A recent issue of the philosophy journal, Synthese, focused on creationism and intelligent design; the articles I’ve read from it have so far all been anti-creationist, or at least recognize that creationism is in deep conflict with science. It’s all interesting stuff, anyway.
But there’s a problem. This issue was assembled with two guest editors, Glenn Branch and James Fetzer, and represents well the consensus view on ID and creationism. The editors-in-chief, however, published a disclaimer in the print edition.
Statement from the Editors-in-Chief of SYNTHESE
This special issue addresses a topic of lively current debate with often strongly expressed views. We have observed that some of the papers in this issue employ a tone that may make it hard to distinguish between dispassionate intellectual discussion of other views and disqualification of a targeted author or group.
We believe that vigorous debate is clearly of the essence in intellectual communities, and that even strong disagreements can be an engine of progress. However, tone and prose should follow the usual academic standards of politeness and respect in phrasing. We recognize that these are not consistently met in this particular issue. These standards, especially toward people we deeply disagree with, are a common benefit to us all. We regret any deviation from our usual standards.
They actually used the tone argument! What’s also remarkable is that this is an academic journal, and if you read the papers, you’ll discover that no one is called a poopyhead, there is no broken crockery, and no rhetorical blood is spilled. It’s a gang of philosophers, for christ’s sake, people who can look on a flaming nitwit like Ray Comfort and ruminatively ponder the cognitive framework and perceptual concept-space of the crocoduck icon. Apparently, some creationists, like Francis Beckwith, were deeply offended at the criticism of their nonsense and screamed “libel!” at the journal, and the editors-in-chief covered their butts by disparaging their authors in print, instead.
One of the papers singled out for its wicked “tone” was the article by Barbara Forrest…and already your eyebrows should be rising. She’s one of the nicest people we’ve got combating creationism, who, while fierce, always goes after the wackos with a smile and good old Southern gentility. Here’s the abstract for her article. The rest of the article politely eviscerates the epistemology of intelligent design, but the tone is not at all excessive.
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. 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. I 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. My examination focuses primarily on ID supporter Francis Beckwith, whose published defenses of teaching ID, as well as his other relevant publications concerning education, law, and public policy, have been largely exempt from critical scrutiny. Beckwith’s work exhibits the epistemological deficiencies of the supernaturally grounded views of his ID associates and of supernaturalists in general. I preface my examination of Beckwith’s arguments with (1) philosopher of science Susan Haack’s clarification of the established naturalistic methodology and epistemology of science and (2) discussions of the views of Beckwith’s ID associates Phillip Johnson and William Dembski. Finally, I critique the religious exclusionism that Beckwith shares with his ID associates and the implications of his exclusionism for public policy.
That’s the worst the evolution advocates could do? I think it’s obvious that the decision to publish a disclaimer actually wasn’t motivated by a concern about the tone at all, but was actually a surrender to the ranting ideologues of the creationist movement. All we can conclude from it is that the management at the journal is craven.
Brian Leiter is calling for a boycott until the editors-in-chief apologize, which is a rather mild demand. Branch and Fetzer have made a very strong criticism of the journal:
We are both shocked and chagrined that a journal of SYNTHESE’s stature should have sunk so low as to violate the canons of responsible editorial practice as the result of lobbying by a handful of ideologues. This tells us — as powerfully as Forrest’s work — that intelligent design corrupts. We regret the conduct of the Editors-in-Chief and the unwarranted insult to the contributors and ourselves as Guest Editors represented by the disclaimer. We are doing our best to make the misconduct of the Editors-in-Chief a matter of common knowledge within the philosophy community in the hope that everyone will consider whatever actions may be appropriate for them to adopt in any future associations with SYNTHESE.
Shame on Synthese. Let’s all hope the journal staff see their way to correcting their colossal mistake.