40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, OxyContin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania

40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, OxyContin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania

by Matthew Chapman

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In this fascinating story of evolution, religion, politics, and personalities, Matthew Chapman captures the story behind the headlines in the debate over God and science in America.

Kitzmiller v. Dover Board of Education, decided in late 2005, pitted the teaching of intelligent design (sometimes known as "creationism in a lab coat") against the teaching of evolution. Matthew Chapman, the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin, spent several months covering the trial from beginning to end. Through his in-depth encounters with the participants—creationists, preachers, teachers, scientists on both sides of the issue, lawyers, theologians, the judge, and the eleven parents who resisted the fundamentalist proponents of intelligent design—Chapman tells a sometimes terrifying, often hilarious, and above all moving story of ordinary people doing battle in America over the place of religion and science in modern life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061870620
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/13/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 571 KB

About the Author

Matthew Chapman is the author of Trials of the Monkey: An Accidental Memoir. He is also a film director and screenwriter whose writing credits include Consenting Adults and Runaway Jury. He lives in New York with his wife and daughter.

Read an Excerpt

40 Days and 40 Nights Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, OxyContin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania

By Matthew Chapman Reference Copyright © 2007 Matthew Chapman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-117945-7

Chapter One Genesis

I hope the fact that my great-great-grandfather was Charles Darwin will not deter you from reading this book. You might assume that my opinions are predictable and that a less biased, and therefore more suspenseful, account could be found elsewhere. The truth is that at the start of the trial I did believe creationism should be banned from high school science classes. By the end of it, however, I had been convinced by the intelligent design advocates that creationism in all its forms should be a mandatory part of every child's science education. My reasons for believing this are slightly different from theirs, but that's another story-the story of this book.

Being a descendent of Charles Darwin was not something I thought much about as I was growing up in Cambridge, England. The theory of evolution was accepted, and Darwin was a mere historical figure. If I did think about my connection to him, it was only negatively. Academic pressure on me was intense, and, at least in comparison with my ancestor, success was unlikely.

I was a child whose maximum attention span was approximately five seconds, a boy who refused to be educated and was kicked out of several schools, and a youth whose only academic achievement was a stunning lack of achievement. At the age of fifteen, when I was set free, I had not passed a single exam of any consequence. Soon after the school door slammed behind me, I rediscovered my curiosity.

To support myself, I worked in a variety of jobs-van driver, welder, house cleaner, bricklayer, spotlight operator in a nightclub, and so on-before becoming an apprentice film editor, editor, screenwriter, and finally film director.

In the early eighties, I moved to the United States, where I discovered to my surprise that many Americans not only rejected Darwin's theory of evolution, but they reviled it. I had come here in part because I hated the English class system and thought of America as being less weighed down by the past. Now here I was in the New World, faced with an old and willful ignorance that went far beyond anything even I had attempted.

I did not know much about evolution, but a quick study of easily available information showed that its most important idea, natural selection, was easy to understand and made sense.

Darwin saw how plant and animal breeders influenced characteristics through selective breeding. Why wouldn't nature do the same? If life was a struggle for survival, those best suited to their environment had an advantage. Any small, random mutation favoring survival would increase the likelihood of that animal or plant living long enough to pass on its genes to offspring, who would then inherit the advantage, and so on. Increased complexity and slow adaptation seemed inevitable.

It soon became apparent from my reading that 99 percent of scientists believed in evolution. Why would one doubt them? Did the pedestrian question the theory of gravity? Did the farmer who went to the doctor question his diagnosis? Why, when it came to evolution, did nonexperts feel compelled to disagree with those who clearly knew better?

The answer was that evolution appeared to contradict the bible. Evolution requires a lot of time to bring about change, and if plants and animals constantly become more complex, it was logical to infer that previously they had been far simpler. If one went back far enough, it seemed probable, though hard to prove, that all life-forms on earth shared a primitive ancestor perhaps found in some distant "primeval soup" of chemicals.

This, of course, was not how the origin of life was described in the bible. Evolution did not put either God or human beings at the center of a recent, ordered, and purposeful creation but instead suggested a long, brutal, and random process.

By the time I arrived in America, the evidence for the basic ideas of evolution had been overwhelming for a century. However, given a choice between it and the more comforting biblical version, most people chose the latter.

This was the beginning of my interest in irrational beliefs of all kinds. Why did so many people in an otherwise confident and sophisticated country cling to their faith in so many things-from astrology to the Zohar-that were so often contradicted by evidence and reason?

In 2001, I wrote Trials of the Monkey: An Accidental Memoir about my childhood and early working life interspersed with an account of the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial.

In 1925, schoolteacher John Scopes was prosecuted for teaching evolution in a Tennessee high school, contravening a recent state law, the Butler Act. The first trial ever to be broadcast live-by radio-not only to America but also to Europe and Australia, it was a fantastic philosophical skirmish between religion and reason, between the most famous fundamentalist of his day, William Jennings Bryan, and the most famous humanist, Clarence Darrow. Played out in a circus-like atmosphere, it became the basis for the film Inherit the Wind.

I visited Dayton, Tennessee, where the trial took place, and fell in love with both the town and the trial, with its hilarious mix of philosophy and hucksterism. In my mind the antievolution movement remained a quaint Southern aberration resulting from a combination of moonshine and religions of the snake-fondling type. I had drunk some 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 cogitation.

Early in 2005, I began to read reports of a Scopes-like case developing in Dover, Pennsylvania, but did not believe such a thing could reach fruition only three and a half hours from New York City, and if it did, I could not imagine it providing anything like as much amusement.

It soon became apparent, however, that Kitzmiller v. Dover, which would be tried in federal court in Harrisburg, though not attracting as much attention as Scopes, had something the earlier trial lacked.


Excerpted from 40 Days and 40 Nights by Matthew Chapman Copyright © 2007 by Matthew Chapman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Dramatis Personae     xi
In the Beginning     1
Genesis     3
Early Days     14
Bill and Alan     24
Life on Board     29
Miller Grinds It Up     34
Other Primates     52
The Teachers' Story     58
The Audible Ping     70
A Libertarian Buddhist Girl Scout Leader     78
Pennock qua Pennock, Finches qua Finches     84
Summertime     90
Marilyn Monroe Is Alive and Well and Living in Dover     99
John Haught and the Teapot of Wisdom     104
The Panda Cometh     118
The Smoking Gun     130
Barbara Forrest and the Panda's Tale     138
When You Open Your Eyes in Hell     150
Kevin Fills the Gaps     156
You Pay Your Nickel and You Go for a Ride     161
The New Testament of Science     165
The Man from Bethlehem     167
Moral Decay     198
Sudden Disappearance, Sudden Emergence     206
Buckingham     219
The Reporters     227
Bonsell and His Trinity of Loyal Women     234
The Two Scotts     243
TheGenie Is Out of the Bottle     253
Revelation     263

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40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, OxyContin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Matthew Chapman, a descendant of Charles Darwin, just by that fact would seem to come to this task with some special penache. However,he never uses it as any special tool for pushing his views; he's just a talented writer with journalistic background, and that part shows. I would like to say that "40 Nights and 40 Days" is a "balanced" review of this very sensitive trial and subject. Of course it isn't; nothing is. And since Matthew Chapman writes his account with intelligence and insight, the book obviously favors one side over the other. He can't help it. Chapman's touches of humor throughout the book keep the trial from becoming sheer drudgery as it trundles on for 40 days. A delightful read of a controversy that has been an albatross mainly around America's midsection for over a century. A controversy that some claim doesn't need to exist. Someday . . .
coolmama on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Incredible. A MUST read.Great-great-great grandson of Charles Darwin reports on the Dover, PA trial of Evolution vs. Intelligent Design.Funny, bright, well-written and researched.
Devil_llama on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An easy to read, enjoyable document of the Dover Intelligent Design trial, from the pen of one of Darwin's own descendants. Sometimes one can glimpse through the gentle humor just how perplexed the author is with the strange and weird world of American fundamentalism; most times, he's treating his subject with genuine affection as he interviews the principles on both sides of the case. His discussion of the case itself takes a different angle than that of the other writers who've covered the subject, a little less technical, but still interesting even for a biologist, because he tackles it more from the human angle, examining the various characters involved and getting up close and personal with the people of the town. His insights are often right on, though he does have the unfortunate conclusion that we need to teach intelligent design (in a proper way, to show its weakness), which betrays a lack of understanding of what is possible in the American school system. In England, where he went to school, it would probably be possible to have such a rationale discussion in science classes; in the US, you would immediately oopen up your classroom to chaos and religious proselytizing, and any teacher who tried to teach it correctly would be dubbed "un-American", "atheist", and "Communist" (as should have been readily evident from the events he witnessed in Dover. Still, it is a well written record of an important event, and should be enjoyable reading for those who are interested in the human side of the issue.
Madcow299 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book. I thought Chapman presented the individuals involved in a fairly objective light. He helped bring out the character of those involved and this helped make them seem more human and not just names on either side of the issue. While his own views are obvious, I do believe he tried to point out the shortcomings of both sides. I think it¿s a great read to get an idea of what happened in Dover in 2004 and how it serves as a microcosm of what is happening in other places.
Atomicmutant on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A witty and personal account of the Dover, Pennsylvania Intelligent Design trial. Not exhaustive in detail, but quirky and a good, fun read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"I'd like to reserve Tripod, but he will stay here."