Something is wrong!

Do any of you old-timers recall TXPiper, the obnoxious racist creationist I banned in 2013? Would you believe he still occasional pesters me with blindingly stupid email? I must be spectacularly compelling and charismatic, since so many of these bozos never go away. I wish they knew how to quit me.

He threw a whole lot of stupid at me the other day, so I had to respond with a video.

Transcript below the fold.

You know I get a lot of random email. Some of it is quite nice, but I’ve become a magnet for a lot of kooks on the internet, so much of it either isn’t so nice, or is so absurdly stupid that I have to just close my inbox and go teach something to smart, sensible students to recover. This is going to be one of those emails.
It’s from a guy named TXPiper, who has been plaguing my email for over a decade, possibly longer. He won’t shut up. He was also a chronic pest on my blog until I banned him in 2013 for blatantly racist, bigoted comments, but mainly he’s a particularly obtuse proponent of Young Earth creationism. I don’t usually ban people for stupidity, but when you cross the line into actively evil comments, goodbye. Some of my long term followers may recognize his pseudonym: he went by the name TXPiper, I guess because LinkedIn says he’s from Texas and his profession is “piping designer”. I guess that’s a kind of engineer, so chalk up another data point for the Salem Hypothesis (look it up.)

Anyway, he occasionally thinks my ban doesn’t mean I don’t care to ever hear from him again, so he sends me another inane email. Here’s his latest.

Professor Myers,

I’ve watched some of your lectures on Youtube. For the life of me, I cannot comprehend why you think that all the organized, functional systems that you teach about are the result of random events.

Right there in the second sentence he made clear what was wrong with his understanding. No one thinks that “all the organized, functional systems…are the result of random events.” This is a fundamental error. Go all the way back to Darwin, and he clearly explains that chance events within a population are shaped by selection to produce a pattern of change within the population. That’s the powerful idea that TXPiper does not grasp — evolution operates on POPULATIONS. He’s 163 years out of date.

I have had conversations with many people who share your perceptions, and asked them to explain how a long series of mutations could build complicated biology. Not one person has ever seriously tried to sketch the process.

I’m sorry, but TXPiper is lying here. I’m sure many people have tried to explain the process to him — it’s laid out plainly in every introductory biology textbook — and the only possible excuse is that he sticks his fingers in his ears and starts chanting “la la la la” as soon as they start.

It is easy to say that things evolve, but I have found nothing in the literature showing honest attempts to actually outline and apply the working mechanism of the theory, the mutations/selection paradigm.

This is another lie. TXPiper has not read anything in the literature, or he’d know there is a wealth of research exploring how variations arose and how they modified species, from changes in the regulation of bone morphogenetic protein changing the shape of finch beaks to variation in the Pitx1 gene in stickleback fish producing differences in spines and armor.

It is easy to understand why. There are too many pathways to failure for this to be how every single biological thing that has ever existed was produced.

He’s almost there. Yes, there are lots of failures and dead-ends in the process of generating variants in a population. What he doesn’t get is that the failures die or fail to reproduce and don’t persist — that natural selection weeds them out, leaving only the viable, successful members. I can sort of see what he’s arguing, though: he can imagine so many ways for a mutation to harm the individual, that he can’t see that the rare beneficial mutation will be propagated in the population. He doesn’t understand that we already know that chance variation is a wasteful mechanism that rarely benefits the individual, but that on the population level can accumulate to produce useful results.

There seem to be two mutation portraits. One is accurately represented in the disease databases. We know what DNA replication errors actually do.

Oh. So he looks in “disease databases” — I actually doubt that he does — and by looking at the catalog of biological failures, thinks that is all that variation can do. That’s a spectacularly biased perspective! We do know what replication errors actually do, and it’s not what he thinks they do. They’re usually neutral or nearly neutral, that is, they do nothing, and they don’t show up in these unnamed “disease databases” he is consulting. Sometimes they are deleterious, even lethal. Sometimes they confer some benefit. And here’s the thing: if you inherit some slight resistance to cancer, for instance, you don’t show up in the hospital complaining about it, and it’s certainly not going to end up in TXPiper’s preferred bedtime reading, some “disease database”.

The other picture is an idea. It fits well as the centerpiece of evolutionary theory, but it does not fit into functional biology. It is not honest. There is no demonstrable, tested science to support the notion of accidental complexity.

You know what’s not honest? Claiming that evolutionary biology is all about the “notion of accidental complexity.” Another failure here is not recognizing that accidents are really, really good at generating complexity. They’re just not good at generating adaptive features. That’s the job of natural selection, to extract something advantageous from a messy assortment of individual variants.

Also, though, creationists are infatuated with the “complexity” argument. That’s often their default argument: biology is too complex to have evolved, it must have been designed.

The problem with that argument is that they don’t actually understand complexity. They think a pocket watch is immensely complicated, when it’s not. It’s nowhere near as complex as a cell, for instance. What they don’t comprehend is that things that are truly, deeply complex have another essential property: they’re fault tolerant. Unlike a pocket watch, the cell has a kind of deep complexity where it is loaded with redundancies and alternative pathways and historical baggage; break something and there is something else that will try to fill the gap. This is not to say that there aren’t mutations with major phenotypic effects, but that most mutations do relatively little, and there are compensatory mechanisms that allow the organism to struggle on.

TXPiper did have to throw in another embarrassingly common misconception.

There are also no good examples of biological specialties still in development. Everything seems to be complete and working.

Every viable organism on the planet must be, by definition, “complete and working”. Creationists imagine that new features must evolve towards a goal, and there must be intermediate steps where that goal has not been accomplished, and therefore those intermediate forms must be broken and incomplete. That might be how humans design things, but biology is undesigned. If you build a model airplane, for example, you would figure you can’t go out and fly just the fuselage, not until you’ve completed the wings and attached them. There are discrete steps, and your model is unflyable until you’ve completed every one of them.
That’s not how evolution works. Every step has to produce a functional organism, because it’s that organism that will construct the next step. So, no surprise here, every viable organism must be complete and working. It might not fly, but it can feed and reproduce and transmit its structure, with modifications, to its progeny. Looking for non-functional intermediates is a standard creationist folly.

His concluding line is hilarious.

Something is wrong.

I get lots of email like his, and usually I just delete it. But that was such a tempting straight line, I had to reply and say, “Yes, there is something wrong. You.” He doesn’t even consider that he could be the thing that is wrong.

Big mistake on my part. If you give these clowns a response, they’ll see that as an excuse to ramble on some more. So he immediately bounced back with more stupid assertions.

Natural selection is not an organizing force. It cannot cause a long series of fortuitous mutations to occur.

Partly wrong — selection is precisely that, an organizing force, acting at the level of the population — and partly right. Evolution is not teleological! We keep explaining that, and creationists are so steeped in teleological assumptions that they don’t get it. No one argues that selection “causes” a series of mutations.

But then the creationist just has to arrogantly explain how science is done.

I was taught that objective, disciplined science is supposed to attack and expose bad ideas. Theories should be developed in the forge of scrutiny, and based on data and testing, not semantics.

So sayeth the young earth creationist who dismisses more than a century of data and experiment because it doesn’t support Genesis 1. Creationism is a bad idea. It warrants being attacked.

TXPiper then makes a mistake of his own. He tries to get specific.

Perhaps you could do a video presentation explaining how mutations actually accumulated to form something:

‘Once upon a time, there was no biosonar. There were no genes to express the proteins for specialized components. There was no defining genetic instructions or regulatory mechanisms. Then, an error occurred in a germ cell…..’

Oh boy! Something to pounce on!

Again, TXPiper exposes his own ignorance. Prior to the evolution of sonar, there was an auditory system. Bats and whales evolved from animals that could hear, and they built echolocation on top of and with components that already existed! And before animals evolved hearing, they were descended from other creatures that had vibration sensors. And before that, they evolved from organisms that had eukaryotic cilia, as precursors to the hair cells we use to sense vibrations in the medium. Whale/bat ancestors weren’t lacking genes for the pieces of the echolocation system, they were all there in a more general purpose form.

Giving the lie to his claim that he has read the literature, I fired up PubMed and did a quick search for sonar evolution, and got back far more articles than I wanted to read in order to rebut a clueless creationist, especially since I’m sure he’ll instantly tune me out (LA LA LA LA, I can’t hear you!) Or invent excuses for why these particular articles don’t demonstrate that scientists do study evolution, and that his scenarios are colossally stupid.

I’ll mention two out of the multitude and include links down below if anyone wants to read further. Not only were these quick and easy to find, they include free full text so anyone can download and read them!

First up, a paper by Jones & Holderied from 2007, “Bat  echolocation calls: adaptation and convergent evolution”. This one focuses on the output side, how echolocating bats produce burst of high frequency sound.

Bat echolocation calls provide remarkable examples of ‘good design’ through evolution by natural selection.

I thought that would get you going. This paper isn’t saying the sounds are designed, it’s saying they were produced by selection.

Theory developed from acoustics and sonar engineering permits a strong predictive basis for understanding echolocation performance. Call features, such as frequency, bandwidth, duration and pulse interval are all related to ecological niche. Recent technological breakthroughs have aided our understanding of adaptive aspects of call design in free-living bats. Stereo videogrammetry, laser scanning of habitat features and acoustic flight path tracking permit reconstruction of the flight paths of echolocating bats relative to obstacles and prey in nature. These methods show that echolocation calls are among the most intense airborne vocalizations produced by animals. Acoustic tracking has clarified how and why bats vary call structure in relation to flight speed. Bats using broadband echolocation calls adjust call design in a range-dependent manner so that nearby obstacles are localized accurately. Recent phylogenetic analyses based on gene sequences show that particular types of echolocation signals have evolved independently in several lineages of bats. Call design is often influenced more by perceptual challenges imposed by the environment than by phylogeny, and provides excellent examples of convergent evolution. Now that whole genome sequences of bats are imminent, understanding the functional genomics of echolocation will become a major challenge.

Fun stuff. It also shows that scientists have been looking at the evolution of echolocation for at least 15 years (actually, much longer), so why has TXPiper failed to find the evidence? Maybe because when he is talking about “the literature”, he means the creationist literature, not the scientific literature.

How about another one? This is more recent, from just last year, and is by Wang and others on “Assessing evidence for adaptive evolution in two hearing-related genes important for high-frequency hearing in echolocating mammals”.

High-frequency hearing is particularly important for echolocating bats and toothed whales. Previously, studies of the hearing-related genes Prestin, KCNQ4, and TMC1 documented that adaptive evolution of high-frequency hearing has taken place in echolocating bats and toothed whales. In this study, we present two additional candidate hearing-related genes, Shh [Sonic Hedgehog] and SK2, that may also have contributed to the evolution of echolocation in mammals. Shh is a member of the vertebrate Hedgehog gene family and is required in the specification of the mammalian cochlea. SK2 is expressed in both inner and outer hair cells, and it plays an important role in the auditory system [It’s a calcium-activated potassium channel]. The coding region sequences of Shh and SK2 were obtained from a wide range of mammals with and without echolocating ability. The topologies of phylogenetic trees constructed using Shh and SK2 were different; however, multiple molecular evolutionary analyses showed that those two genes experienced different selective pressures in echolocating bats and toothed whales compared to nonecholocating mammals. In addition, several nominally significant positively selected sites were detected in the nonfunctional domain of the SK2 gene, indicating that different selective pressures were acting on different parts of the SK2 gene. This study has expanded our knowledge of the adaptive evolution of high-frequency hearing in echolocating mammals.

TXPiper had a failure of imagination and thought “There were no genes to express the proteins for specialized components” in the non-echolocating ancestors of whales and bats. That’s not correct. You, presumably human listener, have Sonic Hedgehog and SK2 genes, and they are active in your auditory system, but you don’t have significant echolocating ability (but you do have some! Just not very well developed). What whales and bats did was take an existing system and refine and expand it incrementally in ways that evolutionary biologists can track and measure. Yeah, it’s an “objective, disciplined science” that develops theories “based on data and testing”, unlike whatever the heck Christian piping designer and amateur theologian TXPiper does.

Let’s summarize the errors in TXPiper’s reasoning.

He thinks evolution is nothing more than a series of random events.
He believes no evolutionary biologist has ever honestly studied evolution.
He thinks no evolutionary biologist has, or even can, explain their work.
He has not read the biological literature, although he claims he has.
He believes unnamed “disease databases” present a representative picture of the effects of mutations.
He thinks that every feature of a species had to arise abruptly, de novo, at the origin of that species.
He knows that “Something is wrong”. He’s oblivious to the fact that what’s wrong is every one of his premises.

He is fairly representative of most of the arrogantly ignorant creationists I’ve met.
One other lesser error in his thinking is that despite the fact that I publicly banned and blocked him 9 years ago, he still thinks I want to hear his inane ideas.

Well, that was painful, so let me conclude with something pleasant. I have to thank all these lovely people who are supporting me on Patreon, at patreon dot com slash pzmyers. You can join them! I have tiers ranging from $1 a month to $5 a month, and even one tier where I promise not to show you any spider pictures. I’m also currently, and probably throughout the summer of 2022, doing a textbook giveaway. I’m trying to clean up my overloaded bookshelves by sending off redundant books to worthy people who request them.
You don’t need to be on Patreon to join in — leave a comment on my blog, freethoughtblogs dot com slash pharyngula, and maybe I’ll pick you and send you a science textbook. It’s one way I can help the public increase their science literacy.
I probably wouldn’t bother sending one to TXPiper. I think he’s irredeemably poisoned by bad religion.


  1. says

    Dear Prof. Myers,
    So many of us, students and commenters alike, appreciate the thoughtful, factual knowledge you impart. We have all learned a lot from you. However, I think you are wasting your time taking the bait and responding to these flat earth, creationist, xtian imbeciles. It is like trying to reason with a rattlesnake.
    By the way, I’ve had many glancing blows from the old age truck in the past couple of years. We should all just be as careful as possible to stay out of their path.
    Best Wishes

  2. Jonne Steen Redeker says

    I would love to participate in the give away if at all possible PZ, but I understand if shipping to the netherlands is a hassle.

  3. says

    Txpiper is also commenting on Crip Dyke’s blog, apparently pretending to be the naïve libertarian who is totally puzzled by all the emotional reaction to the impending reversal of Roe vs. Wade. He’s been corrected on several factual/historical errors there, but his comments there seem at least a little more mature-sounding that what you’re responding to.

  4. brucegee1962 says

    If I studied something for a few weeks or months that experts had studied for their entire lives, and I said “There is something about this subject that I do not understand,” my conclusion would be “I need to study more.”

    What kind of individual would say that, and then conclude “I obviously know more than the experts now”?

  5. Rob Grigjanis says

    brucegee1962 @4:

    What kind of individual would say that, and then conclude “I obviously know more than the experts now”?

    An individual like Richard Carrier.

  6. nomdeplume says

    Occurs to me that the email would form an excellent basis for teaching an introduction to evolution…

  7. ANB says

    shermanj @1 I fully agree (both with your compliments to the bloggist and your remarks about responding to these idiots).

    It just feeds them. We can all see they are idiots. Those on “their side” take your response as fuel. They are not legitimate. They are not scientific. They are not concerned with the truth. They only want “fuel” (responses, continued controversy, acknowledgement from an establishment (i.e., credible) figure. You are giving them that. STOP IT.

    Of course they are idiots (more name calling, etc.), but you are giving them viability simply by responding, even if you are eviscerating them. They don’t care. They just want recognition. You are serving their agenda. Think it over.

  8. flange says

    You posted a wonderful video of “Bonhoeffer’s Theory of Stupidity” recently.
    TXPiper fits all criteria of being a stupid person. He won’t listen to anyone else. He cannot be reasoned with.
    But I do think it’s important to educate us on his fallacious reasoning, so we have ready answers for his type of bullshit. Perhaps, if we get to a nascent stupid person in time, we can slow down this virus.

  9. DanDare says

    I like seeing the occasional tear down of this sort of crap.
    Its rarely beneficial for the obtuse liar that sent the crap but often very helpful for the audience.
    Thanks PZ for your perseverance.

  10. StevoR says

    @ ^ DanDare : Seconded by me and same here.


    What’s the background skeleton hanging from the door at the upper right hand side of the screen? Human-like skull and hands but small and quadruipedal-arboreal looking? Tarsier? Marmoset? Lemur of some kind? Almost a bit koala-ish in body plan though I know its not, (Too small & skull wrong shape.)

  11. JoeBuddha says

    Couple of thoughts:
    I can kinda guarantee flipping a fair coin 5 heads / 5 tails in a row. Haven’t tried the experiment, so I’m not 100% sure; might have to try it. If, at the end, I focus on that coin, I can say, “See. Not a fair coin!”
    Second, modeling evolution has been a tool in the coder’s toolbox for a while, and it works kinda. Results are guaranteed to be messy, but sometimes you can find answers to intractable problems. Like designing complex filters and antenna arrays. I don’t see it used very much, but that’s probably because it can easily get side tracked if the filter code isn’t designed well. So, yeah, it works fine, if a bit messy.

  12. wzrd1 says

    He never even considers contributions from viral genetic insertion, nor does he consider that we discover ERV sequences throughout the genome on a regular basis.
    Something is wrong.
    His thinking, that evolution is a planned sequence of events, as he keeps looking for logical intermediary steps in a planned process, of which nature has no such magical contributor.
    That each genetic sequence will show neat, logical steps, usually with no misteps, but everything geared toward filling a round nest hole with a round cow, never considering that cows don’t nest, nor do organisms evolve in any guided way beyond just a few incidental changes allowing them to better fit into their environment in a way conducive to more efficiently passing their genetics along a tad better than their neighbors.
    And he never. even briefly considers retroviral contributions to a genome, either by introducing sequences from neighbors that become a better fit or considering neutralizing a retrovirus introduces changes that can be considerable and some of that detritus can come in handy “down the road” s a component in novel proteins and the organism with that novel protein survives and thrives, those without, not so much.
    He sees a toothpick and uses amazing jumps of illogical deduction to seek a toothpick tree. When he finally finds the wood matches a tree, obviously the wood evolved to become toothpicks, rather than being selected from a dozen other tree wood samples to find the one most economically and conveniently cut into the sheets that will become toothpicks.
    All, to make nature fit his theory that we’re the be all and end all of evolution, the most perfect, proclaiming that our existence is proof of divine intelligent and perfect design. A failed surmise on its surface and foundation.
    He points to the toothpick and proclaims God knew humans would want toothpicks, so made a toothpick tree. I sit back, put my feet up on my Ikea footrest and ask why God went through the trouble of making Ikea, when it’d have been simpler for the desired items to evolve to fit between my teeth or form my foot rest made of the same wood. Then, add that humans selected the wood from dozens of other wood types, based upon ease of working the wood into the components that we need and the price of the wood and if he wants fine furniture, do not shop at Ikea.
    Especially for ideas.
    He’ll point at a human and claim perfection, I’ll point at a platypus and claim better fit to its environment, but neither is better or worse than the other in any way other than displaying defective logic.

  13. Akira MacKenzie says

    Ugh… My insomnia kicked in last night so I went down a rabbit hole by reading old Thunderdome threads wherein I got reacquainted with a few assholes of the past. I don’t recommend it, Sleeplessness AND depression are not a good mix.

  14. blf says

    @15 giggles — not at you, at the “insomnia rabbit hole” — yeah, been there albeit haven’t done that. My rabbit hole tends to be watching videos — (typically classic) Doctor Who, as one example — and then I look at the clock, it’s 9am, the Sun is out, and I wonder why I am so tried… Variants include actually going to bed, but with the mobile, same result (plus a drained battery), albeit at least I did manage to make it to the / into bed.

  15. says

    Dear @15 Akria and @16 blf,
    I suffer from Insomnia, too, at times. It is a symptom of being side-swiped by the ‘old age truck’ see: I would really like to find some ‘safe and non-addictive’ drug that would let me ‘turn off my mind’ so I can get to sleep. Please, you two, get some sleep, it is so necessary.

    @10 Dan Dare and @11 StevoR, I do agree that the shovel full of crap that these creationist aholes want people to read and admire NEEDS to be debunked. But, Prof. Myers has done it in the past and I think he should limit his time trying to use logic and reason on them. They are immune to rationality. All they want is people to pay attention to them. They would moon the camera if it would get them more ‘views’ and ‘likes’. OOPS, they are mooning the camera, since they are just one big ahole.

  16. anchor says

    I think shermanj and ANB completely miss an important point which people like Lynna and nomdeplume totally get. The motivation isn’t to counteract the pipe-fitter. There is more to it than some sordid debate. There happens to be immense value in seeing how a fine instructor answers these kinds of objections. It has to do with education.

    Face it: these creationist/engineer/pipe-fitter brand of ‘thinking’ is common. PZ isn’t responding to the pipe-fitter in order to ‘debate’ him or, as ANB puts it, to give him and others like him acknowledgement, viability, recognition, or that PZ is somehow serving his or their agenda. That presumption just ain’t true.

    You ask PZ to “think it over” yet PZ has written at length numerous times over the years about how worthless it is to engage with these loons in debate. Perhaps you missed out on that. But that’s evidently as far as you’re willing to think on the issue. PZ isn’t ‘debating’ this guy. The actuality is nobody who DOES think straight and level gives a flying crap what the pipe-fitter thinks or wants or understands. PZ is using him to illustrate aspects of the theory of evolution that have always been contentious and difficult for many people to grasp. He’s addressing that and has been doing a damn fine job of it over the years too.

    It doesn’t matter what the pipe-fitter thinks. what really matters is that the rest of us get to see how a good science teacher deals with this kind of insipidity and responds to questions that very commonly rise to the surface like sewage during a flood. I know it does annually within my family during holiday dinners. The same old junk emerges based on the same old idiotic presumptions erupt again and again, like a bad disease. And I’ve seen it pus out publicly in all sorts of venues where these loons are ready to pounce on the opportunity to jack off in a public forum. They love the limelight.

    Surely you both must have noticed the logical clarity and systematic reasoning that PZ employed in answering these objections laced with ridiculous yet very popular presumptions. He’s not debating any particular idiot pipe-fitter/engineer-head. He’s answering a large population of them (sound familiar? Its why both science and natural selection are so effective: think about THAT).

    But most of all think of all the many students that will derive benefits from PZ’s demonstration of clear-headed thinking, or all those unacquainted with the more subtle aspects of the concepts involved – or those who may be sitting on the fence: he’s showing lots of people how its done – not only how nature does it but how to be an effective communicator of science.

    He’s speaking to those who CAN be enlightened by point-for-point discourse such as this. (I read him because he frequently bestows insights that hadn’t occurred to me before, and helps me to be a better writer and communicator. He is certainly NOT speaking to the creationist/engineer/pipe-fitter-type wackos who will never get it. That kind are incapable of learning because they don’t WANT to learn. They’re not capable of grokking the point because, as PZ says, they put their hands over their ears and ‘la-la-la-la’ their way ever deeper into ignorance.

  17. whheydt says

    Re: anchor @ #18…
    Sigh… Please don’t generically lump engineers in with creationists. (I can’t speak to pipe-fitters.) As a retired programmer (another too often maligned group) who majored in EE, I am someone who does NOT doubt that evolution happened and continues to happen and that the ToE is the best description we have of how it happens. Since the study of engineering includes a fair amount of physics, I have no issues with the accuracy of radioisotope dating techniques and also understand the limits of specific isotope choices (e.g. Carbon-14 dating doesn’t work out past about 50Kyr.).

  18. PaulBC says

    All of these “debates” are extended arguments from incredulity. “I just can’t believe evolution did it, so God must have.” Of course they’re combined with willful ignorance of how evolution actually works. “I can’t believe you can get a complex structure like a human eye just by flipping coins.” Well, you’re right not to believe that because it isn’t what happened.

    Some time I would like to see this “debate” shifted away from evolution to development. I am personally incredulous that you can get from a squishy little one-celled zygote to an adult elephant complete with ivory tusks unless there is some kind of élan vital guiding the process (and one with knowledge about how to make ivory). I mean, it’s inconceivable. But hey, that one is repeatable and observable in a human time frame.

    In fact, I accept that we’re observing emergent complexity, but that doesn’t mean I am able to wrap my head around layers of effects including cell differentiation, organization into tissues, endocrine function, environmental influences, etc. It takes a great deal to produce an elephant from a cell.

    I suspect that all creationists are intuitively vitalists as well, though they refuse to admit it, even to themselves.

  19. blf says

    whheydt@18, Seconded! Another essentially-retired computing-type here, albeit one who also has a degree in Mathematics, I too get rather annoyed at the engineer ≡ cretinist trope — whilst acknowledging there does seem to be a notable bias among some (unknown-to-me) percentage of people who call themselves “engineers” for cretinism.

  20. PaulBC says

    whheydt@19 There is an engineering mindset that may be responsible for the apparent prevalence of engineers among creationists (lots of intentional weasel words there; has anyone actually found a statistical correlation?).

    I agree that there are many engineers* who are not creationists. In fact, I’ve worked in biotech, and there are robotics engineers among others. While it’s possible that they do this work while disagreeing with the majority of scientists among their colleagues, I think most of them accept the same premises. Or for that matter, the development of PCR and gene sequencers are engineering triumphs. Possibly some of these engineers were creationists, but I imagine many were not if they found this work engaging.

    But back to the mindset. An engineer typically wants to see a clean design, a set of steps that led to it, and a very conscious exploration of alternatives. Extraneous parts are a red flag, perhaps the sign of an incompetent person just tinkering. If you’ve internalized these values, which are sensible in context, it’s possible that you may misapply them to the natural world, which works very differently. (Tinkering happens in the invention of “designed” products too, and I am reminded of “muntzing” or the process of reducing complexity of an electrical circuit by removing parts arbitrarily until it ceases to function. True, Earl “Madman” Muntz was not a formally trained engineer.)

    *I consider “software engineering” a misnomer and prefer to call my work “software development.” While many things can be considered engineering, I am more comfortable limiting it to technology with natural constraints (e.g. mechanical, electrical, and chemical forces) rather than formal constraints (the relative difficulty of implementing feature X in programming language Y, writing maintainable code, etc.). There is overlap in how this work is organized institutionally, and the kinds of people who do it, but don’t think calling it “engineering” is very helpful. It’s a discipline that only exists relative to an artificially defined context (or a purely mathematical one such as the framework of Turing-equivalent computation).

  21. PaulBC says

    blf@21 “Me three!” I hope that was clear from my rather longwinded response above.

  22. unclefrogy says

    it seems tome that creationists of this type are over looking the basics. As it was stated it is the survival of the fittest. Birth and death are not considered in their fixation of random mutation, ignoring genetic drift completely.
    I think it might be connected with their clinging to the belief in a “soul” and the afterlife. There an aversion to any thoughts that might question those beliefs
    may be this texas piper is a player of the bagpipes and the sound has driven him mad!
    (I do like the sound of the pipes but not all the time)

  23. raven says

    I’ll put this here because it is related.
    One of the often repeated claims of the creationists is that Darwinian evolution can’t produce complexity.
    It is just wrong. It is empirically wrong since we see exactly that all the time.
    Here is one of many examples.

    In Test Tubes, RNA Molecules Evolve Into a Tiny Ecosystem
    When researchers gave a genetic molecule the ability to replicate, it evolved over time into a complex network of “hosts” and “parasites” that both competed and cooperated to survive.

    Illustration of a network of self-replicating RNA molecules evolving and getting more complex.
    At the dawn of life, simple networks of molecules somehow started to evolve, diversify and become more complex. Researchers have now found clues to how this might have happened by watching RNA molecules evolve in a test tube.
    Yasemin Saplakoglu May 5, 2022

    After a lengthy experiment with tantalizing implications for origin-of-life studies, a research group in Japan has reported creating a test tube world of molecules that spontaneously evolved both complexity and, surprisingly, cooperation. Over hundreds of hours of replication, a single type of RNA evolved into five different molecular “species” or lineages of hosts and parasites that coexisted in harmony and cooperated to survive, like the beginning of a “molecular version of an ecosystem,” said Ryo Mizuuchi, the lead author of the study and a project assistant professor at the University of Tokyo.

    Their experiment, which confirmed previous theoretical findings, showed that molecules with the means to replicate could spontaneously develop complexity through Darwinian evolution, “a critical step for the emergence of life,” the researchers wrote.

    “We can provide the direct evidence; we can see what can actually happen” when a replicating molecule complexifies in a test tube, Mizuuchi said.

    This was the first and probably most important step toward evolving a complex network of replicators in the lab, said Sijbren Otto, a professor of systems chemistry at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands who was not involved in the study. “With what is shown here, the path ahead becomes a lot clearer, and one becomes a lot more optimistic that this can actually work out.” (continues much longer)

    tldr version.
    1. They start with an RNA molecule that codes for its own RNA polymerase that can synthesize itself.
    2. They keep replicating the system over and over again.
    3. After hundreds of replication cycles, they ended up with a small ecosystem of 5 different RNA molecules.
    This is an artificial system in that they had to add all the protein synthesis machinery to translate the RNA into the replicase enzyme. It is though, a replicating system that evolves and gets more complex.

    Similar experiments have been done with ribozymes, a self replicating all RNA system. With similar results.

  24. birgerjohansson says

    Slightly OT
    I just came across stuff about Christina Pushaw, the rabid spokesperson for governor DeSantis. I think we have found an even more unpleasant person than the creationists that are trolling the internet.

  25. unclefrogy says

    as far as engineering and design go with regards to evolution the creationists also have blind spot. The is much of design and engineering that goes on inside the mind and on paper before any device or created design is realized, there is also the prototyping and experimentation. Existance does not have an external mind neither does evolution so all of the experimentation and prototyping must be done in real time a step at a time “discarding ” some and repeating others birth and death. All of that also through doubts on eternal life and in turn a soul.

  26. PaulBC says


    I think it might be connected with their clinging to the belief in a “soul” and the afterlife.

    I agree with this, but I also think vitalism plays a big role. The distinction between “living” and “non-living” is fundamental to human thought, and in practice it’s a useful distinction. The intuition that the distinction is one of substance and not simply arrangement of matter is strong and was the prevailing view through most of history.

    There are still plenty of fantasy plots about bringing dead people and things “back to life” as if that entailed entailed something other than undoing massive cellular damage (an impossible task; better to grow new cells from the remains). Yes, it’s fantasy but suspension of disbelief would be impossible without the flawed intuition of an élan vital that leaves upon death and can be restored somehow, with electricity like in Frankenstein movie, or touch, or a breath.

    IDers will of course insist that they’re not vitalists and love to draw analogies to machines. Pure creationists, I’m not so sure about. I think vitalism persists culturally and shows up in such things as homeopathic medicine or a distinction between food grown “organically” from manure rather than nitrogen fertilizer.

  27. Akira MacKenzie says

    @ 16

    Thanks for the suggestions. The last few years I turned to booze to deal with sleeplessness and the existential dread that came with the Trump administration. However, I started to realize that I was drinking way too much and it was starting to become a problem, so I stopped in a desperate attempt to avoid alcoholism. While I have found safer alternatives to whiskey, I can’t always afford them.

  28. Rob Grigjanis says

    Akira @29: My best stress medicine is exercise. I really don’t think I could cope without it.

  29. tuatara says

    Akira @ 29. I am so pleased to hear that you recognised that booze isn’t such a good remedy for insomnia. It might work wonderfully for a while, but I know it doesn’t keep working. It is a rabbit-hole in itself and is best to avoid.

    I don’t really have an alternative for you. Having suffered insomnia most of my life I haven’t actually found anything that reliably works, be it sex or masturbation, anti-histamines, meditation, booze, pot, etc. Now I just put up with the insomniac nights and sleep when I can.
    I had a friend years ago who could say, “I have a big day tomorrow so I am going to sleep” at which point he could just go to sleep within a couple of minutes, even when sitting there in an armchair while us loud insomniacs in the same room went on with our card game for hours. I wish I had asked him how he did it. No chance of that now, sadly.

    I agree with Rob Grigjanis @ 30 that exercise is a good option. it has worked for me in the past, but I don’t know how I could find regular time during which to exercise now.

    I read years ago about a sleep technique the US Navy developed for its pilots. Might be worth you checking it out. Like many things I would guess that it will need some practice to perfect.

    I must say though, thinking about how or why xian fundies cannot see reason is not conducive to a relaxing sleep. If it weren’t for their pernicious and seditious tentacles fiddling with our governments and our children’s minds, I would say leave them be. But, sadly, we have to think about it. Even over here in Oz I too lost a lot of sleep, and even a job, over the Trump administration.

    I have nothing useful to add to all the sound arguments against the stance of txpiper that have been posted above.

  30. whheydt says

    Re: PaulBC @ #28…
    As regards “coming back to life”… While realizing the limits of analogies and that this particular one is only a very loose fit, I tend to think of the brain as the hardware and the mind as the software running on it. Since that sort of “software” has to develop itself over a lifetime, if you shut the brain down (death), restarting the brain (even if possible) won’t bring the software back, so the mind is irretrievably lost.

    I’m sure the analog is very wrong on any number of levels, but the basic concept that resurrecting the brain from death doesn’t imply restoring the functioning of the mind is likely.

    (And, of course, this leads to the obvious question for the theist…what is the substrate on which the putative soul is operating and how can it be detected?)

  31. whheydt says

    Re: several…
    Exercise…. There is this problem with most concepts of exercise, specifically that exercise makes you “feel good” (endorphin high) and is, therefore, self-reinforcing feedback loop. About 1/4 of the population doesn’t get an “endorphin high” from exercise, so there is no self-reinforcing feedback to encourage exercise as a habit.

    I’m one of those that doesn’t get the “reward”, so I see exercise as mere drudgery that just makes one tired and sweaty. Might even explain part of why I detested PE in school.

  32. PaulBC says

    OT (but just to chime in) My sleep would be a lot better if I wasn’t waking up with shoulder pain every night (working on it; just saw a physical therapist). Getting to sleep is funny. I find it easy to be lulled to near sleep by really boring afternoon meetings. I have to stop myself since that’s not the goal. Also, audiobooks can do this to me but I have never tried to use them as a sleep aid.

    I’m rarely troubled by any genuine worries when trying to get to sleep, but I sometimes do pointless arithmetic in my head like counting by 7s as far as I can make it. Originally, this would put me to sleep but I got better at it. Also, I test if larger numbers are multiples of 7. Note that 10 mod 7 = 3 and 100 mod 7 = 2. 1000 mod 7 = 6, like -1, so if you have a six digit number abcdef you can reduce it to -2a-3b-c+2d+3e+f and see if that is a multiple of 7. Or, for instance, is it easier to compute 2(d+e) + (e+f)? I try different numbers and different approaches. I am still wondering if there’s a way to recognize multiples of 7 as easily as 2, 3, 5, and 9. This is not very interesting mathematics but the point is just to do something with my brain while making that mysterious transition from awake to sleeping state. Unfortunately, it often has the opposite effect.

    When I was a computer science grad student, I really would work on ideas for proofs while in bed. In this case, the lost sleep was a legitimate tradeoff for progress in my work. Now it’s just a compulsion. But really I don’t have that much trouble with sleep. The shoulder thing is much worse than any typical insomnia issues.

    Another thing that keeps me awake is the earworm song du jour. I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

    As for exercise. I still like walking and biking and try to use these reasonably often as a means of getting around. The main appeal is getting outside and seeing my environment not from inside a car. With biking, it’s sometimes a little enjoyable to have a challenge of going up a hill, not really an endorphin rush, but just a sense of accomplishment. I have had an elliptical machine for years and have only occasionally gotten myself to use it on a regular basis, e.g. watching videos.

  33. birgerjohansson says

    About the neural correlate to the mind-
    Speaking of “bringing back” people to life, the parallell idea is “uploading”.

    To scan a brain with that resolution, the scanning apparatus would have to be inte fram with the brain itself.
    If we are talking about technology available 10,000 AD I cannot rule out that GM has made it possible to form such sensors grown organically with the brain itself. But that is a geological era away.

  34. John Morales says

    whheydt @32:

    I tend to think of the brain as the hardware and the mind as the software running on it

    What about the juices?

    You know… the various neurotransmitters and the hormones and whatnot. The glucose levels, the oxygen levels, that sort of stuff.

    That which affects how the brain works in turn can affect the mind.

    (if it’s like hardware, it’s much more like a FPGA than like a CPU, only better)

  35. John Morales says

    … and the mind is more like the output of the [software] than the [software] itself.

    (Same distinction as the output of a chatbot vs. the code for the chatbot)

  36. birgerjohansson says

    @ 35
    Should be “integral”, spell check messed up and replaced it with a Swedish phrase.

  37. PaulBC says

    birgerjohansson@35 We need a better understanding of how longterm memories are represented to have an idea of whether it’s feasible to restore an individual personality after death but before major decay. I would guess that most is lost very soon, but it’s not like pulling the plug on a volatile RAM where it’s all just suddenly gone. Suppose (in far future or fantasy scenario) that a nanobot could inspect all the synapses of each no-longer functioning neuron. Maybe there is enough information there to construct live synapses with the same responses. The reconstruction would have some loss, but if done to the entire brain, might represent the individual approximately. (But I sort of doubt it.)

    Then if you could regrow a brain (or less plausibly “upload” a personality into a computer) with the same characteristics, the individual “mind” should have the continuity of the individual and their past experience. You could question whether this is really the same person since the original remains as dead as ever. It doesn’t “undo” the death from their perspective, but provides a substitute for their survivors. Continuity of conscious is already an illusion even in a single individual. All I know is my immediate surroundings and the state of my brain, which I interpret as my past.

    Of course, if you had a non-destructive “upload” you would be better off maintaining a backup while alive.

  38. John Morales says


    You could question whether this is really the same person since the original remains as dead as ever.

    Nah. It’s a copy, obviously. No question about it.

    Then if you could regrow a brain (or less plausibly “upload” a personality into a computer) with the same characteristics

    The juices, man! Don’t forget the juices.

    … if you had a non-destructive “upload” …

    If you had an upload of any sort, you could make any number of copies of it.

    (That’s the thing about digital assets)

  39. PaulBC says

    John Morales@41

    Nah. It’s a copy, obviously. No question about it.

    Well, yes, but I don’t see the significance of this distinction.

    Right now, I would like to be alive tomorrow even if the alternative was that my life were to end abruptly and painlessly. Why? Well, I have plans I’d like to see happen. People also depend on me. While I would not personally feel the impact of this loss, I can express a present wish for it not to happen.

    An indistinguishable substitute would serve those purposes just as well as if I continued in my own body. Suppose the substitution is kept secret from all interested parties, including my substitute (e.g. I’m on a trip when it happens). Now suppose that my substitute is even informed of this. He might be a little weirded out by the idea, but I don’t see why he’d mourn my passing. He’d just enjoy the life he had been dropped into where he fits just fine and things make sense. (Or maybe I have a mild sociopathic streak to think this.) He would admittedly be stuck with an uncomfortable secret to keep, so in the simplest scenario he would not know.

    Do I as a living individual think “No, that would be awful, because my actual body and present consciousness would be terminated?” Not really. Some people might. I am just having trouble seeing why I should care.

    My point was that that the continuity of my ordinary experience in one body is already illusory. When I sleep, I enter a very different state. Am I the same person? The next day I restart just with memories of the past. For that matter, I have had the experience of driving a car for a short distance and having no recollection of conscious thoughts during that time. Was I a temporary “philosophical zombie”? If I were in a coma, I might really be very close to inert in terms of consciousness, but could still come back. If some form of suspended animation worked (though this may be pure fantasy), my suspended body would be “dead” in terms of lacking in any biological processes but simply preserved very well. Is the restored body “me” or just a substitute that happens to occupy the last set of atoms I occupied?

    Obviously, there is nothing new here. It’s just the Ship of Theseus applied to a human being. While you can try to define them, I’m not sure the concepts of identity and continuity are important enough to care.

  40. lochaber says

    captainblack @40

    Thanks for bringing that up, with the wiki links.

    A couple years back, I crossed the street at a crosswalk near a construction site that was using a jackhammer at the time. I distinctly remember noticing that I could passively tell the movement of automobiles traveling parallel to me from the differences in the way the echoes of the jackhammer sounded. I don’t think I’ve encountered that phenomenon before or since, but just that an untrained, relatively unperceptive and distracted human individual, could track a (large) moving object outside of their field of vision…

    Well, ideal conditions and all, but I don’t find it particularly difficult to imagine scenarios where some critter could have a similar experience, except instead of a jackhammer, it’s mating calls or warning calls, or even just really excessive tummy rumblings, whatever. So long as there are some critters who can benefit from this, and can use it to their advantage to escape predation, avoid accidental death, ease in feeding, help with mating, whatever is beneficial works, etc., And then it gets refined…

  41. John Morales says


    You could question whether this is really the same person
    I don’t see the significance of this distinction

    Why did you bring it up, then?

    When I sleep, I enter a very different state. Am I the same person?

    Yes, you are.

    But then, “While you can try to define them, I’m not sure the concepts of identity and continuity are important enough to care.”

    So you’re not sure whether you care, though you do go on about it.

  42. PaulBC says

    John Morales@45

    So you’re not sure whether you care,

    Your insistence on the distinction between self and copy suggests that you do care. (I can only infer)

    though you do go on about it.

    Yet you make no attempt to justify it.

    It is really not an important distinction. The continuity of my consciousness is illusory when it occurs in a my own body. I have only the present moment and my brain state. It is not superior to the continuity a copy would experience (or multiple copies for that matter).