Review: More than Darwin
Work under Review
Mark D Decker
Who replaced John Scopes at Rhea County High School in Dayton, Tennessee? Where was the first evolution course offered anywhere in the world taught? And who was the most controversial figure in the evolution/creationism controversy? Randy Moore and Mark Decker — both biologists at the University of Minnesota; both members of NCSE — know the answers to these questions, and in More than Darwin, they share their vast knowledge about (as the subtitle indicates) the people and places of the evolution/creationism controversy. Appropriately as well as alphabetically, they begin with Adam (“the first naturalist,” according to Linnaeus), ending with Evelle J Younger, the attorney general of California who in 1975 ruled that the state’s educational system could not “balance” its teaching of evolution by teaching creationism as well. Moore and Decker explain in their preface, “we have tried to neither condemn nor praise either ‘side’ of the controversy, nor have we attempted to reconcile the views of science and religion ... Our only goal has been to present — as best we can — an objective, interesting, accurate, and accessible description of the people and places associated with the controversy” (p xxii). They succeed admirably.
Most of the book’s 500 or so entries are short, running about 500 to 1000 words, but a few figures — Charles Darwin, of course, but also William Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow, Susan Epperson, the Galápagos Islands, James Hutton, Thomas Henry Huxley, Charles Lyell, and Alfred Russel Wallace — receive extended treatments. The entries are generally concise, organized, and accurate, with the exception of the usual crop of typographical errors and a few minor errors of fact. There are a few places where clarity was lamentably sacrificed for brevity: in the entry for the Kansas State Board of Education, for example, it is insufficiently clear that the board was dominated by and reclaimed from anti-evolutionists twice. The usefulness of the book as a reference work is heightened by a four-page bibliography and a competent index that, unusually but helpfully, includes important quoted phrases. (Between the entries for “Buxton Limeworks” and “Byrd, Robert,” for example, appears “Buzzword that causes a lot of negative reactions,” which was how Kathy Cox, the Georgia state superintendent of schools, described the word “evolution” in 2004.) Scattered throughout are eighty-two useful illustrations, including a number of photographs taken by Moore.
A distinct strength of More than Darwin is its coverage of the contentious legal history of the controversy, to which Moore devoted a previous book, Evolution in the Courtroom (2001). There are entries for several cases that deserve to be better known: Bishop v Aronov, Caldwell v Roseville, Crowley v Smithsonian Institution, Hendren v Campbell, Moeller v Schrenko, and Pfeifer v City of West Allis. Practically everyone of significance in the Scopes trial is allotted a separate entry, and a guide (with map) to the sites of the trial is provided. It is regrettable that McLean v Arkansas and Kitzmiller v Dover were not similarly treated, although a number of people associated with those trials, including Wendell Bird, Stephen Jay Gould, Norman Geisler, John E Jones III, and Kenneth Miller, receive their own entries. It is a minor annoyance that the proper legal citations for the cases — for example, “400 F Supp 2d 707 (MD Pa 2005)” for Kitzmiller — are not included. The entry for Selman v Cobb County fails to explain the denouement, in which the decision was vacated and the case remanded to the trial court, where a settlement was reached.
With its sturdy binding and exorbitant price ($85.00), More than Darwin is clearly intended for the library market. The University of California Press is planning to publish a paperback edition in 2009, however, which is fortunate, since the book is not simply a utilitarian reference work: it is a marvelous trove for the curious browser, who will be constantly tempted to pull the book off the shelf to read a random entry and discover a new fact or two. In addition to scientists and creationists, legislators and litigants, philosophers and poets (well, poet: Tennyson, on the strength of In Memoriam’s “Nature, red in tooth and claw”), More than Darwin addresses a number of delightfully quirky topics: Carl Akeley, the revolutionary taxidermist whose work is still on display at the American Museum of Natural history; Gertie the Dinosaur, the first animal to star in a cartoon strip; and roadside dinosaurs, such as those displayed at Dinosaur Valley State Park. Moore and Decker evidently enjoyed the chore of researching and writing the book, and their hope, expressed in the preface, that readers will “enjoy learning about the people and places of the evolution–creationism controversy” (p xxiv), is bound to be realized.
And what about those lingering questions? Well, the most controversial figure in the evolution/creationism controversy, Moore and Decker confidently state, was J Frank Norris (1877–1952), who “was indicted for a variety of felonies, including perjury, several arsons (including the burning of his own church), and murder. ... As a newspaper editor noted after the [murder] trial, ‘In Fort Worth, the 11th Commandment is “Thou shalt not mess with J Frank Norris”’” (p 271). Fans of Norris’s modern rival Kent Hovind will be pleased to know that he at least receives his own entry. The first evolution course was offered at Indiana University, at least according to the biologist David Starr Jordan (1851–1931), who taught it. And Scopes’s replacement was Raleigh Reece, described in L Sprague de Camp’s The Great Monkey Trial as “a reporter from Nashville with some teaching experience and an unblemished record of Fundamentalism” (1968: 444). Content to let the irony speak for itself, Moore and Decker add, “When Reece missed the first week of classes in the fall of 1925, his substitute was Darius Darwin” (p 298).
de Camp LS. 1968. The Great Monkey Trial. New York: Doubleday.
Moore R. 2001. Evolution in the Courtroom: A Reference Guide. Santa Barbara (CA): ABC-Clio.
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Glenn Branch is NCSE’s deputy director.