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New intelligent design conflict hits BU

Sept. 11, 2007

By Claire St. Amant
City editor

Baylor has received the national spotlight once again for another controversy involving intelligent design research. Dr. Robert Marks, distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering, posted what university officials are calling "unapproved research" on his personal Web site hosted by Baylor's server. The research, which concerns informatic computing and the evolutionary process, was conducted as part of Marks' Evolutionary Informatics Lab. Baylor shut down the site in early August, shortly before a scheduled meeting to discuss the issue with Marks; his attorney, John Gilmore; Baylor General Counsel Charles Beckenhauer; Provost Dr. Randall O'Brien; and dean of engineering Benjamin Kelley -- whom Gilmore credited with shutting down the site. President John Lilley did not attend.

"(Kelley) did not give my client the benefit of a meeting or a phone call," Gilmore said.

Baylor officials say the site was removed from the server because Marks didn't follow either of the approved processes for posting research, and the subject matter is immaterial.

"There is a whole process every professor must go through to publish academic research," John Barry, vice president for marketing and communications, said. "He just needs to go through the proper channels."

Barry said when publishing research on Baylor Web sites, professors can either have the backing of their department, school or dean, or decide to work independently of the university and identify it as such. Marks was working independently of the university.

Gilmore said he thinks other faculty Web sites without disclaimers are left alone because of their content and Marks is being discriminated against because his site deals with intelligent design.

Despite university representatives' dismissal of this claim, many are calling the incident an infringement of academic freedom and discrimination against intelligent design.

The Baptist Press quoted former Baylor professor William Dembski, a research professor in philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, as saying this is "perhaps the biggest story yet of academic suppression relating to ID."

Dembski is no stranger to the intelligent design debate. He served as the director of the Michael Polanyi Center for Complexity, Information and Design at Baylor, which was open from 1999 to 2000. Dembski left Baylor during the first intelligent design controversy in 2000, after he stood by his claim of Intelligent Design as a serious research issue. Gilmore said his client "absolutely supports" Baylor's initial request from the Aug. 9 meeting to post a disclaimer on his Web site. The problem is with subsequent demands, he said.

"We offered to put the disclaimer that is used at the (Association of American University Professors) Web site," Gilmore said. "That doesn't seem to be enough for Baylor."

Gilmore said after the meeting on Aug 9., he believed the site would be back on up on the Baylor server once a disclaimer was added. But as Marks and the university have yet to reach an agreement on the proposed fixes to the Web site, that still hasn't happened. Marks' research is currently hosted on a third-party site, Casey Luskin, program officer in public policy and legal affairs for the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based nonpartisan think tank supportive of intelligent design, interviewed Marks in a podcast posted on the institute's Web site on July 20. Luskin said in an e-mail to The Baylor Lariat that he believes the interview led to Baylor's removal of Marks' research.

"In the academic world, if you question evolution, you come under attack," Luskin said. "There's been a pattern of discrimination against ID all over the nation in the past couple years."

One week after Marks' interview with Luskin, Kelley e-mailed Marks, citing anonymous complaints and asking for the removal of the Evolutionary Informatics Lab Web site. Gilmore and Marks set up a meeting with Baylor officials, including legal counsel, and felt the issue had been resolved successfully, Gilmore said. However, over a month later the site is still down.

Luskin said he agrees with Gilmore about Baylor's demand for a disclaimer, calling the request "reasonable." But Luskin qualified that the request is only valid if all professors are held to the same standard.

He said his understanding is that faculty in other fields of research haven't been restricted like Marks has. Luskin said he worries intelligent design is becoming an academic target once again.

"There may be a bit of a double standard at play," he said.

Barry said while Baylor doesn't hire anyone to scour the server for instances of professors posting unofficial research and illegally invoking Baylor's name, if they are out there, the university wants to know about it.

"Anything that comes to our attention, we will look into," Barry said. "To the best of our knowledge, other labs and centers are directly linked to approved research in that department."

Luskin said he would like to see this issue resolved by allowing Marks to post his research with a disclaimer on the Baylor server.

"Baylor should let Dr. Marks have the academic freedom to do research and talk about it on his Web site without any undue constraints," he said. "It isn't that complicated."

Staff writer Kate Boswell contributed to this story.

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