When Paul Mirecki, chairman of the Kansas University (USA) religious studies department, sent several emails about the new course he would be teaching next spring, he most certainly never expected to see the emails discussed in international headlines, let alone outside the confines of the Yahoo listserv, the Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics (SOMA).
Falling on the heels of successful efforts by the Kansas State Board of Education to include more criticism of evolution in its standards for teaching science, the announcement about the upcoming course, “Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies,” hit the electronic highway and reports from CNN, AP, numerous daily papers and TV stations across the country immediately followed.
Based on Mirecki’s email below, the response by intelligent design advocates and creationists (angered by his choice of titles) was exactly what he had hoped for. Things got even more heated when his emails were made public and became fodder for the media. According to an article in the National Review Online (November 30), the purpose of the course was not education-it was theater.
Addressing the SOMA group (the 120-member campus group he mentors) as “my fellow damned,” his email, sent on November 19 and printed in the National Review article, included the following statements:
Its [sic] true, the fundies have been wanting to get I.D. and creationism into the Kansas public schools, so I thought ‘why don‘t I do it?’ I will teach the class with several other lefty KU professors ... The fundies want it all taught in a science class, but this will be a nice slap in the big fat face ... I expect it will draw much media attention. The university public relations office will have a press release out in a few weeks. I also have contacts at several regional newspapers.
According to numerous reports, Mirecki signed off with: “Doing my part to [tick] off the religious right, Evil Dr. P.”
Elsewhere in the heated culture war over teaching origins, the state school board in Alabama recently voted unanimously to keep a disclaimer in biology textbooks that describes evolution as a “controversial theory” after no one in the audience disputed the label which had previously generated a heated debate.
According to an MSNBC report (November 10), the board, in its vote to accept a committee’s recommendation of science textbooks, agreed to continue carrying the disclaimer which calls evolution “controversial” in the first paragraph and adds in another paragraph that any statement about the origin of life is “not fact.”
Meanwhile, back in Dover, Pennsylvania where the battle waged in federal court for six weeks in the landmark case of Kitzmiller et al. vs. Dover Area School District, anticipation continues to build for the ruling (expected in January 2006) by Judge E. Jones III.
“Creationism is mythology,” Mirecki said in a USA Today article (November 22, 2005). “Intelligent design is mythology. It’s not science. They try to make it sound like science. It clearly is not.”
Critics, such as John Altevogt, a columnist and political activist in Kansas City, were quick to respond to the inappropriately titled course in various news articles. Altevogt, who was reportedly the one to blow the whistle on the embarrassing email, said in a November 23 Lawrence Journal-World article that “state officials should require the university to change the name of the Department of Religious Studies to the ‘Department of Religious Intolerance.’”
According to an Associated Press article, on November 28, Mirecki submitted a written apology in which he said he would teach the planned class “as a serious academic subject and in a manner that respects all points of view.”
Many, including Rep. Brenda Landwehr, vice chairwoman of the Kansas House Appropriations Committee, didn’t buy Mirecki’s apology. In a KCTV-5 News article, Landwehr, who called his email “venomous,” said, “He’s not sorry he wrote it. He’s sorry it became public.”
The same day the apology was made, the department faculty approved the course but removed the reference to mythology, renaming it “Intelligent Design and Creationism.”
Two days later (November 30), Mirecki canceled the class, according to an Associated Press report (December 1). Twenty-five students had enrolled in the course.
How sad that a university’s religious studies department has an “Evil Dr. P” leading (or rather misleading) the next generation. Although this is a secular college, is this what one would expect from the department of religious studies? This is just one example of how the battle zone in today’s cultural war can sometimes be blurred. Many times, the enemy can be found within. But what this professor meant for evil, God meant for good.