WACO, Texas (BP)–Baylor University officials ordered the shutdown of a personal website of one of a handful of the school’s distinguished professors because of anonymous concerns that the site, hosted on the university’s server, supported Intelligent Design.
Robert Marks, distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering at Baylor, launched a website called the Evolutionary Informatics Lab in June to examine whether Darwinian processes like random mutation and natural selection can generate new information.
Marks’ conclusions, as explained on the website, placed limits on the scope of Darwinism and offered scientific support for Intelligent Design.
In July, a podcast interview with Marks appeared on a website run by the pro-ID Discovery Institute, and a week later Benjamin Kelley, dean of engineering at Baylor, told Marks to remove the Evolutionary Informatics website immediately.
“This is a big story, perhaps the biggest story yet of academic suppression relating to ID,” William Dembski, a research professor in philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press.
“Robert Marks is a world-class expert in the field of evolutionary computing, and yet the Baylor administration, without any consideration of the actual content of Marks’ work at the Evolutionary Informatics Lab, decided to shut it down simply because there were anonymous complaints linking the lab to Intelligent Design,” Dembski said.
Dembski himself was at the center of a controversy involving Baylor and Intelligent Design in 2000 when he was removed from his post as director of the school’s Michael Polanyi Center for Complexity, Information, and Design after refusing to rescind a statement supporting Intelligent Design as a legitimate form of academic inquiry.
Lori Fogleman, director of media communications at Baylor, told Baptist Press Sept. 5 that the school’s objection to the website involves standards by which something can or cannot attach its name to Baylor.
“This isn’t about the content of the website. Really the issue is related to Baylor’s policies and procedures of approving centers, institutes, products using the university’s name,” Fogleman said. “Baylor reserves the exclusive right to the use of its own name, and we’re pretty jealous in the protection of that name. So it has nothing to do with the content but is all about how one goes about establishing a center, an institute, a product using the university’s name.”
In response to the dean’s order to remove the Evolutionary Informatics website, Marks requested a meeting with Baylor legal counsel to resolve the matter. Six days before the scheduled Aug. 9 meeting, Kelley entered Marks’ Baylor webspace and, without his consent, removed all references to the Evolutionary Informatics Lab, according to a timeline Dembski sent to BP.
The Aug. 9 meeting involved John Gilmore, an attorney who advised Dembski in 2000 and now represents Marks, Baylor Provost Randall O’Brien, Kelley and Baylor attorneys including Charles Beckenhauer, chief counsel for the school. Baylor officials asked that Marks add a disclaimer to his website and remove anything that could imply the lab is a Baylor initiative.
“Randall O’Brien signs off on the EIL site going back up and closes the meeting with prayer,” Dembski’s timeline states.
An Aug. 21 e-mail from Beckenhauer to Gilmore included what the Baylor chief counsel called his “proposed fixes” to the website, which by then existed only as a mirror site, not viewable by the general public. Gilmore responded by saying the matter had been settled at the Aug. 9 meeting with the provost and that Beckenhauer’s recommendations were out of line.
On Aug. 30, Beckenhauer told Gilmore via e-mail that “there is now a long trail of information that inappropriately links independent research to the Baylor name,” and he said the website issue centered on “misleading representations of your client and his collaborator (Dr. Dembski).”
Research papers that Dembski and Marks wrote jointly were on the website, and Dembski said his connection with the lab had been evident from the start.
Beckenhauer said the Aug. 9 meeting was not meant to be a final agreement, and he expressed concerns that Marks and Dembski had created a “trail of inaccuracies” that would lead people to believe Baylor had given direct support for what in reality was an independent project.
“All the circumstantial evidence points to John Lilley, Baylor’s president, as being behind this effort to stamp out ID at Baylor,” Dembski told Baptist Press. “The provost was at the crucial Aug. 9 meeting; the president wasn’t. Lilley is the only one with the authority to overturn what the provost agreed to at that meeting.”
Dembski, in comments to the Southern Baptist Texan newsjournal Sept. 4, underscored the hypersensitivity surrounding Intelligent Design in scholastic institutions these days.
“You have to understand, in the current academic climate, Intelligent Design is like leprosy or heresy in times past,” he said. “To be tagged as an ID supporter is to become an academic pariah, and this holds even at so-called Christian institutions that place a premium on respectability at the expense of truth and the offense of the Gospel.”
Dembski said he knows of several faculty members at Baylor who support Intelligent Design, but they are mostly younger faculty who don’t have tenure and don’t speak up on the topic. An old guard at Baylor, he said, supports secularization.
“John Lilley, in attempting to pacify that old guard, and perhaps because of a sense of foreboding about how Baylor might be perceived in the wider university culture if it were seen as supporting Intelligent Design or as even allowing it merely a presence, has therefore decided to come down hard against it,” Dembski said.
Intelligent Design “in a sense became a poster child” of what immediate past president Robert Sloan tried to accomplish at Baylor, seeking to rescue the Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated school from its slide into secularization before he resigned under pressure in 2005, Dembski noted.
Aside from the hot-button issue of Intelligent Design, Dembski said the way the Baylor administration has dealt with Marks in this case is “inexcusable by any standard, certainly Christian but even secular.”
“I’ve been at MIT, Princeton University, Notre Dame, Cornell, Northwestern and the University of Chicago, and at none of these schools have I ever have witnessed the shameful treatment that Baylor has accorded to Robert Marks,” Dembski said.
“… [Marks] was a star in his department at the University of Washington in Seattle for 26 years before Baylor recruited him, and now Baylor is subjecting him to treatment that even so ‘liberal’ and ‘secular’ a place as UW would find unconscionable,” Dembski added. “Yes, there are academic freedom issues here, but at this point the issue is one of plain decency.”
Robert Crowther of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture told Baptist Press the institute is watching the Marks situation from an academic freedom standpoint.
“We’re deeply concerned that the administration at Baylor University has really not shown any support for academic freedom or freedom of scientific inquiry in shutting down a website and a research project of one of their distinguished faculty,” Crowther said. “We find that very troubling. It does show a certain trend at Baylor.”
Crowther said he believes Intelligent Design has become such a controversial issue in academia because of the scientific threat it poses. The Scopes Trial should have settled the issue, he said, but discoveries since then have altered the discussion.
“What has changed is the science. We know things now and there are new discoveries being made all the time that are leading a number of scientists to not just question Darwinian evolution but to actively pursue research into Intelligent Design,” Crowther said. “The thing that is driving this really is the science. We wouldn’t be having the debate if there wasn’t something going on in science that was causing a lot of questions to rise from most of the scientists.”