Topeka Critics of a Kansas University course on intelligent design say an e-mail written by the professor proves the course is meant to mock religious fundamentalists.
KU Provost David Shulenburger said Wednesday he regretted the words used in the e-mail, but he backed the professor and the course, maintaining it would be taught in a professional manner like all other courses.
In a recent message on a Yahoo listserv - a venue where groups of people post questions and comments on a particular topic - Paul Mirecki, chairman of KU's department of religious studies, described his upcoming course "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationisms and other Religious Mythologies."
"The fundies want it all taught in a science class, but this will be a nice slap in their big fat face by teaching it as a religious studies class under the category 'mythology,'" Mirecki wrote.
He signed the note "Doing my part (to upset) the religious right, Evil Dr. P."
"My understanding was that was a private e-mail communication that somehow was moved out of those channels and has become a public document," Shulenburger said.
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- U.S. District Court Ruling in Kitzmiller et al v. Dover Area School District (PDF)
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- Parody: Intelligent Design Society of Kansas
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The course follows the Kansas Board of Education's recent adoption of new public school science standards that critique the theory of evolution.
State Sen. Karin Brownlee, R-Olathe, said the comments concerned her.
"His intent to make a mockery of Christian beliefs is inappropriate," she said.
Mirecki said he wrote the message in a private e-mail and that an outsider had accessed the listserv.
"They had been reading my e-mails all along," he said. "Where are the ethics in that, I ask."
When asked about his reaction to the outrage voiced by conservatives, Mirecki said: "A lot of people are mad about what's going on in Kansas, and I'm one of them."
Plenty of controversy
Mirecki's course is planned for next semester.
It will explore intelligent design, the idea that life is too complex to have evolved without a "designer," presumably a god or other supernatural being. It will cover the origins of creationism, why it's an American phenomenon and why Americans have allowed it to pervade politics and education.
The course has ignited a firestorm, with Mirecki at the center of the controversy.
"This man is a hateful man," said state Sen. Kay O'Connor, R-Olathe. "Are we supposed to be using tax dollars to promote hatred?"
But he also has supporters.
Tim Miller, a fellow professor in the department of religious studies, said intelligent design proponents are reacting to having their beliefs held up to scrutiny.
"They want their religion taught as fact," Miller said. "That's simply something you can't do in a state university."
Hume Feldman, associate professor of physics and astronomy, said he planned to be a guest lecturer in the course. As a scientist, he said he believed the department of religious studies was a good place for intelligent design.
"I think that is exactly the appropriate place to put these kinds of ideas," he said.
John Altevogt, a conservative columnist and activist in Kansas City, said the e-mail was the source of the latest controversy over the course.
"Absent this memo, there would be no controversy," Altevogt said. "He says he's trying to offend us. The entire tenor of this thing just reeks of religious bigotry."
Mirecki said intelligent design proponents were not education proponents.
"They're not for education," he said. "They're for indoctrination."
O'Connor said the recent moves by the state board of education were not about indoctrination.
"How is that indoctrination if you give permission to teach what somebody believes is the truth," O'Connor said.
She asked if Mirecki is allowed to teach his hatred, why can't others teach what they see as the truth.
"He wants me to say 'thank you' by giving more money," O'Connor said. "Who is the ignoramus here? Who is the uninformed one here? The professor with the degree or this high school graduate?"
Brownlee said she was watching to see how the university handled the e-mail.
"We have to set a standard that it's not culturally acceptable to mock Christianity in America," she said.