The Battle Over the Meaning of Everything

Cover of The Battle Over the Meaning of Everything by Gordy SlackEvolution, Intelligent Design, and a School Board in Dover, P.A.
by Gordy Slack

Another interesting book about the IDiocy in Dover. Slack doesn’t obfuscate his leanings (he’s a materialist with no belief in the supernatural at all), but also softens his perspective by explaining that his father is a born-again Christian Creationist whom Slack seeks to understand as the book progresses.

But mostly, it’s a blow-by-blow account of the Dover trial.

  • Toward the end comes the most distressing bit of this whole affair, in my mind. In his chapter, “Liars for Christ,” Slack highlights the actions by the school board members who obfuscated their religious intent once they learned that it would seriously hamper the legality of introducing the material into the curriculum. They told lies in their depositions, and then again in the trial. The moment that most strongly illustrates this trend came when the ACLU deposed the Board in order to possibly file an injunction against the ID curriculum even starting. The board met and colluded and all conveniently forgot or denied that the word creationism and the religious motives were ever discussed, despite two published newspaper accounts to the contrary. Apparently it’s the lying that got most of them ousted from the School Board.
  • Of course, I’m also rigorously opposed to the incursion of religious institutions into secular, government-run spaces. I always want to sit down with self-righteous folks like the Bonsells (leaders of this movement in Dover) and ask whether other religions would be welcome in their classrooms.
  • The book was delightful to read from the perspective of a pro-evolution person, but it feels biased. The last book I’m planning to read on the subject, Monkey Girl, claims to be more balanced, but we’ll see. It’s hard not to see the folks behind this movement as outrageously caricaturing the Religious Right.
  • The jerk in me wants to see anti-evolution folks barred from taking advantage of evolution-derived discoveries. See the Doonesbury below.
  • When Scott Minnich of the Discovery Institute was testifying at the end of the trial, Plaintiff attorney Steve Harvey kept calling him “Dr. Behe,” implying that Minnich and Behe were so similar that he couldn’t keep them straight in his mind.
  • My favorite line from the trial came at the end. Here’s Slack’s account:

    When the judge asks whether anyone has anything further to say, [defense attorney] Gillen pipes up.
    “Your Honor,” he says, “I have one question, and that’s this: by my reckoning, this is the fortieth day since the trial began and tonight will be the fortieth night, and I would like to know if you did that on purpose.”
    “Mr. Gillen,” replies Judge Jones, “that is an interesting coincidence, but it was not by design.” (181)

    I really like this bit for several reasons. First, it’s funny. Second, it reveals the depth of the religion at work in the defense. I can’t think why it would have been a smart move to highlight, yet again, at the end of the trial, the connection between the defense and religion. The only possible reason I can think of is to get some sort of wink wink nudge nudge from the judge that this was planned, but a blatant religious action on the court’s point would certainly have been grounds for a plaintiff appeal.

  • My favorite discussion of this trial comes from Fred Callahan, one of the plaintiffs. He said “What am I supposed to tolerate? A small encroachment on my First Amendment rights? Well, I’m not going to. I think it is clear what these people have done, and it outrages me.” (175)

And please forgive me one more crucial passage from Slack.

Those who believe in the Revelation don’t believe the world itself can be saved, Moyers points out. For them, the world is destined to go up in smoke. Bring it on.

If such a significant percentage of Americans, and many in high places, believe that the end of the world is a good thing, and that it’s coming soon, what are the chances we will take steps necessary to curb global warming, for example, or address the Middle East conflagration that many believe signals the return of the savior? As a foundation for political policy in the perilous twenty-first century, the Revelation is several orders of magnitude scarier than frogs or boils.

No authority other than the Bible, or some far-out interpretation of it, needs to be cited to hold or spread this view. It has nothing to do with the kind of evidence that is at the bottom line of any good public policy — foreign, economic, or environmental. Popular disregard, even disdain, for demonstrable truth is the most dangerous thing that can happen to a democracy. And it is happening here. Not only tonight in Dover, but in Washington too, where the Bush Administration’s contempt for science and evidence-based policy is everywhere evident, including its inhibition of stem-cell research; its censoring of the Clean Air Act, climate change, and other environmental reports; and its depleting of NASA’s science budget to pursue vanity projects such as sending humans to Mars. If beliefs trump facts, politicians can launch wars that have no basis, imprison suspects without explicit justification, and quell efforts to explore solutions to long-term environmental problems. If belief trumps fact, in these days of very dangerous truths, we’re screwed. (94-95)


Doonesbury on Evolution

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