Today the New York Times has brought to the populace a debate that was essentially happening behind the academic curtain. Barbara Forrest published an article critical of Francis Beckwith’s work concerning the Constitutionality of teaching intelligent design. Now, Beckwith is a philosophical critic of ID, going so far as to say that he rejects ID, but still believes there might be constitutional ground to allow it to be taught in school (even if he thinks this is ultimately a bad idea).
Forrest’s response was less than academic, which is fine for a blog or an article in a popular magazine; though uncivil, it would hardly warrant an outcry or any second-guessing. The problem, however, is that Forrest was writing in an academic journal concerning the philosophy of science, one where ad hominem and genetic fallacies ought to be avoided. Sadly, Forrest’s article primarily consisted of attacking Beckwith’s Catholic background in order to prove her point that ID isn’t Constitutionally protected; in other words, she went after both the academic and personal character of Beckwith to establish ground for tossing out his claims.
Rather than argue for the validity of ID or debate the Constitutional merits of allowing ID into the classroom, I think there are bigger issues going on here that people have ignored (and one that is ignored in the NYT article). First, that the guest editors and editor in chief didn’t catch the ad hominem prior to releasing the article online betrays either a massive bias or inability to spot faulty reasoning. Secondly, while many in Forrest’s camp are arguing that Synthese was wrong for issuing an apology, none are acknowledging that she was wrong for writing the article in the first place. Third, someone who is a critic of ID was still targeted for simply defending the possible legality of teaching it, which amounts to a closing off of the debate. Finally, and most importantly, we’re finally beginning to see the intellectual credibility for naturalism erodes, which is both good and bad. Continue reading