Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Book Review: Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul.

Unlike Matthew Chapman's 40 Days and 40 Nights (reviewed here on April 30, 2009), Edward Humes' 2007 book, Monkey Girl would resemble a mural depicting the sprawling case, Kitzmiller v. Dover, spanning around an arena.

By contrast, Chapman's would resemble a self-portrait--on an 8x10 glossy (due to Chapman's omnipresent bias and scant legal analysis).

A Pulitzer Prize recipient, Humes paints a much broader picture about the federal lawsuit seeking to halt an Intelligent Design ("ID") policy in a Pennsylvania school district, which was tried for six weeks in 2005. In fact, Humes spents about 200 pages setting the stage for the legal drama. Once he arrives at the lawsuit, he expertly delves into it. He provides some interesting tidbits, including the decision-making concerning whether or not to bring a temporary restraining order, how about half of the school district's experts were lost from testifying (e.g. one of ID's most prominent spokespersons, mathematician Dr. William Dembski), the ID policy and legal issues at play, crucial cross-examinations, and the trial judge's reasoning in his 139-page ruling.

Fully grasping the tension between science and law in Kitzmiller, Humes insightfully writes: "It is often said, with good cause, that a trial is a poor place to have a reasonable, informative debate about science, because the goal of a trial and the goal of science are so often at odds. Science, at least as it has been practiced for the last century or two, begins by assembling facts--the data--and then seeks an overarching theory to unify and explain those facts.... In the law, however, the process works in exactly the opposite direction. Each side of a legal dispute starts with a theory: 'The accused is guilty' versus 'My client is not guilty' (or 'Intelligent design is religion' versus 'No, it's science'). Once the opponents have settled on their mutually exclusive theories of the case, each side lines up the facts that support its own preferred version of reality. And each side studiously ignores, minimizes or attempts to disprove the facts that the belie its own theory of the case. One consequence of this time-honored approach is that, as a general rule, the courts don't do science very well." (p. 257; emphasis in original).

Humes mostly submerges his bias so the reader can derive a generally balanced understanding of the case and its backdrop. Humes however abandons any pretence of objectivity in his "Epilogue" (pp. 339-51) with some surprisingly charged rhetoric including an odd, lengthy and personal attack on Ann Coulter, who had nothing to do with the case, whom he curiously evicerated earlier (with no support). "[Dembski] has allied himself with the extremist right-wing pundit Ann Coulter, known for her vehement hate speech and her well-documented history of writing books riddled with factual errors." (p. 236.)

Humes pays a nice tribute to his editor, thanking her for her "excellent editing." (p. viii.) I'm not sure then who is responsible for this, but, without even trying, I found at least four glaring editing errors in this book published by an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers. First, Humes inaccurately identifies Bill O'Reilly, who commented on the case, twice as a "Cable News Network" or "CNN" pundit. (pp. 211 and 224.) For example, "Within days after the lawsuit was filed, Bill O'Reilly, CNN's most popular and highest-paid pundit, dedicated a segment to the controversy in Dover." (p. 224.) This might be surprising to CNN, since O'Reilly is a FOX News fixture, and was at the time of Kitzmiller's filing, trial and decision.

Second, Humes erroneously refers to the author of The God Delusion (reviewed here July 13, 2008), as "Robert Dawkins". (p. 237.) Humes seems to know this is inaccurate, as he also refers to Dr. Dawkins as "Richard Dawkins" later in the same book. (p. 286.)

Third, a chapter begins, "Seven the [sic] of the nine board members faced challenges in the election...." (p. 248.) No further comment is necessary.

Accordingly, the adage about throwing stones from a glass house seems apropos.

In any event, Humes has written the definitive text to date about this important case, a modern-day Scopes trial, which as Humes astutely observes, is actually Scopes in reverse. Kitzmiller sought a ban of any teaching, explanation or challenge concerning the origin of life or the origin of species other than Darwinistic evolution from the Dover schools. Evolutionary purity is now the order of the day.

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