Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Answering Sal Cordova’s Questions

Sal Cordova is an ID advocate who teaches at (I think) George Mason University. He now blogs at Dembski’s home for wayward sycophants and comments there often. Lately he’s been pushing this notion that Jack Krebs and Nick Matzke refuse to answer this simple set of questions he poses. He apparently thinks that this is a very difficult question to answer and really reveal some flaw in our position. So much so that he can’t wait to get us in court to catch us in a Perry Mason moment. He’s brought it up in at least two comments (here and here) lately. Here’s how he phrased it in one of them:

In my interactions with Nick Matzke and Jack Krebs I asked if the following represents their views:

1. school children with creationist religious beliefs should have those religious beliefs changed since it impedes their scientific understanding

2. public schools are an appropriate means of changing their religious beliefs regarding origins since such beliefs are an impediment to their ability to do science

They didn’t answer.

And here is how he phrased it the second time:

The appropriate vise-strategy is to ask ID critics the following questions which will put them in an indefensible corner:

1. Is it possible ID and/or creationism are true?

2. Is it possible the mainstream view of origins is wrong?

3. Are ID and/or creationism religious views?

4. If so, is it proper to use public schools for the purpose of changing ID and/or creationist religious views?

Whichever way they answer, I think they’re hosed. I point out the apparent reluctance of Nick Matzke and Jack Krebs to answer a similar set of questions directly. They were able to elude the vise in the free domain of the internet. The critics will not be able to elude the vise in court.

I’m a bit perplexed by why he thinks this is such a conundrum for us. The answer to the question of whether it’s proper to “use public schools for the purpose of changing ID and/or creationist religious views” seems obvious to me: it’s completely irrelevant. What is proper and appropriate is for schools to teach scientific views that are well supported by the evidence and by the consensus of scientific opinion. The fact that this will sometimes conflict with a student’s religious views is completely irrelevant.

Evolution is taught in science classrooms because the evidence for evolution is overwhelming and obvious to 99.9% of the scientists in those fields that contribute to it, the same reason that we teach the theory of relativity, big bang cosmology and the germ theory of disease. If one is seriously going to make the argument that teaching evolution is illegitimate because it “uses public schools” for the purpose of changing the religious beliefs of creationists, then there is virtually nothing that could be taught in science.

Would Sal seriously argue that we teach heliocentricity in schools because we’re trying to change the beliefs of those who, for religious reasons, believe in geocentrism? There are lots of geocentrists around, particularly in hardcore Calvinist circles. Would he argue that we teach that the earth is spherical rather than flat for that purpose? There are lots of relligious flat earthers around too. Do we teach the germ theory of disease in order to change the minds of followers of the Christian Science religion? Do we teach that humans have only been on earth for a couple hundred thousand years in order to change the minds of Hindu children? Do we teach that hurricanes are the result of atmospheric interactions and earthquakes the result of tectonic shifting in order to change the minds of those who believe that such disasters are sent by God (or by Satan, for that matter)?

Of course not. We teach all of these things because they are well validated and strongly supported explanations with the weight of evidence and the overwhelming consensus of scholarly opinion to back them up. The fact that they happen to conflict with someone’s religious views simply has no relevance to whether they should or should not be taught. No one is required to change their minds, but nor should what we teach be determined by the religious views of the students.

I frankly find the idea that either Nick or Jack ducked these questions for lack of a good answer to be quite ridiculous. I know them both well enough to know that they would give essentially the same answer that I gave here. Neither of them would argue that school children should “have their religious views changed”, nor would they argue that the purpose of education should be to change them. They would simply argue that we should teach what is valid and supported, regardless of whether that happens to conflict with someone’s religious views.

Comments

  1. #1 RBH
    February 8, 2006

    Sal has at least two bachelor’s degrees, in math and physics, and (I think) is trying to get into a graduate program, possibly in cosmology. He certainly is not a professor at GMU or anywhere else.

    RBH

  2. #2 pimothy
    February 8, 2006

    Just because Sal could not answer his own questions does not mean that he should be projecting them onto others.

  3. #3 Roger Tang
    February 8, 2006

    I find Cordova to be astoundingly hypocritical, given his ducking of other people’s questions about ID.

    But that’s not surprising….

  4. #4 llane1@unl.edu
    February 8, 2006

    Sal’s interest is rhetoric, not science.

  5. #5 Flint
    February 8, 2006

    I think Sal is sincerely frustrated that the civil authority of the state is not being used to indoctrinate children with Sal’s religious beliefs. He sees this as a moral failure, which fortunately can be overcome (at least in principle) through political means. Any agency which could be used to drill Sal’s religion into everyone else but is not being so used represents a social failure, desperately in need of correction.

    Religion does this to people.

  6. #6 Mr. Upright
    February 8, 2006

    Ummm, those questions are rather trivial. You gave a good response, Ed. However, I’m afraid that anyone who thinks the questions are tough would not have an easy time with your answers.

    Maybe Krebs and Matzke answered, but he didn’t get it!

  7. #7 oolong
    February 8, 2006

    These questions are moronic.

    1. school children with creationist religious beliefs should have those religious beliefs changed since it impedes their scientific understanding

    Answer: No. Science does not teach religious beliefs.

    2. public schools are an appropriate means of changing their religious beliefs regarding origins since such beliefs are an impediment to their ability to do science

    Answer: No, same as above.

    1. Is it possible ID and/or creationism are true?

    Answer: Yes, but so what.

    2. Is it possible the mainstream view of origins is wrong?

    Answer: Yes, but possible doesn’t mean plausible, even if my students often confuse the two.

    3. Are ID and/or creationism religious views?

    Answer: Religious. And?

    4. If so, is it proper to use public schools for the purpose of changing ID and/or creationist religious views?

    Answer: No. Science doesn’t teach religion.

    Wow, I’m sweating from fear now that I’ve given those answers.

  8. #8 CanuckRob
    February 8, 2006

    Close but no intelligently designed cigar. A better version of #1 would be

    1. school children with creationist religious beliefs should have those religious beliefs changed since it is clear they have suffered from child abuse at the ahnds of their parents and other adults that should teach them how to think

    When looney parents risk their childrens lives by refusing transfusions or other effective medical treatment because of irrational belief systems the state may get involved to protect the minor. Why don’t they do the same with the mind abuse that religion in general and creationsism in particular represent? These IDiots are seriously screwed up.

  9. #9 Ocellated
    February 8, 2006

    Ed,

    Have pitty! You could hurt a man with a fisking so thorough and so simple as that…

    I too was greatly offended by the comments. He’s trying to phrase the question in such a way that he can claim anybody who doesn’t think ID is science wants to use public schools to brainwash the little ones…

    Cheap and dirty tactics indeed.

  10. #10 Jack Krebs
    February 8, 2006

    I just posted this over at Uncommon Descent in response to Salvador, but they usually censor my posts over there, so my response will probably not go through. Here is what I wrote:

    Salvador Cordova is entirely wrong when he says I refused to answer his questions.

    See http://www.kcfs.org/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=3;t=001303 for the thread in which I responded to him.

    In particular, I wrote, “Sal’s poll highlights a perpetual problem: some people’s religious beliefs include belief in statements which are scientifically investigateable, and thus run the risk of being determined to be wrong. (I say this with due understanding of the limited and tentative nature of science, but also with a great deal of respect for the core solidity of established science.)

    After quoting a post from Salvador at Telic Thoughts (http://telicthoughts.com/?p=525), I wrote.

    1. Note the totally unrealistic claim that if something (in this case, common descent) can’t absolutely be established, then other views should be mentioned to kids in school. This is wrong both about what we can expect from science and what we ought to teach in school (given our definitely finite amount of classroom time.)

    2. Note the emphasis on destroying religious belief. If one holds beliefs about how “God acts in the world” and in fact about how God has acted in the world (special creation, creation of the world in 6 days, global flood, etc.) that are open to scientific investigation, then I say again, one runs the risk of being shown to be wrong.

    This is a problem for the individual believer, but it is not and should not be a problem for either science or the public education system. I don’t say this flippantly: it is part of everyone’s spiritual life to assess one’s spiritual beliefs in light of what is known scientifically about the world (a core of cross-cultural knowledge) as well as in light of one’s knowledge of other people’s spiritual beliefs. If there are conflicts with either, it is not incumbent on others to change – it is up to oneself to decide whether to change one’s beliefs or live with the conflict.

    If someone believes in Biblical creation, they are going to be at odds with the world’s scientific viewpoint for the rest of their life. Parents of young children need to find a way to explain things to their children, as best they can, so those children will be prepared for the discrepancies they will find out in the world.”

    The conversation continued from there. I did not duck, nor have any reason to duck, Sal’s questions. The issue he raised is an important issue, and deserves discussion. I may not have answered Sal’s questions the way he wanted them answered, or even within the framework of his question as he worded it, but I was quite happy to answer.

  11. #11 Mr. Upright
    February 8, 2006

    Jack Krebs:

    Sal’s poll highlights a perpetual problem: some people’s religious beliefs include belief in statements which are scientifically investigateable, and thus run the risk of being determined to be wrong.

    Hear, hear!

    Here’s a religious belief: God created the universe in six days within the last 10,000 years, and left ample scientific evidence of that process. The overwelming evidence from the many fields of science clearly show this belief to be wrong. If you construct a falsifiable belief, be prepared to have it falsified!

    Whatever happened to Bryan’s attitude that he cared less about the age of rocks than the rock of ages?

  12. #12 plunge
    February 8, 2006

    Wow. That’s really just pathetic. I wonder if Sal will dodge this response.

  13. #13 Jack Krebs
    February 8, 2006

    Note: Uncommon Descent did post my response to Salvador. Good for them. I appreciate that.

  14. #14 tacitus
    February 8, 2006

    Jack, are you sure it’s public? I can’t find it on the same thread Cordova challenged you on. (It may still be in that moderator queue those chickens run over there).

  15. #15 tacitus
    February 8, 2006

    Oops – I see it now – was looking in the wrong thread.

  16. #16 Omega Blue
    February 9, 2006

    “school children with creationist religious beliefs should have those religious beliefs changed since it impedes their scientific understanding”

    Com’on, let them know both sides of the controversy.

  17. #17 wildlifer
    February 9, 2006

    If anyone thinks for a minute Sal is interested in serious discourse, they’re mistaken.
    All he’s interested in is scoring rhetorical points by “catching” scientists who may poorly construct their answer.

    He’s fishing for someone, anyone, who will answer in such a way, it can be misconstrued that they support schools changing – not just challenging with evidence – the parent’s indoctrination of the child. He’ll then quote-mine that snipit and post it as a confirmation of his beliefs. That’s why the questions are constructed in the manner they are.

    I recall once a thread on ARN that went on for hundreds of posts, with Pixie nailing him on point after point. When Sal finally realized his dishonesty was exposed for all to see, he said he’d only been “joking,” – for hundreds of posts.

    He’s a self-aggrandizing troll who should be given all of the consideration of an ant on a picnic basket.

  18. #18 Renier
    February 9, 2006

    Sal, what is your view on your own questions with a bit of a twist?

    1) school children with pro-evolution views should have those beliefs changed since it impedes their religious understanding.

    2. public schools are an appropriate means of changing their views regarding pro-evolution since such views are an impediment to their ability to be religious.

    Did Sal just gave away his way of thinking?

  19. #19 Flint
    February 9, 2006

    Renier:

    I answered your questions in my earlier comment (the 5th comment). I doubt Sal will show up, and if he does, I can guarantee he won’t express his views honestly. He never has.

  20. #20 mark
    February 9, 2006

    Jack’s response to the questions made me think along similar lines: Sal, do you think public school is the appropriate place to convince young children that there is no Santa Claus? Many children begin school with a strong belief in this intelligent entity–it is one of their family values. I suspect there are other strong, family-derived beliefs that some children start school with, including racism and intolerance. Should these beliefs be encouraged?

  21. #21 Raging Bee
    February 9, 2006

    This is rhetoric, and blatantly manipulative rhetoric at that. Here’s how Sal’s squinty-eyed cohort (SSEC) can be expected to proceed:

    SSEC: Is it possible the mainstream view of origins is wrong?

    A: Well, it hasn’t been scientifically proven wrong yet…

    SSEC: But is it possible that it might be wrong?

    A: Not so far as I can see now…

    SSEC: But is it possible that it might be wrong some time in thr future?

    A: Well, anything’s pos –

    SSEC: See?! You’ve just admitted the prevailing Darwinist atheistic worldview may be wrong! There really is a controversy after all, and you elitist scientists are refusing to admit it, and our bold incisive muckraking has just uncovered the truth! You’re not totally certain, therefore creationism wins by default, because there’s never any uncertainty with religion. Not that creationism is religious, nosireebob, we’re just defending the proper religious sensibilities of our precious children.

    For further commentary, call 1-900-PUH-LEEZ.

  22. #22 Ed Darrell
    February 9, 2006

    It speaks volumes that one of the chief spokesmen for intelligent design is a fellow in Sal Cordova’s position, instead of a biology researcher or well-recognized teacher of the subject.

    Contrast that with the difficulty on the other side of figuring out just who are the chief explainers of evolution to the public. There is more research on evolution just in the staff at NCSE than there is on ID in the entire ID movement — but if a newspaper were to go after the top evolution guy, who would it be? For each aspect of evolution, there is a bright light researcher or five, and the authors of best-selling and Pulitzer Prize and other prize-winning books cover a spectrum of issues and topics.

    And I’m sure Walter Bradley and Bill Dembski would like to compete for the title of ID spokesman. The fact that neither of them has any significant body of work in biology, and the fact that both are religious apologists doesn’t strike them as odd.

    These are weird times.

  23. #23 dswift
    February 9, 2006

    My favorite recurring theme is the innate narcissism, the legend-in-their-own-mind fantasies of this crowd.

    There’s that well-known Jack Chick tract, where the snappy white boy clobbers the commie-looking science teacher with pure truthiness. There’s Michael Behe bragging about his staggeringly potent insouciance following his testimony at Dover. What instincts!

    Now this suave guy. Listening tip: “Mirror Star” by the Fabulous Poodles.

  24. #24 Dave S.
    February 9, 2006

    1. Is it possible ID and/or creationism are true?

    2. Is it possible the mainstream view of origins is wrong?

    3. Are ID and/or creationism religious views?

    4. If so, is it proper to use public schools for the purpose of changing ID and/or creationist religious views?

    1. Yes.

    2. Yes.

    3. Yes.

    4. The proper use of public schools is to teach science. If this happens to also challenge someones religious views, then that’s something for them to think about.

    Personally, my religious views deny the existance any object we cannot see with the naked eye. I have a real problem with chemistry and microbiology. Astronomy I’m none too happy with either. Are you with me Sal? Shall we band together to rid our classrooms of Mendeleevism and the van Leeuwenhoekists?

  25. #25 worldwide pants
    February 9, 2006

    Sal,
    Should the government contradict religious views in some cases? I don’t know. Should the government prevent the free exercise of religions that compel their adherents to avoid paying taxes or to kill western infidels? You tell me.

  26. #26 ZacharySmith
    February 9, 2006

    It’s amusing that Sal should complain about his questions going unanswered when he has failed to answer a single one of Lenny Flank’s (at Panda’s Thumb)repeatedly asked questions about the “theory” of ID and how it can be tested using the scientific method.

    So here’s a question for Sal: When are you going to stop tap dancing and enlighten us about the “science” of ID?

  27. #27 tgibbs
    February 9, 2006

    1. school children with creationist religious beliefs should have those religious beliefs changed since it impedes their scientific understanding

    No, it is quite possible to understand a view that one does not believe. Students should be required to understand evolution; it is up to them whether they want to believe it.

    2. public schools are an appropriate means of changing their religious beliefs regarding origins since such beliefs are an impediment to their ability to do science

    No, schools are in the business of providing students with the intellectual tools to understand science, not forcing them into scientific careers. Not every student is going to be emotionally or intellectually suited for a career in science. Those who are so suited will find their own accommodation with their religious beliefs.

    1. Is it possible ID and/or creationism are true?

    Many things are possible. It is possible that the entire universe, including all of our memories, was created yesterday. That does not make this notion an appropriate topic for a science class.

    2. Is it possible the mainstream view of origins is wrong?

    Many things are possible. But introductory science classes are about preparing students to understand “mainstream science,” not about exploring the widest limits of the possible.

    3. Are ID and/or creationism religious views?

    Yes.

    4. If so, is it proper to use public schools for the purpose of changing ID and/or creationist religious views?

    No, it is improper for public education to be in the business of either changing or protecting students’ religious beliefs. Schools should teach an understanding of mainstream science, and allow students to make their own choices regarding belief.

  28. #28 Ginger Yellow
    February 9, 2006

    No, it is quite possible to understand a view that one does not believe.

    In theory I agree with you. But the misconceptions about evolution displayed by creationists, even those with professorships in biochemistry, are so glaring that I’m beginning to doubt it.

  29. #29 snaxalotl
    February 9, 2006

    another way of looking at it is that it’s not the schools which change the religious belief, but the religion. the school just teaches scientific fact. if the religion wants to teach something evidently false, like the moon is made of green cheese, then effectively it is destroying the belief in itself.

  30. #30 Nick (Matzke)
    February 11, 2006

    Opening the Amsterdam airport branch of the Dispatches blog commentators…

    Not to be pedantic with a shining wit like Sal, but for the record, I did reply to him, here:
    http://telicthoughts.com/?p=525#comment-8147

    It appears that Sal thought his logical and rhetorical brilliance shut me up, when in fact it was just my trip to the UK…

  31. #31 Dave S.
    February 11, 2006

    Nick says:

    It appears that Sal thought his logical and rhetorical brilliance shut me up, when in fact it was just my trip to the UK…

    Wow…Sal’s logical and rhetorical briliiance was so great it made you flee the country…and you’re still running! :)

    Seriously, these guys really need to work on their trapping questions.

    Yes … I plead guilty to doing science.

  32. #32 Sal Mineo's Ghost
    May 3, 2007

    What the hell is everybody talking about here?

    All of you here who have bought into this moron’s ridiculous set of questions as if they need answering???

    The waste of human time and effort expended on this jerk-excuse of a human being is simply breathtaking.

    In order to properly answer this schmuck one must necessarily read the crap behind it, and then, having come across it after due deliberation, dismiss it with well-chosen words designed to demonstrate just how bad the subject stinks.

    I sometimes wonder who’s side is smarter, I really do.

    Make no mistake, this is a battle of attrition. I worry that too many of the good guys will go down just from exhaustion accruing from being a might too perspicuous in challenging every target they encounter, no matter how inconsequential.

    Give me a break.

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