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In the Beginning: How the Summer Seminars on Intelligent Design Got Their Start

Editor’s note: Dr. Gordon is a Center for Science & Culture Senior Fellow and Associate Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science, Houston Baptist University.

I’ve had the privilege of being involved with the Summer Seminar on Intelligent Design in the Natural Sciences from its beginning in 2007. An all-expenses-paid program, the Seminar this year runs from July 10 to 18 in Seattle, with applications due by March 4.

The road leading to my participation began with meeting Bill Dembski in Chicago. That was in 1990-91 at the start of my doctoral studies in philosophy of science/physics. We became very good friends and, over the course of many conversations with Bill and subsequent interactions with Paul Nelson and Steve Meyer, I was converted from a theistic evolutionist and design skeptic into a reasoned supporter of design science. In 1997 I was given a research grant to finish my doctoral dissertation and I became a Fellow (and subsequently a Senior Fellow) of the Center for Science & Culture. After a post-doctoral visiting assistant professorship at Notre Dame, I worked with Bill at Baylor University from 1999-2005, trying to develop an academic center for intelligent design research. 

Strong Political Resistance

Almost from its inception that effort met strong political resistance, both inside and outside the university, so Bill and I eventually had to move on to other things. As they often do for beleaguered ID researchers, my friends at Discovery Institute stepped into the breach to provide support. In my case, they offered me a position as research director of the Center for Science & Culture. Around the same time, Doug Axe, who had been drummed out of the Center for Protein Research at Cambridge University because of his ID connections, was getting Biologic Institute off the ground. With Discovery’s help, his aim was to advance ID-based research in molecular and computational biology. I accepted the position at the CSC and moved to Seattle to aid in building the network for Doug’s project, to assist with the extension of educational and public relation efforts related to intelligent design, and to advance peer-reviewed ID publications in the natural sciences and related fields. The latter included a large volume, The Nature of Nature, that Bill and I were putting together that had grown out of a conference of the same name we’d organized at Baylor. 

A New Mentoring Program

One of the first things we decided to do on the educational front was start a mentoring program for junior and senior undergraduates and early-stage graduate students in the natural and engineering sciences, mathematics, and philosophy of science. The goal was to seek out and support students who were interested in intelligent design as a research program, hoping to make their own original contributions someday, and wanting advice on how to negotiate the frequently hostile territory of graduate school, job applications, and early career development to get tenure at a research university. I worked on recruitment and put together the original course of lectures for the nine-day Seminar. This was in consultation with the ID researchers who would give them — familiar names like Mike Behe, Steve Meyer, Bill Dembski, Bob Marks, Jonathan Wells, Doug Axe, Ann Gauger, Rick Sternberg, Paul Nelson, Scott Minnich, Brendan Dixon, Jay Richards, Guillermo Gonzalez, and John West — and gave multiple talks myself on physics, cosmology, and philosophical issues related to ID. 

Twelve Students and a Solid Start

The very first Seminar, held in July 2007, had twelve enthusiastic students and gave us a solid start. By the time I left to take a position teaching mathematics and ID-based science literacy at The King’s College in New York City in 2010 (moving on to a professorship in the history and philosophy of science at Houston Baptist University in 2012), the natural science program had grown to host around thirty students. Meanwhile, a social science and humanities track under John West’s direction was getting off the ground, and it is now equally robust. When I left, the research directorship was taken over by indefatigable ID warriors, most recently the eminently capable physicist Brian Miller. I am deeply gratified that what I had a hand in beginning has grown into such a vibrant and transformative cottage industry. I am grateful that quite a few of our Summer Seminar graduates have gone on to complete their PhDs and take tenure-track teaching and research positions across the spectrum of the natural and engineering sciences, social sciences, and humanities at universities around the world. Some even have tenure now. 

I look forward to lecturing in the ID Seminar again this year. It is always a highlight of my summer. The world of scientific research is changed one scientist at a time. It is my hope that the incremental progress we make each year, however slow it seems, will continue to pick up speed. One day critical mass will then be achieved, and a new scientific vista will be established within which the universe will no longer be seen as an impersonal accident, but a purposeful place in which humanity plays an intended role and has an intended home.

Photo: (l. to r.) Ann Gauger, Guillermo Gonzalez, Paul Nelson, and Richard Sternberg, teaching at the Summer Seminar on ID, by Daniel Reeves.