Francis Beckwith Takes on Barbara Forrest in <i>Synthese</i> - Evolution News & Views

Evolution News and Views (ENV) provides original reporting and analysis about the debate over intelligent design and evolution, including breaking news about scientific research.

Evolution News and Views
Culture and Ethics NEWS
 

Francis Beckwith Takes on Barbara Forrest in Synthese

"We have a choice. We can take our cue from Forrest, and a few of her compatriots higher up on the philosophical food chain, and continue to escalate and amplify our inflammatory rhetoric, falsely depicting our adversaries as sinister subversives looking to usher in a totalitarian regime committed to either theocracy or atheocracy. Or we can be philosophers."

--Francis Beckwith, responding to Barbara Forrest

We recently wrote about the issue of Synthese where Barbara Forrest and others used condescending language, unfit for a scholarly journal, to misrepresent and attack intelligent design (ID). Forrest is an anti-ID philosopher whose standard argument is that alleged religious beliefs, motives, affiliations, and implications of ID somehow make it a religious viewpoint that is unconstitutional to teach in public schools. Judge Jones said in the Dover ruling that Forrest "thoroughly and exhaustively chronicled the history of ID" which allegedly shows "a wealth of statements by ID leaders that reveal ID's religious, philosophical, and cultural content." This is both inaccurate and hypocritical because Forrest consistently ignores the scientific affiliations of ID proponents, and leading evolutionists--including Forrest herself--have strong anti-religious beliefs, motives, and affiliations. They are of course entitled to their anti-religious views, but it seems both logically fallacious and hypocritical for Forrest to scrutinize the irrelevant religious beliefs of ID proponents when such scrutiny, if applied fairly, would make her own evolutionary views unfit for science. Francis Beckwith has now published an article responding to Forrest's style of argument in Synthese titled "Or we can be philosophers: a response to Barbara Forrest," where he notes that "Forrest offers an account of my philosophical work that consists almost entirely of personal attacks, excursions into my religious pilgrimage, and misunderstandings and misrepresentations of my work as well as of certain philosophical issues."

Beckwith observes Forrest's style of argument:

I soon discovered that Ms. Forrest's interest in me goes far beyond my academic work, but into my entire career and then some, including my friendships, my civic associations, the locations of my speaking engagements, my Church, and the political histories of groups and organizations that people with whom I disagree and many of whom I have never met and do not know once belonged.

(Francis J. Beckwith, "Or we can be philosophers: a response to Barbara Forrest," Synthese (Feb. 2011).)

This has been my experience with Barbara Forrest as well. In Creationism's Trojan Horse, she tried to attack the IDEA Center through irrelevant (and inaccurate) connections to religious groups and young earth creationists, even though many people at the IDEA Center (including myself) are not young earth creationists. Likewise, when I saw Forrest in Louisiana a couple years ago, she was strangely fascinated with where I was staying at and where my friends worked. She seems to feel it's her right and responsibility to track the every move of ID proponents, and then in a stroke of grand irony make paranoid-sounding statements before public bodies like "Discovery Institute is watching your every move." If anyone is watching anyone's every move, it's Barbara Forrest, and her purpose is to find irrelevant (and sometimes non-existent) religious affiliations of ID proponents, while ignoring their scientific affiliations, in order to make logically fallacious arguments that ID is religion. That's her argument.

Beckwith continues:

One is immediately struck by the article's strange style of philosophical reflection, one that seems out of place in this revered periodical. It is, to be sure, a lengthy article (49 pp.), which would make it a philosophically interesting piece if size matters. But on philosophical questions, what matters is the quality of one's argument, the clarity of one's language, the accuracy of one's depictions of the views with which one is interacting, and the charity by which one engages these views. On these criteria, Forrest's assessment of my work is a professional embarrassment. So much so that the editors of this journal--not to be confused with the editors of the "special issue" in which Forrest's article appears--have done something unprecedented: they have included in the front of the issue a disclaimer (Branch and Fetzer 2011, p. 170). They have distanced themselves from her literary misconduct, her article's personal attacks and bizarre tangents into my religious pilgrimage that surround and embed her case against my work. As much as I do not deserve Forrest's attempt at character assassination, I surely do not deserve the generosity of the Synthese editors. For in the grand world of academic philosophy, I am a minor figure, who, to be sure, has been blessed to be part of a first-class philosophy department at an outstanding university.


(Francis J. Beckwith, "Or we can be philosophers: a response to Barbara Forrest," Synthese (Feb. 2011).)

Beckwith's position on ID is essentially that it is constitutional to teach in public schools, however he remains agnostic or skeptical about the validity of its scientific arguments. Beckwith explains that evaluating the merits of ID has not been the focus of his work on ID:

This is why it strikes me as odd that Forrest claims that I am an ID advocate because I present "ID exactly as ID leaders do--their arguments are his arguments, restated without hedge or criticism" (Forrest 2011, p. 346). Not only does such a statement ignore my recent writings, explicitly critical of ID, that were available to Forrest many months before her article was to appear in print (Beckwith 2009c, 2009-2010, Beckwith 2010c), but it also ignores the academic responsibility I had in writing a graduate thesis in law on a matter of fundamental freedoms. In such writing, one is obligated to present the view under analysis with fairness and charity, especially when the nature, and not the veracity, of that view is the only thing relevant to the question one is trying to answer.


(Francis J. Beckwith, "Or we can be philosophers: a response to Barbara Forrest," Synthese (Feb. 2011).)

One almost senses in Beckwith's prose a hint that, when analyzing ID, Forrest rarely feels such academic responsibility to present ID's arguments with fairness and charity. Forrest, an atheist, almost seems so bothered by the metaphysical implications of ID that she is compelled to try to force those views out of the public square. Beckwith makes a similar criticism of Forrest, noting that one scholar "whose understanding of science and religion seems nearly identical to Forrest's ... privileges, without adequate justification, what she calls the secular perspective." Beckwith explains his position:

[W]hat I am suggesting is that labeling a citizen's argument or belief "scientific" or "religious," prior to critically assessing the argument or belief, tells us nothing about the rationality of the argument or belief embraced by that citizen. In sum, I am arguing that such a "triumph by adjective" approach to disputed questions seems contrary to the proper ends of philosophical inquiry. That is the essence of my project, and Forrest egregiously misrepresents it.


(Francis J. Beckwith, "Or we can be philosophers: a response to Barbara Forrest," Synthese (Feb. 2011).)

In a section of his article titled "The scandal of being a Christian," Beckwith further explores how Forrest tries to demean those who hold a perspective she deems as "religious." Beckwith explains the hypocrisy and fallacious nature of Forrest's argument:

Forrest argues, that there is something epistemically suspect in believing that one's worldview is correct and other worldviews mistaken (Forrest 2011, p. 371). She chides me, a believing Christian, for believing that Christianity is true, and points out that I have in my published writings offered critical analyses of other religious traditions that I believe are mistaken. I am not sure what to make of this. After all, Forrest is a believing atheist, committed to philosophical naturalism and what it entails about the good, the true, and the beautiful (Forrest 2000). She maintains that her point of view is correct and other points of view are mistaken, including the point of view that theological claims may in fact consist of beliefs that the believer has adequate warrant to believe (Forrest 2011, p. 371). So, she, like the Christian, believes that she is correct about her beliefs. And she, like the Christian, believes that other points of view are mistaken. But then she is in precisely the same position as me: she thinks she is right and others wrong. Thus, on her own grounds, her critique of my work ought to be rejected as epistemically suspect, and I need not worry about it. But she should not worry either. For, as the immortal Frank Sinatra once put it, "That's life".


(Francis J. Beckwith, "Or we can be philosophers: a response to Barbara Forrest," Synthese (Feb. 2011).)

Beckwith, who is an ardent critic of naturalism, also presents some criticisms of ID from a Thomist perspective that I personally disagree with, but his arguments are worth considering. Also, read a pro-ID rebuttal to Thomist critiques of ID by Logan Paul Gage, as well as a response from Jay Richards.

But just as the point of many of Beckwith's writings has not been to assess the merits of ID, my point here is not to assess the merits of his arguments regarding the merits of ID. Rather, my point here is to show that Beckwith has a spot-on rebuttal to the methods and arguments of Barbara Forrest. In that regard, his conclusion is one worth remembering and requoting for a long time:

At the end of the day, my assessment of Forrest's article is not really about Intelligent Design or even Francis Beckwith. It is about how we, as philosophers, ought to conduct our disagreements in public, especially when they touch on those questions that arise from what John Rawls calls our "comprehensive doctrines". (Rawls 1993) We have a choice. We can take our cue from Forrest, and a few of her compatriots higher up on the philosophical food chain, and continue to escalate and amplify our inflammatory rhetoric, falsely depicting our adversaries as sinister subversives looking to usher in a totalitarian regime committed to either theocracy or atheocracy. Or we can be philosophers.


(Francis J. Beckwith, "Or we can be philosophers: a response to Barbara Forrest," Synthese (Feb. 2011).)


FEATURES
 

TOP ARTICLES

TOP VIDEOS

TOP PODCASTS


more...