>November 6 2009
Greetings from York Haven, Pennsylvania (about six miles from Dover). The title of this message is also the title of a book by Lauri Lebo, the journalist who reported on the Dover Intelligent Design Trial for the local papers back in 2004. I’m writing from her living room sofa right now as she prepares food for a party, the annual reunion of the plaintiffs, lawyers, and expert witnesses who joined forces to block the teaching of “intelligent design” as an alternative to Darwin’s theory of natural selection in local high school science classes. For those of you unfamiliar with intelligent design as a concept, it’s basically a fancy name for the biblical creation myth (tempered by some strategic deception), and likewise it has no scientific basis.
This is a remarkable story, and Lauri’s book tells it better than I ever could, but here’s an overview. In 2004 a group of fundamentalist Christians on the Dover school board began arguing at public meetings that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in science classes in the district. However, teaching “creation science” had already been banned by the US Supreme Court as a violation of the First Amendment of the US Constitution prohibiting the state establishment of religion, so under the advice of their lawyers the school board members changed their strategy (and their story) and began advocating instead for the teaching of intelligent design. They also claimed that they had never said “creationism” even though over 100 witnesses heard them and one of them was filmed by Fox News saying it. They ordered the Biology teachers to read out a statement to students that evolution is a theory and not a fact, while encouraging students to look into intelligent design as an alternative “explanation of the origins of life”, so a group of parents sued the school board.
During the trial the school board continued to claim under oath that they had never said “creationism”, and that their advocacy of intelligent design was motivated by scientific rigor and not religion. Evolutionary Biologists testified at the trial, outlining the evidence for Darwin’s theory, and one biochemistry professor, Michael Behe, testified in support of intelligent design. However, to justify the inclusion of intelligent design within the category of “science”, Behe also advocated changing the definition of science so that it would include astrology, and under cross-examination he conceded that intelligent design actually offers no alternative explanations. If you want to learn more about Behe, here’s Richard Dawkins’ very sharp NY Times review of his latest book (his whole career really) click here.
At the end of the trial, the Bush-appointed Republican federal judge ruled that the school board had acted with “breathtaking inanity” (translation: they were total morons) and called their claims of secular purpose “disingenuous” (translation: they were lying for Jesus). Intelligent design was banned from the classroom. It was a grand slam.
So what does this have to do with me? Very little, except that one beautiful outcome of the trial was that the parents, biologists, journalists, and lawyers involved in defending evolution from this cynical religious assault all became fast friends, and they now hold an annual reunion celebrating their win. I met Lauri Lebo and Cyndi Sneath (one of the parents) in England on our Darwin Day tour back in February, and they invited me to perform at the reunion, which is now beingi re-imagined as a Darwin-themed concert featuring readings, lectures, songs, and of course the Rap Guide. The story of how these people came together is truly inspiring to me, so it’s a real privilege to be part of the celebration.
This is officially stop number four on my twelve-city USA tour celebrating the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species, and the next two weeks will see me traveling all over NY, MA, PA, and CA bringing Darwin to the American masses (who, according to recent surveys, badly need it). However, you’ll note that my stops are mostly in “Darwin-friendly” states (central PA being a possible exception), which is something I regret, but of course I can only go where I’m invited. So when do I get to perform “The Rap Guide to Evolution” in the American South? I repeat, all I need is an invitation…
All the best from god’s country,