Thursday, May 8, 2008

40 Days and 40 nights - Book Review

40 Days and 40 Nights
By Matthew Chapman
Harper Collins 2007

When you think of 40 days and 40 nights, I'll bet your first thought is Noah's Ark and the Flood, right? Well in this case, you would be wrong. In this book the title refers to a court case - about creationism and evolution.

The USA has a Consitution on which most of its laws are based on. One of the most important amendments (or additions) to the Constitution is the first one.

It says - Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Source - Wikipedia.

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of a national religion by Congress or the preference of one religion over another, or religion over non-religion.
Source - Wikipedia.

This is why America has had Freedom from Religion for the last 200 years. Anyone can decide for themselves whether or not to beleive, and everyone has the right to not be harrased because of whatever they do decide to beleive.

But in 2004 the Dover Area School Board decided that the students needed to learn a balance about how the universe was formed. Up until then, there was only one accepted theory of the origins of life - Evolution. That is what the students were taught in school. The School board decided that their students needed to learn a balanced view so they started planning to teach their students about Intelligent Design.

Until now, if religions wished to teach their students another version of the origins of life - they were free to do so outside of school. Most of this learning was done at church, sunday school and at home by the parents.

When some of the parents found out what the school board was planning, they were horrified. Not only was this bringing religion into the classroom, this was also breaking the First Amendment of keeping the church and the state seperate.

So eleven parents filed a lawsuit against the school board and the case came to trial in Dover, Pennsylvania, in late 2005. The case went on to have national repercussions, all the way up to President Bush, who said he believed intelligent design should be taught as "an alternative theory" to evolution.

Matthew Chapman (a film writer and author), spent several months covering the trial from beginning to end. Through his in-depth encounters with the participants, [creationists, preachers, teachers, scientists on both sides of the issue, lawyers, theologians, the judge, and the eleven parents who resisted the fundamentalist proponents of intelligent design] Chapman tells an interesting, horrifying, and moving story of ordinary people doing battle in America over the place of religion and science in modern life.

Transcripts and Trial Documents.

And just to make things more interesting, Matthew Chapman is the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin.

On the last day of the trial, someone stood and asked the Judge this question.
"Your Honor, I have one question and it's this. By my reckoning, this is the fortieth day since this trial began and tonight will be the fortieth night, and I would like to know if you did that on purpose?"
The Judge's reply was instant - That is an interesting coincidence, but it was not by design.

Chapman also included a few timely paragraphs from the Scopes trial of 1925 which was essentially the exact same battle. This was a very interesting book and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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