By Bob Allen
Critics of a view of creation termed “intelligent design” describe a conference this weekend, co-sponsored by Houston Baptist University, as an admission that the movement’s roots lie not in science, as proponents insist, but in religion.
Faith Bible Church in The Woodlands, Texas, promotes its March 14-15 “Reasons 2014” event as a conversation about whether scientific advances “undermine essential Christian doctrines” or instead provide “compelling evidence for design in nature.”
Plenary speakers include William Dembski, an intelligent design pioneer who has taught at Baptist schools including Baylor University, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is now on faculty at Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, N.C., led by former SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission head Richard Land.
Dembski is joined by two other speakers affiliated, like him, with the Discovery Institute, a nonprofit public-policy think tank based in Seattle, Wash., that promotes intelligent design as an alternative to Darwinian evolution and argues that science textbooks should include both views.
ID proponents contend that life is too complex to have evolved randomly and there must be a “designer” responsible for life as it exists today, while insisting that doesn’t necessarily have to mean the God of the Bible.
A federal judge in Pennsylvania disagreed in 2005, ruling that ID is a form of “creation science” intended to harmonize science with creation stories in the Bible, and teaching it in public schools violates the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.
Michael Zimmerman, founder of the Clergy Letter Project, said in the Huffington Post the conference suggests the ID movement may be entering its “final days.” Each February Zimmerman’s organization sponsors an Evolution Weekend aimed at combatting perceived conflict between faith and knowledge through conversation in houses of worship.
Zimmerman said the event’s purpose as described by organizers is “clearly at odds” with the most important talking point of those promoting intelligent design, “that it has absolutely no link to Christianity in particular or to religion in general.”
“According to the conference promoters,” Zimmerman wrote, “intelligent design is the only interpretation of scientific evidence that is compatible with their version of Christianity.”
Four breakout speakers at the conference all teach at Houston Baptist University, led by President Robert Sloan, who while serving as president of Baylor University sparked controversy in 2000 by naming Dembski head of a new Michael Polanyi Center devoted to the study of science and religion.
Baylor removed Dembski after he angered faculty members with an email touting a committee’s recommendation to allow the center to continue “the triumph of intelligent design as a legitimate form of academic inquiry.”
The controversy was one of several during Sloan’s time at Baylor, which began with his election in 1995 to succeed 14-year President Herbert Reynolds and ended after he stepped down to become chancellor in 2005 and then Houston Baptist University president effective Sept. 1, 2006.