotten. Indeed, the Science teacher's most popular biology book (nicknamed "The Dragonfly book" for the picture on its cover), was popular precisely because it virtually ignored the "E" word, and the latest edition, the one purchased by the school, and supposedly still used as I write these lines, marginalized the subject even more then the previous edition. In a sense, the creationists should never have worried about the teaching of evolution - they had won that battle before it ever started.
on January 31, 2007
Ed Humes has written a detailed, insightful, and even gripping account of the "intelligent design" (ID)case from Dover, Pennsylvania, which ended in December 2005 with a judicial ruling that ID was a thinly disguised form of Biblical creationism and could not be taught in Dover's ninth-grade biology classes.
As the author of a forthcoming book (Viking, May 17) on five recent legal cases that challenged religious symbols and practices in public parks, courthouses, and schools (God on Trial: Dispatches From America's Religious Battlefields), I included a chapter on the Dover case, and read the entire 6,000 pages of testimony in that trial. Ed Humes has made that trial come to life, with perceptive portraits of all the participants: plaintiffs, defendants, expert witnesses on both sides, and the federal judge, John E. Jones III, a Republican appointee of President Bush, who presided with amazing fairness and flashes of humor.
Having recently visited Dover and talked with people on both sides of the cases, I can attest that Humes has given Dover's residents a chance to express their divergent views without bias. There are few books tht match Monkey Girl in putting human faces on deep-rooted conflicts over religious values and scientific issues.
The conflict over teaching evolution in public schools goes back to the famous Scopes "Monkey Trial" in 1925, and has still not ended, despite a series of judicial rulings that creationism in any form is a religious doctrine that does not belong in science classes. The opponents of evolution are well-funded and determined, but the Dover case inflicted a blow from which they might not recover. Anyone concerned about this issue will profit from reading Humes's fascinating book.
on March 22, 2007
"In the time of Galileo it was argued that the texts, 'And the sun stood still ... and hasted not to go down about a whole day' (Joshua x. 13) and 'He laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not move at any time' (Psalm cv. 5) were an adequate refutation of the Copernican theory."
Alan Turing, Computing Machinery and Intelligence, Mind 59 (1950), 443.
Pulitzer Prize winning Ed Humes delivers this comprehensive review of 2005's Dover, Pennsylvania controversial trial, Kitzmiller. vs. Dover Area School District.
You may think you know this controversy, but you'll never get a more thorough and up-to-date treatment of the Dover trial than this. You may be as surprised at some of the newest developments as I was. This is one of the latest episodes of the seemingly never-ending struggle for the hearts and minds of public school students between those who feel that Science describes nature pretty well and those who believe that anything other than a strict literal interpretation of the Bible deserves a trip to hell and excommunication from polite society. It is my personal opinion that those who ridicule the scientific method and mock Darwin's work while refusing to read it, do not deserve to benefit from the fruits of science (such as a computer and the internet), much less influence science curriculum in public schools. Ed Humes didn't go as far as I just did in his book, but you'd think he did from all the whining I've read about it in forums dedicated to the subject.
It's enough to make you miss the Cold War. I still remember how Math and Science were emphasized if only to remind us that we needed to compete with the Soviets. I'm thinking it kept some of this sort of nonsense out of Science Ed. I was in AP Biology in 1988, in Midland, Texas, where fundamentalists feel right at home. In fact, many kids and teachers openly carried Bibles with them at all times, and didn't hesitate to talk about it. At the time, our Biology teacher gave us the little speech prepared to soothe those who feel that their religious beliefs clash with the teachings of Biology in public schools. He told us that the textbook had nothing to do with the origins of life, nor the descent of mankind and other primates from a common ancestor. He also told us something that I still believe to this day. He said that the question of "How" belongs to Science, and that the question of "Why" belongs to Religion. He also said that while he was not going to talk to us about religion at all (not his job as a Biology teacher) he himself had very strong religious beliefs and did not find them to be in conflict with what he taught. He told us that if any of us found any of our beliefs in conflict with the content of the class we could feel free to discuss it with our parents, and with him after class. Until reading this book, I assumed that all but the most extreme religious fundamentalists were fine with this truce-for many years public school biology books limited discussion to a small description of evolution as "changes over time" in high school biology. I was wrong.
While the book mostly focuses on the Dover trial, Humes also takes us to the nearly parallel trial in Kansas (which produced the sharp parody of the Flying Spaghetti Monster), the controversy in the Grand Canyon Giftshop (where Creationists have had some success in censoring information about the geological age of the national monument), and the pseudo-scientific think-tank which excludes any science in conflict with Christian Scripture. I couldn't be certain, but they probably conveniently ignore the scripture at the top of the page regarding the sun going around a stationary earth.
The Dover Trial is full of drama and bad debate, A Scopes Monkey Trial for the 21st century, or Inherit the Wind, Redux. Humes shows in the Dover case how Creationism in public schools, having been defeated in courts during the late 20th century under the Separation of Church and State clause of the First Amendment, evolved (pun intended) into the virtually identical Intelligent Design movement, to Dover, Pennsylvania among other places. Some of the most shocking moments of the trial feature the ironic displays of dishonesty which ultimately brought down the school board members who were trying to bring religion into the local biology classrooms, and had designs on bringing it into the history and government classes as well.
This very book elicits criticism from those whose definition of "Fair and Balanced" have been warped to Orwellian proportions by Fox News and today's most hyperbolic propagandists. Humes compassionately portrays how the plaintiffs' religious beliefs in this case, were attacked and their children mocked at school out of ignorance. The Dover case pitted one kind of Christians against another. Those who favored the separation of Church and State were attacked as "not Christian enough", in a great example of how the separation of these two functions protects freedom of religion. Another surprising turn of events showed how the presiding judge, a Bush-supporting Republican was branded as a liberal judicial activist for defending the constitution.
While it is clear which side Humes' sympathies lie, the reader is necessarily confronted with the heart of the controversy: regarding extreme religious views which by definition do not tolerate any opposing views, what are the limits of tolerance in society? How can a democracy defend pluralism from those whose religious beliefs clash so vehemently with the definition of reality itself by the rest of the world, both secular and religious? The Framers of the Constitution were historically not far away from centuries of religious wars in Europe which constantly threw governments into turmoil. They saw the value of the separation of church and state to both church and state. Back in those days religious persecution meant death or incarceration because of one's beliefs, not what passes for persecution these days in the minds of some.
One gets the strong impression that this latest version of the old Darwin-vs.-God controversy is the product of the removal of Critical Thinking skills from the mainstream public school curriculum, and the lack of a Cold War Era push towards developments in Math & Science, supported by all but the most outspoken of Bible literalists, who constantly attempt to couch the debate as "God vs. Darwin", when in fact, most religions don't require people to choose between the two. In my opinion, this is a clear case of the old adage, "Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it". Young-Earth Creationists might benefit from not ignoring the history of the Catholic Church's censorship of Copernicus and Gallileo hundreds of years ago, and ask themselves why the Pope doesn't have a big problem with Darwin's theories today.
on March 23, 2007
In Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Edward Humes produces what I am certain will prove to be one of the defining accounts of the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial of 2005. Rather than produce an obtuse recitation of facts, Humes really manages to breathe life into the personalities the rest of us only heard about via the newspapers, the television, and the Internet. From Tammy Kitzmiller, a mother from the Dover area and the namesake plaintiff of the lawsuit, to William "Bill" Buckingham, a former police-officer turned community volunteer and activist after a terrible back injury forced him to leave the police force, they all come to life as living, breathing, thinking and feeling people. Ultimately, while it is quite clear that Humes comes down firmly on the side of John E. Jones III and those who opposed the teaching of Intelligent Design, he nonetheless manages to portray those who did not in a human light.
While this certainly won't be the last book on this landmark case, the information contained inside of it shall prove an invaluable tool in the fight to keep concepts such as Intelligent Design out of places they do not belong.
on May 6, 2007
It is my contention that 2005 will be seen as the high-water mark of the Intelligent Design movement: the Kansas state school board approved standards critical of evolution, and the Dover town school board approved a statement supportive of ID. However, it didn't last long: the next Kansas election put the pro-science moderates back in charge of the school board, the Dover policy was rejected by a federal judge, and the school board that approved it was rejected across the board in the next election. While Humes spends some time on Kansas, he does so more as background, as he does with the Scopes trial, the birth of the ID movement, and the history of evolutionary thought. This is primarily a story of Dover.
Humes casts it as part of the ongoing battle between science and religion. Two Dover school board members, Buckingham and Bonsell, don't want evolution to be taught, but they know what they're up against legally: creation science has been shot down repeatedly in the courts, including the Supreme Court, so they need an alternative that will pass muster. Enter intelligent design, complete with the textbook Of Pandas and People, and supporting material from the Discovery Institute suggesting that there should be no problem teaching ID in school. On top of that, the Thomas More Law Center, which specialized in defending Christian causes, wanted a test case for teaching ID and promised to support the school board.
So after much wrangling, the school board voted to have science teachers read a statement before biology class about intelligent design and about the book Of Pandas and People, which would be available in the school library. When the science teachers unanimously refused to read the statement, the assistant schools superintendent did so instead. Several local parents found this objectionable, and sought out the ACLU.
The court case initially looked to be a battle royale between the best the two sides had to offer. However, the Discovery Institute, possibly noting the explicitly religious leanings of the school board members, backed off its initial support. Meanwhile, many of those who would have been marquee witnesses for the defense, like William Dembski, had disputes with the TMLC and also dropped out. The only "A-team" expert witness left was Michael Behe, who was shredded in cross-examination by Pepper Hamilton attorney Eric Rothschild.
The resulting decision by Judge Jones, a George W. Bush appointee who was initially considered to be an ideal judge by the ID side, was devastating in its conclusions: the policy was banned, the school board members were characterized as dishonest, and, most significantly, ID was not science. The ID proponents, of course, immediately turned on Jones and labeled him an "activist judge," as they have criticized every judge who has produced a decision unfavorable to them (i.e., just about all of them).
There are several books coming out about this trial, and this one is the first. Despite that, it's a polished production, with only a few minor errors on the level of copy-editing. (Sorry, the Battle of Yorktown did not take place near York but in eastern Virginia.) Humes covers the background to all this in depth, from the first geologic maps showing an old Earth to the Butler Act banning the teaching of evolution in Tennessee to the resulting Scopes trial, and on up through the various incarnations of creationism to ID and to the Dover situation itself.
He is as sympathetic to the creationist side as they merit. Buckingham is a troubled man, hurt badly in a car accident after losing much of his family and addicted to Oxycontin he's been taking for the lingering pain. He deserves our sympathy to a point, though not past where it's found that he has two different and contradictory explanations, both given under oath, about how he got the money to buy the Pandas and People books for the library. Those finding this book unbalanced should note that being fair does not mean splitting the difference: when you have some lying, ignorant creationists on one side and parents and teachers wanting to teach only what's been supported by centuries of research, there is only one reasonable way of showing the situation. Humes only loses his tolerant demeanor in a somewhat out-of-place afterword, where he seems to let out accumulated frustrations about bending over backwards to present the creationists reasonably by going on a diatribe, primarily against Ann Coulter's ridiculous parody of evolution in her book, Godless.
I followed the events of Dover closely and read much about it as it happened, including much of the trial transcripts, so I knew a lot of this going in. However, Humes packages it all up quite well in a very readable and interesting book. The time will come when Kitzmiller will take its place alongside Scopes in the history of creationism vs. evolution, and I can well see this book being the authoritative reference for many years to come.
on February 18, 2007
First things first: Ed Humes' "Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul" is a great, impossible-to-put-it-down read.
As a first-hand observer of the trial he's writing about, Humes uses depositions, trial transcripts, and interviews with all the key participants, to back up his reconstruction of the famous -- some people call it infamous -- 2005 Dover, PA trial that some call Scopes II.
The Dover intelligent design trial pitted a school board enamored with creationism and intelligent design against parents and teachers in the community who rejected the intrusion of faith into the schools and mounted a vigorous, and ultimately successful, defense of evolution and separation of church and state.
Humes paints an even-handed, even sympathetic, portrait of those on both sides of the deep divide between biblical literalism and science. Even so, he doesn't allow the authors of the school board's decision to escape responsibility for what the trial judge called in his ruling their "breathtaking inanity."
A balanced -- and ultimately very rewarding -- examination of one of the hottest of the hot-buttion issues in the nation's ongoing culture wars.
Pulitzer prize winner Edward Humes has made a career of observing, and writing about, fascinating true-life stories. This is a book about Kitzmiller et. al. v. Dover Area School District, the case about Dover's insertion of Intelligent Design into high school biology.classrooms.
More specifically, the issue was this. The Dover School Board decided to introduce the lesson on evolution with a "one minute statement" to students suggesting that evolution was a theory full of holes, that it was not proven, and that there was a viable alternative theory - Intelligent Design (ID), or, as I like to call it, God Did It (GDI).
The book starts off detailing the conversations at the original board meetings where the idea of offering an alternative to evolution first came up. The idea gathered steam when the head of the Board, hard-headed but soft-minded Bill Buckingham, contacted the Discovery Institute (the only think-tank unskilled enough to advocate Intelligent Design as a scientific theory). From there, teachers rebelled, lines were drawn, experts were called, and a court case was inevitable. Humes starts at the start and ends at the end, leaving no detail behind. [The book shows evidence that it was intelligently designed, but that doesn't mean, contrary to some opinions, that God must have written it.]
We meet all the characters. From the aforementioned Bill Buckingham and his Board=member-sidekick Alan Bonsell, to the 11 plaintiffs and scores of expert witnesses (some more expert than others).
Of course, just as films like Titanic and Pearl Harbor - this book manages to be entertaining despite the fact that we know the ending. Not only did the plaintiffs win, but they won on all counts. The biggest issue in the case was whether the board acted from religious motives and whether ID was an inherently religoious theory, as opposed to a sceintific theory that happened to have religious implications. The judge awarded both of these points to the "evolution side;" ID didn't have a chance. [Then again, according to them, life doesn't operate on chance.]
So, the fun in the book is not finding out the answer, but in watching a case that never should have been a case at all. We watch the board try to deny the very clear evidence that they acted by religious motive. We watch the Intelligent Design "experts" (those who didn't back out right before the trial) try and explain their case, and we watch the prosecution deftly deal with all of it.
I assume by now that this review's readers' can guess which side I am on. Humes, though, is a bit more neutral. He presents things in a lively, but journalistically neutral, way, giving as much credit to the Intelligent Design squad as he can. (One of its stars, Michal Behe, comes out as a relatively decent, if simply mistaken, guy.) But I do think it is safe to say that we know who Humes is rooting for, and his bias does become more evidenc in the book's epilogue.
All in all, though, this is a historic case that is much more fun to read about than the Scopes Trial. Kirtzmiller v. Dover will appeal both to the science and law lovers. Interesting subject matter, good pacing, and just enough attention to detail earns this book 5 stars.
To close, I would like to offer one passage from the book that I think encapsulates the whole, in order to talk you into buying and loving it.
"As Stough would later realize, the women bearing these petitons [in support of teaching ID] would not be convinced by anything he could possibly say. They chose to believe something that they did not understand that sounded scientific - ID - and to reject something else that tehy did not understand and that sounded scientific: evolution. they did this because one appealed to their worldview and their religious conviction while the other scared and challenged them. They did not really want to know more than this, and though Stough's convictions that he was right to join the lawsuit never wavered, he began to wonder what it would really take to open such minds."
on April 28, 2007
I read this book after reading the review in the Post. My cause for concern is not with the decision of the court or all the temporary victories over those who support creationism, ID and their various by-products. My concern is over the fact that well-financed organizations and groups continue to insist that faith replace knowledge. I am a church-goer myself, but also a teacher who regularly has students of all faiths and non-faiths in my classroom. It would never occur to me to try to foist my opinions on faith or religion off on my students. But that is what these groups want to do. And it's wrong--and dangerous, for it undermines the progress of science, which is what has made this country great.