SBTS Hires Controversial Intelligent-Design Advocate

Prominent intelligent-design advocate, William A. Dembski, will take the helm for the new Center of Science and Theology of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. SBTS Dean of Theology Russell D. Moore told reporters of the Chronicles of Higher Education, “Intelligent design is posing questions that need to be asked and are being shut out of public debate.” Moore also pointed out that the center will help evangelists use a more Christian viewpoint to tackle issues associated with Darwinism.

Dembski, former director of the Michael Polanyi Center for Complexity, Information, and Design at Baylor, was reportedly dismissed October 2000 shortly after issuing a highly controversial email, reportedly promoting intelligent-design. He is expected to take his new post at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in June of this year.

In October 1999, the Polanyi Center was established on the Baylor University campus under allegations that members of the faculty were not ‘properly’ informed. From the beginning, the center attracted flak from the faculty who claimed that the center’s establishment was yet another one of Sloan’s acting without consultation from the faculty.

From April 12 to 15, 2000, the Polanyi Center hosted its first conference on titled “The Nature of Nature,” in an attempt to ease tensions already existent since the center’s founding. Members of the faculty were encouraged to attend seminars led by acclaimed science and philosophy scholars from all over the nation. Several days following the conference, the faculty within the philosophy and theology departments erupted into fierce debate. According to Baylor campus press, the Lariat, Dembski was allegedly accused of being a “stealth creationist” by unnamed sources.

Three days after the conference, the Faculty decided that the Polanyi Center’s research had “creationist” undertones, and therefore, would jeopardize the university’s degrees credibility. Thus, the Faculty Senate asked for the center’s removal from campus. Baylor President Robert Sloan promptly refused, and publicly stated that the faculty did indeed have prior consultation in regards to the center’s establishment. Therefore, Sloan concluded, the center had a legitimate place on campus. The statement released by Sloan did little to ease tensions.

The following spring, the school’s administration and the faculty assembled a peer-review committee led by Philosophy professor Dr. William F. Cooper, to place the Polanyi center’s legitimacy in review. In October 2000, the committee released a report recommending four key changes. First, the Polanyi center would have to be integrated into the Institute of Faith and Learning. Second, the Center must perform research on other concepts besides focusing on the intelligent-design theory. Fourth, the Center would be stripped of its name Michael Polanyi. Nonetheless, the committee acknowledged intelligent-design as a legitimate scientific discipline.

According to various sources, Dembski misunderstood the committee’s response as full acceptance of the center’s discipline, and issued an email promoting “the triumph of Intelligent Design.” Two days after the email was made public, Dembski was formally relieved of his directorship and reassigned as an associate-research professor at conceptual foundations of science. The Michael Polanyi center was shortly thereafter dissolved.

“My work is too controversial for them,” Dembski said to the Chronicles, in reference to the administration’s decision. “I was increasingly seen as a political liability.” The Baylor President up to this point was already involved with controversy over his leadership with the Baylor 2012 plan. To Dembski, his work was just another potential inconvenience for an already tumultuous time in the university’s history.

Michael Beaty, director of the Institute for Faith and Learning had reportedly asked Dembski to tone down his outspoken views on the theory of Intelligent Design shortly before the Faculty Senate hearing that would decide to shut down the Polanyi Center. Apparently, various school officials had also voiced concern that Intelligent Design’s antagonism towards Darwinism would isolate Baylor from the scientific community.

For over four years, Dembski was barred from teaching and worked at home, occasionally taking his family to the university’s dining hall. His contract, expiring in spring 2005, shows little signs of being renewed.

In an interview with the Chronicles, Dembski claimed that he had attempted to extend his professorship at Baylor, but was refused. Apparently, the university lack sufficient funds from which to renew Dembski’s contract, said a spokesmen on behalf of Baylor Provost David. L. Jeffery.

Dembski was unperturbed, however, and quickly accepted a position with the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He told Chronicle reporters, “I was so ostracized at Baylor that I had very few colleagues I could talk to there. This will give me the opportunity to influence a huge body of believers who are sympathetic with what I'm doing.”

Despite the controversy he has attracted, Dembski continues to be outspoken with his views. In an interview with Agape Press, Dembski said, “People who believe in God usually think that humanity is the crown of God's creation – and if you accept a Darwinian, evolutionary point of view, our place in the universe is in no way special or privileged. [You believe that] we are really accidents of natural history. Even our intelligence, even our mental faculties that we use to try to understand our place in the greater scheme of things – it's all really an illusion.”