Excellence in Research
"Hybrid Expert" makes waves nationally
Her opponents call her “Darwin’s attack dog” and portray her as an anti-religious zealot, while a federal judge labeled her a “hybrid expert.”
But for Southeastern philosophy professor Barbara Forrest, her research into the movement to have the religious idea of creationism taught in public schools under the guise of “intelligent design” is simply a reflection of her strong stand on the principle of separation of church and state.
Forrest, the 2006 recipient of Southeastern’s President’s Award for Excellence in Research, has made an international name for herself with the publication of her book Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. Co-authored with former MIT biologist Paul R. Gross , who provided the scientific background, the work was published by Oxford University Press in 2004 and launched Forrest into the media spotlight . Her work chronicles the political strategy of the intelligent design movement as promoted by the Discovery Institute’s think tank, the Center for Science and Culture.
She first became involved in the issue as a parent of two children in public schools when the Livingston Parish School Board took up the issue in the mid-‘90s. Her efforts, supported by scientific experts, convinced the board not to implement a creationism curriculum into the teaching of science.
“In 1999, a document was posted on the Internet called the ‘Wedge Strategy,’ a piece written by the Discovery Institute, but which they did not acknowledge was theirs,” she recalled. “Later, the organization set up an intelligent design think tank atBaylorUniversity, and I was asked by the editor of the Secular Web to write an article about this movement.”
Through painstaking Internet research, Forrest authenticated the “wedge strategy” document as the work of the Discovery Institute. “I wrote that article, and it grew and grew and eventually became this book.”
Because of her book and a law journal article authored with several others and published in the Washington University Law Quarterly, Forrest served as a crucial expert witness in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover (PA) Area School District, a 2005 federal case in which plaintiffs sought to prevent the teaching of intelligent design in science classes. She spent nearly two days on the stand as attorneys attempted to have her excluded as an expert witness because she is a philosopher, not a scientist.
“What made the book so convincing to the judge, the lawyers and others was the fact
that I used the defendants’ own words and put them into context,” she said. “I was
doing more along the lines of what a
n historian would do, which is one of the reasons they wanted me kicked off the case.
The judge called me a ‘hybrid expert,’ because I was crossing fields.”
Forrest’s testimony was heavily relied upon by Judge John E. Jones III in his ruling that teaching intelligent design is unconstitutional because it is based on religious belief, not science. The case led to major media coverage for Forrest, including an appearance on the Larry King Live show, “which was just great for book sales,” she said.
And while some characterize her as being anti-religious, Forrest said most responses have been very positive.
“I wasn’t bad-mouthing religion,” she said. “Being pro-science and anti-creationism is not equivalent to being anti-religion. I make it a point never to criticize anyone’s religious beliefs. I do criticize the way some people use religion, however; that’s a different thing.”
“The publication of Creationism’s Trojan Horse, her many radio and television appearances and her crucial testimony in Kitzmiller have given her a well-deserved international reputation as a scholar and made her a central figure in the national debate about evolution,” said William Robison, head of the Department of History and Political Science, who nominated her for the President’s Award. “She deserves the very highest praise for her courage and commitment.”
Forrest received her undergraduate degree in English at Southeastern, her master’s in philosophy from LSU, and doctorate in philosophy from Tulane. In 1998, she was awarded Southeastern’s President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. Most recently, she was informed that she would be awarded later this year the Public Service Award from the American Society for Cell Biology for her testimony in Kitzmiller.
“The best thing about this work has been meeting other people, the people that nobody hears about but who are defending the public schools,” she said. “These are ordinary people who don’t want their children’s science education screwed-up. I did this because I believe in public education and the separation of church and state.”