The Cranach Institute wishes to express its dismay at the decision to remove William Dembski as Director of the Michael Polanyi Center (Metanews, 10/19/2000). Shortly before this announcement, we learned that the committee appointed to evaluate the status of the Center upheld the importance and legitimacy of Dr. Dembski’s work, while calling on the Center to be redefined in its scope (http://pr.baylor.edu/pdf/001017polanyi.pdf). In his press release (Metanews 10/17/2000), Dr. Dembski clearly agreed to these terms, stating that “[t]he scope of the Center will be expanded to embrace a broader set of conceptual issues at the intersection of science and religion and the Center will therefore receive a new name to reflect this expanded vision.” We appreciate that Dr. Dembski has not actually been fired as Associate Professor, but his removal as Center Director does not seem to have been made on legitimate academic grounds.
It is quite true that Dr. Dembski goes on to say that the dogmatists who had wanted to close the center “have met their Waterloo.” This may be “offensive” to some of Baylor’s faculty but (a) it is unquestionably true-the center will live on, albeit with a new name and wider vision; (b) it is inappropriate for a school with a strong Christian tradition such as Baylor University to acquiesce to the demands of political correctness. The compartmentalized approach to faith and academic work has become prevalent in American Universities, even Christian ones, and it would appear that what many oppose in Dr. Dembski’s work (at Baylor and elsewhere) is his explicit and rigorous integration of the two. How popular would Leibniz or Newton be at such universities if they expressed all their views, including an overarching religious understanding of their scientific work? There is nothing in what Dr. Dembski says in his press release that is not protected by normal academic freedom, and further, while he may be called to be “collegial” with other faculty, this can hardly be construed to mean that he should be “nice” to those who have misrepresented his work or who have engaged in caricature. I would like to clarify the Cranach Institute’s perspective on this matter. The Cranach Institute is a Lutheran research institute “devoted to continuing the Reformation tradition…and applying its insights today.” Here is a relevant insight from the life of Martin Luther. When Rome called Luther to recant his teaching on justification, Luther asked Rome to agree to a neutral forum of academic debate in the great universities of Europe, so that the matter could be settled by reasoned argument and not force. Rome refused and paid a long-term price for doing so.
Many universities are now in an analogous position to Rome during the Reformation. There is considerable entrenched power of secular humanism and an almost indistinguishable liberal Protestantism, both of which are calling for dissenting (and especially robust Christian) views to be squashed by force not debate. To its great credit, Baylor did not initially follow this path, and instead appointed an independent peer review committee. However, since the committee has upheld the academic integrity of Dr. Dembski’s work, it would be a retreat from the “great universities of Europe” model to the dogmatism of Rome model if Baylor now relies on force to overrule the committee. Is Baylor content to count itself among those universities in which political power can stifle academic dissent? I hope and pray not, not only for the sake of the religious mission of Baylor, but also for its academic reputation as an institution which is not willing to be ideologically captive.
It is worth noting that Concordia University Wisconsin, the home of the Cranach Institute, hosted the Design and its Critics conference (June 22-24, 2000), featuring both proponents and opponents of Intelligent Design. The conference was much like the excellent “Nature of Nature” conference held at Baylor during the Spring of this year. At both of these conferences, a much higher degree of academic civility was attained than is usual. At many conferences, such ideological dogmatism has taken hold that there is only debate about the details within a system of unquestioned first principles. At both the Nature of Nature and the Design and its Critics conferences, there was real dialogue between proponents of different first principles. Naturalism itself, the very foundation of the modern academy, was on the table for review. Nor was either conference a straw-man side show. The conferences recruited the very best defenders of naturalism and critics of intelligent design to meet their opposite numbers so that there was a real risk of each side being shown to have weaknesses. Surely these conferences, both of which Dr. Dembski helped to organize, are the academy at its very best, and anyone who has the knowledge and courage to facilitate them should be rewarded, not punished. Certainly they were vastly superior to the sycophantic gatherings of the like-minded that have made many conferences in the Humanities and Social Sciences venues for the self-perpetuation of unexamined prejudice. The very premise of the university is the pursuit of truth, not cultural power, and when power becomes the overriding objective, truth, and those who believe in it, are always the first victims. It is a sorry day when universities make sacrifices of those who epitomize what a university should be all about.
For all of these reasons, the Cranach Institute urges Baylor University to reconsider its decision to remove William Dembski as Director of the Michael Polanyi Center.
The Board of Directors of the Cranach Institute: Bruce Gee, Ilona Kuchta, Dr. Angus Menuge, Rev. Todd Peperkorn, George Strieter, Dr. Gene Edward Veith (chair). Additional Signatories: Prof. Robert Koons, Prof. Gary H. Locklair, Rev. Michael Roberts, Don W. Korte, Jr., Ph.D., D.A.B.T, Chair Dept. of Natural Sciences, Prof. Mary Korte.