Note: This is book #17 in my 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge for 2008.
The full title here is Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul by Edward Humes. There are surprisingly few monkeys or girls in this book, but it does tell the story of the lawsuit between the Dover, Pennsylvania school board and parents who didn't like the idea of religion under the thin guise of intelligent design (ID) being taught in their public schools.
One reason I picked up this book was that while I had soaked up some of the ID controversy through various other media, my knowledge pretty much stopped at "Dem Kansas people sure are dum, hur, hur, hur." The Pennsylvania suit actually went to trial first, and was more influential from a legal standpoint. Basically, here's what happened: a few very vocal and influential members of the Dover school board decided they wanted to reintroduce religion to public schools, and that the godless and anti-religious (to their view) science of evolution needed to go. The best way to do this was to start with a small wedge like creationism --the view that the Old Testament stories of creation should be taken literally-- and then widen the entrance until happy children everywhere are thumping Bibles during recess and that Goldstein kid just stands in the corner looking REALLY uncomfortable. Later, when they actually started getting legal council about how teaching religion in publicly funded schools is kinda sorta totally illegal and unconstitutional, the school board changed their tune slightly from promoting creationism to backing intelligent design as an alternative to evolution. ID posits that the universe in general and mankind in specific are too complex to happen by chance or evolution, and that they had to be designed by someone. They don’t come out and say that that “someone” is G-O-D, but that’s pretty much where everyone’s guesses start and end.
So this is what the school board did, even as their science teachers and a few dissenting board members yelled themselves hoarse in protest. And then some concerned parents --many of them Christians themselves-- said “oh no you di’ent!” and sued the board for violating their children’s constitutional rights. Because ID was still basically religion in the classroom. The school board and their council said “Nuh-uh! Is not!” and the judge had to take it from there.
As far as the book itself, Humes does a really good job of presenting the issues and the case surrounding this lawsuit. It’s clear that he’s on the side of the evolutionists, but it’s also clear from his account how the intelligent design proponents were using ID as a means of bringing religion into schools and had no interest in its scientific merits, which is convenient seeing as it has few. Humes tells the story of this conflict through its players, taking you meticulously through how each step was made and each decision was arrived at, from the beginning of the school board’s decision through the verdict of the resulting trial and its aftermath. The author is exceedingly detailed and specific, but at the same time he keeps the narrative moving forward and keeps things interesting enough so that I wanted to keep reading. Like any good story teller, he lets the characters in the drama shine and tells the tale through them.
Another great thing about Monkey Girl is that it’s fairly educational. I already knew the basics of evolution (animals differ, some of those differences are beneficial, those possessing such benefits proliferate, etc.), but Humes goes beyond the basics, both in his recounting of the trial testimonies and his own asides. After closing the book, I felt that I not only had a better grasp on the historic lawsuit and verdict, but also the issues and science surrounding it. Plus I was entertained, so what’s not to like?
Others doing the 52 in 52 this week:
- Jeremy reviews The Dark Knight Returns
- Heliologue reviews Broken Angels by Richard K. Morgan
- Kevin reviews The Road by Cormac McCarthy and The Real Story by Stephen R. Donaldson.
- Natasha reviews Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult, Tasting the Sky by Ibtisam Barakat, Mud City by Deborah Ellis, and The Fiction Class by Susan Breen