Saturday, July 19, 2008

Book Review: The Devil in Dover

TitleThe Devil in Dover: An Insider's Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-town America
Author:Lauri Lebo


Tagsevolution, intelligent design, education

Excellent book by reporter Lebo about the case in Dover, Pennsylvania as to whether the school board could force the science classes in the schools to mention intelligent design along with evolution. Lebo, herself the daughter of a fundamentalist Christian minister, writes with passion about the trial and events leading up to it, and the characters of all the leading people in the case. Those people range from the school board members, to the parents of children willing to become plaintiffs, to the lawyers, the scientists, the judge, the reporters, and the people of Dover.

Intelligent design had been a growing issue in the American culture wars, and national level organizations on both sides were looking for a test case. The school board, though warned that their actions could result in a costly and lengthy trial, went ahead and bought 60 copies of an intelligent design (ID) textbook and made it available in the schools, and also required that a four paragraph statement calling evolution a theory, not a fact, and recommending ID as an alternative theory be read to the students in biology classes (for the full text of the statement see page 62).

The book deals with a lot of important issues. Lebo is terrific at giving context to everything, from the Scopes trail and subsequent court cases involving evolution, to the people behind the issues and what drives them. It is a complex story. Those on both sides, for example, were predominantly Christian, but held widely different views of how science, government, education, and religion interact.

Fascinating book, fascinating story, and Lebo tells it well. She is wiling to listen to every side, and in the process of covering the trial learned a lot herself about what is science and what is not, and in the end she is unwilling to label something that is religion as science. This contrasts with the proponents of ID, who were consistently unprepared and had little knowledge of what ID is, and how it could fit into a valid scientific framework. Even Michael Behe, who is the most known scientist promoting ID and who testified at the trail, was unable to explain the mechanisms of how ID could work and explain the facts of biology. Lebo proves she is a good writer by being able to explain enough of the science clearly without it overwhelming the story. She does it again in talking about the pooeple, and bringing in enough of her own story to add a unique slant to the book. For example, the trial increased tensions with her father. She was unable to see how he could support those school board members who committed perjury to obscure their religious motivations, while he mourned that her acceptance of evolution would lead her to hell.

One of the heroes of the trial was the presiding judge, John E. Jones. He is a Republican appointed by George W. Bush, but who decided the case on its merits rather than his political interests. "In a speech he gave to the Anti-Defamation League [after the trial], Jones said accusations that he is 'an activist judge' point to a problem 'that threatens to, I think, tear at the fabric of our system of justice in the united States... the premise of Ms. Schlafly and some others seems to be that judges can and should act in a partisan manner rather than strictly adhering to the rule of law. Now, to those who believe that judges must cast aside preferences and rule according to an agenda, let me say that I believe the public's dependence upon the impartiality and integrity of judges is absolutely essential to its confidence in our system of justice." (p. 214).

Marvelous book, well-written, well planned, and thoughtful.
PublicationNew Press (2008), Hardcover, 256 pages
Publication date2008
ISBN1595582088 / 9781595582089

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