Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, OxyContin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania

40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, OxyContin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania

4.7 3
by Matthew Chapman

See All Formats & Editions

In this fascinating story of evolution, religion, politics, and personalities, Matthew Chapman captures the story behind the headlines in the debate over God and science in America.

Kitzmiller v. Dover Board of Education, decided in late 2005, pitted the teaching of intelligent design (sometimes known as "creationism in a lab coat") against the teaching of


In this fascinating story of evolution, religion, politics, and personalities, Matthew Chapman captures the story behind the headlines in the debate over God and science in America.

Kitzmiller v. Dover Board of Education, decided in late 2005, pitted the teaching of intelligent design (sometimes known as "creationism in a lab coat") against the teaching of evolution. Matthew Chapman, the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin, 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 a sometimes terrifying, often hilarious, and above all moving story of ordinary people doing battle in America over the place of religion and science in modern life.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Chapman, Charles Darwin's great-great grandson and a successful Hollywood screenwriter, describes the 2005 intelligent design (ID) trial in Dover, Pa. The native-born Brit loves his adopted American home, but is terrified at the rise of a belligerent fundamentalism that seems to him invincibly ignorant and contemptuous of such scientific commonplaces as evolution. The 40 days and nights of the trial convince him that ID should indeed be taught in every science classroom in America: as an exercise in removing the kid gloves with which religion is treated in this country, science teachers should demolish ID before their pupils' eyes. The strength of the book is its function as an old-fashioned courtroom drama, which stays lively even as readers know how the trial will turn out. Chapman rightly describes himself as unable to "maintain animosity toward people with whom I violently disagree once I get to know them." He even checks his own agnosticism to compliment Jesuit theologian John Haught for having "the most beautiful mind in the whole trial." Chapman's exploration of the American soul finds not only cause for fear but also much that is good and decent. The book bogs down in forays into theology, which are marked by egregious misstatements about evangelicals in general (as opposed to just in Dover), and with a side story paralleling Dover with the Scopes monkey trial, which feels like a clunky addendum. (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

In 2005, accomplished screenwriter Chapman (Runaway), the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin, sat in a Pennsylvania courtroom to witness Darwinism (and science) on trial. His account of the proceedings provides an irreverent yet insightful understanding of the conflict between evolution and creationism/intelligent design. It explores constitutional limits on religious education, the adversarial justice system, the signal importance of individualism in American life, and, most of all, how the deeply rooted fear of all that we do not understand may undermine our cherished freedoms, notably, the freedom to worship—or not to worship—as we see fit. His unerring and easy-to-understand narration of this modern Scopes Monkey Trial, accompanied by his brilliant (and often hilarious) analysis of quite complex testimony, results in a valuable guide to future educational controversies and the role courts will play in resolving issues affecting the most fundamental element of our way of life: our children's schooling. This book should be read by all high school students andtheir parents, and all who are concerned with religious freedom or freedom from religion.
—Gilles Renaud

Kirkus Reviews
A blow-by-blow account by Charles Darwin's great-great-grandson of the trial that pitted parents and teachers against the anti-evolutionist members of the Dover, Penn., school board who voted to give intelligent design a nod in science courses. Chapman writes like the screenwriter and director he is, generating scene after scene of courtroom drama with you-are-there immediacy, thanks to vivid sketches of the principals and astute use of verbatim testimony. What makes the account sad but also ominous was the extent to which ignorance and arrogance combined in the fundamentalist board members to stir dissension in the community, inspiring screaming matches, you-are-damned letters and outright threats to the plaintiffs and their supporters. The conduct of the trial itself was exemplary, presided over by the eminently fair and intelligent Judge John Jones, whose occasional displays of dry humor helped relieve tension. (When queried about the portentous biblical association of the 40 days and 40 nights the trial lasted, Jones quipped that it was not "by design.") Both sides recruited star lawyers: seasoned civil liberties defenders for the plaintiffs, lawyers from the Thomas More Law Center for the defense. In the end, expert witnesses for the plaintiffs carried the day, brilliantly parrying the thrusts of defense lawyers Chapman depicts as dysfunctional, often abrasive and no match for the experts' intellectual rigor. The author is by no means a neutral observer; indeed, this reportorial work is as self-absorbed as his memoir, Trials of the Monkey (2001). Chapman too often inserts his personal history and the emotional reactions he had to the many he interviewed, even confessing his likingfor some of the most extreme bigots. What's more, he would vote to include creationism in science classes, so that the principles of science itself could defeat it-and strike a blow against the rising tide of evangelicalism in America. Passionate and engaged, but Edward Humes's Monkey Girl (2007) covers the same ground with equal readability and a less obtrusive authorial voice.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sold by:
File size:
571 KB

Read an Excerpt

40 Days and 40 Nights Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, OxyContin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania

By Matthew Chapman Reference Copyright © 2007 Matthew Chapman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-117945-7

Chapter One Genesis

I hope the fact that my great-great-grandfather was Charles Darwin will not deter you from reading this book. You might assume that my opinions are predictable and that a less biased, and therefore more suspenseful, account could be found elsewhere. The truth is that at the start of the trial I did believe creationism should be banned from high school science classes. By the end of it, however, I had been convinced by the intelligent design advocates that creationism in all its forms should be a mandatory part of every child's science education. My reasons for believing this are slightly different from theirs, but that's another story-the story of this book.

Being a descendent of Charles Darwin was not something I thought much about as I was growing up in Cambridge, England. The theory of evolution was accepted, and Darwin was a mere historical figure. If I did think about my connection to him, it was only negatively. Academic pressure on me was intense, and, at least in comparison with my ancestor, success was unlikely.

I was a child whose maximum attention span was approximately five seconds, a boy who refused to be educated and was kicked out of several schools, and a youth whose only academic achievement was a stunning lack of achievement. At the age of fifteen, when I was set free, I had not passed a single exam of any consequence. Soon after the school door slammed behind me, I rediscovered my curiosity.

To support myself, I worked in a variety of jobs-van driver, welder, house cleaner, bricklayer, spotlight operator in a nightclub, and so on-before becoming an apprentice film editor, editor, screenwriter, and finally film director.

In the early eighties, I moved to the United States, where I discovered to my surprise that many Americans not only rejected Darwin's theory of evolution, but they reviled it. I had come here in part because I hated the English class system and thought of America as being less weighed down by the past. Now here I was in the New World, faced with an old and willful ignorance that went far beyond anything even I had attempted.

I did not know much about evolution, but a quick study of easily available information showed that its most important idea, natural selection, was easy to understand and made sense.

Darwin saw how plant and animal breeders influenced characteristics through selective breeding. Why wouldn't nature do the same? If life was a struggle for survival, those best suited to their environment had an advantage. Any small, random mutation favoring survival would increase the likelihood of that animal or plant living long enough to pass on its genes to offspring, who would then inherit the advantage, and so on. Increased complexity and slow adaptation seemed inevitable.

It soon became apparent from my reading that 99 percent of scientists believed in evolution. Why would one doubt them? Did the pedestrian question the theory of gravity? Did the farmer who went to the doctor question his diagnosis? Why, when it came to evolution, did nonexperts feel compelled to disagree with those who clearly knew better?

The answer was that evolution appeared to contradict the bible. Evolution requires a lot of time to bring about change, and if plants and animals constantly become more complex, it was logical to infer that previously they had been far simpler. If one went back far enough, it seemed probable, though hard to prove, that all life-forms on earth shared a primitive ancestor perhaps found in some distant "primeval soup" of chemicals.

This, of course, was not how the origin of life was described in the bible. Evolution did not put either God or human beings at the center of a recent, ordered, and purposeful creation but instead suggested a long, brutal, and random process.

By the time I arrived in America, the evidence for the basic ideas of evolution had been overwhelming for a century. However, given a choice between it and the more comforting biblical version, most people chose the latter.

This was the beginning of my interest in irrational beliefs of all kinds. Why did so many people in an otherwise confident and sophisticated country cling to their faith in so many things-from astrology to the Zohar-that were so often contradicted by evidence and reason?

In 2001, I wrote Trials of the Monkey: An Accidental Memoir about my childhood and early working life interspersed with an account of the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial.

In 1925, schoolteacher John Scopes was prosecuted for teaching evolution in a Tennessee high school, contravening a recent state law, the Butler Act. The first trial ever to be broadcast live-by radio-not only to America but also to Europe and Australia, it was a fantastic philosophical skirmish between religion and reason, between the most famous fundamentalist of his day, William Jennings Bryan, and the most famous humanist, Clarence Darrow. Played out in a circus-like atmosphere, it became the basis for the film Inherit the Wind.

I visited Dayton, Tennessee, where the trial took place, and fell in love with both the town and the trial, with its hilarious mix of philosophy and hucksterism. In my mind the antievolution movement remained a quaint Southern aberration resulting from a combination of moonshine and religions of the snake-fondling type. I had drunk some of the aforementioned mountain dew and found it a powerful mind-altering substance, oddly delicious, with only the faintest leady aftertaste of the car radiator through which it had been distilled, but concluded it was not the best stimulant of intellectual cogitation.

Early in 2005, I began to read reports of a Scopes-like case developing in Dover, Pennsylvania, but did not believe such a thing could reach fruition only three and a half hours from New York City, and if it did, I could not imagine it providing anything like as much amusement.

It soon became apparent, however, that Kitzmiller v. Dover, which would be tried in federal court in Harrisburg, though not attracting as much attention as Scopes, had something the earlier trial lacked.


Excerpted from 40 Days and 40 Nights by Matthew Chapman Copyright © 2007 by Matthew Chapman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Matthew Chapman is the author of Trials of the Monkey: An Accidental Memoir. He is also a film director and screenwriter whose writing credits include Consenting Adults and Runaway Jury. He lives in New York with his wife and daughter.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, OxyContin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Matthew Chapman, a descendant of Charles Darwin, just by that fact would seem to come to this task with some special penache. However,he never uses it as any special tool for pushing his views; he's just a talented writer with journalistic background, and that part shows. I would like to say that "40 Nights and 40 Days" is a "balanced" review of this very sensitive trial and subject. Of course it isn't; nothing is. And since Matthew Chapman writes his account with intelligence and insight, the book obviously favors one side over the other. He can't help it. Chapman's touches of humor throughout the book keep the trial from becoming sheer drudgery as it trundles on for 40 days. A delightful read of a controversy that has been an albatross mainly around America's midsection for over a century. A controversy that some claim doesn't need to exist. Someday . . .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"I'd like to reserve Tripod, but he will stay here."