Gary Starkweather, physicist, recounts his defense of intelligent design during career
by Peter Benyola
Gary Starkweather has had a long and illustrious engineering career in developing technology for corporations including Microsoft, Apple, Xerox, Lucasfilm and Pixar. He retains 44 patents and received many awards. He has published many scientific papers, has been invited to lecture at prominent universities, and while working at Xerox, he invented the laser printer.
Now retired, Starkweather makes his home with his wife, Joyce, in Debary, Florida, and serves as a ruling elder at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford.
BENYOLA: Tell me how you were raised. Was it a Christian household? When and how did you come to the Lord?
STARKWEATHER: I was raised in, I think I would call it a Christian household. I was taken to church every Sunday. My grandmother was Methodist and her brother was a Methodist pastor, and it was very Evangelical at that time. I was like, 8 or 9. Her brother was a very solid minister, but my mother — her daughter — wanted to go to a Baptist because there was a real belief in their form of Methodism. If I were to look at the details of the Methodist faith, I’m not quite sure where they landed in all of that. I wasn’t smart enough to figure that out yet at that point. They really didn’t have eternal security nailed down. My grandmother was deathly afraid that if she was standing on a curb and the car went around and splashed water on her, and she swore at the car, that if the next car hit her, she didn’t know if she’d go to heaven or not. And I told her, I said, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” So anyway, we used to have big debates about that whole thing. At least the Baptist church we were in was eternal security. They were Christian, okay? If God can save you, He can keep you saved. That’s not an issue. So I kind of grew up in that Baptist background. I had a lot of questions for them. It was a fairly rigid Baptist background. My father was coming from a [Roman] Catholic family, and I would guess he wasn’t solid in anything. But he really went to the Baptist church and served on committees, and I believe he knew the Lord. Unfortunately, he had some setbacks in business, and when I was 25, he committed suicide. So that was a very hard thing for me.
BENYOLA: What year was that?
STARKWEATHER: 1964. I was 25 at the time. And I never got a chance as a young man to sit down and debrief him, you know? My son and I now will do that. We’ll sit down and, “Dad, what was it like, when, you know, you had to go through this?” ‘Cause he now has a 13-year-old son, and so, um, he’s starting to see the reality of how human beings go, you know? And I said, “Just be prepared to get dumber for the next three years, and then one day he’s going to wake up and realize how smart you are. And so, uh, just be prepared for that.” So we have long talks about that. I never could have that talk with my dad, ’cause he’s gone. Um, my mother was very good. She was a Christian but she was extremely rigid. And so I didn’t like that rigidity.
BENYOLA: Legalistic rigid?
STARKWEATHER: Yeah, very much so. Not on herself. [laughs] I think her concern was she didn’t want me to stray. And in that sense, I appreciated her. That was wonderful that she really cared that much about me, but she could be destructive in the way that she did things. So I began to get curious. I went to that church and then at about 16, um, I went to a camp in which I was a counselor. So we had, like 12 kids and my job was to keep them pulled apart or lined up or whatever I had to do for this sort of thing. We had a wonderful pastor who came and gave church services, and I found the Lord there. I think part of it was that I was in my own element and the Spirit just spoke to me. I stayed in the church that I was in until I was 21. We were married in that church.