Intelligent design - already the planned subject of a controversial Kansas University seminar this spring - will make its way into a second KU classroom in the fall, this time labeled as a "pseudoscience."
In addition to intelligent design, the class Archaeological Myths and Realities will cover such topics as UFOs, crop circles, extrasensory perception and the ancient pyramids.
John Hoopes, associate professor of anthropology, said the course focused on critical thinking and taught how to differentiate science and "pseudoscience." Intelligent design belongs in the second category, he said, because it cannot be tested and proven false.
"I think this is very important for students to be articulate about - they need to be able to define and recognize pseudoscience," Hoopes said.
Evolution in Kansas
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News of the new class provided fresh fuel to conservatives already angered that KU planned to offer a religious studies class this spring on intelligent design as "mythology."
"The two areas that KU is trying to box this issue into are completely inappropriate," said Brian Sandefur, a mechanical engineer in Lawrence who has been a vocal proponent of intelligent design.
Intelligent design is the idea that life is too complex to have evolved without a "designer," presumably a god or other supernatural being. That concept is at the heart of Kansas' new public school science standards - greatly ridiculed by the mainstream science community but lauded by religious conservatives - that critique the theory of evolution.
Hoopes said his class would be a version of another course, titled Fantastic Archaeology, which he helped develop as a graduate student at Harvard University.
The course will look at the myths people have created to explain mysterious occurrences, such as crop circles, which some speculate were caused by extraterrestrials.
The course will explore how myth can be created to negative effects, as in the case of the "myth of the moundbuilders." In early American history, some people believed the earthen mounds found primarily in the area of the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys were the works of an ancient civilization destroyed by American Indians. The myth contributed to the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which relocated American Indians east of the Mississippi to lands in the west, Hoopes said.
"It was that popular explanation that then became a cause for genocide," Hoopes said.
That example shows the need to identify pseudoscience, he said.
"What I'm trying to do is deal with pseudoscience regardless of where it's coming from," he said.
But Sandefur said intelligent design was rooted in chemistry and molecular biology, not religion, and it should be discussed in science courses.
"The way KU is addressing it I think is completely inadequate," he said.
Hoopes said he hoped his class stirs controversy. He said students liked to discuss topics that are current and relevant to their lives.
"Controversy makes people think," he said. "The more controversy, the stronger the course is."
Events surrounding course under review
Kansas University is examining circumstances surrounding a religion mythologies course that includes topics about intelligent design and creationism. KU officials need to "review the whole matter and sort things out," Chancellor Robert Hemenway said Saturday. The review was spurred by recent publicity about an e-mail written by Paul Mirecki, chairman of KU's religious studies department, concerning the course Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and Other Religious Mythologies. Intelligent design proponents are unhappy about intelligent design being taught as a myth, and e-mail comments attributed to Mirecki that were posted on a Web site made them angrier. In the e-mail, Mirecki wrote: "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." "All the information we've had has come from the Internet, and so we just need to have time to talk to Dr. Mirecki and make sure things that are attributed to him are things that he actually said or were actually written and also look at the process by which all of this has come to be," Hemenway said.