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My Chapman Law Review Letter to the Editor

The Chapman Law Review just published, in its Fall 2008 issue, a letter to the editor that I submitted in reply to several false and misleading claims made about me and my work in an article authored by attorney Timothy Sandefur in a prior issue of the CLR. (You can read Mr. Sandefur's article here). Here is how it begins, with footnotes omitted:

To the Editor:

I am writing in order to inform you that in a recent issue of the Chapman Law Review, Timothy Sandefur falsely portrayed my views on intelligent design, creationism, and the public education.

I have published a book and several law review articles on the issue of whether it would be unconstitutional to teach intelligent design (ID) in public schools. These publications were the result of a dissertation I completed for the Master of Juridical Studies degree I earned in 2001 at the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis.

According to Mr. Sandefur, "Francis Beckwith, probably the most prominent defender of creationism in the legal academy, argues in many of his articles that science's methodological naturalism is no more or less valid than the embrace of supernaturalism among religious believers and that granting science any greater prestige is "intellectual imperialism.'" This is riddled with falsehoods.

First, I am not a defender of creationism. I think "creationism" is a mistaken view, if what Mr. Sandefur means by creationism is a view of the first twelve chapters of Genesis that one finds among those who call themselves "creation-scientists." As stated in my 2005 article in the Journal of Law and Religion:

When most people think of creationism, this is the view they have in mind. And this is why scholars who have their doubts about materialism in general and evolution in particular typically keep it to themselves. But in order to dispute naturalistic evolution as defined above, one does not have to embrace this sort of creationism. (It is certainly not a view I embrace or have ever embraced).

In my published works, I have gone to great lengths to explain important distinctions between the differing views on the relationship between science, theology, and knowledge. Unfortunately, it is not possible in this venue for me to convey the complexity and variety of viewpoints that are involved in this debate. Suffice it to say that Mr. Sandefur does not advance the conversation in a fruitful and illuminating way when he uses unrefined categories that cannot possibly capture the range of arguments and points of view that are being offered in the literature.

As a Christian, and as a Catholic, I, of course, believe that God created the universe. And as a philosopher who embraces natural theology, I believe there are good arguments in support of belief in God that do not depend on Holy Scripture or special revelation. But that does not make me a "creationist." After all, if Mr. Sandefur were to maintain that anyone who believes that God created the universe or embraces natural theology is a "creationist," then some of his allies, including biologist Ken Miller (Brown University) and geneticist Francis Collins (director, Human Genome Research Institute), self-described "theistic evolutionists," are creationists. But Miller and Collins, both devout Christians, have offered strong criticisms against ID as well as creationism while also presenting arguments that are best classified as examples of natural theology. If Sandefur's definition of creationism includes even the views of these gentlemen, then the only non-creationists are atheists who do not embrace natural theology.

You can read the whole thing, with footnotes, here.

(Because I don't want to deal with it, I have shut down the combox for this entry)

(Update: I removed the quote from the private email I received from the former CLR faculty advisor. A friend suggested that posting it may be perceived as bad form unless I get her explicit permission. I think my friend is spot-on right.)