Insisting on Academic Freedom

Baylor University briefly made a foray into the world of Intelligent Design when it hired William Dembski to begin a center investigating the subject in the late ’90’s. He was an extraordinarily well-published double Ph.D. who promised to make ID an interesting topic of research and conversation. Baylor’s biology faculty subsequently crushed Dembski’s center (not exactly the usual tolerance of dissent we hear so much about) and he served out his contract in isolation.

Later on Baylor hired Francis Beckwith, a philosopher, and Walter Bradley, a mechanical engineer, to positions in other departments. Beckwith had argued ID could permissibly be taught in public schools (but not required) and Bradley pursued ID (from the cosmological angle) as a sideline to his primary work. Their hires attracted conspiracy theorizing from Barbara Forrest and Glenn Branch in Academe. To Academe’s credit, they published Beckwith’s and Bradley’s responses. Here they are:

Intelligent Design

Barbara Forrest and Glenn Branch misleadingly depict my appointment at Baylor and my academic work on intelligent design in the January-February issue. They falsely imply that I was sought after by the Baylor administration and hired autocratically as part of some conspiracy to turn Baylor into an academic enclave for intelligent design. Until my on-campus interview in February 2003, I had never met or spoken to a Baylor administrator. That interview occurred while I was on the faculty at Princeton as a James Madison Fellow, five months after I had applied for the Baylor post in response to a national advertisement.

The authors state that twenty-nine descendants of my department’s namesake (J.M. Dawson) requested that Baylor remove me from my post. They don’t mention the support for me from my provost, department chair, department colleagues, and numerous professors from around the world, some of whom disagree with my views. One of them, Kent Greenawalt of Columbia Law School, was so aghast at the Dawsons’ use of a quote of his to hurt my appointment that he wrote a letter to my chair condemning it.

I argue that it is constitutionally permissible to teach intelligent design in public schools, which is the conclusion of the thesis I wrote in 2001 as part of my M.J.S. degree at the Washington University School of Law. It was published as a book in 2003, and various portions of it appeared in articles in Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, San Diego Law Review, and Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics, and Public Policy. I’m not an intelligent design advocate, and I don’t think it should be required in public schools. I do think, however, that some intelligent design arguments raise important questions about philosophical materialism and the nature of science that should be taken seriously and may indeed have a place for discussion in public school classrooms. Academic liberty knows no metaphysical litmus test, whether it’s religious or irreligious, or proposed by Jerry Falwell or Barbara Forrest.

Although I stand by my work on intelligent design and public education, it is only a recent interest of mine. I had already established myself with scores of articles and many books in the areas of ethics, religion, and politics. In fact, my monograph on abortion is cited several times in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on that subject.

In my opinion, Forrest and Branch are blacklisters whose witch-hunt tactics should be shunned, and not published, by Academe.

Associate Director, J. M. Dawson Institute for Church-State StudiesBaylor University


I am writing in response to the article in the January-February issue by Forrest and Branch. In this article, my hiring at Baylor University is portrayed as being part of a grand conspiracy by the administration to pursue a secret intelligent design agenda, casting aspersions on my academic qualifications and on the administration’s integrity. What is particularly galling is that the authors never bothered to contact me or my department head or dean to inquire about this matter.

Why was I hired at Baylor? Maybe it was because I am very academically qualified to help build an outstanding graduate program in engineering that will be synergistic with our under-graduate program. During my eight years at the Colorado School of Mines and twenty-four years at Texas A&M University, I published 140 refereed articles and book chapters, secured $4.5 million in external research funding, served as department head at TAMU, and received five local and one national research awards and two teaching awards. I am an elected fellow of the American Society for Materials and the American Scientific Affiliation.

During my interview at Baylor University, there was no discussion of my work in intelligent design. I spent most of my time in the School of Engineering, giving a seminar and visiting with all of the school’s professors. I was told that the recommendation of my hiring was supported unanimously by the faculty in the school. The focus of my work since joining the school has been to begin to develop excellent master’s programs and secure external funding to support them, which I have done.

Let me be very clear that I have done and will continue to do work in the areas of intelligent design, cosmology, and the origin of life. However, it is a blatant lie to pretend that my hiring was in any way connected to this extracurricular interest of mine as a “member of the Wedge,” whatever that means. I am a fellow of the Discovery Institute in recognition of my work in the origin of life, not as a functionary in some fantasy conspiracy theory. This McCarthyism by Forrest and Branch has no place in the academy or in a publication by the AAUP, which is supposed to be a champion of academic freedom.

(Engineering)Baylor University


18 thoughts on “Insisting on Academic Freedom

  1. Their hires attracted conspiracy theorizing from Barbara Forrest and Glenn Branch in Academe.

    With Christian evangelical strategies/conspiracies, such as “The Wedge”, being promoted openly in the pseudoscientific community, it is unsuprising that Forrest and Branch would make the assumption that they did. But indeed they should have researched Beckwith and Bradley before they included their unsupported accusation.

  2. Let me point out that granting academic freedom doesn’t mean letting in the cranks.

  3. Oh, you mean like the Marxists, the feminists, the critical race theorists, and the post-everythingialists?

  4. Oh, you mean like the Marxists, the feminists, the critical race theorists, and the post-everythingialists?

    No, I think he meant free-market economists and Straussians.

  5. Apparently, Anonymous wasn’t smart enough to recognize sarcasm.

    Is there something in the Kool-Aid that turns you Reform Clubbers into raving jerks at the full moon or something?

    This coming from the man who altered his post above on intelligent design, deleted a comment, and then disabled comments.

  6. Dembski’s Blog is a good read but not for the reason you think. The man has a startling ignorance of how sience works and frequently betrays it to the world in his ranting. Furthermore he deletes any comments that point out the huge flaws in his “reasoning.”

    Ignorance and an inability to tolerate dissent? Why isn’t he working for the whitehouse?

  7. “Knock it off. You don’t have to come here.”

    And they don’t have to create the site in the first place. But they did, and they advertised it.

    To expect you can say anything you want regardless of the facts and not have anyone call you on it is a bit odd.

  8. If by “odd” you mean “unusual”, then you’re wrong. See your comments about the White House, above.

  9. “If by “odd” you mean “unusual”, then you’re wrong. See your comments about the White House, above.”

    Feel free to point out anything you think I’ve said that’s incorrect. See, that’s how discourse works.

  10. So, calling people “raving jerks” is how you “call somebody” on their facts? That sounds like a comment of a raving jerk.

  11. You seem to be mixing people up. JFE is the one who said “raving jerks.” I’m the one who talked about “calling people on it” when they say things that are false.

  12. The purpose of the academy, as understood by Mr. Elliott, Tlaloc, and Anonymous, is to squelch any ideas that compete with materialist and leftist dogma. Mr. Elliott’s profile describes him as a graduate student, and I am confident he has a fine future doing nothing in the real world where ideas have actual consequences. Tlaloc is a skilled writer with an eye for detail who nonetheless has the same penchant for asking people to take responsibility for their actions while recklessly accusing others of all sorts of crimes. Most likely he is a professor, probably tenured or retired or on social security disability given the amount of time he has available to comment and Blog. He can make graduate students like James do the research! Whoah, am I making reckless generalizations about people with opposing positions based on wild-eyed theories? My my, that’s the role of the academic. I better get back to working, living a life, and laughing at the entertainment provided by these high-powered intellectuals of the Left!

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