Monkey Girl

If there’s one good thing about spending an extra night in Buffalo, without access to a computer and with a rather limited selection of channels on the television, it’s that you get a lot of reading done. I managed to plow through all of Edward Humes’ book
Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion and the Battle for America’s Soul
. It’s mostly a blow-by-blow account of the big Kitzmiller v. Dover case. It also provides a fair amount of historical context.

Overall it’s an excellent book, difficult to put down. The trial scenes are especially compelling. I was following the trial closely as it unfolded, and it was fun to relive the main events.

One place where the book excells is in its depiction of the striking ignroance of the Dover school board that implemented the ID policy. Not a one of them actually knew anything about either evolution or ID. Here’s an example, in a description of the deposition of Angie Yingling, one of the Board members that supported the ID policy:

When Yingling was asked to explain how she reached her own understanding of intelligent design, her testimony became almost comical; even the lawyers seemed at a loss for words in the face of some of her comments. Yingling initially recalled learning about intelligent design from various books. But on reflection (and after realizing that she could not name a single book she had read concerning ID), she recalled that more likely she learned of the arguments for and against intelligent design by browsing through such publications as People magazine while standing in checkout lines at the grocery store and in Wal-Mart. Then she quickly added that she had also read portions of an issue of National Geographic in a doctor’s waiting room (the only major piece in this magazine that addressed ID at the time had been “Was Darwin Wrong?” published in November 2004 – a month after Yingling voted for the new policy). Then this board member, who regularly voted on the details of Dover High School’s science curriculum (as well as its other subjects), added, “ I generally don’t read books cover to cover unless they are really good. And bio certainly wouldn’t be really good in my personal library.” (Page 227)

After another paragraph of similarly dopey comments, Humes remarks:

And this witness was just the start. There would be so much more that, in the end, [plaintiff's attorney] Rothschild and his colleagues wouldn’t even need to call Angie Yingling to the stand. (Page 227)

Here is another example, this time from board member William Buckingham:

The board members also insisted in their sworn depositions that they believed intelligent design was not in itself religious. Buckingham was adamant on this point, although he could provide no coherent explanation of what ID was. In trying to do so, he talked about molecules and amoebas, but his attempt to define ID ended up sounding more like a half-baked description of evolution. His attempt to describe evolution and common ancestry, in contrast, sounded a great deal like religion: “It can be what scientists considered two tiny amoebas way back zillions of years ago if you want it to be. It can be, for some people, it can be Buddha. For somebody else it can be Allah. For a Christian it can be a Christian God. Whatever.” This was his explanation not of intelligent design or creationism but of Darwin’s idea of descent with modification. (Page 219).

For me these excerpts pretty well summarize attempts to inject creationism or ID into science classes. I have heard so many statements precisely this ignorant from various lawmakers introducing anti-evolution legislation. People who introduce such laws are always and everywhere motivated by religious concerns. They are uniformly ignorant of any of the relevant scientific issues, and most could not even formulate a coherent sentence on the subject. Any claim to be interested in enhancing science education or in encouraging kids to think critically is a sham.

As much as I liked the book I do have two criticisms. Humes narration is excellent, but many of his descriptions of scientific issues are not quite right. Not really wrong, but suffciently imprecise to be a bit annoying. For example, in a section providing quick responses to creationist claims he writes:

… and the second law of thermodynamics has to do with the behavior of nonliving matter in a closed system – whereas life, far from a closed system, continually gains energy from the sun and Earth, providing ample opportunities for growth and new, more complex life-forms. Physicists and engineers who actually work with the principles of thermodynamics consider Hovind’s argument laughable and beneath even a first-year physics major, though to a receptive and scientifically unsphisticated audience of the faithful, such arguments are more than sufficiently convincing. (Page 33)

I like that second sentence. But it’s poor phrasing indeed to suggest that the second law does not apply to living organisms just as surely as it applied to other systems. The distinction between a system that receives energy from the outside and one that does not is important, but even here it is not really correct to say that the second law does not apply when energy is crossing the boundary of a system. Rather, we can say that the statement, “A spontaneous natural process can only cause entropy to increase” is only true for systems that are completely isolated from their surroundings.

Small scientific inaccuracies like this occur in a number of places in the book. There are other errors as well. For example, Bill O’Reilly is twice identified as a commentator for CNN, rather than for Fox News. These errors detract only slightly from the overall strength of the book, but they are annoying nonethelss.

Also annoying are the distressingly large number of typos (Bill of Bights (Page 184), anyone?) A little more proofreading would have been nice.

But rather than end on a negative note, let me provide one more excerpt. Referring to Bill O’Reilly he writes:

He likened the ACLU to the Taliban, “infringing on the rights of all American students” by trying to keep ID out of schools. And he told his national audience – much to the dismay of the Discovery Institute – that intelligent design was a scientific statement of what many Americans already believed: “There’s a deity and the deity formed the universe and things progressed from there.” Then he turned to a professor from the University of Colorado – who did not understand that, on this sort of show, he was supposed to serve as a prop and not an expert – and asked, “What’s wrong with that, professor?”

Before the guest could complete his answer – “What’s wrong with that is, it’s not science…” – O’Reilly had interrupted and exclaimed, “What if it turns out there is a God and he did create the universe and you die and then you figure that out? Aren’t you going to feel bad that you didn’t address that in your biology class?”

The professor was struck momentarily speechless by this (missing the chance to say, Why no, Bill, I won’t feel bad, I’ll be dead), and O’Reilly continued with one of the most remarkable displays of nationally televised scientific ignorance ever, matched only by the host’s utter certitude: “If I were a professor of biology … I would say, “Look, there are a ot of very brilliant scholars who believe the reason we have incomplete science on evolution is that there is a higher power involved in this and you should consider it as a scientist.” (Page 224-225)

I’m sure we’re all very happy Bill O’Reilly is not a professor of biology. Anyway, I heratily recommend the book. Go buy a copy!

Comments

  1. #1 tristero
    February 27, 2007

    I, too enjoyed the book and I noticed the same errors you did. I’m sure the typos will get attended – they better! – by the time of the paperback.

  2. #2 J-Dog
    February 27, 2007

    I just finished Chapter 1, and I have some concerns. Seems to me that so far, Mr. Humes is going a little overboard to “keep things fair and balanced”. The end of Chapter 1 does not bode well for my future reading enjoyment.

    A teacher is discussing with his wife the early problems with the schoolboard:
    [ "You have people who know nothing about science trying to tell you how to teach science."
    "They don't want to teach the kids," Bryan said morosely. "They want to indoctrinate them."
    Funny thing was, the board members who favored creationism were saying the same thing about the teachers. ]

    UGH! Not a good way to end a chapter IMO. It’s not funny. It’s tragic, and it’s illegal as the court case proved.

    Humes had better start hitting the creos harder or his book is getting trashed. Literally AND figuratively.

  3. #3 Blake Stacey
    February 27, 2007

    If we all publicize the mistakes and infelicities which we come across, maybe they’ll get fixed in later printings, as Tristero suggested. (Funnily enough, that ‘nym reminds me of the ongoing mission to find glitches in Thomas Pynchon’s latest novel. At the risk of making a peacock-feathered ego display, I’d like to say that I seem to be the first to have noticed a typo on the front flap ad copy.)

  4. #4 Jason Rosenhouse
    February 27, 2007

    J-Dog-

    I think you’ll be satisfied with the way things develop. Humes leaves no doubt as to which side he is on in the trial.

  5. #5 Dan S.
    February 27, 2007

    “(Bill of Bights . . . anyone?

    Why do you oppose Constitutional protection of our nation’s large, often only slightly receding, relatively shallow bays? Am I going to have to call the ACLU – the American Coastal Liberties Union – on you?

    Anyway – what’s most striking for me isn’t the scientific ignorance (I take that as a given – it’s basically encouraged, what does one expect – and anything else a pleasant surprise). It’s the complete and utter disinterest in knowledge, in education. I’m sure there are school board members out there with rather limited educational backgrounds, due to life circumstances, who do quite a good job thanks to knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses, but Yingling just doesn’t care (or understand?). Even if she had struggled through part of Behe’s book, or at least some DI videos, it would be evidence that she was trying, however feebly and wrongheadedly, to do her job, but nope. People Magazine.

    Is it one of those cases, d’you think, where someone is so incompetent that they completely fail to grasp how bad they are? I mean, of course, I’m assuming she was a Christianist stealth candidate, but did she imagine she was qualified, or was she just being a happy dimwit for Jesus? Given her testimony, I tend to think it was the former – no understanding, nada, zilch. Although there is that moment of low cunning, when she dimly senses that somehow, something more is needed, and throws out the reference to National Geographic. She probably did see one at her doctor’s office, after all . . .

  6. #6 andy
    February 27, 2007

    Oh come off it. I’ve never seen a book without a couple of typos (or more). Or — what chess players would call — inaccuracies. Not entirely wrong, but not the very best move either. I thought Humes’ book was engaging, compelling, and — most importantly — brought into the limelight the total cluelessness of the ID/creationist school board. Come on guys, give him a break!! Infelicities aside, it’s a GREAT book. Asking for infallibility is reminiscent of .. you know what.

  7. #7 Kevin W. Parker
    February 27, 2007

    So long as we’re collecting inaccuracies, let’s note that, despite what Humes says, the Battle of Yorktown was not fought near York, PA, but in eastern Virginia.

  8. #8 pb
    February 27, 2007

    pg. 237

    noted biologist “Robert Dawkins”

    ouch

  9. #9 The Science Pundit
    February 28, 2007

    It’s the complete and utter disinterest in knowledge, in education. I’m sure there are school board members out there with rather limited educational backgrounds, due to life circumstances, who do quite a good job thanks to knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses, but Yingling just doesn’t care (or understand?).

    Besides being an elected office, schoolboards (at least in PA) can levy taxes. What happens then is that candidates run and get elected on tax platforms. Many school districts (in PA at least) have boards where not a single member has either a background in education or a child enrolled in the system: sad but true!

  10. #10 J-Dog
    February 28, 2007

    Jason – Thanks for the encouragement! I am indeed more satisfied now, and have even chuckled and groaned out load in reading about his treatment of the DI’s involvement and Buckingham’s, Bonsel’s and the Schoolboards stupidity. One might even describe it as “breathtaking inanity”.

    Perhaps the Senator from TN might be interested in reading it…

  11. #11 Gary Hurd
    February 28, 2007

    I enjoyed the book, but was bothered by the same points as Jason. In addition, I found that Moore (pg. 125) misrepresented Nilsson and Pelger’s 1994 paper, “A pessimistic estimate of the time required for an eye to evolve” as a “simulation.” He is following Dawkin’s similar assertion, and I wonder if he actually red the original article. Maybe I am being too pedantic, but it was not a “simulation.”

    I was puzzled that Moore called Denton’s writing as “New Age” (pg. 138) which is a term I associate with “crystal power” “wholestic (sic) health,” herbal enemas, and recycled mysticism.

    Finally, Dembski does not have a doctorate in theology (pg. 233), rather he has a masters in theology, and doctorates in math and philosophy (for closely related dissertation topics).

    What I enjoyed most were the trial scenes, and the brief discription of Burt Humberg’s attempt to reason with a crowd of creationists. These were worth the price of the book.

  12. #12 Jake S
    February 28, 2007

    Enjoying the book. About 2/3 through it. Liked the discription of one of Dawkin’s computer simulations (the random stings of charecters selected for resemblance to a particular line of shakespere) and of the aquatic ape hypothesis in the footnotes. Anouther part that jumped out from the part of the book was from where the ASLU started getting involved in the case. Humes mentioned a poll about the ignorance most americans have anout their civil rights, and noted that a majority of americans would vote against particular items from the bill of rights. I’m at work right now and dont have the book with me, but does anyone know what poll he is refering to? Thanks.

  13. #13 Larry Fafarman
    February 28, 2007

    Jason Rosenhouse said in opening post —

    For me these excerpts pretty well summarize attempts to inject creationism or ID into science classes. I have heard so many statements precisely this ignorant from various lawmakers introducing anti-evolution legislation. People who introduce such laws are always and everywhere motivated by religious concerns. They are uniformly ignorant of any of the relevant scientific issues, and most could not even formulate a coherent sentence on the subject.

    It is wrong to stereotype critics of Darwinism as scientifically illiterate and motivated by religion. However, I was appalled by the defendants’ lack of preparation for testifying at the trial — they made complete fools of themselves by showing that they knew nothing about ID.

    Humes narration is excellent, but many of his descriptions of scientific issues are not quite right. Not really wrong, but suffciently imprecise to be a bit annoying.

    “Not really wrong”? Here is one:

    ” . . . . evolution is the opposite of a random process. The power of natural selection to weed out unsuccessful traits and species — a process commonly mischaracterized as “survival of the fittest” — may be unconscious and unplanned, but it is among the most directed and nonrandom forces in nature.” (page 29)

    Natural selection might not be random, but “random mutations” sure are — that’s why they’re called “random.”

    Despite claims by some that the book is neutral, there is no question that the book is rabidly pro-Darwinist. Instead of merely presenting the pro-and-con arguments and letting the readers decide for themselves, the book flatly states,

    Jones concluded — correctly — that the evidence in favor of evolution is convincing and compelling, and that the counterarguments are far less so (page 340) . . . . . .
    Arguably, evolution has been more rigorously tested, and enjoys more evidence in its support, than any other theory in the history of science. (page 346)

    The last chapter and the epilogue, which discuss the aftermath of the decision, do not acknowledge that a lot of the criticism of the Dover decision is legitimate and paint Judge Jones as a martyr who has been subjected to death threats and who is fighting for judicial independence.

    My complete first review of the book is on my blog at —

    http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/2007/02/more-monkey-girl-business.html

  14. #14 MarkP
    February 28, 2007

    It is wrong to stereotype critics of Darwinism as scientifically illiterate and motivated by religion.

    No it isn’t. Evolution deniers are overwhelmingling scientifically illiterate and religiously motivated, as their comments frequently reveal (see my post on another thread on this blog showing Philip johnson doing so). Not only is it a fact, it is a very relevant fact, since it reveals the nonscientific and dishonest nature of ID to anyone who didn’t see it totally exposed in the Dover ruling.

  15. #15 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 1, 2007

    a lot of the criticism of the Dover decision is legitimate

    Apart from the claims of ID that has been taken apart as ill conceived, there seems to be no such criticism, legitimate or not.

  16. #16 ANF
    March 1, 2007

    First off, I enjoyed the book. It was a good read, engaging and informative. It captured what I imagine the spirit of the courtroom to have been like, and helped me understand the whole case much better. I recommend it to everyone.

    That said, it is obvious that this was a bit of a rush job. The mistakes, typos, mistaken references (O’Reilly at CNN also bugged me), and weak scientific references, are usually things that are corrected in a good editorial process. This book was obviously rushed through that process and given little editorial review before being published in, I imagine, the fear that they needed to strike while it was still topical. Frankly, I hope they go back and do a proper editing for the paperback edition. If they do, then I’ll buy several copies for friends and family members who need to know this stuff is happening.

    It’s also less journalism and more an account. There is obvious “bias” in that the author agrees with one position and paints that side most positively. But that’s not to say he’s unfair. He goes out of his way to try and explain Buckingham’s behavior and paint several culpable members of the school board in as positive a light as he can. (Several come off as sincere religious believers doing stupid things for what they believe are good reasons) It would be interesting to read an account of the trial that focused on one of the main school board members, like that poor ass’t superintendent who was always having to play go-between and doing all of the dirty work like reading out the statement to classes.

  17. #17 J-Dog
    March 1, 2007

    Larry “Mr. Banned at Panda’s Thumb and Pharyngula For Good Reason” Fafarman

    Isn’t your posting here a violation of your Restraining Order?

  18. #18 Larry Fafaman
    March 1, 2007

    SOB Jerk-Dog drools,
    Larry “Mr. Banned at Panda’s Thumb and Pharyngula For Good Reason” Fafarman
    Isn’t your posting here a violation of your Restraining Order?

    I haven’t been banned from this blog, Jerk-Dog. And since bigots consider telling the truth to be a “good reason” for banning, yes, I was banned for good reason.

    Mark P says,

    Evolution deniers are overwhelmingling scientifically illiterate and religiously motivated, as their comments frequently reveal

    That’s very open-minded of you.

    Torbj?Larsson says,

    “a lot of the criticism of the Dover decision is legitimate”
    Apart from the claims of ID that has been taken apart as ill conceived, there seems to be no such criticism, legitimate or not.

    How is taking apart ID claims as “ill conceived” a criticism of the Dover decision?

    There’s lots of legitimate criticism of the Dover decision, and a lot of this criticism has come from neutral and even anti-ID experts — see

    http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/2007/03/yet-another-legal-expert-takes-judge.html

    It’s real nice having my own blog — instead of posting a long-winded response, I can just post a link!

  19. #19 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 1, 2007

    How is taking apart ID claims as “ill conceived” a criticism of the Dover decision?

    That doesn’t compute, since it was my question – what remains as criticism since ID criticism was wrong. (About Jones accepting the found evidence and the percentage of that in the ruling.)

    There’s lots of legitimate criticism of the Dover decision, and a lot of this criticism has come from neutral and even anti-ID experts

    You cite 3 posts with seemingly non-ID sources. (I didn’t check.)

    Italiano concurs with the ruling. “The court’s decision in Kitzmiller to strike down the Dover School Board’s policy seems correct, especially in light of the Dover board members’ attempts to inject religion into their public school.” He notes that “under the cases that previously dealt with this issue, the scientific basis of intelligent design most likely would have escaped judicial evaluation”. But that was under the courts purview, see http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2005/12/prof_dewolfs_cr.html .

    Alschuler offers that the ruling is “odd”. No legal support given.

    Wexler’s article was answered by an article containing “harsh ridicule” by a lawyer in the same magazine.

    So while you are correct that where same criticism from outside ID, it seems none were legitimate.

  20. #20 Larry Fafarman
    March 1, 2007

    Torbj?Larsson said,
    Italiano concurs with the ruling.

    Italiano concurs with ruling against the defendants but disagrees with Judge Jones’ decision to rule on the scientific merits of ID and irreducible complexity.

    He notes that “under the cases that previously dealt with this issue, the scientific basis of intelligent design most likely would have escaped judicial evaluation”. But that was under the courts purview,

    You say that the ID-as-science issue was “under the court’s purview,” but Jones’ decision to rule on this issue was strictly discretionary. He did not have to rule on this issue because he had already ruled against the defendants.

    Alschuler offers that the ruling is “odd”. No legal support given.

    It is not necessary to give legal support for every argument. My quote of Alschuler was just arguing about basic fairness — he was saying that people are not bad just because they try to get as much as the courts will allow.

    Wexler’s article was answered by an article containing “harsh ridicule” by a lawyer in the same magazine.

    So arguments are not legitimate just because they have been answered with “harsh ridicule”? That is the first time that I heard that one.

  21. #21 MarkP
    March 2, 2007

    I said:

    Evolution deniers are overwhelmingling scientifically illiterate and religiously motivated, as their comments frequently reveal

    To which Larry replied:

    That’s very open-minded of you.

    It is very open-eyed of me. What are we supposed to do, just ignore that practically every criticism of evolution we ever hear is riddled with obvious signs that the person asking the question has no friggin idea what he is talking about? Are you going to claim that questions like “if humans evolved from monkeys, then why are there still monkeys?” reveal some sort of superior understanding of evolution? Do statements like “dogs vary, but they never become cats” sound like the words of a learned scholar to you? These aren’t the exceptions to the rule, they are the rule! And if ID is not about religion, then why all the catterwalling about “materialists”?

    The gig is up Larry, we are all onto your bullshit, and once it’s pointed out to fairminded people, they recognize it pretty quickly. A research center with no research, a massive legal losing streak, practically every DI fellow a thumping twit? Sorry, a blind man can see it with a cane. Oh sure, we’ll never convince people like you, but so what? You were hopeless from the beginning.

  22. #22 Larry Fafarman
    March 2, 2007

    MarkP said,
    What are we supposed to do, just ignore that practically every criticism of evolution we ever hear is riddled with obvious signs that the person asking the question has no friggin idea what he is talking about?

    Yes, you are supposed to ignore the fact that you disagreed with past arguments. That is what I do.

  23. #23 MarkP
    March 2, 2007

    So you ask us to deny reality. Glad we got that out in the open.

  24. #24 Torbj�rn Larsson
    March 4, 2007

    Larry:

    So arguments are not legitimate just because they have been answered with “harsh ridicule”?

    That means they were refuted, unless you can show a refutation of the ridicule.

    What we have shown above, without any real objections from you, is that in all your references the “legitimate criticism” isn’t a real criticism.

  25. #25 TanyaA
    March 5, 2007

    Larry wrote:

    Yes, you are supposed to ignore the fact that you disagreed with past arguments. That is what I do.

    Larry ALSO wrote:

    Jones is just a lousy judge and a crackpot.

    Huh, seems that you’re not really ignoring your disagreements, and in fact, are making judgements BASED on them, rather than the facts. Your bias is clearly seen in not only your blog, but your posting on other blogs.

  26. #26 Pieter B
    March 5, 2007

    Jason, typos bug me, too, but

    Anyway, I heratily recommend the book.

    didn’t significantly diminish my enjoyment of the review. [ducking]

  27. #27 Michael Ralston
    March 9, 2007

    Interesting. Jones didn’t have to rule on the scientific merits of ID … therefore he was wrong for doing so?

    Because it’s a good thing for a judge to say “Hmm. This case can be dismissed on what is fundamentally a technicality, but if so, that’ll just ensure it comes right back somewhere else and wastes more time and money. Oh well! I’d better not do anything I’m not forced to do.”

    Come on.

  28. #28 AnnieCat
    March 9, 2007

    I just read Monkey Girl and liked it very much — in fact, it prompted me to find some books on evolution written for civilians so I could get a refresher on high school biology which was 35 years ago for me.

    What stunned me about the Intelligent Design proponents was their dishonesty and their unwillingness to accept the consequences of their own statements. Several of the school board members flat-out lied about their religious motivations, and not only lied but accused others people who reported the statement correctly, of lying!! My only serious objection to the book was Humes’ much too kidn treatment of Bill Buckingham, whose lies about his relgious statements were contradicted by a videotaped interview he’d given, but apparently STILL insisted that the reporters who had quoted him in newspapers saying the same thing were liars.

    They tried to prevent Barbara Forrest testifying about things ID proponents had said about ID, then tried to say she was making ad hominem arguments — when all she had done was point out what ID proponents had said themselves!!

    Just another instance, I suppose, of “Christians” not living up to their own supposed beliefes, since after all there is a commandment about lying.

  29. #29 Larry Fafarman
    March 11, 2007

    Michael Ralston said ( March 9, 2007 05:23 AM ) —

    Interesting. Jones didn’t have to rule on the scientific merits of ID … therefore he was wrong for doing so?

    Because it’s a good thing for a judge to say “Hmm. This case can be dismissed on what is fundamentally a technicality, but if so, that’ll just ensure it comes right back somewhere else and wastes more time and money.

    Any other judges who rule on the ID-as-science question will have to start from scratch anyway — the Kitzmiller decision is not binding precedent anywhere, probably not even in Jones’ own Middle District of Pennsylvania federal court.

    Also, there are good reasons for never ruling on the ID-as-science question, as discussed in some of my blog articles listed at —

    http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/search/label/Expert%20opinions%20about%20Kitzmiller

    I also discuss this issue at —

    http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/2006/09/there-is-no-constitutional-separation.html

  30. #30 oyunlar 1
    October 17, 2007

    Merkez Bankas? faiz oran?n? 0.50 puan indirdi! Patronlar indirimi az buldu, ”Ak?l d??? davran??” Türkiye, faizde dünya rekorunu elinde tutuyor

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