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Part II: Correspondence Between Salvador Cordova and Dr. Eugenie Scott

Posted With Permission from Mr. Cordova and Dr. Scott. Dr. Scott, Executive Director of the NCSE, expresses her support for investigating intelligent design at universities, albeit outside of the science classroom.

08:56 AM 5/17/2005

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Dr. Scott,

I'm Salvador Cordova, and I was featured in the April 28, 2005 ariticle in Nature.

Our IDEA chapters have been exploring getting ID into the universities. 
Though I'm well aware of NCSE's position regarding ID in the the public schools, I was VERY surprised at how Geoff Brumfiel characterized your position regarding ID in the universities.  Something the article attributed to you did not come with a verbatim quote from you, and I was hoping you could provide a clarification on that portion of the article as I might want to publish accurately your position on this matter at our IDEA website.

First of all, I do thank you for something you said in the article in Nature, "College professors need to be very aware of how they talk about things such as purpose, chance, cause and design...You should still be sensitive to the kids in your class."

Along those lines, could you further clarify your position regarding the following question:
"Do you oppose the offering of courses on Intelligent Design and/or Creationism in the Philosophy and Religion Departments of secular universities?"

Also, and this is an aside, but I wrote something about you regarding your response to Chris Matthews question on Hardball:
"Do you believe that everything we liveódo you think our lives, who we are, the world around us, was an accident of some explosion millions of years ago and it led to everything we see? Do you believe it was all just natural selection or just an accident of scientific development? "

The Hardball transcirpts said your response was "It is....".   Is that correct?  Something I'm writing pertains to that, and I want to be sure I represent your position accurately.

If I have your permission to publish your response to these questions, that would be greatly appreciated.  And thank you again for ecouraging professors to be sensitive to their students.  We have not had any complaints from students in the IDEA chapters in Virginia regarding insensitive professors.

Regards,
Salvador T. Cordova

 

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Below is Dr. Scottís Reply, the small print is from the letter above, and the big print is from Dr. Scott

May 18, 2005 3:12 PM

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Dr. Scott,

I'm Salvador Cordova, and I was featured in the April 28, 2005 ariticle in Nature.

Our IDEA chapters have been exploring getting ID into the universities.
Though I'm well aware of NCSE's position regarding ID in the the public schools, I was VERY surprised at how Geoff Brumfiel characterized your position regarding ID in the universities.  Something the article attributed to you did not come with a verbatim quote from you, and I was hoping you could provide a clarification on that portion of the article as I might want to publish accurately your position on this matter at our IDEA website.


reporters have to abbreviate due to space. Nuance doesn't get expressed well in that format, and my position is indeed nuanced.




First of all, I do thank you for something you said in the article in Nature, "College professors need to be very aware of how they talk about things such as purpose, chance, cause and design...You should still be sensitive to the kids in your class."


You might like to see an article I wrote on this in a truly obscure publication that scarcely anyone will find, but I think it makes some good points. I often lecture on the topic when I speak for university science departments. Here's a reprint, so you don't have to find the Paleontology Society Papers somewhere...  http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/695_problem_concepts_in_evolution_10_1_1999.asp

Along those lines, could you further clarify your position regarding the following question:
"Do you oppose the offering of courses on Intelligent Design and/or Creationism in the Philosophy and Religion Departments of secular universities?"


No. They are quite appropriate for such courses. In general, in American universities, Religion departments offer scholarly analysis of religion, rather than devotional study, for which one would seek a seminary. Certainly the c/e controversy is a public controversy that bears studying as a public controversy (that's why I wrote my book, after all!) Whether ID is a valid scientific or philosophical or theological approach can also be determined at the university level, and certainly is more appropriately determined there than by the local school board.

I think ID is more likely to be taught in philosophy and religion departments than in science departments, because a course on ID as science would have to be pretty short. What do you say after you say, "we can detect design that is the result of intelligence?" Even assuming the concepts of IC and CSI are valid, what good are they? How do they help us understand the natural world, especially biological phenomena (which is the claim.) Pretty soon a college level course in ID would devolve into "evidence against evolution" (EAE), trotting out the tired examples most of which we first heard from henry Morris decades ago. And that is a waste of time.

I've often said that if ID were a valid science, it would be being used to explain the natural world. I see no evidence of that in the journals. And yet the claim is that ID is more than EAE. There are lots of promissory notes about ID "research" being done, or right around the corner, but the burden of proof is on them to produce some science -- other than EAE.


Also, and this is an aside, but I wrote something about you regarding your response to Chris Matthews question on Hardball:
"Do you believe that everything we liveódo you think our lives, who we are, the world around us, was an accident of some explosion millions of years ago and it led to everything we see? Do you believe it was all just natural selection or just an accident of scientific development? "

The Hardball transcirpts said your response was "It is....".   Is that correct?  Something I'm writing pertains to that, and I want to be sure I represent your position accurately.


I think there was a voiceover confusion of more than one voice at once at that point, and the transcriber did her/his best. I never answered the question because I wanted to keep the attention on the topic at hand, which is, what should we teach in science class? It became clear to me that Matthews was moving to the "here we have the crackpot fundamentalist and here we have the crackpot village atheist and here we have me, the sensible, moderate in the middle" and I don't play that game. In addition, the question was incoherent. If I am going to answer a question about my personal philosophy, it's not likely one that can be answered by a yes or no!



If I have your permission to publish your response to these questions, that would be greatly appreciated.  And thank you again for ecouraging professors to be sensitive to their students.  We have not had any complaints from students in the IDEA chapters in Virginia regarding insensitive professors.


When I talk to science professors on campuses, I often talk about the points raised in the article above: that terms we use in evolutionary biology as terms of art have existential meaning to the public at large, and that when we use them, what our students might HEAR (as opposed to what we say) is that "God had nothing to do with it." When I point this out, I have very many scientists say, "Oh, I get it. OK, I"ll try to be more careful." This is true of scientists who are theists as well as those who are nontheists. I have suggested many times to IDers that they could join me in this campaign to sensitize science professors to inadvertent expressions of animosity towards religion, but I get brick walls in response. My position is to distinguish between philosophical and methodological naturalism, but of course, the leaders of the ID movement reject this distinction and conflate the two. I think the distinction is real, it should be appreciated, and it is one of the keys to solving the problem of the rejection of evolution. And a lot of scientists agree with me, even those who are nonbelievers. But it's much easier for the leaders of the ID movement to keep flogging Dawkins and Provine than to reflect the philosophical reality out there.

I think much of the antievolution sentiment in the public is because anti-evolutionists have sold the public a bill of goods that because science CAN explain through natural cause, it means that science is saying that therefore "God had nothing to do with it."  Evolution, like all science, explains through natural cause. It tells you what happened, and nothing about ultimate cause. If a religious position makes a fact claim, like special creation of living things in their present form, at one time (the YEC view), science can propose that there are no data to support this view, and much against it. But if God wanted to create that way, but make it look like living things appeared sequentially through time, science of course could not refute the claim. The claim -- like all claims about God's action in the natural world -- would in fact not be testable (and therefore not scientific) because ANY result is compatible with God's action (assuming God is omnipotent.)

The blame lies partly with science professors and partly with the public. In defense of science professors, students rarely challenge them for making atheistic comments when discussing, say, cell division ("Prof. Jones, you just said that 'enzymes A & B make chromosomes  line up on the equator.' Are you saying that therefore God had nothing to do with it?") When they are discussing evolution, scientists treat it the same way as they treat cell division: here are the natural processes that result in the splitting of a lineage, or whatever. Students are more likely to read philosophical naturalism into methodological  naturalism when the topic is evolution than when the topic is cell division -- and we can't blame that on professors. It would help if students would be a little more reflective on this issue! But professors can be more sensitive to this issue, certainly. And I find that once the difference between philosophical and methodological naturalism is pointed out, they "get it", and few argue that this isn't a good idea.

And yes, you can use this correspondence on your site.


Regards,
Salvador T. Cordova


Best wishes,

Eugenie