Monday, May 16, 2011

Fisking the Clark Letter: Ad Hominems, Character Assassination, Misleading Interpretations, and Unsubstantiated Political Alliances

In the New York Times story about the Synthese hullabaloo, it is mentioned that the philosopher Kelly James Clark of Calvin College wrote to Synthese in May of 2009 to complain about the Forrest article. In a comment on New APPS, Professor Clark has posted the letter in its entirety. It is unbelievably terrible.

[In order to avoid confusion, I have set blockquotes containing material from Clark's letter in boldface type, sections in which Clark quotes material from Forrest's article in italics, and left sections in which Forrest blockquotes someone else plain.]

Clark writes:

[I'm skipping the weird preamble]

Nonetheless, I can't believe that ad hominems (abusive and circumstantial) such as the following have any logical bearing on the author's argument:


What follows is supposed to be an example from the Forrest article of an abusive and circumstantial ad hominem argument:

Although he has been called a legal scholar (Wasley et al. 2006), he is neither a lawyer nor, properly speaking, a constitutional scholar. He lacks the requisite credentials and expertise, holding degrees in philosophy, religious apologetics, and a Master of Juridical Studies (M.J.S.) from the Washington University School of Law (the Discovery Institute financed Beckwith’s research for the M.J.S. with a $9000 fellowship) (Beckwith, n.d.). The M.J.S. “is designed for individuals in career fields who would benefit from limited legal training and do not require a professional degree…. [C]redit earned toward the MJS is not transferable to the JD program. It also does not qualify recipients to practice law” (WA Univ. School of Law 2005–2006, p. 23). Nonetheless, he presents his major pro-ID arguments in two law review articles (Beckwith 2003d,e) and a book, Law, Darwinism, and Public Education (Beckwith 2003b).


Here is what is going on in this much-discussed passage. Forrest points out that Beckwith has been called a legal scholar by Wasley et al., and then argues that because he lacks the relevant credentials Beckwith is, in fact, not to be legitimately regarded as a legal scholar. He's not a lawyer. He does not have a J.D or a license to practice law. He is not presently qualified to obtain such a license. He has a Master of Juridical Studies degree, whatever that is.

A lot of people find this discussion of Beckwith's credentials distasteful, because the focus should be on the quality of his arguments, not the academic degrees he does or does not hold. Although I am generally inclined to agree with this way of thinking about things--whatever problems there may be with, say, Kripke's views, the fact that he does not hold a Ph.D. in philosophy is not one of them--I am not convinced that a discussion of credentials is unwarranted in this particular case. (NB I am also not convinced that they are warranted; see below.)

Allow me to illustrate with a partially fictional example. Richard Dawkins discusses the cosmological argument for the existence of God in The God Delusion, and he has a perfect right to do so in spite of the fact that he has no advanced degree in philosophy and is not a "scholar" of philosophy. These facts about his credentials are not really relevant to assessing the quality of his writing on this topic; what is relevant is the (low) quality of his writings on this topic. But suppose that Dawkins had an MA in philosophy, and that he had been described as a "scholar of philosophy" on that basis. I think that such a thing would be silly and possibly worth remarking upon, especially if Dawkins's activism had public-policy-related consequences. Even more so if a political think-tank had paid his tuition for the philosophy MA. The suggestion by Clark and others that there is literally no possible way that any discussion of Beckwith's credentials could be relevant to any philosophical discussion is clearly false.

On the other hand, the Wasley, et al. 2006 reference is an article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed about Beckwith's tenure denial case, not a partisan attempt to use Beckwith's MJS to lend credibility to his views about the constitutionality of teaching ID as science. If there are places where partisans use Beckwith's MJS to lend credibility to his legal views, it would have been better to cite them instead of Wasley et al. It seems to me that this makes the passage in question less worthy of inclusion. Possibly unworthy of inclusion.

Such character assassination is beneath Synthese.


Having said all that, when I read this last thing, I thought to myself, ''Maybe I don't know what "character assassination" is supposed to be." So I looked it up. Wikipedia says that it's "an attempt to tarnish a person's reputation [that] may involve exaggeration, misleading half-truths, or manipulation of facts to present an untrue picture of the targeted person." Which is good, because that's what I thought it was. (Wikipedia goes on to point out that one of the most serious problems with character assassinations is that it can be difficult or impossible to undo the damage they cause. Once the insinuation is out there, it never fully goes away. You can't get the toothpaste back in the tube. This potential permanence of effect is why it's called a character assassination, instead of a character knuckle sandwich.)

It is obvious that this passage is not a character assassination. Maybe it's weird; maybe it was not worthy of inclusion in the article; maybe it is indicative of a nasty tone that has no place in the pages of Synthese. But it is not a use of exaggeration, misleading half-truths, or manipulation of facts designed to present an untrue picture of Beckwith. It says that Beckwith lacks credentials he in fact lacks.

The idea that Beckwith's good name will be forever unfairly tarnished by the fact that Forrest has accurately pointed out that he isn't a lawyer is absurd; the repeated claim that this represents a character assassination on Beckwith is itself a character assassination on Forrest.

[I'm skipping the discussion of red herrings.]

There are also misleading, and apparently obviously false interpretations of Beckwith's [sic] views:


Spoiler alert: the passage from Forrest that Clark is about to quote as his example of a misleading and "apparently obviously" (whatever that means) false interpretation of "Beckwith's" views does not contain any discussion of Beckwith's views whatsoever.

Dembski's desire to use his faith hegemonically predates his entry into the ID movement. His [that is, Dembski's] article, “Scientopoly: The Game of Scientism,” written for the Fall 1989–Winter 1990 Greek Orthodox journal Epiphany (a special anti-evolution issue), is in total alignment with Epiphany’s purpose:
To proclaim the …Gospel of Jesus in the contemporary world. To promote an … Orthodox Christian world view, based on the Holy Scriptures…as the salvific alternative to godless secularism. To provide the foundation for the restoration of a fully Christian way of life…To preserve the heritage …of traditional Christian culture …To defend the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church …in an age of apostasy. (Epiphany 1989–1990)
Dembski interweaves the same strands here as in his later work: science provides knowledge, but theological knowledge trumps science. Modern science has become a weapon against theology; an example is Darwin’s theory of evolution, although “current evolutionists reject much of Darwin’s original formulation” (Dembski 1989– 1990, p. 112). Science ridicules God and rejects evidence of his activity in the natural order—miracles.


This is a discussion of Dembski, not Beckwith. OMG WTF.

Clark goes on:

I haven't read the Beckwith [sic] article but the title is about scientism not science. So the author's repeated use of the term "science" in her explication surely misrepresents Beckwith's [sic] views.


Read that again. Clark hasn't read the article mentioned in the passage. He hasn't looked closely enough to notice that the article is not even by Beckwith. But he's pretty sure based on the title of the article that Forrest is misrepresenting Beckwith's [sic] views. After all, the title doesn't even mention "science" and clearly indicates that the article is about a totally and entirely different topic. And that topic is something called "scientism."

Apparently it is obvious to Clark that there isn't any relationship between the institution of science and a view called "scientism" (which is the view that the scientific worldview is better than all the others). The author of an article about scientism would apparently obviously have no occasion to identify or discuss the nature of the institution of science. It is so apparently obvious that this would never happen that you don't even have to read the article, or even bother to correctly identify its author, before you write to the editors of Synthese to complain.

Then there's the suggestion of sinister plots, masquerading as logic or, what?, culture criticism:

Such sentiments reflect the alliance of some ID proponents with Christian Reconstructionism
(CR), also called “Theocratic Dominionism,” a far-right form of Christianity with repressive public policy goals.


Should a journal with your explicit aims publish unsubstantiated political alliances?


I checked. Forrest devotes several paragraphs to the substantiation of this political alliance. She connects various of Dembski's (not Beckwith; in this passage, as in the last one, she is discussing Dembski, not Beckwith) views about the proper role of Christianity in public life with those of CR, points out that certain CR honchos are also ID supporters, and that there are financial ties between the two groups. She cites sources.

I could go on, but read the text yourself and see if it lives up to the professed aims of your journal. I can see how this might be published in a rhetoric journal where the goal is to win whatever the cost. But I don't see how it could be published in a philosophy journal that despises sophistry, suggestion and fallacies.


The interesting thing about this passage is that it suggests that the Editors in Chief did not read this article they published and made no attempt to ascertain whether it lives up to the professed aims of the journal they edit they published it. Obviously, this may be true, but if it is true it means that the editors weren't doing their jobs. If this were true, it would be an egregious professional failing on their part. And if I were a recipient of a letter like this I would be deeply insulted by the insinuation.

Sincerely yours,

Kelly James Clark


I hope that when the EiCs received this letter, they threw it straight into the garbage where it belongs. I really hope that this letter did not cause the EiCs to rethink their position on the Forrest piece. I really, really hope that this kind of shit is not what convinced the EiCs to attach the disclaimer.

--Mr. Zero

52 comments:

Anonymous said...

Of course, the fact that "radio therapist" Dr. Laura Schlessinger is neither a medical doctor nor holds a Ph.D. in a relevant field (her Ph.D. was in anatomy) itself may not be directly relevant to whether the advice she dispenses is bad or not. However, those endorsing, defending, and propagating the advice she dispenses (implicitly if not explicitly) take her status as a "doctor" to be a source of warrant. So, insofar as one is attacking the way in which Dr. Laura's views gain purchase in the public sphere, it is obviously not ad hominem to bring up the fact that she and others illicitly exploit her expertise in one area (e.g., how rats respond to insulin) to warrant her claims in an altogether distinct area (e.g., that homosexuals are psychologically defective).

Beckwith made it an issue said...

Anon 3:27 is on the right track, but I'd put it this way: Yes, I'd prefer we focus solely on Beckwith's arguments instead of his credentials. But credentials-based criticisms are legit if someone invokes the authority of their ostensible 'credentials' to bolster their arguments. Beckwith has done so, using his identity as a 'constitutional scholar' to defend the legality of teaching ID in the public schools. Once you've put your credentials in play, they're in play, just as much as your arguments are. The real worry isn't that Beckwith's got an expertise in X from which people might wrongly infer he's got expertise in Y. He's claiming an expertise he ain't got.

Anonymous said...

"The interesting thing about this passage is that it suggests that the Editors in Chief did not read this article they published and made no attempt to ascertain whether it lives up to the professed aims of the journal they edit they published it. Obviously, this may be true, but if it is true it means that the editors weren't doing their jobs. If this were true, it would be an egregious professional failing on their part."

That sounds like a plausible account of what happened. The EiCs either didn't read the papers -- relying on the special editors to have done their jobs properly; or they read the papers only very superficially. That doesn't reflect well on the editors, but I think it reflects better on them than the thought that they caved to pressure from the ID crowd for political reasons.

On another note, I'm curious what you think about the substantive, but mislabeled claim that Clark makes: namely, that Forrest is badly misrepresenting Dembski's views. Do you think Forrest was fair to Dembski?

I don't. I don't agree with Dembski, but I don't think Forrest is getting him right at all. As a result, her critiques of Dembski are attacks on strawmen.

At least, that's my impression. I hadn't read too much Dembski before reading Forrest's paper, but I had read enough to have a feel for his arguments. Several times I was bothered enough by claims Forrest makes to go read the passages in Dembski that she cites (where, for the most part, they were available for free on Google books), and I never came away with a good feeling about Forrest's scholarship.

Maybe I'm not being charitable to Forrest. But I am surprised that so many people have defended the quality of her article, since I am pretty sure that I would not have recommended it for publication.

Anonymous said...

Is this really the best way to spend our time?

Anonymous said...

Anyone up to the task of defending Forrest's bizarre section discussing what Beckwith said about Baha'ism in the 1980s? How is that supposed to be relevant to anything, let alone epistemology (the putative subject of the article)?

Anonymous said...

I hadn't read the Forrest nor the Beckwith paper (who has the time?), so I've stayed out of the discussion until now. But I find it impossible to see how the italicized passages you quote from the Forrest paper could have made their way into anything resembling a good philosophy paper. If I wrote something like this in grad school, it would have been given a failing grade and my continuation in the program would have been seriously questioned.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 6:57--

What a stupid claim. First of all, who cares about your graduate education?--its not about you.

Second, what if the course for which your wrote the paper was titled "Science, Truth, and Democracy" or something like that? It seems Forrest paper would be fine, then, huh? But maybe that kind of course should not be offered in a philosophy department?

So,third, a lot of this discussion about Forrest's paper seems to be built on a background assumption that philosophical discussions of science can't have anything to do with politics or you're not doing philosophy anymore. Three comments on that: (1) Plato would find this to be a peculiar view (2) this Grenzenpolizei reflex in our discipline is unproductive and seems vaguely childish and (3) refusing to engage with social issues, even when we are discussing Science, is just another step toward proving to everyong that philosophy is irrelevant and frivolous.

Anonymous said...

Nice work, Mr Zero! I admire your patience in doing this analysis. And I can only quote ypu to summarize my impression of this... OMG WTF!

Anonymous said...

(3) refusing to engage with social issues, even when we are discussing Science, is just another step toward proving to everyong [sic]that philosophy is irrelevant and frivolous.

In defense of stupidity,
I thought the issue was a matter of wondering about the tone rather than a ban on engaging 'social issues.' What I find so peculiar about this debate is that many people seem to think that one cannot be critical of Forrest's tone and also be critical of ID ideology, and the like. I don't think anybody is a saint here and if this just comes down to the pulpit-thumping of political views then so be it--but quit trying to square that with some kind of appeal to philosophical neutrality.

Anonymous said...

Hm, I don't understand what 6:57 is on about either, but not for the reasons 9:32 gives.
6:57, would you be willing to say what it is about the quoted passages that you find so awful?

Mr. Zero said...

On another note, I'm curious what you think about the substantive, but mislabeled claim that Clark makes: namely, that Forrest is badly misrepresenting Dembski's views.

Clark hadn't read the Dembski--he didn't even know it was Dembski--so it's not a "mislabeled" claim. It's total bullshit. Clark was never in a position to make the claim in the first place. It's not a "substantive"; it's the epitome of bad faith.

Is this really the best way to spend our time?

Obviously not, apparently.

Anyone up to the task of defending Forrest's bizarre section discussing what Beckwith said about Baha'ism in the 1980s? How is that supposed to be relevant to anything,

and

I find it impossible to see how the italicized passages you quote from the Forrest paper could have made their way into anything resembling a good philosophy paper.

I don't feel qualified to assess the merits of the Forrest paper. If I had been asked to referee it, for example, I would have declined. But the paper's merits are beside the point.

The point is, when a submission lands on an editor's desk, the editor has several options: accept; request revisions; reject. If it is accepted, there are certain terms of acceptance, which the author can agree to or not. If the author does not agree, she is free to withdraw the paper. If revisions are requested, the author can agree to make them or not. If the author declines, she thereby effectively withdraws the paper. Rejection, of course, is rejection.

If the paper's tone was so unacceptable that it warrants disclaiming the issue in which it appears, which I don't concede, the editors were duty-bound to request revisions and refuse to publish it until it could be made acceptable. But that's not what they did.

These editors accepted the paper and subsequently published it. They then began to have misgivings about the "tone" it employs. They then started pressuring the author for revisions (without informing the guest editors), and, when that didn't work, placed the entire issue under the scope of a vague disclaimer without telling the guest editors or any of the contributors that this was going to happen. They twice assured the guest editors that it was not going to happen. They altered the publication agreement without informing any of the involved people.

This cannot stand. Journals cannot be permitted to behave this way. Having accepted and published the paper, editors cannot turn around and ask for revisions. It's too late for that once it's accepted. Having published the paper online, they cannot disclaim the paper when it appears in print. If they accept the paper, they are stuck with it in the form in which it was accepted--as is the author, who also cannot ask for an opportunity to revise the paper after it has been accepted and/or published. And if they are going to take the extraordinary step of attaching a disclaimer, which they shouldn't do at all, they cannot do so without informing the authors whose work will fall under its scope.

This behavior is unacceptable. Editors who behave this way must be asked to explain themselves. Editors who behave this way and explain themselves like this and this should not be in a position of responsibility over a preeminent journal like Synthese.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:57 here.

Zero, I completely agree that the conduct of the editors is atrocious and that it ought to be brought to their attention repeatedly, and brought up in front of others to discourage other editors from engaging in the same practice.

11:47, this sentence is the best example: "he is neither a lawyer nor, properly speaking, a constitutional scholar. He lacks the requisite credentials and expertise, holding degrees in philosophy, religious apologetics, and a Master of Juridical Studies..."

WTF?! In a philosophy paper?! I just cannot fathom how someone's credentials can be relevant to a philosophical argument that's at all interesting. Some have pointed out that this is to refute others' points about Beckwith's pedigree; but who cares? First, his background is completely irrelevant to anything that's philosophically interesting. Second, the fact that he or his ilk try to argue for his conclusions on the basis of his scholarship is completely philosophically uninteresting. He and his ilk's bad philosophy should not be responded to by more bad philosophy.

I totally disagree with Zero's view of the fictitious Dawkins case. Respond to his arguments! Sure, you could maybe bring up in a blog post that he isn't a "scholar of philosophy", and this is what should be done with Forrest's point. Blogs are the place for discussions of persons' credentials; Synthese is a place for philosophy. I still maintain that we would never let our undergrads pass off the above-quoted sentence as philosophy.

Anonymous said...

Just yesterday I finally went and read Forrest's paper and Beckwith's response, because I'd just not been getting what all the hullabaloo was about.

First of all, I agree that the EIC's behaved quite poorly and I do not at all approve of the way they handled things. That being said, if the question is about whether Forrest's piece was a hatchet job, I think it clearly was.

Her paper is FULL of all sorts of weird guilt-by-association moves. I'm not even a little sympathetic to the ID people, but it does appear that Beckwith is merely sympathetic and nothing like an advocate. To portray Beckwith as some kind of theocrat because there's only three degrees of separation is absurd.

And there is something VERY strange about saying that someone is unqualified to discuss legal issues because he ONLY has an MJS if you yourself are going to discuss those same issues without having even that. Not to mention all the ridiculously silly things she has to say about issues in theology and biblical scholarship. I guess all you need to know to discuss those issues is that Prof. Haack "defined" religion as a set of beliefs.

The last section is especially bizarre. She essentially calls Beckwith out for not simply believing the claims of Christianity but for believing that they're true! Can you imagine, he thinks his religious beliefs are true and that therefore people of other faiths are wrong! Apparently this is supposed to show some epistemic vice on his part. I can't imagine why people might think of her as an evangelical atheist.

Ultimately, I defy anybody to read Forrest's paper and then to read Beckwith's response (not including his opening, which is rhetorically as nasty as Forrest's) and not conclude that Forrest goes in for too much conspiracy nonsense and has presented a run-of-the-mill openly Christian philosopher as some kind of secret agent seeking to destroy Enlightenment values.

It's all well and good to say "but she says this about Dembski!" (or Johnson or Behe or whoever) but in the actual paper she does this so that she can then go on to say "Beckwith is a friend of his and supports this argument so we know that when he says X he really has in mind..."

I don't know how anybody could read that paper and not think that it was an attack on his character. I think the only disagreement is about whether or not he deserved it. But it really isn't much of a philosophy paper. (For that matter, neither is Beckwith's mini-autobiography. Neither one belongs in Synthese.)

Anonymous said...

Anon @12:24 here:

"Clark hadn't read the Dembski--he didn't even know it was Dembski--so it's not a "mislabeled" claim. It's total bullshit. Clark was never in a position to make the claim in the first place. It's not a "substantive"; it's the epitome of bad faith."

Fair enough. Clark acted in bad faith. Set Clark aside. Do you think that Forrest represents Dembski fairly?

I agree that the editors screwed up pretty badly. The disclaimer should not have been printed, and Beckwith should not have been given an unedited reply. And if the editors were committed to putting in a disclaimer, they should have given the authors a chance to withdraw their papers.

But I don't think that answers a question that matters to me, which I would like to get your (Zero's) opinion about: why do so many people seem to think Forrest's paper is a good and/or interesting paper? (For example, Leiter says that Pennock's paper is shallow but that Forrest's paper is powerful, and Mohan Matthen goes so far as to say, "I found Forrest's article to be impressive in its scholarship and astute in its exposure of philosophical fallacy, and if it had been sent to me to referee, I would have recommended acceptance in no uncertain terms.")

I don't care about tone, and I don't agree with either Dembski or Beckwith. But Forrest's article does not strike me as impressive or astute, it strikes me as amateurish. What am I missing here?!?

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:24/8:32:

"I don't care about tone, and I don't agree with either Dembski or Beckwith. But Forrest's article does not strike me as impressive or astute, it strikes me as amateurish. What am I missing here?!?"

I think that on this Clark is absolutely correct. The paper was pure rhetoric meant to take down Beckwith in the eyes of anybody who might think that he's at all to be taken seriously. As a piece of rhetoric, those who share her goals have found it extremely successful. But that's all it was.

If you think that Beckwith is a creepy liar trying to hide his true allegiances out of some dark conspiratorial strategy then you'll think that she did a great job bringing all this out.

If you think that he's just openly Christian and non-Naturalist and that's not evil, you'll wonder why any journal would accept such a strange, convoluted paper.

It's because of this that I don't think that pointing out the Truther past of a certain editor is completely out of bounds. It's also why I think so many Christian philosophers who are firmly opposed to the ID camp found this article so troubling.

Mr. Zero said...

anons 6:57 (@2:37) & 6:14,

WTF?! In a philosophy paper?!

and

if the question is about whether Forrest's piece was a hatchet job, I think it clearly was.

I appreciate what you're saying, but I think it's clear that this is not the issue. Even if it's a hatchet job, the editors in chief of Synthese have behaved in a profoundly unprofessional manner. (If it's not a hatchet job, of course, they have also behaved unprofessionally.)

It is also worth noting that, according to Fetzer, at least, the Forrest article was of concern to the EiCs prior to publication, and that they nevertheless chose to publish it in its current form in spite of those concerns. If he's telling the truth, the impression that some people have that the editors did not read the paper or were not aware of its tone or contents until it was too late is false.

anon 6:57 (@2:37),

Dawkins

I agree with you that the focus should be on the arguments. The issues stand or fall with the quality of the arguments. But if the issue is something like, students in science classes in public schools in the United States should be taught that there is legitimate (established? peer-reviewed?) science that says there is good (scientific) reason to believe that the universe itself or certain biological objects in the universe were intelligently designed by what we have scientific reason to believe is a supernatural designer who may or may not be the God of Abraham, and if one of the arguments in favor of this position is, "Francis Beckwith is a Constitutional Scholar and he thinks it is constitutional to do this," then that would be an occasion when focusing on the argument at hand would require us to discuss Beckwith's credentials in the course of evaluating the argument's key premise.

Having said that, it is not at all clear to me that anyone has ever made such an argument from Beckwith's authority. The Wasley et al. does not make any such argument. And, as I have tried to indicate, the fact that the Forrest article creates the impression that it does is a major strike against it. (I realize I did not use such strong language in the OP.)

anon 8:32,

Set Clark aside. Do you think that Forrest represents Dembski fairly?

Fair enough. But I'm afraid I'm still not going to be very helpful. As I have tried to indicate, I am not an expert on Dembski and have only a passing familiarity with his views. In order to figure out whether Forrest is being fair to him, I would have to a bunch of research into his views, which I don't have time to do, particularly since I find the actual quality of Forrest's article to be a side issue.

And I cannot, of course, speak with authority about why Leiter and Matthen liked the paper. You'll have to ask them.

And as I have tried to indicate upthread and in the OP, there is stuff in the Forrest paper that make me uncomfortable, that I would not have included were I the author, and that I would urged her away from were I an editor.

But one of the things I like about the Forrest article is this point she makes that "ID is all metaphysics and no epistemology." (p. 347) ID posits a supernatural designer, but ID gives us no way to know of a designer that it is specifically supernatural. "Science" is a loosely-affiliated confederation of epistemological practices; it is as much a way of acquiring knowledge as it is a body of knowledge so-acquired. ID does not give us anything like that. This strikes me as an extremely powerful and damaging point.

Mr. Zero said...

I think that on this [that Forrest's article is amateurish, not astute] Clark is absolutely correct.

I wonder where in the Clark letter you see him effectively making this point. It seemed to me that whatever case there is to be made against the Forrest piece, Clark's attempt to make it fails miserably.

It's because of this that I don't think that pointing out the Truther past of a certain editor is completely out of bounds.

I wonder if you wouldn't mind saying more about this. Because this sort of thing strikes me as a naked instance of the ad hominem fallacy--"one of the guest editors believes silly conspiracy theories, therefore [IDK]"--which are fallacious even if the other side is doing it, too.

Anon 11:54 said...

Mr. Zero,

I thought this post was about Clark's letter, which was sent before any of the disclaimer stuff, and was thus about Clark's claims and not about the editorial misconduct. So far, it looks like everybody who is showing some sympathy for Clark has made a point of saying that they think ID is not science and shouldn't be taught in public schools and also that they disapprove of what the editors did. So I don't know why you are insisting that this is not about the quality of Forrest's paper. I thought that was all this (meaning this thread) was about.

When I said that Clark was right on this, I mean his closing statement that "I can see how this might be published in a rhetoric journal where the goal is to win whatever the cost. But I don't see how it could be published in a philosophy journal that despises sophistry, suggestion and fallacies." This is not an argument so I was not saying that he did a great job "making the case." I just think that that is the correct explanation of why so many people who have commented on the actual substance of the paper have commented positively. It is a wonderfully brutal piece of rhetoric and Beckwith's response was weak and defensive. I think Clark is right not because he convinced me but because, after reading the Forrest paper, I share his assessment. The paper was a rhetoric paper as opposed to a philosophy paper because it's goal was to convince its audience, not to arrive at the truth. Many, I'm sure, think this important and admirable. But it's not clear how it is a philosophy paper worthy of Synthese.

As far as the Truther stuff, it is obviously an ad hominem. I didn't say that mentioning it was part of a good argument, I just said that I could see how it ends up not being completely out of bounds if we are trying to understand how the Forrest piece got in. One who can honestly entertain the Truther nonsense just might not have the kind of bullshit-detector that notices how absolutely absurd it is to say that because someone believes that the Resurrection is an actual event that occurred in human history and because he's friends with somebody who's friends with somebody who once was on a panel with somebody who knows somebody in some crazy theocratic group that this person is, despite his words, actually just trying to open the door to some nasty Taliban-like policies. (For the record I find Truthers every bit as offensive as Birthers and I have zero respect for the cognitive abilities of anybody who could take that shit seriously. But I've never even read the man's work and would certainly not bring that into any attempt to deal with his philosophical arguments.)

So: the editors fucked up and ID is terrible. We all agree. You've said that Clark was wrong about the Forrest paper and so I think it's perfectly fine to ask you if you think Forrest's paper is actually anything more than a hatchet job.

As for her claim about the non-epistemology of ID, point taken. But if Beckwith is telling the truth (I haven't read his stuff) when he says he has NEVER supported ID, then it's a point completely independent of all the weird Beckwith attacks. It seems, rather, that a big part of her attack assumes the obvious truth of a naturalized epistemology and just baldly states that there is no account of how we could come to have knowledge of supernatural causes. (Does she mean nobody's tried? Or does she mean that the question has been definitively settled? Either way I am at a loss to understand her confidence.) So I fully understand how those of us who don't think that it is just obviously ridiculous to claim to "know" the truths of our faith would be made very uncomfortable by Forrest's rhetoric and think that Beckwith, no matter his faults, has been treated unjustly.

BUT THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT I THINK THE EDITORS BEHAVED IN AN ACCEPTABLE WAY OR THAT ID IS ANYTHING OTHER THAN PURE BS.

Anonymous said...

From this point forward, when doing reductio proofs, instead of writing 'contradiction,' I'm using 'OMG WTF'.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 12:24 again:

Formatted to flag quotations:

It's because of this that I don't think that pointing out the Truther past of a certain editor is completely out of bounds.

I wonder if you wouldn't mind saying more about this. Because this sort of thing strikes me as a naked instance of the ad hominem fallacy--"one of the guest editors believes silly conspiracy theories, therefore [IDK]"--which are fallacious even if the other side is doing it, too.

I can't tell if the argument regarding Fetzer is ad hominem circumstantial, genetic, or a bit of both (or if we should categorize genetic fallacies as a species of ad hominem circumstantial).

But anyway, both sorts of "fallacies" have non-fallacious instances.

Trivial Example #1: In 80% of cases, when Smith says he heard a story on the radio, he actually read it in the newspaper and is misremembering his source. One day, Smith says, "Yesterday, I heard x on the radio." Pointing out that Smith is not very reliable in these cases is a reference to the source and so commits the genetic fallacy. But it is perfectly legitimate in the case of Smith and the radio, because the detail about Smith is relevant to the claim being made.

Trivial Example #2: Jones always tells the truth, unless he stands to gain something by lying, in which case, he always lies. Jones tells you that you should not apply for some competitive grant because it is not very prestigious. Later, you find out that Jones applied for the grant. When he told you not to apply because the grant was not prestigious, he had something to gain. Reasonably, you should not believe the claim.

What insulates Fetzer from (some) of this criticism is the independent corroboration from Branch.

I think Fetzer's testimony about how the email exchanges went down are completely believable. (In part because of the corroboration from Branch.) But I don't think we should take seriously his inference that there was a big ID-conspiracy lobby. I especially don't think that inference should be accepted because (a) I agree with critics like Plantinga and Clark that Forrest's article is poor, and (b) I think Fetzer is disposed to see conspiracies where there are no conspiracies. As a result of (b), his evidence for a conspiracy here has to be greater than if he had no pre-disposition to see conspiracies everywhere.

Does anyone think that is fallacious reasoning? If so, why?

Zero writes:

It is also worth noting that, according to Fetzer, at least, the Forrest article was of concern to the EiCs prior to publication, and that they nevertheless chose to publish it in its current form in spite of those concerns.

Is that the way the timeline went? I thought the timeline was roughly acceptance, online publication, complaints, request for revisions, discussion, false statement about possibility of a disclaimer, disclaimer in print version. First, is my rough timeline wrong? Second, if my rough timeline is right, where is the incompatibility with the EiCs reading Forrest's paper carefully only after complaints came in?

Anonymous said...

lol at those who are making a 'rhetoric' v. 'philosophy' distinction. truth in philosophy, as in any discipline, is all about convincing others. if it did that then what's lacking?

Anonymous said...

You know, in one of my classes yesterday, I discussed a section of a chapter of a real, live ethics book which discusses informal fallacies, and there's an entire section on "Illicit Appeal to Authority." The book states:

"As a rule, there is nothing 'illicit' about an appeal to authority .... But some of these appeals are legitimate while others are not... An 'illicit appeal' is an appeal to an authority who happens to be outside of his or her realm of expertise or an appeal to an expert who is in the minority on a particular issue... To avoid the fallacy of illicit appeal to authority, one must consider the credentials of the authority appeals to in support of a conclusion, as well as the question of the reliability of the claim made by that authority. One good rule of thumb in areas in which we feel out of our element (because the questions are too technical or we have no basis for establishing or rejecting credentials) is to ask whether the authority appealed to has any particular ax to grind: An authority that has an ax to grind is less reliable than one who does not." (Curtler, Ethical Argument).

So:

(1) Is Forrest's discussion of Beckwith's credentials appropriate or not? I would say that discussing the credentials of an author in an area in which he claims to be an expert is never inappropriate. So, Forrest's credentials WRT to philosophy and science are just as fair game as Beckwith's WRT to the constitution, American law, science, and philosophy. As far as whether or not it constitutes "good" philosophical practice, I should think being aware of someone's credentials when discussing views that require some reliance on the person's authority (such as in philosophy which intersects with science or law) is good practice. After all, its one of the first things we presumably teach our intro kids: don't believe everyone who pretends to know what they are talking about.

(2) Whether or not Forrest's piece is "good" philosophy or is a hack job is irrelevant to the debate; lots of (good) journals often publish crap articles. Crap journals can also publish good articles. The issue at hand isn't the quality of the piece, it's the "tone" of the piece. That's the issue according to the EiCs anyway.

Anyhoo. Just proof that sometimes even us very-smart-research-types could use a little grouding in some intro stuff now and again.

Mr. Zero said...

Anon 11:54,

I have a longer response to your comment @ 2:45 in the works. I have not forgotten about you.

anon12:24 @ 10:21,

Is that the way the timeline went? ... where is the incompatibility with the EiCs reading Forrest's paper carefully only after complaints came in?

In this comment at New APPS, Fetzer reproduces an email he sent to the EiCs in response to the Forrest controversy a year after her piece was published on line. He writes:

Barbara takes an aggressive stance toward some of her targets, such as Francis Beckwith, but it is all within the context of vigorous debate. It is obvious that he has exaggerated his credentials with respect to his legal background, which is certainly fair game. When this question arose long ago, I suggested that an objective referee who was unrelated to this special issue be used as a consultant. That was done and xxxxxxxxxxxxxx was invited to review the paper. xxxxx, like myself, has had extensive experience as an editor for the journal.

It was xxxxxx opinion that, while the author might have been more direct in her criticism than some might prefer, it fell within the framework of appropriate philosophical criticism.


So, that makes it sound like the "problems" with the Forrest piece were known to the EiCs prior to publication, that they sought the advice of an outside referee, and that although this referee had reservations about what might be described as the tone of the paper, the EiCs accepted the paper for publication in its current form.

Anonymous said...

This blog makes the interesting case that Forrest's article contains the same sort of conspiracy theorizing that Fetzer himself seems to love:
http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com/2011/04/philosophy-of-conspiracy.html

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 1:06 AM

LOL at Sophists.

Anonymous said...

truth in philosophy, as in any discipline, is all about convincing others.

Hm. I bet you are not in philosophy of language. Because that is an extremely false remark about truth.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 6:13 AM

I wonder why who financed his MJS study is relevant to Beckwith's credentials.

Anonymous said...

"Hm. I bet you are not in philosophy of language. Because that is an extremely false remark about truth."

Nope. Meta-ethics, which does overlap substantially with language but the point here is that there isn't A theory of 'truth' in any philosophical subdiscipline. There are innumerable theories which are mutually exclusive and which one is en vogue is a matter of politics more than metaphysics.

But worry not, our side is winning, in 200 years, barring the zombie apocalypse of course, there won't be any ID people and our own theories will seem quaint and be the object of historical but not of serious philosophical value you know, the way we look at Malbranche or Descartes now.....

/trolling and derailing

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:24:

"not of serious philosophical value you know, the way we look at Malbranche or Descartes now....."

I don't know who "we" are, but I take Malebranche [note the spelling] and Descartes VERY seriously.

If you are correct then philosophy reduces to rhetoric and so philosophy departments ought to disappear and divide their property between the sciences and the literature departments. I expect that most people who've devoted their lives to philosophy would resist this even if only out of naked self-preservation.

But even if you are correct, I think Synthese is still a journal that falls firmly in the camp of philosophy done as you think it ought not be done. So the point still stands that the article might not be a good fit with the journal's goals, even if you think those goals are silly and quaint.

Nonetheless, I will take the bet that neither of us will be around to collect on and say that 200 years from now people will still be reading both Malebranche and Descartes.

Anonymous said...

"But even if you are correct, I think Synthese is still a journal that falls firmly in the camp of philosophy done as you think it ought not be done. So the point still stands that the article might not be a good fit with the journal's goals, even if you think those goals are silly and quaint."

Troll here. Apologies for the ribbing. I agree 100% with you here.

Anonymous said...

Which theory of truth is in vogue is a matter of politics?

Huh.
I thought I did metaethics. One of us is misunderstanding what's going on. Badly.

Anonymous said...

Zero,

You you write, "Fetzer reproduces an email he sent to the EiCs in response to the Forrest controversy a year after her piece was published on line," as support for the claim that the EiCs knew about the "problems" before publication. And use that to support the claim that my (and others') interpretation of events along the lines of "the EiCs failed to do their jobs by carefully reading the papers before online publication." But I don't see how what Fetzer says is incompatible with my interpretation.

On my interpretation, the EiCs failed to read carefully before online publication. The complaints followed the online publication. After those complaints (but before print publication) the EiCs read the papers (more) carefully and asked for revisions. How does Fetzer's email -- from a year after the online publication -- make that story unlikely?

Mr. Zero said...

anon 10:42,

Fetzer says that when the problems came up "long ago" he suggested that they get an outside referee to read and advise them on the paper. I don't think he would suggest that the paper be sent to an independent referee if it had already been published. The foundation of his position is the (correct) view that papers that have been accepted for publication may not be subject to subsequent revision.

Mr. Zero said...

anon 11:54,

Sorry it took me so long to post this response. The last section, in particular, was difficult. I'm still not sure I have managed to say anything interesting/on topic.

I thought this post was about Clark's letter, which was sent before any of the disclaimer stuff, and was thus about Clark's claims and not about the editorial misconduct. ... So I don't know why you are insisting that this is not about the quality of Forrest's paper.

The Clark letter is relevant & interesting because it was one of the earliest complaints about the Forrest piece, and so was possibly one of the several things that jointly led to the disclaimer several steps down the road. So it's worth finding out if Clark raises any cogent objections. Whether or not there are cogent objections that Clark has not raised is, it still seems to me, a side issue. But it's also possible that I took my eye off the ball there.

When I said that Clark was right on this, I mean his closing statement... This is not an argument so I was not saying that he did a great job "making the case."

I don't think that the closing statement can be so easily divorced from the body of the letter. But if, for reasons other than the ones Clark presents, you think that Clark's final assessment of the Forrest piece is correct, that's fine. As I have indicated, although I would not go so far as to call it a hatchet job, there are things I find troubling about it, and I am agnostic about whether it should have been included in its current form. The controversial "legal scholar" passage is one such thing. But since I disagree with him about what is wrong with the passage & the article as a whole, I would not be willing to say that he is "right."

the Truther stuff

Thanks for elaborating.

It seems, rather, that a big part of her attack assumes the obvious truth of a naturalized epistemology and just baldly states that there is no account of how we could come to have knowledge of supernatural causes.

I took her to be making an argument that ID contains no mechanism that would be both recognizably scientific and yield knowledge of the alleged fact that the supernatural causes posited by ID are supernatural. The central theses of ID are that the science tells us that there are designed elements in the natural world, and this science tells us that these elements were designed by what we know to be a supernatural designer.

So I fully understand how those of us who don't think that it is just obviously ridiculous to claim to "know" the truths of our faith would be made very uncomfortable by Forrest's rhetoric

I know you think ID is BS, so I'm not exactly sure how to respond. I mean, maybe God exists, and maybe you know it. That could be true. But I am pretty certain that this knowledge did not come from science. But not all unscientific epistemic mechanisms are illegitimate. Plantinga, for example, thinks that theistic belief is or can be properly basic, so its warrant could easily exceed that of scientific beliefs, which are inherently tentative.

Even if the Forrest piece is a hatchet-job on Beckwith, I don't see why the fact that e.g. Plantinga and Clark are Christians too should make them so sensitive to the manner in which he, in particular, has been treated unless they think Beckwith got the hatchet because he is a Christian full stop and not because of his ties with ID. But the only Christians who got the hatchet were ones who have defended in print the view that it is constitutional for various teleological arguments to be taught as science to students in public schools.

But anyways, it is entirely possible that the Plantinga/Clark concern arises from Christian solidarity. I guess this is plausible. Clark has said that he thinks Beckwith's reply is just as bad as the Forrest piece, but he hasn't indicated that he has written to the EiCs to complain.

Anon 11:54 said...

Mr. Zero,

Thanks for taking the time to respond, especially as I'm sure you have much more important things to do.

I think I probably agree with you almost completely and was only taking issue with some of the uncritical defenses of Forrest's paper that I think reflect the much more general phenomenon of treating all victims like saints.

I think Prof. Forrest's reputation has been done greater harm due to the actions of the editors than Beckwith's has due to Forrest's paper (if only because I think that Beckwith already had a poor reputation). I don't think the Forrest paper is anywhere near the worst paper I've ever seen published in a reputable journal and I think there are many published papers (usually invited and/or in special issues) that treat their subjects just as uncharitably. The only difference is that this one hit on more sensitive issues and so it was not quite clear who else was being dismissed as some kind of philosophical fraud (in other words, I think she sprayed a lot of bullets wide).

For example, the line is a little blurry between criticisms of Beckwith for certain philosophical beliefs that he holds independently of his faith, and those which he shares with all Catholics. So as a Catholic I am perhaps a bit oversensitive about those parts of Forrest's paper that would seem to imply that somehow I am despite myself in league with the forces of intellectual darkness.

But it's really not such a big deal and I really should be getting to work on my completely unrelated dissertation.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Zero:

In your original post you put the following:

"[I'm skipping the weird preamble]"

What exactly did you find so weird about Clark's opening remarks?

Mr. Zero said...

What exactly did you find so weird about Clark's opening remarks?

Nothing sinister. It reads in such a way as to suggest that he was writing to let the editors in chief of Synthese know that he is not a supporter of ID.

Duck said...

Mr. Z, you say:

The central theses of ID are that the science tells us that there are designed elements in the natural world, and this science tells us that these elements were designed by what we know to be a supernatural designer.

But that's not right. It's just the first part, that science tells us that there are designed elements in the natural world (as in Dembski's The Design Inference). The whole point of ID (as opposed to Creation Science) was to back off the commitment to supernatural design in particular.

Of course in particular cases we may feel they are being disingenuous to say this, and that not only do they have a particular designer in mind, but also that their antecedent, incorrigible doxastic commitment to same is what is driving their whole program, including the recent move from CS to ID. But the actual argument, which is what opponents of ID should be responding to, is that the designer could be physical (= aliens) for all the design inference tells us.

Naturally this raises the question of where those aliens came from, a regress of designers, etc., but the proper response from IDers at this point is to plead (claim) ignorance (not that they always do this). I actually think this move does what it is supposed to do – to render ID "scientific" (that is, not unscientific). But of course not everything in the realm of "science" is worth believing (let alone teaching to children in science class!).

This doesn't really bear on the Clark letter or the Synthese thing at all, as far as I can tell (all the relevant docs are back behind the paywall, plus I don't have time anyway), but I do think this is an important point.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:13 AM, here.

Re Anon 11:42 5/19: "I wonder why who financed his MJS study is relevant to Beckwith's credentials."

It surely is since it helps us determine whether his views are rationalizations or justifications. If he is committed to his conclusion in advance or because of unrelated factors (ie, because his law degree was funded by a lobby with explicit political intentions) that alters the way in which we should evaluate his expertise. "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it." (Upton Sinclair)

If I were an oncologist whose medical degree were funded by a tobacco lobby, and it just so happened that I "discovered" no link between cancer and cigarettes, surely it would constitute a conflict of interest worth evaluating that the tobacco industry paid my degree; if I were a nutritionist whose education was paid for by Kraft Foods and I found that there prepackaged pasta and cheese is "healthy" surely, again, that Kraft Foods paid my degree would be considered a conflict of interest. How is Beckwith any different?

Anonymous said...

Duck/Rabbit:

Cite where "It's just the first part, that science tells us that there are designed elements in the natural world (as in Dembski's The Design Inference) " is accepted as science.

I dare you. If you think it's warranted by Dembski, well you better think again. Or just once for that matter.

Read some Sober--preferably while sober. That will help.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 6:13 (later 10:53) -

I'm among those who think (or thought) that discussions of credentials like that contained in Prof. Forrest's article don't belong in philosophy journals such as Synthese. I understand the arguments to the contrary. But once one starts discussing affiliations in an effort to determine whether one is reading "rationalizations or justifications," as opposed to simply focusing on arguments, it is no surprise that many think, not unreasonably, that one has crossed the line into circumstantial ad hominem.

Anonymous said...

"Even if the Forrest piece is a hatchet-job on Beckwith, I don't see why the fact that e.g. Plantinga and Clark are Christians too should make them so sensitive to the manner in which he, in particular, has been treated unless they think Beckwith got the hatchet because he is a Christian full stop and not because of his ties with ID."

Actually, I think it's pretty clear that Forrest is targeting all Christians (indeed all "supernaturalists") and simply sees Beckwith as an easy target in this case. You really don't have to read past the second sentence of the abstract to get a sense of why Christians (generally) should be worried and also upset by the lack of scholarship in Forrest's paper. Forrest writes, "ID thus brings with it, as does supernatural theism by its nature, intractable epistemological difficulties." The argument in the whole paper runs like this: supernaturalism is hopeless; ID is supernaturalism; therefore, ID is hopeless. But the first premiss is never defended. It isn't just that ID is objectionable and should be excluded from the classroom on Constitutional grounds. Theism is supposed to have no epistemology!

(I am not saying that one cannot plausibly argue that supernaturalism is hopeless, just that Forrest doesn't.)

The central claim of Forrest's paper is that ID is like other supernatural commitments in having no epistemology. I couldn't manage to make sense of precisely what Forrest was claiming with the non-epistemology line ... at least, I couldn't offer an interpretation that doesn't make her claim come out as either trivial or obviously false. We can disagree about whether supernaturalists endorse a credible epistemology (the problem of the criterion) and about whether theistic claims are tenable or defensible, but those debates are different from disagreeing about whether there are epistemological theories that accommodate the supernatural: of course there are! There is, after all, a whole sub-sub-discipline on the epistemology of religion.

You (Zero) and others seem to be reading Forrest (rather charitably) as defending the weaker claim that ID isn't science or doesn't measure up to a scientific epistemological standard. Okay, that's different from saying that ID has no epistemology, and it's not an original claim by any stretch of the imagination. Still, it might be worth demonstrating that ID isn't science ... again (sigh). However, I don't think Forrest presents an even mildly compelling case that ID is not science. At best, she shows that if you begin with a commitment to methodological naturalism, then you will never infer that there are supernatural causes. But surely everyone already agrees about that! What is needed is a defense of the claim that science carries a commitment to methodological naturalism or (for Forrest's more ambitious project) a defense of the claim that epistemology in general requires such a commitment. Instead, Forrest only gives an appeal to authority (Haack) for the claim that science is committed to methodological naturalism. Haack is a brilliant philosopher and a credible, relevant authority, but I don't think she is the last word on epistemology or philosophy of science. At the very least, a serious literature review was called for, not just a citation of one philosopher.

Maybe I'm just over-reacting. If so, I'll be glad to have my worries assuaged.

Mr. Zero said...

Actually, I think it's pretty clear that Forrest is targeting all Christians (indeed all "supernaturalists") and simply sees Beckwith as an easy target in this case.

If by this you mean that Forrest's argument implies that all versions of Christianity (indeed, all versions of supernaturalism) are unscientific, then I think you're right. But, that's right, right?

Skipping ahead a little...

The central claim of Forrest's paper is that ID is like other supernatural commitments in having no epistemology.

I disagree. Her central claim is that ID, like other versions of supernaturalism, has an unscientific epistemology; although supporters of ID claim that it is science, it does not add anything epistemology-wise to garden-variety supernaturalism that licenses this claim. ID is no more scientific than its close relatives.

Skipping back...

You really don't have to read past the second sentence of the abstract to get a sense of why Christians (generally) should be worried and also upset by the lack of scholarship in Forrest's paper.

You can tell from the first two sentences of the abstract that the Forrest piece contains a lack of scholarship? Come on.

You think that Christians ought to get "worried" whenever someone points out in print that there are epistemological difficulties associated with belief in the supernatural? Seriously. Come on.

I mean, maybe she's saying that Christianity is epistemologically bogus because of its commitment to supernaturalism. I don't think she's saying that, but maybe I'm wrong. If that's what she's saying, I have three responses:

1. If that's what Clark objects to in the paper, he doesn't say so. He objects to a bunch of stuff; none of his objections suggest he thinks Forrest is unfairly painting all of Christianity with the ID brush. He says she's a character assassin, not that she presupposes a false account of the epistemology of the supernatural.

2. If that's what the EiCs object to in the paper, they don't say so. According to the disclaimer, the problems with the Forrest piece are related to tone. It does not say there are problems with false or undefended premises, or that the argument goes too far and applies not just to ID but to all varieties of Christianity.

3. It would be completely legitimate and not at all improper to make the argument you attribute to Forrest--that there are epistemological difficulties associated with belief in the supernatural that apply not just to ID but to all theistic systems of belief--in a philosophy journal. The fact, if it's a fact, that Synthese published a paper that makes this argument is not "worrisome" in any interesting respect.

Maybe it's not such a great paper; maybe she doesn't effectively defend the key premise; maybe she ignores the fact that Plantinga, in particular, has done a lot of work defending the rationality and warrant of supernaturalism and raising objections to naturalism. BFD. That doesn't make it a hatchet job; it doesn't warrant an outraged letter to the editor; it doesn't warrant a disclaimer of the sort that has been attached to the issue in which the Forrest piece appeared.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi Duck,

It's just the first part, that science tells us that there are designed elements in the natural world (as in Dembski's The Design Inference).

Like anon 7:37, I disagree about whether science tells us that there are designed elements in nature. Biological science does not tell us that. Various branches of physics contain what can be described as a series of weird, unexplained coincidences. But the claim that physics and biology tell us that there are designed elements in the natural world goes way, way too far. What the IDer calls "evidence of a designer in biology" are what biologists call "a series of deep misunderstandings of biology"; what IDers call "evidence of a designer in physics" are what physicists call "areas of ongoing research."

The whole point of ID (as opposed to Creation Science) was to back off the commitment to supernatural design in particular.

Of course in particular cases we may feel they are being disingenuous to say this, and that not only do they have a particular designer in mind, but also that their antecedent, incorrigible doxastic commitment to same is what is driving their whole program, including the recent move from CS to ID.


I thought Forrest addressed exactly this point. I thought that she spent so much time on biographical material precisely to show that the suggestion that IDers approach the identity of the designer with an open mind is completely false. The idea that e.g. Dembski is open to the possibility that the bacterial flagellum or whatever was designed by aliens is beyond laughable. Is there even one proponent of ID who is genuinely open to the idea that the apparently designed elements in the natural world were designed by aliens?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Zero--

Thanks for some really Sober thinking.

Duck said...

Hi Mr. Zero, anon 7:37:

Sorry, I thought the thread was dead. Anon, Zero says (1) "ID claims A and B." I say (2): "No, ID claims A, but not B." (That's what "it's just the first part" means.) Nowhere do I address the issue of whether A is true (or warranted). I cite the Dembski book in support of (2), nothing more. So your challenge is irrelevant to my point.

Z, this applies to your first paragraph too. Here's your second again, or most of it:

I thought that [Forrest] spent so much time on biographical material precisely to show that the suggestion that IDers approach the identity of the designer with an open mind is completely false. The idea that e.g. Dembski is open to the possibility that the bacterial flagellum or whatever was designed by aliens is beyond laughable. Is there even one proponent of ID who is genuinely open to the idea that the apparently designed elements in the natural world were designed by aliens?

You're right, that is what Forrest says, and why. But that isn't the same as what you said, which was:

The central theses of ID are [A] that the science tells us that there are designed elements in the natural world, and [B] this science tells us that these elements were designed by what we know to be a supernatural designer.

B is of the form "Science tells us that [C]." Your second and third sentences above pour scorn on the idea that IDers are not irrevocably committed to [C]. And indeed I agree that they believe (and indeed dogmatically) that [C]. But that's not the same as [B], which adds that science tells us this. Again, the whole point of ID as opposed to Creation Science was to back off of B and concentrate on A.

Again, it's true – and relevant to Forrest's argument about ID as a *political* movement – that in particular cases IDers are being disingenuous (in denying B, or at least failing to affirm it in this context, given their commitment to C). But that's not the same as identifying the best version of the ID argument (i.e. A but not B) and responding to that. If they can't even show A, then B is irrelevant; and arguing against B makes it look like A is conceded (which of course it is not).

And of course A is more interesting anyway. If some biological forms had been (or are) designed, how would we tell? Surely we don't want to say (or do we?) that figuring that out would be *impossible*. The "design inference" (Dembski's example is SETI) rightly leaves open the question of the designer's nature. That we know him to believe in a particular designer – which is relevant politically, as Forrest argues – shouldn't have anything to do with the *philosophical* argument. That's why it's important to get it right.

Anonymous said...

Duck/Rabbit:

I take it that your moniker is meant to be cleverly indicative of John Wisdom's "gardener" point. If things can be rationally interpreted as being either and equivalently divine or natural then it's a toss up what to believe.

"Purpose" is clearly an anthropomorphic invention due to our own experience of suiting behavior to future goals as reflective of what typically appears in consciousness about planning--but the fact the we tend to use ourselves as archetypes of explanation (vitalism, Aristotle, Whitehead, etc.) does nothing to show that it reflects real purposes in nature beyond our curious self-reflective neurology. The fact that purposeless explanation by accident and stats and adaptive mechanisms fully informs evolution with respect to the data (Sober, et al) holds the high explanatory ground. Dembski et al whistle in the dark--the dark ages that is. ID is as over as final cause explanation of gravity--rocks don't really want to get to the center of the universe, and biological reproduction once got accidentally going from twisted molecules that happened to get together don't want to go anywhere in particlular either. Pretending that ain't the case is not taking an objective stance with respect to best knowledge of the data--it's classic wishful thinking.

Or to say otherwise--you take a basic world-view stance and nothing can move you from it, though you play the tune of being "objective" to your best philosophical dance.

In dancing to the philosophical stars lingo: 4-2-0. (The first two judges aren't the sharpest.) You're voted out.

Duck said...

Anon 7:50, it does not seem to me that you have understood my comments at all. Read the first part of my immediately previous. I don't think I can make it any clearer than that. Your explanation of why ID is bunk (while at least intermittently effective, if tendentious) is irrelevant to my point, which was about the *content* of their claim, *not its validity*. Sheesh.

You have me saying "If things can be rationally interpreted as being either and equivalently divine or natural then it's a toss up what to believe." If I had meant that, I would have said so. I did not say that. Apply modus tollens and see what you get.

Zero, help me out here.

Anonymous said...

Just made a rhetorical comment on your moniker Duck--speculation based on your defense of the indefensible. As usual, many of those who secretly subscribe to ID pretend to be "objective" and dance on fine distinctions and wage back-door philosophical war to avoid saying anything but what they really mean to say.

Hear this: we evolved along with every other living thing on this planet and in no teleological or purposeful or alien- or god-directed way. That's what the very best evidence shows and I do not see it going away anytime soon unless all the IDers are raptured up come the fall to provide some kind of evidence that I might need to consider.

My belief about ID is crystal clear--it's false, false, false, false. Duck--what say you about evolution without some mealy-mouthing?

Mr. Zero said...

Hi Duck,

I'm sorry I misinterpreted your post @ 8:27. I guess I thought that since you said that ID is not unscientific, you must have thought that there was something to this alleged science.

I agree with you that something like backing away from what we are now calling "B" is part of the ID strategy. But it seems to me that although this is a part of their nominal strategy, it is not something that they actually do.

For one thing, even if the "alien" hypothesis is at least not manifestly absurd as an explanation for apparently designed elements found in biology, it is manifestly absurd as an explanation for apparently designed elements in the fundamental physical structure of the universe.

For a second thing, nobody who believes in ID or supports the constitutionality of the teaching of ID believes this "alien" stuff or thinks it's even slightly plausible. This explains your observation that IDers fail to make this point in key moments when it would help them. They don't believe it and they don't think there is any reason to believe it.

For a third thing, and maybe this is just an alternate way of saying the second thing, supernaturalism is what makes ID is important to IDers. That's why they're interested in it. It is the entire point. This "alien" stuff was added in as an afterthought, as a tactical retreat. And if there really, literally was scientific evidence of alien design in biological structures, no IDer would care. They would not see it as vindication. They would actively oppose it, because it's not what they're into.

Duck said...

Hi Zero -

Right, "unscientific" could mean either "on the other side of some qualitative line of demarcation" or instead "lame as science." As I use the term, ID (the bare design inference, aliens allowed) is the second but not the first.

In the biological case, I think IDers do indeed back away from "Science shows that the designer must be supernatural." You're right that they do generally believe it to be supernatural, and that they would resist evidence to the contrary, but that's not the point.

That is, it IS the "point" – of the infamous Wedge strategy, which point needs to be as narrow as possible in order to work. The nature of the designer is not at issue at this step. That comes later, after everybody has accepted (ha) the bare design inference.

So you're right that it's a "tactical retreat" to back off the supernatural designer at this stage. But it's a tactical retreat in two senses. First is the legal one, in order to present ID as constitutionally okay for the public schools. (This works only partly, because qua lame, it fails the "purpose" test so is still unconstitutional to teach in science class.)

But it's also a dialectical retreat, and in this sense, we should treat it as legit. Look at it like this. I want to convince you that R. You say no way is R true. I say, okay, analyze R as (P & Q), and take my argument in two steps. I'll argue for P by itself, and then, when you get used to the idea of P being true without Q necessarily being true, then I'll give you a separate argument for Q. You can't say "Your argument for P is no good, because we both know you only care about P because you believe R, and no way is Q true, even if P is, which I highly doubt." All that is relevant to the validity of my argument for P is, well, my argument for P – no matter what else I may believe.

That's why our focus should be on [A], the design inference itself. ID fails because A fails; and attacking B simply distracts from that point. Why worry about what kind of designer there would be if there were one, when there's no reason to think that there is one in the first place? That just confuses people, and makes it look like we're conceding A when we're not.

I qualified above in talking about biological ID, which allows aliens (for this purpose), and you make a good point that physical ID is rather different. I agree, but basically the same point holds. Even if physical ID shows that a designer must be supernatural (which I actually don't see, but whatever), this does not show that it must be the Christian deity. Now of course most of them believe it to be same, even while denying that their argument requires it. As they've set the argument up, they're right that their argument does not require it – which, analogously, is why the FSM gag is not to the point. Stop worrying about what might or might not be true if ID were true – even if that's their whole motivation – and focus on showing how lame it is in even its best (narrowest) form.

Sorry to go on like this, but it's interesting! (You can stop now if you want and get back to the sausage thread.)

Anon: As you see I am not an ID supporter. Or perhaps I am a sly and devious trickster playing a double game. We report, you decide.

Anonymous said...

Hey Duck? (It's the same old me.) Why not respond to my clear call to declare yourself on non-theistic evolution one way or another? Background: I was once an evangelical Xian--read the New Testament in koine, studied the manuscripts and (oral tradition hiatus) lack of them--and I know the social strength of the unfounded call to stand on Xian faith against the paucity of historical ground of western Christianity, and have renounced all that--but what say you on the rich emprirical ground of evolution? Will you be silent because you think that will serve you well? Is silence really being truthful? Does being less than truthful serve your own commitments to who you are?

Duck--is non-theistic evolution false? For your own sake--one way or another--tell me.

Or your silence speaks for itself.