Intelligent Design’s Brief Shining Moment

IT was a few years ago, before your Curmudgeon began this blog, when it seemed that the mystical “science” of Intelligent Design (ID) was actually making progress.

Few now bother to think about the short-lived Michael Polanyi Center at Baylor University, which was headed by William Dembski, but for a while it must have appeared to the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids) that they were on their way to achieving a major goal of their wedge strategy.

The Center was founded in 1999. It was ID’s only pretense of academic respectability. To the credit of Baylor, they put it out of its misery and dissolved it in 2003, a couple of years before the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, which demonstrated by a clear preponderance of evidence that ID was nothing more than the previously-discredited fraud of creation “science” dolled up in a fancy new set of clothes.

The Polanyi Center was controversial from the beginning. This article in the Baylor Lariat, the student newspaper at Baylor University, dated 12 April 2000, Professors debate legitimacy of Polanyi, says:

When the Michael Polanyi Center was quietly established on the Baylor campus last fall, few people knew of its existence or how much controversy it would foster. A debate over the reputation of Baylor as a university has erupted among the teachers and administrators, concerning the establishment of the center as a campus institute.


The Michael Polanyi Center consists of two people: director William Dembski and associate director Bruce Gordon. A committee has been established to evaluate the center’s influence on Baylor’s reputation.


Barker [Dr. Lewis Barker, psychology and neuroscience professor] said there has been ‘unanimous consent that the Polanyi Center is detrimental to Baylor’s science department.’


Dr. Joe Yelderman, a geology professor, agrees that the Polanyi Center could generate negative publicity that could harm the reputation of his department. ‘As a professor, I am concerned that people will make us guilty by association and assume that we are associated or linked to these organizations that have been established as psuedo-science,’ Yelderman said.


Yelderman is waiting for the center to produce scientific works. ‘There may be science involved, but I have not seen any at this stage,’ Yelderman said. ‘Just because someone uses mathematics or statistics, does not necessarily mean that it is science.’

The National Center for Science Education, as expected, was posting informative articles on the situation. For example, see this article from July-August 2000: Baylor’s Polanyi Center in Turmoil, which says:

Baylor University’s Michael Polanyi Center has been stripped of its name and subjected to intensive reorganization, after a lengthy debate over the existence of the “intelligent design” think tank on the Baptist school’s campus.


The controversy began during the spring of 2000 when faculty members expressed their displeasure at the establishment of the Michael Polanyi Center … . Particularly displeased were members of the science faculty, who considered the “intelligent design” (ID) focus of the center to be a thinly-veiled form of creation science.


So the Michael Polanyi Center was stripped of its name, placed squarely under the jurisdiction of a philosophy and religion administrative unit, subjected to a faculty advisory committee, and not very subtly put on notice that ID lacked status as a scholarly enterprise.


Dembski will continue at the rank at which he was hired, as an untenured “Associate Research Professor” in the Institute for Faith and Learning. The establishment of the [Center] was seen as a major step toward achieving the 5-year objectives of the “Wedge” strategy outlined by the Discovery Institute and ID leader Phillip Johnson. This is a long-range plan to establish ID as both a scholarly and a public enterprise, including a hoped-for establishment of an ID institute on a university campus. Baylor’s placement of the members of the former Michael Polanyi Center in a relative academic backwater as a subsidiary of a faith and learning institute, and its barely civil recognition of ID as an area that has not achieved much scholarly support, hardly provides the academic credibility for ID sought by Wedge strategists.

So what had briefly seemed like a giant leap forward for the creationists swiftly ended in ignominy.

Where’s Dembski now? He’s still teaching creationism, but now he’s at at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. See William Dembski: Godfather of Trolls. And sometimes he appears at other bible colleges. See Dembski’s Creationist Revival Meeting.

The Discoveroids keep trying, but their game is over — at least the current phase in the guise of ID. But The Controversy continues, as it probably always will.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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6 responses to “Intelligent Design’s Brief Shining Moment

  1. What about the Biologic Institute, which was supposed to be their “great science hope” after the Polanyi center? The BI surely must have generated 100s of peer-reviwed publications by now.

  2. Gabriel Hanna

    You know, it may be that they can’t do any real scientific research without upsetting some YEC applecarts.

    Or it may be that they have no intentions of doing anything but fleecing their donors.

  3. @Gabriel Hanna, “Or it may be that they have no intentions of doing anything but fleecing their donors.”

    Well, everyone needs a job, especially in these trying times.

  4. Coming soon to your theater: Intelligent Change.

    Remember, you heard it here first.

  5. comradebillyboy

    Good for Baylor. Fine show of integrity from a Baptist university.

  6. Frank,

    At the moment, as listed on their web site, the BI is 100 papers short of 100 for 2009. Oddly, they didn’t list the paper that Dembski and Marks published in a low-impact engineering journal – by stripping out any reference to ID.