Weird Situation at Baylor Gets Weirder

Some time ago, William Dembski came to the end of his contracted time at Baylor University. Baylor made no public move to extend that contract, so Dembski found a job at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary over in Kentucky. Dembski commuted from his homestead in Riesel, Texas, which put a strain on things. So then he got a job at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. It’s a longish drive, but doable. What Dembski apparently has not given up on is having a presence within his former employer’s institution, Baylor University.

Like Lord Voldemort working through the insider, Professor Quirrell, Dembski has apparently tagged Professor Robert Marks as the guy to open up access in the bastion just down the road from the Dembski ranch and BBQ joint. For a brief time, Dembski was listed as having an office and a position via Marks’s department. That went away. Then Marks posted an “Evolutionary Informatics Laboratory” web page on the Baylor University servers, the two people associated with that being Marks and Dembski. It had a variety of IDC agitprop on it. Baylor faculty apparently noticed that and took issue with it. There have been reports of ongoing discussions (complete with lawyers on both sides) between Baylor and Marks concerning what he can — and cannot — represent as his official effort at Baylor University. Not long ago, there appeared to be an agreement that Marks could host his “Evolutionary Informatics Laboratory” web pages again on the Baylor system, if it were clearly marked with a disclaimer of the university’s choosing.

Now, a post at Dembski’s “Uncommon Descent” weblog is claiming Robert Marks as the newest IDC martyr for the cause. Poster “Botnik” put up what is purported to be a quoted email he received from Baylor University President John Lilley. And what was weird before gets even weirder. At first, there was no notice given with the quote; now the article says that it is all a parody. Whatever the motivation, posting the following as being from Lilley is definitely strange:

Dear Mr. Botnik,

The removal of Prof. Robert Marks’ so-called “lab” on the Baylor server is entirely consistent with Baylor’s stance on academic freedom. Prof. Marks was hired to do research and obtain grants for work in engineering, not to devote the bulk of his time to work in religion. I am not moved by Prof. Marks’ protestations that he is working in the field of intelligent design and that this work falls under his job description. Judge John E. Jones III ruled decisively in Kitzmiller v. Dover that intelligent design is religion, and that’s good enough for me. We have a religious studies program here at Baylor as well as a seminary. Unfortunately, Prof. Marks is not qualified to serve in either of these programs otherwise I would recommend his transfer.

In any case, academic freedom does not warrant the toleration of labs and groups willy-nilly. Surely you would not object if I took measures similar to those I took with Prof. Marks’ lab if a Baylor history professor proposed to start a “holocaust reexamination group” or a physics professor here proposed to found a “zodiac and astrology lab.” Academic freedom comes to an end where reason and common sense give way to ignorance and nonsense. I plan to issue an official statement concerning Baylor’s stance on intelligent design in coming months. The short of it is that ID is not welcome here in Waco and professors who want to work in this area can do so on their own time.

Thank you for your concerns. I hope that we can put this matter to rest quickly and that Prof. Marks can get back to being a productive member of the Baylor community.

Very truly yours,

Certainly the UD commenters took it as accurate commentary based upon their indignant responses, which explains the appearance of the explicit notice that it was “P-A-R-O-D-Y”. We already knew the UD crowd was nothing if not highly strung.

But one wonders exactly what the point of the “P-A-R-O-D-Y” was supposed to be. Certainly they cannot have expected it to have gone unnoticed. So Pres. Lilley will certainly enter the next phase of his relationship with Marks and the Shadow Dembski with this piece of buffoonery in mind. (If not before, then certainly after my email asking him to confirm or deny the quote.) Could they have been hoping for a batch of indignant correspondence to descend upon Baylor to establish that the IDC base thinks that Marks should get to do whatever he wants to at Baylor? Usually in these situations, the administration doesn’t really appreciate grandstanding.

It is all reminiscent of Dembski’s famous “Waterloo” email, snatching defeat from the very jaws of victory. We’ll have to see how many Baylor U. administrators got a nice chuckle out of the “P-A-R-O-D-Y” and the comments it elicited from the UD crowd.

Update 2007/09/02: What a surprise! No, wait; that would be parody. William “Once on the web, always on the web” Dembski has deleted the post concerning the pseudo-Lilley letter from UD. First, there was the “P-A-R-O-D-Y” label. Then came the discussions over the appropriateness of the parody. Then came the deletion of the oh-so-credulous comments (well, when one relentlessly bans, selecting for that left-hand tail of the distribution that can’t tell shinola from the other stuff, what does one expect?). And, in the fullness of time (tick-tock!), the deletion of the post itself.

There’s a new post up from Dembski, “Parody at UD”. “Street theater” is not mentioned, but there is this:

In retrospect, it’s clear that this piece of tomfoolery went too far. I’m therefore removing the thread. I hope Baylor and President Lilley take its removal as a gesture of goodwill on the part of UD as they reconsider what to do about Robert Marks and his Evolutionary Informatics Lab.

Check me on this: it is “goodwill” to remove an insulting parody of someone that you posted yourself the day before, although nothing that you say implies the minutest trace of respect for the person parodied, nor is there anything that approaches an apology?

As for the claim that credulity is expressed by checking with the supposed source, here is the content of a PM I sent just after sending my email to Lilley:

Posted: Sep. 01 2007,20:52

The more I look at it, the less genuine it seems.

I’ve written to Lilley for confirmation or rejection and quoted what they claimed he wrote. I’m waiting for the response… if “Botnik” can get a quick response, I’d imagine I could, too. Yeah, right from “Mr. Botnik” it sounds phony.

Both sides in the Baylor/Marks dispute have been all lawyered up for weeks now. That Lilley would let loose anything that close to actionable statements about a faculty member *who he knows has lawyers working for him right now* is incredible.


Update 2007/09/04: Yesterday, I got a direct answer from Baylor that the UD post was a fake, which at least says that Dr. Lilley is aware of the prank.

Also, William Dembski wrote up a “backgrounder” on things happening at Baylor that was posted, for who knows what reason, by Denyse O’Leary. It recounts a research position on soft money being offered to Dembski through Robert “Quirrell” Marks starting in November, 2006, and ending on December 8th, 2006, when Baylor said that the type of position was not approved for people with full-time work elsewhere. What’s interesting about that is that it shows up a post made by Dembski on 2006/12/03 as being simply obfuscatory and exceedingly misleading.

William A. Dembski, 2006/12/03:

Some internet gossip is going around suggesting that I am about to start a ?new job.? My job, and one I intend to keep for a long time, is as Research Professor in Philosophy at Southwestern Seminary. This is where I teach and this is where I derive my salary and benefits. I very much enjoy my students and colleagues. I recently spoke in chapel there, and, for the good of your soul, you do well to look at the text of my message:….ss.pdf.

In addition to this ‘day job,’ I have formal and informal affiliations with many groups and organizations. Because of some health issues in my family, we continue to live in the Waco area (Ft. Worth is about 90 miles north, requiring of me a long commute to Southwestern Seminary). Because Baylor is in Waco and because I was on the faculty of Baylor for over five years, I continue to stay in touch with Baylor colleagues, some of whom I collaborate with in research.

William A. Dembski (via D. O’Leary), 2007/09/03:

(4) My appointment as Senior Research Scientist in Baylor’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering began November 2006. The dean and department head were aware of my presence in the department and for one month raised no objection. I was given a small windowless office in the engineering building (Rogers 305A), which I planned to use once or twice a week. I had no teaching duties ^W this was strictly a research position. Also, I had access to the Baylor library and online journals.


(9) On Friday (12.08.06) Baylor claimed finally to have found a good reason to remove me, namely, a policy that forbids postdocs from having full outside employment (which I do with my job at Southwestern Seminary). […]

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

6 thoughts on “Weird Situation at Baylor Gets Weirder

  • 2007/09/02 at 11:28 am

    I certainly would be very interested in Lilley’s response. University administrators are not known to appreciate “jokes” at the expense of their institutions, especially by folks who already have a negative or embarassing history with said institution. Baylor is well respected in academia, and I expect they’d like to keep it that way.

  • 2007/09/02 at 4:57 pm

    The strange thing is that the letter is correct. Professors have limitation on what they can or can not do. Especially when it comes to setting up official departments or labs. Normally they can’t without a lot of permission slips. An English professor can not set up a lab of applied mathematics. Except for using terms like “will-nilly” and “good enough for me,” I can’t see anything wrong with the letter.

  • 2007/09/02 at 5:29 pm

    Thanks for the letter; the page is now gone. Dembski: “I hope Baylor and President Lilley take its removal as a gesture of goodwill on the part of UD as they reconsider what to do about Robert Marks and his Evolutionary Informatics Lab.”.

  • 2007/09/02 at 6:21 pm

    After pledging that “once on the web, always on the web,” Dembski has tucked his tail between his legs and erased the bogus “Botnik” post from UD. Learned his lesson? Probably not.

  • 2007/09/03 at 9:29 am

    Thanks for the posts. It’s telling how Dembski and friends handle ethically compromising situations: They abscond with the evidence and obfuscate its path. The ends will always justify the means so it seems.

  • 2007/09/04 at 6:37 am

    Prediction: it is all going to be the fault of those dern Darwinists…

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