You may already have seen it, but if not, have a look at this New York Times article from last weekend, “Debate Over Intelligent Design Ensnares a Journal.” It’s a sordid tale of sneering and prejudice, dressed up in the costume of academic philosophy–and of the good sense and probity of some journal editors, bless them.
It seems that two years ago the journal Synthese published a guest-edited issue online with the thematic title “Evolution and Its Rivals” (the print edition did not come out until this year). One of the articles in the issue, by philosophy professor Barbara Forrest of Southeastern Louisiana University, was an attack on the intellectual output–and, read in a certain light, on the integrity–of philosopher Francis Beckwith of Baylor (a writer known to many readers here). Evidently having mastered the art of collapsing distinctions, Forrest declared that “Intelligent Design” is indistinguishable from “creationism”; that Beckwith, who explicitly parts company with ID advocates, is actually one of them; that his argument for the constitutionality of teaching ID must mean he subscribes to that school of thought in toto; and that he is the enemy of the Constitution to boot for taking a view denied in one Pennsylvania courtroom but held by large numbers of respectable constitutional scholars.
The regular editors of the journal, seemingly prompted by Forrest’s essay above all (and perhaps by it alone), published a statement in the print edition of the issue this year deploring the “tone” of some of the contents of the special issue whose editing they had handed over to guest editors. They also gave Beckwith space for a 23-page reply to Forrest’s 49-page attack on him. To read Forrest and Beckwith is like turning from Thrasymachus to Socrates, except that Thrasymachus, we know, could blush when abashed. The editors are to be commended for taking the matter in hand with both their mild-mannered statement and their provision of space to Beckwith.
But of course all heck broke loose in the village of the darned known as academic philosophy departments. Before you could say “HMS Beagle,” the pack was baying at the gates of Synthese, describing Forrest (!) as the aggrieved party and crying that the editors must take it all back and confess their sins. They have manfully resisted these silly demands, and rightly so.
The Times account is pretty fair-minded, as Times accounts go. My favorite nugget is the revelation that one of the guest editors entrusted with this special issue of Synthese is a 9/11 “truther.” Do we want to take instruction in the nature of reality from such a person?