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God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom

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In God vs. Darwin, Mano Singham dissects the legal battle between evolution and creationism in the classroom beginning with the Scopes Monkey trial in 1925 and ending with an intelligent design trial in Dover, Pennsylvania, in 2005. A publicity stunt, the Scopes Monkey trial had less to do with legal precedence than with generating tourism dollars for a rural Tennessee town. But the trial did successfully spark a debate that has lasted more than 80 years and simply will not be quelled despite a succession of seemingly definitive court decisions. In the greatest demonstration of survival, opposition to the teaching of evolution has itself evolved. Attempts to completely eliminate the teaching of evolution from public schools have given way to the recognition that evolution is here to stay, that explicitly religious ideas will never be allowed in public schools, and that the best that can be hoped for is to chip away at the credibility of the theory of evolution. Dr. Singham deftly answers complex questions: Why is there such intense antagonism to the teaching of evolution in the United States? What have the courts said about the various attempts to oppose it? Sprinkled with interesting tidbits about Charles Darwin and the major players of the evolution vs. creationism debate, readers will find that God vs. Darwin is charming in its embrace of the strong passions aroused from the topic of teaching evolution in schools.

173 pages, ebook

First published November 16, 2009

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About the author

Mano Singham

4 books4 followers
I am a theoretical physicist and currently Director of UCITE (University Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education) at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. I am the author of three books: God vs. Darwin: The War Between bookcover blog.tif Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom (2009), The Achievement Gap in US education: Canaries in the Mine (2005), and Quest for Truth: Scientific Progress and Religious Beliefs (2000).

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Profile Image for Patrick.
217 reviews48 followers
December 22, 2012
Mano Singham, a theoretical nuclear physicist and religious agnostic, has for several years been an outspoken critic of creationism and intelligent design. This book traces the major events of the creation-evolution conflicts in America’s public schools over the past century. Most of his book is merely a summary of what Edward Larson has already written in Summer for the Gods and Trial and Error, although there are a few segments in which he goes beyond Larson to expand on some of the legal questions to a degree. The end of the book includes a helpful summary of court cases that either directly involved creation and evolution or established judicial principles that affected those cases (i.e. Lemon v. Kurtzman).

Singham’s book purports to be a history of the legal battles, but appears to be every bit as polemical as one would expect a book by Henry Morris or Phillip Johnson to be—but supporting the other side of the “war” (as Singham calls it). He does not hesitate to insert his opinions throughout the text. Intelligent design, he informs his reader, is “just a religious belief adorned with scientific language” (156). The book’s subtitle, of course, provides another clue to his views. The book contains a good amount of helpful information, but is troubled by a poor writing style, skewed facts, vague generalizations, and unnecessary moralizing.

I am not sure whether Dr. Singham’s native language is English, but his style could have been greatly enhanced by an attentive editor. He refers to European settlers in America as “the early colonialists” rather than “colonists” (73), and clumsily states elsewhere that “the new creationists were having none of that wishy-washiness” (78). He uses creative metaphors, describing “the shadow of the Scopes trial” as “hovering” over subsequent debates (7).

Although he frequently cites Larson’s Summer for the Gods, Singham periodically seems to fall back on “Inherit the Wind” for his view of the Scopes trial. Somehow, the play “captures what happened quite accurately” in Darrow’s cross-examination of Bryan, and even Mencken’s writings are commended without qualification as providing “a flavor of the atmosphere during the trial” (42, 51). Clarence Darrow, he claims, “set out to argue that religious beliefs were nonsense and that no sensible person should believe them, let alone want to teach them to their children,” even though it was Darrow’s express aim at the trial to show that religion is compatible with evolution (149). He claims that it was a total surprise when the Tennessee Supreme Court threw out Scopes’s conviction on a technicality, but the prosecution did in fact question Judge Raulston about whether the jury ought to have se the fine instead of him (54).

In his comments on more recent controversies, he questioned the creationist challenge that evolution not be taught in schools, writing “Schools and teachers could hardly be expected not to say anything at all to students about how life and the universe came to be” (78). He did not make it clear how evolution sheds light on the beginnings of the universe. Finally, he noted that ID advocates like Phillip Johnson have stated that the ruin of contemporary society has been caused by the ideas of Darwin, Marx, and Freud, and that Johnson and his antievolutionist colleagues have focused exclusively on Darwin because Marx and Freud are not as relevant to public education. On the contrary, Johnson has written that he believes Marx and Freud to have already been discredited, with Darwin the only remaining member of the triumvirate who has yet to be defeated (see Defeating Darwinism, 113).

Singham often writes in the sort of broad generalizations that effectively prevent his readers from confusing him with a trained historian. He admits that, when it comes to ID, “there is also a wide divergence in religious beliefs under the big religious tent” (111), but simplistically charges all ID advocates with having the real motive of wanting “to put God, the Bible, and prayer back into public schools everywhere, thereby saving the world from sin” (107-108). They hope to succeed in “eventually breaking through the ‘wall of separation’ that excluded religious instruction from public schools because of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment” (121). Besides ignoring the nuances in the beliefs of ID advocates, Singham makes sweeping statements such as this one: “So, at the close of the eighteenth century, Americans, even though they were broadly religious, saw the dangers of a close identification of a church with the state and were thus wary of any formal entanglement of the government with any specific sect or church” (60).

Finally, Singham’s historical narrative suffers from a tendency to moralize. He repeatedly criticizes “religious people,” writing, “Under Darrow’s questioning, Bryan faced the same problem that religious people have to this day….he resorted to that faithful old religious standby, the ‘mysterious ways clause,’ which attributes all seemingly inexplicable phenomena to the actions of an inscrutable God” (47); Darrow succeeded in “showing that religious beliefs like Bryan’s led to an intellectual cul-de-sac” (50); “What really bothers religious people is the theory of evolution” (144).

Due to these faults, God vs. Darwin is very useful not as a detailed historical account, though as quick reference guide it does contain helpful lists and summaries of important court cases (which are also available, one might note, on Wikipedia). It is, however, interesting as a primary source providing insight into the views of one particular evolutionist who has been involved in the creationism/ID debates. If you’re interested in well-written, painstakingly-researched, nuanced, and evenhanded accounts of this fascinating and important topic, pick up a book by Ronald Numbers, Edward Larson, Christopher Toumey, or Peter Bowler.
Profile Image for Marie.
Author 61 books88 followers
November 12, 2019
A clear and straightforward history of the debate over teaching Evolution in US schools, from the early days of separation of church and state to the Dover Intelligent Design case in 2006. Mano is a clear and compassionate writer who can break down complex ideas beautifully.

Profile Image for John.
Author 330 books162 followers
July 2, 2010
This extremely readable book surveys the legal battles that have taken place in the US as various agencies of the devout have attempted, despite the First Amendment, to get the teaching of the Creationist fantasy into the public schools either in place of or alongside the theory of evolution by natural selection -- Darwinism, to use the slightly misleading shorthand. Although there are introductory chapters discussing the reception Darwin's dangerous idea got in the US, both initially and after the devout had had time to think about its implications, essentially God vs. Darwin is bookended by the Scopes Trial of 1925 and the Dover Trial of 2005, with discussion in between of several other significant court battles, including Epperson v. Arkansas (1968) and Edwards v. Aguillard (1987). There was a lot in all this that I'd come across before, of course, while I was writing Discarded Science and Corrupted Science, but the approach was something of a change (for me) and, refreshingly, there was stuff I hadn't known much about -- like the behind-the-scenes shenanigans leading up to the Scopes Trial: I'd known these were, um, quirky, but not quite how quirky! And, anyway, even had the book contained nothing new to me I'd have kept going: the author has a very engaging style that made this book a joy to read.

My only complaint? There are quite a few text boxes in the book, of which many are serving little useful function. I don't know if Singham was told by his publisher that there had to be something to add visual interest to the text, or if perhaps the worry was that the book was too short and needed some bumping out. Either way, boxes like "Questions Darrow Might Ask Bryan Today" (p48) and "What Might Darwin have Thought about the Turmoil His Work Aroused across the Atlantic?" (p147) seem to be mere distractions, bad ideas dreamt up in a pub somewhere. And, as regards those text boxes that do have something of value to add -- like "Excerpts from Clarence Darrow's Questioning of William Jennings Bryan" (pp43-46) -- my immediate thought was: why not just incorporate this stuff into the main text, which is where it really belongs?

That aside, I found the book a great pleasure -- much recommended.
Profile Image for Todd.
984 reviews12 followers
September 2, 2013
Pretty quick read.

Great legal history. Not much science.

It's intriguing to see all the ways people have fought against evolution. I'd recommend the book to anyone who wanted to know why Creationism isn't and shouldn't be taught in schools.

The author stays fairly neutral for the whole book, but he does have a killer ending line. Religious theories don't overthrow scientific theories. Better scientific theories overthrow scientific theories.
Profile Image for Dawn.
289 reviews7 followers
October 1, 2011
A fascinating read about creationism versus evolutionism in American courts.
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