Home » Darwinism, Philosophy » Barbara Forrest is a pseudo-expert, not a real expert. And I can (and now must, alas) explain why.

Barbara Forrest is a pseudo-expert, not a real expert. And I can (and now must, alas) explain why.

Forrest, a prof at Eastern Louisiana University, is considered a big expert on the intelligent design community and the dangers it poses. I put off explaining why she isn’t a  big expert, but can’t decently do so any longer.

Skinniest (skip down to the black type if you know): Here, we covered the recent uproar in which the editors of philosophy journal Synthese inserted a disclaimer about published Darwin lobby hit pieces on philosophers Frank Beckwith and Larry Laudan. Forrest, for example, insinuated Beckwith to be an ID supporter, which was clearly false. Beckwith contacted me for help in straightening out his position, and I said I would publish news of any success he had. But otherwise kept my mouth shut. The journal quite properly stuck to its disclaimer and published his rebuttal (“Or we can be philosophers”), so on to other news. But …

But an alternative version of reality was growing legs, then wings: A sinister ID lobby had supposedly forced the editors of the journal to “cave.” From the “Synthese boycott status” page, we learn that 468 academics signed a petition, prepared by Brian Leiter of the University of Chicago, protesting the decision, spurred by the winged claims.

Only there was no intelligent design lobby. It was a phantom, dependent on an alternative reality in which the ID guys actually knew and acted.

So all those petitioners and boycotters are being led up the garden path! Plus  people who don’t even know what happened are weighing in from all corners, forecasting the death of the journal Synthese. They really believe in the phantom ID lobby. Someone must blow this spook away, if possible.

Puff!: A pseudo-expert is a person who is regarded by a pressure group (in this case, the US’s National Center for Science Education) as an expert. That person can produce very convincing material, better in fact than a real expert could do. A real expert is handicapped by facts, which are more obstinate than the pressure group’s talking points, and much harder to work with.

Relying on a pseudo-expert is okay if your job is to whip up a public. Things get more awkward when you need facts. That’s what went wrong for Barbara Forrest’s defender Nick Matzke. In an attempt to defend Forrest from the journal’s disclaimer, which was widely interpreted as pointing to her work and Pennock’s in particular, Matzke claimed some discrepancy between Frank Beckwith’s account of his views on intelligent design and my account. He had stumbled onto something: Beckwith’s increasing vehemence. But there is no discrepancy, and a real expert would know why.

Frank Beckwith, who had never been an ID supporter, had a row with one of the ID guys a few years ago. It wasn’t personal and wasn’t about ID. Observers put it down to personality clash, which sounds about right. Soon people forgot about it. It was either those guys’ problem or nobody’s. But after that row, Beckwith began to make his own position more emphatic, a position that all the real experts knew anyway.

Another factor was that after he became a Catholic, Beckwith had access to “neo-Thomist” arguments against detectible design in nature. Thus he could be religious and anti-ID with no uncovered risk of identification with idiocies like Michael Dowd‘s evolution circus.

So no, Beckwith didn’t change his views; he just made them clearer. He didn’t turn to the ID community for help because lots of people (unlike Barbara Forrest, probably) knew the history. He turned to me because I had helped him in the past, during his tenure fight at Baylor. And he knew I would help again.

Now, if that does not seem like a good explanation to you, you have no appetite for facts.

And if you only want someone to confirm your prejudices, and your prejudices are the same as Forrest’s, she remains a star choice.

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19 Responses to Barbara Forrest is a pseudo-expert, not a real expert. And I can (and now must, alas) explain why.

  1. He was a fellow of The Discovery Institute at the time and they did publish several posts in his support.

  2. As far as I know, Beckwith’s support of ID is such insofar as he thinks ID can be discussed in schools without breaking any Church and State separation commitments, but he rejects ID as somehow ‘using science to show God exists’.

    Regardless, Forrest flubbed badly, and Matzke flubbed by trying to ride to Forrest’s defense.

  3. That’s my impression of his position too. That he doesn’t think the teaching of ID in schools is a violation of the separation of church and state. Which, I would think, means he accepts ID as science? Or not?

  4. That’s my impression of his position too. That he doesn’t think the teaching of ID in schools is a violation of the separation of church and state. Which, I would think, means he accepts ID as science? Or not?

  5. Which, I would think, means he accepts ID as science? Or not?

    It depends what’s meant by “ID” and “science”. I think it’s self-evident that Forrest was way off – she was trying to connect him with a really fringe Christian group, for crying out loud. But yeah, it’s entirely possible that *gasp* ID doesn’t actually conclude to the existence of God, and the inference of intelligence is in and of itself non-religious. But that would still leave Forrest’s hatchet-job in tatters.

  6. It would be interesting to find out his views on the matter but I can’t blame him for only speaking out on a narrow point.

    And yes, it’s a separate issue from what Dr Forrest said.

  7. ellazimm at 1: There are three different public Beckwith issues.

    1. His tenure at Baylor (2006?) It’s late here, and you could find relevant dates at the Post-Darwinist. I supported his tenure fight, as he was well-qualified and the circumstances under which he was struggling sounded familiarly suspicious. I expect that was the issue in which Discovery became involved. He was a fellow at the time, I believe.

    2. He became a Catholic not long afterward, and had to resign from the presidency of an evangelical scholars’ society as a result. I naturally took an interest in the matter. ;)

    3. This uproar around Forrest misclassifying him as an ID supporter is really far more about Forrest than about Beckwith. She had ample reason to know that her characterization of him was incorrect, but for whatever reason, she didn’t.

    And because that spook just wouldn’t dissipate quietly but continued to roil and scare people, I felt that something very specific must finally be said: Barbara Forrest does not know enough about the ID community to be the expert she is claimed to be. And I can prove it.

    I didn’t want to say that but finally had to, hoping that people would just stop obsessing about the dam spook.

    Look, there is no spook. It doesn’t exist. Normal human interactions, minus the spook, explain the whole story.

  8. Thanks for the reply M. O’Leary.

    I see your point and I think it is possible to say something is legal without agreeing with it.

    I suppose the fact that he was a fellow (and received funding from that?) does make it a bit harder to see the forest for the trees. Pun intended.

  9. Forrest and the signatories aren’t “flubbing” anything, and they aren’t making a “mistake”; the mistake being made is being made by those who don’t understand the purpose behind the actions of Forrest and Dawkins and Hitchesn, et. al.

    The purpose is not to have what one writes or says comport with facts; the purpose is to form a firewall of dire consequences for anyone who says anything that can be remotely construed as supportive of ID in any way. Thus, for most people, the emotional and professional cost of saying anything, even factual, that is in the least bit supportive of ID in science or cultures is too high.

  10. ellazimm at 8: It might have that effect on an uneducated and zealous person, but the reason Forrest is supposed to be a philosopher is that she can understand such a difference. Beckwith’s is quite a common position on many issues – pot use comes to mind.

  11. “but the reason Forrest is supposed to be a philosopher is that she can understand such a difference.”

    But every philosopher is first a human being. As such, lying is in her nature.

  12. Mel

    The name for that is censorship.

    Sad, really.

    G

  13. kairosfocus,

    This is the post-modern world, the post-real-science, deconstructionist mindset we are dealing with. They don’t care how they win; winning is everything. It’s the only thing.

    In one sense it might be sad, but it should make everyone angry enough to fight, because this is the mentality that is being infused in our children and being broadcast by the media.

    I suggest everyone read “Rules For Radicals” to see what we’re up against. They will lie boldly and obviously, smear and insinuate over, and over, and over, regardless of correction or facts.

    These people aren’t just “misinformed” or “ignorant” or “mistaken”; they do this deliberately.

  14. That’s my impression of his position too. That he doesn’t think the teaching of ID in schools is a violation of the separation of church and state.

    Yet the Discovery Institute does not advocate teaching ID in public school science classes.

  15. This discussion between Denyse and Meleager gets at the very heart of the problem in dealing with the culture-destroying postmodernists and their proclivity to create their own truth. At what point do we cease characterizing their fabrications as flubs and begin to expose them as calculated misrepresentations? How does the honest thinker separate the naive partisans, who lie to themselves and require remedial education, from the congenital liars, who know the truth and choose to militate against it?

    Put another way, does charity require us to assume that everyone falls into the first category and to declare on their behalf that “they know not what they do?” Or does wisdom provide us with the understanding needed to sort out the willful liars and expose them for what they are? Isn’t it the case that the culture warrior must be capable of both loving and fighting and that doing one at the exclusion of the other is always a spiritual weakness as well as a strategic error? Once the dissembler has been corrected a hundred times, is it time to withdraw the benefit of the doubt and face the fact that we are dealing with a person of demonstrably low moral character? Does it do violence to the spirit of charity to publicize that demonstrable fact?

  16. Mel:

    That sounds uncomfortably familiar, after the past 3 or so months here.

    G

    PS: SB, I draw the conclusion when we see that someone knows or should know but is unresponsive to the truth.

  17. O’Leary, you are merely a pseudo-expert on pseudo-experts. ;)

  18. Mung -

    “Yet the Discovery Institute does not advocate teaching ID in public school science classes.”

    True, but that is not on a constitutional basis, but a practical basis (both because of the nature of public education today and because of the infancy of ID as a science).

  19. Right. I’m not saying ID could not be taught. I was just pointing that Beckwith is/was a member who thought ID could be taught but the DI didn’t argue that it ought to be taught.

    My proposal is to get rid of “science” classes altogether. Call them natural philosophy classes or some such.

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