Chat with J-W’s Sophia Maines and Scott Rothschild about KU and intelligent design

Welcome to our online chat with J-W’s Sophia Maines and Scott Rothschild about KU and intelligent design.

The chat took place on Wednesday, November 30, at 1:15 PM and is now closed, but you can read the full transcript on this page.

Moderator: Hi folks. We’ll get underway on our chat with Scott and Sophia in just a few minutes.

Moderator: And here we go….

Larry Fafarman, Los Angeles: Will the course study intelligent design from a scientific standpoint or not? I wish someone would straighten that out.

Sophia Maines: I’ll take that one Scott. It’s obviously a key point that the course will be offered in the Department of Religious Studies. Prof. Mirecki has said the course will cover the origins of creationism, why it’s an American phenomenon and why Americans have allowed it to pervade politics and education. Also, the course starts with the assumption that intelligent design is not science.

Merrill, Lawrence: This is a question of legislators micromanaging a university and in a large way the public school system as well. We see this in Bob Corkins as well. It is certainly not the job of legislators to micromanage out school systems or to worry about a personal message some professor put out on a chatboard.

What is their point?

Any creationism supporters ought to be thankful that a higher education school decided to provide

a venue for a very public discussion of creationism . What’s the problem?

Journal-World higher education reporter Sophia Maines responds to reader's questions online.

Scott Rothschild: Merrill — Legislators who sometimes get into the business of the universities say they have to answer to their constituents who bring up concerns. Public higher education gets a big chunk of its funds from state taxpayers and student tuition, so they are in part accountable to the Legislature.

It usually depends on whether you agree with the legislator if you think they are unduly micromanaging.

On the issue of whether creationists should be thankful that a class is being offered, I think some are.

Ronald Pine, Lawrence: What can you tell us about how the quotes were extracted from Dr. Mirecki’s listserve communication and who did it? Also, what can you tell us about how the press was contacted?

Sophia Maines: The Journal-World received a copy of the e-mail from John Altevogt, a conservative activist in Kansas City. Altevogt sent the e-mail not only to the Journal-World, but several media outlets. To date, Altevogt has not said how he received the e-mail.

John, Lawrence: Is anybody really angry over the fact that KU’s religious studies department would offer a class dealing with intelligent design and creationism? Or is everyone just mad about the tone of Professor Mirecki’s e-mail?

Scott Rothschild: John — Legislators I have talked with who are angry about this situation say they were first put off by the title of the course, equating creationism with mythology. This just fed into the sentiment held by some that the university is elitist or that Judeo-Christian beliefs are snickered at. The revelation of the email just added fuel to the fire. Another concern by several lawmakers, who have now gotten into this, is whether the course measures up to graduate level work.

Badger, Austin TX: Someone may have already asked this, as I’m ‘submitting the question early’, but if attacking ID is, as some have stated, ‘anti-Christian’, then how is supporting it not ‘pro-Christian’? For folks who say their view isn’t based in religion, they sure do run pretty fast to claim religious discrimination. I don’t understand how that logic works. Can you explain it?

Sophia Maines: That’s a good question, and one that has been raised by opponents of Intelligent Design. I think that’s a question that could best be answered by a proponent of Intelligent Design.

Scott Rothschild: Badger: There have been statements all over the board on this. I suspect folks will jump on either side of this to bolster their arguments. I have spoken to all of lot of Christians who will have nothing to do with ID.

Veronica, Lawrence: If he would have made these remarks about another religious or ethnic group would his punishment from KU been more rigorous than a slap on the wrist and a forced public apology?

Scott Rothschild: Veronica — I don’t know how the university would have reacted, and I don’t know if you could substitute another religious or ethnic group into those remarks. There is a huge, volatile debate going on in Kansas over intelligent design and there are things being said on both sides that many people would consider intemperate.

Wonderhorse, Lawrence: How are legislators necessarily equipped to say what does or does not constitute graduate level work?

Scott Rothschild: Wonderhorse: Legislators are like everyone else, they’ve got an opinion. Some are probably better equipped than others to make this determination, but that won’t stop any of them. Again, when they get complaints from people about something, they have a duty to get involved.

Sophia Maines: As for the creation of courses, faculty do have discretion in developing classes and teaching. As we’re seeing in this case, courses can be reviewed by others in the university.

Chris, Shawnee: Those in the legislature and on the school board have been very quick to criticize and engage in name-calling with Dr. Mirecki and the KU administration without even looking at a course outline for the proposed class. As journalists, what can you do to make sure readers know the full story â⠔ that they haven’t even looked at how the class will be taught and already are criticizing the university and the professor in a seemingly unfair manner.

Sophia Maines: Chris, some who have voiced concerns have admitted they don’t have all the facts and have said they want more information. In today’s story, for example, Rep. Brenda Landwehr said she wants to learn more. As for giving readers the full story, today’s story also reports in the eighth graph that a course description, reading list and syllabus aren’t available yet.

Scott Rothschild: Chris: Religion is a touchy subject. The legislators who have criticized the course believe they are victims of someone equating their religion with mythology. No one wants their beliefs scorned. It seems the university should make the case that one of its jobs is to be provocative and challenge students and their world views, while still being respectful.

Fred, Topeka: I recently read a Columbia Journal Review article criticizing the local Kansas news media for allowing equal representation of non fact-based theories of evolution. The article stated that equal representation often confuses readers and gives credence to an unproven theory. The CJR article also criticized local papers for not taking a pro-evolution stance within the editorial pages of the newspapers. How can newspapers, which should be fact-based entities, do a better job of presenting unpopular views (science-driven) and not worry about being fair & balanced, when it flies in the face of hard science.

Moderator (Joel Mathis): I’ll answer this one.

In nearly all of our stories on the intelligent design/evolution controversy, we’ve tried to note that the vast majority of mainstream scientists support evolution and reject intelligent design as a scientific theory — the latter because, they say, intelligent design is not “falsifiable” or “testable.”

That said, while scientists don’t see a controversy regarding this subject, there is a cultural and social debate that’s going on here — and it demands coverage.

As for the editorial stance — you’ll have to talk to our editorial writers about that topic. Our news reporters don’t get involved on that front.

Moderator (Joel Mathis): Thanks for your participation today! Sorry we weren’t able to get to all the questions — we’ll do this again soon.