[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.]
[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: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.
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)
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.
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.