REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, Oxycontin and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania” by Matthew Chapman.

Matthew Chapman is an author, film director and screenwriter.  He is also the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin (yes, THAT Charles Darwin).  Chapman decided to travel to Dover, Pennsylvania to cover the famous Dover vs. Kitzmiller trial in which a Bush-appointed Federal Judge put a very large nail in the coffin of the Intelligent Design movement’s attempt to get Creationism into the science classroom (in this case, a 9th-grade biology class in Dover High School).

This book is a tremendous read about a great story, and the author spends the time it takes to introduce us to a rather large cast of characters while giving us a fast-moving day-to-day sense of the very long trial (that did, in fact, last 40 days and 40 nights!).

Though not for a moment taken in by the “Creationism in a Lab Coat” of Intelligent Design, Chapman develops a genuine affection for the varied lot of primates involved in the case.  There is something about his position as an observer (he was shooting a documentary as well) that gives him a certain freedom to comment and describe that a journalist or lawyer would not have.

His observations are piquant, witty and warm, and never mean.  He’s just the kind of person we might hope would judge any of us were he sitting in a jury box (which he does through most of the trial, since this is where most of the press sat in this non-jury process).

The Americans who populate this trial are people we all know and can relate to.  And though it offers a chilling glimpse into the kind of religion-fueled belligerent ignorance that drives a certain portion of our population, it also reveals the steady sense of fairness that people from a wide range of religious and social background can (and do) draw upon to reach consensus.

The final chapter is a sort of call to action against the forces that ignored both science and law in their attempt to bring religion into the science classroom and which are ever at work and show no signs of letting up.

This book is part procedural thriller, part popular science and part comedy.  But primarily it is the highly-engaging story of the people of a small town in Pennsylvania that became the center of a nation’s interest for 40 very long days and nights, after which a Republican Baptist Federal Judge — in the best traditions of American fairness — ruled against a school board that was trying to pull a fast one in a public high school.

t.n.s.r. bob

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One Response to “REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, Oxycontin and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania” by Matthew Chapman.”

  1. Al Galves says:

    As I understand natural selection, those traits which occur through mutation and which contribute to survival and, perhaps, some amount of thriving are acquired and maintained. If we believe that adapting to our environment in a way that enables us to survive and thrive is a good thing, I would conclude that the process of natural selection does result in progress of a sort.