Why He Is a HeroThe Exemplary Life and Legacy of Dr. Walter Bradley
By Robert J. Marks
The new Walter Bradley Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence will explore emerging technology from many angles. The Center is named after my hero Walter Bradley. Walter’s accomplishments are more than impressive. They leave an everlasting impact.
When cleaning out the office of a retiring colleague in my department, boxes of papers and personal effects were placed in the hall outside his office door. To assure the box would be removed by the night cleaning staff, the word TRASH was written boldly on a sheet of paper and taped to the largest box. What a sad empty metaphor for a Professor’s career — indeed for any career. Walter Bradley is my hero because the impact of his life will be celebrated in perpetuity. I want a heritage like that. But ironically such a goal cannot be achieved by making it a goal. It comes indirectly from dedicated hard work and a life selflessly motivated by a mission greater than self. This is why Walter Bradley is my hero.
In preparation for making an introduction of Walter to those of you who don’t know him, I made a list of his accomplishments to work from. The list alone was so impressive, I decided it needs little prose embellishment from me. So here are my bullets ranging from the professional to personal to introduce you to Walter Bradley.
- Walter’s academic accomplishments by themselves are singularly distinctive. When at Baylor University, his official title was Distinguished Professor. There are assistant, associate and full professors. Most in academia are happy to retire at the level of Professor. Walter has retired from Baylor and is now a Distinguished Professor Emeritus. Distinguished Professors are “those whose outstanding scholarship and national reputation for excellence in his or her academic discipline greatly exceed the bounds of scholarship exemplified by most if not all other faculty members.” That’s Walter. During his career, Walter attracted millions of dollars to support his graduate students and research including a project from Curves Internationalto design their next generation of exercise equipment.
- Walter also was a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M where he served as department Chair.
- Walter, an engineer, is a pioneer in Sustainable & Appropriate Technology. Third world countries don’t need a smarter computer. They need technology appropriate for their current circumstance. In one venture Walter noticed that coconuts were a wasted resource in many developing countries so he pioneered efficient use of the coconut from pulp to shells and helped establish the infrastructure for nationals to run their own coconut business. Hundreds of jobs have been created by the company Dignity Coconuts, which proudly claims “Our business was born out of a conviction to help communities overcome cycles of poverty and slavery. Not with a handout, but with a sustainable business that will bring lasting hope and change to communities.” The product is outstanding. Because it is not heated, their raw coconut oil is delicious. Fry your eggs or butter your popcorn with it. My wife Monika, a therapeutic masseuse, uses coconut oil topically for her massages. And yes, you can order Dignity Coconut Oil on Amazon.com.
- Walter is co-author with Charles Thaxton and Roger Olson of one of the first major modern works on Intelligent Design: The Mystery of Life’s Origin. From the Preface of the original 1984 edition we read: “The Mystery of Life’s Origin presents an extraordinary new analysis of an age-old question: How did life start on earth? The authors deal forthrightly and brilliantly with the major problems confronting scientists today in their search for life’s origins.” The highly influential work was cited as a contrast in a review of Richard Dawkins’ Climbing Mount Improbable. Stephen Meyer, a Senior Fellow of Discovery Institute and Director of its Center for Science and Culture, cites the book as a major influence in his decision to pursue intelligent design (ID). The book is currently available free online in pdf format.
- Many of Walter’s accomplishments are centered on his Christian faith. Walter was instrumental in founding an arm of CRU (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) that ministers directly to university faculty. The organization today is known as Faculty Commons. After the group was founded, my PhD advisor Dr. John Walkup retired and went on full time staff where he ministered to university faculty in the San Francisco Bay area including Stanford and UC Berkeley. Among other activities, Faculty Commons today sends a weekly newsletter to university Christian faculty with encouragement and tips from staff and Christian faculty.
- Walter has spoken at most major universities in North America (some twice) on the topic “Scientific Evidence for the Existence of God” where he addresses the remarkable fine-tuning of our universe for life. I was at the University of Washington, Seattle when I first met Walter at one of these talks. His presentation always packed auditoriums.
- At universities on other trips, Walter hosted an “invite your favorite faculty” event where Christian students would invite their favorite faculty to a free lunch after which Walter shared his experience in the intersection of academia with faith and Christianity.
- Walter is pro-life. When he was a Prof at Texas A&M, Walter and wife Ann helped found one of the nation’s first crisis pregnancy centers.
- Walter is interviewed in Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Faith. He appears in the documentary Expelled, No Intelligence Allowed as an expert in the origin of life. Walter is a licensed instructor for the course based on Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective Peopleand has taught the course many times.
- Walter was elected President of the American Scientific Affiliation(ASA).The ASA is the world’s largest professional society of Christian technical and scientific professionals.
- Even in retirement, Walter remains in high demand as a speaker. One of his appearances last year was as a Q&A panelist on the topic “Does God Matter? Answering tough questions.” The video is available on YouTube.
Undergraduate students who attend top research universities like Stanford have little expectation of interaction with top research faculty. Walter Bradley breaks with this tradition and does so in meaningful ways.
- Walter pioneered “movie night” where a hand full of students are invited to his house to eat popcorn and watch a movie. Movies are shown that lead to talk about meaningful things in life. His favorites include Woody Allen’s Crimes & Misdemeanors and Sophie Shoals.
- When students ask about spiritual matters, Walter offers to meet with them one-on-one. I was once surprised to see a graduate student at my church for the first time. I asked. The student had just spent a few weeks meeting with Walter going over the gospel of John in the Bible and had decided to be a Christian.
- Walter learned there was an unofficial atheist student group meeting on the Baylor campus. He attended one of their meetings and invited the members to his house for serious discussion. They met on a periodic basis and had civil dialog. The group dissipated for a period.
- One of my favorite anecdotes is about a visit Walter and wife Ann made to Chick-fil-A restaurant. Pro-choice advocates were protesting because Chick-fil-A owners were pro-life. The wait at the Chick-fil-A was long because pro-life advocates turned out to counter the protest by eating Chick-fil-A chicken. Walter got out of his car and went over to politely engage the protesters. Minds were set on a path of critical thinking.
Let me end with a highly personal bullet.
- My son Joshua rolled his car and broke his neck soon after I came to Baylor. It was the same vertebra break that put Christopher (Superman) Reeves in a wheelchair. Unlike Reeves, Josh’s spinal cord escaped damage but the situation was delicate. Josh was confined to our house for a long period of a time where he wore an apparatus called a “halo” screwed into his skull so he could not move his head and neck. He was not allowed to be in a car because the jiggling could be dangerous to the healing of his bones. During this time, Walter Bradley was leading a small apologetics reading group at Baylor. In the evening after the group met, I would come home and share the lesson with Josh. When I told Walter about Joshua, he said to invite Josh to the group. I told him Josh couldn’t travel and why. So Walter decided to drive to my house once a week for a few months to give the lesson one-on-one to Josh. This still chokes me up because it is one of many illustrations that, even though Walter was highly visible in a lot of things he did, he is a selfless servant at heart.
Joshua, by the way, had a complete recovery and, after completing his degree at Baylor, today teaches high school.
I am at Baylor today because Walter Bradley heard I wanted to leave the University of Washington in 2003. I had another offer for an endowed chair in writing ready to sign, but when I found out from Walter that Baylor was transitioning to a research university while continuing to celebrate Christianity, I decided to invest the rest of my career here.
And now I am honored to be the Director of the Walter Bradley Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence where we will continue to celebrate Walter Bradley’s incredible heritage.
To learn more about the life of Walter Bradley, see his biography, For a Greater Purpose: The Life and Legacy of Walter Bradley.