Michael Polanyi Center
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The Center's logo
|Type||Religious research for Baylor University|
|Legal status||Merged with Baylor Institute for Faith and Learning|
|Headquarters||Waco, Texas, United States|
|Bruce L. Gordon|
The Michael Polanyi Center (MPC) at Baylor University, Texas was the first center at a research university exclusively dedicated to intelligent design study. It was founded in 1999 "with the primary aim of advancing the understanding of the sciences," in a religious context and is named for Michael Polanyi. All of the center's research investigated the subject of intelligent design. The center was relegated in late 2000 to a minor program within the Baylor Institute for Faith and Learning and fully dissolved in 2003.
A new Baylor president, Robert B. Sloan was appointed in 1995. Sloan, a New Testament Scholar with a doctorate in theology from the University of Basel, proposed to return the school to its mission of integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment. As a result, the Baylor Institute for Faith and Learning (IFL) was established in 1997.
Baylor ought to be the kind of place where a student can ask a question and not just get the runaround. He shouldn't have to go to the theology department and be told, "Oh, that's a scientific question. Don't ask me that." And then the student goes to the science department and they tell him, "That's a religious question. Don't ask me that."
In 1998 Sloan read an article by mathematician, philosopher and intelligent design advocate William Dembski and was impressed. Sloan invited Dembski to the IFL, whose director Michael Beaty was also impressed by his work and credentials. They learned of Dembski's wish to establish an intelligent design research center. As a result in October 1999, Baylor's Michael Polanyi Center was quietly established separately from the IFL and without reference to science academics. Dembski named it after the Hungarian scientist and philosopher of science Michael Polanyi (1891 — 1976). Dembski appointed Bruce L. Gordon as his deputy.
The MPC website stated:
The Michael Polanyi Center (MPC) is a cross-disciplinary research and educational initiative focused on advancing the understanding of science. It has a fourfold purpose: (1) to support and pursue research in the history and conceptual foundations of the natural and social sciences; (2) to study the impact of contemporary science on the humanities and the arts; (3) to be an active participant in the growing dialogue between science and religion; and (4) to pursue the mathematical development and empirical application of design-theoretic concepts in the natural sciences.
"The Nature of Nature"
Between April 12 and April 15, 2000 the Center held a conference entitled "The Nature of Nature," jointly sponsored by the Discovery Institute and the John Templeton Foundation. Critics of intelligent design within the scientific community were split as to whether to attend. They thought that the conference might give ID more academic credibility, something it lacks, and that it would be used for propaganda by the ID movement and the Christian press. Nevertheless, the conference attracted a variety of scientists, theologians and philosophers, including Alan Guth, John Searle, Christian de Duve, and Nobel Prize-winner Steven Weinberg.
The conference brought things to a head[clarification needed] and, as a result, on April 18 the Faculty Senate voted 27-2 for the center to be abolished. This call was rejected by Sloan on April 20, who commented:
- I believe there are matters of intellectual and academic integrity at stake here … We should not be afraid to ask questions, even if they are politically incorrect
A compromise was later reached to form an independent committee to review the center, consisting of eight faculty members from across the country to be chaired by the Professor of Philosophy William F. Cooper.
The committee met between September 8 and September 10. On October 17 the committee released its report. Although it recommended that there should be a place for the study of intelligent design, it recommended that the center be renamed and reconstituted within Baylor's Institute for Faith and Learning. This was seen as a compromise between the two sides and an attempt to defuse the row that had developed.
Center moved and renamed
On October 18 Dembski responded to the report with a press release/email:
The report marks the triumph of intelligent design as a legitimate form of academic inquiry. This is a great day for academic freedom. I'm deeply grateful to President Sloan and Baylor University for making this possible, as well as to the peer review committee for its unqualified affirmation of my own work on intelligent design. The scope of the Center will be expanded to embrace a broader set of conceptual issues at the intersection of science and religion, and the Center will therefore receive a new name to reflect this expanded vision. My work on intelligent design will continue unabated. Dogmatic opponents of design who demanded the Center be shut down have met their Waterloo. Baylor University is to be commended for remaining strong in the face of intolerant assaults on freedom of thought and expression.
- "The External Review Committee Report, Baylor University" (PDF). 2000-10-16. Retrieved 2008-09-25.
- Founders Day, Baylor University
- "Baylor University - About Baylor - Robert B. Sloan, Jr.". Retrieved 2009-10-23.
- Heeren, Fred (15 November 2000). "The Lynching of Bill Dembski". The American Spectator. Retrieved 10 January 2015.
- "Michael Polanyi". Archived from the original on 2000-04-08. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
- Phy-Olsen, Allene (2010). Evolution, Creationism, and Intelligent Design. Westport: Greenwood. pp. 70–71. ISBN 0-313-37841-X.
- "Michael Polanyi Center". Archived from the original on 2000-08-16. Retrieved 2000-08-16. Check date values in:
- Schmeltekopf, Donald D. (2015). Baylor at the Crossroads: Memoirs of a Provost. Eugene: Cascade Books. p. 77. ISBN 9781498231763. Retrieved 24 April 2017.
- A copy of Dembski's first press release