The petition to the Synthese editors will remain open for about another 24 hours (till around 6 pm on Monday, May 2). Those still debating whether to sign may find the following e-mail as remarkable as I do. It was sent to me by one of the Guest Editors (just a couple of days ago), and re-confirmed in its authenticity by Professor Forrest, who gave permission to release it (yesterday).
Readers will note that the letter is just from the two European editors of Synthese, Vincent Hendricks and Johan van Benthem; it was not signed by, or even, cc'd to the other EIC, John Symons. It was also not cc'd, as noted earlier, to the Guest Editors, who found about it only from Professor Forrest. As readers will recall, they then intervened and were assured, misleadingly as it turns out, that no disclaimer would be added, etc.
When Professor Forrest received the e-mail, she told Professor Hendricks that she was too busy to answer immediately; Professor Hendricks responded by telling her to take all the time she needed. Having thereafter received assurances from the Guest Editors that the Editors-in-Chief would not insist on any revisions or include a disclaimer, she never followed up. The Editors-in-Chief did not bother to reiterate their demand and went ahead with the disclaimer without telling Professor Forrest that they were going to do so.
Here is the e-mail (I have removed the e-mail addresses, including those of folks at Springer, the publisher, who are also cc'd), sent to Professor Forrest roughly nine months after the on-line publication of her article! I have inserted some editorial and informational comments of my own at various intervals.
From: Vincent Fella Hendricks
CC: Johan van Benthem, "Paradijs van, Harmen", "Laarhoven van, Ingrid, Springer SBM NL", Vincent Fella Hendricks
Date: Sun, 26 Sep 2010 15:04:17 +0200
Subject: Synthese submission
Dear Professor Barbara Forrest,
We are writing about your paper "The non-epistemology of intelligent design: its implications for public policy" submitted to the special issue of Synthese: Synthese
Through a sequence of events beyond our control, a number of criticisms have reached us concerning your paper, especially its tone and manner of criticizing the views of Professor Beckwith. Given our duties as General Editors of Synthese, we were required to take notice of these, and undertake appropriate action.
This, I take it, is a straightforward admission that the editors were, in fact, lobbied by Beckwith and his supporters in the Intelligent Desigh community, as the Guest Editors had claimed and as all the evidence to date has indicated. (I am told that those lobbying the editors included not only Beckwith, but also William Dembski, about whom more in a moment--there were others, I should add.) The e-mail from Professor Hendricks continues:
We have also consulted with the editor of the special issue for your paper, but the responsability is now ours. Here is the problem as we see it. We have read your paper with great interest, since it clearly deals with important issues. But we have to say that we can also understand the ciriticisms. Here are two points that struck us.
(a) The paper consistently employs a tone that makes it hard to distinguish between dispassionate intellectual discussion of views and disqualification of their author. Here is a sample passage that, in our view, does not belong in an academic article:
"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.). "
But examples could be multiplied of irrelevant personal passages of this kind.
Perhaps the EICs read Professor Forrest's article "with great interest," but they apparently did not understand its subject-matter, since they misrepresent this paragraph from her article as a "personal attack" and as "irrelevant". The entire pro-ID movement has been committed, from the start, to credential inflation: to claiming, e.g., that "scientists" have doubts about the theory of evolution ; that there are peer-reviewed doubts about natural selection; and so on. All one need do is google "Francis Beckwith legal scholar" to discover that the pro-Intelligent Design advocates regularly tried to bolster his interventions on behalf of the constitutionality of teaching Intelligent Design in the public schools by representing him as a legal authority on the subject (this is representative, from the blog of the Discovery [sic] Institute, the main lobbying arm for Intelligent Design in the United States).
Beckwith has not made any philosophical contributions of note to the defense of Intelligent Design (the main intellectual work has been done by philosopher and mathematician William Dembski, and it is his arguments that have been the targets of detailed critiques by Elliott Sober, Branden Fitelson, and others). Beckwith's primary role, as any observer in the U.S. knows, has been as "front man" for efforts to lobby school boards to undermine biology education: he is, as I noted earlier, primarily a political and religious activist. Many readers of the special issue have puzzled over the title ("Evolution and Its Rivals"), since the very idea that evolution has any scientific "rivals" seems odd. But it does have political rivals, like Beckwith and the Discovery [sic] Institute (of which he was a longtime Fellow), which have taken the battle not to the scholarly arena, but the "local politics" of school board elections and deliberations. Since it is central to Professor Forrest's article to explain the history and sociology of a movement with a "non-epistemology," all the details about Beckwith are relevant details, not irrelevant ones.
Professor Hendricks' e-mail to Professor Forrest continues:
(b) The paper also seems to misrepresent views of authors that are discussed.
Let us mention one example, not about Beckwith but Dembski. You write the following:
"Moreover, not only do ID proponents assert the logical and temporal priority of the supernatural, they also contend that supernatural knowledge claims can override natural ones. If a naturalistic claim conflicts with a supernatural claim that is essential to what they consider orthodox Christian doctrine (such as the historicity of Jesus's resurrection), the naturalistic claim must fall. In such cases, a claim established in a scientific (or any other empirical) discipline, though supported by a successful methodology and an epistemology, carries less epistemic weight than a supernatural religious claim, for which there is neither. Thus can Dembski declare in Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology that ID is 'incoherent' without miracles, whereas 'methodological naturalism is insupportable' because 'it leaves
no room for a designing intelligence whose action transcends natural laws (whether by performing a miracle or simply by being irreducible to natural laws).' (Dembski 1999a, pp. 51, 69)."
Here is what Dembski actually writes on p. 69 in the passage that you have in mind:
"Methodological naturalism is Spinoza's and Schleiermacher's legacy to us. Under the sway of methodological naturalism, evidence remains as disconnected from faith as ever, the concept of miracle remains a non-starter, and only naturalistic explanations that appeal to inviolable natural laws are permissible. Consequently, methodological naturalism leaves no room for a designing intelligence whose actions transcends natural laws (whether by performing a miracle or simply by being irreducible to natural laws). But methodological naturalism is supportable only if miracles can be precluded. And as we've seen, the naturalistic critique of miracles by Spinoza and Schleiermacher fails to preclude miracles. It follows that methodological naturalism is insupportable and that it cannot legitimately be used to bar design. The possibility of design is therefore reopened."
What Dembski is clearly trying to say in this summary passage is this: Methodological naturalism is supportable only if miracles can be precluded. Miracles cannot be precluded (the relevant efforts fail). Therefore, methodological naturalism is not supportable, and there is at least an opening for a theory of design.
One need not endorse this argument (we do not), to see that this is much more reasonable than the ID-biased vicious circle that you accuse the author of: One cannot have ID without miracles (incoherent). Methodological naturalism doesn't allow miracles So methodological naturalism is not supportable.
Many more examples could be found in your text for these two general
I'm afraid this "substantive" objection from Hendricks and van Benthem is more damning than the nonsense about "tone" and the misunderstanding of how the ID movement in the U.S. actually works, noted above. For the fact that Hendricks and vn Benthem raised this interpretive dispute about Dembski's actual meaning (that is what it is) as a substantive objection really does confirm that they "caved in" to the Intelligent Design proponents. If the EICs do not endorse the view that "miracles cannot be precluded" (one hopes they do not), then what exactly is the objection? Clearly, if one assumes, with Hume, that miracles are precluded by the well-confirmed laws of nature, then Professor Forrest's interpretation of the essence of Dembski's point is the natural one. As Professor Fetzer wrote to me regarding this odd criticism: "I am fairly astonished that [Hendricks] wants to leave room for miracles, which of course are violations of laws of nature, which cannot be violated, cannot be changed, and require no reinforcement. Perhaps he has lost track of Humes' admonition that, for the testimony of witnesses about miracles to be credible, it must be more improbable that they are mis- taken than it is that the laws of nature have been violated, which is a rather strong standard--and for the editor of a journal devoted to methodology, epistemology, and philosophy of science, extraordinary!"
The real question, given what has transpired since, is this: how else to explain how accomplished philosophers could actually raise an objection like this except that they were lobbied and threatened into doing so? Professor Forrest's gloss on Dembski is so clearly reasonable--especially if one has ever read Hume--that the objection of two of the EICs is really quite extraordinary.
The e-mail from Professor Hendricks concludes:
Where does this lead? As editors, it is our task to uphold the standards of quality and personal civility that are necessary for intellectual debate. We see this as even more pressing when the issues under debate are contentious, and tend to generate emotions. And we see them as imperative, especially when dealing with authors whose views one personally does not agree with. (For the record, we do not agree
with the views of Dembski or Beckwith, but that is entirely beside the
This is just the song-and-dance about tone now familiar from the disclaimer that was added behind the backs of the Guest Editors. But it gets better:
Your paper as it stands right now fails these standards, so we feel that action is necessary.
Here is the procedure that we have in mind for dealing with this
*We would ask you to reconsider the paper, in any case, concerning its
style, and give it a thorough 'neutral' academic tone. We do think you
raise many interesting points and telling criticisms, but these would
even come out more clearly in a paper that sounds more neutral, and
less like a personal attack.
Until this point in time, the only folks who thought Professor Forrest's piece was a "personal" attack were Beckwith and his friends.
Also, we feel that the paper is very long for its topic and content, which also detracts from its impact. Relentless attack dulls the senses. While we think the first point is imperative, the other two are just things for you to consider, not demands.
Perhaps it dulls the senses of two of the EICs, but is it really appropriate to raise the length of the article after the on-line publication of an article? They continue:
*We will write a brief general Editorial in this issue stating Synthese's policies and standards of debate (as outlined above), in general terms.
*In addition to this, we will give Professor Beckwith the opportunity to
respond to your intellectual criticisms in another issue of Synthese.
*We do not feel that he has to defend himself against any personal attacks: if they have disappeared from your revised paper, then all to the good. If they have not, we will make it clear in our Editorial that Synthese respects his integrity and qualifications, and regrets any doubts that have been cast upon it in this issue.
Just to be clear, Vincent Hendricks and Johan Van Benthem--who I am quite sure have read little or nothing by Beckwith and know little or nothing about his long history of underhanded political advocacy (documented in the original post)--have now gone on record as affirming the "integrity and qualifications" of a shameless hack and political propagandist; I assume Professor Beckwith will now list them as references.
If I were the publisher of Synthese, this is the moment at which I might wake up and realize that a 75-year old journal is about to "crash-and-burn" (as they say in the movies).
The extraordinary e-mail concludes:
Once again, you and we are probably on the same side in the ID Debate,
and we completely understand that these are serious issues with great
potential political consequences. But we do feel that 'our cause' is in
fact much better served by maintaining high standards of politeness in discussion.
Looking forward to your response,
Johan van Benthem & Vincent F. Hendricks
Editors in Chief: Synthese
I would urge Professors van Benthem and Hendricks to read my little essay on "The Circumstances of Civility," which might have saved them much embarrassment, at least if they had bothered to find out whom they were dealing with.
Many philosophers have affirmed to me that van Benthem and Hendricks are accomplished scholars in their field, which I believe. They have, alas, betrayed a catastrophic failure of professional judgment, which has damaged the Guest Editors and all the contributors to their Special Issue; the cause of serious science education in the United States; as well as the integrity of Synthese. It is my sincere hope that they will read the petition and finally make amends.