Barbara Forrest: The Trojan Horse at Dover

Barbara Forrest was one of the witnesses at the Dover Trial, an atheist philosopher who wrote the book: Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design.

Conversation with Dr. Forrest was great today. Unfortunately @NLENTS had an unexpected conflict come up. We might have her back sometime too. Looking forward writing up the article for this one.


The book Forrest mentions but can’t remember the title of is Darwinism, Design, and Public Education, edited by by John Angus Campbell & Stephen C. Meyer (2003).

Correction: it is more likely that it was Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curriculum: A Legal Guidebook, DeForrest, ME; DeWolf, DK; Meyer S, C (1999) that she was thinking of – given that both involve “Design” & “Public Education” in their title, and involved Meyer, I must admit I conflated the two as being the same book. It’d be interesting if the focus changed much in the four years between the two books.

I think the viewpoint that Forrest was suggesting that the IDM is pushing, in opposition to naturalistic science is Theistic Science, not merely that there are ‘ways of knowing’ beyond science.

I would note that the case for ID being religious was covered at Dover mainly by theologian John Haught. His expert report can be found here.

I’d also question how prevalent the ‘Science explains everything’ viewpoint is, even among more ardent atheists. I can remember reading that some atheist philosopher claimed that Morality is derivable from science/empiricism, but it only came up because another atheist (Jerry Coyne, I think, though I may be wrong) was criticising the view.

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I am one atheist who holds that there is nothing that we know except thru science. All else is opinion. And even opinions can and should be evaluated scientifically.

Whether one agrees with this largely depends on how one defines science, however.


How would you evaluate scientifically the opinion that ‘the works of Shakespeare are great literature’?

I would tend to agree that anything outside science/empiricism is likely to be opinion and/or subjective, I’m not sure that I’d agree that you cannot “know” these things. I know that I like the music of Queen, Eric Clapton and Dead Can Dance.


You could cite the large amount of scholarship that supports that conclusion.

But I did not mean to suggest that every opinion can be determined to be correct or not according to the scientific method. Just that an opinion can and should be evaluated to make sure it is not contradicted or weakened by any evidence or logic.

I would say you know this thru the evidence of your own emotional and aesthetic responses. If a god came down and declared that you did not actually like this music, would you be compelled to agree?

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And I’m sure there’s a boatload of scholarship that says that Post-Modernism is a really great idea – I’m not sure that I’d accept their opinion however.

I’m also not sure that merely citing scholarship is evaluating opinions scientifically (what you said was “And even opinions can and should be evaluated scientifically.”).

If the god in question was a really cute goddess, I might. :wink:


That would entail a very lengthy discussion about the definitions of knowledge, belief, and observation.

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It would indeed. Suffice it to say that although I do not think that science encompasses all human knowledge, I do accept that it is the most reliable and intersubjective form of knowledge, for some (not too idiosyncratic) value of the word “knowledge”.

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As I see it, the debate. such as it is, comes down to this:

You want to know whether or not it is raining today.

So you look out your window or go outside and see whether it is raining.

Does it make more sense to consider this science, just on a very small scale? Or a completely different way of knowing that uses a non-scientific epistemology?

I go with the first option.


Like you, I don’t believe science is an all encompassing and omniscient worldview. Science is a method and a tool which produces a lot of trustworthy knowledge, but it can’t span the entire spectrum of the human experience. Part of being human is having subjective opinions, beliefs, and biases.

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I don’t think that is science at all.

Which is a reasonable opinion.

And therefore, if we subsequently disagree over whether there are ways to know things other than thru science, it is likely that our disagreement is over how one defines “science”, rather than how human beings come to know things. (Since I presume you would agree that, in my example, one can know whether or not it is raining.)


Perhaps. Probably even.

Your definition seems very ahistorical, and disconnected from what scientists actually do in our work. How do you justify it?

You didn’t list a hypothesis, null hypothesis, specific methodology with controls, data sets, statistical analysis, or a p value.

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I see the work that scientists do as a highly specialized and skilled form of something we all do, in almost every waking moment. It is not something that is completely separate.

Similarly to how even though an Olympic runner spends a lot more time training and competing and therefore can move much faster than I can, we are still doing the same thing when we walk or run. He is not employing a different means of moving.

We may be addressing different questions. If we want to determine whether an academic discipline or activity qualifies as science, then I agree my definition is not very relevant. I think it is more relevant if we are talking about epistemology in general, and what it means for someone to “know” something.


If you do mean a larger evidence oriented epistemology, it might be better to just call it your epistemology, and work to define it thoughtfully in conversation with the long history of contemplation on epistemology.

When you call it “science,” that skews the meaning too much, and can seriously undermine understanding of how science actually works, how it historically rose, and what are it’s strengths and limits.

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I don’t think so.

Science is far more systematic and organized than ordinary ways of informing ourselves. And I see that difference as part of what distinguishes science.

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Whereas, I’m with Maarten Boudry and Jerry Coyne: When a plumber fixes the sink, he is using science.


We could all go back and forth over the semantics of what science is, but it probably wouldn’t be worth the effort.

The two big pieces that make up science are hypothesis testing and empiricism which was a break from the Rationalist school of thought that preceded the modern scientific movement. The knowledge we gain through science is only as good as the hypotheses and the observations that test them.