Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.

Cornell University plans to offer a course this summer on intelligent design, using textbooks by leading proponents of the controversial theory of origins.

The Ivy League school’s course – “Evolution and Design: Is There Purpose in Nature?” – aims to “sort out the various issues at play, and to come to clarity on how those issues can be integrated into the perspective of the natural sciences as a whole.”

The announcement comes just half a year after Cornell President Hunter Rawlings III denounced intelligent design as a “religious belief masquerading as a secular idea.”

Cornell President Hunter Rawlings

Proponents of intelligent design say it draws on recent discoveries in physics, biochemistry and related disciplines that indicate some features of the natural world are best explained as the product of an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection. Supporters include scientists at numerous universities and science organizations worldwide.

Taught by senior lecturer Allen MacNeill of the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology department, Cornell’s four-credit seminar course will use books such as “Debating Design,” by William Dembski and Michael Ruse; and “Darwin’s Black Box,” by Michael Behe.

MacNeill plans to examine historical disputes surrounding evolution.

The university’s Intelligent Design Evolution Awareness club said that while it’s been on the opposite side of MacNeill in many debates, it has appreciated his “commitment to the ideal of the university as a free market-place of ideas.”

“We have found him always ready to go out of his way to encourage diversity of thought, and his former students speak highly of his fairness,” the group said. “We look forward to a course where careful examination of the issues and critical thinking is encouraged.”

Intelligent design has been virtually shut out of public high schools across the nation. In December, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones’ gave a stinging rebuke to a Dover, Pa., school board policy that required students of a ninth-grade biology class to hear a one-minute statement that says evolution is a theory, and intelligent design “is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view.”

Jones determined Dover board members violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban on congressional establishment of religion and charged that several members lied to cover their motives even while professing religious beliefs.

“The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy,” Jones wrote. “It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.”

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