Beckwith has defended the pro-life position on abortion and the constitutional permissibility of the teaching of intelligent design in public schools. Beckwith is a former fellow at the Discovery Institute, the "hub of the intelligent design movement," and a former member of the advisory board for the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Center. As of late 2007, he is a fellow at The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity (CBHD); and a professor at Baylor's Institute for the Studies of Religion (ISR). In 2007, he converted to Catholicism from Protestant Evangelicalism.
Beckwith was born in New York City. He is a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (B.A. in Philosophy), Simon Greenleaf School of Law, Anaheim (M.A. in apologetics), Fordham University (Ph.D. and M.A. in philosophy) and the Washington University School of Law, St. Louis (Master of Juridical Studies).
A condensed version of Beckwith's 1984 M.A. thesis on the Bahá'í Faith was published by Bethany House in 1985.
Other social ethics questions to which he has contributed include the influence of relativism on public culture, affirmative action and discrimination, same-sex marriage, bioethics generally (including cloning), and the interpretation of constitutional issues as they touch on religious liberty and practices, such as the inclusion of intelligent design in public school science curricula.
Beckwith has held academic appointments at Whittier College (1996–1997) and Trinity International University (1997–2002).
In November 2005, Beckwith became the president-elect of the Evangelical Theological Society, a professional organization of theologians. He is also a member of the American Philosophical Association's Committee on Philosophy and Law.
In May 2007 Professor Beckwith made public his conversion to the Roman Catholic Church, which took place in late April 2007, and he resigned as both President of the Evangelical Theological Society and member of the society, effective May 7, 2007.
He now resides with his wife in Texas.
Beckwith denies being an intelligent design advocate and claims that his interests lie in the legal and cultural questions raised by the movement. Beckwith has stated that although he is sympathetic to the intelligent design movement, he thinks it mistakenly accepts "the modern idea that an Enlightenment view of science is the paradigm of knowledge." Critics of intelligent design, such as Barbara Forrest, consider Beckwith a proponent. The Thomas More Law Center, which defended the pro-ID Dover Area School District in the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover litigation, considered him enough of a proponent to ask him to testify as an expert witness in the case, but he declined. Beckwith often speaks on the legal permissibility of teaching intelligent design in public school science classes, arguing that it is legally permissible and arguing against the ruling in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District that intelligent design is essentially religious in nature, a form of creationism, and thus its teaching as science in public schools violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. He provided much of the legal reasoning and justification behind the claim of the Discovery Institute that intelligent design is not a religious belief and maintains that the religious motives of the policy's supporters, which he says the judge in the case relied on, should have no bearing on assessing the constitutionality of the policy, since a motive is a belief and the federal courts have, in other contexts, forbidden the government's assessing of beliefs. Beckwith is closely tied to the Discovery Institute intelligent design campaigns, both from his arguments and writings being often repeated and promoted by the Discovery Institute and by receiving support from the Institute during his tenure controversy. Beckwith endorsed fellow Discovery Institute Fellow Richard Weikart's controversial book, From Darwin to Hitler, Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics and Racism in Germany. However, Beckwith writes of his unease, in a post for the Biologos Foundation, with intelligent design theory because of his commitment to classical Christian philosophy:
"I had begun to better appreciate why some Christian philosophers (mostly Catholic ones), all influenced by St. Thomas Aquinas, never jumped on the ID bandwagon.... I had not properly thought through the implications of ID for a Christian philosophy of nature. For this reason, I am now convinced that my initial and growing unease with the Behe/Dembski arguments arose precisely because my Thomist philosophy could not accommodate them.... During that time I was beginning to think more critically of the Behe/Dembski arguments as I brought Thomist philosophy to bear on them."
In 2003, shortly after his appointment as associate director of the J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor, 29 members of the Dawson family called on Baylor University to remove Beckwith as associate director. In a letter the Dawson family members questioned the appointment of Beckwith, accusing him of holding church-state positions contrary to the strong stand for separation advocated by Dawson: "We are troubled because Dr. Beckwith is a fellow of the Discovery Institute. The activities of this organization are widely recognized in the academic community as engaging in political activities that contravene the fundamental principle of the separation of church and state for which J.M. Dawson stood....
"The Discovery Institute works to get the concept called 'intelligent design' into the science curriculum of public school textbooks, claiming that intelligent design is a scientific, not a religious, concept. In our judgment and in the judgment of the scientific community, this is a ruse for getting a religious notion into the public schools--clearly a violation of the separation of church and state."
According to a March 31, 2006 BPNews article, Beckwith stated that he was following an appeals process to have the decision reversed. In early September 2006, stories concerning the reasons for Beckwith's denial of tenure and the political intrigue behind it were published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. On September 22, 2006, Beckwith won his appeal and was tenured by Baylor University. The Discovery Institute, where Beckwith served as a Fellow, lobbied extensively on his behalf during the controversy, comparing him to others connected to the Institute who have alleged academic or employment discrimination for their advocacy of intelligent design such as Richard Sternberg and his peer review controversy. Beckwith also received support from an opponent of intelligent design, Ed Brayton, on his blog Dispatches from the Culture War.