Review of Lauri Lebo’s “The Devil in Dover”

| 56 Comments

The Devil in Dover
Lauri Lebo
The New Press
(http://laurilebo.com)

I had been steadily working on analysis of an experiment that I will be presenting later this month, but Sunday afternoon a line of thunderstorms blew through here, and somewhere in there the power went out. My work laptop runs out of juice quickly when running Avida, so that’s closed up. There’s only so much playing with the puppy that I can handle at a time, and somehow I feel a need to do something.

Several of my fellow bloggers at the Panda’s Thumb have been talking about journalist Lauri Lebo’s new book, “The Devil in Dover”. There’s about five who say that they are in various stages of writing reviews to be blogged here, there, or published in the mainstream media. And they all, to a man (yes, all of them are male), love it. About ten days ago, Lauri Lebo even gave me a personally inscribed copy (I contributed a photo for the front of the dust cover design and set up her personal website for the book). I hadn’t gotten around to actually reading the book, though, until the lights and power went out, reducing my options. But I have to say that the book is good enough to wish for a power outage. I have remedied that piece of ignorance with the help of a flashlight and a couple of changes of battery and can now speak to the content in the about two hours that my personal laptop has available in its battery charge.

The first thing to say is that Lauri’s book (and I do hope that I am not unjustly taking liberties in our acquaintance to say “Lauri”) is not just a journalist’s compilation of data, but rather an intensely personal book. There are several threads of personal involvement that Lauri takes up here. Perhaps the most touching is her relationship and estrangement from her father, who converted to fundamentalist Christianity several years ago and persistently searched for signs that Lauri would also be “born again” as he had been. But also there is the personal struggle with those in her profession who misconstrue journalistic “objectivity” perversely as a charge not to speak the truth when a situation indicates that a “side” is plainly in the wrong.

(Originally posted at the Austringer)

And that leads to the second thing to say about Lauri’s book here, which is that as a local reporter and acquaintance of most of the principal dramatis personae of the Dover-area Kitzmiller v. DASD dustup, Lauri delivers what will likely stand as the closest approach to getting inside the shoes of not only the plaintiffs, but several of the defendants as well. In particular, Lauri was able to relate to Bill Buckingham, infamous as the school board member that even the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) repudiated, in a way that got beyond the blunt and confrontational style he was known for in the months leading up to the lawsuit. The TMLC betrayal led Buckingham to the brink of suicide, Lauri reports, and then to his early resignation from the Dover school board. Lauri’s descriptions of Buckingham’s frailties and foibles don’t gloss over or diminish his truly monstrous behavior, but they do lend a humanizing touch to someone otherwise known primarily or only for his unswerving intolerance of the religious views of others.

The third thing to say about Lauri’s book is that she has managed to pretty well linearize a complex storyline involving parallel actions by many players, and this is no mean task. One can have, in a few hours of reading, an excellent overview of the chronology of events going back to tension in 2002 over a student-painted mural depicting human evolution and displayed prominently in a science classroom at Dover High School, and up to the period around the filing of the decision by Judge Jones. The centerpiece of this is the condensation of the events in the courtroom during the trial itself, for which Lauri relates that she had a front-row jury-box seat. She relates here the testimony of the plaintiffs as they had to relate to the court what harm they had suffered as a result of the school district’s “intelligent design” policy. In the cases of Fred Callahan and Cyndi Sneath, these are revealed as piquant moments of eloquence and directness in the courtroom, rebutting the defense contention that the policy’s statement in the classroom was brief, modest, and without further issue.

The plaintiffs’s expert witnesses awoke interest and respect from the journalists, while the defense’s primary expert, Michael Behe, managed to turn off almost everyone present during his direct testimony. Lauri’s description of the abrupt return from boredom as Eric Rothschild cross-examined Behe is worth the price of the book, laying bare the platitudes and sound bites Behe had come to rely upon as a facade resting upon, well, nothing. And here one encounters something that Lauri exposes through the book, and that is the obliviousness of the Dover school district’s “intelligent design” advocates and their chosen defenders to how their statements and actions were taken by others. In Behe’s case, Behe left the courtroom apparently well-convinced of having given a sterling performance, though later Lauri filed her story and was remonstrated with by her editor to lead with something positive for the defense’s case that day. “No, they did nothing,” she said, “Rothschild eviscerated them.”

The courtroom provided the denouement for the tragi-comic story of the principal “intelligent design” advocates on the school board who chose to lie rather than expose their policy to a possible temporary restraining order. The depositions of those people taken in early January, 2005 provided clear evidence that Bill Buckingham and Alan Bonsell purposely concealed information pertaining to the purchase of 60 copies of the “intelligent design” textbook, “Of Pandas and People”. Steven Harvey provided the courtroom confrontation between established fact and the defense witnesses’ impossible prevarications. Lauri notes again the apparent obliviousness of the witnesses to their peril, though Alan Bonsell apparently came to some realization there in the witness stand under grilling from Judge Jones himself. I think Sheila Harkins dodged a bullet here, as Lauri’s description of the school board president’s testimony again documents that oblivious trait, but mercifully does not convey the full bizarre spectacle that Harkins conveyed as a witness. I happened to be there, am not that merciful, and was dumbfounded that any attorney could have so ill-prepared a witness for giving testimony. Harkins chewed gum throughout her time in the stand, fidgeted nearly constantly, and sometimes answered questions while holding her face in one or both hands.

The lawyers of the Thomas More Law Center did not go unobserved. Lauri provides descriptions of their part in the affair from fomenting the Dover school board’s participation in a “revolution against evolution” through their sometimes lackluster courtroom performance. In particular, Richard Thompson is revealed as a man on a mission to whom all others are secondary considerations, including the people that his law firm agreed to “shield” from legal challenge. Thompson’s sole concern, as related in the book, was putting a court record together to take to the Supreme Court. Given this view, it is perhaps understandable that TMLC did not take the same sort of care in preparing their witnesses that the plaintiffs’ attorneys did. The witnesses weren’t the real issue for Thompson, so poor posture and failure to enunciate were apparently simply not on the defense legal team radar as things to avoid. That’s on the minor side; on the major side is what role, if any, did TMLC have in the concerted effort by the school board advocates for “intelligent design” to deny the plain truth that they had come to their position by first looking to incorporate creationism in the science classroom. Lauri’s conclusion is unfortunately true, that we may never know what went on there, but the outcome was to propel Dover into the national spotlight.

A fourth thing to say about Lauri’s book is that Lauri is a masterful wordsmith and constantly comes up with descriptive gems. Her verbal acumen coupled with her comprehensive knowledge of the local milieu gives us an account that is a pleasure to delve into.

My mother taught me to love the smell of puppies’ milk breath, and the feel of their bellies taut and round like hard-boiled eggs. She taught me to stretch out, my face pressed in the grass, the laundry snapping above me on the clothesline, to indulge the drowsy feeling of sunshine on the back of my head.

My father pointed to the sky at night and taught me to dream of infinity. On hot summer evenings, he wrestled with his children, like kittens, in the grass until long after teh sun went down. Then we lay on our backs in the grass and watched the stars. I’d shine a flashlight into the sky, gazing at the beam of light disappearing into the dark. Millions and millions of years from now that light will reach those stars, my father told me. I’d try to follow the beam with my eyes and ponder this until I grew dizzy.

Are there errors in the book? Of course, any book length project will collect its share of those. Most of these fall into the category of quibbles, as in Lauri referring to the National Center for Science Education’s “Project Steve” as “Project Steve Steve”. The other class of error is one that follows from the fact that the book is short. There simply is not enough space here to recount the involvement of all the people who contributed in some way to the remarkable events in Dover and Harrisburg in 2004 and 2005, nor to fully document those who are mentioned in the book. Lauri’s choices here play to her strengths in having the local background, and this combination of focus and brevity brings a cohesion to the book that balances the cost of excluding various actors from a chance at the stage. Those would include defense experts Scott Minnich and Steve Fuller, whose testimony goes unremarked in the book [though, again, this might be a further act of mercy on Lauri’s part], or the various disappearing defense witnesses, who either get brief mentions in other contexts or who go wholly without notice here.

But the book was not intended to be an encyclopedia entry, and it brings home the human experience of having to confront religious intolerance when one cares deeply about the intolerant people. It is an easy path to demonize or villainize those who chose intolerance as their approach, and Lauri avoids this simplification. The book begins and ends with Lauri’s prickly and ultimately unresolved relationship with her father, who died days after the decision in the case came down. The bond of love between the two is manifest, and in some way prepares us to see that even for the rest of the folks pushing things they shouldn’t, that they have a reason in their unreason to take the course they do. Conceding to their demands for intolerance is not an option, and Lauri celebrates the resolve of those who challenged the Dover school board’s “breathtaking inanity” while respecting the dignity of those who partook in the inanity. It’s a deeply moving account, and if you haven’t yet read it, it is time to put it on your list, buy it for a friend or loved one, and otherwise pass along the word that here is a read that is both challenging and rewarding.

Do it now. Don’t wait, like me, for a power outage.

56 Comments

Fascinating review. I’ll wait for its release. Surely (and sadly though), you can bet the DI will come out with a rebuttal as soon as this book hits the press saying how they and ID have been wronged by this author, that she has twisted everything.

No need to wait, the book is available now.

Dear Wesley,

I second DavidK’s reaction (In the interest of full disclosure I also have a review of Lauri’s book posted at Amazon.com, but mine emphasized more the scientific testimony which Lauri does an exceptional job of recounting in her book.). As a fellow writer, I strongly commend Lauri’s fine prose style and keen ear for poetic language; indeed, her prose reminds me a little of Frank McCourt’s at his best.

Appreciatively yours,

John

What Lauri’s book best captured for me was the effect of having a battle in the culture war fought in one’s own community. For the ID Creationist movement principals – organizations like the Thomas Moore Center, AIG, and the Disco ‘Tute – that’s irrelevant: They don’t much give a damn about the communities they’re poisoning.

Five years ago in my local school district we had a skirmish in that war when a middle school science teacher wanted to include Wells’s trash science in the curriculum. One Board of Education member, having done some research on the ID Creationist movement, opposed the proposal. His opposition was not on based scientific grounds – he was an insurance agent – but rather, as he said, “They say they are fighting a war. Well, they’re not going to fight it here.” Lauri’s account of the Dover debacle perfectly illustrates what that board member foresaw.

Now we’re in the war again here, and it is getting ugly. Lauri’s book is a guide to what we can expect, and it’s not a pretty prospect.

A fourth thing to say about Lauri’s book is that Lauri is a masterful wordsmith and constantly comes up with descriptive gems. Her verbal acumen coupled with her comprehensive knowledge of the local milieu gives us an account that is a pleasure to delve into.

The reviewer is not too shabby either. I’ll order it. Thanks.

sincerely,

I could not agree more with Wesley’s review of the book. I’m one of the folks working on a review of the book for a print publication, Free Inquiry, and I finished the book a few weeks ago. Lauri did a phenomenal job of capturing the dramatic arc of the situation because she was living it herself on several different levels simultaneously. It’s not just informative, it’s moving. She manages to humanize the people involved in the trial and turn names in the newspaper into multi-dimensional, real people. And that includes herself, as she details the various ways the case changed her as a journalist and a daughter as well as how it changed the community she calls home. I’ve read the other books on the trial. If you’re only going to read one book about the trial, this is the one. And there isn’t a close second.

Ed,

I’d agree with you completely but would add that your reading list ought to also include both Edward Humes’ “Monkey Girl” and Ken Miller’s “Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Scientific Soul”.

Ed Brayton said:

I could not agree more with Wesley’s review of the book. I’m one of the folks working on a review of the book for a print publication, Free Inquiry, and I finished the book a few weeks ago. Lauri did a phenomenal job of capturing the dramatic arc of the situation because she was living it herself on several different levels simultaneously. It’s not just informative, it’s moving. She manages to humanize the people involved in the trial and turn names in the newspaper into multi-dimensional, real people. And that includes herself, as she details the various ways the case changed her as a journalist and a daughter as well as how it changed the community she calls home. I’ve read the other books on the trial. If you’re only going to read one book about the trial, this is the one. And there isn’t a close second.

Appreciatively yours,

John

Wesley,

A great photo of Lauri. Thanks for adding it as a fine pictorial reinforcement of what you’ve written.

Thanks,

John

Yes, I have to agree that the book is a good read. It was great fun reliving the sense of overwhelming impending defeat of the idea of Intelligent Design which seemed to roll inexorably through the trial that we, even in far away New Zealand, seemed to get from the reporting on Pandas Thumb. I was also very interested to read Lauri’s human angles, how she had to cope with her fundamentalist father, her relationship with Bill Buckingham etc. It was also instructive to read her frustration at the journalistic requirement for so-called balance and the dilemma of what to report positively for the “losers” when one side had been so completely eviscerated

A book well worth the money, in my opinion.

Most of these fall into the category of quibbles, as in Lauri referring to the National Center for Science Education’s “Project Steve” as “Project Steve Steve”.

I’ll bet that “quibble” went over very well with the Panda’s Thumb gang.

A picture with a puppy? Awwww. That’s cheating.

I stayed up Friday night and read the whole thing in one sitting–I literally could not put it down. If there’s ever an “Inherit the Wind 2,” “Devil” is the natural source material. I hope Lebo hung on to the movie rights.

I’d like to see Mike Argento try his hand at a book. His columns touching on the trial were hilarious, bringing appropriate ridicule down on the heads of those responsible for the breathtaking inanity.

Mike wrote

I’d like to see Mike Argento try his hand at a book. His columns touching on the trial were hilarious, bringing appropriate ridicule down on the heads of those responsible for the breathtaking inanity.

Which reminds me of a funny story in Lauri’s book. Her editors had decreed that she and Argento had to divide up the stories coming out of each day of testimony so as to reduce the overlap between their coverage. The day that Behe conceded that his (re-)definition of science would admit astrology to the fold, Argento begged Lebo to let him have that story. She did, and the resulting column (quoted here was a hoot:

He [Behe] said he wasn’t a science historian, but the definition of astrology in the dictionary referred to its 15th-century roots, when it was equated with astronomy, which, according to the National Academy of Science, is a science.

So, taking a short logical leap, something Behe would certainly endorse since he does it a lot himself, you could say that intelligent design is on par with 15th-century science.

Sounds about right.

In his new book on ID, Living With Darwin, Philip Kitcher calls ID “dead science” and refers to its proponents as “resurrection men.” And he’s right, according to Behe: They’re attempting to resurrect half-a-millennium old pre-Enlightenment “science.”

Mike wrote

I’d like to see Mike Argento try his hand at a book. His columns touching on the trial were hilarious, bringing appropriate ridicule down on the heads of those responsible for the breathtaking inanity.

Which reminds me of a funny story in Lauri’s book. Her editors had decreed that she and Argento had to divide up the stories coming out of each day of testimony so as to reduce the overlap between their coverage. The day that Behe conceded that his (re-)definition of science would admit astrology to the fold, Argento begged Lebo to let him have that story. She did, and the resulting column (quoted here was a hoot:

He [Behe] said he wasn’t a science historian, but the definition of astrology in the dictionary referred to its 15th-century roots, when it was equated with astronomy, which, according to the National Academy of Science, is a science.

So, taking a short logical leap, something Behe would certainly endorse since he does it a lot himself, you could say that intelligent design is on par with 15th-century science.

Sounds about right.

In his new book on ID, Living With Darwin, Philip Kitcher calls ID “dead science” and refers to its proponents as “resurrection men.” And he’s right, according to Behe: They’re attempting to resurrect half-a-millennium old pre-Enlightenment “science.”

Not meaning to feed the troll, but I looked at the “Quest for Right” website, and I’m confused. Do creationists generally reject quantum mechanics, and since when has particle physics been a quest to do away with god/s? I’ve never heard of the guy, but the author appears to be some kind of crackpot whose educational history only includes attending Richmond Professional Institute sometime before 1968 when it became Virginia Commonwealth University. Curiously, no area of study or degree/s earned are listed. Is he well-enough known among creationists that I should be aware of him, in case some fundie wants to bring him up in a debate(like the irreducible complexity goobers)? He seems to be fond of quoting the bible as “evidence” and his books are being touted as “A MASTERFUL WORK ON CREATIONISM!”, so I somehow doubt that this series of his “…will not violate the so-called constitutional separation of church and state”.

I’ve read several books on the Dover trial, each very good. Lebo’s was so wonderfully personal that I lent it to my liberal Baptist friend and poet to introduce her to the creationism/evolution battle. And Lebo’s road trip (avec tattoo) at the end was a great coda.

You have all inspired me … I just sent this book to my Dad for Father’s Day :-)

WESLEY:

(and by implication, anyone)

I put an entry in Wikipedia on Lauri Lebo, I had to revise it and quibble a bit because some higher-up thought she was unimportant.

The thing is, I called it a stub (partial article) on a journalist. Biographical information on her is scant, other than her marriage to a beer-can collecting musician and her late father owning the station she used to DJ at. Things like DOB and where born and so on aren’t available.

Anyone who knows Lauri and/or has a source of info, please either email me at [Enable javascript to see this email address.] or if you do Wikipedia yourself, please expand it a bit.

Like John Kwok, I posted a review on Amazon.com. Like all of us, I greatly enjoyed her book.

And I share the hope that Mike Argento will contribute a book for us as well.

RBH said: … Philip Kitcher calls ID “dead science” and refers to its proponents as “resurrection men.”

The original “resurrection men” were ~18th-century grave-robbers who disinterred freshly buried bodies and sold the cadavers to anatomical researchers (or, in the case of quite a few medical students, eliminated the middleman and dug up their own surgical practice material).

Kitcher is too kind: at least the original R-men contributed to the scientific advancement of their day.

Marion Delgado: I’ve called your request to Lauri’s attention.

RBH

Cengiz Wrote:

Not meaning to feed the troll, but I looked at the “Quest for Right” website, and I’m confused. Do creationists generally reject quantum mechanics.…He seems to be fond of quoting the bible as “evidence”

The first thing to remember is that there are many “kinds” of creationist, and with few exceptions (e.g. AIG) they’ll make excuses for other “kinds” as long as they are in lockstep against “Darwinism.” Michael Behe differs radically from “Quest for Right” in that he thinks that searching the Bible for evidence is silly. A good bet is that they also disagree on common descent, and possibly the age of life.

My approach to anti-evolutionists who might be trolls is to only ask them about the details of their “theory” that forces them to show their irreconcilable differences with other anti-evolutionists, and how they mostly cover them up for the sake of the big tent. Discussing details of evolution or arguing against “design in the general sense” (which is unfalsifiable anyway) just feeds them, trolls or not.

I’m not a U.S. citizen and took only a passing interest in the Dover bizzo. I can understand how it happened - I think - and the one good thing that comes out of these expensive diversions to no-where is to keep before the Public the fact that no-one has yet got a user-friendly tertiary Origins course together yet.

That’s what I attempt to do, and I can advize readers that the bad outcome achieved by the Dover School Board or whatever it was/is, is a product of that Boards’ failure to obey common sense.

I e-mailed them to the effect that the only way they could get anywhere was to come up with educational materials non-offensive to people with respect for biblical principles and mainstream science principles. I advised them that my publications were at their disposal, provided they utilized them in a spirit in keeping with said materials.

Someone has said that divine guidance is 99% sanctified common sense. That Board seems to have concentrated on the sanctified bit, but omitted the common sense.

All the defense had to do was run some of my publications, omitting overt biblical references. People out there are reasonable, and judges tend to understand a few basics.

Why ever on Earth courts of law have to decide such matters I don’t comprehend; Once a school Board or whatever begins to employ mainstream materials such as I have the privelege of providing, the story will be different. There won’t be a need for a trial, for beginners.

People out there tend to have basic common sense. There is common ground, and science is an area of common ground, like sport, where various cultures meet without friction.

Phillip, I’ve taken the liberty of creating a thread on the AtBC forum for discussion of your assertions. The discussion of that stuff should now go to this thread and will be considered off-topic here.

Continued off-topic discussion will result in placement of offenders in the moderation queue.

Frank J said:

Cengiz Wrote:

Not meaning to feed the troll, but I looked at the “Quest for Right” website, and I’m confused. Do creationists generally reject quantum mechanics.…He seems to be fond of quoting the bible as “evidence”

The first thing to remember is that there are many “kinds” of creationist, and with few exceptions (e.g. AIG) they’ll make excuses for other “kinds” as long as they are in lockstep against “Darwinism.”

AIG is an exception? Wasn’t Holocaust-exploiting IDiot Ben Stein cozying up to riglet rapist Ken Ham before the blood libel pseudodocumentary came out? Didn’t seem to have any problem making excuses then.

phantomreader42 Wrote:

AIG is an exception?

What I mean is that they often “refute” specific OEC claims and criticize the noncommittal position of ID. Also, I’d be surprised if haven’t publicly disapproved of Behe’s comment about reading the Bible as a science text being “silly.”

Other than that, I have no reason to doubt that different “kinds” of anti-evolutionist would set aside differences in beliefs and strategy when they need each other to promote their common extremist authoritarian agenda.

OK, folks, please direct your attention back to the topic of the post.

If you want to continue other discussions, the Bathroom Wall thread is the place to take it.

Dear Wesley,

If I may venture slightly off topic, I merely wish to note that Ken Miller has an excellent summary of the Dover trial in his forthcoming “Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul”. However, as fine as Ken’s summary is, it doesn’t do the ample justice in capturing the mood of Dover’s inhabitants as much as Lauri Lebo’s book does. Furthermore, I must congratulate her in not injecting herself as much as screenwriter and film director (and Charles Darwin descendant) Matthew Chapman does in his own memoir of the trial, “40 Days, 40 Nights”, which though commendable, I find slightly distasteful only because Chapman seemed to use his ancestral ties to Darwin a bit too much for self promotion, as a means of gaining access to local Dover residents like several former Dover Area School District board members (most notably Buckingham) and several plaintiffs. So, if anyone were to ask me whether Chapman’s book is preferable to Lauri’s, then I’d say no, that they ought to read Lauri’s instead.

Appreciatively yours,

John

Dear Wesley,

Am delighted you decided to post your wonderful review at Amazon.com too (BTW, you may be able to post that wonderful photograph of Lauri and her dog there too.).

I recommend to all Panda’s Thumb readers who enjoy yours, Gary’s, and my reviews to vote yea on all three (If you’re one of the usual IDiot trolls, then please don’t bother voting, since yours will be nay.).

With warm regards,

John

(trying to tie my comments to the topic at hand) I am optimistically hoping that these books about Dover will someday change the public (& media) misconception that anti-evolution activism is still about honest belief in a consistent, if evidence-free, alternate account of natural history. Reading about the “TMLC betrayal” alone should make it clear that Dover was not another “monkey trial.”

BTW, I wonder if the “theory” of ID can tell us if Lebo’s phrase “Project Steve Steve” was indeed an “error,” or “by design.”

I’d read Lauri Lebo’s book a few weeks ago - the first on my “now that classes are out” book list and loved it. What I liked best is how personal it was - she did a great job of presenting her relationships with everyone but particularly her father and Buckingham. “Monkey Girl” probably provided a better insight into the goings-on of the trial as does the PBS video, “Judgment Day” but neither give the insights into the people involved that Lebo does. A great read, very highly recommended.

What ever came of the potential perjury charges for Buckingham and Bonsell?

A feature of Lebo’s book that I didn’t give adequate acknowledgement to was that unlike any other author to date (Come on Argento!), she didn’t leave the scene when the trial was over. The social aftermath was as interesting to me as the build-up and trial.

About the perjury issue… AFAIK, that’s still “under investigation”. It will be news, briefly, if it is announced that they have dropped it or will prosecute.

Wesley:

I got a better response to the request for bio info than I would have guessed, so I am fine there.

Panda’s Thumb is the place.

Marion Delgado said:

Wesley:

I got a better response to the request for bio info than I would have guessed, so I am fine there.

Panda’s Thumb is the place.

I should add, thanks, RBH!!!

I just finished Lauri’s book and I highly recommend it. She gives a more poignant picture of the emotional conflicts caused by the trial than either Edward Humes or Matthew Chapman.

The three books plus the transcripts and local newspaper articles are all complementary and necessary for getting a more complete picture.

The tattoo was a nice touch.

Thank you, Lauri.

Dear Mike,

Mike Elzinga said:

I just finished Lauri’s book and I highly recommend it. She gives a more poignant picture of the emotional conflicts caused by the trial than either Edward Humes or Matthew Chapman.

The three books plus the transcripts and local newspaper articles are all complementary and necessary for getting a more complete picture.

The tattoo was a nice touch.

Thank you, Lauri.

I agree completely with your glowing assessments. However, Ed Humes’ book does a magnificient job putting the Dover Trial into the context of the ongoing struggle for America’s scientific soul - as Ken Miller refers to it in his magnificient book, “Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul” (My own extensive Amazon.com review of it is written already and is waiting to be posted there once Amazon permits it.). For that reason alone I still highly recommend it (While I also like Chapman’s book too, Chapman’s rings slightly of self promotion in the sense that he used the fact of his descent from Charles Darwin as a “ticket” to gain access to several former Dover Area School District board members and plaintiffs. Lauri’s book is more honest in the sense that it is written by a local journalist who knows many of those involved, and thus, unlike Chapman, able to get a true sense of the community’s emotional attachment to the trial and the issues pertaining to it.).

Appreciatively yours,

John

John Kwok said:

Dear Mike,

I agree completely with your glowing assessments. However, Ed Humes’ book does a magnificient job putting the Dover Trial into the context of the ongoing struggle for America’s scientific soul - as Ken Miller refers to it in his magnificient book, “Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul” (My own extensive Amazon.com review of it is written already and is waiting to be posted there once Amazon permits it.). For that reason alone I still highly recommend it (While I also like Chapman’s book too, Chapman’s rings slightly of self promotion in the sense that he used the fact of his descent from Charles Darwin as a “ticket” to gain access to several former Dover Area School District board members and plaintiffs. Lauri’s book is more honest in the sense that it is written by a local journalist who knows many of those involved, and thus, unlike Chapman, able to get a true sense of the community’s emotional attachment to the trial and the issues pertaining to it.).

Appreciatively yours,

John

John,

I quite agree. I found the books quite complementary. I felt both Humes and Chapman managed to connect to a larger picture (Humes throughout and Chapman in an eloquent final chapter that seemed more eloquent than his earlier chapters).

I was a little put off by Chapman and almost didn’t finish the book, but I stuck it out. Overall, not bad; his final thoughts redeemed the book for me.

Dear Mike,

Thanks for these comments in reply to mine:

Mike Elzinga said:

John Kwok said:

Dear Mike,

I agree completely with your glowing assessments. However, Ed Humes’ book does a magnificient job putting the Dover Trial into the context of the ongoing struggle for America’s scientific soul - as Ken Miller refers to it in his magnificient book, “Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul” (My own extensive Amazon.com review of it is written already and is waiting to be posted there once Amazon permits it.). For that reason alone I still highly recommend it (While I also like Chapman’s book too, Chapman’s rings slightly of self promotion in the sense that he used the fact of his descent from Charles Darwin as a “ticket” to gain access to several former Dover Area School District board members and plaintiffs. Lauri’s book is more honest in the sense that it is written by a local journalist who knows many of those involved, and thus, unlike Chapman, able to get a true sense of the community’s emotional attachment to the trial and the issues pertaining to it.).

Appreciatively yours,

John

John,

I quite agree. I found the books quite complementary. I felt both Humes and Chapman managed to connect to a larger picture (Humes throughout and Chapman in an eloquent final chapter that seemed more eloquent than his earlier chapters).

I was a little put off by Chapman and almost didn’t finish the book, but I stuck it out. Overall, not bad; his final thoughts redeemed the book for me.

I agree with your admiration for Chapman’s final chapter - it is definitely the best in his book - but I believe he erred in advocating the teaching of ID alongside evolutionary biology to emphasize the “weaknesses” of ID against a genuine science like evolutionary biology (Though wait a minute, this is EXACTLY what the Texas Department of Education wants done, but, in this case, emphasize the “weaknesses” of evolution.). As I noted in my Amazon.com review of Chapman’s book, the problem with Chapman’s proposal is twofold; for those students who aren’t excited by science it would make their minimal interest substantially less so by confusing them into trying to decide what is - and what isn’t - valid science while for those who are brilliant such as those from Alexandria, Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson High School or New York City’s Bronx High School of Science and Stuyvesant High School (my alma mater) should instead be spending their time learning how to do interesting scientific experiments in lieu of “dissecting” a “dead science” like Intelligent Design.

Appreciatively yours,

John

So far the weakest book on Dover I have read was Gordy Slack’s “The Battle Over the Meaning of Everything.” The best bits were the few times he mentioned he interations with other media people.

John Kwok Wrote:

I agree with your admiration for Chapman’s final chapter - it is definitely the best in his book - but I believe he erred in advocating the teaching of ID alongside evolutionary biology to emphasize the “weaknesses” of ID against a genuine science like evolutionary biology (Though wait a minute, this is EXACTLY what the Texas Department of Education wants done, but, in this case, emphasize the “weaknesses” of evolution.). As I noted in my Amazon.com review of Chapman’s book, the problem with Chapman’s proposal is twofold; for those students who aren’t excited by science it would make their minimal interest substantially less so by confusing them into trying to decide what is - and what isn’t - valid science while for those who are brilliant such as those from Alexandria, Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson High School or New York City’s Bronx High School of Science and Stuyvesant High School (my alma mater) should instead be spending their time learning how to do interesting scientific experiments in lieu of “dissecting” a “dead science” like Intelligent Design.

John,

Yeah, at first I was a little puzzled by Chapman’s advocacy of teaching ID. He apparently felt that this would expose ID as the sham that it is. On the surface that sounds attractive.

However, I concluded that Chapman has not become sufficiently aware of just how sleazy and political the anti-evolutionists are in this country. Such a scheme would not be an objective exposure but, instead, an opportunity to crowd out the teaching of evolution. In fact, that is precisely what is behind the current strategy of “teach the strength and weakness of evolution” or “teach the controversy” shtick. You can bet that in most places the course would be loaded up with crap arguments from the ID/Creationists and evolution would not see the light of day.

The far better approach will be to teach evolution unapologetically and as the essential backbone of the entire biology course. It is, after all, one of the most important scientific ideas we currently have. It should not be shortchanged in any way.

Making any kind of accommodations with the ID/Creationists has always resulted in generally inferior coverage of evolution (if it is even covered at all). Once the fundamentals of evolution are understood, ID/Creationism becomes a glaring sham full of the obvious lies and distortions that its proponents have loaded into it for many decades.

As a former HS biology teacher I would like to know how ANY strengths and weaknesses would fit into an HS biology class. It’s a miracle if you get through an entire 40,000 foot overview of biology in one year starting from scratch.

chuck said:

As a former HS biology teacher I would like to know how ANY strengths and weaknesses would fit into an HS biology class. It’s a miracle if you get through an entire 40,000 foot overview of biology in one year starting from scratch.

When one thinks about how biology could be taught, it would be possible to make evolution the central theme of such a course. It could be a very exciting and interesting course.

If the fundamentalist anti-evolutionist political activism had not kept biology courses from developing over the last century, we could have had some extremely good courses evolving from the experiences of teaching, learning and administering such courses. As it is, the first major attempt by BSCS met with political resistance and we were set back another 40 years.

I hope we learn from these experiences with ID/Creationism and stop treading lightly in the presence of fundamentalist activism. They need their toes stomped on and their asses kicked. Biology could be really fun.

chuck Wrote:

As a former HS biology teacher I would like to know how ANY strengths and weaknesses would fit into an HS biology class. It’s a miracle if you get through an entire 40,000 foot overview of biology in one year starting from scratch.

I have taught chemistry (HS + college), so I can understand your frustration. While the analogy is far from perfect, in HS students generally learn PV=nRT. If anti-science activists wanted students to doubt it for whatever reason they could simply show that PV is not exactly nRT - technically true, but very misleading if not followed by explanations that show how the equation is still useful. And that minor deviations do not mean that you can run your car on water. Similarly, for evolution, “weaknesses” generally allow students to conclude alternatives that simply do not fit the evidence. Unlike the creationists of old, today’s activists are shrewd enough to know that if you don’t mention those alternatives, you automatically cover up their weaknesses.

Unfortunately the public still erroneously thinks that “teaching evolution” and “teaching arguments against” are equivalent, and that teaching both is the fairest option. But as for PV=nRT, what is the equivalent to “arguments against” is not “teaching evolution” but “teaching how those ‘arguments against’ fail and mislead.” And AIUI there is just not enough class time available to do that properly.

Specifically for Dover, many people - not just creationists - have and will continue to complain that “all they wanted to do is say a few sentences to the class, what’s the harm?.” The harm is that those few sentences are seriously misleading, and the activists know it. Thus it is the anti-evolution activists, not mainstream science, who are effectively censoring the material that would set students straight. I hope that these books make that clear, but I realize that, even if they do, that message will not trickle down to the general public any time soon.

Frank J said:

I have taught chemistry (HS + college)…

Exactly! That teach the controversy thing is a total ruse. In the real world of HS it just means “tell our story, and move on.”

To be more precise, I was a Science teacher. One year I had 5 preps per day: General, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Botany. (It was a small country school) Try living a life with 5 HS preps plus grading every day!

My principal was a committed (or should have been) creationist. One time he came into my biology class to do an observation and suddenly interrupted the class to start in on a monologue about how laws and knowledge passed down over the ages had stood the test of time and should be followed, etc, etc.

I interrupted him right back and said “Then of course, there is MY class room. Where I lay down the laws.”

He kind of left in a huff and wrote up a mediocre assessment. Tough toenails, he wasn’t paying me enough to worry about keeping that job. Which I did anyway because they couldn’t get anyone else with real credentials to teach there. ;)

Dear Mike,

This is what I wrote in the concluding paragraph of my Amazon.com review of Chapman’s “40 Days and 40 Nights” (It seems relevant to post it here too.):

Chapman concludes “40 Days and 40 Nights” on a most idiosyncratic, personal note, and one that he has alluded to ever since the very first page of his memoir. He contends that we should allow creationism into the science classroom, so that it can be “dissected”, in much the same fashion as it was during the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District trial, by allowing teachers to “explore the limitations of faith through the revelatory methods of science”, and resulting in “verdicts” identical to Republican Federal Judge Jones’ conclusion that Intelligent Design wasn’t scientific. Emotionally, it is a sentiment that I found myself quite unexpectedly, at first, to be in complete agreement. However, on second thought, I concur with Ken Miller’s observation that introducing Intelligent Design into science classrooms would be a “science stopper”. It would conflate most students’ understanding of what exactly is the difference between religious faith and science, though I suppose that some truly gifted students, like those attending prominent American high schools such as Alexandria, Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, and New York City’s Bronx High School of Science and Stuyvesant High School, might readily understand and appreciate these distinctions. And yet I am inclined to agree more with the harsh view articulated by distinguished British paleontologist Richard Fortey in his essay published in the January 30, 2007 issue of the British newspaper Telegraph, contending that it is an absolute waste of time arguing with Intelligent Design advocates, and that they ought to be dismissed as “IDiots”; by extension, so would be the teaching of Intelligent Design alongside evolution in a science classroom. I would rather see talented students from Thomas Jefferson, Bronx Science and Stuyvesant engage themselves fruitfully in genuine scientific research of the highest caliber, than in trying to understand the metaphysical, religious nonsense known as Intelligent Design and other flavors of creationism. I think, in hindsight, so would Charles Darwin.

In light of recent Disco Tute mendacious nonsense, I hope Chapman may reconsider (He’s speaking tonight at a Center for Inquiry New York dinner which I can’t attend alas, but did ask one of the organization’s officers to pose my question to Chapman in my absence.).

Incidentally, my review of Ken Miller’s “Only A Theory” is now up at Amazon.com. Hope you like it and vote accordingly.

Appreciatively yours,

John

I’ve read each of the four books (Chapman, Humes, Slack, Lebo) plus one chapter (Irons) on the Dover trial and I recommend them all, and will continue to buy (in hardcover) and read future books on the trial. I haven’t seen Miller’s yet–thanks everyone for the tip.

By books I mean real books that is. I don’t even bother perusing DI garbage when it makes it into book format.

As it is, several of these Dover books mentioned that no preliminary injunction against the reading of the board’s statement was attempted. I distinctly remember at the time the injunction was sought and not granted, on grounds that Judge Jones found the record was confusing. Am I hallucinating, or what?

John Kwok said:

Dear Mike,

This is what I wrote in the concluding paragraph of my Amazon.com review of Chapman’s “40 Days and 40 Nights” (It seems relevant to post it here too.):

Incidentally, my review of Ken Miller’s “Only A Theory” is now up at Amazon.com. Hope you like it and vote accordingly.

Appreciatively yours,

John

John,

Thank you; I’ll take a look at your review.

After I retired from many years in research and before I retired completely, I had the privilege of teaching for 10 years in a program for gifted and talented high school students. It was a Math/Science Center that is part of a consortium of such centers around the country. This consortium includes some of the schools you mention. I taught physics out of Halliday, Resnick and Krane, an advanced calculus course out of Mary Boas’ book Mathematical methods in the Physical Sciences, and I also taught calculus and statistics.

The students were remarkable; and they attended many of the top universities in the country. They were a real joy to work with.

Even though they could appreciate the issues with ID/Creationism, their curiosity and drive to “go off topic” would have taken time away from good science. However, we did occasionally have discussions after school.

But such discussions almost never take place in the surrounding schools. And evolution is treated lightly if at all. Even at the Math/Science Center we got complaints about evolution. And even our tough biology teacher had to tread lightly at times.

The news reported that the plaintiffs were considering requesting a temporary restraining order, and that after the depositions, they did not enter a motion for one.

The ACLU lawyers have already lost on one count in the Dover case: after collecting depositions from the school board members, they failed to establish enough of a religious motivation to seek a restraining order on “intelligent design” teaching. “If we succeed in court, you’ll see other school districts around the country following Dover’s lead,” says Richard Thompson, lead counsel for the Dover school district.

Having the people being deposed lie as a block will do that. It did come out in the trial, though.

The weird thing is that this thread seems to be changing the response tally at Amazon.com, and I don’t know if that is reasonable.

I have read all the books so far on Dover. The Miller book was apparently iven to some people free and before general release. I still pay my own way.

There are people who have suddenly gone to the Amazon.com website and voted against my positive review of Lebo’s book.

She wrote a good book you creato-assholes! I don’t care if your side lost- it is still a good book. I also have read “Traipsing into Evolution.” As a piece of propaganda, it was a good job. That is the most I could say for it.

Publishers often send review and complimentary copies of books out pre-release. That in itself isn’t cause for concern.

Back with the FTE release of “The Design of Life”, FTE passed out pre-release copies, but they vetted their list to *only* send such copies to people with an IDC cheerleading history. This was in an apparent attempt to game the Amazon ratings system.

Publishers often send review and complimentary copies of books out pre-release. That in itself isn’t cause for concern.

Back with the FTE release of “The Design of Life”, FTE passed out pre-release copies, but they vetted their list to *only* send such copies to people with an IDC cheerleading history. This was in an apparent attempt to game the Amazon ratings system.

Thanks to all the people who recommended this book. I went out and picked it up, read it in a couple of sittings, and really enjoyed it. An excellent read.

It came today from Powell’s, and I can see why people phone in sick the next day because they spent the entire night reading it.

I read it yesterday in 2 sittings.

Laurie was the right person, in the right place and at the right time. The nexus of these events conspired to produce a thorough and enjoyable book that presented the whole complex issue in very human and deeply personal terms. Most importantly, Laurie’s writing style lends the book a readability that reaches the people of her home town who deserve the best of interpretations about the emotional crucible they had to endure.

Thank you, Laurie!

Last evening I began “The Devil in Dover” around 9:30 pm and finished at 2:50 am this morning. It was an enthralling read, with no good stopping place short of the final page. I appreciate the comments here. I live in the next county east from Dover, and have two friends, now retired, who were on the faculty there, so I have an intense personal interest in the incident. Lauri Lebo’s descriptions of the trial and actors therein are riveting.

It appears that the referrals to federal investigators that Judge Jones made, re possible perjury charges against several of the defendents, have not gone anywhere. Is anyone aware of any update on their status? Or is this another instance where the Bush justice department dropped (hid?) the ball? Thanks!

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Wesley R. Elsberry published on June 9, 2008 10:50 AM.

Dinner and a presentation: An evening with PZ was the previous entry in this blog.

Ron Bailey on Expelled is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.361

Site Meter