Barbara Forrest is a pseudo-expert, not a real expert. And I can (and now must, alas) explain why.
|May 27, 2011||Posted by O'Leary under Darwinism, Philosophy|
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.