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 we all 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!