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Defend Science Commentary
Prof. Paul Mirecki (Univ.
of Kansas) attacked for planning a course teaching "Intelligent Design"
Prof. Paul Mirecki, the head
of the Religious Studies department at the University of Kansas, had
planned to teach a course this coming semester on "intelligent design"
in the context of studying religious myths. He had the support of
the administration, a number of other faculty and a planned
enrollment of 120. The chancellor of the university had openly
written in support of defending evolution. It would have been a very
Instead, within a few short
weeks, these actions triggered death threats and a national campaign
from Christian Fundamentalist right wing forces inside and outside of
government calling for his resignation. He was then reportedly hunted
down and beaten by two attackers angered by his course. He reports he
was forced to resign from his post as the Chair of the Religious
Studies Department and he has ended up with his career ruined.
We would like to share with
all of you a few more comments from the perspective of "Defend Science"
on this and to make a special call.
1. Paul Mirecki is a
respected tenured professor at the University of Kansas since 1989 and
for the last three years, until pushed out of office, the Chairman of
the Religious Studies department. Among his most significant academic
work was the discovery and deciphering of an ancient manuscript
containing a lost gospel, a document that sheds new light on the
origins of early Christianity.
2. He has taken a courageous
stand in defence of science. A key part of the political methodology of
the "Intelligent Design" political operatives, one of their main planks
has been the seemingly oh-so-democratic call to "teach the
controversy". Of course, they mean "in the science classroom". Prof.
Mirecki took up their challenge and planned a course to teach ID in its
proper context, as the scientific community has long correctly called
for, in the Religious Studies department:
REL 602 Special Topics in
Intelligent Design, Creationisms and other Religious Mythologies
Prof. Mirecki described the
course, I won't actually be teaching I.D. and creationisms, but
rather I'll be teaching ABOUT I.D. and creationisms as modern
mythologies, indicating that these ideas have no place in a public
school science class, but can certainly be analyzed in humanities
classes for their function in society. Basic approach is my usual:
anthropology with a focus on religious thought and behavior."
3. The overall attacks that
faced came from a politically organized force. Mirecki said in his
press statement: "I see the religious right as an extremely
organized national political movement." An article in the
Lawrence Journal-World describes how they operated:
"If not for John
Edwardsville real estate broker, many of the people who became
outraged by Kansas University professor Paul Mirecki’s comments
might never have learned of them. Altevogt ... is the conservative
activist and Internet discussion board contributor who compiled and
spread Mirecki’s remarks across the online Kansas Conservative
Network mailing list. Within hours, conservative Kansas lawmakers
were raging. Some called for public hearings about Mirecki’s plan
to teach a religious studies course on the controversial topic of
intelligent design. Mirecki pledged to teach creationism and
intelligent design as mythology. 'John is very effective at what he
does,' said Cindy Duckett, founder of Kansas Conservative Network. 'I
think he has voiced an opinion that is shared with very, very many on
this particular issue.'"
This was quickly followed by:
"State Sen. Karin
R-Olathe, met with KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway for more than an
hour Monday, and some lawmakers are calling for full-blown hearings
when the Legislature convenes in January." (Lawrence Journal-World,
Dec. 10, 2005)
This overall attack reveals the
fanatical absolutist world-view behind those honey-soaked words about
"teaching the controversy" - this
is a continuing central part of the overall attack on critical
reasoning, the scientific method and on science as science.
As our Defend Science
IN THE UNITED
SCIENCE, AS SCIENCE, IS UNDER ATTACK AS NEVER BEFORE.
signs of this are everywhere. The attacks are coming at an
accelerating pace, and include frequent interventions by powerful
forces, in and out of the Bush Administration, who seem all too
willing to deny scientific truths, disrupt scientific investigations,
block scientific progress, undermine scientific education, and
sacrifice the very integrity of the scientific process itself -- all
in the pursuit of implementing their particular political agenda. And
today this dominant political agenda is profoundly allied and
intertwined with an extremist (and extremely anti-science)
ideological agenda put forward by powerful fundamentalist religious
forces commonly known as the Religious Right. These fundamentalists
now have extensive influence and representatives in major
institutions of the U.S. government, including Congress and the White
House. This itself goes a long way towards explaining why science
itself is under such unprecedented attack.
4. The Christian
has been working overtime to justify and add to the attack on Prof.
Mirecki by trying to smear his name. Part of this is saying he was
The stand of the Defend Science
initiative is very clear on this question, as expressed in our
statement as follows:
who continue to hold religious beliefs can and should rally to this
call to DEFEND SCIENCE. This is not about science trying to destroy
religion. It is about defending science from a specific right-wing
political agenda which, coupled with a fundamentalist,
Biblical-literalist religious ideology, is setting out to implement a
program that will fundamentally pervert and undermine science and the
scientific process itself."
Whatever one's opinion
about some of Prof. Mirecki's reported comments about "fundies",
comments ripped out of emails on a private university listserv, it is
clear that he was not intending to attack religion in general, but the
same "specific right-wing political agenda ... coupled with a
fundamentalist, Biblical-literalist religious ideology". In this he
must be supported.
5. It is
shameful that the
University of Kansas has not fully supported Prof. Mirecki and has
apparently capitulated to the Christian Fundamentalist right in
pressuring Prof. Mirecki to resign from his post as Chairman of the
Religious Studies Department. This is particularly distressing given
that the university board has been generally supportive of academic
freedom and the Chancellor has openly written in support of
evolution. The university should reverse these bad decisions. And
given that Prof. Mirecki has been beaten and subjected to death
threats he remains in danger and all of us who stand in defence of
science must "have his back".
In the wake
of the recent
welcome victory against those pushing ID in Dover, PA - in the court
and in the school board election - we must understand well that these
forces attacking science in our society are not going to rest - they
are not going away - they are not going to "heed the wise words
of the judge (in the Dover case)" as some would have it.
The attack on
Mirecki should make that quite clear. And the drumbeat of attacks on
science is in no way letting up or confined to issues of science
education and evolution. Just to give one of many attacks we have
learned of since our original statement was first issued: Susan
Wood, the Bush-appointed director of FDA's Office of Women's Health
resigned in protest after the
FDA postponed indefinitely its decision on whether to allow the
morning-after pill, called Plan B, to sell without a prescription. Dr.
Wood's resignation letter read (in part):
can no longer serve as staff when scientific and clinical evidence,
fully evaluated and recommended for approval by the professional
staff here, has been overruled, ... The recent decision announced by
the Commissioner about emergency contraception, which continues to
limit women's access to a product that would reduce unintended
pregnancies and reduce abortions, is contrary to my core commitment
to improving and advancing women's health."
we ask as a one part of an appropriate response to this attack on
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