Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Stove Award competition heats up!

How do we know that Francis Beckwith is not an Intelligent Design theorist? Well, first of all, because he has publicly said that he isn’t. Second, because some ID defenders themselves have (with evident frustration with him) publicly said that he isn’t. And third, because the metaphysical position he is committed to – Thomism – is incompatible with standard ID methodology, or at the very least is hard to square with it. (My own readers know that I have been pretty hard on ID, both in The Last Superstition – which Frank kindly endorsed – and in the long and bloody combox exchange some of us at WWWtW had on this subject some months back. Fr. Edward Oakes pitted Thomism against ID in a well-known exchange in First Things some years ago. Beckwith cited Prof. Michael Tkacz’s Thomistic critique of ID here. Etc.)

But ID critic Prof. Barbara Forrest will hear nothing of it. Beckwith is an “ID supporter,” she assures us, his protestations notwithstanding. In support of this claim, she marshals copious evidence of what everyone already knows, and what Beckwith has never denied: that he thinks the usual constitutional arguments against teaching ID in public schools are no good. I see a Stove Award in Prof. Forrest’s future; at the very least, this very fine specimen of the non sequitur should put her in the running. Presumably Prof. Forrest takes the view that her fellow philosophers should be able to teach arguments for (say) dualism, idealism, theism, and natural law theory in public universities. Does this show that she is a “supporter” of these views? Of course not; certainly her work gives evidence of precisely the opposite of sympathy for these views. So how does Beckwith’s defense of the teaching of ID show that he “supports” ID? The answer, of course, is that it doesn’t.

Why, then, does Forrest pretend otherwise? Well, the non sequitur is not the only weapon in her arsenal of fallacies. She is also an absolute master of guilt by association, and precisely because she deploys it so clumsily. Her unwary reader thinks: “Huh? But that argument sucks! Well, she can’t mean that, then. To be sure, I don’t know what the hell she does mean, but by golly the good people at Americans United for Separation of Church and State would never associate themselves with someone who’d resort to such crudities. So…” And before you know it the reader, or at least the reader who already agrees with Forrest anyway, is convinced that the argument must be good, because the only alternative is that it is so unspeakably awful that it should never have appeared in print or even pixel.

And here’s the thing. Forrest really, really wants to be able to call Beckwith a “Creationist.” That’s the scare word of choice among the anti-“Texas Taliban” brigade. You let that sucker fly, and you’ve won the debate, or shut it down, anyway. At the very least, you’ll get plaudits from Leiter Reports, and goodness gracious sakes alive there’s nothing better in the world than that! So: “Creationist” he must be labeled. Since your gang has already succeeded in assimilating “ID theorist” to “Creationist,” at least among people deficient either in actual knowledge of ID theory or in intellectual honesty, you can pull it off as long as you can peg Beckwith as an ID theorist. Trouble is, he isn’t one. What to do? Easy: Non sequitur comes to the rescue of guilt by association. Beckwith defends the right to teach ID theory, “therefore” he is an ID theorist, “therefore” he is a Creationist. The weasel expression “ID supporter” helps this fallacious Double Shot go down easier.

Keep it up, Prof. Forrest, and that Stove Award is yours!


  1. Intelligent Design theorist?

    You mean MAGIC theorist. "Intelligent design" are fancy words that mean MAGIC.

    To be honest you should replace "Intelligent Design theorist" with "MAGIC IDIOT".

    Of course I don't expect a Jeebus moron like yourself to be honest.

  2. Ah, bobxxxx, what a voice of reason you are.

  3. As far I know, ID (intelligent design) is neutral regarding the origin the the intelligent agent(s); hence, it is not creationist in the religious sense since that it doesn't entail that God is the intelligent agent.

    Even Richard Dawkins has conceded that life on earth could be a product of the intelligent action aliens (i.e. of the intelligent design of extraterrestials).

    As commented journalist Melanie Phillips "Even more jaw-droppingly, Dawkins told me that, rather than believing in God, he was more receptive to the theory that life on earth had indeed been created by a governing intelligence – but one which had resided on another planet."


    So, Dawkins is conceding that the hypothesis of intelligent design or agency can't be discarded as an explanation for the origin of life on Earth (even though, it's not explanation preferred by him).

    Also, the criteria for detection of intelligence design have been defended by authors outside of the ID movement, as documented in detail by philosopher Peter Williams in this paper:


    Actually, ID as an hypothesis of design detection and inference, is compatible with atheism. In fact, philosopher of science Bradley Monton is an atheist, and defender of ID. See this interview with him:


    And Monton's website (with many articles defending ID and other theses):


    Also, philosopher David Berlinski is a well-known defender of ID, but he is agnostic regarding God. Hence, not a "creationist".

    So, the conceptual identification of ID with creationism only shows deep ignorance and, in some cases, the intentional and malicious use of rhetorical labels and propaganda to preach to the chorus of materialists, and prevent any criticism of the neo-darwinian theory (which, if false, would undermine the materialistic worldview).

    I think it's a waste of time to try to explain such conceptual distinctions to uncritical anti-ID propagandists. Their purpose is not seek the truth and discuss the ideas with rational arguments, but to debunk with fallacies, rhetorical labels (magic, creationism, fairy tales, etc.) and ad hominem stigmatizations (moron, etc.) any person who dares to defend an hypothesis inconsistent with philosophical materialism.

    Such individuals shows clear signs of emotional reaction, ignorance, intellectual dishonesty and inability to reason with logical and theoretical arguments.

  4. A good item, Mr Feser.

    (Also, I like it that another Christian isn't afraid to use the term 'intellectual dishonesty' if it's appropriate.)

  5. That is a really, really bad argument, but in terms of the Stove Award, she's going to get strong competition from Bob Shrum In a straight-up competition, Forrest might win, but there's a lifetime achievement factor here in terms of Shrum having made so many bad arguments in his day. Being able to lose that many Presidential campaigns takes a real knack for poor argumentation.

  6. During the McCarthy era the term "fellow traveller" was used for people who defended the right to free speech by Communists. The liberals were bitterly divided on the question of whether the Communists should be hunted or not. Today there are people who are straight who defend the homosexual agenda, and the liberals all agree that they have rights. But when people defend the right of ID proponents to even speak, they are branded.