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.
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 He’s 163 years out of date.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.