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Baptist University pulls plug on Evolutionary Informatics Lab – links to intelligent design fatal

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:

On June 1, 2007, the lab went online, amid fanfare here at Uncommon Descent. (Marks changed the URL on the Baylor serve July 11, 2007 to this, now offline.

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, “Life Transcending Physics and Chemistry,” 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.

“The [computing] machine does not create any new information, but it performs a very valuable transformation of known information.”
-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.
– 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, Dembski’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.

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34 Responses to Baptist University pulls plug on Evolutionary Informatics Lab – links to intelligent design fatal

  1. First the Beckwith controversy, now this. I am disappointed and disgusted with Baylor.

  2. First Dembski, now this lab, how can anyone make any honest “no-research” objections to ID?

  3. It comes as quite a surprise to me that Baptists at Baylor don’t believe there is any design or purpose in the universe or living systems, and that such a possibility should not even be permitted to be investigated. What Baptist would want to send his son or daughter to this university?

  4. No matter what the Scientific Nomenklatura will do against design, truth will prevail. Baylor should be ashamed of being in following the steps of Darwin’s apparatchik that modern science has openly declared: Darwin is naked and there’s something rot going on in Baylor, too.

  5. If you are not going to allow this type of research, what is the point in having a Baptist university?

    I think if this outrage is taken to the proper people, i.e. the Baptists who actually send their kids to Baylor and pay tuiton, it will reverse itself.

  6. The useful idiots inside churches are doing their job very well.

  7. 7

    When will they learn that those who abandon their principles to fit in with the fashionable crowd are despised even by those they hope to impress?

  8. Unbefreakinglievable.

    Provide the evidence for ID they say!

    You have to submit to “mainstream” journals in order for the scientific community to take you seriously, they say!

    Yet, at every freaking turn, they shut down anything that provides even an inkling of possibility to address their demands…

    Livid… that’s what I am. My gosh, I hope Ben Stein has done his homework, because I am bound and determined to get every theatre in the country filled to the brim so the nation can see the crap that is going in the “scientific community”, ie. Eugenie and her merry men.

    I do hope that when the public becomes aware of this censorship of ID, that they come away with the understanding that it is not science (or scientists in general) that is at the root of the problem, but that it is a core group of very loud and nasty philosophical naturalists who are responsible for putting a stop to anything that questions their Darwinian worldview.

    Ugh!

  9. Like Notre Dame, Baylor cares more about gaining “respectability” and less about its original purpose. Once an educational institution loses its sense of direction, survival becomes the dominating principle. That means playing ball with the power elite and signing on to their soul-destroying mission.

    Most major universities support the elitist goal of creating heavily credentialed worker bees who cannot think for themselves and who will take up arms against those who resist the establishment.

    To promote, support, and defend ID is to undermine the intellectual slave traders and reintroduce the concept of a purpose driven, self directed life style. This battle is not just about intellectual freedom, it is about freedom, period.

    If I am not permitted to say that the design that appears in nature is real, neither am I permitted to say that there is any design or purpose to my existence. That means that there cannot be any such thing as a personal destiny or any moral or political right to pursue it.

  10. Great Article. I am rather shocked at how paranoid the darwinists at Baylor are. Perhaps Dr. Mark should seek out monies from elsewhere so he could continue his research without such intervention?

    I do have one question, though.

    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?

    What does ID science have anything to do with the existence of an immortal soul? IMO, you can have ID without reference to supernatural concepts such as this. The point is that we can discover evidence of design, but that doesn’t translate into knowledge of the supernatural, or souls for that matter.

  11. 11

    “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”

    Mat 13:32

  12. When will they learn that those who abandon their principles to fit in with the fashionable crowd are despised even by those they hope to impress? Exactly. They are no good to anybody.

  13. So who do you write to?

  14. Given that Baylor has stated clearly where it stands, let’s hope that Dr. Marks moves beyond victimhood and continues his groundbreaking work on his own. That is the correct response to Baylor. Show them what they chose to forgo!

  15. As Keith said, I am disgusted with this situation as well. However, the comments by

    GilDodgen: “What Baptist would want to send his son or daughter to this university?”

    and

    StephenB: “Like Notre Dame, Baylor cares more about gaining “respectability” and less about its original purpose.”

    are WAAAAAY OUT OF LINE. Baylor is a great place where much good research is being carried out, coupled with a strong commitment to Baylor’s Christian mission. Baylor most certainly does not care more about “respectability” than with its origininal purpose and there are many Baptists who feel quite happy to send their children to Baylor.

    Now that does not mean that battles are not being fought internally at Baylor between the old guard on the faculty and the new intentionally Christian administration/faculty. There has been a struggle for the very heart and soul of Baylor for many years now, but so many battles have been won that it is wrong to drag Baylor’s name through the mud when unfortunate episodes such as this one occurs.

  16. The Fork, no one is dragging Baylor’s name through the mud EXCEPT Baylor.

    Fair enough that lots of good stuff goes on at Baylor. Lots of good stuff goes on at Harvard too. But Baylor has an unenviable track record on the ID controversy that should legitimately cause serious Christians to rethink any financial support they offer.

    Also fair enough that many battles have been fought and won – that does not excuse this situation.

    Loyalty is a virtue, but it is a secondary virtue. Loyalty becomes a genuinely BAD thing when it is preferred to primary virtues like justice and pursuit of truth.

  17. Unfortunately, Baylor (a supposedly Christian University!) now has had “TWO” chances to be the first “Christian” university to endorse the “Christian Friendly” position of ID. The foundational science is clearly crumbling for evolution!!! All the while the evidence is getting vastly stronger for ID!!! Baylor could have been bold and been the first major Christian university to say to the heathen evolutionary atheists,,”The Lord does reign and by His might everything is created!” But no the ones responsible shall have to bear there shame for denying what they claim to be their foundational Baptists belief!
    “Remember the quote “Those who deny me…?”
    From all the evidence (and miracles) I’ve seen It is no longer a question of if God created everything!!!! It is now only a question of How in blue blazes did God create everything? Behe’s and Dembski’s work are foundational to answering these important questions!! I suppose Prof. Marks will continue his work and further this fruitful line of research without the support of his “ahemm ahemm… “Christian” peers at the university!!!

  18. [...] More Disgust with Baylor First the controversy with Beckwith, now this. [...]

  19. The Fork said, “Baylor most certainly does not care more about “respectability” than with its origininal purpose and there are many Baptists who feel quite happy to send their children to Baylor.”

    Fork, every former Christian University has “pockets” of integrity and champions of tradition. But the real test about who is winning is what happens in the pivotal battles, the ones that matter. Who cares if you have a Christian youth center on campus if your scientists are afraid to open their mouth? What good is research if its texture and shape is to be decided by politically-correct bureaucrats. Note well that these events occured even after the scientist offered a disclaimer. I submit that even the disclaimer should not have been necessary. Can you imagine such a thing happening at Liberty University. Of course not.
    I will give you a parallel. As a Catholic, I witnessed the fall of every single major university that goes by that name. Notre Dame, Boston College, Marquette, you name it, they have all sold out. Many great things happen at these places, but overall it’s a faith busting environment. If you are not grounded when you get there, God help you. Only about five or six Catholic colleges in the entire country are faithful to their name. None of them are large enough to offer a PhD program.

    It may well be the case that Baylor University has not fallen nearly as far as some of these schools just mentioned. Clearly, it can at least boast of a few Pontius Pilates who sincerely found no fault with this man but couldn’t defend him because it would jeopardize their careers. That’s a lot better than what Michael Behe faces at Lehigh, who must endure outrageous social abuse and total pariah status. Still, this was a test about what Baylor University is about. Battles may rage, but political correctness rules.

  20. Well, Denise, I cite “Botnik’s” (now deleted) fabricated letter from Baylor’s President John Lilley as decisive evidence that this blog HAS attempted to soil Baylor’s name.

    And if an (admittedly unfortunate)record on the single issue of intelligent design is all it takes to lead one to withdraw support from Baylor, then it is a sad day, indeed.

    John Lilley deserves a PUBLIC APOLOGY for that little stunt.

  21. Curious. The letter appears to be back up again. John Lilley deserves both 1) the removal of this fabricated letter AND 2) a public apology.

  22. Oh get over it Fork,

    And if an (admittedly unfortunate)record on the single issue of intelligent design is all it takes to lead one to withdraw support from Baylor, then it is a sad day, indeed.

    If Baylor doesn’t stand up for truth in the critical field of origins then what is the point of supporting it?

  23. Fork, running around this blog all red-faced and indignant shaking your finger in everyone’s face is not going to win anyone over to your way of thinking.

  24. Curious. The letter appears to be back up again.

    Yeah. I think you made him mad. ;)

  25. A question. Provided that the requested disclaimer is inserted will R. Marks maintaint the site end will be allowed to mange it freely?

  26. ” … will R. Marks maintaint the site end will be allowed to mange it freely?”

    Kairos, in my experience, that almost never happens without rock solid guarantees from people who are consistent in their behaviour.

    What if Marks sneaks a paper into a journal, pointing out some of the difficulties with the ol’ Darwinian magic – and a huge Smithsonian-style controversy erupts?

    Won’t Christian Darwinbots point to that as evidence that Marks should never have been allowed in anyway? And if they can’t get rid of him, they can at least do their very best to suppress his research.

    It is very difficult for many people to accept that a contemporary truism* may not in fact be true, especially if accommodating it – in the teeth of their own culture! – has turned out to be a waste of time.

    That said, it’s possible that wiser heads will prevail, but perhaps not by a head count.

    *It has been known since the 1960s that the evidence from mathematical probability will not sustain Darwinism. Mike Behe’s Edge of Evolution follows up on that, using the evidence from biochemistry.

    Darwinism has always been a materialist faith commitment. Those of us who already have a religion do not need it and could dispense with it with no trouble. Granted that biology does not have a grand unifying theory, well, neither does physics. So? Pretending and suppressing will not help.

  27. Could be another scene to add into the movie ‘Expelled’.

  28. Could be another scene to add into the movie ‘Expelled’.

    As Archie Bunker famously said, “my sediments exactly”.

  29. *It has been known since the 1960s that the evidence from mathematical probability will not sustain Darwinism. Mike Behe’s Edge of Evolution follows up on that, using the evidence from biochemistry.

    Yes Denyse, and this is trivially easy to figure out if one has even the most superficial acquaintance with the power of combinatorics. It’s junior high school mathematics.

  30. Why doesn’t Marks just put his stuff on the Discovery Institute website instead and avoid all that hassle?

  31. I see that Dr. Marks is a well published electrical engineer, however I would assume that anyone searching for design in Nature would need some expertise in biology. Am I missing something? What has Dr. Marks published about ID that is available to read. What aspect of ID is he working on?

  32. Dear “The Fork”- you wrote:

    “There has been a struggle for the very heart and soul of Baylor for many years now, but so many battles have been won that it is wrong to drag Baylor’s name through the mud when unfortunate episodes such as this one occurs.”

    What kind of battles have been won, would you say? That is, what battles for Christian identity (or related to it) at the risk of losing some secular respectability have there been? I ask as a long-term insider, so specifics would be appreciated. I can think of some examples to the contrary (like this one) but am having trouble coming up with ones that fit your statement.

  33. procyon,

    It’s fairly difficult to do research without a financial grant…

    But for what Dr. Marks was researching, read this:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....atics-lab/

  34. [...] September 1, 2007: “Baptist University pulls plug on Evolutionary Informatics Lab – links to intelligent design fatal” — Denyse O’Leary breaks the story here at UD. These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. [...]

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