3rd Strike for Baylor.

The big story on ID right now is Baylor University (which ironically means “unity within diversity”) and its shutting down of Prof. Robert Marks’ (who is a distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering) research lab on “evolutionary informatics,” due to anonymous complaints about its ties with ID.

Here the term lab can be misleading to some, because it brings to mind a physical location. This lab was computer based, and Baylor shut down the website on which the findings of the research were placed. It seems that the university did this for less than good reasons:

“Throughout this controversy it needs constantly to be borne in mind that the Baylor administration went into Robert Marks’s personal webspace not because they had any impartial assessment of the merits of the research and judged it to be so substandard or outside the pale that it didn’t deserve to be on the Baylor server but solely because anonymous (i.e., to this point unnamed) critics linked the research of the lab to intelligent design.”- Dr. William Dembski.

“Uncommon Descent” is Dembski’s blog with contributors, and seems to have the most articles on this subject. That makes sense for two reasons: Reason number one is that the first of what are now three events at Baylor, where Baylor has not stuck up for academic freedom in the case of ID, involved Dembski’s own Michael Polanyi Research Center. Back in 2000 Baylor caved in to Darwinian activists and shut the center down due to William Dembski’s ties with ID. The main reason as I see it however is that Dembski is also involved directly with this third anti-ID event, namely he is Robert Marks’ research partner. Robert Marks secured a $30,000 grant for Dembski to work with him as a postdoctoral fellow (with the title “Senior Research Scientist”)on evolutionary informatics. President Lilley, however, decided sometime after Baylor approved the grant to return that money and revoke Dembski’s fellowship back in December 2006. Apparently this is very unusual behavior for a university to refund any grant whatsoever.

(If anyone is interested, the second event at Baylor was in 2006 when a Professor[noted legal scholar Francis Beckwith] was denied tenure in part because of his writings supporting the constitutionality of teaching Intelligent Design. After a protracted public battle the Board of Regents reversed that decision and Beckwith was granted tenure.)

Over at IDthefuture “Marks explains that evolutionary informatics seeks to emulate evolution on a computer, allowing for new engineering designs to be developed. Unlike Darwinian evolution, this process does not advance gradually, and requires a certain amount of external information to be fed into the computer before the process can begin; in other words, the systems must be designed before the evolution can begin”

The labs site has been moved here I believe.

At first in a meeting with marks and his lawyer and others, things seemed like they were going to be ok. Agreements were made and everyone seemed happy and the meeting ended in prayer. It seemed Robert “could repost his evolutionary informatics website on the Baptist school’s server space­if a disclaimer made clear that any research advancing intelligent design does not represent an institutional position.” However, “Less than two weeks later, Gilmore received an email from Baylor general counsel Charles Beckenhauer detailing considerable further alterations Marks needed to make before reposting his site.” Dembski believes the only person with enough authority to overturn the decisions made at the meeting was Baylor President John Lilley who was not present.

Baylor in remarks to Babtist Press gave the explanation that the sites removal had nothing to do with content but everything to due with the sites using Baylor’s name, thereby connecting it wrongly with Baylor. Dembski points out here that there are plenty of labs, some with controversial names, that attach themselves to Baylor without any disclaimers.

Further it seems Baylor can’t keep their story strait. Attorney Beckenhauer “wrote in an email response to Gilmore that the Aug. 9 meeting never represented “a final agreement of any kind.” That contention conflicts with O’Brien’s claim that the university still hopes Marks will honor the initial resolution.” - Dembski.

These activities by Baylor seem particularly strange since the Waco, Texas based school is Babtist. A lot has been made on whether or not the university is living up to its mission statement in not losing its Christian identity. Some have suggested the motivation behind these events may be that other organizations have threatened Baylor with cutting their funding if they allow the lab to exist. If that’s the case then I pitty Baylor, but I just don’t feel that giving into such black mail is the right thing to do.

Dembski has hinted in a comment at his blog that the upcoming movie “expelled” still has room for this story and that Ben Stein may do something with it. Whether this was based on intel or intuition on his part I don’t know.

For more info check out “Uncommon Descent” and among other articles check out Bill Dembski’s useful timeline of media coverage here. It seems the story is heating up instead of cooling down.

Also you might listen to the podcast with the interview with marks which may have led Benjamin Kelley, dean of engineering at Baylor, to ban the EIL website from Prof. Marks’s space on the Baylor server.

Idthefuture also has a podcast criticizing Baylor’s actions here.

More info can be found at evolution news & views, and pretty much every pro-ID site in my blogroll. It needs to be admitted at this point that all of my news sources are biased, and so may not tell the whole story. Based on Baylors history however I have little reason to doubt that they are being anti-ID. Whatever the deal is with the people involved, I don’t think they can be accurately construed as representing all of baylors faculty and students. Not even the majority IMO. I hope this was informative.

6 Responses to “3rd Strike for Baylor.”

  1. l3rucewayne Says:

    I tried in this post to tie together multiple threads of the story, so if my writing seems fragmented then that may be why.

  2. James Gambrell Says:

    Why do our choices have be “Natural Selection” and “Intelligent Design”. Why not “Natural Design” and “Intelligent Selection”?. Who is in charge of putting labels on things? James E. Gambrell

  3. l3rucewayne Says:

    I think it is important to point out that most ID proponents who study the matter much believe both. “Natural Selection” is observed in such things as antibiotic resistance in bacteria, Pesticide resistance in bugs, and the cyclical changes noted in certain finch beak sizes. What ID proponents challenge is the idea that these small scale changes can be extrapolated to explain the diversity and origin of life.
    I find it interesting that often times these seemingly beneficial mutations, apart from helping in survival against one threat, end up giving the organism an overall weakness. (Such as not being able to metabolize a certain chemical.)

    “Natural Design” only makes sense to me if you say that nature itself has a mind. Unless it is just another way of saying natural selection while not really meaning that is has a conscious “Design”. In that case why not stick with the accepted term of natural selection?

    As for “Intelligent Selection”, that sounds to me like dog breeding, or God guided evolution. Plenty of people believe in the latter, and I don’t know of anyone who doubts the existence of the former.

    Who is in charge of these labels we use? I don’t know but I figure it is the general public, and then from the public the dictionaries get their terms and definitions.

    I think that maybe when you say “natural selection,” you may have meant darwinism, and I think you are right our choices don’t need to be constricted to these two options, for instance there is Young Earth Creationism. (Which is compatible with, tho not the same as, ID.) Just don’t be surprised if peopled doubt or openly contest the validity of your alternate choice whatever it may be.

  4. Liquid Egg Product Says:

    Although I’m a Baylor grad, I wasn’t involved in this area of study so can’t give much insight.

    Perhaps Baylor was concerned about its image especially since it is a Baptist school. They distance themselves from ID to avoid any controversy as to whether it accepts mainline science. Just a guess.

  5. l3rucewayne Says:

    You seem to be in good company with that theory. William Dembski agrees as do many over at his blog. I think it is either that or threats from other funders. I’m not sure which i find more likely.

  6. l3rucewayne Says:

    By the way, Thx for putting me on you’r not-an-enemy’s list in your blog roll. I think ill do likewise.

Leave a Reply