The University of Kansas announced last week it will be offering a course this spring focusing on the "religious mythologies" of intelligent design and creationism.
"We think teaching about controversial topics is definitely something that universities should do," KU spokesperson Lynn Bretz said. "It's especially appropriate, we think, that it be taught as an academic subject in a religious studies class."
After announcing the course last week, Bretz said her office has received a considerable amount of feedback from students and communities members, some of whom take issue with the university's labeling of intelligent design as a "religious mythology."
"I think there's a lot of discussion about it," she said, noting the feedback has been "pretty polarized" and "split evenly" between supporters and detractors.
The state of Kansas long has been at the helm of a nationwide controversy regarding how evolution and intelligent design should be taught, if at all, in public-school science classrooms.
Earlier this month, the state's Board of Education — which governs K-12 schools but not the public universities — voted to include criticism of evolutionary theory in the curriculum of science classes.
"The president of the United States has even commented about what he thinks about the teaching of intelligent design and evolution, [so] it's certainly a prevalent topic," Bretz said.
University of Wisconsin history of science professor Ronald Numbers, who said he has both lectured and written on creationism, intelligent design and evolution, supported the teaching of intelligent design separate from the scientific teaching of evolution.
"I wouldn't have any objection to studying that and or to teaching it myself," Numbers said. "It wouldn't be an inappropriate subject as long as it's being looked at in what academics call a critical way."
Numbers criticized the movement toward teaching intelligent design as a valid scientific theory, as he said its proponents are trying to redefine the scientific method.
"It is essentially, I think, religious, although the advocates of intelligent design say that it's scientific," he said. "One of the things they're trying to do is change the very definition of what it means to be scientific."
For at least a couple of hundred years, Numbers commented, that has meant explaining nature's workings naturally, without attributing them to God.
"They're saying that supernatural explanations should be allowed to count as part of science," he added.
Paul Mirecki, chair of the KU religious studies department, will be teaching the course. Enrollment for the class has not yet begun. According to Bretz, Mirecki is a renowned expert in ancient Biblical languages, and said one his books actually "unearthed a lost gospel."
"Creationism is mythology," Mirecki said in an interview with the Lawrence Journal-World, a newspaper in the same city as KU. "Intelligent design is mythology. It's not science. They try to make it sound like science. It clearly is not."