Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair
People seem to be lying to the opinion polls, as well. They claim to go to church in much larger numbers than they actually do (there aren’t enough churches in the country to hold the hordes who boast of attending), and they sometimes seem to believe more in Satan and in the Virgin Birth than in the theory of evolution. But every single time that the teaching of “intelligent design” has actually been proposed in conservative districts, it has been defeated overwhelmingly by both courts and school boards. A fascinating new book, 40 Days and 40 Nights, describes this happening in detail in the small town of Dover, Pennsylvania. Its author, Matthew Chapman, is the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin, which helps make Dover the modern version of the Scopes “Monkey Trial,” in Dayton, Tennessee, in 1925, with the difference that this time the decision went the other way. A Republican-appointed judge described the school board’s creationist effort as “breathtaking inanity.”
Could there be a change in the Zeitgeist coming on? I think it’s possible. A 2001 study found that those without religious affiliation are the fastest-growing minority in the United States. A generation ago the words “American atheist” conjured the image of the slightly cultish and loopy Madalyn Murray O’Hair. But in the last two years there have been five atheist best-sellers, one each from Professors Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett and two from the neuroscientist Sam Harris. As the author of the fifth of these books, I asked my publishers to arrange my book tour as a series of challenges to the spokesmen of the faithful, and to send me as far as possible to the South. The following is an account of some of the less expected moments of the trip.