Cordova’s Back! And He’s Brought More Crank Creationist Ideas!

Creationist Sal Cordova, or at least someone claiming to be him (cheered on by someone at least claiming to be John A. Davidson), is finally back to regular blogging over at Young Cosmos. Which means free bad ideas for bloggers like myself that might otherwise be hurting for material.

To wet appetite, here’s a couple of knee-slappers from a post attacking the credibility of a minister who supports teaching evolution as science:

Bill Murray was the son of notorious atheist Madalyn Murry O’Hair. He was raised in an Atheist home, was involved in the supreme court case that repealed the pledge of allegiance, but over time, he rejected his mother’s athiesm and became a baptist minister. (emphasis added)

Repealed the pledge of allegiance? I’m pretty sure that never, uh, actually happened.

Sal is probably thinking of state sponsored Bible readings in public schools. O’Hair, an atheist and popular boogeywoman, was indeed involved in the Supreme Court case that led to the ban on such recitations (though her relatively minor role in these cases was vastly overblown both by the religious right and by herself). She’s more commonly blamed for the ban on teacher-led school prayer, despite the fact that she wasn’t even a party in that successful lawsuit.

I realize Darwinism cannot possibly be true in it’s most major claims. The Darwinists can’t make their math work. Kimura showed Darwinism is not the driving force in molecular evolution, and it’s apparent if molecular evolution is not governed by Darwinism, we should not expect much else in biology to be.

Sal has no idea what he’s talking about here either. What he’s referencing here is the neutral theory, which my readers will remember was recently the basis for an equally confused science article about worm hoo-hahs. Does the neutral theory reject Darwinian evolution?

“The theory does not deny the role of natural selection in determining the course of adaptive evolution” (Kimura, 1986)

In other words, no. In fact, Kimura’s neutral theory is actually a critical principle by which genetic evidence for common descent via mutation is evidentially established. It’s also part of the basis for the concept of “junk DNA” which Sal and pals have spent a considerable amount of time misrepresenting and then bemoaning as false, making it quite amusing that he’s now unwittingly insisting that its core premise is true just so he can insist scientists can’t make their math work.

Meanwhile, Sal’s also been thinking some more about why his loving God created AIDS and stomach cancer. Seeing as he has already proved the existence of God via Quantum Mechanics, Sal insists that the scientific matter of God’s existence is a done deal, leaving only the philosophy left to debate.

Unfortunately, that’s not going to work out any better for him than the science stuff:

I pointed out that it is reasonable to argue that a Perfect God could not in principle make anything as perfect as Himself, thus if God creates, He will of necessity create beings less perfect than Him, and via mathematical induction, any degree of imperfection is thus permissible, and thus Darwin’s “bad design” argument can’t be used to argue against the existence of a Perfect Creator. Again, Darwin exemplifies his persistent lack of anything but shallow thinking, something I would expect given Darwin’s professed inability to even do high school algebra even after much effort.

This paragraph is really fascinating: Sal seems to be so obsessed with Charles Darwin (who he never passes up a chance to insult or demean, even out of context) that he seems to be imagining himself having an actual debate with him, right down to Sal putting straw man counter-arguments in the mouth of a man who died more than a century ago, and then insisting that he’s an idiot because he doesn’t appreciate Sal’s reasoning.

In any case, the upshot of Sal’s argument is that the world is precisely as miserable and seemingly pointless as one would expect if God existed. In other words: life could be anything from near constant bliss to being born onto a lifelong torture rack, and Sal would be able to argue that, jeepers: it’s all according to the grand plan, and isn’t it amazing that it’s exactly the way it is? I can’t tell if this is a serious argument, or simply a clever parody of the sheer vacuity of fine-tuning arguments.

But in philosophy, sophistry of this sort is generally considered to be a giant waste of everyone’s time. Explanations which are compatible with everything and anything are indicative of nothing.

Still, the fact that Sal’s philosophy is so boring doesn’t mean that his theology can’t be simply fascinating:

If they [“Darwinists”] want to believe their miserable lives are the offspring of maggots evolved through Darwinian fairy processes, they can go right on ahead and believe that. If they want to practice homosexuality and bestiality, I’m not going to get in their way or try to talk them out of it. God puts it in their heart to behave that way in order to punish them. (emphasis added)

Get that? Sal’s God encouraged people who don’t believe something Sal does to do something Sal and his God really don’t like so that Sal’s God can torture them all the more. John Edwards (the firey 18th century Calvinist minister, not the shiny-faced Democratic Senator) would be proud. Monstrous stuff.

However, in this same article, Sal also mentions something of interest about the whole Baylor scuffle: implying that he was expecting to be a part of Richard Mark’s “I hosted an ID website on an official university server, nyah nyah” project:

I begin to think this is a community of bullies that robbed me of a $40,000 opportunity at Baylor (under the tutelage of distinguished professor of Engineering, Robert Marks) and robbed scientists like Caroline Crocker of their ability to continue doing science.

$40,000 dollars (presumably as some sort of research fellow or assistant) lost because of the evil Darwnian hordes. Does this mean that Sal will be one of the shadowed evolution critics in Expelled!, supposedly too fearful to reveal his identity for fear of professional censure? If so, does he realize that a young-earth creationist blog with his name on it already kind of let the cat out of the bag?

Dr. Crocker by, the way, is now Sal’s “new boss” in her new position as executive director at the ID outfit The IDEA Center. Crocker, if you don’t recall, was the one suspended for teaching a biology class in which she claimed, among other things:

  • that evolution predicts and fails to demonstrate “a dog turn[ing] into a cat in a laboratory.” (A standard creationist confusion of what evolution predicts.)
  • that Stanley Miller and Harold Urey’s experiment was “irrelevant” (highly misleading: while that particular experiment may not have gotten the exact conditions of the early earth correct, it wasn’t meant to: it was considered significant because it demonstrated how easily organic compounds can form in nature, and subsequent experiments more closely approximating the early earth have returned similar results).
  • that Bernard Kettlewell’s experiments on moths had been falsified because he “glued his moths to the trees.” (they weren’t falsified, and the standard prepared photo she points to in textbooks has nothing to do with the validity of his data. Besides, didn’t she just get through claiming she accepted microevolution?).

Crocker is one of Expelled!’s star case studies, but even a cursory glance over this list suffices to show what the movie is sure to leave out of its presentation: that she was suspended from teaching biology for incompetence and teaching factually false information to students.

Seems like the perfect overlord for Sal, though.

Update: Sal seems to disagree with my characterization of his ignorance on neutral theory, but he’s got very little to show for it:

On what theoretical basis did Kimura make that claim? Did he back the claim up with the same mathematics he did for neutral theory? No. It was an obligatory salute to that pea-brain named Charles Darwin who couldn’t do high school algebra, much less the differential equations which Kimura used to exorcise Darwinism from molecular evolution. If Darwin could have done the math, Darwin might not have put forward his theory (that is presuming Darwin would have had the integrity, which is doubtful).

Ah yes: Kimura wasn’t speaking from knowledge about his own work: he’s merely playing his role in the grand conspiracy. How exactly does neutral theory “exorcise Darwinism from molecular evolution?” Sal can tell you it did, but he can’t tell you how it did, because it didn’t and doesn’t.

His shtick here is to try and confuse the question of whether evolution happens or is the main mechanism for adaptation with the question of whether natural selection accounts for absolutely every feature we see in biology (which even that supposedly big dummy Darwin, by the way, didn’t think it did, even in the case of outward modification: from Origin: “I am convinced that [it] has been the main, but not exclusive means of modification.”)

Kimura’s work did help to correct a profound error that was common in genetics in his day: the idea that the genome was finely tuned in every respect: that nothing, including every single base pair, could escape the harsh pressures of selection. Today we know much more about the genome, how it works, how it mutates and corrects error, and the actual picture is far far more complicated. The result is, however, a loss for creationism: while this complexity makes things harder to understand, it also increases the number of evidential links and dependencies that confirm the place of evolution in both biological history and as the primary mechanism for functional changes to organisms.

Now, Sal claims to “understand the relevant literature” here, by which he seems to mean that he’s cobbled together a scrapbook of quotes and articles on various subjects, all carefully selected and edited in his head because he believes they “destroy Darwin!” But like many ID propentists (sic), Sal gadflies on the edges of scientific work without really understanding much of it: his scrapbook is neither a representative nor comprehensive look into the fields in question, and he doesn’t understand half of what’s in it in any case.

To hear Sal tell it, Darwinists are desperately trying to deny neutral theory, fearing for their very profession, and have browbeaten Kimura into submission. If you took Sal’s word for it, and then opened up an actual molecular genetics journal, you’d be completely lost. That’s because, back in reality, neutral theory is fairly well accepted insight into the way genomes develop over time that has enhanced, not threatened, our understanding of evolution. The “math” works out just fine. No one is concerned in the least that change to biological structures can happen without external selective pressures playing a role.  Neutralists and selectionists have waged a fierce war over the details and relative percentages of various genomic effects, but neither side thinks their position casts any doubt on evolution, nor is seeking to “save” it. In fact, both sides would agree that Kimura vastly enhanced the explanatory strength of evolution via molecular genetics, just like real embryology is far more damningly indicative of evolution than Ernst Haekel’s long long-ago discredited biogenetic law.

So if Sal doesn’t understand what neutral theory is, then it’s no surprise that he doesn’t understand the debate over junk DNA either:

Finally, junk-DNA is not junk, so neutral theory is wrong about that count, but it’s not wrong about the fact evolution must have proceeded principally through non-Darwinian means. I don’t have to buy into neutral theory in order to use its devastating critique of Darwinism.

Actually, Sal, you sort of do. Either neutral theory is correct about the vast majority of changes to the genome being neutral, and things like molecular dating work (and show common descent, as well as an old earth), or it doesn’t, making your claims about it baseless from the start. It’s all the same “math.”

The subject of junk DNA is another realm where the actual scientific debates bear little resemblance to the creationist caricature that Sal is referencing. But I’m sure he’ll produce something stunningly ignorant on that subject soon enough, so we’ll save comment on that until we have a larger sample.

I’d have chastised Sal a little more gently on his own blog, but of course, critics aren’t welcome in an echo chamber: comments there are by invitation only, rather than taking all comers as we do here. He doesn’t seem to have figured out how to disable trackbacks though.

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21 Responses to Cordova’s Back! And He’s Brought More Crank Creationist Ideas!

  1. “Cordova’s Back! And He’s Brought More Crank Creationist Ideas!”

    Oddly, your title immediately made me think of the old Far Side cartoon where the family is in a state of excitement, shouting, “Kids! Kids! The slugs are back!”

    On second thought, perhaps that’s not as odd an association as I first imagined…

  2. bitchspot says:

    Actually, the first thing I thought of when I looked at the first quote was the old Bill Murray line: Back off man, I’m a Ghostbuster. Somehow the idea of Madelyn Murray O’Hair being backed up with a team of guys with unlicensed nuclear reactors strapped to their backs made me smile.

    One can never have too many silly creationists to point and laugh at, it ultimately just makes the whole movement look even more absurd than it already does. I say, keep ’em coming, we have to have something to blog about, right?

  3. asdf says:

    typo: “early earth correct, it wasn’t mean to” should be “meant to”

  4. sauer kraut says:

    Poor Sal. He’s missed the boat on a ton of things. Like that evolution happens at several levels regardless of what his “math” or Darwin does or did.

    As Che Guevera was prone to exclaim: viva la evolution!!!

  5. slpage says:

    Not to be blunt, but Cordova is an imbecile. How that little worm makes it through his day is beyond me. I went round with him at the KCFS forum for weeks on his claims that he had “refuted” molecular phylogenetics by using a 10-site “toy example” (his words) , supposedly representing a 10 nucleotide stretch of DNA, that he ‘allowed’ to mutate at each iteration, and he declared that after only a few “generations”, his 10-site example had no discernible phylogenetic signal, thus, molecular systematics is all wrong and impossible.

    He also declared that it would be impossible for ribs to fuse to the sternum during development unless they were guided by an intelligence. The guy is just totally batshit stupid, but his religious zealotry keeps him going. It is really patheitc.

  6. Bad says:

    asdf/bbv: thanks for catching, I’ve corrected. And multiple posts deleted.

  7. October Mermaid says:

    Um, wow, I’d never even heard of this guy before, and I guess I was just really lucky. I wish I understood the science more so I could better share in the debate, but I think I get the gist of most of it.

    Speaking of which, if it’s all right for me to ask: what would be the best way for a complete newcomer to learn the ins and outs of evolution? I don’t have a good mind for science (yet!), so I’m not sure if I’m capable of just jumping into Darwin, and I’m hesitant to try just looking it all up online, since you never know if what you’re reading is the best source.

  8. Bob O'H says:

    Mocking Sal is a bit of a hobby for some people. When we’re not mocking the other inmates at Uncommon Descent. You’re all welcome, but don’t worry if you don’t understand all the lingo. You’ll pick up the meaning of “notapology” in no time.

    October Mermaid – there are a lot of blog articles listed on John Wilkin’s basic concepts page. ScienceBlogs also has some other good bloggers worth checking.

    More generally, it’s difficult to suggest one good book, evolution is such a wide area. For palaeontology. I find Richard Fortey is really good. For evolution and development, Sean Carroll’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful seems well regarded. Other people can suggest more, but that should get you started.

    Bob

  9. Bad says:

    It’s true that Origin of the Species isn’t really a good place for jumping into modern evolutionary theory, but it is a really solid book for understanding the historical Darwin, as opposed the creationist caricature of the man. Darwin was a meticulous nerd of a man who spent nearly a decade of his life studying the ins and outs of barnacles and pigeons, not a crazed revolutionary.

    For good jump-ins for the layperson on evolution, I would actually suggest the work of Carl Zimmer, who blogs over at The Loom. Parasite Rex is a great read if you can stomach the subject matter, and At the Water’s Edge is pretty outdated at this point but still a great read and still on point as far as the general picture and how evolutionary science is done. There are really too many great resources and books to recommend. I enjoyed Dawkin’s The Ancestor’s Tale quite a bit. Kenneth Miller’s “Finding Darwin’s God” is a good primer on what Intelligent Design and other creationisms get wrong as well as a decent defense of the idea that one doesn’t have to give up religious faith in order to do science.

  10. October Mermaid says:

    I’ll be sure to look into these things, thank you! I may not right away, though. I recently read the God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and it really forced me to face up to some consequences of my athiesm. Like the fact that I really don’t believe there is an anfterlife. I’m still reeling from this, so I’m not sure I’m in the best place to start studying, but I definitely will, to be sure!

    Oh, speaking of which, Bad, I just read your article about the meaning of life and commented on it. It’s fascinating, because this is EXACTLY what I was obessing and worrying over. I’m not sure I feel much better, but I’m really trying. Maybe because i was raised with christianity and took it for grante,d it’s hard to “reboot” my mind to see meaning without an afterlife. I have no idea if I’ll be able to even pull it off.

  11. October Mermaid says:

    Oh, and I forgot to add.. um, I may hold off on Parasite Rex. I spent a good hour or two in existential terror yesterday after reading extensively about the bot fly.

    Just knowing I share a planet with it fills me with horror.

  12. Bad says:

    OctoberMermaid: It’s indeed scary to face the idea of death: emotionally, the idea of an afterlife is sort of a means by which one can deny the reality that they are going to die at all, or that anyone dies. Which is what we’d of course want to do for any bad thing we can envision happening.

    To me, and afterlife is something that would be nice, but then, it would also be nice if I had a million dollars. Maybe there will be an afterlife, and maybe someone will hand me a million dollars tomorrow. But I don’t see any reason to expect either, and frankly, I know I can live a fine life without a million dollars (lots of people have lived fine lives with far less money than I, in fact), and I can also live a find life without it having to go on forever.

    And when I think about all the people who have lived with no money at all, in fact, I feel sort of ungrateful and selfish for even lusting after a million dollars in the first place. Likewise, when I consider all the possible people who were never even born, or who died as babies, and so on: I feel sort of ungrateful for wanting more life in addition to the incredibly nice one I have.

    The moral of the story is that you can’t have everything, or the best of everything, but don’t let that make you think that you can’t have anything.

    I also wouldn’t worry too much about evolution as a part of atheism. If it interests you, great, because it’s fascinating stuff. But I think many people seem to assume that its part and parcel of atheism or something atheists have to care about, when in fact it’s not (nor do theists have to reject it, of course).

    In any case, I responded in more detail to your comment on the meaning article.

  13. October Mermaid: You might take a look at”The Evolving World”, by David Mindell, which is a book about how evolutionary ideas impact our daily lives.

    Oh, and I empathize about the bot fly. Ick. I don’t know if I’ll ever visit South America because of the (very unlikely) chance I’ll come across one of those buggers.

  14. The Ridger says:

    This is a truly stunning statement: “I don’t have to buy into neutral theory in order to use its devastating critique of Darwinism.”

    In other words, he doesn’t care if it’s true or not as long as it’s critical of “Darwinism.”

    Wow. How on earth does he expect anyone to ever believe a word he says from now on?

  15. Bad says:

    You actually see this a lot in creationism: a total lack of any consistency about what they acknowledge as true and well established by evidence. All that matters is that some argument seems, for the moment, to cause trouble for evolution. They don’t really sincerely care whether the argument itself is true or not, in the way that scientists care about verifying every detail.

  16. Blake Stacey says:

    For a quick but informative read, try Neil Shubin’s new book Your Inner Fish. It has far fewer gross-out moments than Parasite Rex. :-)

  17. October Mermaid says:

    Thanks again! I’m definitely going to look into these and get back to everyone, it’s just something I think I’m going to have to wait on a bit, at least until I can decide how I feel about that annoying after life issue I’m currently obsessing over.

    I think Bad is right in that it may just be one of those things that’s so ingrained that I may never “kick it” entirely. I think, no matter what, I’m always going to secretly hold out hope for some kind of after life, no matter how unlikely.

  18. Bad says:

    Pretty much everyone thinks it would be nice to have an afterlife, really, if only because we just want to keep observing and learning and understanding more and more about the universe. We don’t know anything else, and so the idea of that ending abruptly, like a book we’re reading that suddenly ends halfway through with blank pages the rest of the way, is frustrating. And it sort of sucks that I probably won’t live to see discoveries about and answers to many of the great mysteries of the universe. But then, lots of things suck. You get over it, and enjoy what you’ve got, which honestly, we’re all extremely lucky to have.

  19. Bad: You’ve reminded me that one of the best pictures of the afterlife I’ve ever seen came, oddly enough, from a Saturday Night Live skit. Basically, Heaven is a place where an angel is assigned to answer any question you might have about life and the universe (“What’s the grossest thing I’ve ever eaten?” “You don’t want to know.”).

  20. sauer kraut says:

    Someone needs a primer on evolution? Steven Jay Gould wrote some light reading material on that topic, especially the theory part.
    isbn 0-674-00613-5 I’m fairly certain eBay has some used ones cheap.

  21. […] optimality, Nash equilibria, neutral theory — fuck me if I understand any of it. BUT DARWIN DIDN’T NO ALGEBRA […]

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