Faculty votes to kill off institute

May 12, 2000

An institute at Baylor University in Texas that aimed to unite the study of science and religion has ended up dividing it.

Faculty have demanded by a vote of 26 to two that the programme should be shut down.

The university's faculty senate has cited an alleged technical violation of school rules as the reason why the Michael Polanyi centre at the institute for faith and learning should be closed.

But they also argue that it is trying to promote creationism and refute the scientific theory of evolution.

Named after the anti-Marxist physical chemist who rejected the materialist philosophy he said was at the heart of much scientific research, the centre was supposed to serve as a bridge between the Baptist-affiliated university's religion and science departments. But the science faculty was not consulted.

Baylor president Robert B. Sloan Jr concedes that the administration established the centre with less than the traditional amount of faculty input. "In retrospect, there are some things the administration could have done to manage this process more effectively," he said.

"There were some conversations with faculty and there could no doubt have been more." Even he agreed, however, that "the more substantive issue here is the philosophical and ideological objection of some to the work of the centre itself".

A recent conference organised by the centre, "The Nature of Nature", did little to dispel the controversy. One of the speakers, Robert Koons, said, "scientists have no authority to dictate to us".

Dr Koons and other scholars affiliated to the institute, including director William Dembski, subscribe to the theory of "intelligent design", which grants that the world is billions of years old, and that evolution accounts for the development of plants and animals, but says that man was created by God.

In response to the faculty vote, the administration at the university has agreed to create an evaluation committee to review the centre's purpose and the process by which it was established.

But Dr Sloan continued to defend it. "By dissolving the centre, as the faculty senate has proposed, we would in effect be imposing a form of censorship. If their conclusions do not stand up to peer review, so be it.

"But to quash their research and to mute their point of view because of political pressure and without sound intellectual cause is antithetical to everything for which a true university ought to stand.

"We should not be afraid to ask questions, even if they are politically incorrect."

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