Uncommon Descent

7 May 2010

Baylor’s New President Meets Baylor’s New Super-Genius Professor

William Dembski

Baylor incoming president Ken StarrBaylor professor Robert MarksBelow is an op-ed by me that appeared yesterday in the Baptist Press. It revisits the persecution by Baylor administrators of Robert Marks and his work on ID (for the history of what happened, go here). Specifically, it addresses the challenge that Marks’ work on ID is likely to pose to incoming Baylor president Ken Starr. Interestingly, today’s New York Times (go here) hints at the same issue:

Dr. Sloan [Baylor's former president] angered faculty with his leadership style, and he hired William A. Dembski, a proponent of intelligent design who found little favor with the school’s science departments (and has since left). Dr. Sloan resigned in 2005. Since then, Baylor has had another president and an interim president.

Asked about Baylor’s tumult, Mr. Starr, who knows from tumult, was circumspect.

“A lesson learned is the need for the conversation in the community to remain very vibrant,” he said, a bit vaguely, when asked about the Sloan years. “I want to be very clear that I am not laying any blame at the feet of any of my predecessors,” he added.

Yes, “circumspect” is the right word. In any case, here is my op-ed:

FIRST-PERSON: Vindication for I.D. at Baylor?
William A. Dembski | Posted on May 6, 2010


FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Baylor University remains a proving ground for SBC controversies. Former Baylor president Robert Sloan’s “2012 Vision” continues, at least for now. This vision rests on two pillars, seeking to establish Baylor both as a top research university and as a school faithful to its Christian heritage. Secularized faculty, who are in the majority at Baylor and forced Sloan’s removal (he is now president of Houston Baptist University), see Baylor’s Christian heritage as a liability and would like to make the university’s slide into secularization complete.

Ken Starr, who becomes Baylor’s new president June 1, therefore faces a crucial test: Will he continue the full Baylor 2012 Vision, advancing not just Baylor’s academic distinction but also its Christian faithfulness, or will he give up on this second pillar of the vision? Starr’s commitment to academic excellence is not in doubt. During his tenure as dean of Pepperdine Law School, he significantly raised its academic standing. The question is what he will do regarding Baylor’s Christian identity.

Starr, no stranger to controversy, seems poised to do the right thing. But good intentions are one thing, decisions and actions are another. Baylor will be sure to test Starr’s mettle. Indeed, his first test is likely to come from an unexpected source, an online college resource known as College Crunch (www.collegecrunch.org). Organizations like this draw traffic to their website (and thus earn their keep) by posting items of interest to prospective college students. One such item, first appearing on the site in March, lists “The 20 Most Brilliant Christian Professors.” On this list is Baylor professor Robert J. Marks II. Here is College Crunch’s description of him (www.collegecrunch.org/…/the-20-most-brilliant-christian-professors):

“Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Baylor University. A founder of the field of computational intelligence (comprising fuzzy sets, neural networks, and evolutionary computing), Marks has published hundreds of articles on a very wide range of problems (everything from optimal detection of non-Gaussian noise to proper placement of radioactive inserts to treat prostate cancer). His work has enormous practical implications that are felt every day — all major North American utilities deliver energy using his work on neural networks. A Christian intent on understanding teleology in nature, Marks founded the Evolutionary Informatics Lab, which publishes peer-reviewed scientific papers supporting the controversial theory of intelligent design.”

In appearing on this list, Marks finds himself in the company of such luminaries as Alvin Plantinga, N.T. Wright, Marilynne Robinson, and the SBC’s own R. Albert Mohler Jr. Everyone on the list is truly outstanding. The list seems well-balanced and well-thought-out — it’s clear that the people at College Crunch gave it careful attention. Granted, such lists are not to be taken overly seriously. And if that’s where things stood, Marks’ appearance on the list would go no further.

But it has gone further. The local paper in Waco, where Baylor is located, reported on Marks’s newfound super-genius status and drew attention specifically to Marks’ Evolutionary Informatics Lab. As Tim Woods reported in the Waco Tribune (April 15, 2010), “In August 2007, though, Marks’ research led to legal wrangling with Baylor, which removed his Evolutionary Informatics Lab’s Web site from its server without notifying him.” (Source: www.wacotrib.com/…/Baylor-faculty-member-named-one-of-20-Most-Brilliant-Christian-Professors.html.)

Marks’ research lab was expelled from Baylor because Baylor officials saw it as supporting Intelligent Design, a scientific theory that purports to dismantle Darwinian evolution (Baylor biologists enthusiastically teach and promote Darwinian evolution — see their “Statement on Evolution” on the Baylor Biology Department’s website: www.baylor.edu/biology). The expulsion of Marks’ lab from Baylor was reported nationally from World Magazine to the Chronicle of Higher Education. It was also a centerpiece of Ben Stein’s film “Expelled,” documenting the persecution that proponents of Intelligent Design endure from the academy.

It is naively optimistic to think that Marks’ appearance on the College Crunch list vindicates his research on Intelligent Design. Such optimism would be better justified if incoming Baylor president Ken Starr were to reinstate the Evolutionary Informatics Lab’s website on the Baylor server and to recognize Intelligent Design as a legitimate area of research for Baylor faculty. That would constitute a true vindication of Marks’ work on Intelligent Design. It would also constitute a true validation of Starr’s commitment to the full Baylor 2012 Vision.

Perhaps the College Crunch list is a foretaste of good things to come.


William A. Dembski teaches at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and was formerly on the faculty of Baylor University. His most recent book, co-authored with Jonathan Witt, is Intelligent Design Uncensored (IVP).

SociBook del.icio.us Digg Facebook Google Yahoo Buzz StumbleUpon
2 Responses




2:40 am

I must admit to being bemused at hearing a while back that Ken Starr was appointed the new incoming president at Baylor. I don’t really want to distract with political banter, however for what it’s worth – and I say this as no fan of Bill Clinton, nor the Democrats (nor Republicans for that matter) – the Starr investigation and report into the whole embarrassing Lewinski Affair no more counted in Starr’s favour than it did Clinton’s. My point is it was petty, nit-picking, arguably prurient, motivated by dubious political goals and simply a national embarrassment.

It was typical of the US political circus to engage in this kind of petty vindictiveness (ok over an extra-marital affair by the president but so what?). However what made it worse, was the sexual explicitness we didn’t need to know about. It set a new nadir in political discourse (if that’s possible), a papparazi-like dumbing down of US political life. It distracted from real pressing issues in America and the world, economic, social, political and the real nefarious goings-on in Congress, the Senate and Capitol Hill. In other words it served as titillating escapism and irrelevancy in a world that is burning, kind of like reality TV and cocaine and escapist fiction. Starr was a pivot for all this.

I feel the point I am making will be missed though. It doesn’t matter what you think of Bill Clinton, the Starr investigation distracted from real pressing horrors in America, real corruption in the corridors of power, and the real evils of the world that needed the attention, the focus, the investigations. Of course one may object that these urgencies continue to be neglected in favour of all kinds of escapism and political bickering over more trivial concerns, this is true enough but misses the point. The point is Starr catered to the worst of petty American political oneupmanship.

So what relevance does this have to Starr’s new appointment? Everything, since any person not given to petty political partisanship and sniping and miss-the-bigger-picture distractions sees Starr as a man willing to serve a dubious agenda for political points, even at the expense of an unnecessary national embarrassment unprecedented in its prurience and National Enquirer level of focus. Starr raised salacious gossip to the level of a national state affair that is unprecedented and a sign of our sad times. It is not only Clinton who comes off badly from all this, Starr by authoring the report revealed he is not a man of seriousness, but a politician in the worst sense.

Can Starr then rise above his past pettiness and a prurient focus on salacious gossip to give his new office the seriousness and apolitical stature it deserves? I hope so, even as his past does not count in his favour, although I know all the knee-jerk Clinton haters will beg to differ, whilst ignoring completely the points I made. Anyway I hope Starr can turn over a new leaf here, and maybe he can. Certainly he has an opportunity to be vindicated.

Another thing, the problem with small colleges like Baylor is that they are so desperate to earn the approval and acceptance of the bigger and older Ivy League universities like Harvard, Cornell, Princeton etc that they will do whatever is necessary to fit in and gain acceptance. This means playing ball and going along with the bullying, intimidation and marginilising and censorship of ID. This is what I fear and why I am not optimistic with Baylor, and Starr may want to avoid all controversy precisely because of his past embroilment in controversy and so he may not want to rock the boat. In other words he would probably prefer to want to play it safe, so I don’t have high hopes here, but time will tell…




2:45 am

I wrote that Starr has an opportunity to be vindicated with his new office. I meant to write redeemed of course, not vindicated.

Post a Response

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

You must be logged in to post a comment.