Creationist Wisdom #370: Texas Roughneck

Today’s letter-to-the-editor, which appears in the Houston Chronicle, is especially timely because of the textbook controversy raging in Texas at this very moment. It’s titled Talking textbook evolution.

We’ll give you a few excerpts, enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary, and some bold font for emphasis. Because we don’t like to embarrass people (unless they’re politicians or otherwise in the public eye), we’ll omit the writer’s name and city. However, the same person wrote a very similar letter a couple of months ago, which was mentioned by John Pieret at his fine blog. Okay, here we go:

[T]he controversy over Texas science books is in the news again and, as usual, it is depicted as a battle between scientists and religionists.

However, it should be presented as a contest between poorly educated or highly prejudiced people with science credentials and objective scientists who understand the theory of organic evolution, the evidence consistent with it and the evidence against it.

Wow — there are no “religionists” in the controversy. Instead of them, there are “poorly educated or highly prejudiced people with science credentials.” Who are they? Is the letter-writer talking about the Discoveroids? No, dear reader. You’ll soon see that he’s referring to you:

First, many of the most influential people on both sides don’t even understand the meaning of the word “evolution,” which means significant change accomplished in a series of tiny steps. The very mention of the word conjures up thoughts of religion vs. atheism and becomes emotional. True science, which we should be teaching our children, must be objective.

At times, this guy sounds reasonable. But then … well, you’ll see:

The general theory of organic evolution requires that animals with four-chambered hearts, mammals and birds, evolved from animals with three-chambered hearts, amphibians and reptiles. If that is true, sometime along the way there would have been animals with three-and-a-half chambered hearts.

We love it when they refer to the general theory of evolution. It sounds so … intellectual! As for his allegedly necessary but non-existent transitional form, that’s the same brilliant point he made before — in the letter mentioned by John Pieret. This guy has the discipline to remain steadfast in his beliefs.

We’ve all seen variations of that argument before — e.g., there had to be an ancestor with half an eyeball, etc. — and we always respond with this picture of a thriving species with partially evolved wings:


The letter continues, and here you can see where we got our title:

Now, every oilfield roughneck, as I was, knows that a three-and-a-half cylindered pump would not work. It does not require science credentials to know that.

Those who want our children to be taught that the theory is proven are either sadly ignorant of basic anatomy, don’t understand the theory or are blindly prejudiced by their emotional attachment to the theory.

We’ve been insulted. The roughneck says we’re either ignorant, don’t understand the theory, or we’re blindly prejudiced. We’ll consider that an attempted rebuttal to Dawkins’ Ignorant, Stupid, Insane, or Wicked. Here’s one more excerpt:

In my opinion, our children should be taught the theory of organic evolution because of its profound effect on our society. They should be taught some of the facts consistent with the theory because its proponents such as Darwin were very intelligent people.

However, our children must be made aware of some of the facts that are inconsistent with the theory, only one of which I have mentioned here.

He disclosed only one fact that’s inconsistent with the theory of what he calls organic evolution — presumably he’s referring to the general theory — while hinting that’s he’s got a lot more facts. Perhaps in future letters, he’ll reveal some of them.

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16 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #370: Texas Roughneck

  1. Curmy observes—

    “This guy has the discipline to remain steadfast in his beliefs.”

    … and simultaneously also the learning and mental acuity to fathom the “general theory of organic evolution.”

    With such hard-hitting detractors, I fear our cause is lost.

  2. I wonder about the theory of development. Doesn’t it require that a four-chambered heart come about from a single cell? Wouldn’t it require that, in the course of development, that there be a gradual change from no chambers at all to four chambers?

  3. Let’s see here: on the one hand we have the brilliance of an oilfield roughneck who probably has never seen the inside of a science book in his life, while on the other hand we have 150 years of research done by thousands of highly educated people who do science for a living. It’s so hard to choose…

  4. The writer’s name could be that of a man or a woman, but the great majority of these people are men, so I’ll use masculine pronouns.

    In the “wisdom 368” thread and many times before, I call these writers “transitional fossils.” The writer of 368 was a rare exception, in that it was not his first attempt to make his opinion public, and he even took the time to respond here! From my quick read it seemed like he conceded most or all of evolution, but I could not rule out that he was in on the scam, and just playing the pseudoskeptic (the ones who claim to have “no dog in the fight”, but only whine about one and merely ignore the other).

    As for the author of 370, the fact that this is not his first letter suggests that he has undergone the “speciation” from innocent denier to “perp.” If so, his choice of the nonstandard term “organic evolution” was a deliberate bait-and-switch, and not just parroted. The average reader, including most who have no problem with evolution confuse evolution with abiogenesis, and consider the nonliving matter that assembled into the first life forms “inorganic,” even though it was certainly carbon-based.

    He claims that Darwin advocated the “theory” of ID. That’s a risky move for anti-evolution activist, though apparently becoming more common since they know they can’t back up any other claim. But since, like many of their claims, it flatly contradicts one made by other anti-evolution activists, the obvious question is whether he challenged those who portray Darwin as Public enemy #1. Or are we dealing with another pseudoskeptic?

  5. Pete Moulton: “It’s so hard to choose…”

    No it’s not. You gotta stand up to experts. 😉

  6. The wall separating the two ventricles in a four chambered heart is simply not complete in a three chamber reptile heart. The wall is there, however. It appears to have evolved to close completely independently in mammals and birds, and maybe independently in crocodiles as well. (Crocs are weird, they can operate with a three chambered architecture in low oxygen conditions. and remix oxygenated blood with deoxygenated blood.)

    The writer’s “fact” in this case is rather an example of a small step in evolution (the closure of a wall separating two ventricles) making a major change in the resulting organism and all those that descend from it. Big change from small steps.

  7. The history of anti-evolutionism has its share of “such-and-such a transitional form is impossible” only to have such-and-such discovered in the fossil record. Two that I can think of off hand are: the doubly-articulated jaw required for the transition from “mammal-like reptiles” to “reptile-like mammals”, when the jaw bone migrated to the middle ear; and the supposedly inviable intermediate between “normal” fish eyes placed symmetrically and the location of flatfish eyes both on the same side of the head. If the evolution-deniers had any knowledge of their own history, they might be a little more cautious in asserting that such-and-such is impossible.

    But what I was hinting at above is that evolution is not a case of one adult changing into another adult, but of a change which affects a whole developmental process. In the case of the middle ear bones of mammals, for example, part of the embryonic development of a mammal involves the migration of the jaw bone to the middle ear; and in the case of the flatfish, the young are hatched with the eyes symmetrically placed, and then in the course of development, one eye migrates across the head.

    Does anyone know enough about mammalian embryology to tell us about the development of the four chambers of the heart? Do all four chambers develop simultaneously, or is there an embryonic stage in which a four-chambered heart develops from a three-chambered heart? One thing, though – because the heart is a soft tissue, it seems unlikely that we will find fossil evidence for this transitional form.

  8. With all due respect to the biology and its central role in evolution, I’m convinced that a basic literacy in chemistry, plus the simple understanding of the difference between a static object and an ever-changing system are even more crucial to appreciating how bogus and misleading those anti-evolution arguments are.

    Unfortunately most people who have no problem with evolution can hear nonsense like “what good is half a wing?” or “it’s still a fruit fly” and think “hmm, maybe evolution is not all it’s cracked up to be.”

  9. Charles Deetz ;)

    In my brain I can imagine that 4th chamber evolving from something small, but functional (whether that is true or not). So my question to him is whether he thinks that 1/2 a chamber is functional or not … that makes a huge difference in his argument. Or at least our angle of disproving him.

  10. FYI
    Moorman and Christoffels, Physiol Rev 83: 1223–1267 (2003):
    “Based on the development of trabeculated myocardium, unanimity exists that the right ventricle develops later on in development, downstream and visibly separated from the left ventricle … These observations indicate that the right ventricle develops from a part of the heart tube, whatever the name of that part, that is downstream from the left ventricle, and argue against development from a common ventricular chamber by septum formation within a single ventricular chamber as occurs in the atrial part of the heart…The significance of the above-mentioned description is that it unequivocally demonstrates dorsoventral (innerouter curvature) patterning. One way to describe these factual observations of the cardiac configuration at the ventricular part of the heart tube is that the looping heart tube is a single compartment or module, from which two additional modules have grown, the embryonic ventricles.”

    Simply put, there are two thickenings of a central blood vessel that then folds back on itself to form the two ventricles. The classical birth defect “hole in the heart” occurs when the opening between the chambers, that was originally the tube connecting the thickenings fails to close after birth.

  11. I ran across this guy (or some clone … same roughneck spiel) some months back and pointed out that, as the National Science Foundation says:

    Turtles are a curious transition–they still have three chambers, but a wall, or septum is beginning to form in the single ventricle. This change affords the turtle’s body blood that is slightly richer in oxygen than the frog’s.

  12. What is a “half chamber”? It’s like George Carlin’s crumbs, “You got a crumb, you split it in half, you don’t have half a crumb, you got two crumbs!”

  13. When a theory makes a prediction which seems to be impossible, yet turns out to be the case, isn’t that a remarkable confirmation of the theory? Predicting things which are obvious, which are likely to be the case anyway, or easy to imagine – those do not provide as much confidence in the theory. So when someone says “evolution predicts such-and-such, but that’s impossible”, and then it’s discovered that such-and-such is true – that’s really strong confirmation of evolutionary biology.
    So, should we add “no transition is possible between a three-chambered heart and a four-chambered heart” to the list that includes “doubly-articulated jaw” and “eye half-way migrated across the head” as another strong confirmation of evolutionary biology, and thank the anti-evolutionist for suggesting this?

  14. @TomS:

    While millions just mindlessly parrot those incredulity arguments, those who keep recycling them (after constant refutation) know that they are bogus and misleading. And that the very fact that they need to poke holes – valid or not – in an existing explanation means that they gave given up any attempt to develop one of their own. That alone is a more devastating defeat of “creationism” than all the refutations combined. Or it could be if more than a tiny % ever become aware of it.

    Worse still for the anti-evolution activists, is that one of their most cited members (Behe) essentially admitted ~20 years ago that multicellular scale “evolution can’t do that” arguments are absurd. Why? Because he’s a biochemist, and could probably come up with more refutations than most “Darwinists.” Nevertheless, we need to admit, though, that his molecular scale “irreducible complexity” approach was fiendishly clever, at least in how it can fool nonscientists, and distract critics into highly technical refutations that few people can truly appreciate. You know how anti-evolution activists operate. They’ll through out anything that they think will “stick” to the audience at hand, even if they previously conceded it to be wrong. Even Jello “sticks” to the wall for a few seconds. Given the attention span of most nonscientists, that’s all they need.

  15. General Theory of Evolution? Is that how evolution is affected by gravity? Then the Special Theory of Evolution must deal with how evolution is affected by high speed motion?

    The mind boggles at the thought of Quantum Evolution.

  16. John, great link on the topic of turtle hearts. That link has great graphics.