Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Black Rice and Creationist Not-So-White Lies

The Birth of a Black Rice Gene and Its Local Spread by Introgression | The Plant Cell

Here's a nice example of how a change in a species' environment can change the meaning of the information in its genome and so change the direction of the species evolution. Of course, it gives the lie to another basic piece of disinformation traditionally foisted on their willing dupes by creationist frauds.

A team of plant geneticists from Japan led by Dr. Takeshi Izawa have worked out the genetic basis of the black colour in black rice and have traced its origins to a mutation in a gene known to science as Kala4, which controls the amount of anthocyanin pigments the plant produces. The wild rice, Oryza rufipogon, has red grains but, due to a mutation in a gene controlling pro-anthocyanidin biosynthesis, domestic rice, Oryza sativa, fails to produce these pigments so remains white.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Christians for Child Abuse

Florida school apologizes for warning students that evolution deniers were trying to ‘mislead’ them

Close on Pope Francis laying claim to a special privilege for Christians to use their 'faith' as an excuse to abuse minorities, comes news of another mighty blow for lies, disinformation and child abuse by fundamentalists in Florida, USA.

Parents were incensed when they discovered that Heritage Middle School in Deltona, Florida had given students an assignment designed to help them understand the difference between scientific terms like 'theory' and 'law', and how the scientific meaning of these terms differs from their use in colloquial language. The assignment had included the statement:

Monday, 28 September 2015

Pope Francis Just Can't Hide His Bigotry

Pope: Workers Have 'Human Right' to Refuse Same-Sex Marriage Licenses - NBC News

It must be uncomfortable being Pope Francis, as he balances himself on the horns of a dilemma. To mix the metaphor, he needs to stand astride the fence with a foot planted firmly on either side of it. It fair makes yer eyes water.

On the one hand he has to fill his allotted role as the affable, avuncular, love, peace and tolerance-embracing contrast to his sinister predecessor, the former Nazi, Joseph Ratzinger, who, as Pope John Paul II's enforcer, orchestrated the child abuse cover-ups which are still damaging the Catholic Church.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Lessons From The Dordogne - Sacerdos The Fake

The shrine of Saint Sacerdos,
L'église de Saint-Sacerdos, Sarlat-la-Canéda, Périgord Noir, France
Invisible gods just don't cut the mustard when it comes to giving the faithful something to pray to. What they need is bits of body of dead patriarchs; preferably dead patriarchs who were killed 'for their faith' in ways which seem designed to produce plenty of relics for the faithful to worship to.

Dominating the main square in the beautiful Périgord Noir town of Sarlat-la-Canéda is the former Sarlat Cathedral, (Cathédrale Saint-Sacerdos de Sarlat) dedicated to Saint Sacerdos (also known as Sacerdos de Calviac, Sardot, Sadroc, Sardou, Serdon, Serdot) of Limoges, traditionally the first bishop of Limoges who was born in Sarlat in 670 CE and was allegedly martyred in about 720 CE, though no-one seems to know how or why but the important thing is that he was martyred according to local legend.

The cathedral was downgraded to a church in 1801 and the diocese was incorporated in the diocese of Périgueux, but what are claimed to be the remains of Saint Sacerdos are kept in a sealed glass sarcophagus in an ornate chapel in the church. You can't get very close to it but there is what appears to be a clothed wax mannequin in a glass case with a kneeling stool placed thoughtfully in front, so those praying to the bits of dead saint can be seen to be suitably supplicant.

But, powerful though no doubts these bits of dead saint are at granting wishes, very little is actually known about Saint Sacerdos himself and little or nothing is known about how he came to have the reputation of a holy martyr or what he did to earn his place in the Catholic Communion of saints is also a mystery. Some clues however, can be gleaned from the history of the Catholic Church in France and the events immediately preceding Sacerdos' remains being transferred to the newly-created diocese of Sarlat.

Lessons From The Dordogne - Order From Chaos

One of the sacred dogmas of creationism is that it needs a creator to get order from chaos and complexity from simplicity. Like so much else with creationism though, the sacred dogma is contradicted by the readily observable evidence.

Take this photograph for example. It is of the river Dordogne as it runs alongside the lovely village of La Roque-Gageac. Note especially the little pits in the surface caused by little vortices produced as the water flows past the end of the wooden jetty and over the rocks in the shallows.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Lesson From Lot - The Rocamadour Fraud

Rocamadour, Lot, France.
Rocamadour, just outside the Dordogne in the Lot Department, France, is a mediaeval pilgrimage site consisting of a cluster of building clinging to the almost sheer side of a deep gorge. It is also the site of the ‘Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin’ sitting just below the top, accessible only via a steep and winding path (before the modern lift was installed).

If only the pilgrims had looked across the gorge, and had even a superficial understanding of geology and the courage to shake off their theophobic superstition, they would have seen the glaringly obvious evidence that their superstition was (and still is) based on a lie.

Lessons From The Dordogne - Why Are Things Different?

Dordogne Meadow
In case you're wondering where I've been, don't worry - I haven't given up blogging. We’ve been in the Dordogne, South-West France, for a couple of weeks, taking in some of the local culture and history as well as seeing the wildlife. Unfortunately, our gite didn't have broadband and Blogger on Android - well... needs some work.

We were hoping to see the wildlife particularly because it’s different to the wildlife we normally see in the UK. Not entirely different, of course, but different enough to be interesting and certainly different enough to be able to tick off a few more birds, butterflies and wildflowers in my field guides.

But why is it different? I wonder if creationists ever give any thought to this question.

To a biologist, and anyone with even a modicum of understanding of evolutionary biology, the answer to that question is stark-staringly obvious – it’s because the environment is different, so what constitutes ‘fitness’ is different, so the survival value of certain characteristics will be different, so the ecological balances will be different because ecosystems, no less than species, evolve over time.

Geographical diversity is entirely dependent on local environmental factors and how they change. These local factors can include the type of underlying rock strata – chalk, sand, clay, volcanic tufa, etc., – elevation, latitude, average hours of sunlight, average, maximum and minimum temperatures, average rainfall, humidity, human interference, and so on.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Another of Those (Missing) Transitional Species Found!

Homo naledi. Reconstruction by paleoartist John Gurche
Image credit: John Gurche / Mark Thiessen / National Geographic.
Homo naledi: new species of ancient human discovered, claim scientists | Science | The Guardian

We've known about the Rising Star Cave, and that there was something important there, for some time now, so it's no real surprise that palaeoanthropologists have announced this find. In fact, I first wrote about it in November 2014.

What is perhaps surprising is that they've classified these remains as members of our Homo genus rather than members of the Australopithecus genus, because this would be the first archaic hominid from outside East Africa, where it was generally assumed Homo had evolved from Australopithecines such as A. afarensis. But, it ties in quite nicely with the alternative theory that true hominids evolved further south possibly from A. sediba.

This find is stunning not only because of the number of

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Mutant Clones? Not Darwinian But Science Explains Them

Loss of Karma transposon methylation underlies the mantled somaclonal variant of oil palm | Nature.

Despite its daunting title, this research paper shows the explanatory power of the recently-discovered field of epigenetics.

For those not familiar with this science, epigenetics is the study of the way, in complex multicellular organisms where cells are highly differentiated and specialised to perform very different functions, the same genome is made to perform different functions. Clearly, the genes needed to make and work muscles in mammals or leaves in trees, are not the

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The Old Dead Gods Of Wiltshire

Stonehenge
© LBI ArchPro, Geert Verhoeven
The Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project reveals traces of standing stones beneath Durrington Walls super-henge | Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology

Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England is one of the most important, if not the most important, neolithic monuments in Europe. It was clearly immensely important to those who built it, changed it and rebuilt it over hundreds of years. Clearly too, the site itself was of some importance because it is unlikely to have been chosen at random as it is surrounded by other neolithic sites and monuments.

Some of the stones are believed to have been brought

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Another Load of Intelligent Design Balls

There are a few sure-fire ways to tell whether something has been designed, even if not particularly intelligently:
  1. It has a clear function or purpose.
  2. It is as simple as it can be to fulfil that function or purpose - fitness for purpose.
  3. It achieves that function or purpose as efficiently as possible.
Of course, as you would expect of something like living things, examples which demonstrate these qualities are about as common as hen's teeth - which is how we know they weren't designed and why anyone who isn't profoundly ignorant of biology finds the claims of Intelligent Design hoaxers so transparently implausible as to be laughably childish.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

OMG! Look What The Intelligent Designer Wants Us to Eat Now!

PLOS Pathogens: Distinct but Spatially Overlapping Intestinal Niches for Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococcus faecium and Carbapenem-Resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae

Let's pretend the Intelligent Design hoax is real and that everything that happens in nature is by design.

I'm afraid we'll have to drop the nonsensical stuff about this designer being benevolent or even particularly anthropophilic though, because the facts just don't sustain that notion at all, even if we bend over backwards to accommodate the notion of Intelligent Design by ignoring so much evidence. Some mental acrobatics require a mental agility that results in too many strains and breakages for comfort.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Idiotic Antics of the Unintelligent Designer.

Arizona’s virgin ant queens could shed light on the predictability of evolution | Science/AAAS | News

It makes you wonder just how many examples of the sheer stupidity and lack of intelligence in so much of biological 'design' it will take to force creationists to abandon their notion that a magic man intelligently designed everything.

I mean, it's like continually showing them the flat surfaces, sharp edges and corners on a cube to convince them it's not a sphere and have them tell you you're the one with the problem; you're the one who can't recognise a sphere when you see one.

Hawks And Jays Made Hummingbirds Evolve

Black-chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri)
Hawks Act as Unwitting Muscle for Hummingbirds | Science | Smithsonian

"My enemy's enemy is my friend" might be a cynical policy when it comes to government foreign relations, but it seems to work at least some of the time when it comes to genes (or maybe memes).

It has long been recognised by ornithologists that the nests of black-chinned hummingbirds in Arizona, USA, tend to be clustered around the nests of goshawks and Cooper's hawks, but the reason for this were not previously understood, and was maybe even somewhat counter-intuitive.

Now a team of researchers from Ecuador, Canada and the USA made detailed observations of the movements

How Rapid Evolution Works

Guppies. Ideal subject to study evolution.
Change in environment can lead to rapid evolution -- ScienceDaily

Many things in science are counter-intuitive, which is the basic reason we use control groups and other methods designed to remove bias, and also why we don't simply do science by thinking about things in the belief that we can work out the answers by intuition.

Human intuition is not the powerful tool that people who dispute science on the basis of personal incredulity, often backed by profound ignorance of the subject, like to imagine.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Victims of Christianity

Cromwell's victim
Durham Palace Green remains were Scottish prisoners - BBC News

One of the claims Christians like to make is that the morals they get from their god through their religion are:
  1. Superior to non-Christians.
  2. Eternal, objective and unchanging - the so-called fixed 'moral compass'.

Of course, this claim of moral superiority needs to be rationalised when Christians, as happens very frequently and often conspicuously, behave in ways which no decent person would regard as moral, and then blame their god or the Bible for their behaviour.

Cue now the 'no true Scotsman' fallacy where the Christians behaving badly are designated as 'not true Christians' because 'true Christians' don't behave like that. In this way the false universal claim that Christians have superior morals because they were given them by the one true god through the one true religion is protected by simply excluding anyone who doesn't meet that 'universal' truth.
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