The Academic Intelligent Design Controversy:
William Dembski and Baylor University 

All articles are in chronological order.

See The Design Inference for a complete
source of the writings of William A. Dembski.

See The Anti-Evolutionists: William A. Dembski for
the most complete source of writings by his many critics.

A single comprehensive paper now exists that reviews William Dembski's
mathematical and scientific errors and will enable you to understand and
refute his concept of complex specified information (downloads as a PDF file).

This page now contains every newspaper article, press release,
and journal report I have about this controversy. I request that readers
please send me additional written materials you have that are missing here.

The Michael Polanyi Center

[From the original MPC website--removed in 2000.]

The Michael Polanyi Center derives its name from the physical chemist and philosopher Michael Polanyi (1891-1976). Polanyi was a world-class physical chemist who turned to philosophy at the height of his scientific career because he was dismayed at the abuses and restrictions that materialist philosophy, especially in its Marxist guise, was inflicting on scientific research. The influential approach to the philosophy of science he articulated in response to this crisis was thoroughly non-reductive in character. He illustrated how philosophical, religious, psychological, sociological, and scientific concerns interact to affect each other's development, arguing that each perspective is essential and that none can be reduced to any other. Polanyi extended this multi-leveled analysis into his discussion of complexity in nature, arguing, for example, that the sort of complexity exhibited in biology could never be reduced to the laws of physics and chemistry. The information content of a biological whole exceeds that of the sum of its parts. His concern for the unhealthy effects of philosophical naturalism in science, his recognition that reductionism as a universal strategy in the sciences must fail, and his emphasis on the need for multiple levels in the understanding of any phenomenon, make Michael Polanyi the ideal representative for the center that bears his name.

The Michael Polanyi Center (MPC) seeks to develop a scientifically responsible design-theoretic alternative to the non-telic approaches that currently dominate complex systems theory, thereby promoting awareness of the ways naturalism and reductionism constrain both theory and methodology in contemporary science. This goal is pursued through both research and education. The scientific research of the MPC focuses on the development and outworking of models in the physical, biological, and social sciences that recognize the irreducible character of various classes of information-theoretic structures. This research challenges the dominance of naturalism as the philosophical matrix for scientific practice, and raises important questions in the conceptual foundations of science. As a consequence, the MPC is concerned to study how science, philosophy, and religion interact and influence each other, and the effects this has on the culture at large. Knowledge of this research is disseminated to the academic community through the publication of books and articles in technical journals, as well as through the organization of a variety of academic meetings and seminars. Areas of special interest include the history and philosophy of science, information and complexity theory as a framework for scientific research, and the interactions among science, religion, and culture. The significance of the MPC's research and educational efforts are communicated more broadly through articles and books aimed at a popular audience, and through workshops for lay audiences and pre-college students.

The Nature of Nature

An Interdisciplinary Conference on the Role of Naturalism in Science

Dates: April 12-15, 2000
Place: Baylor University

OVERVIEW: Is the universe self-contained or does it require something beyond itself to explain its existence and internal function? Philosophical naturalism takes the universe to be self-contained, and it is widely presupposed throughout science. Even so, the idea that nature points beyond itself has recently been reformulated with respect to a number of issues. Consciousness, the origin of life, the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics at modeling the physical world, and the fine-tuning of universal constants are just a few of the problems that critics have claimed are incapable of purely naturalistic explanation. Do such assertions constitute arguments from incredulity -- an unwarranted appeal to ignorance? If not, is the explanation of such phenomena beyond the pale of science? Is it, perhaps, possible to offer cogent philosophical and even scientific arguments that nature does point beyond itself? The aim of this conference is to examine such questions.

Presidential perspective

President Robert B. Sloan Jr. speaks on Christian higher education and the university's place in it.

March 27, 2000

Baylor has long been the focus of criticism for its insistence on maintaining a strong Christian element in an academic environment. Most recently, controversy surrounding the Michael Polanyi Center, intended to study creationism or intelligent design theory, has left the administration stinging from charges that they are pursuing pseudo-science, based more on religious convictions than scientific reality.

President Robert B. Sloan Jr. has met his critics head-on, continuing to push his vision for a blending of faith and learning. The following is a transcript of a March 27 interview with Sloan about this vision and his response to critics. It has been edited for space.

As a private, Christian institution, does Baylor have a unique role in higher education? What is that role?

In the 20th century we have seen a decline in religiously oriented, church-related institutions of higher learning and I think, therefore, that Baylor has both an opportunity and responsibility to attempt to understand the implication for higher education of the Christian confession that Jesus Christ is Lord.

I think the Christian faith is a great historical, theological, moral, spiritual and intellectual tradition. It is complex and varied, but it is not anything you want to make it. There are core convictions and there is something that can be called Christian conviction. Baylor is an institution that grew up out of Christian conviction, particularly Baptist Christian conviction. While the world has changed enormously in the last 155 years in terms of industry, technology, world wars, nations, politics and teaching, and Baylor must stay attuned to all of those, nonetheless there is a Christian tradition and we must seek to provide the finest possible educational experience for our students within the world view, intellectual framework and nurturing environment of Christian faith.

You spoke both of a Christian tradition and a Baptist tradition. Is Baylor replacing its Baptist identification with a Christian identification?

We are not replacing our Baptist identification with a Christian identification. Being a Baptist is a subset of being a Christian. If you're not Christian you can't be a Baptist. Unfortunately I think there are some people who extract Baptist principles from the historic Christian faith or extract Baptist politics from the epic of the historic Christian faith. That of course is a social and spiritual tragedy, but that is not the way it should be.

First of all, to be a Baptist means to be a Christian. That doesn't mean that every student has to be a Baptist, or every professor or every staff member. Obviously not. But I do think it means we retain a vital connection to the particular voice and nuances of the Christian faith which Baptists have historically brought to the conversation.

I think it's important for us to maintain a critical mass of Baptist students and faculty and staff, but I think in fact it would be a mistake if everyone here were Baptist because I think we need the enriching experience of other faith traditions to keep Baylor vital and thoughtful. Generic Christianity is more easily described in the abstract, but I'm not sure it really exists. Every confession of faith occurs within a sociological and social context, and therefore every confession that Jesus Christ is Lord is going to be made within the framework of some sort of intellectual and ecclesiastical tradition.

I think it's important for Baylor to maintain its Baptist connectivity, but at the same time it's not either/or. It's very important for Baptists to understand they're located within the larger framework of the church. The Christian faith is larger than Baptists. The church is larger than the Baptist voice, but the Baptist voice is still important.

You've been accused of being too conservative and too liberal, too fundamentalist and too reformist. How do you see yourself?

I see myself as a Christian deeply committed to higher education and the importance of the Christian intellectual tradition as a force that shapes minds and shapes life. I see absolutely no contradiction between intellectual rigor and academic excellence on the one hand and a sincere, unapologetic Christian commitment on the other. I think higher education in America needs a distinctive Christian voice. There are Christian schools, I'm not saying we're the last one, but I think we are--on the Protestant side of Christiandom--we are the only major, comprehensive university that comes to mind that still pursues vigorously an agenda that seeks to integrate faith and learning. For the sake of diversity in American higher education, our voice is important.

What exactly do you mean when you talk about the integration of faith and learning?

It's a shorthand phrase. It can mean a lot of different things. First, when I say faith I am talking about a Christian faith, although I do think it is important for Christians to understand and appreciate the Jewish faith because the Jewish faith is the mother of the Christian faith.

I have an assumption that truth is one. I believe in the unity of truth. Not that we fully know the truth, of course not, but I believe while we have not yet in any measure filled in the gaps and never will, I believe in the unity of truth. So that whether one enters this great field of truth as a physicist or a theologian, a musician or an athlete, if you think about life, ultimately the great truths of the empirical world and the great truths of the philosophical world cohere and are consistent with one another. If the Christian faith is true, then the truths of the Christian faith are consistent with what can be learned about the world from any other vantage point.

When we talk about the integration of faith and learning we are simply saying that if, from that artificial discipline of Chemistry, (for example) we look into this great multidimensional thing called truth, and the artificial discipline of Theology does the same, I think ultimately, even though they may come at this great thing called the truth at different angles and from far apart, that in their deepest structures, if we knew all that we could know, we would say, "Ah, they really do cohere. They fit."

This integration between faith and learning, some critics have referred to it as dangerous in a university setting because it replaces objectivity in an unbiased pursuit of the truth with subjectivity in approaching truth from a pre-designated viewpoint.

Well, it's very naïve for anyone to say that he or she has an objective point of view. I challenge the assumption from the word go. Anyone who claims objectivity has assumed the stability of the environment and the stability of his or her senses. He or she has assumed something about an order to things. He or she has made assumptions about reasonableness and the nature of reality. He or she has made assumptions about the orderliness of reality and how when things are objectively observed this can be written up and replicated by others. There are many assumptions that are at work there, and so it's philosophically very naïve for anyone to say that if you've got a perspective, therefore your work is somehow tainted. Everyone has a perspective.

I think there is nothing more dangerous, frankly, than someone who would try to assume that he or she has no assumptions, that he or she has achieved objectivity because that's when, under the guise of objectivity, great harm is done. People under the guise of objectivity as well as under the guise of ideological perspective have done great harm in the world. We all have a perspective. Part of being human is this ability to reflect and to ask ourselves questions, to have this self-reflective capacity. So it's not do I have assumptions, but can I reflect upon these assumptions and can I seek to see that these assumptions do not blind me to all of reality and to what all is going on.

BU science-religion center draws critics

Polanyi Center's views may hurt department reputations, some fear

by Blair Martin
The Baylor Lariat
April 6, 2000

Baylor's Michael Polanyi Center, a new center devoted to the study of science and religion, is hosting a conference, "The Nature of Nature," Wednesday at various campus buildings. Because of the center's controversial views, faculty will be watching closely.

"The purpose of the conference is for the scientists, philosophers, historians and theists to get together and talk about the complexity in nature in relation to scientific and philosophical religious concerns," said Dr. Bruce Gordon, associate director of the Michael Polanyi Center.

The Polanyi center sees itself as creating a dialogue connecting religion with the sciences.

"We see science and religion as complementary ways of looking at the earth because they have mutual relevance to each other," Gordon said. "I think they contribute to a more completely adequate understanding of the world and in order for us to derive to that state, we must take into account the relationship of science and religion and find harmony in between."

However, many professors in Baylor's arts and science departments are alarmed that the center's rhetoric will generate negative publicity that could harm the reputations of their departments.

"I am concerned as a science professor because something involving the sciences occurred without us [faculty] knowing about it," said Dr. Joe Yelderman, a geology professor.

Yelderman said he was not aware the center existed until after looking on Baylor's Web site and finding that the Polanyi Center stated that it was involved in the natural sciences.

"As a professor, I am concerned that people will make us guilty by association and assume that we are associated with or linked to this organization that is very well established as a pseudo-science rather than science," Yelderman said.

Dr. Charles Weaver, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, agrees that the new center may jeopardize the integrity of Baylor science degrees.

"Historically, Baylor has been successful in attracting potential pre-med students and accomplished faculty," Weaver said. "But, if I'm a potential physician, I am not going to a school that has questions about scientific integrity."

In response, Gordon attributes much of the debate as a misunderstanding of the intended purpose of the center.

"I think the science faculty has been concerned that we might be infringing on their area of expertise," Gordon said. "What we are doing is merely asking the question of whether there are empirical means in nature. The significance of that, of course, is not a scientific question; it needs to be evaluated from the perspective of philosophy and theology."

Gordon said he thinks the conference will serve as evidence of the center's good faith and the legitimate nature of its research. He invited faculty to attend a session they find interesting.

Though Yelderman and Weaver agree that the conference will be a good test for the Polanyi center, they do not plan to attend because of time constraints and the belief that the conference's approach to science is unproductive.

"One of the many problems that many of us scientists have is that it is very time-consuming to discuss our views," Yelderman said. "That is not the productive end of science. I would rather experience science, through my students or in my own research, than just talk about it."

Weaver said he will not attend because his colleagues' input is not encouraged.

"We are asked to observe, but our input has never been asked for," he said.

The Michael Polanyi Center, established in October 1999, consists of two people, director William Dembski, mathematician and philosopher, and associate-director Gordon, philosopher of physics.

The concept for creating such a center was sparked after Dr. Michael Beatty, director of the Institute of Faith and Learning and philosophy professor, and Dr. Donald Schmeltekopf, provost and vice-president of academic affairs, read the articles of director William Dembski.

They approached Dembski with the idea of creating a research center that would be a component of the Institute of Faith and Learning.

Named after Michael Polanyi, a physical chemist who studied the interaction of science, philosophy and religion in the 1930s, the center is affiliated with Baylor's Institute of Faith and Learning. It was established as a research initiative, focused on advancing the understanding of science, and exploring the interaction between science and religion.

Speakers from many disciplines, such as philosophy, theology and biology, plan to attend the event, including two Nobel Laureates, theoretical physicist Steven Weinberg of University of Texas in Austin and biochemist Christian de Duve of the Universite Catholique de Louvian in Belgium.

Guest speakers will discuss topics such as the origins of life and consciousness, the fine-tuning of physical constants, the effectiveness of mathematics at modeling the physical world and the role of naturalism in the history of science.

A pre-conference lecture will begin 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Cashion Academic Center.

Opening remarks will begin the conference at 7p.m. in Cashion.

Professors debate legitimacy of Polanyi

Outgoing prof says Sloan is discouraging comment on issue

by Blair Martin
The Baylor Lariat
April 12, 2000

When the Michael Polanyi Center was quietly established on the Baylor campus last fall, few people knew of its existence or how much controversy it would foster.

A debate over the reputation of Baylor as a university has erupted among the teachers and administrators, concerning the establishment of the center as a campus institute.

That debate intensified Tuesday, when an outgoing Baylor professor said President Robert Sloan is intimidating faculty into not commenting on the controversy.

"Faculty are not speaking out because Sloan can make their lives miserable," Dr. Lewis Barker, psychology and neuroscience professor, said. "They don't speak out for fear of their salaries and of being singled out by administration.

"I know you can't get many faculty responses, but the ones you have represent the majority of the faculty. The others are just too scared to speak out and want to hold on to their jobs."

The Polanyi Center -- which studies creationism or the intelligent design of nature, depending on the point of view taken-- is drawing criticism and support as it opens its Nature of Nature conference today.

The Michael Polanyi Center consists of two people: director William Dembski and associate director Bruce Gordon.

A committee has been established to evaluate the center's influence on Baylor's reputation.

At an arts and science faculty meeting in March, Dean Wallace Daniel told faculty members that he had heard "many strong concerns" relating to the center and that he, Dr. Donald Schmeltekopf, provost and vice president for academic affairs, and Dr. Keith Hartberg, biology chairman, would work to put the committee together. Schmeltekopf was out of town Tuesday and could not be reached for comment, despite several messages left for him this week.

Barker said there has been "unanimous consent that the Polanyi Center is detrimental to Baylor's science department."

Barker, who has taught at Baylor since 1972, is leaving Baylor to take a position as chairman of the psychology department at Auburn University. Barker is concerned with the center's promotion of creationism as a legitimate science and how it could potentially taint the integrity of students' degrees from Baylor.

Barker said President Sloan refuses to listen to the science departments' concerns.

"My best guess is that as long as President Sloan wants the Polanyi Center here, it will stay here," Barker said. "And it will continue to do what it wants, no matter what concerns the faculty have.

"The major concern of faculty is not that the Polanyi Center can do anything, but that Baylor's entire realm of science can be brought under suspicion."

Sloan is returning from out of town today and could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Messages were left at Sloan's office and at his home.

Dr. Joe Yelderman, a geology professor, agrees that the Polanyi Center could generate negative publicity that could harm the reputation of his department.

"As a professor, I am concerned that people will make us guilty by association and assume that we are associated or linked to these organizations that have been established as psuedo-science," Yelderman said.

Barker's colleague in psychology and neuroscience, Dr. Charles Weaver, associate professor, also worries about Baylor's reputation.

"Those of us who work really hard at trying to keep our reputations as uncompromised as scientists, find this frustrating to deal with," Weaver said.

According to Barker, the major concern of the faculty is the attempt by the Polanyi Center to use science to prove religion.

He told the Waco Tribune Herald in a Monday article, "I really don't want someone to say, as Dembski does, that he can prove the existence of God using statistical formulas. The problem with that is that if you disprove his argument, you prove there's no God."

Dr. Michael Beatty, director of the Institute of Faith and Learning and philosophy professor, disagrees with Barker. He believes that the Polanyi Center will enhance the academic quality of Baylor's science degrees and serve as an aid to the sciences.

"The purpose of the center is to help foster reflection and conversation between religion and the historical and philosophical nature of science," Beatty said. "The science department should know that there is no real danger, because it is not a religious center, nor a science center."

Gordon regards the debate between the departments as a "misunderstanding."

"I think the worries that have been expressed about the Polanyi Center are a misunderstanding as to what we are actually trying to do," Gordon said. "We are not creationists, we are merely asking whether there are empirical means in nature."

Gordon said the center studies the intelligent design of nature through various techniques in mathematics, such as probability, complexity, and information theories, the center can develop a method to detect signs and see if they can be applied to other structures, such as cosmological or biological forms.

Dr. Charles Garner, chemistry associate professor, agrees that there is a misunderstanding.

"The Polanyi Center's not talking about explaining God, it is simply talking about explaining its observations," Garner said. "Maybe science professors should be a little more careful in finding out what the center stands for."

However, Barker said he understands fully the nature of the Polanyi Center.

"How many times do I have to listen to Gordon and others tell us how much we do not understand?" Barker asked. "I understand perfectly and am not in the minority. How is that we [science faculty] can be all wrong and he [Gordon] be right?"

At the heart of the debate is the true definition of science. Critics of the center believe that science should be able to pass the test of peer review and should follow established criteria on whether to accept or reject findings, regardless of the outcome.

Scientists must accept the possibility their research will not produce expected results. Critics said they don't believe the center is capable of accepting alternative explanations.

"One of the cornerstones of academic life is peer review, you have people who will engage in debates on a level playing field and whether we are right or wrong, the consensus of one's peers plays a great role," Weaver said. "This, in my opinion, is out of that context."

Yelderman is waiting for the center to produce scientific works.

"There may be science involved, but I have not seen any at this stage," Yelderman said. "Just because someone uses mathematics or statistics, does not necessarily mean that it is science."

Garner disagrees with his colleagues and respects what the Polanyi Center is trying to accomplish.

"I think the center is a good thing," Garner said. "They are seeking out to answer some important and much need questions and are going about it very professionally."

Garner thinks that the Polanyi Center will enhance Baylor's science department.

"Science could never explain God, therefore God and science are always excluded from each other," Garner said. "They [Polanyi Center's researchers] are not talking about explaining God, they are talking about explaining their observations."

According to Garner, the center is approaching the study of evolution from a perspective that counters that of most scientists. He said the center studies theistic evolution, which "uses the facts of evolution but also involves God in the crucial points along the way." The alternative, according to Garner, would be atheistic evolution that has "no dominance by God, it is strictly the properties of chemistry and physics that can account for all these things."

Baylor faculty are not the only ones troubled by administration's decision.

Dr. Sahotra Sarkar, director of the history and philosophy of science program at the University of Texas in Austin, agrees that Baylor's faculty have a legitimate concern.

"I, for one, am extremely distressed by the decision of the center not to involve scientists at Baylor in its activities," Sarkar wrote in an email. "It almost seems that the center's staff have a fear of genuine science."

Sarkar is a plenary lecturer at the Nature of Nature conference. However, Sarkar will not pocket her speaking fees.

"In order to emphasize even further our distance from the pseudo-creationist agenda of the Polanyi Center, some of us-including me-are donating all or part of our honoraria to organizations that will promote the study of evolution in our schools," Sarkar said. "We are committed to a rational and scientific understanding of the world and our role in it."

Another concern of the Baylor arts and science faculty are the alternative science links, such as the Creationism Connection and Discovery Institute, that now appear on or connect to the Polanyi web site.

"We now show up in a cohort of people that Baylor has worked very hard at disassociating themselves with," Weaver said. "So, my concern is partly how quickly word is going to get out and how compromised it will make us look?"

Weaver considers the links "damning publicity" and is fearful such implications could scare off potential faculty and promising medical students.

Beatty understands their concern.

"I understand the science faculty's point of view regarding the web sites," Beatty said. "It is understandable how the center's interest is presented, or in this case, misrepresented."

Beatty said it was "regrettable that the net could be used to misrepresent your work" but explains that "when you are on the net, you are vulnerable to a lot of outside links and are unable to control who links to you or how your work is perceived."

Gordon agrees with Beatty that such links are unfortunate.

In an interview with the Waco Tribune Herald, Gordon said, "We have no control over who decides to link to our site. We do not endorse a connection to those sites at all. They didn't ask our permission. It would be better if they removed it, but we can't spend our time policing the Internet."

Opposing views still hang over Polanyi

Professors continue to clash in wake of recent conference

by Blair Martin
The Baylor Lariat
April 18, 2000

Critics and supporters alike attended the Nature of Nature conference sponsored by the Michael Polanyi Center last week.

Nancy Pearcey, senior fellow of the Discovery Institute, who attended the conference, explained the Intelligent Design Theory the Polanyi Center is studying.

The Discovery Institute, where Polanyi director William Dembski is a senior fellow, studies the theory they call intelligent design.

"The basic question that these scientists are trying to solve is, 'Is there anything beyond nature?'" Pearcey said.

Pearcey offers the example of a watch to illustrate her point.

"You pick up a watch in a field and ask where it did this come from? Is this a product of natural causes or is it made by a human being?" Pearcey said.

"As you look at it, you see the type of structure in the watch and see that that kind of structure can only come from human manufacture. You conclude that this watch was designed by people. So, the design argument is to go out in nature and to find things that have the same structure as the things that are made by intelligent beings."

According to Pearcey, bringing up the intelligent design theory at Baylor could only enhance the university.

"It will enhance it for a variety of reasons," Pearcey said. "One is, it's good to have debate. These guys are coming up with a genuine scientific argument, and it can't help but be stimulating."

Dr. William Craig, professor at Talbot School of Theology in California, said he thought the conference was very well-balanced and gave an interesting diversity of perspective.

"I think it's great that Baylor is doing this. For these ideas to be brought to the surface like this is the only way learning can be advanced. This kind of discussion is tremendously healthy and Baylor University should be proud," Craig said.

Dr. Walter Bradley, science professor at Texas A&M University, said the conference was a good opportunity to express an alternative view to science.

"It is always good to have another view," Bradley said. "Instead of wrestling with the nuts and bolts of science, you have the opportunity to meet and interact with people who have other thoughts and different views."

However, Dr. Sahotra Sarkar, associate professor of philosophy at University of Texas, remains skeptical of the Polanyi Center and the conference it sponsored.

"I haven't read all the sessions yet, but all the design theorists' arguments that I've heard are all old arguments that nobody writes about anyway," Sarkar said. "Clearly there has not been a single case where either side has convinced the other of anything at all."

Last week, Sarkar, who attended as a speaker, said he and others were not accepting the honorarium given to them by the Polanyi Center.

Instead, they will donate the money to other organizations that will promote the study of evolution in their schools.

Sarkar's colleague, Dr. Ed Zalta, a professor at Stanford, said he was going to split his honorarium between the American's Association of the Advancement of Science and the National Center for Science Education.

"I can't in good conscience accept the honorarium that they are going to pay me from either the center or the Discovery Institute," Zalta said.

Sarkar also questioned Baylor's affiliation with such a center.

"If you got some real scientists involved it might be a useful role. But so far, it doesn't," Sarkar said.

Sarkar also doubts that a center such as the Polanyi Center could be established at his university.

"There's a chance it could happen," Sarkar said. "And if it did, it would be the laughing stock of campus."

Zalta also doubts that such a center would exist at Stanford.

"I don't think it would have been established at Stanford." Zalta said. "I don't think the administration could have established an academic type of institution without consulting the faculty."

Despite the critics, Pearcey said she thinks the controversy surrounding Baylor and the Polanyi Center can only help by shedding light on a subject that needs attention.

"Everyone wants to get in on this controversy." Pearcey said. "So, it's good pedagogically. Students are more interested in it. They learn to think critically and to weigh data. They ask questions like 'Where's the data? Where's the facts? Do we have the evidence to support the conclusion? And this is all great stuff. This is the kind of thing education should be about," she said.

"As long as you keep it to the scientific data so that it's valid science, I think it will enhance the education."

Committee to review Center

Faculty Senate chair suggests dissolving Polanyi

by Blair Martin
The Baylor Lariat
April 19, 2000

In a newsletter to the faculty, Dr. Robert Baird, chairman of the Faculty Senate, suggests that the dissolving of the Michael Polanyi Center could enhance the administration and faculty relationship.

Baird referred to the creation of the center as "one of the most divisive issues to have risen on Baylor campus during my 32 years on faculty."

Baird said the lack of faculty involvement is at the root of the debate.

"The crucial issue in this whole matter is the collegial relationship between the administration and the faculty," Baird wrote in the April issue of the Faculty Senate newsletter.

In an attempt to improve the relationship, a peer review committee, mainly composed of scholars from other universities, is in the works.

"This will be a standard academic review process," said Dr. Donald Schmeltekopf, provost and vice president for academic affairs. "This will help us assure as much objectivity as possible."

The administration hopes to use the committee to better communicate its intentions and address faculty concerns, an administration spokesman said.

But Baird's basic question remains unanswered.

"This does not get at the basic issue of initiating a Center without faculty consent," Baird wrote.

Baird also wrote that although the Center's purpose is to observe the connections between science and religion, Baylor's religion, philosophy and science departments were not consulted about its creation.

"The directors of the Center claim to be doing science; that is, they argue for introducing intelligent design into science as an explanatory category," Baird wrote. "Yet the Center was created without consultation with colleagues in the sciences."

According to Baird's newsletter, since directors Dr. William Dembski and Dr. Bruce Gordon both have degrees in philosophy, the philosophy department would be the obvious place for peer review.

"How would my colleagues and I feel and respond if a Center committed to 'advancing the understanding of philosophy' were created without consulting those of us in the philosophy department?" Baird asked.

Baird also mentioned that the Polanyi Center had failed to consider the role of the Herbert H. Reynolds Lectureship of History and Philosophy of Science.

Initiated in 1994-1995, Dr. Herbert H. Reynolds' last year as Baylor president, the lectureship was designed to evolve ultimately into an institution.

"This all came into play the year before I retired as president," Reynolds said. "The Board of Regents started the Herbert H. and Joy C. Reynolds Endowment Fund for University Excellence. From the initial $2 million, one-fourth went to the Herbert H. Reynolds Lectureship fund in hope to promote a better understanding of science."

Dr. Herbert H. Reynolds explained the original intent of his lectureship.

"This Lectureship has already been established," Reynolds said. "As the fund grows over time, the positions will change. The lectureship will become a professorship to be held by a full-time faculty member and then in another three or four years, it will be established into an institute."

Reynolds said that his lectureship would involve representatives from six of the science departments in order to ensure balanced, yet eclectic research and study.

President Sloan Addresses Polanyi Center Issue

by President Robert B. Sloan, Jr.
April 20, 2000

The establishment of the Michael Polanyi Center at Baylor University has generated a great deal of campus discussion these past few weeks and also attracted statewide media coverage. In light of the attention this Center and its work have received and the Baylor Faculty Senate's April 18 resolution calling on the administration to dissolve the Polanyi Center, I feel it is important for me to respond.

It has been suggested by some that the focus of this controversy should be on the procedures by which the Center was established and that the administration's failure to consult with the faculty in the creation of the Polanyi Center is the heart of the matter. Certainly those issues are important, but I do not believe they are the heart of the matter for two reasons: One, there was indeed some consultation with faculty. I do not recall or know all the details and all the individuals involved in the conversations, but I do know that some faculty both in the humanities and in the sciences conversed with Drs. William Dembski and Bruce Gordon, director and associate director of the Center, before it was established and later were aware of the creation of the Polanyi Center and its program charge. Unfortunately, it is now being commonly said, and repeated in the newspapers as if unqualified fact, that the Center was established without faculty consultation. The fact is, and I have readily admitted as much at the recent open forum sponsored by the Faculty Senate and elsewhere, that, in retrospect, there are some things the administration could have done to manage this process more effectively. There were some conversations with faculty and there could no doubt have been more. One can always do a better job of processing issues, but hindsight is 20/20.

The second reason I do not believe procedural issues are at the heart of this matter is that throughout higher education, and here at Baylor as well, there is a legitimate place for administrative initiative in academic matters. Certainly, there are different patterns and formats for both administrative and faculty involvement. Much depends upon the nature of the issue and/or the tradition of involvement in question. Obviously, for example, there is great involvement on the part of the faculty in the hiring process. On the other hand, there is also a lengthy tradition at Baylor with respect to the creation of various institutes and centers whereby there is a wide spectrum of involvement and/or initiative between faculty and administration.

Administrative initiative is certainly one (though not the only) means whereby institutes and centers and other academic enterprises can be begun. The Center for Jewish and American Studies, established about the same time as the Polanyi Center, is an example. Creation of that Center involved significant administrative initiative and leadership, though not without some conversation with faculty and others. There was no objection in that regard, I note, though it was potentially very controversial. Though how the Polanyi Center was established is an important matter, I do not agree that it is "the heart of the matter." In my experience, people often object to "the way things were done" as a rhetorical substitute for what was done. I think the more substantive issue here is the philosophical/ideological objection of some to the work of the Center itself. Again, I do not dismiss the other issues. They are important. But I do not think they are the heart of the matter.

If that were the case, there would have been objections to the initiation of any number of other institutes, centers, and/or academic programs at the University. Such has simply not been the case. The real objection here is to the substance of the issues raised by the Polanyi Center. Indeed, in the end, a final decision about the Polanyi Center must also be dependent upon the academic and intellectual substance of the Centers work. By dissolving the Center, as the Faculty Senate has proposed, we would in effect be imposing a form of censorship on the work of the Center. I believe there are matters of intellectual and academic integrity at stake here. Drs. Dembski and Gordon, both highly capable scholars with the credentials to support their qualifications to study the subjects that the Center was established to pursue, should be allowed to do their work. If their conclusions do not stand up to peer review, then so be it. But to quash their research and to mute their point of view because of political pressure and without sound intellectual cause is antithetical to everything for which a true university ought to stand. We should not be afraid to ask questions, even if they are politically incorrect. Indeed, I am proud of Baylor's willingness to ask questions which some are apparently afraid to entertain.

Provost Don Schmeltekopf, Dean Wallace Daniel and I met with a number of individuals several weeks ago to deal with the concerns expressed in regard to the Centers presence at Baylor. Such concerns are precisely the reason for our initiating a process whereby the work of the Polanyi Center can be evaluated. Our concern over these issues is also reflected in my extensive and, I believe, very transparent answers to the faculty questions delivered both in writing and in person at the March 2 Presidential Forum sponsored by the Faculty Senate. On that occasion, and on others, I reiterated my own deep and abiding support for the work of the sciences at Baylor. No one at Baylor has ever been asked to quit teaching evolution. No one will be. That is not the way ideas are generated, corrected, flourish or even die. The various evolutionary paradigms have a respectable intellectual history as working models that continue to promote discovery and to produce research and new research hypotheses. These paradigms have also from time to time been subjected to critique, some valuable, some not, and have themselves undergone revision. So it is with intellectual work. Ideas should rise and fall, or be revised, on their own merit.

My administration and I have worked tirelessly to provide the much-needed facilities, equipment, and programming that the sciences need for the 21st century. Further, I have made it abundantly clear where I stand on the question of "creation science." I think it is not good theology, and I would be embarrassed for what I understand to be creation science to be taught at Baylor University.

Nonetheless, I obviously do believe in the Creator God and that this is His creation, accomplished, mysteriously, through the agency of Jesus Christ. Those are historic Christian beliefs. Whether or not there are patterns of design, information, and purpose in this universe that can be detected by scientific processes, I do not know. I do think, however, that it is an interesting question. Indeed many people regard it as an issue of significant intellectual import. Surely it is fair game in a place like Baylor to ask such questions. It is simply too easy to dismiss as "creation science" every attempt to relate belief in the Creator God to the human processes of understanding the created order.

There are other constituencies both internal and external to the University who have been very complimentary of the Center's recent conference, "The Nature of Nature," and very positive about the courage Baylor has shown in tackling such a significant set of academic issues. Nonetheless, I return once again to my point: that these matters will not be decided on emotional grounds. Nor will the way the Center was established be determinative for whether or not the Polanyi Center should be dissolved. Nor, indeed, will the unfortunate behavior of some count for any arguments that it should stay. We are a university. These are matters of serious intellectual value and debate. The process that we agreed to several weeks ago is the process we will follow. There will be an evaluation committee/panel established of largely external membership to consider the academic and intellectual legitimacy, from both scientific and extra-scientific grounds, of the work of the Center.

Baylor has received much attention because of the Polanyi Center and the recent conference. We have received attention of both a negative and positive character. The last thing we can do now is allow these matters to be decided upon political grounds. I call upon all faculty to let the peer review committee do its work and make its recommendations. I am committed to treating the committee's recommendations with the utmost seriousness. Let us all proceed in a collegial manner worthy of the quality of discussion characteristic of a civil and intellectually rich university environment -- the kind we all so deeply treasure here at Baylor.

Sloan nixes decision to dissolve Polanyi

President says a committee will review center first

by John Drake
The Baylor Lariat
April 20, 2000

President Robert B. Sloan Jr. rejected a faculty senate resolution to dissolve the Polanyi Center in Wednesday's State of the University address.

"We will not dissolve the Polanyi Center without going through the process that has been set forth." Sloan told the audience of primarily faculty members gathered in Barfield Drawing Room for the annual address. "We have utterly no intention of doing so."

Dr. Robert Baird, chairman of the philosophy department and acting chair of the faculty senate, said he accepted the president's position.

"While he and I differ with regard to the best method of proceeding here, he is the one in the position to make the decision."

Faculty members said they were not surprised by the president's announcement.

"I didn't anticipate them reversing themselves and adopting the senate's recommendation," said Dr. David Longfellow, associate professor of history. "What the senate wanted was for the administration to back up and start over."

Instead, the president indicated he will go forward with allowing a committee, composed primarily of scholars from other universities, to review the work of the Polanyi Center.

"I think that for the administration to choose a committee to evaluate an institute that the administration itself created neglects the need for an open and extended discussion within the Baylor community itself," Longfellow said.

Dr. Jay Losey, associate professor of English and chair-elect of the faculty senate, said its main concern was the lack of consultation with faculty in creating the institute.

"We are puzzled by the fact that this center was created, and up and running, and no one knew anything about it," he said.

If the center involved academic pursuits, Losey said, then faculty should have been consulted.

"Although it's a non-academic center, it suggests academic standing," he said. "The ordinary process of selecting a committee was not followed in this case."

He said no one from Baylor's religion, science or philosophy departments was consulted in creating the center.

Sloan told the audience that he recognizes the process involved in creating the center could have been better.

"In retrospect, it [the process] was not as good as it should have been, but not as bad as characterized by some."

After his address, Sloan said that in many cases "a center is an interdisciplinary project just to see if you have a question that needs study."

Sloan said he does not believe the conflict stems from the process involved in creating the center, but instead is rooted in a conflict with the substantive issues the center is dealing with.

Part of the center's purpose is to reconcile religion and science into a single Truth.

"The sciences are rightly disturbed because the very basis of modern science involves verification," Losey said. "There can be no verification of results in the intelligent design approach. If you dismiss or belittle evolution as a process, then you call into question the whole endeavor of modern science."

Both Sloan and Losey said the controversy will not lead to increased division between the faculty and administration, but for very different reasons.

"We're pretty much as divided as we can be," Losey said. "Although we're embroiled in this controversy, it's my deep belief that the administration knows the importance of communication and will do everything in its power not to let something like this happen again."

But Sloan said he is not worried about a division between the faculty and administration.

"There has been more conversation with faculty members than [one] would think," he said. "In the long run, it will promote more discussion."

Defending Faith and Learning

Baylor University's Polanyi Center comes under fire from the university's faculty.

By John Wilson
Christianity Today
April 24, 2000

When The Chronicle of Higher Education reported last week that the faculty senate of Baylor University voted 26-2 to recommend that the administration dissolve the recently established Michael Polanyi Center for Complexity, Information, and Design, many readers must have assumed that the new hotspot in the Darwin Wars was Waco, Texas. Move over, Kansas. After all, despite much huffing and puffing about procedural matters&emdash;the center was established by administrative fiat, under the auspices of the university's Institute for Faith and Learning, rather than through traditional faculty channels&emdash;it is clear that opposition to the center has a great deal to do with the ongoing debate over the "intelligent design" movement, which one Baylor faculty member describes as "stealth creationism." But the controversy at Baylor is more complicated than simply a battle between defenders of the Darwinian establishment and champions of intelligent design, and those complications have much to tell us about the challenges facing Christians who are committed to excellence in scholarship&emdash;and who are convinced that their faith and their scholarship do not belong in separate compartments, sealed off from each other.

The Baylor story begins with Robert B. Sloan, Jr., who has been president of the university since 1995. Sloan, a New Testament scholar with a doctorate in theology from the University of Basel, has sought to increase Baylor's academic excellence while re-emphasizing the university's Christian tradition. As a result of his unapologetic statement that prospective Baylor faculty members should be "individuals who sincerely espouse and seek to express their academic and professional identities through the particularity of the Christian faith&emdash;i.e., commitment to the universal lordship of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ," Sloan has been pilloried by faculty critics at Baylor as a "fundamentalist" (see The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 23, 1999).

Here, as at many historically Protestant and Catholic colleges and universities today, we see the convolutions of faculty who dismiss, as somehow outrageous, the very raison d'etre of the institutions they serve. To do justice to this phenomenon would require the savage satiric genius of Jonathan Swift. But this fifth column is not the only threat to genuine integration of faith and learning at Christian institutions. The fundamentalist bogeyman is all too real, as countless faculty members and administrators at Christian colleges could attest, to their sorrow. Indeed, not long before Sloan became president, Baylor's science faculty came under fire from fundamentalist Baptists for teaching evolution.

Which brings us back to the Polanyi Center. William Dembski, the center's director&emdash;and a familiar figure to readers of Books & Culture&emdash;is one of the leading voices of the intelligent design movement. But Dembski and Bruce Gordon, the center's associate director, while they disagree strongly with the naturalistic assumptions that are at the foundation of mainstream Darwinism, do not want to shut down debate by quoting from Genesis (as many fundamentalist critics of evolution do), nor do they engage in the flimsy pseudo-scholarship that characterizes so-called creation science. Rather, they want to promote high-level debate on issues of "complexity, information, and design" in the universe, just as the center's full name promises.

To that end, just before the faculty senate vote reported in the Chronicle, the Polanyi Center hosted a conference on naturalism that brought together leading Christian thinkers with robust defenders of naturalism. The conference, which featured an extraordinary lineup of influential scientists, philosophers, and scholars from other fields, should serve as a model for first-rate Christian engagement with scholarship, showing that, contra Richard Rorty, religion is not a conversation-stopper in the national conversation.

A day after the Chronicle reported the faculty vote, President Sloan gave a "State of the University" address in which he reaffirmed the university's commitment to the center and noted that its work would be evaluated by a panel largely consisting of outside experts. That is good news. We need more centers like this, and more administrators with the vision and courage to make them a reality.

John Wilson is Editor of Books & Culture: A Christian Review.

The External Review Committe Report
Baylor University

October 16, 2000

The External Review Committee was convened to review the status of the Michael Polanyi Center at Baylor University, which was established a year ago with the primary aim of advancing the understanding of the sciences. In the early summer, members of the Committee received copies of books and articles relevant to the work of the Center. On September 8 and 9, 2000, the Committee met to discuss what they had read, to hear from persons who addressed matters about which the Committee was concerned, and to formulate a response to the charge the Committee had been given. The vigorous discussions about the issues contained in the charge reflected the variety in the backgrounds and perspectives of the Committee members. The outcome of these discussions was a thorough and even-handed review of the concerns before the Committee.

It is important from the outset to emphasize that the sciences at Baylor University are the inheritors of a long and distinguished tradition. For many years, undergraduate instruction in the sciences at Baylor has been conducted in an exciting and effective manner. The graduate and research programs are solid and well respected throughout the scientific community. Not only have students and faculty been active in the mainstream of scientific disciplines, but they have also pursued initiatives in new areas and directions. Baylor's heritage, in this regard, is clearly one of which it can be proud.

The relationship of the sciences to other academic fields is a further responsibility that Baylor seeks to address. Relationships between the sciences and the humanities, as well as issues relating to the environment and public policy, are matters of real concern to the Baylor community. The Committee strongly endorses, therefore, the aim of enhancing the public understanding of science, particularly as this is expressed through serious work in the history and philosophy of science. This particular responsibility is one that has already been recognized by the institution of the Herbert H. Reynolds Lectureship in the History and Philosophy of Science. Efforts in this area could well receive an appropriate and timely emphasis on the part of the university.

Given the universitys tradition, there is a natural interest also in the relationship of science and religion. Research in this area ought to be strongly encouraged, at the same time recognizing that this goal is best served by promoting a variety of perspectives. The university should continue to foster a broad range of scholarship in this domain and in this way contribute to the active dialogue between science and religion now in progress. The Institute for Faith and Learning would seem to be an appropriate administrative structure for furthering this end.

Within the broad range of issues that bear on the relationship between the sciences and religion, those raised by recent work on the criteria appropriate to claims of intelligent design could well find a place. As research members in the Institute for Faith and Learning, Drs. William Dembski and Bruce Gordon would be enabled to pursue their interests in these areas. It is important to carry out this work in ways that encourage dialogue with faculty in a variety of fields.

An advisory committee composed of members of the Baylor faculty would be of strategic importance in clarifying policies and practices for the science and religion component of the Institute for Faith and Learning. In addition, this committee could serve as an effective sounding board for such programs undertaken by the Institute. It could also provide helpful communication with those academic fields from which its members would come.

Given Baylor's tradition, issues related to the interaction of science and religion need to be dealt with openly and freely, and these should be of continuing interest within the program of the Institute for Faith and Learning. Given the present circumstances, these discussions might best be carried out under the broad umbrella of the Institute through adequate administrative structures.

It is quite appropriate to associate the name of Michael Polanyi with discussions relating to science and religion. However, Polanyi explicitly indicated that he did not think that an agency such as that implied by claims of intelligent design need be invoked when dealing with the growth in complexity of the living world over aeons past (Personal Knowledge, p. 395). Given this, and given also the debates that have surrounded the Michael Polanyi Center from its origins, it would seem best that whatever research is carried out at Baylor on the design inference should not bear the Polanyi name. The more inclusive mandate of the Institute for Faith and Learning would allow it to accommodate research of this sort while pointing to a broader range of interests as well.

The recommendations of the Committee can thus be expressed as follows:

(1) It is important for a university in the Christian tradition to take an active interest in issues involving the complex and changing relationships between science and religion. This mission can best be fostered by the Universitys Institute for Faith and Learning where it seems to be naturally at home. In pursuing this mission, room should be made for a variety of approaches and topics. It would clearly be too restrictive on the part of the Institute to focus attention in this area on a single theme only, such as the design inference.

(2) Nevertheless, the Committee wishes to make it clear that it considers research on the logical structure of mathematical arguments for intelligent design to have a legitimate claim to a place in current discussions of the relations of religion and the sciences. Although this work, involving as it does technical issues in the theory of probability, is relatively recent in origin and has thus only just begun to receive response in professional journals (see, for example, the essay by Elliot Sober in Philosophy of Science, 66, 1999, pp. 472-488), the Institute should be free, if it chooses, to include in its coverage this line of work, when carried out professionally.

(3) An advisory committee to the Institute for Faith and Learning, composed of Baylor faculty members, should be appointed to assist in planning and reviewing the science and religion component of the Institute.

(4) For the reasons stated above, the Committee believes that the linking of the name of Michael Polanyi to programs relating to intelligent design is, on the whole, inappropriate. Further, the Polanyi name has come by now in the Baylor context to take on associations that lead to unnecessary confusion.

In conclusion, fostering dialogue regarding the history and philosophy of science and especially the relationship between science and religion is important, even if sometimes controversial. Willingness to encourage such dialogue is a measure of the commitment of an institution to the flourishing of academic freedom.

William F. Cooper, Chair
External Review Committee
October 16, 2000

Baylor Releases Polanyi Center Committee Report

by Larry Brumley
Baylor University Press Release
Oct. 17, 2000

Baylor University President Robert B. Sloan Jr. today released the report of the Michael Polanyi Center peer review committee, which was appointed last spring to assess the purposes and activities of the controversial center.

The eight-member committee, composed of academics from throughout the country and chaired by Dr. William F. Cooper, professor of philosophy and former dean of the Baylor College of Arts and Sciences, concluded that the Polanyi Center's mission of fostering dialogue regarding the history and philosophy of science and especially the relationship between science and religion is important, even if sometimes controversial. The report further stated that "the committee wishes to make it clear that it considers research on the logical structure of mathematical arguments for intelligent design to have a legitimate claim to a place in current discussions of the relations of religion and the sciences." Polanyi Center Director William Dembski's research and writings in the area of intelligent design have been the most controversial aspects of the Center's work, even though its academic mission is much broader. Specifically, the committee recommended that the University establish an advisory committee, to be composed of Baylor faculty members from disciplines related to the Center's work, to assist in planning and reviewing its activities. The report also said that the linking of the name of Michael Polanyi to programs related to intelligent design is, on the whole, inappropriate, given the late scientist's views as expressed in his book Personal Knowledge.

The committee recommended that the University discontinue the use of the name while continuing the Center's work within the Institute for Faith and Learning. The Polanyi Center has resided administratively within Baylor's three-year-old Institute for Faith and Learning since it was established in 1999.

"I want to express my deep appreciation to Dr. Cooper and the other members of the review committee for their diligence and dedication in carrying out their charge," Sloan said. "They invested many hours in reviewing and evaluating the work of the Polanyi Center and have delivered a well-written and thoughtful report. I accept all of the committee's recommendations and have asked Provost Donald Schmeltekopf to implement them fully and specifically as soon as possible. "I am pleased that the central mission of the Center has been affirmed and that the committee has underscored the fact that support of academic freedom includes protecting controversial ideas," Sloan said. "We certainly could have and should have handled more effectively the program's implementation, but we will correct some of those early mistakes by acting on the committee's recommendations, specifically to appoint a faculty advisory committee and to discontinue the use of the Michael Polanyi name."

Schmeltekopf said work will begin immediately on appointing the advisory committee. "I will be consulting with Dr. Wallace Daniel, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and others on the appointment of an advisory committee that includes faculty members from disciplines that relate to the history and philosophy of science as well as those disciplines that touch on the relationship between science and religion. Its role will be to clarify policies and practices and serve as a sounding board for these programs in the Institute for Faith and Learning. I also anticipate that the committee will play an important role in encouraging better communication between the Institute and various academic departments on campus."

William Dembski Press Release

by William Dembski
October 17, 2000

The Michael Polanyi Center Peer Review Committee has now released its official report ( and the Baylor University administration has responded to the report ( As director of the Center, I wish to offer the following comment:

The report marks the triumph of intelligent design as a legitimate form of academic inquiry. This is a great day for academic freedom. I'm deeply grateful to President Sloan and Baylor University for making this possible, as well as to the peer review committee for its unqualified affirmation of my own work on intelligent design. The scope of the Center will be expanded to embrace a broader set of conceptual issues at the intersection of science and religion, and the Center will therefore receive a new name to reflect this expanded vision. My work on intelligent design will continue unabated. Dogmatic opponents of design who demanded the Center be shut down have met their Waterloo. Baylor University is to be commended for remaining strong in the face of intolerant assaults on freedom of thought and expression.

"Intelligent design" center at Baylor gains support from review committee

by Ron Nissimov
The Houston Chronicle
October 18, 2000

A controversial center at Baylor University researching the idea that life was created through "intelligent design" instead of evolution should be allowed to continue its work, an external review committee said Tuesday. The committee recommended that a faculty advisory committee be appointed to try to improve the academic center's relationship with the rest of the university. It also recommended that the Michael Polanyi Center change its name because Polanyi - a European chemist and philosopher who died in 1976 - espoused views different from the theories being researched at the center. Although Polanyi challenged the notion that all knowledge could be reduced to the laws of nature, the committee said he did not necessarily believe in the existence of an external force such as intelligent design. The intelligent design movement, which was born in the 1980s and grew in strength in the early 1990s, argues that some life forms and organic molecules are too complex to have been formed through known natural laws, such as chance mutation and natural selection. Proponents say they can use probability models to calculate whether natural phenomena are the result of chance or of a purposeful, intelligent design. Many scientists at Baylor and other universities say intelligent design is akin to explaining little-understood phenomena by invoking spiritual forces. They say it is not a science because there is no way to verify the existence of an intelligent design agent through observation and because no intelligent-design research has been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

The nine-member external review committee, which was convened by the university in the spring and met Sept. 8-9, did not address two of the more controversial aspects of the Polanyi Center. Those are the secretive methods used by Baylor President Robert Sloan to establish the center in 1999 and whether it is being used to promote the teaching of creationism in public schools. Although a growing number of scholars nationwide are conducting intelligent-design research and many universities have held conferences on the topic, Baylor - a private college founded in 1845 with a Baptist mission - is the only university in the country to devote a research center to the issue.

Sloan, who has been accused by some faculty members of emphasizing religion over academics since he took over in 1995, said the university will comply with the recommendations. "I am pleased that the central mission of the center has been affirmed, and that the committee has underscored the fact that support of academic freedom includes protecting controversial ideas," Sloan said in a news release. "We certainly could have, and should have, handled more effectively the program's implementation, but we will correct some of those early mistakes by acting on the committee's recommendations."

The review committee said: "Given the university's tradition, there is a natural interest also in the relationship of science and religion. Research in this area ought to strongly be encouraged, at the same time recognizing that this goal is best served by promoting a variety of perspectives." Faculty members who have been publicly critical of the Polanyi Center could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Baylor spokesman Larry Brumley said the faculty generally had a positive reaction to the recommendations Tuesday. Molleen Matsumara, network projects director for the Center for Science Education, which promotes the teaching of evolution, said it would be wrong to interpret the committee's findings as a validation of intelligent design's claims to scientific legitimacy. Matsumara said the committee explicitly said it would be valid for Baylor, as a religious institution, to investigate the "mathematical arguments for intelligent design," but she stressed that mathematics is not science. The external review committee was chaired by Baylor philosophy professor William Cooper, former dean of the school's college of arts and sciences. Other committee members were from universities around the nation. The committee's expenses were paid by Baylor.

Cooper said he had a fruitful meeting Tuesday with members of the faculty senate. "They were mindful of the recommendations, and they thought the recommendations provided a very good foundation to begin to address some of their concerns," he said. Cooper said the committee did not address the methods used to form the center, because that issue was "past history." The faculty senate, which represents a cross-section of the university, voted 27-2 in April to recommend dismantling the center and starting the project from scratch with faculty input. The senate did not vote on the propriety of intelligent-design research but demanded that the administration seek faculty input before creating academic centers. Cooper also said the committee did not investigate the center's connections with the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank that promotes the teaching of intelligent design in public schools.

Many intelligent-design researchers have been funded by the institute's Center for the Renewal of Science & Culture. They say they rely on such private funding because the National Science Foundation and most universities won't sponsor the work. William Dembski, director of the Polanyi Center, is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute's center, and Bruce Gordon, assistant director of the Polanyi Center, is a fellow at the Seattle organization. Dembski has received fellowships of $40,000 to $50,000 from the Seattle institute, and his salary at the Polanyi Center is paid from a $75,000 grant from the John Templeton Fund, which the institute distributes. Brumley said the university will pick up Dembski's salary after the grant expires next year. Sloan has said Dembski and Gordon answer to Baylor and not the Discovery Institute. Dembski could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but Gordon said he believes intelligent design should be taught in public schools only once it gains widespread scientific credibility.

Polanyi committee suggests compromise

by Blair Martin
The Baylor Lariat
October 18, 2000

A report issued by the peer review committee appointed to evaluate the credibility and legitimacy of the Michael Polanyi Center was finally released Tuesday morning, stating that despite controversy, it found the Center's research legitimate.

The committee, composed of eight respected scholars from all over the country and led by Dr. William F. Cooper, recommended that the university should "foster a broad range of scholarship" to address the relationship between science and religion.

Controversy erupted shortly after the center was created in 1999 as a result of a perceived "creationist" undertone of its mission and the lack of communication between Baylor science faculty and the administration.

Chairman of the Faculty Senate, Dr. Jay Losey, said he thought the committee's review of the center was concise while remaining sensitive to all of the concerns raised.

"I am very pleased with the content," he said. "I thought they were very diplomatic and offered great ways to address some of the major concerns."

Although the committee deemed the research valid, they expressed several recommendations to mend the bridge of communication between faculty and the center's administration.

First, the committee concluded that the center's mission is best supported under the structure of the Institute of Faith and Learning, "where it seems naturally at home."

Therefore, Dr. William Dembski and Dr. Bruce Gordon, who had been the sole researchers for the Center, will remain on campus to continue their research under the supervision of Dr. Michael Beaty, the director of the Faith and Learning Institute.

Second, the committee believes the center should not only continue to pursue the intelligent design theory but should expand its focus to include broader areas of its mandate as well.

Third, an advisory committee, composed of Baylor faculty members, should be created to assist in planning and reviewing the science and religion component of the center.

Finally, the committee recommended that the center no longer bear the name Michael Polanyi.

President Robert B. Sloan Jr. said the name change was due to the controversy surrounding the center and its mission.

"The discontinuance of the name, I believe, is for a couple of reasons," Sloan said. "First, I think that name now has gathered a lot of political baggage, and its important for the institute to get a fresh, new start."

He also said that there was inconsistency between the late scientist's views and the original intent of the center.

The transition and formation of an advisory committee should take a couple of weeks, Sloan said.

Although Sloan insisted that the committee's recommendations will be carried out completely and as soon as possible, the question of administrative structure within the center still remains unresolved.

Whether the center will re-emerge under a new name or just be another research project within the Institute of Faith and Learning is unclear.

"We are going to ask the advisory committee to consider that," Sloan said. "If they think its appropriate that we still have a structure like the center, then one of the things they can suggest is a new name."

Report on the Baylor University Controversy

The Discovery Institute
October 19, 2000

A report issued by the peer review committee appointed to evaluate the credibility and legitimacy of the Michael Polanyi Center was finally released Tuesday morning, stating that despite controversy, it found the Center's research legitimate. The committee, composed of eight respected scholars from all over the country and led by Dr. William F. Cooper, recommended that the university should "foster a broad range of scholarship" to address the relationship between science and religion.

Controversy erupted shortly after the center was created in 1999 as a result of a perceived "creationist" undertone of its mission and the lack of communication between Baylor science faculty and the administration.

Chairman of the Faculty Senate, Dr. Jay Losey, said he thought the committee's review of the center was concise while remaining sensitive to all of the concerns raised. "I am very pleased with the content," he said. "I thought they were very diplomatic and offered great ways to address some of the major concerns."

Although the committee deemed the research valid, they expressed several recommendations to mend the bridge of communication between faculty and the center's administration.

First, the committee concluded that the center's mission is best supported under the structure of the Institute of Faith and Learning, "where it seems naturally at home." Therefore, Dr. William Dembski and Dr. Bruce Gordon, who had been the sole researchers for the Center, will remain on campus to continue their research under the supervision of Dr. Michael Beaty, the director of the Faith and Learning Institute.

Second, the committee believes the center should not only continue to pursue the intelligent design theory but should expand its focus to include broader areas of its mandate as well.

Third, an advisory committee, composed of Baylor faculty members, should be created to assist in planning and reviewing the science and religion component of the center.

Finally, the committee recommended that the center no longer bear the name Michael Polanyi.

President Robert B. Sloan Jr. said the name change was due to the controversy surrounding the center and its mission. "The discontinuance of the name, I believe, is for a couple of reasons," Sloan said. "First, I think that name now has gathered a lot of political baggage, and its important for the institute to get a fresh, new start."

He also said that there was inconsistency between the late scientist's views and the original intent of the center.

The transition and formation of an advisory committee should take a couple of weeks, Sloan said.

Although Sloan insisted that the committee's recommendations will be carried out completely and as soon as possible, the question of administrative structure within the center still remains unresolved. Whether the center will re-emerge under a new name or just be another research project within the Institute of Faith and Learning is unclear.

"We are going to ask the advisory committee to consider that," Sloan said. "If they think its appropriate that we still have a structure like the center, then one of the things they can suggest is a new name."

Polanyi official's e-mail concerns some faculty

Center director issues statement vowing research to 'continue unabated'

by Blair Martin
The Baylor Lariat
October 19, 2000

Some faculty members expressed "deep, genuine concern" after receiving an e-mail from the director of the Michael Polanyi Center a day after a report affirmed the center's legitimacy and credibility, according to the chairman of the Faculty Senate.

A report was released Tuesday by a committee appointed to review the operation of the center. The committee was comprised of eight scholars from across the country and led by Dr. William F. Cooper.

In response to that report, Dr. William Dembski issued the following statement:

"The report marks the triumph of intelligent design as a legitimate form of academic inquiry. This is a great day for academic freedom. I'm deeply grateful to President Sloan and Baylor University for making this possible, as well as to the peer review committee for its unqualified affirmation of my own work on intelligent design. The scope of the Center will be expanded to embrace a broader set of conceptual issues at the intersection of science and religion, and the Center will therefore receive a new name to reflect this expanded vision. My work on intelligent design will continue unabated. Dogmatic opponents of design who demanded the Center be shut down have met their Waterloo. Baylor University is to be commended for remaining strong in the face of intolerant assaults on freedom of thought and expression."

Chairman of the Faculty Senate, Dr. Jay Losey, said that "anyone can look at the review and also at Dembski's e-mail and make a personal judgment for themselves."

"However, I will say there is deep, genuine concern on the part of Baylor faculty regarding some of the statements made in the e-mail," Losey said. "Deep, genuine concern."

Attempts to reach Dembski at his office Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Dembski Relieved of Duties as Polanyi Center Director

by Larry Brumley
Baylor University Press Release
October 19, 2000

William Dembski was relieved of his duties as director of Baylor University's Michael Polanyi Center today. He will remain associate professor in conceptual foundations of science within the university's Institute for Faith and Learning.

The action follows by two days the release of a peer review committee's report on the Polanyi Center that affirmed the academic work of the center while calling for the appointment of a faculty advisory committee and the dropping of the Polanyi name.

"The theme of the report emphasized the need for the individuals associated with the center to work in a collegial manner with other members of the Baylor faculty," said Dr. Michael Beaty, director of the Institute for Faith and Learning, which houses the center. "Dr. Dembski's actions after the release of the report compromised his ability to serve as director."

Dr. Bruce Gordon, associate director of the center, has been appointed interim director of the program. Gordon holds a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of physics from Northwestern University, as well as degrees in mathematics, philosophy, theology and piano performance. He was recently a postdoctoral fellow of the Center for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Notre Dame, and is presently at work on a series of articles leading to a book on the metaphysical import of quantum statistics.

William Dembski Press Release

Statement by William Dembski on His Removal as Director of the Michael Polanyi Center at Baylor University

October 19, 2000

Baylor University President Robert Sloan has removed me as director of the Michael Polanyi Center despite his having personally solicited me to come to Baylor and establish the Center as a means of furthering work on intelligent design. Some Baylor faculty have exerted enormous pressure on Baylor to disassociate the university from me and my research. Earlier President Sloan had properly characterized these efforts as "intellectual McCarthyism."

Because I released a press statement [see above] applauding the results of the peer review committee that passed upon and approved the academic soundness of my work, I am now being labeled as not "collegial" and the statement is said to have fatally compromised my ability to serve as Director. My press release allowed me publicly to state my full support for the results of the peer review committee report. Having made that statement, I then expected to proceed full steam ahead to implement the committee's recommendations by expanding the scope of the center while still focusing my own research on intelligent design -- just as the peer review committee recommended and President Sloan agreed.

Instead, I was informed that my press release created a "firestorm" on campus. Shockingly, the administration formally asked me to retract my press release. I explained that the press release accurately conveyed how I perceived the outcome of the peer review committee and that for me to retract it would be tantamount to giving in to the censorship and vilification against me that had been a constant feature since I arrived on campus. I could not and would not betray all that I have worked for in my professional career.

In the utmost of bad faith, the administration claimed my refusal to retract my press release constituted a lack of collegiality on my part and charged that this compromised my ability to serve as director, thereby providing the fig leaf of justification for my removal. Intellectual McCarthyism has, for the moment, prevailed at Baylor. The announcement of my removal from the Polanyi Center directorship states that I am to be kept on in my capacity as an Associate Professor in Baylor's Institute for Faith and Learning. I look forward in that capacity to continuing to work on intelligent design and its implications.

Unintelligent Designs

Baylor's dismissal of Polyani Center director Dembski was not a smart move.

By John Wilson
Christianity Today
October 23, 2000

Several months ago we reported on the efforts of faculty at Baylor University to shut down the recently founded Michael Polanyi Center for Complexity, Information, and Design. The center, established by administrative fiat at the behest of Baylor President Robert B. Sloan, Jr., under the auspices of the university's Institute for Faith and Learning, came under fire in part because Sloan had avoided traditional faculty channels. But it was clear from the outset that the debate over the center was driven first and foremost by intense opposition to the Intelligent Design movement; the director of the center, who had been personally recruited for the position by Sloan himself, was William Dembski, the most outstanding scholar associated with the ID movement.

In response to faculty criticism, Sloan called for an external review committee to consider the work done under the umbrella of the Polanyi Center and to make recommendations as to whether and how the center should continue to function at Baylor. Last week, on October 17, the committee's report was released. While its tortured language reflected bitter conflict (about which more below), the report nonetheless affirmed the "mission" of the center, as Sloan himself noted in a Baylor press release the same day.

Dembski, as the director of the center, also commented on the report in a one-paragraph e-mail message following its release. "The report marks the triumph of intelligent design as a legitimate form of academic inquiry. This is a great day for academic freedom," Dembski began. He concluded by observing that "Dogmatic opponents of design who demanded the Center be shut down have met their Waterloo. Baylor University is to be commended for remaining strong in the face of intolerant assaults on freedom of thought and expression."

The following day, opponents of the center among the Baylor faculty, including Jay Losey, head of the faculty senate, reacted strongly to Dembski's e-mail. Baylor administrators pressured Dembski to retract the message, but he refused, and on October 19 he was removed as director of the center. "The theme of the report emphasized the need for individuals associated with the center to work together in a collegial manner," said Michael Beaty, director of the Institute of Faith and Learning, in an official statement announcing Dembski's dismissal. "Dr. Dembski's actions after the release of the report compromised his ability to serve as director." Dembski's contract with Baylor still has several years to run, and the terms of his position following the demotion have not yet been spelled out.

What are we to make of this? First, caution is in order in commenting from a distance on personnel decisions at any institution. One doesn't always have possession of all the relevant facts. Moreover, I come to this case with great respect not only for President Sloan but also for Michael Beaty. Still, from this vantage point, the decision to dismiss Dembski as director of the center appears to be a terrible blot on Baylor's record.

When I read that Dembski was being demoted for a lack of collegiality, I wished for a latter-day Jonathan Swift, whose satiric genius could do justice to this affair. Given the way that Dembski's opponents have repeatedly vilified him and his work, with charges of "stealth creationism" and the like, the man has shown the forbearance of a saint.

"Ah," you say, "but what a shame that he didn't maintain that forbearance just a bit longer. Then he could have continued his work at the center." I'm not so sure. Quoted in a Waco Tribune-Herald story, Dembski, explaining his refusal to retract the e-mail, said, "I think it needed to be clear in my statements that there was tremendous opposition to this center, and it would not have been an accurate representation if there was not some reference" to the conflict.

And in fact, as noted above, that conflict is very much apparent in the elephantine language of the external review committee, which sounds more like the language of courtiers than the product of a robust intellectual community. (Note for example the two paragraphs early on&emdash;a substantial portion of the entire report&emdash;given to lauding the great tradition of the science faculty at Baylor, rather as one might flatter a medieval monarch.) How bizarre that the question of the "legitimacy" of Dembski's work "on the logical structure of mathematical arguments for intelligent design" should have to be adjudicated by such a committee in the first place! (And note the condescension that follows; the italics are mine: "the Institute should be free, if it chooses, to include in its coverage this line of work, when carried out professionally.") Having been rigorously peer-reviewed for publication by Cambridge University Press, Dembski's work is obviously "legitimate"&emdash;that is, professionally up to snuff&emdash;by any reasonable standard.

That doesn't mean his arguments will ultimately be vindicated. On that, the jury is out and probably will be for some time. But that isn't and never has been the issue at Baylor. Within any academic field at any moment there are many rival arguments on the table, many of which are mutually contradictory. What opponents of the Polanyi Center have sought to claim is that such work is simply beyond the pale, that it doesn't meet the requirements of the relevant academic disciplines. Hence the opening sentence of Dembski's offending e-mail, which we'll quote again: "The report marks the triumph of intelligent design as a legitimate form of academic inquiry."

Here is what it looks like, then. Dembski's opponents hoped that the external review committee would agree with the faculty senate's April 2000 resolution to disband the center. When that didn't occur, they contrived an excuse to get Dembski dismissed. Presumably the next step will be to ensure that the center goes in a different direction (and there is plenty of wiggle room for that in the committee's report).

What are they so afraid of?

John Wilson is Editor of Books & Culture and Editor-at-Large for Christianity Today.

Intelligent design controversy continues to fester at Baylor

By Art Toalston
Current Baptist Press News
October 24, 2000

WACO, Texas (BP)--When it comes to creation and evolution, science increasingly is a subject of debate at Baylor University.

A noted scientist who holds to "intelligent design" of the universe rather than Darwinian-style evolution was removed Oct. 19 from his post as director of a Baylor think tank after refusing to rescind a statement he had circulated on campus and the Metanews e-mail list focused on science and religion.

The prof, William Dembski, had stated:

"The report [a Baylor-commissioned study of the university's Michael Polanyi Center for Complexity, Information, and Design headed by Dembski released Oct. 17] marks the triumph of intelligent design as a legitimate form of academic inquiry. This is a great day for academic freedom. I'm deeply grateful to President Sloan and Baylor University for making this possible, as well as to the peer review committee for its unqualified affirmation of my own work on intelligent design. ... My work on intelligent design will continue unabated. Dogmatic opponents of design who demanded the Center be shut down have met their Waterloo. Baylor University is to be commended for remaining strong in the face of intolerant assaults on freedom of thought and expression."

Dembski, whose publishers include Cambridge University Press, remains under contract at Baylor and now holds the post of an associate professor.

Opponents of Dembski's work at Baylor, which is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, have interpreted Dembski's references to "dogmatic opponents" and "intolerant assaults" as references to themselves and their opposition to Dembski's thinking on intelligent design.

Also putting the Waco, Texas, university in the spotlight has been a letter by eight Baylor science professors declaring, "Intelligent design is not a science," that made its way into the Congressional Record.

The eight professors were writing to Rep. Mark Souter, R.-Ind., complaining of a Capitol Hill conference on intelligent design May 10.

The Congressional Record entry, including Souter's comments and the professors' full letter, can be seen at a Southern Baptist Convention Internet site,

Intelligent design is "an old philosophical argument that has been dressed up as science" and has not undergone substantive peer review in the scientific community, the eight professors wrote.

While many scientists believe in God, the profs wrote, "Materialistic science does not say that there is no God. Rather, it says that God, due to His supernatural and divine nature, cannot be proved or disproved, thus we cannot consider His role in the natural phenomena we observe. Therefore, the existence of God is not a question within the realm of science."

Souter, in his remarks entered into the Congressional Record, stated, "I am appalled that any university seeking to discover truth, yet alone a university that is a Baptist Christian school, could make the kinds of statements that are contained in this letter. Is their position on teaching about materialistic science so weak that it cannot withstand scrutiny and debate?"

Souter noted, "Today, qualified scientists are reaching the conclusion that [intelligent] design theory makes better sense of the data" for such questions as "whether the DNA code is the result of natural causes or an intelligent agent."

The Congressional Record entry has received ongoing attention since its publication in mid-June.

The controversy over Dembski and the Polanyi Center was sparked by a 26-2 vote by Baylor's faculty senate on April 18 calling for dissolution of the center, which had been created at the initiative of Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr.

The faculty senate vote came just three days after the center sponsored a four-day conference on the role of naturalism in science featuring leading proponents of both Darwinian evolution and intelligent design theories. At issue during the conference was the question: Is the universe self-contained, as widely held throughout the scientific community, or does it require something beyond itself to explain its existence and internal function?

The controversy prompted Sloan to create an external review committee, chaired by a Baylor faculty member but otherwise composed of scholars from other academic institutions. The committee's report was issued Oct. 17 and affirmed by Sloan.

Among the committee's conclusions: "... research on the logical structure of mathematical arguments for intelligent design [has] a legitimate claim to a place in current discussions of the relations of religion and the sciences."

The field of pursuit is new, having "only just begun to receive response in professional journals," the external review committee said, yet Baylor "should be free, if it chooses, to include in its coverage this line of work, when carried out professionally."

Among the review committee's other recommendations were placing the center under Baylor's Institute for Faith and Learning and discontinuing use of the Polanyi name because the late Hungarian chemist for whom the Baylor center is named, while having built a reputation for studying the interaction of science, philosophy and religion, did not believe that an agent of intelligent design is needed to explain the growth of the living world.

The committee also suggested that an advisory committee of Baylor faculty be appointed "to assist in planning and reviewing the science and religion component" of the institute.

The external review committee's endorsement of study in intelligent design prompted Dembski's e-mail statement, which caused controversy on campus and led to his demotion.

Michael Beaty, director of the Institute of Faith and Learning, in an official statement announcing Dembski's dismissal, said, "The theme of the report emphasized the need for individuals associated with the center to work together in a collegial manner." Dembski's actions after the release of the report, Beaty said, "compromised his ability to serve as director."

Dembski, in response to the statement by Beaty, told the Waco Tribune-Herald, "I think it needed to be clear in my statements that there was tremendous opposition to this center, and it would not have been an accurate representation if there was not some reference [to the conflict]."

Dembski holds Ph.D. degrees in mathematics from the University of Chicago and in philosophy from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has done post-doctoral work in mathematics at MIT, in physics at the University of Chicago and computer science at Princeton University. He earned a B.A. in psychology and M.S. in statistics also from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a master of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Dembski's writings include a book titled, "Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology," published by Inter Varsity Press in November 1999, and 1998 Cambridge University Press book titled, "The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance Through Small Probabilities."

Jay Losey, a Baylor English professor and faculty senate chairman, told the Waco newspaper, "I think everyone is saddened when a colleague is demoted, but these things happen. In this case, in my judgment, the colleague was intemperate in remarks that he made. There has to be accountability."

Losey told The Lariat, the Baylor student newspaper, that "there is deep, genuine concern on the part of Baylor faculty regarding some of the statements made in the e-mail. Deep, genuine concern."

Losey, to the Tribune-Herald, also said, "Baylor faculty will accept Dembski and [another center associate, Bruce] Gordon as colleagues, provided that they do what all of their other colleagues at Baylor University are doing," Losey said. "That is disseminating their best thinking in peer-review journals and presses that have readers reviewing manuscripts submitted for publication."

Sloan, in a statement in conjunction with the external study committee's report release Oct. 17, had said, "I am pleased that the central mission of the center has been affirmed and that the committee has underscored the fact that support of academic freedom includes protecting controversial ideas."

Polyani Center's future is unclear

Director's removal arises from e-mail

by Blair Martin
The Baylor Lariat
October 24, 2000

In the wake of Dr. William Dembski's removal from his duties as director Thursday, the Michael Polanyi Center's future is even more unclear.

Dembski was released from his position Thursday after the release of a controversial e-mail he wrote that caused concern among some faculty members.

Faculty senate chairman, Dr. Jay Losey, said Dembski's e-mail conflicted with the theme emphasized in the external committee's report, which stated that he and the Center would work in a collegial manner with other members of the Baylor faculty.

"Any faculty member who posts intolerant remarks should be held accountable for those statements," he said.

Dr. Michael Beaty, director of the Institute of Faith and Learning, said he wouldn't comment on any particulars surrounding Dembski's reassignment except that Dembski's actions, after the release of the e-mail, compromised his ability to serve as director.

Beaty said Dembski will now serve as associate research professor in conceptual foundations of science within the university's Institute of Faith and Learning, where he will devote himself to the research of intelligent design and can serve the remainder of his five-year contract.

In Dembski's absence, Dr. Bruce Gordon, assistant-director of the Polanyi Center, was appointed as interim director to continue the center's daily functions and implement the recommendations of the external peer review committee's report, one of which is to establish an advisory committee to oversee the center.

Gordon said he and Beaty are in the midst of "generating a list of possible names for the advisory committee to be submitted to the provost and Dean Wallace Daniel."

"At the moment, everything is up in the air," he said. "But it is my hope that we [Beaty and Gordon] might reconstitute a new center."

Dr. Charles Weaver, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, said the advisory committee, which will be composed of faculty members, will serve an important function.

"This is what most faculty was concerned about prior to the report," he said. "By having the formation of this advisory committee, the Polanyi Center will be subject to peer review for their research and writings and will have to actually defend their views."

Weaver said that initially the center's two-man operation, Dembski and Gordon, were outside of any kind of accountability.

"With academic freedom comes accountability," he said. "Responsibility to one's own peers, students and professional colleagues across the nation."

Dembski's reassignment not only adds to the uncertainty of the center -- it is also another incident in the continuing evolution of the center's controversial existence on campus, which began a year ago.


Oct. 1999 - The Michael Polanyi Center quietly establishes itself onto Baylor's campus. Primarily consisting of Drs. William Dembski and Bruce Gordon, few realized its existence or how much controversy it would foster.

April 12 to 15, 2000 - The Michael Polanyi Center hosts its first conference on campus, titled The Nature of Nature. With debate already surrounding the center's purpose, faculty members were encouraged to attend the various seminars led by acclaimed science and philosophy scholars from around the country.

April 18, 2000 - After much debate among faculty within science, philosophy and theology departments, the Faculty Senate calls for the administration to dissolve the Polanyi Center, stating that the center's study of intelligent design has "creationist" undertones and may ultimately jeopardize their department's degrees.

April 20, 2000 - Sloan publicly rejects the Senate's recommendation to dissolve the center, saying that faculty members were consulted before the center's establishment and that there was a legitimate place for the center on Baylor's campus.

Spring - Administration and faculty reach a compromise and an external peer review committee, consisting of eight academic scholars led by philosophy professor Dr. William F. Cooper, is established to investigate the legitimacy and validity of the Center's research.

Sept. 8 to 10, 2000 - The committee holds its final meeting on Baylor's campus, where they draft a report that will list their thoughts and recommendations of the Center's mission and affiliation with Baylor.

Oct. 17, 2000 - Committee's report is released citing four major recommendations. First, the Center's mission is best supported under the structure of the Institute for Faith and Learning. Second, the Center should not only continue to pursue the intelligent design theory but should also expand a broader focus to include broader areas of its mandate as well. Third, an advisory committee, composed of Baylor faculty members, should be created to assist in planning and reviewing the science and religion component of the Center, and finally, that the Center should no longer bear the name Michael Polanyi.

Oct. 19, 2000 - One day after he released a controversial e-mail, Dr. Dembski is released from his duties as director and reassigned to associate research professor in conceptual foundations of science.

Currently - Drs. Gordon and Beaty are generating names of potential members for the advisory committee.

Sloan fields faculty questions at forum

Salaries, Polanyi among concerns

The Baylor Lariat
October 26, 2000

President Robert B. Sloan Jr. answered faculty questions at the President's Faculty Forum Meeting at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in Kayser Auditorium in the Hankamer School of Business.

During the meeting, which was mediated by Faculty Senate Chairman Dr. Jay Losey, Sloan answered 14 of the given 28 questions, selected by the Faculty Senate, in front of attending faculty members.

After the president responded to a question, he asked faculty for any additional questions they had on the specific topic he was addressing.

Larry Brumley, spokesman for Baylor, said he thought the format of the forum was well organized and educational for him and his colleagues.

"I thought the meeting was very helpful and allowed ample opportunity for follow-up questions to be asked," Brumley said. "Because there is a fair amount of depth in all of the questions, the president does his homework and takes each one seriously."

The first question Sloan addressed concerned the external committee's report of the Michael Polanyi Center.

"There were two major issues I saw in regard to the report," Sloan said. "First, the committee saw that this intellectual project with a broader mandate is indeed a legitimate project, and second, that collegiality among the university is important."

Sloan said it was unfortunate that "further distractions occurred," referring to Dr. William Dembski's reassignment from director of the center, but that it is necessary for colleagues, especially in an academic setting, to be able to maintain constructive dialogue among their fellow academic colleagues.

"We ought to be able to discuss the philosophy and religion of science at a university, even if we don't always agree," he said. "It is important for us all to work together, and we can do so without being disagreeable with one another."

Another question posed to the president was whether he would be willing to announce the average raise for faculty each year as well as for executive personnel.

Sloan said he would not because "he didn't see anything positive to be gained to publishing these numbers."

However, Sloan provided a list of statistical evidence to faculty, which stated that Baylor salaries for assistant, associate and full-time professors were within average percentile among the salaries of other competitive schools.

When asked to comment on an article in Atlantic Monthly about evangelical schools, which claimed he wanted to make Baylor the "Notre Dame of the Baptist world," Sloan said he never "recalled ever using another school as a model or basis for Baylor" but felt that Baylor had the potential to be a "tier one" school and among the top 50 universities in the world.

He was also asked how he and the provost intend to strengthen Baylor's reputation beyond its status as a good undergraduate school or a "mediocre university with a good law school."

Sloan said that, although it is "important as a university to emphasize the value of scholarship, teaching is what Baylor prizes."

"What happens in the classroom is our bread and butter," he said, "but that doesn't mean that we can't improve on research and other areas of discovery."

Press Release

Michael Beaty
Director, The Baylor Institute for Faith and Learning
October 27, 2000

In light of remarks on the META list that indicate a significant misunderstanding of the recent events surrounding the Polanyi Center at Baylor University, most particularly the removal of Dr. Dembski as its director, I think it is important to clarify the significance of what has happened.

Dr. Dembski was not removed from the directorship for any academic failure. Baylor recognizes the value and legitimacy of his academic work, as did the External Review Committee. Baylor fully supports his academic freedom to pursue his research and hopes that he will continue to do so. Dr. Dembski was removed from his post as director on administrative grounds. In order to function in his administrative capacity, it was necessary that Dr. Dembski be able to work well with other Baylor faculty, first and foremost an advisory committee. It was the judgment of the administration that some of his recent actions severely compromised his ability to perform his central administrative duties. It was for this reason, and this reason alone, that he was removed from his directorial post.

There also has been a suggestion that the removal of Dr. Dembski as director is a sign that Baylor has succumbed to political pressure to squelch work on intelligent design. Nothing could be further from the truth. Having been freed from administrative tasks, Dr. Dembski will be able to devote himself exclusively to research, which arguably is the most valuable contribution he can make to design theory.

Finally, some have claimed that this sad episode suggests that Baylor is weakening its commitment to being a Christian university. Baylor University remains committed to encouraging a faithful intellect and an intellectually responsible faith.

The Lynching of Bill Dembski

Scientists say the jury is out -- so let the hanging begin.

by Fred Heeren
The American Spectator
November 2000

Mathematician William Dembski stands accused of bringing shame upon a major university. Not only that, say his colleagues, he has managed to disgrace the entire scientific enterprise.

Scientists from distant universities wrote letters to the editors of his university newspaper, and biologists spoke up through the surrounding city papers, telling the public why this man must be stopped. When Dembski organized an academic conference, one incensed professor from another state sent long e-mails to the scheduled speakers, seeking to discredit Dembski and convincing one famed philosopher to cancel.

The faculty senate of his own Baylor University voted 26 to 2 to recommend that his research center be dismantled. Eight members of Baylor's science departments wrote Congress about the dangers of Dembski's project, and several briefings on the issues were made before a bipartisan group of congressional members and staff.

So you're wondering: What kind of new and evil science is William Dembski practicing? Is he cloning half-humans without souls to create cheap labor? Several Baylor students interviewed for this article couldn't pinpoint the exact deed, but knew it was immoral because they heard that it had something to do with an evil use of the human genome project.

What does Bill Dembski think of all this? A mild-mannered mathematician more at home with probability theory than politics, he shakes his head in disbelief. "I've found that when people get to know me one-on-one, they think what I'm doing is legitimate, or at least worth pursuing. But when they start listening to the siren call of the Internet, things get out of control."

What Dembski has actually done hardly seems nefarious. As a scientist with twin Ph.D.'s in mathematics and philosophy, Dembski has set about developing mathematical methods for detecting intelligent design, should it be discernible, in nature. That's all. What's more, he has submitted his work to the scientific scrutiny of his peers. So why are all these professors so hysterical?

Disguised Creationism?

Since the 1980's, critics have charged that the intelligent designconcept is really just "a disguised form of creationism." According to Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education: "They're really saying God does it, but they're not as honest as the Biblical creationists. The intelligence is really spelled in three letters: G-O-D."

Not at all, says Dembski. Intelligent design points not to a creator, but to a designer -- a crucial distinction. "If you examine a piece of furniture," he explains, "you can identify that it is designed, but you can't identify who or what is responsible for the wood in the first place. Intelligent design just gets you to an intelligent cause that works with pre-existing materials, but not the source of those materials."

Neuroscientist Lewis Barker, who left Baylor in protest over the administration's "religious" policies, buys none of this: "I see it as a form of stealth creationism, a very old argument wrapped in new clothes." Later, however, he adds: "The whole notion of using mathematics, that's something new."

Also novel is the respect many "intelligent design" proponents have earned in the academic community. "They're real academics, not cranks," admits Skeptic magazine publisher Michael Shermer, whose editorial board is overwhelmingly composed of intelligent design critics such as Stephen Jay Gould and Eugenie Scott herself. "They have real degrees and tenure," adds Shermer. Not only does William Dembski have doctorates in mathematics and philosophy, he has done postdoctoral work in mathematics at MIT, physics at the University of Chicago, and computer science at Princeton University. Even Lewis Barker says: "He seems to be a very bright guy."

Eugenie Scott argues that intelligent design proponents don't have a scholarly position because they never submit their work for peer review. But each time she brings up the kind of scholarly evaluation that's lacking -- the reviewed publications or academic conferences -- she stops short when she comes to the work of William Dembski.

Regarding conferences, Scott remembers Dembski's "The Nature of Nature" conference (April 12-15 at Baylor) and grudgingly admits: "They actually did invite some scientists there." In fact, the slate of speakers included two Nobel Prize-winning scientists and several members from the National Academy of Sciences. The list was weighted toward prominent biologists, physicists, and philosophers who were critical of intelligent design.

And when Scott ticks off a list of non-peer-reviewed design literature, she hesitates when she recalls that Dembski's book, The Design Inference, was written as part of a Cambridge University philosophy of science series. Published as Dembski's doctoral dissertation in philosophy, it became Cambridge's best-selling philosophical monograph in recent years. After surviving a review of 70 scholars, and then the standard dissertation defense at the University of Illinois, The Design Inference finally underwent corrections and refereed scrutiny for two years at Cambridge University Press.

The great irony is that just as Dembski is proposing to test his theory with the help of molecular biologists, the very scientists who are challenging intelligent design to pass scientific tests are using every means possible to ensure those tests never take place.

Birth of a Think Tank

The brief story of Dembski's Michael Polanyi Center starts with its home: Baylor University, the world's largest Baptist institution, located in Waco, Texas. For years, Baylor had a reputation among conservatives for going the way of many once-Christian colleges, neglecting its religious heritage and embracing the politically correct tenets of secular humanism instead.

All that began to change when Robert Sloan became president of Baylor University in 1995. Sloan, a New Testament scholar with a doctorate in theology from the University of Basel, proposed to return the school to its mission of integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment. To foster this goal, he oversaw the establishment of the university's Institute for Faith and Learning, which explores opportunities for profitable engagement between faith and academic pursuits like art, history, business -- even science.

Sloan resisted the urging of fundamentalists to "throw the evolutionists out" of the biology department, vowing never to bar anyone at Baylor from teaching evolution. He rejects the notion of a "creation science" (6-day creation a few thousand years ago). But he also believes that "the academic world has become far too compartmentalized."

"Baylor ought to be the kind of place where a student can ask a question and not just get the runaround," says Sloan. "He shouldn't have to go to the theology department and be told, 'Oh, that's a scientific question. Don't ask me that.' And then the student goes to the science department and they tell him, 'That's a religious question. Don't ask me that.'"

So far this doesn't sound too different from many other universities nationwide that have recently set up centers to revisit the relationship between science and religion. But matters took a fateful turn in the fall of 1998 when President Sloan read an article by William Dembski and was wowed by his work and credentials. Others in the administration were also impressed. Michael Beaty, director of the Institute for Faith and Learning, says that Dembski's work "fit right in with the institute. Bill was fruitfully dialoging with religion and science."

When Beaty sounded him out about his interest in joining the institute, he learned that Dembski was seeking to build a research center to test the theory of intelligent design. The administration received his ideas with enthusiasm. His research would pursue not only intelligent design, but a broad range of topics having to do with the foundations of the natural and social sciences. Thus was born the Michael Polanyi Center, which Dembski named for an eminent physical chemist who taught that biology is not reducible to chemistry and physics.

"This was an opportunity to reaffirm that Baylor is a university where controversial issues can be discussed," says Donald Schmeltekopf, Baylor's provost. "We decided to go ahead and give it a chance, believing the university would be a richer and more compelling place, knowing that there would be those who would have objections." His pleasant expression disappears, and he adds: "We didn't anticipate the amount of objection."


After Dembski brought on board Bruce Gordon (Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of physics) as associate director of the Polanyi Center, the duo made a good first impression on the faculty they met. Gordon led a colloquium reading group, using two books about interactions between science and faith. Discussion with participating faculty was cordial.

"The controversy began after our Website debuted in mid-January," explains Gordon. "That's what drew more faculty attention to the center." While the Polanyi site itself was unexceptionable, other groups with evolutionist-bashing agendas began linking up their Websites to the center. Many on the biology faculty flashed back to old culture battles, when such groups had publicly questioned the professors' integrity.

Gordon is understanding, but explains that the realities of the Web are such that the Polanyi Center has no control over who connects to their site.

"We don't endorse a connection to those sites at all. They didn't ask our permission. But we can't spend our time policing the Internet."

Reaction built quickly. One professor who had previously been friendly at the reading group wrote Gordon an insulting letter. An e-mail frenzy began between faculty in all departments, calling special attention to the creationist Websites that claimed the Polanyi Center as one of their own.

News spread to other universities, and soon newspapers in Waco and Houston were filled with reactions from a handful of vocal Baylor professors who were appalled that such a monstrosity as the Polanyi Center should be found on their campus.

By this time, plans were well under way for a large Polanyi conference called "The Nature of Nature." Most Baylor biologists decided to boycott the event. Even so, the April conference drew 350 scholars from around the world whose views varied wildly on the conference's central question: "Is the universe self-contained or does it require something beyond itself to explain its existence and internal function?"

By all accounts, the conference itself was an outstanding success, drawing attention to Baylor as a place that could attract world-class scholars for dialogue on the big questions. In spite of one out-of-state professor's campaign to convince all speakers to cancel, the conference brought together such luminaries as Nobelist/physicist Steven Weinberg, Nobelist/biochemist Christian de Duve, big bang cosmologist Alan Guth, paleontologist Simon Conway Morris, and philosopher Alvin Plantinga.

But the conference only focused the Baylor faculty's anger more intensely on the Michael Polanyi Center. A few days after it ended, the faculty senate met and voted to recommend that the administration dissolve the center immediately. The faculty claimed that President Sloan had no right to set up such a center and choose its head without their involvement.

"It's rather ironic that people in the scientific community, whose rights had to be protected in the face of ideological pressure [from creationists], now appear to be suppressing others," says President Sloan. "People have always asked questions about the relationship of religious views and the natural phenomena we see in the world. I think it just borders on McCarthyism to call that 'creation science.'"

The day after the faculty senate vote, President Sloan addressed the faculty, telling them that he would not close down the Polanyi Center merely because they demanded it. The procedure he had used in setting up the center was no different from the one he and previous administrators had used to establish other centers.

Michael Beaty, director of the Institute for Faith and Learning, notes that they had used the same procedure for setting up the Center for American Jewish Studies, without criticism.

Recognizing that the faculty's real objections were not about procedure, Sloan repeated to the faculty an earlier announced plan to form an independent peer review committee to evaluate William Dembski's work and the work of the Polanyi Center. He said that he sympathized with the science faculty over their concern for their reputations, but that the bigger issue is academic freedom. He didn't like the idea of snuffing out a project without giving it a chance to have its work reviewed by peers.

Assuming the committee would impartially address the matter, Dembski welcomed the review. "Academic programs need to be held accountable," he said at the time. "I would go further than that and say that I value objective peer review. I always learn more from my critics than from the people who think I'm wonderful."

Initially, Baylor spokesman Larry Brumley insisted that the committee wouldn't be asked whether the center should be dissolved. "It's not a committee to look at whether we should reconsider having the Polanyi Center," Brumley said. "They're looking at how we can better communicate its purpose and address the concerns of faculty members."

When the committee membership was announced, however, Dembski was surprised to find antagonistic biologists in the majority. Worse, the committee did not include a single person capable of understanding the mathematical arguments made in Dembski's The Design Inference. (This was partially rectified when one statistician was later added to the team.) Neither were Dembski's prospects brightened when the committee chose as its head William Cooper, a philosophy professor who calls the Polanyi Center extremely "polarizing" and doubtlessly connected to the old-style "creationists."

Lingering anger in the biology department is perhaps an understandable reaction after years of ideological assault by creationism activists. But the personal outrage against the very idea of Dembski's work runs even deeper than that. The resentment becomes obvious to any outsider who dares to roam the halls of the Baylor biology department and ask professors for their take on the dispute.

What exactly is intelligent design (ID), and why do the very words incite such fury among some biologists?

What Is Intelligent Design?

ID depends upon a concept known as specified complexity.

Say you're out raking leaves in the backyard. If you were to find little piles of leaves, equally spaced apart in a long line, the arrangement would be an example of specificity, but it could be explained by what fell out of a rolling barrel. Each time the barrel made a revolution, another clump fell out, each spaced apart by about the same distance. The pattern is specified, but not complex.

When you come across thousands of piles of leaves in no particular pattern, that's complex, and it may take billions of overturned barrels to produce another pattern just like it. But it's not specified. No intelligent design is required to explain it.

But let's say you come across a thousand leaves arranged as letters spelling meaningful words, sentences, paragraphs, even a whole story--that's specified complexity. Specified complexity creates information and meaning, and that requires intelligent design.

Many scientific disciplines already use such logic to distinguish between phenomena produced by an intelligence from those that are not. The cryptologist, when breaking a code, looks for patterns that create meaning and are not due to chance. SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) does the same in its search for signals of intelligence from space (think Jodie Foster in Contact). Even Quincy's forensic science was all about trying to determine whether a death was due to an accident, natural causes, or the design of an intelligence.

William Dembski puts it this way: "Specified complexity powerfully extends the usual mathematical theory of information, known as Shannon information. Shannon's theory dealt only with complexity, which can be due to random processes as well as to intelligent design. The addition of specification to complexity, however, is like a vise that grabs only things due to intelligence. Indeed, all the empirical evidence confirms that the only known cause of specified complexity is intelligence."

Thus when Dembski observes this specified complexity in DNA messages and protein coding, he infers intelligent design. These patterns give real information in the form of meaningful instructions, precisely analogous to language with words, sentences, punctuation marks, and grammatical rules.

The old "scientific creationism" based itself upon two tenets: a supernatural agent created all things, and the Bible gives us an accurate account of what happened. In contrast, according to Dembski, intelligent design is built upon three very different tenets:

1. Specified complexity is well defined and empirically detectable.

2. Undirected natural causes are incapable of explaining specified complexity.

3. Intelligent causation best explains specified complexity.

The anti-ID school might argue that in the case of biological evolution, natural causes do eventually produce the specified complexity we see in living things. Natural selection culls through countless mutations over time, eventually producing specified complexity. As the need for survival helps organisms evolve, new information is created and they ratchet their way up into new forms.

The problem with this scenario, according to ID theorists, is that mutations do not produce new information. Natural selection has slim pickin's to choose from, even when it picks the fittest. Without an intelligence to produce new information, no amount of re-shuffling of genes will result in a new organism.

Biologist Peter Medawar called this principle the law of conservation of information. Michael Polanyi himself believed that natural selection and mutation, the two mechanisms of neo-Darwinism, are inadequate for the task of producing new anatomies or functions in evolving animals. The focus on information theory is one reason mathematicians have often been more skeptical of rigid Darwinist explanations than their colleagues in biology.

If the creation of new information is such a problem, you ask, then why isn't this common knowledge in our institutions of higher learning? And if intelligent design is such an obvious answer, why haven't we heard more about this before? For one thing, no one's ever gotten far enough along to test it before. But William Dembski is getting close.

Bruce Gordon says that design theory, as a scientific strategy, involves two goals: 1. to mathematically characterize designed structures (using stochastic processes theory, probability theory, complexity theory, etc.) to detect intelligent design, and 2. to go into nature and see whether the mathematical structures map onto the physical structures in a way indicative of design.

This, of course, is precisely what Dembski has been preparing to do with his research center. He is laying the groundwork to hire molecular biologists to do research on protein structure and protein folding to test ID. "What has to happen," says Dembski, "is that ID has to generate research that's more fruitful for biology than neo-Darwinism."

Can design actually be tested as part of science?

"Has ID really been tried?" repeats Eugenie Scott. "I think that's a legitimate question. I don't really think we have an answer yet."

"The jury is out on that," says William Cooper, chair of the committee evaluating the Polanyi Center. "The mathematical discussion has not progressed sufficiently."

Of course, if the committee pronounces final sentence on the Polanyi Center and ends all discussion now, we'll never know. The hanging will have occurred before the jury comes back.

Before Congress

On May 10, a month after Baylor's big Polanyi conference, a number of members of Congress attended a three hour briefing on intelligent design. William Dembski had been invited to join other ID scientists in the presentation, but the Baylor administration ordered him not to participate. President Sloan wanted to keep Baylor from all appearance of mixing academics with politics.

But some Baylor biologists became so concerned about how far the intelligent design message was spreading that eight of them drafted a long letter to Congressman Mark Souder, an Education Committee member, who had co-hosted the meeting. Their letter was intended to let the congressman know that he had been duped by the ID proponents, and that ID research is not legitimate science. Their attempt to embarrass the ID people was turned around on them when Congressman Souder responded with his own presentation to the House of Representatives, including the reading of their letter into the Congressional Record.

Using their letter as Exhibit A, he told the House that these scientists were practicing "viewpoint discrimination in science and science education," and that "ideological bias has no place in science."

Referring to the letter's frequent use of the phrase "materialistic science" as their noble cause, the congressman told his colleagues, "One senses here not a defense of science but rather an effort to protect, by political means, a privileged philosophical viewpoint against a serious challenge.... As [members of] the Congress, it might be wise for us to question whether the legitimate authority of science over scientific matters is being misused by persons who wish to identify science with a philosophy they prefer."

A preferred philosophy? Could it be that it took an outsider, a congressman from Indiana no less, to get an objective fix on the real source of the conflict?

Philosophizing Science

There is a method used in science today that goes beyond the scientific method. It's based on a philosophy called naturalism, defined by Funk & Wagnalls as "the doctrine that all phenomena are derived from natural causes and can be explained by scientific laws without reference to a plan or purpose." It's the "without plan or purpose" part that nixes intelligent design.

When this philosophy is applied to science, it's called methodological naturalism, and for many scientists today it is an unquestioned assumption.

Last spring biology Professor Richard Duhrkopf got his picture in the papers when he accused the Polanyi Center of trying to "change the philosophy of science." But is science supposed to have a particular philosophy attached to it? Many of us laymen have always thought that science was supposed to be about applying the scientific method to observations and measurements and gaining as much knowledge of the world as possible, not reaching foreordained conclusions.

Methodological naturalism proposes that scientists be provisional atheists in their work, no matter what contrary evidence they find. Intelligent design proponents are asking simply that science be purified of all philosophical biases. At least, no philosophical bias should be promoted as scientific. Scientists are welcome to hold to personal philosophies and even have them running in the background, as guiding principles, if they think that helps them do their work. But those personal philosophies should not be confused with science.

Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson stated the issue succinctly at the congressional briefing: Americans, he said, must choose between two definitions of science in our culture: 1. science is unbiased, empirical testing that follows the evidence wherever it leads, or 2. science is applied materialist philosophy which, like Marxism or Freudianism, is willing to impose its authority.

Being Methodologically Correct

"The twentieth century was the high point of methodological correctness," says President Sloan. "We all know that life is more than sociology or history or anthropology. Unfortunately, people have forgotten that the methodological brackets we apply are purely artificial, intended to be temporary."

ID keeps an open mind, and is entirely agnostic on the subject of religion. The intelligent design that Dembski hopes to detect could belong either to a Biblical God or to an earlier race of Martians who planted us here (like in the movie Mission to Mars).

The idea that life here was seeded from another place may seem pretty far out. But Francis Crick, winner of the Nobel Prize for his co-discovery of DNA's structure, is one of a number of scientists who have seriously promoted the "panspermia" hypothesis, the idea that life was sent here in the form of seeds from a faraway civilization. The reason for such an idea? Crick wrote that "the probability of life originating at random is so utterly minuscule as to make it absurd."

Writing with his colleague Chandra Wickramasinghe, Crick stated: "The theory that life was assembled by an so obvious that one wonders why it is not widely accepted as being self-evident. The reasons are psychological rather than scientific."

Asked about the Mission to Mars possibility, Michael Shermer replies, "That's a legitimate hypothesis. That's testable, that's explainable. But 'a miracle happened' -- that's different." In other words, design is detectable and testable--but only as long as you can be sure ahead of time that the designer isn't God.

This is less a philosophy than an intellectual straitjacket. By this reasoning, scientists whose findings point to natural causes may proceed unimpeded, while those whose evidence points to a supernatural cause must immediately close up shop and go home. One thing you have to say for Dembski's intelligent design theory: It makes the ultimate questions real, putting them into our own world. By blocking ID research, methodological naturalism becomes not only a method for doing science, but a method for keeping the deepest human concerns a safe distance from our personal lives.

On September 8 and 9, the peer review committee finally met and even brought in Dembski and Gordon for 45 minutes of grilling. One committee member chastised Dembski for questioning the adequacy of neo-Darwinism. Dembski, however, showed none of the hoped-for contrition. As this issue goes to press, the committee is getting set to announce its recommendation.

What will be the fate of Dembski, Gordon, and their Michael Polanyi Center? It's up to one man only -- President Robert Sloan. He can bow to faculty pressure and dissolve the present Polanyi Center, perhaps restaffing it with scholars more to the faculty's liking; or clip Dembski's wings by taking away his ability to raise money to run programs. Or he can stand behind the man he hired, make the case that science should be about facts, not McCarthyite lynch mobs -- and take the heat that will surely be generated by disgruntled faculty and their sympathetic media.

Either way, the ultimate victim or victor won't be Bill Dembski, it will be unbiased science and humanity's quest to discover the truth -- wherever that truth leads us.

Top 10 Accusations

Bill Dembski is guilty of: (a) Politically incorrect thought-crimes. (b) True crimes against science and religion. You decide. Here are the leading accusations--and how the Polanyi Center folks reply:

1. It's all a front for the creationists.

Lewis Barker: "These people are creationists. They define that as someone who takes a literal interpretation of Genesis."

Reply: ID is a research project to find out if design is detectable. Unlike creationism, it's not concerned with the identity of the designer. It proposes scientific tests that can be falsified, not presuppositions that must be believed. Bruce Gordon says, "The Polanyi Center has no interest at all in the Biblical literalist approach. I have considerable problems with it. It doesn't do justice to science nor to Biblical hermeneutics."

2. It's all politics.

Michael Shermer: "Their agenda is a re-introduction of Judeo-Christian thought into the public schools. They're carrying out a bottom-up strategy, by starting in the academy."

Reply: The Polanyi Center's purpose is research, not getting involved in politics or textbook wars. If ID proves correct, say its adherents, its research results should of course be included in textbooks. But no one at Polanyi is proposing that Genesis be taught in public schools.

3. ID is a science stopper.

Complaining Baylor faculty members, says one journalist, "see the intelligent design crowd as seeking to put a tourniquet on inquiry."

Reply: Dembski says that naturalism often stops inquiry, "such as in its expectation for the uselessness of vestigial organs and junk DNA, whereas intelligent design profitably continues looking for their function." The call for the dissolution of the Polanyi Center is a better example of "putting a tourniquet on inquiry." Even ID proponent Phillip Johnson, the Berkeley law professor most abhorred by ID critics, does not advocate the removal of Darwinism from the curriculum, but that schools should "teach the controversy."

4. ID doesn't want peer review or criticism.

Included in the Baylor biologists' letter to Congress was the claim: "The supporters of intelligent design have never openly presented their data."

Reply: Anyone looking at the list of scientists invited to the "Nature of Nature" conference should be cured of that notion. The majority were critics of ID.

5. All they say is that God did it. And where did He come from?

Saying that God did it, writes Darwinist Richard Dawkins, only leaves us with an unobservable cause that itself needs to be explained.

Reply: ID, says Dembski, studies the results, the design, not the agent that produced it. Dembski further points out that most new theoretical entities would forever remain off limits if their source had to be fully understood before they could be proposed. Example: Boltzmann's kinetic theory of heat, which invoked the motion of unobservable particles (now called atoms and molecules), which Boltzmann could not explain.

6. ID can't be quantified.

Lewis Barker: "There is absolutely no prediction Dembski can make. His arguments do not produce a new research agenda."

Reply: Lewis Barker should read Dembski's monograph, in which he lays out rigorous, mathematical tests to identify complex specified information and to show how CSI always implies intelligent design.

7. All ID can do is criticize evolution.

Eugenie Scott: "It is certainly fair to describe them as anti-evolutionists."

Reply: In fact, says Bruce Gordon, "intelligent design is compatible with evolution. Many biologists are theistic evolutionists. Design can be understood as built into the initial conditions, so that the subsequent development was continuous and not interrupted by any transcendent intervention. Yet the teleology could still be quantified through the methods of the mathematical techniques of design theory."

8. It's bad theology.

Eugenie Scott: "Theologians don't like it because it creates a mammoth 'God-of-the-gaps' problem."

Reply: If intelligent causes exist (as forensic science and SETI already assume), then it is wrong to assume that all gaps in present knowledge must eventually be filled by non-intelligent causes.

9. It's bad science, or not science at all.

Reply: Dembski points out that if you say ID is not science because it can't be observed, then we must also toss out theoretical entities like quarks, super-strings, and cold dark matter. If you say it's not science because the design is not repeatable, then out goes the big bang, the origin of life, and the origin of humans. If you say science must deal exclusively with what is governed by law, then out goes the special sciences that deal with intelligent agents, like forensics and SETI. ID advocates aren't asking to be cut any more slack than these.

10. ID invokes supernatural causes.

According to Eugenie Scott and biologist/philosopher Michael Ruse, science studies natural causes, and to introduce design is to invoke supernatural causes.

Reply: Dembski says that this contrast is wrong: "The proper contrast is between undirected natural causes on the one hand and intelligent causes on the other. Whether an intelligent cause is located within or outside nature is a separate question from whether an intelligent cause has acted within nature. Design has no prior commitment to supernaturalism."

Fred Heeren is a science journalist who writes about modern cosmology, paleontology, and biology. He lives in Wheeling, Illinois.

The Deed is Done

by Fred Heeren
The American Spectator
December 2000/January 2001

[This link no longer works. I would be grateful if someone would send me a copy by email of "The Deed is Done" by Fred Heeren.]

Design Interference

William Dembski fired from Baylor's Intelligent Design center.

By Tony Carnes
Christianity Today
December 2, 2000

Baylor University in October terminated well-known Intelligent Design scientist William Dembski as head of the Michael Polanyi Center for Complexity, Information, and Design. The center was placed in limbo, without a name or certain future at the university in Waco, Texas.

Dembski, who retains his Baylor professorship, says he was overwhelmed by politicking within Baylor. The Polanyi Center's critics were apprehensive, he says, partly because of Southern Baptist conflicts between creationists and evolutionists&emdash;one front in the ongoing struggle between moderates and conservatives for control of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Intelligent Design, favored by some conservatives, is a new approach to the creation-evolution debates that lays aside the question of who designed the universe to ask whether there is any evidence of design.

Dembski's own work, published by Cambridge University Press in The Design Inference, employs careful statistical testing of the natural world to see if it shows evidence of intelligent design. Like a code-breaker of secret messages, the Intelligent Design analyst asks whether the signals of the natural world are simply random or point to an intelligent creative force. Dembski, an Orthodox Christian, says Intelligent Design research is like looking for the difference between a jumble of clouds and skywriting that broadcasts a message.

Baylor, which describes itself as "the largest Baptist university in the world," has long been a source of complaint for Southern Baptist conservatives. For example, Judge Paul Pressler of Houston, Texas, decided to rally Southern Baptist conservatives after hearing students in his church youth group describe what they were being taught at Baylor.

Moderate Texas Southern Baptists recently redirected $5 million away from Southern Baptist seminaries and agencies and awarded additional funds to Texas schools, including Baylor.

Robert Sloan Jr., president of Baylor since 1995, has attempted to take Baylor in two directions at the same time: moving it into the top tier of national universities while also reconnecting the school to its Baptist heritage.

Sloan's method of sidestepping established means for academic appointments has been controversial. In the meantime, more than a dozen lawsuits are alleging wrongful termination and demotion during Sloan's presidency.

Critics say the creation of the Polanyi Center is an example of Sloan's acting without extensive faculty involvement; it has been a sore spot for the center's critics from the beginning.

Dembski walked into a tense situation and was subject to dismissive comments that he was a "stealth creationist." Michael Beaty, head of Baylor's Institute for Faith and Learning and Dembski's immediate boss, urged him to follow a turn-the-other-cheek strategy.

As the controversy escalated, Dembski became ever more embattled. In January, Polanyi Center critics questioned administrators about the scientific legitimacy of Intelligent Design and warned that Baylor's reputation would be severely hurt in the scientific world.

In April and May, critics asked members of Congressional education committees to withdraw an invitation for Intelligent Design scientists to give a briefing. The faculty senate voted 26&endash;2&endash;1 to ask that Baylor's president completely dissolve the Intelligent Design initiatives.

Dembski says that Baylor officials, alarmed at the escalating conflict, ordered him not to attend the Washington meeting and to write a letter disavowing it. When Dembski refused, university officials began considering his termination.

President Sloan appointed a committee to evaluate the Polanyi Center. The committee recommended stripping the center of its name, absorbing its functions into the Institute for Faith and Learning, and setting up a Baylor faculty advisory committee to guide the institute on its involvement with the Intelligent Design movement. The ad-hoc committee also clearly recognized Intelligent Design as a legitimate scientific discipline.

But Dembski mistakenly read the committee's report as a definitive victory, proclaiming "the triumph of Intelligent Design" in one e-mail message. He was terminated as director two days after his e-mail became public knowledge.

"The wedge of truth has a very sharp edge" and will prevail, said Intelligent Design master strategist Phillip Johnson, speaking at Pressler's church soon after Dembski's firing. But for now, he says, the Intelligent Design movement has suffered a huge setback.

Early on, scientists researching Intelligent Design recognized some powerful advocates for evolution would oppose such research. Some, worried about adverse publicity, received Intelligent Design research grants from the Discovery Institute without public disclosure. Says David Berlinski, a leading Intelligent Design scientist and author of the recently acclaimed Newton's Gift, "Those who have benefitted from the change from a fundamentally religious society to a fundamentally secular one are reluctant to relinquish their power."

Chance and Divination: Dembski gambled and lost

by Lewis Barker
December 10, 2000

An article on gambling in the Dec 11 issue of The New Yorker (The Story of Dice, by Ricky Jay, p. 91) contains the following: "Almost all early civilizations were interested in chance and divination, a formidable combination that paved the way for high-stakes gambling and philosophical rumination."

This observation may help us understand Bill Dembski, who a number of people think was "lynched" by Baylor University for espousing Intelligent Design (ID). Dembski's version of ID is, indeed, a formidable combination of "chance and divination."

No such lynching occurred; rather, Dembski gambled that his activities were the science he espoused them to be. He was subsequently subjected to peer review and was found wanting. A committee (comprised of faculty in the sciences and humanities) was appointed after a faculty senate vote of no confidence in the activities of the Polanyi Center of which Dembski was one of two members. Their report ( recommended that the center be renamed; pointed out the necessity that the research activities of the center by peer reviewed; that it broaden its focus on faith/science matters to more than questions of ID. Finally, the report urged the two members of the center to be collegial in their dealings with other faculty, as befitting their place in an academic community.

I call this peer review, because Dembski never understood the embarrassment he caused other academicians at Baylor University. To him, they were not peers to be convinced by his scholarship, but infidels opposing his Crusade for ID. He was, indeed, in a game of "high-stakes gambling and philosophical rumination." He never understood that in a university setting, his was not the only game in town.

Dembski's response to the report was a gloating broadside of VICTORY in his war against "naturalism" (aside: still can't figure that word out); his e-mail response became widely distributed (see

After reading Dembski's comments, the Baylor University administration concluded that Dembski had not even understood that he had been peer reviewed, and that his peer review had not been nearly as positive as he claimed; hence, given this lack of good judgment, they dismissed him as director of the Polanyi Center (since renamed). (see

Although I have since left, at that time I was a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor. Several news/magazine articles repeated my description of Dembski's version of ID as "stealth creationism." Then as now many of my colleagues and I fail to see how it is possible to integrate science and religion, and for the life of me, I can't understand why anyone would want to do so. They are separate realms, separate methodologies, separate intellectual worlds. That's my gamble.

Lewis Barker
Professor and Chair of Psychology
Auburn University 


[None of the American Spectator links work anymore. I would be grateful if someone would send me a copy of "The Deed is Done" by Fred Heeren published in the Dec. 2000/Jan. 2001 American Spectator.]

While the Intelligent Design movement had precedents, it really did not create much of a stir on the scientific scene until the blockbuster book: Darwin's Black Box, by Michael Behe, was reviewed by most of the major newspapers in the U.S. With some risk of oversimplification, Behe's thesis is that a simple living cell is not all that simple, in fact, it is irreducibly complex. He uses the analogy of a mousetrap: what components can you eliminate for it to still function? The answer is: nothing.  With this irreducible complexity and what we now know about the DNA code, the natural inference is that the cell shows undeniable evidence of intelligent design. For a good overview of what's happening in the ID movement see "The evolution Wars," by Tom Bethell in The American Spectator Dec. 1999/Jan. 2000 (sorry, it's not on the web).

One spokesperson for the ID movement that has been leading this drive is Bill Dembski, a scholar with two doctorates, one in math and the other in philosophy. His recent book: The Design Inference was published by Cambridge University Press, and was peer-reviewed by 70 scholars. Because of his academic standing he was asked by the president of Baylor University to head up the Polanyi Center, a think tank set up to further explore Intelligent Design. Problem: it was set up without the vote or cooperation of Baylor's faculty.  But aren't they broad-minded and open to hearing ideas being promulgated by a growing group of highly credentialed and mostly Christian scholars? Nope! In fact, they put up such a ruckus the backed-in-a-corner president removed Dembski as the head of the think tank and effectively closed its operation. The story of the opposition of Baylor's "open-minded" faculty is told in The American Spectator: "The Lynching of Bill Dembski," by Fred Heeren. You can find it here

In the current issue of The American Spectator (Dec2000/Jan2001) there is a follow-up article by the same author. See: "The Deed is Done."

In the same issue there are two other worthy articles, one by Tom Bethell, "No Time for Science, (not on the web) and the lead story by Jonathan Wells "The Survival of the Fakest." (not on the web)  The latter article is a condensation of Wells' new book Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth?  Why much of what we teach about evolution is wrong? This book is already causing some teeth-grinding among evolutionists. Some of the teachings Wells documents as being erroneousare: The Miller-Urey experiment, Darwins's tree of life, homology in vertebrate limbs, Haeckel's embryos, archaeopteryx, peppered tree moths, Darwins's finches, four-winged fruit flies, fossil horses, and ape to man. Christianity Today also reports on the Baylor controversy at:

The magazine we referred to several times above: The American Spectator is the conservative publication Hillary Clinton was referring to when she proclaimed there was a "vast rightwing conspiracy."  This publication was recently bought out by George Gilder, a futurist and economist of some note. He is also one of the founders of the Discovery Institute, a conservative think-tank located in Washington state. Their website is one you will definitely want to bookmark as they post articles of great importance for keeping up with cultural trends (  Another important website to keep up with the intelligent design movement is Access Research Network (, and it is also my personal favorite site for Christianity and science issues. You must visit this site.

In God's Country | Monkey Business

by Lauren Kern

In God's Country
Houston Press
December 14, 2000

Monkey Business
Dallas Observer
January 11, 2001

William Dembski thought Baylor University would be the perfect place to investigate a scientific alternative to Darwinism. He didn't know he'd be crucified for his cause.

In the beginning, there was a bang. A very big bang. Nothing exploded into something. Quarks and leptons collided violently in an intense fireball of plasma. As the plasma expanded and cooled, the collisions became less violent, and particles joined together to form protons and neutrons and electrons, then nuclei and atoms and molecules. Huge clouds of these particles coalesced into galaxies of stars and planets, still expanding, always expanding, away from the central point of the explosion.

On one particular planet, in a very ordinary galaxy, molecules somehow formed living cells. And these cells linked together to become organisms, some of which had certain genetic mutations that better enabled them to survive and replicate in the primordial atmosphere. Over the next, oh, billions of years, the fittest of these organisms evolved into plants and fish and amphibians and birds and dogs and cats and apes and humans--all thanks to the whims of chance and the laws of nature. If the pull of nuclei were slightly stronger, if the force of gravity were slightly weaker, if the speed of universal expansion were off just a hair, if the genetic mutations had been a little bit different, we wouldn't be here.

It's a fanciful story, but it's the best one that modern science has come up with so far to explain human existence. A small cadre of philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians, however, have come to the conclusion that it's a little too fanciful, that perhaps there is a better explanation for the origin and diversity of life, that perhaps that explanation involves an intelligent designer, a.k.a. God.

It's not a new argument. Eighteenth-century British natural theologian William Paley gave the intelligent-design theory its most memorable metaphor: Happening upon a watch, one would notice that its various parts work together for a purpose, that the cogs and springs and gears produce motion, and that the motion is regulated to indicate time. We would infer from the watch that it was crafted by a watchmaker. Paley argued that living organisms are more complicated than watches "in a degree which exceeds all computation," and that we, too, must therefore be the products of some grand watchmaker, an intelligence.

Since the dawn of Darwinism, Paley's watchmaker analogy has been dismissed as a quaint notion of a much simpler scientific time. Darwin's theory of natural selection explained that the design we see in nature and in ourselves is merely an illusion: What appears to be design is not, in fact, the product of a designer, but the result of a long and undirected history of evolution in which organisms became better and better adapted to their environments. Darwinism forever separated science and religion. Religion was a matter of faith; science, a matter of natural causes, observable fact, empirical evidence. Sure, you could believe in God if you wanted to, but you certainly couldn't look for him to reveal himself in the natural world.

But intelligent-design theorists are bringing religion back into the laboratory, adding bite to Paley's old watchmaker argument, attempting to show--with mathematical theories and biological examples--that a designer can be empirically detected. This has mainstream scientists hopping mad and may lead to the most intense battle between science and religion since the Catholic Church put Galileo under house arrest for suggesting that the earth was not the center of the universe.

The first major skirmish has already taken place at Baylor University, where William Dembski, a leading proponent of intelligent design, was demoted from his position as director of a center set up to study the theory. The last fight may be on your local school board.

William Dembski wasn't always a religious man. The only child of a college biology professor (who, in fact, didn't question Darwin's theories) and an art dealer, he spent six days a week at an all-male Catholic preparatory school in Chicago. He went through the motions at school, but he didn't buy into Christianity. "Any sort of God who was behind it all, who we were accountable to, who really cared for us, with whom we could have any connection, that was just off my radar," Dembski says. That is, until he came upon his life's first rough spot.

Dembski was always a good student, especially in math. He finished high school a year early, completing a full course of calculus in just one summer. The 17-year-old tested into some advanced mathematics courses at the University of Chicago, but he struggled in them. He was doing fair, but he wasn't used to doing fair. He couldn't handle the disappointment.

Dembski was having trouble outside of class as well. His experiences as an only child who spent most of his time in the insular world of a boys' school had not prepared him for college life. His social skills, Dembski admits, were a bit lacking. He dropped out of school and went to work in his mother's art dealership business. He built crates and typed letters, but mostly he just floundered. "It was just not a very happy time in my life," he says, "and I guess when you're not very happy, you start looking."

He read the Scriptures, trying to understand the faith. And he read creationist literature, trying to understand the world around him. He had always had a sneaking suspicion that Darwinism was an inadequate theory, and although he could not believe the doctrine of literal creationists, their criticisms of evolution fueled his active young mind. He went back to school, studying statistics at the University of Illinois and adding that knowledge to his developing disbelief in Darwinism. It seemed to him statistically improbable that natural selection could produce the diversity of life all around him. Still, he hadn't come up with an alternative theory.

Then, in 1988, he had a eureka moment. At a conference on randomness at Ohio State University, a statistician concluded the event by saying, "We know what randomness isn't. We don't know what it is." It made sense to Dembski. If God is the creator of the universe, then there should be order in the world, not randomness. Darwinists were having so much trouble defining the randomness inherent in evolutionary theory because life was essentially not random. It was designed. And randomness could be understood only in terms of that design. "That insight really has propelled me all these years," Dembski says.

Armed with Christian faith, Dembski found that he could be happy in the world of academia. In fact, he's been there ever since his religious conversion. In all, he has earned a B.A. in psychology, an M.S. in statistics, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Illinois; a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Chicago; and a master of divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. He has also done postdoctoral work in mathematics at MIT, in physics at the University of Chicago, and in computer science at Princeton. But his relationship with academia would not always be pleasant. Dembski's theories were taking him further and further afield from mainstream science. His mathematics were leading him to the same place that his faith had. To his colleagues, this wasn't science; it was religion.

We distinguish between intelligent and natural causes every day--every time a detective investigates a possible homicide, every time an archaeologist picks out an arrowhead from a pile of rocks, every time radio astronomers at the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence listen for patterns in the noise coming from outer space. In these cases, modern science doesn't have a problem assuming that some intelligent being is responsible for the evidence--a human, even an alien. But if you try to distinguish between intelligent and natural causes in basic biological systems, things get a little messier. If you find intelligence in biology, then who or what was the intelligent designer? It's a question science doesn't want to pose, let alone answer.

But Dembski contends that if he can codify the process by which we recognize intelligence in other fields, he can justifiably apply that process to biology. If he can codify that process, he says, intelligent design is not a matter of religious belief but a matter of following the evidence wherever it leads. Such a codification is Dembski's contribution to the intelligent-design movement, and his claim to fame. It is an explanatory process that can be used for judging objects, events, and information. It begins by ruling out chance and natural law as explanations, and then infers design.

The first step in the process is what Dembski calls contingency. In other words, something that is designed must be compatible with natural law but not required by it. Something that is required by natural law leaves no room for the choices inherent in design. It is just following orders.

The second test is for complexity. Here, Dembski turns to the sci-fi movie Contact, based on a novel by Carl Sagan, for an example. In the movie, Jodie Foster and her radio astronomer friends at SETI receive a signal of 1,126 beats and pauses representing all the prime numbers from two to 101. They interpret the signal to be a sign of extraterrestrial intelligence. But if they had received a sequence of only the first three prime numbers, they would not have jumped to the same conclusion. Any random radio signal might happen to emit this sequence by pure chance. Mathematically speaking, this is a probability argument. The short sequence is simply not complex enough to be improbable as a result of chance.

But complexity by itself isn't enough. The final filter is for specification. Any particular sequence of 1,126 beats and pauses is highly unlikely. The sequence in Contact was special not just because it was complex, but because it contained an independent pattern: increasing prime numbers. Voila. If something is contingent, complex, and specified, according to Dembski, we can infer that it is the product of intelligence. Dembski calls it the specified-complexity criterion.

The next step for intelligent-design theorists is to apply the criterion to biological systems. They start small, with bacteria and their proteins, to keep the probability computations manageable. But the idea is that if they can prove that life's subsystems are designed, then they can prove that the whole system is designed.

The bacterium's flagellum may be intelligent design's favorite subsystem. A flagellum is a whip-like outboard motor, complete with an acid-powered rotary engine, O-rings, and a drive shaft. "The scientific community has come up short with any sort of plausible, detailed explanation of how you could have gotten something like this by purely natural causes," says Dembski, "and when you start applying the sort of methods that I've developed, it clearly indicates design."

A flagellum is compatible with natural law but not required by it; after all, there are bacteria without flagella. It is specified in the sense that its pattern of parts performs a specific function. And it is complex not just in the sense of its machinelike combination of parts, but also in the improbability of its arising by chance. In fact, Michael Behe, the biochemist who most famously made the case for design in the bacterial flagellum, contends that it would be virtually impossible for the motor to come about by mutation and natural selection.

Behe calls the flagellum an irreducibly complex system. In other words, its parts are so interrelated that if one part were taken away, the entire system wouldn't work. A mousetrap, for instance, is irreducibly complex. Take away the platform, the hammer, the spring, the catch, or the holding bar, and it is impossible to construct a working mousetrap. Similarly, if you take away any one of the 50 proteins required in the bacterial flagellum, the motor ceases to work. Behe's argument is that the flagellum is too complex to arise in one single mutation and then be acted upon by natural selection, and that the undirected nature of the Darwinian mechanism could not support a gradual accumulation of the necessary proteins. Just one of these proteins offers no survival and reproductive advantage. How could nature know to preserve it for future generations? How could nature know that the bacterium was in the process of building itself a motor?

Dembski is looking to apply his specified-complexity theory on an even more microscopic scale than the bacterial flagellum: that of DNA. The precise sequence of nucleotides in DNA conveys the information necessary to build proteins. The origin of this information has become the Holy Grail of origin-of-life biology. Mainstream science is looking for an algorithm or a natural law to account for it, but Dembski says that this DNA encoding is complex, specified information if ever there was any--and thus indicative of intelligent design. Natural causes cannot originate information, Dembski argues via his complicated mathematical proof, the Law of Conservation of Information. It's a somewhat circular argument: Natural laws and algorithms cannot create complex, specified information, because they cannot create anything that is not required by natural law. Chance can generate complex, unspecified information or simple, specified information, but not information that is both complex and specified.

It is for this law that Rob Koons, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Texas, calls Dembski the "Isaac Newton of information theory." It may be that intelligent design will revolutionize science just like Newtonian physics did. It may also be that this is just the perfect way to evangelize a generation of Americans who put their faith in science without entirely understanding it.

William Dembski met Baylor University President Robert Sloan in the summer of 1996, when he was teaching Sloan's daughter at a Christian-study summer camp not far from Waco. Sloan, who is the first Baptist minister to serve as Baylor's president in more than 30 years, had read some of Dembski's work. "He liked my stuff," Dembski recalls. "He made it clear that he wanted to get me on the faculty in some way."

Three years later the president offered Dembski not just a position at Baylor but a whole center dedicated to studying the relationship between science and religion and to furthering Dembski's work in intelligent design. It would be named after Michael Polanyi, a Hungarian chemist who questioned the idea that the world could be explained through natural laws alone. It was a big step for intelligent design, the first center of its kind at a major research university, a huge inroad into mainstream academia.

The Polanyi Center was established quietly in October 1999. Dembski and his like-minded colleague Bruce Gordon were hired outside the traditional academic channels of a search committee and departmental consultation. Dembski says that he did meet with some faculty, both before and after Baylor hired him. But the vast majority of them were unaware of the existence of the center until its Web site went online and scientists outside the university began sending incredulous e-mails to their colleagues at Baylor. What, they asked, was this? Had Baylor gone fundamentalist? Would they be teaching creation science instead of evolution in their biology classrooms? The Baylor scientists, already sensitive to their university's religious mission, were now the laughingstock of the scientific community, and they didn't like it.

"When you say Baylor now, people are going to go, 'Oh, yeah, they have that creationist center,'" says Charles Weaver, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor and one of the most outspoken critics of the Polanyi Center. "We fought that as a city for a long time: 'Waco. Oh, you guys are the crazy ones with Koresh.'" He worries that the Polanyi Center and Dembski's association with the intelligent-design movement will discourage promising premed students and respected faculty from coming to Baylor.

Baylor Provost Donald Schmeltekopf defends the university's actions by pointing out that there are more and more people in academia interested in questioning the naturalistic assumptions of the scientific establishment and that Dembski is one of the most visible among them. "We thought it would be an interesting thing for Baylor to get into the conversation and to be a participant," he says.

But Weaver says Baylor faculty members have been asking these questions about the relationship between science and religion for years in the school's interdisciplinary Institute for Faith and Learning. "The inference that some of us have drawn is that...we must have come up with answers that aren't those we were expected to come up with," says Weaver, who is a Presbyterian elder. "My faith background is one of asking lots of questions and living with a lot of doubts, and those may not be qualities that are valued at Baylor anymore. It may be that those of us with certainties are better adapted for the environment."

In any case, Schmeltekopf's conversation was about to turn into an argument, and a nasty one at that. In April, Dembski's Polanyi Center hosted a conference on naturalism sponsored by the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank where Dembski is a fellow, and the Templeton Foundation, whose moneys have gone a long way to bankroll the intelligent-design movement. The conference sought to answer a very unusual question: Is there anything beyond nature? An impressive collection of scientists from all over the world attended the conference, among them Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg. Of course, Weinberg titled his presentation "No," a straightforward answer to the conference's central question. And other speakers announced that they were going to give their honoraria to organizations that promote the study of evolution in schools.

Baylor faculty, by and large, boycotted the conference altogether. But that wasn't all. Just days after the naturalism conference, the faculty senate voted 27-2 to dismantle Dembski's center. If there was to be a center studying the intersection of science and religion at Baylor, they held, it should be rebuilt from the ground up--with faculty input. In an editorial published in the Houston Chronicle, President Sloan charged that this uproar over faculty input was a cover for the real issue: the substance of the work being done by the center. "In my experience," he wrote, "people often object to 'the way things were done' as a rhetorical substitute for what was done." Sloan refused to dissolve the Polanyi Center, citing issues of censorship and academic integrity.

He hit the nail on the head. A lack of input might have annoyed the faculty, but it was the center's promotion of intelligent design that made them angry. Dembski claims to be doing science, a science that hopes to question the very validity of naturalism and give Darwinism a backseat to design. And that is something that Baylor's mainstream scientists cannot abide. "You can always look at something and say, 'That's something that God did,'" says Weaver. "Well, what can I do to prove you wrong?...If I can't prove your theory incorrect, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's wrong, but it means it's not science."

Weaver says that intelligent design is little more than an ego trip. How do we know a biological system has been intelligently designed? Because it's designed the way we would have designed it, in a way that we can understand it. "That's a nice little egotistical thing, isn't it?" he says. "It's designed to make us feel more comfortable. We do best when we believe ourselves to be at the pinnacle of creation. And it doesn't have much to do with theology; it has much more to do with our insecurity as a species."

Intelligent design has been completely ignored in professional literature, Weaver says. No real scientists take it seriously. "Dembski's got a whole long list of places where he's written articles and published books, and none of them are peer-reviewed. They're not done in scientifically or philosophically respectable places," Weaver says. "We judge things in the academic world not by how many books are sold at Waldenbooks," but by what a scientist's peers think of his work. Dembski's peers in mainstream science have hardly even dignified him with a response. The famous Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, who visited Baylor in the wake of the Polanyi Center controversy, dismissed intelligent design as nothing more than modern-day creationism.

But Charles Garner, an organic chemistry professor at Baylor who says he prays with students when they come to him with problems and criticizes evolutionary theory in class, argues that it would be virtually impossible to get intelligent-design articles peer-reviewed fairly by a pro-evolution scientific establishment. "Remember," he says, "you're going to be upsetting people's worldviews with this stuff."

Sloan wouldn't shut down the center, but he had no problem holding Dembski's work up to the light of peer review, especially if it would help smooth things over with the faculty. He assembled a group of nine biologists, philosophers, science historians, and theologians--primarily from other universities--to look into the legitimacy of the center and intelligent design. Dembski was furious. The Baylor administration knew his work; he was hired because of it. Now, they were going to risk his academic reputation with a very public review by scholars he wasn't even sure were qualified to assess his work. "The peer-review committee, from my perspective, was called for purely political motives, to assuage the angry faculty," he says, "but in doing that they put me in the frying pan."

Surprisingly, Dembski emerged relatively unscathed. The review committee recommended an advisory committee to oversee Baylor's science and religion program and removed the Polanyi name from the center (even though Dembski claims he cleared the use of the name with Polanyi's son). But ultimately the outside scholars concluded that "research on the logical structure of mathematical arguments for intelligent design...have a legitimate claim to a place in the current discussions of the relations of religion and science."

Dembski was ecstatic. He issued a press release that stated in part: "Dogmatic opponents of design who demanded the Center be shut down have met their Waterloo. Baylor University is to be commended for remaining strong in the face of intolerant assaults on freedom of thought and expression."

Any progress that the review committee had made in soothing faculty concerns was undone in the space of two sentences. These were fighting words. "In academic arguments," says Weaver, "we don't seek utter destruction and defeat of our opponents. We don't talk about Waterloos."

The Baylor administration gave Dembski a chance to retract, or "contextualize," his comments, and when he refused, he was demoted. They cited a lack of "collegiality" that compromised his ability to serve as director of the center. The center that had no name now had no leader either. "We certainly didn't demote him because of positions he has taken," says Schmeltekopf. "That had nothing to do with it. We just had to move forward here."

It's true. Dembski was not demoted because of his positions. He was demoted because his positions had become a political hot potato. Initially Dembski thought that if an intelligent-design center could be successful anywhere, it would be at Baylor. Now, he thinks that if an intelligent-design center could be successful at Baylor, it could succeed anywhere. "I think what you've got at Baylor is...this whole history of the Southern Baptists with this moderate-fundamentalist controversy and split," Dembski says. "And Baylor is--I didn't fully realize this--the bastion for the moderates where anything that smacks of fundamentalism, creationism, just sends people through the roof.

"Baylor may be the bastion of Baptist moderates, but some of these moderates have accused President Sloan of leaning toward the fundamentalist end of the spectrum. It is certainly difficult to see how his administration could have been blind to the fact that intelligent design comes with a political agenda that is far from moderate. The very way in which it formulates its scientific questions seeks to tear apart the Darwinian underpinnings that influence our laws, our public policies, our economic systems, our psychological theories, our schools, our sense of who we are--in short, our entire worldview. If there is a designer, do we have obligations to that designer? What are they? Do we have an intrinsic sense of morality? Have we been designed to operate best within certain constraints? "Every scientific discipline is going to have to be rethought if Darwinism and naturalism are thrown seriously into question," says Dembski. "I think the implications are huge."

If the science is sound, then perhaps we should be willing to rework our worldviews. But Baylor certainly was not willing to lead the way. "One of the things we were very clear about from the beginning," says Schmeltekopf, "was that the work of Dembski and Gordon did not have underneath it a political agenda of some kind; that is, to get into textbook wars and creationist politics and that kind of thing."

To that end, Baylor administrators pressured Dembski not to attend a May bipartisan congressional briefing by the Discovery Institute's intelligent-design program, the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. Dembski's colleagues presented the case for intelligent design and how it could help resolve the debate over the teaching of origins in public schools.

Dembski was surprised by Baylor's limitation of his "academic freedom." He had made no secret of his association with the Discovery Institute, which considers the "wedge strategy" one of its primary projects. The wedge strategy is a term coined by Phillip Johnson, godfather of intelligent design and author of the popular Darwin On Trial. The metaphor portrays mainstream science as a seemingly impenetrable log that can be cracked with the sharp edge of a wedge. The sharp edge of the Discovery Institute's wedge is designed to separate modern science's naturalistic bias from scientific fact. Once this crack has been made, Johnson can pound in the thicker parts of the wedge--including intelligent design, its cultural implications, and even the Bible--until eventually the log of mainstream science is split wide open. Johnson considers Dembski to be a key wedge figure.

Dembski also makes no bones about his personal position on textbooks. "My commitment is to see intelligent design flourish as a scientific research program," he says. "To do that, I need a new generation of scholars willing to consider this, because the older generation is largely hidebound. So I would like to see textbooks, certainly at the college level and even at the high-school level, which reframe introductory biology within a design paradigm." He doesn't, however, want to legislate these ideas. "I think they're powerful enough that once they get in circulation, they'll win on their own."

He might be right. Academia may not be embracing intelligent design, but the general public, it seems, is primed for it. Gallup polls over the last decade have shown that only about 10 percent of Americans believe in the scientists' definition of evolution via strictly chance mutation and natural selection. Nearly everyone else believes that God created life, either directly or by guiding the process of evolution. Last year in Kansas, the state school board voted 6-4 to no longer include evolution in statewide science tests. Intelligent design will likely prove to be a popular theory for the majority of Americans, especially because the theory can be applied to many faiths. Even though most intelligent-design researchers, like Dembski, come from a Christian background, the theory itself only detects a designer; it doesn't presume to know anything about that designer. Hence, Jews, Muslims, even agnostics, are signing on.

Sitting at the dining-room table in his ranch-style home just outside of Waco, William Dembski looks more like a scientist than a minister. He's thin and stern, with a long, narrow face that mumbles through complicated mathematical theory without taking a breath. Every so often, he loses his train of thought and apologizes, saying he is quite tired. One assumes the exhaustion is a product of the ordeal at Baylor, but then a screaming toddler, recently awakened from her nap, comes running into the room to attach herself to her father's leg. Hot on the toddler's heels is Dembski's wife, her belly swollen with twins that will be born any day. It is clear that the late nights are a result of concerns much closer to the heart.

Dembski spends most of his time at home with his family these days, even though he still has a five-year contract as an associate research professor at Baylor. He doesn't like going to the university's campus. He's much more comfortable here, surrounded by his stretch of land that came complete with a horse and a fishing pond. It's the perfect place to ponder life's great questions, at least when the toddler is asleep. And center or no center, there is still much work to do. "What if science itself is coming to the place where it says we got some things wrong and, in fact, things that we ended up dismissing in religion now have to be taken seriously?" he asks. What if "that intelligence in the world that your religious faith is talking about has an ally?" What if?

Few Signs of Intelligence

The Saga of Bill Dembski at Baylor

by Angus J. L. Menuge
May 2001

William Dembski, a leader in the intelligent design movement, was demoted last fall from his position as director of the newly founded Michael Polanyi Center at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. This action followed concerted efforts earlier in the year by members of Baylor's faculty to close the center.

An external review committee had been appointed to evaluate the credentials of the center's work. Despite the hostility of many of its members, the committee eventually found in favor of the legitimacy of Dembski's research. With reporters on his heels just after the committee report became public, Dembski issued a press release celebrating the vindication of his research and of the center&emdash;and the victory gained over his academic adversaries. This enraged many of his critics. It was claimed that Dembski's action "severely compromised his ability to perform his central administrative duties," hence his removal from the directorship.

How is it that a highly respected author and leader of the intelligent design movement became persona non grata at the very Christian university that hired him to carry on research in his field in the first place?

From Favor to Furor

William Dembski was already a research fellow for the Seattle-based Discovery Institute when he was approached by Baylor University President Robert Sloan in 1996. Sloan had read some of Dembski's work and thought that Dembski could help with his project of promoting the integration of faith and learning on campus.

Sloan's approach to integration was not heavy-handed. He had "resisted the urging of fundamentalists to 'throw the evolutionists out' of the biology department, vowing never to bar anyone at Baylor from teaching evolution."1 In 1999, Sloan was able to establish a center named for Michael Polanyi, a Hungarian chemist who had denied that biological information could be reduced to physics and chemistry.

Dembski and Bruce Gordon were hired and appointed to the center, and they enjoyed a favorable reception. But the honeymoon ended when the Polanyi Center established its website in January 2000. When "other groups with evolution-bashing agendas began linking up their Websites . . . [m]any on the biology faculty flashed back to old culture battles, when such groups had publicly questioned the professors' integrity."2

An e-mail frenzy at Baylor spread to other schools. Dembski "was subject to dismissive comments that he was a 'stealth creationist.'"3 As Gordon has often pointed out, the Michael Polanyi Center never endorsed the connections from other websites. Sadly, many faculty were quite unable (or unwilling) to distinguish work on intelligent design (ID) from old-style creationism. ID merely looks for empirical evidence of design in nature and does not presume to settle the identity of the designer, and it does not start from Scripture or a dogmatic position about the age of the earth.

Despite this setback, the Polanyi Center went ahead and hosted the Nature of Nature conference in April 2000. This conference examined the adequacy of naturalism as a foundation for work in the natural sciences and philosophy. The conference drew a cast of top scholars and scientists from around the world, the majority of whom were critical of ID, favoring either full naturalism or some form of methodological naturalism. Genuine civility was demonstrated as people openly debated deeply held presuppositions. Probably all sides were surprised to learn that the sophistication and intellectual muscle of their opponents far surpassed the stereotypes they feared.

Tragically, many at Baylor had already made up their minds and "not only boycotted the event, but . . . took to the press and the Internet to publicly excoriate Dembski."4 During the conference, both the local Waco newspaper and the Baylor newspaper published stories about the controversy, with comments about "pseudo-science" emanating from some Baylor faculty. One would have thought that any open-minded person would have at least listened to some of the debate, especially given the presence of so many erudite critics of ID.

Yet worse was to come. "Just days after the naturalism conference, the faculty senate voted 27&endash;2 to dismantle Dembski's center."5 Faculty complained that they should have been involved in creating the center. Sloan courageously refused to close the center, but the administration "essentially put Dembski under a gag order. Dembski was pressured not to attend a meeting in Washington, where intelligent design advocates met some members of Congress and their staff; and he was restricted in what he put on his Website and in how he could reply to his critics, no matter how public or vocal they became. Freedom of speech at Baylor, it seems, only works one way."6 In addition, Sloan agreed to create an external review committee to evaluate the Polanyi Center's academic credentials.

Waterloo in Waco

Dembski's extensively peer-reviewed publication of The Design Inference with Cambridge University Press (1998) should have made such a review unnecessary. Yet, not being a person to shy away from criticism, Dembski initially welcomed the review: "I always learn more from my critics than from the people who think I am wonderful."7 It seems that the committee selection was far from fair, including a majority of hostile critics and no one with the background to understand Dembski's mathematical arguments.

Even so, in October the committee upheld the importance and legitimacy of Dembski's work&emdash;yet called for the center to be renamed and broadened in its scope. Vindication by a largely hostile source is about the highest form of endorsement one can hope for. So one would think that the matter was over. Yet one short e-mail changed everything. On the same day the report was released, Dembski broadcast the following comment by e-mail:

The report marks the triumph of intelligent design as a legitimate form of academic inquiry. This is a great day for academic freedom. I'm deeply grateful to President Sloan and Baylor University for making this possible, as well as to the peer review committee for its unqualified affirmation of my own work on intelligent design. The scope of the Center will be expanded to embrace a broader set of conceptual issues at the intersection of science and religion, and the Center will therefore receive a new name to reflect this expanded vision. My work on intelligent design will continue unabated. Dogmatic opponents of design who demanded the Center be shut down have met their Waterloo. Baylor University is to be commended for remaining strong in the face of intolerant assaults on freedom of thought and expression.

Only the last two statements could be called "offensive," and even so they seem to be accurate. Dembski's opponents had acted in a dogmatic and intolerant way, and their hope that the review committee would find against ID had been dashed.

This short e-mail, it was claimed, provoked a firestorm of protest across Baylor's campus. The administration asked Dembski to retract or contextualize his e-mail. He refused on the grounds that his remarks accurately reflected the nature of the controversy. As a result, Dembski was removed from his directorship, and the Polanyi Center lost its name and identity, being absorbed into the larger Institute for Faith and Learning. It was stated that Dembski was removed on "administrative grounds," because his comments (and refusal to retract them) were lacking in collegiality and "severely compromised his ability to perform his central administrative duties."8

If lack of collegiality is grounds for demotion, the Baylor administration owes everyone an explanation of why not one of Dembski's detractors at Baylor, no matter how misinformed or mean-spirited his criticism, has suffered similar penalties. Baylor faculty have misrepresented Dembski's work as "creationist" or "fundamentalist." They boycotted his first major conference, then tried to close the Polanyi Center altogether. These are not collegial actions.

Too Hot to Handle

Why did Dembski make people so angry? There is a local factor, peculiar to Baylor, and a broader factor, which Dembski would have encountered at most major schools. The local factor is that Southern Baptists have been through a painful controversy and schism between fundamentalists and moderates, and Baylor has emerged as a stronghold for the latter. As Dembski put it, "Baylor is&emdash;I didn't fully realize this&emdash;the bastion for the moderates, where anything that smacks of fundamentalism, creationism, just sends people through the roof."9

The broader factor reflects the nature of Dembski's challenge to contemporary academia. Like C. S. Lewis before him, William Dembski has dared to do what has become unthinkable for many in the post-Enlightenment academy. He has exposed the fact that "Naturalism [is] the implicit creed of half his colleagues and (worse) that"&emdash;if he is right&emdash;"it [is] nonsense."10

One would think that faculty at a strong Christian school like Baylor University would welcome such an academic, regardless of whether or not they agree with his views. But with notable and courageous exceptions, this has not been the case. There is too much evidence that Dembski's academic freedom has been denied at Baylor to propitiate hostile faculty primarily concerned about secular canons of academic respectability. For Christian faculty who are worried about being associated with the "fundamentalist creationists," intelligent design apparently is just too hot to handle. The risk, even if slight, of being associated in any way with "creationism" seems to be too great to face, even if it means ignoring both intelligence and design. 


1. Fred Heeren, "The Lynching of Bill Dembski," The American Spectator, November 2000.

2. Ibid.

3. Tony Carnes, "Design Interference," Christianity Today, December 4, 2000.

4. Fred Heeren, "The Deed Is Done," The American Spectator, Dec. 2000/Jan. 2001.

5. Lauren Kern, "In God's Country," Houston Press, December 14, 2000.

6. Fred Heeren, "The Deed Is Done," op. cit.

7. Fred Heeren, "The Lynching of Bill Dembski," op. cit.

8. Michael D. Beaty, "Baylor University Responds to Misconceptions about the Polanyi Center Controversy," Metanews, October 27, 2000.

9. Lauren Kern, "In God's Country," op. cit.

10. Harry Blamires, "Old Western Man," in David Mills (ed.), The Pilgrim's Guide: C. S. Lewis and the Art of Witness (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1998), 18.

Angus J. L. Menuge is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Cranach Institute Speaker Series at Concordia University Wisconsin.

Intelligent design advocate asserts reconciliation with Baylor faculty

by Tammi Reed Ledbetter
Baptist Press News
July 24, 2001

WACO, Texas (BP)--A prominent intelligent design advocate said July 23 that reconciliation with the faculty and administration of Baylor University could lead to positive dialogue on the relationship of science and religion.

Associate research professor William Dembski's July 23 statement, released through the university's public relations office, praised the support he has received from Baylor President Robert Sloan and expressions of goodwill following a year of conflict ignited by Dembski's demotion as director of the Polanyi Center for Complexity, Information and Design.

Rejecting allegations that intelligent design had suffered a setback at Baylor, Dembski stated that his own research on intelligent design "continues unimpeded and with the full support of the Baylor administration," and cited a growing interest in such study. "Despite the tensions of last fall, I have experienced a substantial reconciliation with Baylor faculty and administration," he said, noting that he used the term reconciliation deliberately. "I am not referring merely to a cessation of hostilities or truce. I have experienced genuine goodwill on the part of the Baylor faculty and administration, and in particular from President Robert Sloan."

Dembski's desire to clarify misunderstandings about his continued status with the school came on the heels of sweeping criticism about Baylor by the man who has been called "the father of the intelligent design movement." Phillip Johnson, professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley and author of "Darwin on Trial," spoke at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., June 27, calling the Baylor center as currently administered a "toothless program."

Johnson argued that intelligent design -- the belief that the universe was created by an outside, intelligent force (God) -- will win in the end, if given a fair hearing. Johnson stated that the majority of Baylor's faculty opposed the establishment of the Polanyi Center in 1999 under Dembski's direction, referencing the 26-2 vote by Baylor's faculty senate in April 2000 seeking to dissolve the center. Johnson said the lack of a political movement on the Baylor campus to counter faculty claims contributed to the eventual removal of Dembski as director.

As the one who called for establishment of the Polanyi Center, Sloan opposed faculty pressure to close it, defending the appropriateness of asking whether "patterns of design, information and purpose in the universe" can be detected by scientific processes. The effect of dissolving the center, he said at the time, would be a form of censorship on such academic inquiries.

Instead, Sloan named a peer review committee of academics from across the country to evaluate Dembski's work. That panel affirmed the academic work of the center while calling for the appointment of an advisory committee drawn from Baylor faculty members from disciplines related to the center's work. Reference to the Polanyi name was dropped and the center's work continues within the Institute for Faith and Learning which was founded in September 1997 to integrate "academic excellence and Christian commitment."

Two days after the panel's report, Dembski was relieved of his duties as the center's director when he refused to rescind a statement he circulated by e-mail in which he called the report "a triumph of intelligent design as a legitimate form of academic inquiry." His praise of Baylor for remaining strong in the face of "intolerant assaults on freedom of thought and expression" prompted charges that Dembski failed to act in a collegial manner with other members of the faculty. The associate director of the center, Bruce Gordon, was named interim director. Dembski's role changed from administrative to advisory.

"With the events surrounding the Michael Polanyi Center last year, several misunderstandings about my status at Baylor have emerged," Dembski said in his July 23 statement. Seeking to set the record straight, Dembski reiterated that he was not fired and continues to serve as an associate research professor and in an advisory capacity with the center rather than administrative.

The April 2000 Faculty Senate minutes indicate that "the University engaged in serious negotiations with Dembski about early termination" of his contract and he "refused to settle."

However, in his recent statement, Dembski insisted, "That position has never been in jeopardy and is not in jeopardy now." The first 18 months of the five-year contract were funded by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle research institute that promotes intelligent design through its Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. Dembski is a senior fellow at the institute, having received a grant from the John Templeton Fund via the Seattle institute.

With the funding from the Discovery Institute drawing to an end, Baylor remains obligated to covering the remaining three and one-half years of Dembski's contact. Whether he will be employed beyond 2005 is yet to be decided.

Larry Brumley, Baylor's associate vice president for communications, said, "The open criticism has gone away and there is evidence of very positive development" regarding Dembski's relationship with faculty and administration. "A lot of the positive reconciliation was initiated by Dembski himself," Brumley said, adding that he has "realized the benefit to his work in trying to connect with faculty."

Bill Cooper, chairman of the external review committee, clarified in the April Faculty Senate meeting last year that "Dembski and Gordon are not faculty, and thus do not have the academic freedom accorded faculty." Rather, Cooper said, "They serve at the behest of the administration." Asked in the meeting if faculty who are critical of the agenda and goals of the Institute for Faith and Learning reserve the academic freedom to present their criticism publicly, Cooper said, "This clearly falls within the academic freedom of the faculty."

Dembski said the aims of the Polanyi Center continue through the Institute for Faith and Learning, with the center being reconstituted under a new name with full faculty involvement. "The involvement of Baylor faculty with the center is a healthy development and promises to make the interaction between science and religion part of a constructive dialogue at Baylor rather than part of an ongoing controversy."

The possibility of Dembski participating in a local PBS response to evolution was cited by Brumley as evidence of his continuing influence at Baylor. Brumley said the university is looking into the possibility of working with local PBS affiliate KWBU of Waco to produce a program with input from Dembski, Sloan and other philosophy and science faculty following the mid-September airing of "Evolution" by PBS. The last segment, titled "What About God?" would serve as an opportunity for Baylor faculty to discuss the intersection of science and religion.

With the appointment of the advisory committee, Brumley anticipates increased faculty involvement in the center's work as opposed to it being "transplanted and operated independently." Facutly members serving on the advisory committee include co-chairmen William F. Cooper and Benjamin A. Pierce, as well as David M. Arnold, William H. Brackney, Melissa A. Essary, Barry G. Hankins, Keith Hartberg, Truell W. Hyde II, Kevin G. Pinney, M. David Rudd and Tina L. Thurston. They represent studies in philosophy, mathematics, religion, law, church-state studies, biology, physics, chemistry, psychology and sociology.

Gordon, whose contract was renewed for the coming year, affirmed Dembski's portrayal of improved relations with faculty and indicated that continued research had not been hampered by a lack of academic freedom. "While it's true that those who are functioning in administrative roles by virtue of their responsibilities do have to be more circumspect in some of the things that they say because they're representing the university, certainly the whole controversy did not affect any of Bill's scholarship in terms of his writing."

Praising Dembski for developing "friendly relationships with a couple of biologists" on the faculty, Gordon explained, "These were not necessarily the ones who had been outspokenly critical to start with, but some who are involved with the advisory committee." Gordon added that Dembski "continues to pursue his work on design theory with every bit as much vigor" as he did in the past.

Gordon, who deals with the broader area of the history and philosophy of religion and its interaction with theistic metaphysics, said he is hopeful that Baylor will sponsor more conferences related to his and Dembski's work in the next few years.

"The past is the past," Dembski concluded in his July 23 statement. "Rather than dwelling on the past, we are focusing on how to make the science-religion dialogue a positive feature of Baylor academic life."

Dawson family protests Beckwith's appointment to Baylor institute

In an open letter dated Sept. 11, Dawson family members question the appointment of Francis Beckwith as associate director of Baylor's J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies.

by Marv Knox, Editor
The Baptist Standard
September 19, 2003

WACO--Twenty-nine members of the J.M. Dawson family have called on Baylor University to remove the associate director of the institute that bears Dawson's name.

In an open letter dated Sept. 11, Dawson family members question the appointment of Francis Beckwith as associate director of Baylor's J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies.

However, two of Beckwith's key colleagues have claimed the protest is misguided, affirmed Beckwith's qualifications and championed Baylor's right to select a diverse faculty.

Dawson was a 1904 Baylor graduate who served as pastor of First Baptist Church of Waco 32 years. In retirement, he became the first executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs in Washington. His 1948 book, "Separate Church and State Now" is considered a landmark treatise on church-state separation and religious liberty.

In their open letter, the Dawson family members say they have asked Baylor President Robert Sloan to remove Beckwith as associate director of the Dawson Institute and reassign him to "another, more appropriate, position."

Matt Dawson, J.M. Dawson's son and a retired Baylor law professor, and Alice Cheavens Baird, a granddaughter from Waco, signed the letter. Including that pair, the letter carries the names of one child, 12 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren. Fourteen of them are Baylor graduates.

The letter accuses Beckwith of holding church-state positions contrary to the strong stand for separation advocated by J.M. Dawson. Therefore, he should not be a leader of the Dawson Institute, it notes.

"We are troubled because Dr. Beckwith is a fellow of the Discovery Institute. The activities of this organization are widely recognized in the academic community as engaging in political activities that contravene the fundamental principle of the separation of church and state for which J.M. Dawson stood," the letter says.

"The Discovery Institute works to get the concept called 'intelligent design' into the science curriculum of public school textbooks, claiming that intelligent design is a scientific, not a religious, concept. In our judgment and in the judgment of the scientific community, this is a ruse for getting a religious notion into the public schools--clearly a violation of the separation of church and state."

Intelligent design--a theory that counters evolution by advocating a rational plan behind creation--is not a new controversy at Baylor. The university's faculty, particularly science and religion professors, protested more than three years ago, when President Sloan created the Michael Polanyi Center, intended to focus on whether mathematical and scientific formulas can prove an intelligent design behind creation.

"The vast majority of scientists view intelligent design as the latest version of creationist theory, though the Discovery Institute works tirelessly to refute this fact," the Dawson family letter says.

It cites several articles in scientific and church-state journals that claim intelligent design actually is a religious theory rather than a scientific endeavor. Consequently, since intelligent design advocates attempt to introduce the theory into public school science classrooms, they violate longstanding principles of church-state separation, it adds.

"We ... ask the question: Is Baylor University going to maintain its commitment to the separation of church and state? Is the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies going to remain committed to its mission? How can it possibly do so if an associate director is a fellow of the Discovery Institute, an organization that violates the church-state separation principle?" the letter asks.

In response, both Baylor Provost David Jeffrey and one of Beckwith's colleagues in the Dawson Institute, Barry Hankins, affirmed his fitness for leadership in the institute. The Dawson Institute's director, Derek Davis, was out of the country and unavailable for comment.

Beckwith topped the list of candidates for the Dawson Institute during a national search, Jeffrey said. Among Beckwith's credentials, Jeffrey cited his academic accomplishments, including a doctorate from Fordham University and a master's degree in juridical studies from Washington University, as well as publication of articles in numerous scholarly periodicals, including the Dawson Institute's own Journal of Church and State.

He has been a research fellow in the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, and he is a fellow in the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute. He has held full-time faculty appointments at Trinity International University, Whittier College and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

His latest book is "Law, Darwinism, & Public Education: The Establishment Clause and the Challenge of Intelligent Design." Other books include "The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement," "Do the Right Thing: Readings in Applied Ethics and Social Philosophy," "Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air," "The Abortion Controversy 25 Years After Roe v. Wade," "Affirmative Action: Social Justice or Reverse Discrimination?" and "Politically Correct Death: Answering the Arguments for Abortion Rights."

"He's nuanced in some of his opinions, but we try to have diversity on the faculty here at Baylor. He's a proponent of separation of church and state," Jeffrey said. "He was the strongest candidate."

The Dawson family's protest reflects a double misunderstanding, Jeffrey surmised.

"First is the actual nature of his (church-state) views," the provost said, noting Dawson Institute Director Davis holds the same views.

"Second is the climate of intellectual freedom we want to have here at Baylor. At Baylor, we're vigorous proponents of freedom of conscience and academic inquiry," he added, noting the faculty represents a broad spectrum of views on their various disciplines.

The challenge to Beckwith, "apparently on the basis of his having received a grant and fellow status from an institute that specializes in intelligent design theory," is dismaying, added Barry Hankins, associate professor of history and church-state studies in the institute.

"Frank's views on the constitutionality of teaching intelligent design in public schools, however debatable, are scholarly and reasonable," Hankins said. "I have found him a scholar of integrity and one who is always prepared to listen and dialogue about important matters."

Hankins also debunked what he called rumors that have surfaced since Beckwith arrived at Baylor.

"It is simply not true that Frank was forced on the department by the administration," Hankins insisted. "He was the best qualified person for the job and in my view strengthens the department, both because of his credentials as a scholar and because of his views on various church-state matters.

"There are faculty at Baylor who believe Frank should not have been hired because of his work on intelligent design or because he could be called a 'cultural conservative.' I believe the academic enterprise is strengthened when a variety of views are represented in institutes and departments where complex and controversial issues are to be debated. We are in the business of educating, not indoctrinating."

For his part, Beckwith noted he is "surprised and saddened that the descendants of J.M. Dawson would invoke his name as an authority in their request that Baylor University take action that is contrary to the academic and religious liberty that ... Dawson stood for."

Citing a 1964 quote from Dawson, "Most people know how sickly is mere conformity," Beckwith added: "It is disappointing to know that some today are requiring ideological conformity for faculty at an institute that bears the name of J.M. Dawson. There can be no academic freedom if alumni are successful in their attempt to remove faculty who hold views contrary to their own."

Beckwith, who in addition to his administrative position is associate professor of church-state studies, affirms the principles championed by the Dawson Institute, he said.

"I am a strong proponent of the separation of church and state as well as religious liberty, though in a free society such as ours, citizens of goodwill will differ on how to understand these principles in the 21st century, an era nearly a half-century removed from the time J.M. Dawson published the bulk of his work," he said.

"For example, my scholarship on law, Darwinism and public education explores a new, important and fascinating question ...: Would certain critiques of Darwinism, including intelligent design theory, pass constitutional muster if subjected to standard judicial tests?"

Beckwith's affiliations with think-tanks such as the Discovery Institute are merely affiliations, he stressed. "Think-tanks are not churches or lodges; there are no oaths or statements of faith that one must sign. ...

"My work is my own, and I stand by it. However, it is inappropriate and not in the spirit of J.M. Dawson's philosophy for his descendants or any members of the Baylor community to blacklist faculty because they receive funding, however modest, from think-tanks and foundations with which other members of the academic community disagree."

[Francis J. Beckwith's papers and articles are available at and]

Baylor Prof's Job Challenged Over Creation Debate

by Terry Phillips, correspondent
October 8, 2003
Family News in Focus
A Website of Focus on the Family

Evolution, Intelligent Design and the separation of church and state are all involved in a debate simmering at a Texas college.

A respected scholar at Baylor University's Institute of Church-State Studies is under fire, mostly because he isn't suitably loyal to the evolutionist cause.

When the Texas Board of Education wanted advice on the constitutionality of anything other than evolution being included in the state's science textbooks, Dr. Francis Beckwith, a constitutional scholar and expert in church-state separation at Baylor, which is in Waco, was invited to testify.

Controversy erupted when he said it was legal to present Intelligent Design (ID) theory &emdash; the idea that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. Hunter Baker, a student in the doctoral program in Church-State Studies, said the university's reaction was baffling.

"I think that's what made him a lightning rod to remove him from the Institute," Baker said. "He was not saying, 'We need to teach it,' (or) 'We should teach it.' He was saying 'It's permissible to teach it.' "

But even going that far triggered demands that Beckwith, who is associated with the Discovery Institute of Seattle &emdash; a group that backs Intelligent Design &emdash; be fired.

Dr. Mark Hartwig, Focus on the Family's analyst on the origins debate, said Intelligent Design was at the center of a similar flap at Baylor several years ago, when it was the featured topic at a campus conference.

"The biology faculty just went ballistic over this, that Intelligent Design would even be brought up, let alone in a major conference like that," Hartwig said.

Baylor's Church-State Institute is named for J.M. Dawson, who advocated the separation of church and state. Dawson's descendants are leading the push to remove Beckwith.

Baylor officials appear to support Beckwith. Baker said that's as it should be in church-state academics.

"We're not here to be an adjunct of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, or the ACLU," Baker said. "We're not here to take one side or the other."

Professor Beckwith declined to be interviewed for this story.


The Seattle-based Discovery Institute is a foremost proponent of Intelligent Design. For more information on the concepts behind it, please see the group's Web site.

Focus on the Family's "Focus on Social Issues" Web pages also offer a comprehensive look at ID, and the issues it encompasses.

A Citizen magazine article, "Loosening Darwin's Grip" by Clem Boyd, examines federal legislation that has given Christians nationwide a boost in their battle to allow evidence against Charles Darwin's controversial theory into public school classrooms.

Additionally, we recommend the following book, as an excellent introduction to Intelligent Design by its foremost proponent, Dr. William Dembski: Signs of Intelligence: Understanding Intelligent Design.

Biologist challenge

Letter to the editor
The Waco Tribune-Herald
October 11, 2003

In Brian Gaar's report about the Dawson family's call to remove Frank Beckwith from the Baylor institute named in honor of J.M. Dawson [not available online], Baylor biology professor Dan Wivagg asserted that intelligent design is religion rather than science and is promoted through political means rather than through scientific discourse.

Wivagg is not alone among Baylor biology professors in making such assertions. Richard Duhrkopf, for instance, in a front-page story for the Houston Chronicle in July 2000, made essentially the same charge.

I've now been on the faculty at Baylor since 1999. I am among the foremost researchers on intelligent design. I have published work on intelligent design in the peer-reviewed literature.[*] What's more, my work on intelligent design is favorably cited in the peer-reviewed mathematical and biological literature (e.g., International Journal of Fuzzy Systems and the Annual Review of Genetics)[**]. At no time in my four years at Baylor has any biologist challenged my views on intelligent design to my face.

I therefore challenge any biologist(s) at Baylor to show, in a public debate with me, that intelligent design is not a scientific theory or directly pertinent to biology. Name the time and place, and I'll be there.

William Dembski
Baylor University
Institute for Faith and Learning

[* Dembski supplied the citation to his work on ID published in the peer-reviewed literature:

W.A. Dembski, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Pres, 1998). This book was published by Cambridge University Press and peer-reviewed as part of a distinguished monograph series, Cambridge Studies in Probability, Induction, and Decision Theory. The editorial board of that series includes members of the National Academy of Sciences as well as one Nobel laureate, John Harsanyi, who shared the prize in 1994 with John Nash, the protagonist in the film A Beautiful Mind. Commenting on the ideas in this book, Paul Davies remarks: "Dembsk's attempt to quantify design, or provide mathematical criteria for design, is extremely useful. I'm concerned that the suspicion of a hidden agenda is going to prevent that sort of work from receiving the recognition it deserves. Strictly speaking, you see, science should be judged purely on the science and not on the scientist." Quoted in L. Witham, By Design (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2003), p. 149.]

[** Dembski supplied a list of papers ( in the peer-reviewed scientific literature he claims "support intelligent design in biology" and sometimes cite him:

D.D. Axe, "Extreme Functional Sensitivity to Conservative Amino Acid Changes on Enzyme Exteriors," Journal of Molecular Biology, 301 (2000): 585-595. This work shows that certain enzymes are extremely sensitive to perturbation. Perturbation in this case does not simply diminish existing function or alter function, but removes all possibility of function. This implies that neo-Darwinian theory has no purchase on these systems. Moreover, the probabilities implicit in such extreme-functional-sensitivity analyses are precisely those needed for a design inference.

W.-E. Loennig & H. Saedler, "Chromosome Rearrangements and Transposable Elements," Annual Review of Genetics, 36 (2002): 389-410. This article examines the role of transposons in the abrupt origin of new species and the possibility of an partly predetermined generation of biodiversity and new species. The authors approach in non-Darwinian, and they cite favorably on the work of Michael Behe and William Dembski. [In other papers in German on the web--not the peer-reviewed literature--Loennig mentions intelligent design and other speculative and aberrant evolutionary processes in a favorable light.]

D.K.Y. Chiu & T.H. Lui, "Integrated Use of Multiple Interdependent Patterns for Biomolecular Sequence Analysis," International Journal of Fuzzy Systems, 4(3). The opening paragraph of this article reads: Detection of complex specified information is introduced to infer unknown underlying causes for observed patterns [10]. By complex information, it refers to information obtained from observed pattern or patterns that are highly improbable by random chance alone. We evaluate here the complex pattern corresponding to multiple observations of statistical interdependency such that they all deviate significantly from the prior or null hypothesis [8]. Such multiple interdependent patterns when consistently observed can be a powerful indication of common underlying causes. That is, detection of significant multiple interdependent patterns in a consistent way can lead to the discovery of possible new or hidden knowledge. Reference number [10] here is to William Dembsk's The Design Inference.

M.J. Denton & J.C. Marshall, The Laws of Form Revisited, Nature, 410 (22 March 2001): 417; M.J. Denton, J.C. Marshall & M. Legge, (2002), "The Protein Folds as Platonic Forms: New Support for the pre-Darwinian Conception of Evolution by Natural Law," Journal of Theoretical Biology 219 (2002): 325-342. This research is thoroughly non-Darwinian and looks to laws of form embedded in nature to bring about biological structures. The intelligent design research program is broad, and design like this thats programmed into nature falls within its ambit.

I (SS) might note that, contrary to Dembski, none of these four papers supports intelligent design. They all deal with non-Darwinian (i.e. non-natural selection) evolutionary processes that are either speculative or more or less accepted by legitimate biologists. The intelligent design program may indeed "be broad," but it is dishonest to pretend that scientific papers that ignore intelligent design and contain no empirical evidence or rational arguments for it nevertheless "support" it. This is yet another deception by intelligent design advocates, whose entire program depends on their ability to fool the very people they are trying to persuade.]

Baylor Prof Defends Constitutionality of 'Intelligent Design'

Bob Allen
October 19, 2003

A Baylor University professor under fire for views on the separation of church and state alleged to be contrary to Baptist tradition has been in the spotlight recently in another controversy--teaching evolution in public schools

Descendants of J. M. Dawson, an icon in the Baptist tradition of standing for religious liberty, have called for removal of Francis Beckwith as associate director of a Baylor institute for church-state studies named in Dawson's honor and his reassignment to a "more appropriate position."

Beckwith, whose latest book, Law, Darwinism and Public Education, came out in March, has also been in the news lately for testifying before the Texas State Board of Education, which is considering changes to biology textbooks backed by proponents of "intelligent design," a view that challenges evolution's theory of natural selection by positing evidence for a Creator.

A constitutional scholar, Beckwith defends intelligent design not only on philosophical, but also on legal grounds. He argues that intelligent design is not a religion but is based on empirical arguments that answer the same questions posed by evolution. Therefore, he contends, teaching it in public schools ought to pass constitutional muster.

Courts have ruled against laws in several states requiring that teaching about evolution be balanced with other views of origins, namely the Book of Genesis. Courts said such laws have a religious, and not an educational purpose, and are thus forbidden by the First Amendment's ban on establishment of religion.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 struck down a Louisiana law requiring that public schools teaching evolution also teach creationism. The court cited five reasons for its ruling: the statute's historical continuity with the dispute prompting the Scopes "Monkey Trial" in the 1920s; the fact that the law was inspired by the creation account in Genesis; the religious motivation behind its passage; the fact that it improperly advanced religion to achieve an appropriate end of academic freedom; and that its purported purpose was a "sham" and that the law thus had no legitimate secular purpose.

Beckwith argues that unlike creation-science--a view pushed by young-earth creationists based on a literal reading of Genesis--the case for intelligent design, which he says is advanced by recognized scientists and based on science and philosophy rather than religion, gets around those objections.

"There may be good public policy reasons not to teach ID in public schools, but there are no good constitutional ones," Beckwith writes.

The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think-tank which lists Beckwith as a fellow, is leading the effort to persuade the 15-member Texas board to correct alleged "errors" in the current textbooks' treatment of evolution.

"All the textbooks under consideration grossly exaggerate the evidence of Neo-Darwinian evolution, pretending that its mechanism of natural selection acting on random genetic change is a slam dunk. Not so," William Dembski, an associate research professor at Baylor, told the textbook board at a hearing Sept. 10.

Proponents of intelligent design accuse many in the scientific community of uncritically accepting Darwin's thesis that evolution can be explained by naturally occurring processes not dependant on the existence of God. They believe many questions left unanswered by "methodological naturalism" are best explained by inferring that some intelligent force guided the development of life on the planet. They stop short of naming that intelligence God, although most advancing the view are conservative Christians.

Dembski, also a Discovery Institute fellow, infers intelligent design from what he calls "specified complexity," which is established when three factors are present. "Contingency" means that the event was one of several possibilities, implying it was not the result of an automatic process. "Complexity" means an object is not so simple that it can readily be explained by chance. "Specification" refers to a type of pattern that bears the trademark of intelligence.

Beckwith has explained the concept by saying if a person threw 1,000 bags of Scrabble letters into the air and some landed forming words, it could be easily explained by chance. If they spelled out the first 10 verses of Genesis, however, that would imply a pattern.

Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe, author of the 1996 book Darwin's Black Box, defends intelligent design with another argument called "irreducible complexity." He challenges Darwin's idea that all complex organisms can be explained by a succession of slight modifications. Even the simplest organisms, he retorts, contain interacting parts that would not work alone.

Behe's analogy is a mousetrap, which is composed of a wooden base, a spring and a trigger. A mousetrap isn't just more efficient in catching mice than any of the individual components; it doesn't work unless all are present. Darwin's law of natural selection, he says, requires that an organism have a function in order to exist, change and pass on that change to its progeny.

Opponents say those and other arguments used to support intelligent design give a misleading view of evolution that most non-scientists would be unable to discern. They say suggestions by groups like the Discovery Institute that critiques of weaknesses in evolutionary theories ought to be added to textbooks aren't practical at a high-school level, where the intent is to introduce basic concepts as a foundation for future study.

The National Center for Science Education says the coverage of evolution in current biology textbooks "reflects the broad consensus in the scientific community."

"Evolution pervades all biological phenomena. To ignore that it occurred or to classify it as a form of dogma is to deprive the student of the most fundamental organizational concept in the biological sciences," the center says on its Web site.

The American Civil Liberties Union opposes "the inculcation of religious doctrines" in schools, according to a position statement, "even if they are presented as alternatives to scientific theories."

The ACLU terms intelligent design a guise for "creation science" and labels it "a religious doctrine."

"In our society, the government is not permitted to instruct a child in religion, because it is not the government's job to promote a religious form of truth," the ACLU says.

Texas will spend about $30 million on biology textbooks in the 2004-2005 school year. Because it is the second-largest market of textbooks, the books it buys will likely be made available in other states. The board is set to decide what books it will use Nov. 7.

A recent study by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation found that about one third of the states currently do not do a satisfactory job in teaching evolution to students.

Beckwith and Dembski aren't the only members of the Baylor faculty to weigh in on the textbook issue. "Biologists really stopped arguing whether or not evolution by natural selection occurred back in the 1800s," Dan Wivagg, a Baylor biology professor, told the book-selection committee, according to the Houston Chronicle. "There's no doubt that it's the central unifying concept in biology, and it must be in the textbooks if we're going to have scientifically literate citizens."

Beckwith, a former research fellow at Princeton University, joined Baylor's faculty in July as associate professor of church-state studies and associate director of the J.M. Dawson Institute for Church-State Studies.

Beckwith has been named in discussions criticizing President Robert Sloan over the perception that he is using faculty appointments to move the traditionally moderate university to the cultural right.

Links on Beckwith's personal Web site include the Family Research Council, a religious-right group; anti-abortion groups; and Southern Evangelical Seminary, led by President Norman Geisler, which lists Beckwith as a non-resident faculty member and includes on its advisory board conservative figure John Ankerberg.

Another link is to the Evangelical Theological Society, which lists current and past leaders from conservative schools including Southwestern and Southeastern Baptist Theological seminaries, Dallas Theological Seminary, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and Moody Bible Institute.

Bob Allen is managing editor of

Letters about William Dembski and Intelligent Design

The Waco Tribune-Herald
November 7, 2003

'Intelligent design'

Recently Baylor professors William Dembski and Walter Bradley have each written a letter endorsing intelligent design (ID), a pseudo-science built upon false premises.

For one, it draws from the worn-out "gap theory," that anything not explained by science offers a gap in our understanding and must, therefore, have been created by an extra-natural intelligent being.

As science fills these gaps, the ID critics must constantly adjust their "theory." This is stuff and nonsense by anti-intellectuals who fail completely to comprehend contemporary science.

The board of The American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes Science, passed a resolution that it does not consider intelligent design credible science.

Said Dr. Peter Raven, chairman of the AAAS board, the "ID movement argues that random mutation in nature and natural selection can't explain the diversity of life forms and that these things may only be explained by an extra-natural intelligent agent."

Raven also noted the fundamental weakness of the ID position for scientists by observing: "Intelligent design theory has so far not been supported by reputable scientists involved in peer-reviewed published evidence."

Accredited universities in this country do not contain departments of pseudo-science nor do they contain departments of false premise arguments.

Henry H. Walbesser


Baylor University's William Dembski [Letters, Oct. 11, above] and I gave opposing views on "intelligent design" at Haverford College in 2001 and at a conference of the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. I agree with Baylor biologists that intelligent design is a socio-political movement motivated by the religious commitments of its major advocates.

Baylor biologists don't have to show that ID is not science. It is up to ID advocates to demonstrate that it is science. ID consists entirely of negative arguments against evolutionary biology. Science requires more than just making critiques of theories.

The citations Dembski brags about do not support his claim of being well-received in the scientific community. His ideas are only mentioned in passing (rather than being applied to any problem), or are criticized. I wrote two of the papers citing Dembski. Both are critical of Dembski's ideas. Further criticism may be found at and

Dembski's background is in theology, mathematics, and philosophy. His contributions in the latter two fields are meager and his contribution to biological literature is nil. Anyone with any claim to being a scientist would know that public debates are a form of socio-political action and not a method of doing science.

Wesley R. Elsberry
San Diego State University

Baylor's faculty senate reaffirms fall's no-confidence vote in Sloan

The Houston Chronicle
May 6, 2004

Faculty leaders at Baylor University, claiming little has changed since last fall, have reaffirmed their September no-confidence vote in school President Robert Sloan.

Baylor's faculty senate on Tuesday voted 28-5 to pass the motion, a sequel to its previous declaration that Sloan's presidency has produced "a chilling work environment characterized by distrust, anxiety, intimidation and favoritism."

"President Sloan has made only limited and inadequate attempts to address the problems that face Baylor," said the new motion. "The senate believes the president has failed to lead the university forward and has failed to restore a climate of trust."

No-confidence votes, quite uncommon, are considered academia's severest form of criticism and tantamount to asking the person to resign. Reaffirmations of no-confidence votes are even rarer.

The senate also voted 32-1 to request that regents conduct a referendum of the full faculty in the fall if Sloan is still in office. It called for the referendum to ask: "Do you want Robert B. Sloan to remain as president of Baylor University?"

Sloan would not comment on the new no-confidence vote, but Provost David Jeffrey called it political and said he was greatly disappointed by it.

"I think it was clearly done before next week's regents meeting to register maximum dissent," he said. "But the reality is Sloan is really just a symbolic factor at this point. If he were to get a 70 percent positive vote in a referendum, it wouldn't make a particle of difference to the people agitating against him."

Sloan has come under fire from a faction of the faculty -- as well as alumni and past and present regents -- since last summer because of changes he has been making that some claim are turning the Baptist university into a fundamentalist institution.

The criticism culminated in September in the senate's harshly worded no-confidence vote. Regents responded at the time by voting 31-4 to reaffirm Sloan, but the turmoil didn't go away. In February, committees appointed to look into the alleged problems issued reports acknowledging the strife and calling on Sloan to heal the division. Last month, Sloan wrote regents, complaining that his critics were orchestrating a letter-writing campaign against him to wear the regents down.

Jeffrey said Wednesday the administration has done much to reach out to its critics -- such as inviting faculty senate members to attend administrative meetings.

But senators said such moves are cosmetic and don't reflect genuine attempts to respond to faculty concerns.

Senators said a breaking point was a proposed addition to school policy that faculty found a threat to academic freedom. The new policy would discourage research and teaching about "practices inconsistent with Baptist faith or practice."

The senate responded that "it rejects in the strongest possible terms the proposed change." Jeffrey said the senate's response will be considered as the new policy is reworked.


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Last updated: 2004/05/06