In God's Country

William Dembski thought Baylor University would be the perfect place to investigate a scientific alternative to Darwinism. Little did he realize he would be crucified for his cause.

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."

Is it chance, or is it design? Dembski's explanatory process is laid out for laymen in his book, Intelligent Design.
Is it chance, or is it design? Dembski's explanatory process is laid out for laymen in his book, Intelligent Design.

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, co-hosted, incidentally, by Houston's own Representative Sheila Jackson Lee. 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."

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