This is an outstanding book for many reasons.
It is written in lively and accessible language. While Humes doesn't dumb down the topics he discusses here, he most certainly does an excellent job of making clear some of the complicated constitutional issues, the science involved (or not, in the case of the school board and others) and the historical and political factors that contributed to this fascinating case.
It's well written, carefully organized, occasionally amusing and extremely thought-provoking. I literally could NOT put this down, even after having read big chunks of the actual trial transcript and obviously knowing how it comes out. No matter. These "back stories" are simply fascinating and Humes telling of this historic trial brings all of them together so well.
I even learned some stuff about DNA that I was not aware of and it is SO COOL!
Oh, and don't skip the notes as you read! They are highly relevant and many contain some nuggets of knowledge you'll want to have.
Go for it. This is really a good book.
on February 22, 2007
This is one of the first books to cover the fascinating 6-week trial in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. The case dealt with efforts to require public school students in Dover, Pennsylvania, to be exposed to "intelligent design." A federal district court judge appointed by George W. Bush, no less, ruled against intelligent design and in so doing noted the "breathtaking inanity" of the school district's position.
Edward Humes, the author of "Monkey Girl," has a knack for picking up telling facts and authentic details. This is a remarkably credible and vivid account of the recent events in Pennsylvania. Small-town life in America is all too often just like this. As a former school board member myself, I grimaced at the behavior of the Dover board members (now mainly removed from office) who appointed themselves "experts" on a subject few had ever looked into, let alone bothered to study. The case shows the great danger that exists when a school board abandons its proper, policy-making role and injects itself into decisions about curriculum based on board members' personal prejudices.
A fine journalist with a Pulitzer to his credit, Humes also provides useful background about evolution and intelligent design, legal issues, and the intensely human side of this struggle. He is an excellent observer. His approach is balanced and careful. He also shows the tragedies, absurdities, emotional conflicts and humor that colored this case. I eagerly devoured segments of the trial transcript on the internet as it was released (it contains amazingly lucid and valuable instruction in basic biology and evolution, spiced with occasional humor). I have also studied numerous court documents and the judge's 139-page opinion. "Monkey Girl" does justice to the events that I saw unfold from a distance, by internet. It gives a broad yet appropriately detailed view of how a local controversy exploded into a national event. I recommend it highly. Why then only four stars? Because it is not perfect: although Humes has a good set of notes, he might also have included helpful appendices, photographs and other materials to tell his story more completely and make it even more vivid and concrete. This case got substantial exposure even from international news organizations, after all, and created quite a sensation in the U.S. media. Nevertheless, these are not flaws in what will be one of the definitive portraits of a landmark case at the intersection of church and state.
on March 7, 2007
This book is an excellent and engaging account of the Dover Scopes trial II. It starts out very balanced but builds towards support for the plaintiffs. This is no accident, or bias from the author, but it's where the evidence leads. After finishing this book I understand why the now classic statement from Judge Jones "...breathtaking inanity" is so well founded. I need to ask "what were they thinking?" (the school board). The trial description is riveting, although some of the depth was missing. The 'point' and 'counter-point' that went on regarding Dr. Forrest's testimony was a little skimpy but well summarized. Dr. Behe's testimony was well captured. There is an interesting 'take' on his confusing answers on Slate comparing this with a Monty Python skit.
In criticism, I noted that Bill O'Reilly is identified with CNN (aka FOX-lite). Also, in the early chapters (and elsewhere) the author suggested that Darwin was alone in his thesis. This not correct, there were several others preceding him and his peer: Wallace. There is an excellent book called "Before Darwin" with good references, and Mike Shermer's book on Wallace. Darwin pulled it all together.
For a creationist or ID'er this book is strongly biased, but the truth sometimes hurts. They need to let their faith evolve, and enter (kicking and screaming) into the 21st century.
Beginning in 2004, the small town of Dover, Pennsylvania garnered national attention when it became the site of a modern day do-over of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial. Once again, Charles Darwin's theories of evolution and the origin of species were challenged on thinly veiled religious grounds by proponents of the latest version of Biblical creation, their arguments dressed up this time in pseudo-scientific clothes and hung with the name tag Intelligent Design, or ID.
It all began with a ex-cop and school board member named William Buckingham. Mr. Buckingham decided that his district's high school biology text contained too much "godless Darwinism" and not enough creationism, and he wanted to equalize the situation. Before long, a few other board members joined his crusade, arguing among other things that "I've discussed this with my daughter and one thing's for sure, we didn't come from any monkey." Buckingham argued that the separation of church and state was a myth, even feeling compelled at one meeting to blurt out, "Two thousand years ago, someone died on a cross. Can we have the courage to stand up for him?" Threats of demonization as atheists brought additional school board members to the cause, and increased attention brought in the creationist-inspired Discovery Institute (funded in part by big-bucks Domino's Pizza founder Thomas Monaghan) to sell the idea not as the legally indefensible creationism, but by putting lipstick on that pig and calling it intelligent design. Under that guise, creationism steps back in favor of "scientific evidence" that Nature is simply too complex to have arisen randomly, without the guiding hand of a designer -- who shall go unnamed (snicker, snicker). Not surprisingly, Dover's science teachers objected strenuously, as did some parents. In the end, however, nothing was left for them to do after the school board adopted a pro-ID curriculum change than to sue. Thus entered into the picture one of this story's true hero: Justice John Jones (the other being parent Tammy Kitzmiller, who braved taunts of, "Atheist!" from her fellow Doverians to become lead plaintiff against the school board.
To his immense credit, Edward Humes retells the events leading up to this historic court case with the force of a mystery novel. He manages to inject both judicial and scientific history lessons into his story while keeping it compelling, and he presents the actual court hearings with all the drama of a murder trial. In the only forum to date where true science expertise has faced off against the proponents of ID and their ostensible science experts, science and reason utterly demolished their Bible-beating opponents. In recounting the court hearings, Humes literally makes the reader cringe at the legal beating the ID promoters suffered. As much as one might delight in seeing these presumed experts wallow in their own distortions, half truths, and self-contradictions, it is difficult not to feel sorry for Mr. Buckingham and his fellow pro-ID school board members. They were clearly in way over their heads, putting their faith ahead of both reason and their sworn responsibility to research, debate, and act on school and curriculum in the best interest of the students in their district. As Mr. Hughes makes clear in the end, Dover was victimized by the religious agenda of a school board whose members utterly failed to grasp even the simplest elements of the curriculum change they sought to impose on their community. They sought no outside consultation that differed from their own predetermined position, and they never bothered even to look at the books they ordered their high school to adopt.
MONKEY GIRL offers several important object lessons. First, it demonstrates how easily power and influence can accrue to a few loud and unshakably convinced voices in a community, even when they are pathetically small-minded, hopelessly ill informed, and tragically wrong. Second, Humes illustrates with remarkable clarity how blind faith can so overwhelm reason that rational discourse becomes impossible - no argument or evidence, no demonstration of fact or fallacious logic can sway minds dominated by the fairy tales of religious fundamentalism. Third, this book illustrates the dangers of one-sided scientific argumentation when used to promote a non-scientific agenda, since few people are equipped with the ability (or inclination) to learn about the other side. In this regard, Humes implicitly demonstates the parallels between the published anti-evolution rants from the likes of Michael Behe or William Dembski and the uncritical acceptance by their audiences of political rants (published or aired) from the likes of Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilley, and Rush Limbaugh. Fourth, MONKEY GIRL is a chilling reminder of the importance of the founding principle of separation of Church and State. Finally, Humes shows us that through this whole Monty Pythonesque farce, it was the students who kept their perspective and spoke the truth with the simple brevity and frankness of adolescence while the adults around them fought to destroy one another.
MONKEY GIRL is engagingly written and clear and thorough in its presentation. It offers a valuable object lesson in the "faith versus reason" battle and a case study in the tactics of the fundamentalist Christian right and how to counteract them. An outstanding work!
Science is our way of figuring out how the physical universe works, and we Americans love it, and we trust it to send people to the moon, to give us medical cures, to bring out the thousands of inventions that allow us to do such things as sending a text message. We do not trust it to tell us about the distant past, however; when scientists declare that the world is billions of years old rather than thousands, or that animals and plants evolved from previous species, most Americans disagree, and many disagree heatedly. It seems strange that they would accept all that science can tell in other spheres but would feel that science stumbles, by factors of billions, when it looks at the past. Americans, however, are making religious objections to the one area in which they feel their religion overlaps with science (the results of archeological studies which contradict biblical history are far less well known), and ever since evolution was proposed, they have objected to its being taught in the schools. The most famous legal case resulting from that objection, the Scopes trial in 1925, actually had little influence, especially compared to the 1987 Supreme Court ruling which banned "creation science" from the public schools because it was merely religious, with the court holding that such religious indoctrination was not an activity the government could conduct. The most recent attempt to instill such religious teachings has been a new form of creationism, Intelligent Design (ID), whose chief advocates, like those of creation science, insist it is not religious, but scientific. When the issue was brought to court in Dover, Pennsylvania, in 2004, however, ID was found to be just another attempt to allow religious opposition against science to influence school teaching. The account of the decision is a great story, and in the way Edward Humes tells it in _Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul_ (Ecco), it is an exciting courtroom drama. The decision went to the scientists, and Humes is soundly in their camp, but that does not prevent him from giving sympathetic portraits of the Christians who, sometimes sincerely and sometimes deceptively, wished to get ID into the classroom. Hume is also excellent in summarizing the science involved in evolutionary theory and the attempts at being scientific by advocates of creationism and ID.
It is interesting that many of the Christians who are now advocating ID do not realize that those who have written ID fundamentals would disagree with such unscientific ideas. They do not have a problem with the Earth being billions of years old, for instance, nor that some systems have evolved, nor that creatures share a common descent from previous forms, nor even that humans and apes share a common ancestor. Such details were over the heads of many of the members of the Dover school board when they advocated that 9th grade biology students be informed of ID as an alternative to evolution, and that they be referred to an ID textbook. Hume documents that the board members had a poor understanding both of the evolution they despised and of the ID they were advocating. He demonstrates that the board members were actively pushing for religious, and specifically, Christian ideas to be taught to the students. The trial, brilliantly presented here, was a spectacular effort by the plaintiffs' attorneys whereby repeatedly "cutting edge science truly stole the show."
Science is hard work. If you put forth a scientific paper, you expect that other scientists are going to do their best to tear holes in it, and that your findings are going to have to be replicated by others before they are truly accepted. "Intelligent design has not done this hard work, has not proved itself, has not proved anything at all," writes Humes. A court trial is not usually the best place to see science in action, but this one was, and anyone who is interested in science, education, or civil liberties will find this a fascinating book. The judge's ruling, that ID was religious and unscientific and thus had no place in the classroom, was a triumph for science and for separation of church and state, but he knew that even as a conservative Republican, he was going to be labeled an activist judge bent on imposing his own ideas on society, and this indeed happened. He did not predict that he was going to get death threats, and this also happened and he had to be put under 24-hour guard from a US Marshal. I just bet none of those despicable threats came from scientists, or even from anyone who has studied Behe's and Dembski's books.
on May 6, 2007
... when it is objectively revealing that someone's deception.
Edward Humes has provided an exceptional account of the Dover, PA trial over intelligent design as public classroom "science". The real value in this book isn't the revelations about the science of evolution versus the pseudoscience of the intelligent design presented but rather in the getting to know the people involved in the case, including the legal teams and the judge. The surprise is the extent of lies from the supporters of intelligent design within Dover and their supporters including under oath.
Hume's objectivity is sympathetic yet devastating. Humes has raised implicitly and explicitly the serious question of whether Christians, even those who believe in Genesis-based literal creationism, are well-served by the kinds of lies that purported Christians engaged in during the Dover trial.
After reading "Monkey Girl", I have to wonder what might have happened if the Bush-appointed judge had had less integrity, if the plaintiff's legal team hadn't been so stellar, and if the scientists who testified for the plaintiff's hadn't been so compelling.
Despite by its careful attention to facts, "Monkey Girl" reads like an engaging novel. A good place to turn after this book to learn more how one can work through legal and political means to support the teaching of sciences such as evolution and maintain the church/state separation is Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools. For more detail about the maneuvers of the Discovery Institute, Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design is telling: one of its co-authors, Barbara Forrest, was a key witness in the Dover trial so Humes presents her role there in "Monkey Girl".
Humes does note that Roman Catholics including Pope John Paul II have been open to evolution. Even such a formidable proponent of evolution as Kenneth Miller believes in a creator although not one in conflict with evolution, as he apparently testified on September 26, 2005 at the Dover trial.
Hopefully, Christians who are concerned about the teaching of science in public school will find ways more consistent with religious and moral ideals if they want to express those concerns. "Monkey Girl" shows a very bad example that was set for children of deceptions and outright lies. Perhaps denying what a local newspaper reported is not bearing false witness against a neighbor, as happened in the Dover trial, but it hardly seems Christian.
[ Note: I made a minor modification to this review to avoid confusion by readers about what I had meant originally when I wrote "Kenneth Miller believes in a creationism although not one in conflict with evolution". Indeed, Miller acknowledged in his Dover trial testimony that he was a creationist in the "ordinary meaning of the word" and he certainly, as I indicated, does not view his position as in conflict with evolution: he expertly supports evolution. He is definitely not a creationist in the sense now popularly suggested by "scientific criticism", "creation science" or the "creationist movement". "See attached comments.]
on February 18, 2014
If think you have taken words like science, evolution and intelligent design for granted, read this book. This 21st century version of Scopes will give you a new and nuanced understanding.. Well written, seems to peek under every stone and bring reason to an emotional and unanswerable question. However, it is not a smooth read because of un us u al word breaks that occur per io dic ally throughout the book. Also, I had a couple of page freezes that required me to shut down and start again. It could have been my Kindle, but because of the sloppy type treatment, I suspect not.
Read the book. It is worth dealing with the distracting interruptions.
on March 8, 2007
Humes does a wonderful job covering the controversy around the Kitzmiller vs. Dover School Board case, putting the "Scopes Monket Trial II" case in its historical perspective, and describing well the evolution vs. intelligent design arguments. While he asks that the reader keep an open mind in reading the book, no matter which side of the argument rings true, it is clear from reading the book that Humes comes down firmly on the side of the evolutionists, and paints the ID/creationists as religious zealots proselytizing their perspective. All-in-all, this is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand how this controversy played out both in local politics in Dover and in a precedent-setting federal court case.
on July 1, 2007
Even if you are already familiar with the broad outlines of the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in 2005 the details that you can find in Edward Humes's masterly and highly readable account offer a valuable window on the state of modern creationism. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect is the capacity of the upholders of Christianity to lie about just about anything if they see it as helping their cause. Any biologist is familiar, of course, with the tendency of creationists to distort biology, dismissing the overwhelming evidence that evolution is a reality, together with their pervasive confusion between natural selection and the origin of life. It is easy to explain this in terms of stupidity rather than deliberate falsehood, but the lies went far beyond that in the Dover trial: lies about the Founding Fathers' explicit denial that they were founding a Christian nation, lies about the relationship between creationism and intelligent design, lies about the status of the book Of Pandas and People and its explicitly religious motivation, lies about who had donated copies of this book to the School District, lies about the openly religious motivation of the proponents of "intelligent design" in the meetings of the School Board, with lying characterization of people who disagreed with them as atheists, lies about the extent to which the science teachers had been allowed to participate in the discussion, and lies about the actual knowledge the members of the Board had about the lies that they wanted the children to be taught. Clearly the commandment about not bearing false witness does not count for much when there is a holy war to be fought.
Before the trial, leading lights in intelligent design such as William Dembski enthused about "squeezing the truth from the Darwinists" in a courtroom when they wouldn't be able to run away from lawyers' probing questions. In the event, however, it was Dembski and another creationist "expert" who ran away, refusing to testify in a courtroom if they couldn't have their personal lawyers there to hold their hands. This left Michael Behe as the only witness on the creationist side with any claim to expertise at all, though not enough to hide the vacuous nature of their case. Once he had admitted that a definition of science that would admit intelligent design as science would also admit astrology there was not much credibility left.
on September 7, 2007
As someone who's never had issues with religion and science, including evolution, I wanted to know what all the Intelligent Design fuss was about. So I started reading books. First I read Michael Shermer's Why Darwin Matters. This peaked my interest to know more. Then I found Monkey Girl. I almost didn't buy the book, thinking that reading about a court case would be too boring. Boy was I ever wrong!
I couldn't put this book down. The author does a masterful job of painting a vivid picture of everyone involved in the case and providing helpful background information, including history sometimes going back centuries, to show how the U.S. divide between evolution and Intelligent Design came together in one school board in one high school in one small town in Pennsylvania.
Now I understand much better.
The last chapter of the book begins:
"It is humanity's unique blessing and peculiar curse to be the only species on Earth, as far as we know, that worries so obsessively and at such great expense about where we came from and why we're here."
My journey to know these things has taken me through Protestantism, Judaism, and now Buddhism. I've felt fortunate to live in a country that protects my right and everyone else's to be able to learn about and practice my chosen spiritual path. Or to choose to follow no particular path if I want.
But some Christians in this country want to do away with this right. To them, their approach to religion is the only approach. They even say it's what this country was founded on. I've heard that's not the case. So now I'm reading about the faith of our founding fathers.
What bothers me the most, if the recounting of the Dover case is true, which I think it is, is that people who call themselves religious believers will lie to try to impose their beliefs on others. This seems very unChristian to me, and unJewish, unMuslim, and unBuddhist for that matter.
Given the judge's ruling in the Dover case that Intelligent Design is religion, not science, I'm hopeful that my Constitutional rights will continue to be upheld by people who understand their vital importance to our country. I have no problem with any religion, as long as I or my children or grandchildren are not required to learn about it in school or any other public or governmental place.