Response to Barbara Forrest's <i>Kitzmiller</i> Account Part IV: The "Wedge Document" - Evolution News & Views

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Response to Barbara Forrest's Kitzmiller Account Part IV: The "Wedge Document"

During the Kitzmiller trial, Barbara Forrest testified at length about the "wedge document," insinuating that motives can disqualify a view from being scientific. Discovery Institute responded to these arguments long ago. Dr. Forrest recounts her testimony in her Kitzmiller account:

My first slide made its significance clear: "[C]ould I have the first slide, please? This is the first page of the Wedge Strategy, and this is the opening paragraph of it. Quote, 'The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which western civilization was built.' This . . . states very well the foundational belief behind the intelligent design movement and the reason that they have rejected the theory of evolution." [32] As I continued, the judge heard the strategy's explicitly Christian goals: "Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialistic worldview and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

As noted, a full response to Dr. Forrest's comments cannot be seen unless one reads Discovery Institute's The "Wedge Document": "So What"?. But let's assume that everything Barbara Forrest says here is correct. So what if some ID-proponents believe that human beings are created in the image of God and that motivated them in their work? Even Ken Miller, a notable defender of theistic evolution, would probably agree with the doctrine of "Imago Dei."

Yet as is the common theme, these types of arguments can also cut against evolution, if applied fairly.

Suppose that during the Kitzmiller trial, an ID-proponent who was brought into court as an "evolution expert" (we'll call him Jack) and testified about a key passage from the Third Humanist Manifesto. Jack explained that this humanist manifesto includes the "notable signer" Eugenie Scott, who is executive director of the National Center for Science Education and "is perhaps the nation's most high-profile Darwinist" (Nature, 434:1065). Yet Jack explains that this manifesto states a view in contention with the theistic perspective stated in the "wedge document":

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life [] without supernaturalism ... Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing.

(Third Humanist Manifesto)

Does Jack's testimony imply some anti-religious motives on the part of some secular humanists like Eugenie Scott? Most likely. Does this mean that evolution is therefore unscientific and unconstitutional? Absolutely not.

My point here is not to harp upon Eugenie Scott's religious (or a-religious) beliefs, but to explain that the metaphysical views of a scientist have no bearing upon the validity of her scientific viewpoint or whether her viewpoint constitutes a scientific theory.

If desired, it would be easy to use Dr. Forrest's logic against her. We could construct conspiracy theories about the anti-religious aims of Barbara Forrest and her affiliated groups without any great effort. Consider this quote from the Amici Curiae brief submitted in Kitzmiller by 85 scientists in support of academic freedom for intelligent design:

Plaintiff's expert Barbara Forrest is on the Board of Directors of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association (NOSHA). NOSHA is also an affiliate of the Council for Secular Humanism which it describes as "North America's leading organization for non-religious people." NOSHA's links page boasts "The Secular Web," whose "mission is to defend and promote metaphysical naturalism, the view that our natural world is all that there is, a closed system in no need of an explanation and sufficient unto itself." Most notably, NOSHA is an associate member of the American Humanist Association, which publishes the Humanist Manifesto III. In 1996, this American Humanist Association named Richard Dawkins as its "Humanist of the Year." To help underscore the anti-religious mindset of these organizations, in his acceptance speech for the award before the American Humanist Association, Dawkins stated "faith is one of the world's great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate."

(Brief of Amici Curiae Biologists And Other Scientists In support of Defendants, internal citations omitted for clarity)

My point is not that Dr. Forrest's views are therefore disqualified, but to show that anyone can spin motivation theories if they want. Motives are irrelevant, and claiming that religious (or anti-religious) motives disbar a theory from being scientific is not a valid form of argumentation, for an idea must be judged apart from the motivations or personal beliefs of its proponents. Again, this was explained in the amicus brief:

The motivations and religious views of scientists have nothing to do with the scientific validity of their discoveries. For example, the eminent scientists Isaac Newton and Johannes Kepler were devoutly religious and believed God created a rationally comprehendable universe. Despite their religious motivations, their scientific investigations led to accurate explanations of motion which became the bedrock of physical mechanics. Amici thus assert that motivations for conducting scientific investigations have no bearing upon the empirical validity or scientific nature of the conclusions theirin. ... Amici detail these [anti-religious] affiliations [of ID-critics] not because religious (or anti-religious) beliefs are relevant to a scientific argument, but to demonstrate that the legal rule proposed by the plaintiffs would jeopardize the scientific contributions of many critics of intelligent design just as much as the contributions of some intelligent design proponents.

(Brief of Amici Curiae Biologists And Other Scientists In support of Defendants)

Regardless, it is most unfortunate that Judge Jones seems to have adopted Barbara Forrest's "ignore the ID-science, only talk about religious beliefs of ID-proponents" methodology. He wrote, citing to Dr. Forrest, "A careful review of the Wedge Document's goals and language throughout the document reveals cultural and religious goals, as opposed to scientific ones. (11:26--48 (Forrest); P-140)" (pg. 29 of online version). But is that a true statement? Consider these plainly stated scientific goals from the "wedge document":

"Five Year Goals ... To see intelligent design theory as an accepted alternative in the sciences and scientific research being done from the perspective of design theory. ...

Twenty Year Goals ... To see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science.

The scientific research goals here are plainly stated. Why did Judge Jones therefore claim "the Wedge Document's goals and language throughout the document reveals cultural and religious goals, as opposed to scientific ones"?

When assessing if an idea is science, motives don't matter, but Judge Jones failed to recognize the scientific goals of the "IDM" as he puts it. He was purely incorrect on this point, and made this false statement while implying a dangerous rule-of-law which scrutinizes religious beliefs or motives of the proponents behind an idea as a test for whether that idea is scientific. Sadly, this rule, if applied fairly, could prohibit the teaching of evolution.

...and be sure to read The "Wedge Document": "So What"? for a complete commentary regarding Dr. Forrest's allegations on this topic.