Francis Beckwith has published a letter to the editor in the latest issue of the Chapman Law Review (
not available online) alleging that I misrepresented his views in my recent article in that journal. I think my article correctly described his views and that his letter—probably intentionally—obscures the issues involved.
Beckwith protests, for instance that he is “not a defender of crieationism.” This is not true, but Beckwith can get away with it by changing the definition of the word creationism: “…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.’” Of course, I never accused Beckwith of being a young earth creationist, and I do not mean only them when I use the term creationist. I accused Beckwith of being a creationist: that is, of believing that supernatural powers had a formative hand in the creation of the animals. That includes ID creationists as well. Beckwith is most certainly a creationist, even if he is not of the Biblical-literalist variety, and I correctly described his views in my article.
Beckwith also writes that “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.” Indeed, they are. I’ve made no effort to disguise my rejection of Miller’s and Collins’ attempts to compromise between religion and science. I think they’re shameful, and I said as much in my recent comments supporting Jerry Coyne.
Second, Beckwith protests against my statement that he believes “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.’” (My words; he correctly quotes them.) But Beckwith does believe this, and has said so. In an article in the Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics, and Public Policy, he wrote that
to exclude non-materialist (or ID) accounts of natural phenomena by merely defining science as requiring [methodological naturalism] (and/or entailing [ontological materialism]) does not count either as a philosophical argument against ID or an argument for [methodological naturalism] (or [ontological materialism]); it is at best, circular reasoning, and at worst, intellectual imperialism.
That is to say, confining oneself to natural accounts of the phenomena of the world, and not jumping to miracles to “explain” things, is to “unfair” because it excludes those kinds of “explanations” that rely on magic—and this is “intellectual imperialism.” What Beckwith is seeking is to establish an equivalence between natural explanations of phenomena and magical “explanations” of phenomena—an equivalence that is utterly false. And he seeks to implement this false equivalence by accusing the naturalistic methods of science of being “intellectual imperialism.” Beckwith actually reiterates this position in his letter to the editor:
What I oppose is the insistence that this position [i.e., the willingness to accept supernatural, magical claims as equivalent to naturalistic explanations], because it happens to run counter to a materialist understanding of mind, is ipso facto non-science and thus not knowledge because science presupposes materialism and science is the paradigm of knowledge. Now, that is intellectual imperialism….
Okay, well, then I’m as imperialistic as all hell! Magic isn’t an explanation of anything, and is not science, and yes, science is the paradigm of knowledge. And Beckwith has hereby demonstrated that I correctly described his views: he does indeed believe “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.’”
Beckwith also complains that “as far as I know, in my work on ID and the law I have never used the term ‘supernatural….’”—but I don’t think I accused him of doing so, and I don’t much care. He can call magic by whatever names he likes; it’s still magic. He also says he’s not a proponent of ID. Fine, whatever. I don’t think I said he was, although he was a fellow at the Discovery Institute, continues to defend the constitutionality of teaching it in government schools, and views the exclusion of ID from classrooms as intellectual imperialism. But don’t accuse him of being a proponent of ID creationism.
Finally, Beckwith accuses me of “defaming” him: “These misrepresentations by Mr. Sandefur are not merely a theoretical matter. To be labeled a ‘creationist’ in some circles is to be put in the same category as ‘holocaust deniers,’ at least according to the blog to which Mr. Sandefur contributes, Pandasthumb.org. This sort of defamation by association has no place in an academic journal.” When did I ever accuse Beckwith (or any other creationist) of being a Holocaust denier or anything of the sort? I accused him of being a creationist, which he is, and which he basically admits himself to be—though not of the Biblical literalist variety. Beckwith points to an old PT post written by some other person, for which I’m in no way responsible, but even that post didn’t accuse creationists or Beckwith personally of being a Holocaust denier.
But them that lays down with dogs are liable to get fleas, and let’s look at what Beckwith does associate himself with. Francis Beckwith writes for a blog called What’s Wrong With The World, which runs the slogan “Dispatches from the 10th Crusade,” and purports to stand “athwart two hostile Powers…the Jihad and Liberalism.” It’s edited by our old friend Paul Cella, who, though not a Holocaust denier is an enthusiastic defender of the Crusades. Just scanning over this blog is enough to shock and dismay any reasonable reader. “Liberals and neoconservatives,” Cella complains, are “quick to join the chorus of ritual denunciation of, for instance, the Crusades. But if the invasion of France, purposed toward her liberation from a foreign oppressor, was just, how can we not also embrace, as least in theory, the invasion of Asia Minor and Palestine, purposed toward the same, by the Crusaders?”
If Francis Beckwith is so concerned about being “put in the same category” as those who embrace horrific, genocidal positions, what is to explain his participation with this weblog?
If Beckwith doesn’t like me calling a spade a spade, that’s his right. If he thinks I have defamed him, he is welcome to sue me. But a creationist is a creationist, and that’s what Francis Beckwith is. He believes that scientific knowledge is of equal validity as the “knowledge” acquired by an appeal to supernatural claims—oh, just as long as we don’t use the word “supernatural.” And he is, indeed, willing to associate with spokesmen for some pretty nasty viewpoints. My article was accurate.
Update: Beckwith has posted the letter on his blog, along with the following claim:
the faculty advisor chose to publish my letter only after he or she had concluded that Mr. Sandefur had misrepresented me and my views. This is what the faculty advisor wrote to me in a private email: “Having carefully reviewed the portion of Mr. Sandefur’s recent article that addresses your work, it strikes me that his labeling of you as a ‘creationist’ is not supported with citation authority. Because you take strong issue with the characterization, we want to give you a fair opportunity to respond.”
But of course, the faculty advisor (my friend Donald Kochan, whose private emails to me regarding this matter I shall not publish to the world, unlike Prof. Beckwith), did not say that I had “misrepresented” anything. What he said was that I had not “supported [my claim] with citation to authority.” (I don’t think it necessary, since it wasn’t a major point of my article and since the facts speak for themselves.) But in no way can Kochan's comment be construed as conceding that I had “misrepresented” Beckwith. I did not misrepresent him. Whether Beckwith has misrepresented Prof. Kochan's views, howver, I leave the reader to judge. But it is clear that we have here yet another example of the dubious rhetorical gamesmanship that is typical of Beckwith’s style.
Update 2: Beckwith has now removed the email quotation from his blog post. He writes me that it was not Prof. Kochan, but someone else. Of course that does not change the ironic fact that he misrepresented the quote itself as being an endorsement of his claim that I misrepresented him.