K-State, others tackling intelligent design in classroom

As Kansas University professor Paul Mirecki makes national headlines for his failed bid to teach an intelligent design course, other professors across the state are hitting the controversial theory without making a ripple.

“We’d like some attention … ” said Andrew Arana, a Kansas State University faculty member who helped create a class through KSU’s Center for the Understanding of Origins.

Program participants have included familiar faces in the intelligent design debate like Michael Ruse, a Florida State University philosophy professor, but they haven’t been enough to boost interest.

“It hasn’t gotten any media coverage,” Arana said, “and I guess that’s OK.”

While no other Kansas institutions have drawn the attention that KU has in recent weeks, neither have they made statements that have been as provocative as Mirecki’s. He referred to fundamentalists as “fundies” and said the class would “be a nice slap in their big fat face …”

KU’s was “a unique situation that had to do with specific comments made by a professor,” said Donna Shank, chairwoman of the Kansas Board of Regents.

Courses on special current topics can arise simply from the brainstorming of faculty.

At KU, typically if a special-topics course gets departmental approval, it’s a go.

K-State’s course draws on faculty from several departments, including physics, biology, English and philosophy. The class includes science discussion punctuated by commentary on how to understand information from a philosopher’s point of view. Arana said the course’s planners would like more attention because they were seeking outside support.

At Pittsburg State University, philosophy professor Don Viney plans to discuss intelligent design in a Philosophy of Religion course. He said intelligent design was a new version of an argument philosophers had been debating and teaching for years.

Even elsewhere at KU, intelligent design is discussed without controversy. Walter Dimmick, associate professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology, said he taught students in his introduction to evolutionary biology course about natural theology and beliefs at the time of Charles Darwin. These topics are a starting point to his course on evolution.

“Young people need to have an understanding of what science is and what science is not,” Dimmick said.

Dimmick, who has taught this introductory class for three years, has never stirred controversy in or out of the classroom. Part of this may be due to his approach.

“It’s not my job to try and change their religious beliefs,” he said.

Some courses on the topic have failed even to excite students.

Emporia State University professor Richard Schrock offered a course on intelligent design for teachers in training last summer, but there wasn’t enough interest to fill a classroom.

“I’m getting pretty much a universal response that they’re very, very tired of the issue,” Schrock said.

K-State’s course also hasn’t seen the high numbers planners had sought.

“It just didn’t get the initial interest that we thought it would,” Arana said. “We’re going to keep doing it.”

Shank said she expected more courses on the topic to be introduced, and she hoped people move past KU’s controversy.

“I don’t think that all other courses on the subject ought to be scrutinized because of this one situation,” she said.