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The Battle Over the Meaning of Everything: Evolution, Intelligent Design, and a School Board in Dove

Gordy Slack, The Battle Over the Meaning of Everything: Evolution, Intelligent Design and a School Board in Dover, PA. (Wiley, 2007) ISBN 978-0-7879-8786-2

While several books have been written about Intelligent Design, and a (smaller) number about the Kitzmiller trial, Slack’s account is unique in that he examines the town of Dover, the events, personalities, motivations and strategies involved with the trial in addition to the trial itself and Intelligent Design as a theory. Moreover, Slack uses his account of the controversy in Dover as a lens, examining the tensions of the culture war, and also his relationship with his father, a convert to evangelical Christianity. This examination; by turns microcosmic, by turns macrocosmic, could easily have led to a muddled account of the trial itself. Slack avoids this trouble, recounting the facts with clarity and journalistic precision, but also with a welcome wryness and sense of humor which is particularly welcome on a book dealing with such a controversial subject.

Though the book does examine the trial, it does not begin with opening arguments, or even a precis of the controversy. Slack’s account begins with the stirrings of unrest in Dover recounting such events as the 2002 burning of a student mural featuring a depiction of ape-hominid evolution inspired by “The March of Progress”, the oft-parodied cultural icon showing “nine nearly life-size bipedal figures running across the savanna, from left to right on the mural, representing different stages of early hominid evolution…. a take-off on the classic evolutionary progression image”. Slack goes on to recount the school board’s actions, culminating in the celebrated trial – which Slack reports from pretrial strategy to Judge Jones’ opinion, and subsequent school board elections and current community resolution.

Slack does not pretend to be neutral. Quite the opposite, he states his approach and point of view clearly at the beginning of the book. That this colors his perceptions is unarguable as well as unavoidable. His presentation of his non-neutral point of view enhances the honesty of his account, and makes the point that everyone – in the town of Dover as well as in America as a whole, approaches the trial of Science v. Faith subjectively. As one Intelligent Design proponent interviewed in the book put it, “There is a war going on in our culture. One side says that God made man, and the other side says that man made God”. If this is truly a culture “war”, then it is a civil war as well, and there are few, if any, neutral parties.

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