Yesterday, the Baylor University administration shut down Prof. Robert Marks’s Evolutionary Informatics Lab because the lab’s research was perceived as linked to intelligent design (ID).
Robert J. Marks II, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Baylor, had hoped that a late-August compromise would save his lab, but the University withdrew from the previous offer yesterday morning. While President Lilley was not at the meeting, an insider senses his hand in the affair, noting that Lilley was the only person with the authority to overturn what the Provost, who was at the meeting, agreed to.
Here is the sequence of events to date:
July 20, 2007: Casey Luskin, at the Discovery Institute’s ID: The Future put online a podcast interview with Prof. Marks concerning the new lab. In the interview, Marks revealed that there were some connections between his research at the lab and ID, and also indicated that William Dembski was his chief collaborator. Essentially, the lab was doing something similar to biochemist Mike Behe’s Edge of Evolution, attempting to determine the limits of what natural selection (survival of the fittest) can do, in creating new machinery inside the living cell, and new species.
Most evolutionary biologists are Darwinists – that is, they believe along with Darwin that natural selection is a creative force that can bring forth everything from the life cycle of the butterfly to the flight-adapted body plan of a bird by natural selection acting on random mutations. By contrast, intelligent design advocates controversially argue that some design must be built in to nature because such a chance origin of these processes is inexplicable according to the laws governing probability. Sources close to the scene suspect that the July podcast doomed the lab by attracting hostility from Darwinists.
July 27, 2007: A week later, Benjamin Kelley, the dean of engineering at Baylor, informed Marks and others in an email that he had to remove the Evolutionary Informatics Lab website. As justification, Kelley cited anonymous complaints linking the lab to intelligent design. So Kelley had discovered an evolutionary informatics lab that bid fair to cast doubt on Darwin!
But why was that a scandal? Why should a Baptist institution care, one wonders, if Darwin goes the way of Marx and Freud?
A little background helps: Baylor – a Baptist school in Texas – has had vaulting ambitions in recent years to be the Protestant Notre Dame – an intellectually rigorous Protestant Christian school. However, these may not be propitious times for such an ambition. As intellectual rigor hardens into rigor mortis at many universities, thought control replaces exploration. One does not damage materialist icons like Darwin, and expect to be welcomed into the increasingly narrow fold.
July 29, 2007: Marks replied to Kelley, saying that they should meet. He had retained a lawyer and suggested that Baylor legal counsel attend as well. A meeting was set up for August 9th.
From the original site
Evolutionary informatics merges theories of evolution and information, thereby wedding the natural, engineering, and mathematical sciences. Evolutionary informatics studies how evolving systems incorporate, transform, and export information. The Evolutionary Informatics Laboratory explores the conceptual foundations, mathematical development, and empirical application of evolutionary informatics. The principal theme of the lab’s research is teasing apart the respective roles of internally generated and externally applied information in the performance of evolutionary systems.
August 3, 2007: Kelley did not, however, wait for the meeting to scrub any references at Baylor to design in the universe. He went into Marks’s Baylor Web space and removed all references to the Evolutionary Informatics Lab without asking his consent.
A shaping of boundaries may he said to go beyond a mere fixing of boundaries and establishes a ‘controlling principle.’ It achieves control of the boundaries by imprinting a significant pattern on the boundaries of the system. Or, to use information language, we may say that it puts the system under the control of a non-physical-chemical principle by a profoundly informative intervention.
-Michael Polanyi, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Life Transcending Physics and Chemistry,Ã¢â‚¬Â Chemical & Engineering News (21 August 1967): 64. (from the original site)
August 9, 2007: The meeting, attended by Baylor counsel Charkes Beckenhauer and provost Randall O’Brien, along with Marks and his lawyer John Gilmore seemed to go off well. The story was, Baylor only wanted the site to make clear that marks’s lab was not a Baylor initiative. That included a disclaimer and the removal of any items that could be construed as support from Baylor. Randall O’Brien agreed that the site could go back up at Baylor and closed the meeting with prayer.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The [computing] machine does not create any new information, but it performs a very valuable transformation of known information.Ã¢â‚¬Â
-Leon Brillouin, Science and Information Theory (Academic Press, New York, 1956). (from the original site)
August 17, 2007: World Magazine reported that the crisis had been averted. As Mark Bergin reported (online date August 25, 2007),
With attorneys for both sides present, Kelley agreed that Marks was free to resume work in the informatics lab on his own time and repost his website, provided a disclaimer accompany any ID-advancing research to make clear that the work does not represent the university’s position.
Marks told WORLD he considers the situation “wonderfully resolved” and expressed his continued enthusiasm for the school’s vision and “the commitment of Baylor to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”
Marks’ attorney John Gilmore said the resolution with school officials stemmed from the willingness of all parties to approach each other with respect, an atmosphere often lacking during Dembski’s ordeal seven years ago. Gilmore was quick to warn that opposition to ID research at Baylor may still lie ahead, but he is persuaded that it will not originate with the school’s top brass: “I was concerned at one point that the shutting down of Professor Marks’ website was the beginning of an institutional purge of intelligent design at Baylor. I came away from that meeting absolutely convinced it’s not.”
“Dembski’s ordeal”, above, refers to the Michael Polanyi Center , a previous ID think-tank headed by Dembski that Baylor suppressed.
It is possible to fail in many ways, while to succeed it is possible in only one way.
Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Aristotle (384 – 322 BC). (from the original site)
August 21, 2007: Even before the World article went online, Charles Beckenhauer, Baylor’s top attorney, made clear to John Gilmore that Baylor did not consider the matter resolved. There was a whole new list of restrictions, which would likely have the effect of forcing Marks to take his site off the Baylor server.
August 24, 2007: Marks’s lawyer John Gilmore replied that Baylor was going back on what it had agreed to at that August 9th meeting that ended in prayer. He also insisted that any restrictions or disclaimers on Marks’s Web site should follow the pattern of restrictions or disclaimers placed on other Baylor faculty Web sites.
Baylor was also fussed by the fact that Marks’ called his project a lab, and the word “lab”* connoted to many people a physical location. Baylor was not providing a physical location on campus.
(In common use, “lab” may refer to a type of activity (analysis and testing), not a location. In a writing practice lab, a writing instructor could work with a student on technical issues online, with no physical location in common. Presumably, Marks was signifying his wish to use a computer to analyze problems in evolution.)
In any event, Marks agreed to change the name to “Evolutionary Informatics Group”.
Evolutionary Informatics Lab – investigating how information makes evolution possible (from the original site)
August 30, 2007: I am in possession of a long correspondence between lawyers, which I may append later. For now, here is the disclaimer Baylor wants on the site, according to Beckenhauer (August 30, 2007)
Include a disclaimer at the top of the first page and the bottom of each page that includes the following language: “The views expressed on this website are solely those of Distinguished Professor Robert J. Marks II or his collaborators. The views are not necessarily endorsed by Baylor University. Baylor University does not provide any direct institutional support to Dr. Marks for research on evolutionary informatics. The views on any websites linked from this website have not been reviewed by Baylor University and cannot be considered endorsed by Baylor University.”
Well, to most people, that just spells out C-R-A-N-K, and Marks – an esteemed and gifted professor, after all – presumably realized that Baylor wanted nothing to do with evolutionary informatics if it led to doubts about Darwin.
Bill Dembski comments,
This is a big story, perhaps the biggest story yet of academic suppression relating to ID. Robert Marks is a world-class expert in the field of evolutionary computing, and yet the Baylor administration, without any consideration of the actual content of Marks’s work at the Evolutionary Informatics Lab, decided to shut it down simply because there were anonymous complaints linking the lab to intelligent design.
He thinks that President Lilley, who was not at the meeting, may have been involved, which raises the question of whether the Board of Regents will address the matter with him.
My own thoughts on the matter:
If Lilley does turn out to have been involved, he may well have been acting in self-defense. After all, DembskiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Michael Polanyi Center was one of the controversies that had weakened the earlier Sloan presidency.
No matter. There is a larger issue at stake, after all. I tend to see these things in broad, sociological terms:
A typical “Christian” university like Baylor battens off the wealth of Christians who can afford college for their kids, on the understanding that it brokers the relationship between Christians and an increasingly hostile secular elite – an elite that often displays a general contempt for traditional religious freedoms.
The understanding is that – (a wink and a nod) – the real world is irrelevant to the pious fantasies of Christians. But in large parts of North America, for some unknown reason, Christians are a large, powerful, and affluent group. So they must be taught to adapt. A wink and a nod in many a faculty lounge, I am sure.
Christians must be educated in such a way that they present no threat to the secular establishment supported by their taxes, which makes the laws and rules they must obey.
At this point, you, clever reader, have probably already tumbled to the one weakness in so elegant a strategy for battening off the wealth of Christianity while drawing its sting: What if there were clear evidence that – for example – Darwinism or materialism is not actually a reasonable account of reality. The leadership of such a university would lose most of its intellectual capital
In a trice, the harsh reality from which the institution protects its dumb sheeplike students is – a harsh UNreality. The students are not meat puppets who foolishly imagine that they have immortal souls and must therefore be humoured by their silly little campus groups. They are people who actually do have immortal souls who are being trained by the institution to accept a culture that lies to them that they are meat puppets. And the institution essentially brokers the lies in the interests of the materialist culture – and to its own prestige.
Now do you see the threat posed by an intellectually rigorous inquiry into intelligent design?
Of course, the defenders of such institutions interpret the matter differently. They see themselves as avoiding unsavoury people and ideas that would bring their beloved institution into disrepute. Indeed, in my experience, they can rehearse a litany of grievances against various individuals at the drop of a hat. But if you want to understand their broad social role, ignore that, stand back and look at the general pattern. In reality, it would be a rare Christian university that actually cares about prestige that could risk Bob Marks trashing the secular idol Darwin. If evolutionary informatics that is not dedicated to upholding Darwin is going to get done, it won’t get done at any place like Baylor. That is simply not Baylor’s function. Baylor’s function is accommodating Christians to rule by materialists.