Friday, April 21, 2006
In many ways, Barbara Forrest seems an unlikely opponent for the Christian fundamentalists who want to teach creation "science" or its highfalutin cousin, intelligent design, in our public schools.
Forrest combines a frank, straightforward manner with considerable personal charm. A barely detectable drawl hints at her Louisiana upbringing. Even in this newly liberated age she insisted on a courtly chivalry from her sons, who she raised to open doors and give their seats to sometimes uncomprehending modern women. She is a tiny woman, whose diminutive physical size belies great personal courage and a strong commitment to acting as a public intellectual.
Despite her tiny physical stature, personal warmth, and old-fashioned Southern manners, Forrest seems to bring out the worst in those who say they want to restore traditional values to a society they fear is fast going to hell in a handbasket.
Richard Thompson, the lead attorney for the Thomas More Law Center, which describes itself the sword and shield for people of faith, went to extraordinary lengths to prevent the soft-spoken Forrest, a professor of Philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University, from testifying as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the Dover intelligent design trial last fall.
In June, before the trial began, Thompson flew to New Orleans to take Forrest's deposition. As attorneys, witness, and stenographer met in the offices of a local law firm for the deposition, Forrest was surprised to find that Thompson had intelligent design activist William Dembski in tow.
Dembski, who was himself to have been an expert witness for the defense, sat in on the early stages of her deposition. He was brooding presence, Forrest recalls, and extremely hostile.
"I just did my Southern magnolia routine on him," says Forrest, "and made him shake my hand."
In September, as the Dover trial got underway, Thomas filed a highly unusual motion to exclude Forrest's testimony, expert reports, and the data they were based on. The motion described Forrest as "little more than a conspiracy theorist and a web-surfing cyber-stalker."
At the trial, Thomas' questioning of Forrest's credentials centered on her membership in the American Civil Liberties Union, American United for Separation of Church and State, and the New Orleans Secular Humanist Organization, which, he hinted darkly, made her unfit to be an expert witness.
The hostility of Richard Thompson’s defense team was more than matched by activists in the intelligent design movement. John West of the Seattle-based intelligent design think tank, the Discovery Institute, for example, described Forrest's expert witness report as "innuendos and conspiracy-mongering" a "potpourri of smears and overheated rhetoric." He went on to predict, wrongly as it turned out, that Judge Jones would rule Forrest's expert report and testimony inadmissible in court.
In the end, Forrest was allowed to testify for the plaintiffs, a group of 11 parents who opposed having a board-mandated statement endorsing intelligent design read to their children in biology class.
Forrest's testimony would prove devastating to the intelligent design cause. It would reveal as well the source of the ID activist's bitterness toward Forrest, and reasons that lay behind the defense team’s feverish efforts to prevent her testimony in Dover.
Fundamentalist opposition to the teaching of evolution in the United States goes back to the 1925 Scopes "Monkey" Trial when creationists, those who believe the biblical story told in Genesis to be literally true, tried to ban Darwin's theory from the public schools in Tennessee.
The popular film based on the Scopes Trial, "Inherit the Wind," leaves the impression that creationist champion William Jennings Bryant was badly beaten by Clarence Darrow and the forces of reason. In fact, the jury returned a guilty verdict against Scopes after just eight minutes of deliberation, and the judge fined him $100.
It wasn't until 1968, when the Supreme Court, ruling in Epperson v. Arkansas, invalidated an Arkansas statute that prohibited the teaching of evolution, that creationists switched tactics to demand equal time for the Genesis story in science classrooms.
The short-lived equal time tactic was dealt a death blow in 1987. To the creationist's utter dismay, The Supreme Court ruled, in Edwards v. Aguillard, that Louisiana's Creationism Act, a statute that prohibited teaching evolution in public schools except when it was accompanied by instruction in creation science, was unconstitutional.
It was the Edwards v. Aguillard ruling that gave birth to the intelligent design movement and Forrest, a disciple of pragmatists John Dewey and Sidney Hook, was there to watch it unfold.
An expert on the history of the creationist and intelligent design movement, Forrest is the author, along with Paul Gross, of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. The book describes the intelligent design movement, as "the most recent manifestation of American creationism."
Their book was especially good at exposing the purely religious motivations lurking behind the scientific veneer of intelligent design. Forrest and Gross also called attention to the movement's "Wedge Strategy" which sought "nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies."
"The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built," wrote the authors of the "Wedge Strategy."
The cultural consequences of this triumph of materialism were devastating. Materialists denied the existence of objective moral standards, claiming that environment dictates our behavior and beliefs. Such moral relativism was uncritically adopted by much of the social sciences, and it still undergirds much of modern economics, political science, psychology and sociology.
Leaders of the movement such as Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, and William Dembski often claim that intelligent design is disinterested science, nothing more. They say it has nothing at all to do with religious belief.
Based on her study of the ID movement over a number of years, Forrest read into the court record a number of statements by movement leaders such as this one by Phillip Johnson:
"My colleagues and I speak of theistic realism, or sometimes mere creation, as the defining concept of our movement. This means that we affirm that God is objectively real as creator, and that the reality of God is tangibly recorded in evidence accessible to science, particularly in biology."
Perhaps even more damning, Forrest analyzed 7,000 pages from successive drafts on the intelligent design textbook, Of Pandas and People -- produced under subpoena by the publisher, The Foundation for Thought and Ethics -- that clearly demonstrated the movement's roots in creation "science."
A 1986 draft of Pandas, for example, then titled Biology and Creation said, "Creation means that the various forms of life began abruptly through the agency of an intelligent creator with their distinctive features already intact. Fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc."
A later edition, written in 1987 after the Edwards v. Aguillard decision said, "Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact. Fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, wings, etc."
In fact, as Forrest's testimony clearly demonstrated, following the Edwards v. Aguillard decision the Pandas textbook authors simply did a search and replace where they substituted the words "intelligent design" for "creationism" in the text.
In his Dec. 20 decision, Judge Jones ruled that the Dover Area School Board's ID policy was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He ruled that intelligent design is not science, and barred the board "from requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution, and from requiring teachers to refer to a religious, alternative theory known as ID." He called the board's action a case of "breathtaking inanity."
In ruling, Judge Jones called particular attention to Forrest's testimony on the creationist underpinings of intelligent design, writing:
A significant aspect of the [Intelligent Design Movement] is that despite Defendants' protestations to the contrary, it describes ID as a religious argument. In that vein, the writings of leading ID proponents reveal that the designer postulated by their argument is the God of Christianity. Dr. Barbara Forrest, one of Plaintiffs' expert witnesses, is the author of the book Creationism's Trojan Horse. She has thoroughly and exhaustively chronicled the history of ID in her book and other writings for her testimony in this case. Her testimony, and the exhibits which were admitted with it, provide a wealth of statements by ID leaders that reveal ID's religious, philosophical, and cultural content.
Jones also took note of Forrest's testimony on the Pandas textbook:
As Plaintiffs meticulously and effectively presented to the Court, Pandas went through many drafts, several of which were completed prior to and some after the Supreme Court's decision in Edwards, which held that the Constitution forbids teaching creationism as science. By comparing the pre and post Edwards drafts of Pandas, three astonishing points emerge: (1) the definition for creation science in early drafts is identical to the definition of ID; (2) cognates of the word creation (creationism and creationist), which appeared approximately 150 times were deliberately and systematically replaced with the phrase ID; and (3) the changes occurred shortly after the Supreme Court held that creation science is religious and
cannot be taught in public school science classes in Edwards. This word substitution is telling, significant, and reveals that a purposeful change of words was effected without any corresponding change in content...
In the months since the Dover decision, leaders of the intelligent design movement have played and re-played the trial a thousand times. The Discovery Institute and the Thomas More Law Center have had a very public falling out. Intelligent design proponents have come to refer to Judge Jones, a lifelong Republican who was appointed by George W. Bush, as an activist judge.
What they have not done, as a movement whose leaders are nearly all men, is come to grips with the great role played in their embarrassing defeat by Barbara Forrest, a tiny but very determined woman from Louisiana, who simply took their own words and turned them against them.