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Baylor University: Stifling Academic Freedom?
by Beth Mull*
Baylor University is wrangling once again with the issue of Intelligent Design. The affiliate of the Baptist General Convention of Texas is reported to have shut down a professor's personal website because of anonymous complaints that the site could be construed as supporting Intelligent Design as a field of scientific inquiry.
According to the Baptist Press, Dr. Robert Marks, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, launched The Evolutionary Informatics Lab1 in June to explore whether the basic processes of Darwinian evolution—such as random mutation and natural selection—can produce new information. If they cannot (or if the new information is not of sufficient quantity and/or quality), the evolutionary model is called into question.
And that is academically taboo, "freedom of scientific inquiry" notwithstanding.
An interview with Dr. Marks appeared in July on the pro-Intelligent Design website of the Discovery Institute, and a week later the Dean of Engineering at Baylor, Benjamin Kelley, reportedly told Dr. Marks to remove his website. Baylor's stance is that the university's objection to the website was based on its use of the Baylor "brand name." Lori Fogleman, Baylor's Director of Media Communications, told Baptist Press:
In an August 9th meeting between concerned parties, Baylor officials requested that Dr. Marks add a disclaimer to his website to clarify that it was not affiliated with the university. Provost Randall O'Brien reportedly indicated that The Evolutionary Informatics Lab site could resume operation, but less than two weeks later Baylor attorney Charles Beckenhauer contacted Dr. Marks' lawyer with additional "fixes" to the site, leading to speculation that university president John Lilley was overriding his provost's prior agreement.
William Dembski, Research Professor in Philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was the director of Baylor's Michael Polanyi Center for Complexity, Information, and Design until he was removed in 2000 for his support of Intelligent Design as a legitimate academic pursuit. Dr. Dembski, who co-wrote research papers with Dr. Marks for the Evolutionary Informatics site, was quoted by Baptist Press as saying:
In a related article, the Discovery Institute's Casey Luskin commented, "It is simply unconscionable that a major university would so trample a scientist's right to freedom of scientific inquiry.” The Evolutionary Informatics Lab, now cleansed of any association with Baylor, is currently being hosted outside of the university's auspices.
Baylor's website describes the university's mission as educating men and women for leadership and service "by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community." How is either of those goals—excellence or commitment—served by clinging to evolution at the cost of academic freedom?
1 The Lab's purpose, as stated at www.evolutionaryinformatics.org, is to explore "the conceptual foundations, mathematical development, and empirical application of evolutionary informatics," a field that studies "how evolving systems incorporate, transform, and export information."
* Beth Mull is Managing Editor at the Institute for Creation Research.