The Chapman Law Review is now posting online articles from its past issues, and I noticed today that they posted Francis Beckwith’s 2008 letter to the editor responding to my article Reason And Common Ground, 11 Chap. L. Rev. 129 (2007). Since this might leave only one side of that story out there, it may be time to reveal just what went on.
I wrote Reason and Common Ground to respond to a particularly awful piece that the Law Review published which argued that schools should teach creationism along with actual science because, after all, postmodernist philosophy had proven that science is just as much a myth as creationism, and equal time and all that–anyway, it was a terrible article that fell short of even the basic standards of scholarship and should never have been published to begin with. Because I was embarrassed as a Chapman alum to see such an article in the Law Review, I took it upon myself to write a response–and I’m quite proud of what I wrote. It was 50 pages long, and it’s the most popular article I’ve published. But there was this one sentence.…
On page 134, I wrote “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 true. Beckwith–with whom I’ve tangled often in the past–is, in fact, a very prominent defender of creationism, although as part of the ID movement, he euphemizes it in various ways. And Beckwith’s argument–that confining oneself to materialistic instead of magical explanations of natural phenomena is a form of “imperialism”–is indeed consistent with the thesis of the author whom I was criticizing in my own article.
Well, Beckwith didn’t like that sentence much. He wrote a long and indignant letter to the Chapman Law Review and even (or so I’ve been told by folks who were there at the time) threatened to sue the Law Review for defamation. The Law Review staff, probably shocked and intimidated, managed to satisfy Beckwith by promising to publish a shortened version of his letter in the next issue, and that’s what they did…without calling me up to let me know any of this or invite a response.
The first I learned about Beckwith’s false accusation that I’d been dishonest was when I read the letter in the Law Review. I immediately responded with a letter to the editor of my own, two sentences long, in which I pointed out that I had not called Beckwith a creationist as he claims, but rather a defender of creationism (there’s a difference) and, second, that there’s plenty of evidence that Beckwith is both. I enclosed with that letter a copy of Barbara Forrest’s then-new article analyzing Beckwith’s work in great detail. The Law Review staff never acknowledged receiving my letter, and never published it.
I therefore explained in detail on my personal blog, including disussing how Beckwith compounded his dishonesty in describing the whole situation.
You’d think that was the end of it. But in the meantime, I had been invited by Nexus, the second-tier law journal at Chapman (which I edited when I was a student there), to contribute an article on the subject of free markets and government regulation. I happily accepted that invitation because I consider myself a proud Chapman alum and like to participate in such things. I prepared the article Does The State Create The Market? I finished and submitted the article…and then a little while later, got a letter from Nexus disinviting me from the symposium and rejecting my article.
I was bothered; I’d worked hard to finish the article on a pretty short deadline. I asked the editor why after being commissioned to write it, I was now being disinvited. The answer came: because the Beckwith article proved that I was dishonest.
Giving this editor–who was, after all, a law student–the benefit of the doubt, I gave him a call. Had he read Reason and Common Ground? Had he read the article I was criticizing? Did he have any familiarity with Beckwith? He hadn’t, and he promised to read the materials in question and get back to me. And he did–in a long and hilariously awful letter lecturing me about scholarly responsibility–but offering to publish the article under certain conditions. “[T]his article will be handled with extreme care in terms of it’s [sic] citation checking,” he wrote. “I think it is more than understandable why I am not letting even the slightest bit of mischaracterization be stated or cited within your article. Thus your patience and cooperation is expected.… You will not be presenting at, nor attending our symposium.… I am not going to jeopardize the faculty involvement in our symposium simply so that you can present.… By publishing, quietly, in another journal on our campus, you will most likely begin to slowly bring back any creditability [sic] that you may have lost from the Beckwith rebuttal [sic]. I am sure you know, you cannot gain that ground in one large step and thus, publishing an article, without your presence at the symposium and without making waves is likely the best way to begin the process of moving forward beyond that situation.”
Being lectured by a law student about how I could regain my “creditability” from the damage sustained by the false charges leveled by Francis Beckwith was much more funny than insulting. I obviously rejected this silly offer and put the article in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy instead, and I no longer work with Nexus. But this is all a disturbing example of the pattern noticed with many creationists and their backers–their willingness to use intimidation and threats to scare schools and publishers away from any fair evaluation of objective facts. A single sentence in a 50 page law review article about a different person entirely turned into this ludicrous kerfuffle, all because Frankie doesn’t like me calling a spade a spade.
For the record, Francis Beckwith, whatever his personal views, is a prominent defender of creationism in the legal academy (although not himself a lawyer), who has published extensively in defense of the teaching of religion in the guise of science. As Barbara Forrest has explained at length, Beckwith’s views are basically just warmed over creationism and “equal time” stuff. The sentence in my article characterized him accurately, and I happily stand by every word of it.