Posted on Sep 5, 2007 | by Erin Roach
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.
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.
conclusions, as explained on the website, placed limits on the scope of
Darwinism and offered scientific support for Intelligent Design.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
"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.
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,
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
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.
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."
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."
Erin Roach is a staff
writer for Baptist Press. Jerry Pierce, managing editor of the Southern
Baptist Texan newsjournal, contributed to this article.