Yesterday, the New York Times' most e-mailed piece was an article about free will (or the lack of it). Jason Stanley of Leiter Reports calls such enthusiastic response of the general public to popular philosophy topics, "Philosophy in the Public Sphere." (Conversely, it can also be described as physicists and neuro-scientists crashing a philosophers' forum.) Stanley finds it fascinating that such articles resonate so well with the ordinary reader. I think it is understandable - I myself enjoyed it thoroughly. We lay folks are always somewhat relieved whenever math and science shed some light on the mystifying and perplexing question many of us ask ourselves from time to time: What do philosophers do? Ask an otherwise well informed non-philosopher and you are likely to receive evasive answers.
Sometimes philosophers do things that we understand readily. They participate in debates that concern us on a practical, daily basis. They fight shoulder to shoulder with other concerned citizens who favor honesty and integrity in civic discourse. Their passion and involvement bring forth tangible results. Barbara Forrest, professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University is one such philosopher in the public sphere. The SELU website describes her civic contributions thus:
"Dr. Forrest actively participates in efforts to promote church-state separation, the integrity of public science education, and civil liberties. She serves on the National Advisory Council of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. She is also a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, having served on the board of directors of the Louisiana affiliate. Her other supporting memberships include People for the American Way, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the National Center for Science Education."
On Accidental Blogger, we have on several occasions addressed the danger of harmful meddling by religious and political extremists in social, cultural and ethical matters that affect the world at large. Recently Sujatha described the efforts by a conservative school board in her town, hell bent upon eliminating the International Baccalaureate program on the spurious grounds that it goes against American and Judeo-Christian values. Particularly bothersome is the tendency of religious extremists to interfere with scientific research and education which they wish to hijack in order to fit their deeply held faith based understanding of the natural world. One perpetual bee in their bonnet has been the teaching of evolution in schools.
We are familiar with the evolution vs creationism (masquerading as Intelligent Design) debate that has plagued several school districts, resulting in the Kansas School Board injecting ID in the science curriculum and Dover, PA succeeding in keeping it out by taking the school board to court. What we may not know are the behind the scenes shenanigans mounted by creationists to push their religious agenda down the throats of an unwitting public. Dr. Forrest has worked tirelessly to fend off the efforts by religious extremists to corrupt science education in her own state of Louisiana and elsewhere. She appeared as an expert witness for the prosecution in the Dover, PA ID ( Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District) case where a group of parents took the school board to court to keep it from introducing religion based creationism in the science curriculum. The outcome happily was a verdict for sanity and against obscurantism. Dr. Forrest was recently honored with the American Society of Cell Biology's Public Service award for her work in support of science education and biomedical research.
A list of Dr. Forrest's philosophical articles and her writings on creationism can be found here, including her book, Creationism's Trojan Horse. It is curious that the creationists at the Discovery Institute appear so fond of using tool box analogies to promote their agenda. First they fashioned the strategy of the "Wedge" to advance the cause of ID and later in the Kitzmiller vs Dover case they planned to squeeze the truth out of the supporters of evolution by employing the "Vise." I will leave you with a first person account of Dr. Forrest's experience as an expert witness against the Vise Strategy.
(An aside: This is the 500th post to appear on A.B. since its inception. Now I know why I am so much behind in my reading.)
The “Vise Strategy” Undone:
Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District
By Barbara Forrest
In a May 6, 2005, post on his Uncommon Descent (UD) blog, intelligent design creationist William Dembski was talking tough. He offered a lesson for “Darwinists” drawn from the then-ongoing hearings held before the Kansas Board of Education on May 5-7 to discuss the Kansas science standards. The creationist-dominated board had hoped that pro-evolution scientists and ID creationists would debate revisions proposed by the creationist minority on the board’s Science Curriculum Writing Committee. These revisions included re-defining science to allow the supernatural as a scientific explanation. Refusing to lend legitimacy to this “Kansas kangaroo court,” scientists boycotted the hearings . The only pro-evolution participant, representing pro-science groups, was attorney Pedro Irigonegaray, who cross-examined many of the twenty-three creationists who were brought in to testify at taxpayer expense . These twenty-three are supporters of Dembski and his associates who have promoted ID for a decade from the Center for Science and Culture (CSC), the creationist arm of the Discovery Institute (DI), a conservative Seattle think tank.
Grousing that “only the evolution critics are being interrogated,” Dembski was “waiting for the day when the hearings are not voluntary but involve subpoenas in which evolutionists are deposed at length.” When “that happy day” came, Dembski predicted, the Darwinists “won’t come off looking well.”  On May 11, Dembski portrayed “evolutionists” as too chicken to participate: “[E]volutionists escaped critical scrutiny by not having to undergo cross-examination . . . by boycotting the hearings.” He proposed a “vise strategy” for “interrogating the Darwinists to, as it were, squeeze the truth out of them,” childishly illustrated with a photograph of a Darwin doll with its head compressed in a bench vise . On May 16, he outlined his strategy: “interrogating Darwinists” about “five terms: science, nature, creation, design, and evolution.”  Under subpoena, they would be compelled to answer, hence the “vise” metaphor.
Dembski already knew that such a day of legal reckoning was approaching. Exactly one month later, on June 6, he sat across from me when I was deposed as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the first ID legal case, Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District. He attended my deposition as the adviser to the lead defense attorney, Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center, and was scheduled to be deposed himself on June 13 as a defense witness. Besides being on opposite sides, there was another big difference between us: I showed up for my deposition. Dembski “escaped critical scrutiny by not having to undergo cross-examination” when he withdrew from the case on June 10 .
The rest of the article here.