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The Epistemological Deficiencies of Barbara Forrest


Denyse O’Leary writes about Barbara Forrest’s fact-free attack on Frank Beckwith, which recently appeared in Synthese. While Denyse focused more on Beckwith’s response to Forrest’s scholarly article diatribe, it might be worth taking a closer look not only at Forrest’s article, but the entire issue of Synthese in which it is found. First Forrest. In the abstract for her article with the breathtaking title “The non-epistemology of intelligent design: its implications for public policy”, Bar writes:

Intelligent design creationism (ID) is a religious belief requiring a supernatural creator’s interventions in the natural order. ID thus brings with it, as does supernatural theism by its nature, intractable epistemological difficulties.

Okay, so we’re only 2 sentences into the abstract and we can already see that Bar has no clue what ID is about. I don’t know what ID books or articles she’s actually read, but claiming that ID is a “religious belief requiring a supernatural creator’s intervention” demonstrates how little she understands ID. Perhaps Bar could enlighten us as to what religion ID adheres. Since ID advocates come from a broad range of faith traditions as well as no faith tradition at all, it would seem a bit problematic for her to identify exactly which religion we’re talking about here. Further, I know of no ID advocate that makes the claim that ID “requires” a “supernatural” creator. While ID may be compatible with certain theistic beliefs, it by no means requires it. If Forrest has done even a cursory review of any ID literature she’d know that. (Actually, I suspect she does know that, but because she has a clear agenda, she fudges on the truth.)

Whenever I see the phrase “Intelligent Design creationism”, red flags go up all over the place. This traces back to Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics, a ponderous tome from 2001 edited by Robert Pennock, and in which Forrest herself had a chapter. The clever illusion of the title is to give the appearance of an unbreakable link between Intelligent Design and Creationism, no doubt because the term “creationism” carries with it the allusions to young earth creationism and all that goes with that. To Pennock and Forrest et.al., Intelligent Design is just a modifier for Creationism. But any informed reader already knows something is amiss when we see that phrase.

Not content to misrepresent ID’s connections to theistic beliefs, and not being able to help herself, Forrest has a need to expose the insidious designs of ID. In the next sentence of the abstract she writes: “Despite these difficulties and despite ID’s defeat in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (2005), ID creationists’ continuing efforts to promote the teaching of ID in public school science classrooms threaten both science education and the separation of church and state guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.” Wow…so many sins, so little time. ID not only is irrevocably tied to belief in the supernatural, but is a subversive movement that threatens the very core of science education. Oh, those poor innocent school children! Who will protect them? Its a real treat to see such amazing expose of such a devious movement in just three sentences. But if anyone is to pull it off, it’d be Forrest!

She states the purpose of her article is to “…examine the ID movement’s failure to provide either a methodology or a functional epistemology to support their supernaturalism, a deficiency that consequently leaves them without epistemic support for their creationist claims.” Since ID doesn’t advocate for or require any form of supernaturalism, it is difficult to see why it would need a methodology or functional epistemology to support it. But, alas, that simple fact doesn’t deter Forrest from her self-appointed task of exposing all this hidden supernaturalism. Sadly, Forrest fails to see that it is her naturalism that is lacking a methodology and functional epistemology to support it. No one has made this more clear than Dr. Alvin Plantinga in his well-known Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. Before Forrest goes off on ID’s alleged epistemological deficiencies, she might try to define and defend the methodology and epistemological support for naturalism. Good luck with that, Bar!

Since she’s so far wrong in just the abstract, it is difficult to take her seriously on any of the rest. Forrest and those of her ilk simply have not the slightest idea what ID actually is, let alone have a clue as to what its epistemological difficulties may or may not be. It may be worthwhile to examine some of the other articles from this issue as well.

Thanks UB. I missed you too. In context with what Forrest asserts regarding ID then, she very cunningly sets up an elaborate but la ughable supernatural man of straw, and using her sword, knocks it down and mashes it to pieces. The applause in the collusseum grows as she drawes her shield. What she and we should all ask ourselves is why she even needs a shield if the enemy is dead, Why even counter ID if it can't muster a response to the fierce weapons of the scientific method? The answer as I've already hinted at, is that the threat of ID is ideological (at least in Forrest's confused thinking), so better to use the weapons of science in an ideological fashion rather than a scientific one. I think we all know it doesn't work that way, but does Barbara Forrest? CannuckianYankee
"Miss me?" Yes Upright BiPed
Hi f olks. It's been a while since I last posted. Miss me? The thing about Forrest (and we discussed this topic several years ago on this forum) is two issues. 1. She equates methodological naturalism as THE scientific method. 2. She believes there is a difference between metaphysical naturalism and her perception of the limits of methodological naturalism, but she is either unable or unwilling to articulate what that difference is in any cogent manner. To Forrest it would seem that the scientist is not able via MN to say 'there is no god,' while in his/her heart of hearts, he/she really wished he/she could. Suffice to say that methodological naturalism is less a scientific method for Forrest and more a shield from having to deal with her own metaphysical shortcomings. Well, for her it also makes a rather useful sword as well. CannuckianYankee
Attorney: "Ms Forrest do yu agree with the sttement that natural processes only exist in nature, that is this physical universe?" Ms Forrest: "Yes I agree to that statement." Attorney: "Ms Forrest if natural processes only exist in this physical universe then what type of pocesses do you think were responsible for the origin of this physical universe, which science has determined it had?" Ms Forrest: (Just stares, blankly- then starts to mumble and falls out of her chair) Joseph
You both make excellent points! Phaedros is being kind when he says naturalism is a personal preference to some extent. I'd say it is a personal preference period! That strengthens his argument that it is indeed a value judgment. And he's right in asking why is naturalism the preferred position...why indeed. You're actually stealing a bit of my thunder, Phaedros, as that is going to be the very subject of post I'm working on now. I just need to find some time to get it all down! Joseph: exactly right! But try getting any naturalist to admit that. And, coupling that with Plantinga's argument (referenced in my OP), there's huge epistemological issue staring naturalism in the face! Here's the question you've probably seen me ask before in one form or another, and it is the one I'd put to Forrest as well: how do you know scientifically (not philosophically, theologically or metaphysically) that the properties of the cosmos are such that any apparent design we observe in natural systems such as biological systems can not be actual design, even in principle? I've asked this question on forum after forum dozens of times over the past decade and have yet to receive anything remotely resembling a scientific argument. Problem indeed!!!!! DonaldM
Naturalism has a logic issue- natural processes only exist in nature and theefor cannot account for its origins. Joseph
How did she determine that naturalism is automatically a preferable position to supernaturalism? It seems to be, at least partially, a value judgment. That is, it is a personal preference to some extent. If that is true, then neither can really be privileged over the other in the public square. Phaedros

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