“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.’”
- Professor Paul Mirecki
Chairperson, Department of Religious Studies, University of Kansas
“I have assured the provost of the university that I will teach the course … as a serious academic subject and in a manner that respects all points of view.”
- Professor Mirecki, in his subsequent apology for the remarks above
“…it is especially appropriate that intelligent design and creationism be treated as academic subjects in a university-level religious studies class.”
- David Shulenburger
Provost, University of Kansas
Just the latest from the state of Kansas, sports fans! (A reminder: I live in Missouri.) Kansas’s new slogan is, “As big as you think.” And if this is an example of how big they think, it must be a very small state, indeed. ;) The story in the Kansas City Star this morning was accompanied by a kick-butt column by Mike Hendricks, who gets the award for the quip of the day:
“But as everyone knows, spite is never an accepted rationale for offering a college course, except those math courses that English majors are required to take.” Nice one!
As far as I can tell, at first Mirecki wanted to teach ID as a “special topic in religion” in the realm of mythology out of spite, in order to make a political statement and make a jab, er…I mean “slap” at religious fundamentalists in his state. Specifically, a “slap in their big fat face.” (Sidebar: Who says things like “big fat face” and they’re not in junior high school?) But now that his email got into the public discourse, he is back-tracking as fast as possible.
Now he and the provost are rushing to claim that intelligent design is actually a serious academic subject, something it most definitely is not. It is an article of faith, and a weak one, at that. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t intelligent design based on being UNable to explain what you see? As in, “Golly, that amoeba is complicated; I’ll never be able to explain that; someone smarter than me must have designed it; I know – let’s call it an ‘intelligent designer.’” Then we decide if this intelligent designer exists and who s/he is based on our faith experience. That’s pretty much it, isn’t it?
And aren’t academic subjects, on the other hand, based on being ABLE to explain what you see? As in, “Golly, that amoeba is complicated; let’s figure out a way we might be able to explain how it works.” Then you look at it closely and over time, learning more and more about it by observing it. What is “academic” about shrugging your shoulders and saying, “I dunno” when confronted by life’s most difficult questions?
And think about it, what is even “faithful” about such an approach? Should we really, created in the image of God as we are, think that anything too complex for our minds to grasp is an unexplainable phenomenon that only God can know? Another option might be to put our God-given intellectual capacity to good use by diving deeply into the questions of life, death, and the natural world. Quoting someone famous whose name I can't remember, “I can’t believe that God designed a human being with a mind we’re not supposed to use.”
Contemplating the idea that God created the world is a serious academic endeavor; and at the same time it is a rigorous discipline of faith. But Intelligent Design Theory seems to me to reduce the holy power of the Creator of the cosmos to a watered down, “children’s sermon” answer to a profound and challenging question. Intelligent Design is bad theology, because it minimizes the human capacity for curiosity and neglects the profound drive to discover meaning in the midst of the milieu of life.
Clearly, there are things about life that are outside of Darwin’s realm – like sunsets, Mozart, or being ticklish. And also, there are things about life Intelligent Design cannot explain – think of the appendix, racism, or phlegm. I guess I’m trying to say that life is complicated, and neither science nor religion can answer all of our questions. So why do we waste so much energy and time trying to keep them separate?
Anyone who tries ought to be slapped in their big fat face!