Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Mapping Human Evolution Out of Africa

Neanderthal
Out of Africa; new research explores drive behind early humanity's travels across the world - Royal Holloway, University of London

Interesting news came a few days ago from Royal Holloway, University of London, that a new research project is to start next month, aimed at mapping the spread of humans out of Africa and across the globe, to occupy all major landmasses other than Antarctica. The research is financed by a £450,000 grant from Leverhulme Trust.

As the Royal Holloway press release says:

Creationism's Nightmare - Abiogenesis!

Haematite tubes
Haematite tubes from the NSB hydrothermal vent deposits that represent the oldest microfossils and evidence for life on Earth. The remains are at least 3,770 million years old.
Photo by Matthew Dodd
Evidence for early life in Earth’s oldest hydrothermal vent precipitates : Nature : Nature Research

Science is moving closer to an explanation of a process whereby the earliest proto-cells could have developed naturally on Earth. It's looking increasingly as though the best explanation of where suitable conditions could be found - in the rock precipitates around hydrothermal vents on ocean floors - is the right one.

It's also looking as though the process got going even earlier than we thought - when Earth was just few million years old, if the interpretation of the evidence presented in this paper is correct. It is strongly suggestive that the process may have got going at least 3.77 billion and maybe even 4.28 billion years ago.

The evidence was found in rocks from the Nuvvuagittuq belt in Quebec, Canada, which are believed to have been formed by precipitation around seafloor-hydrothermal vents.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Holy Smoke! Birds Use Cigarette Butts As Medication!

Urban house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) nest.
Credit: JerryFriedman/CC BY-SA 4.0
An experimental demonstration that house finches add cigarette butts in response to ectoparasites - Suárez-Rodr-guez - 2017 - Journal of Avian Biology - Wiley Online Library

Here is yet another fascinating example of the ingenuity of biological adaptability - and an example that should make any self-respecting intelligent design advocate cringe with embarrassment.

Constantino Macías Garcia at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and his colleagues have been studying a curious phenomenon observed in the Mexican urban house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) in which they collect cigarette butts and place then in their nests. There was inconclusive evidence that the effect was to deter parasitic ticks and other nest parasites so they designed a simple experiment to settle the matter. It was strongly suspected that nicotine and other chemicals in the butts acts as a deterrent to parasites. House sparrows (Paser domesticus) have also been observed to use the same strategy.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Anglican Church Colluded in Abuse Cover-up.

Peter Ball
Groomed and abused 18 vulnerable boys and young men.
Church 'colluded' with sex abuse bishop Peter Ball - BBC News

It's ironic really! Just when I go on holiday to Italy, the centre of the organised global Catholic paedophile ring that we discovered existed some ten to fifteen years ago, a similar, though smaller, scandal breaks in England and it's not even involving the Catholic Church!

This one involves a form Anglican bishop, Peter Ball, and a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord George Carey. Peter Ball had been Bishop of Lewes and then Bishop of Gloucester during which time he groomed, exploited and sexually abused eighteen young men and boys who went to him seeking spiritual guidance. He was jailed for thirty-two months in October 2015 for these offences but was released last February after just sixteen months.

Now a report into the church's handling of the affair, ordered by the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and chaired by the former chief executive of Camden Council, Dame Moira Gibb, makes harrowing reading, according to Welby. Carey as Archbishop of Canterbury, a cabinet minister and a high court judge all conspired to protect Ball and wrote letters to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service in his defence.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Cretaceous Bird Mocks Creationists

Bird caught in amber 100 million years ago is best ever found | New Scientist.

It's not often we get to look at creatures from 100 million years ago, displayed in such detail. Normally we have to make do with distorted stone fossils which been subjected to all sorts of pressures and stresses, leaching by water and slow replacement by minerals over centuries. It's sometimes surprising that very much detail has been retained at all.

Preservation in amber is quite another matter, however. The specimen is trapped and coated in resin in a matter of minutes and sealed quickly away from any bacteria other than those trapped with it, and isolated from oxygen, other than the minuscule quantities that can slowly diffuse through the amber. It's almost as though the specimen has been sealed in a time capsule.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Yet Another Of Those 'Missing' Transitional Species

Map of the main Middle to early Upper Triassic outcrops in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, southern Brazil, highlighting the occurrence of Aleodon (A) and its skeletal reconstruction with available bones (in yellow) based on all known specimens (made by VDPN).
The African cynodont Aleodon (Cynodontia, Probainognathia) in the Triassic of southern Brazil and its biostratigraphic significance

At one time it became quite tedious writing yet another article about yet another of the transitional fossils that creationists dogma says aren't there. Who wants to read more or less the same thing several times a week with only the details changed? The problem of course is that every fossil is transitional because each represents a snapshot in time of a species that is evolving and changing over time.

But this latest one is interesting in that it is clearly transitional not between one genus and another or even between one family and another but between two or three major taxons. It is transitional between the reptiles and the mammals and comes close to the stem amniote that had earlier split from the amphibians to give rise to the land-based egg-laying tetrapods. This group went on to give rise to reptiles, mammals, dinosaurs and birds. The current consensus in palaeontology is that the amniotes probably radiated from a single ancestral species that had evolved an egg able to be laid out of water, so breaking the dependence of the amphibians on water.

Monday, 12 June 2017

More Nastiness From The 'Intelligent Designer'

Zombie soldier beetles: Epizootics in the goldenrod soldier beetle, Chauliognathus pensylvanicus (Coleoptera: Cantharidae) caused by Eryniopsis lampyridarum (Entomophthoromycotina: Entomophthoraceae):

The 'Intelligent (sic) Designer' is ever inventive in its sheer malevolent nastiness, continually coming up with ideas that would have been a credit to a Medieval torturer for the Spanish Inquisition or the organisers of 'entertainments' for a bloodthirsty Roman amphitheatre audience.

This one in particular is the epitome of casual malevolence and indifference to suffering. Its design turns a beetle into a zombie just before killing it, and then grotesquely reanimates its corpse so it can do it all over again to more victims.

Sadly, the copyright holders, Elsevier, want to charge me £22.43 to save you the trouble of clicking on this link, to read in the Journal of Invertebrate Pathology how the team from the University of Arkansas and Cornell University, led by Donald C. Steinkraus, discovered how it works.

The victim is the goldenrod soldier beetles, Chauliognathus pensylvanicus which survives by eating the flowers of frost aster, Symphyotrichum pilosum, common boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum, and Canada goldenrod, Solidago canadensisnormally. They normally mate on top of a flower. It seems, if you subscribe to the notion of intelligent design, that the intelligent designer (who isn't God by the way, so it isn't religion it's biology and should be taught in schools, but he just happens to be identical in every way to the god of a literal interpretation of the Bible) spotted the opportunity for a bit of fun, so He it designed a fungus, Eryniopsis lampyridarum, to infect these beetles.

When the fungus, which has been living in and consuming the female beetle, is ready it first turns its host into a zombie and makes it clamp itself onto a flower stem with its jaws, immediately before killing it. Then it makes lots of spores inside the dead female's body before reanimating it! 15-22 hours after death the female spreads her wings out wide so the spores can escape through the spiracles she used to breathe through, then her body swells, making her more attractive to males who try to mate with her, so getting infected in the process.

They they find a living female to mate with and infect her with the fungus and the cycle repeats itself.

Neat, eh?

Now, although intelligent (sic) design is 'definitely-biology-not-religion', cDesign proponentsists (sic) will normally resort to 'The Fall' to explain parasites such as this. 'The Fall' is of course a purely religious construction found in the Bible and forming the basis of Christianity, but at least this enables them to dismiss these hideous examples of, if it were the intention of a real conscious being, malevolent intent, as not their god's the intelligent designer's fault. It doesn't explain how turning beetles into zombies and then reanimating them just to spread a fungus infection to the next generation of beetles relates to some mythical event in the Bible (which of course it doesn't because it's definitely-science-not-religion, except it does) but at least it nearly gets God the intelligent designer off the hook - if you don't think too much about it.

Using real science of course, this is exactly the sort of thing evolution predicts because there is no plan, no morality and no concept of punishing anything for 'sin', simply the allele frequency changing over time to maximise the number of reproducing offspring.

'via Blog this'

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Dogs and Wolves Have a Sense of Justice Too

Vetmeduni Vienna : Sensitivity to inequity is in wolves’ and dogs’ blood

To listen to religious apologists you would think there is something special about humans that sets them apart from the rest of nature.

More often than not, in addition to babbling about a 'soul' (although they don't seem to agree whether that's unique to humans or not) they will quote morality, ethics, love, compassion, and a sense of fair-play or justice as setting us about the mere beasts.

This view has repeatedly been refuted by naturalists who can show that, for example, elephants grieve over lost friends and relatives, that several animals including the other apes show compassion and empathy. Now a paper by a team from the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Austria believe they have shown that not only domestic dogs but wolves have a sense of fairness and equity.

Highlights
  • Pack-living dogs and wolves show both reward and quality inequity
  • More dominant individuals were more inequity averse for both dogs and wolves
  • Inequity conditions influenced social behaviors in subsequent interactions
  • Inequity aversion is probably linked to the evolution of cooperation in dogs and wolves

Summary
Sensitivity to inequity is thought to be an important mechanism for recognizing undesirable cooperative partners and thus crucial for the evolution of human cooperation [ 1 ]. This link may not be unique to humans, as cooperative non-human primates also react to unequal outcomes [ 2 ], whereas non-cooperative species do not [ 3 ]. Although this hypothesis has not been tested in non-primate species, studies revealed that pet dogs show a limited form of inequity aversion, responding to reward, but not quality inequity [ 4–6 ]. It has been proposed that this primitive form of inequity aversion was selected for during domestication and thus absent in their ancestors, wolves. Alternatively, wolves, which hunt, raise pups, and defend their territory cooperatively, are similarly inequity averse as non-human primates, or at least to the same degree as pet dogs. Testing similarly raised and kept pack-living dogs and wolves, we found both to be inequity averse when their partner was being rewarded but they were not for performing the same action. Additionally, both wolves and dogs reacted to receiving a lower-quality reward than their partner. These results suggest that the inequity response found in pack-living dogs and wolves is comparable to that observed in non-human primates; results from studies on pet dogs may be confounded by the dogs’ relationship with humans. Consequently, our results suggest that inequity aversion was present already in the common—probably cooperative—ancestor of wolves and dogs and thus support the hypothesis of a close link of cooperation and inequity aversion.


This basic instinct in humans is of course the basis of many legal systems including English Common Law - from which the laws of most American states are derived (the exception being that of Louisiana which is derived from French Law). The Law assumes an entitlement to equal and fair treatment in a trial, including the idea that what was good in an earlier case should be good in this one - hence the Law is the body of cases. As we say in English Law, the Law if the cases; the cases are the Law.

Religious apologists have long argued that this this is what makes us 'civilised' and that the moral basis of this is God-given morals (conveniently ignoring the amoral, even immoral nature of their own god according to their holy books).

What the researchers found was that, in experiments where of a pair of dogs completed a task but only one was given a reward, or one was given a lower value reward than the other, the dog treated less fairly refused to co-operate in future experiments. The same phenomenon was demonstrated in a captive wolf pack where the response was also affected by the individual wolf's ranking in the pack heirarchy, with high-ranking dogs reacting more quickly to inequity, presumably because they were less used to being treated unfavourably.

Because a sense of equity is common to wolves and domestic dogs, it is strongly indicative that it was present in their common ancestor.

So, where does this leave the notion that somehow human's are above the animals because they are conscious, have empathy and enjoy civilising morals handed down by an invisible law-giver? It leaves it in tatters, of course. There never was any basis for this anthropocentric arrogance. Morals and ethics are evolved characteristics in social animals where teamwork and cooperation are essential for success.

'via Blog this'

Morocco Mystery Man

A composite reconstruction of what its discovers believe is the the earliest known Homo sapien fossil (from Jebel Irhoud), based on scans of multiple specimens. The virtual imprint of the braincase (blue) indicates that brain shape, and possibly brain function, evolved within the Homo sapien lineage, the scientists say.

Credit: Philipp Gunz, MPI EVA Leipzig
The age of the hominin fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, and the origins of the Middle Stone Age : Nature : Nature Research

The press are having one of those, "The textbooks are going to have to be rewritten" days.

Apparently, the textbooks are not just updated with the most recent findings and understanding when a new edition is published; they have to be rewritten because everything we thought we knew was wrong. You sometimes wonder if the science news is written by creationists - except of course that the news media don't then make the absurdly childish leap of concluding that because one little bit of science has been revised this proves the entire body of science is wrong - about everything, so God did it!

But, in this case, the entire evolutionary story of humans now needs to be rewritten, so we are told. You might now be wondering what is this amazing discovery? Humans are not apes? Not African apes, maybe? We've evolved from guinea pigs or spontaneously generated? The truth is slightly more prosaic of course, in fact it barely rates as startling at all - interesting and thought-provoking, naturally, but startling? The 'startling' fact is some archaic human fossil remains including skulls, flint tools and animal remains found in Morocco have been dated to about 300,000 years old and may be the oldest fossil Homo sapiens so far discovered.

I Want To Tell You A Story!

How did almost nothing end up making you?

Don't tell the creationists and spoil their delusion but we've pretty much worked it out. It's not what they were hoping for!

From Chapter 10 of my latest book, "What Makes You So Special?":

From that small, unremarkable member of the Cambrian biota; those stiff little chordates that swam around amongst the trilobites and fearsome Anomalocaris with its huge, jaw–like appendages that were once thought to be a different species in their own right, big things were coming; in fact the biggest things to ever live – the blue whale. From that unpromising beginning were to evolve the fasted running animal, the fasted flying animal, birds that can soar on the wind and sing symphonies, two forms of powered flight, echolocation at least twice, a brain capable of doing calculus without realising it, and an ape that can go to the moon.

But first, it had to learn to walk on land and breathe air.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Islam is not the Problem. Faith is the Problem!

The grotesque random slaughter of innocent people, including young children, in the name of Islam, in Britain, France and Afghanistan by Muslim fanatics, and the equally grotesque murders of innocent Norwegians by the Christian fanatic, Anders Breivik a few years ago are the results not of Islam or Christianity; they are the result of faith.

They are the result of people arrogating for themselves the right to determine who can live and who should die, based on nothing but faith and the belief faith gives them certain knowledge of what a god wants, who it wants to punish - and that it requires their help in meting out that punishment.

It would be easy to condemn the deluded, simple-minded fools who carried out these acts as 'evil'; as representative of an inherently 'evil' religion or the products of inherently evil cultures, but that would be missing the point entirely.

The problem is not Islam; the problem is not Christianity. The problem is faith.

Faith is a fallacy.

Faith serves no useful purpose. It serves only to rationalise holding irrational beliefs; to make the faithful satisfied with not knowing and left pretending to themselves and others that they know things they do not know. In the absence of any substantive evidence for the physical existence of gods, the last (and often only) resort of a believer is faith. With evidence, faith would be unnecessary.

Faith is the resort of fools and frauds. Faith is pretending to know things you do not know.

There is actually very little attempt in the Qur’an to explain what faith actually is or why it should be regarded as trumping evidence. It is taken for granted that ‘Allah’ exists and faith is spelled out merely in terms of a Muslim’s obligations and expressions of confidence in what ‘Allah’ will do. Simply believing makes this all true, apparently.

Just as a Christian will claim that the Bible proves the existence of God because God wrote or inspired the Bible, so a Muslim will claim the Qur’an proves Allah exists because Allah inspired the Qur’an. The circularity in that reasoning is readily seen by the obvious fact that the claims cannot both be true, but if one claim fails then the other claim also fails because the failure is in the logic of the argument. In fact, this was never a real argument in the first place because both of them rely on two unsubstantiated assertions – this particular god exists and this god inspired the book.

The logical fallacy is in the presupposition of the conclusion. The logic collapses if you change this assumption and replace ‘God’ or ‘Allah’ for ‘Bottle of Milk’ or ‘Peanut Butter Sandwich’. This becomes just as absurd to a believer as the holy book ‘proof of gods’ does to a non-believer and yet the ‘logic’, such as it is, remains unchanged.

Here's how one Islamic apologist site (IslamWeb.net) tries to explain it:

The basis of any religion is faith. Faith is not merely conviction of the truth of a given principle, but it is essentially the acceptance of a principle as a basis for action. Without faith, a man is like a car without a steering wheel, drifting aimlessly upon a sea of doubt and confusion.

This is, of course, exactly what someone with no evidence, but a dogma to push, would say. It tells us what faith is not, and then makes a claim which any non-believer, indeed I suspect any non-Muslim, will tell you, is nothing more than an unfounded assertion, the entire purpose of which appears to be to reinforce in-group smug self-satisfaction. An almost gleeful revelling in how much better the believer thinks his or her life is compared to those less fortunate fools.

What is faith in Islam? It is belief in the Unity of God or Tawheed. This is expressed in the primary Kalimah (Word) of Islam as: “Laa ilaaha illallaah", meaning: “There is no one worthy of worship but Allah.”

This beautiful phrase is the bedrock of Islam, its foundation and its essence. It is the expression of this belief, which differentiates a true Muslim from an unbeliever, or one who associates others with God in His Divinity.

This is merely a statement of dogma, entirely dependent on preconceptions about the existence of a particular god with particular qualities. There is no special beauty in the phrase itself, merely in the comfort it brings to believers as confirmation of bias. If there is intrinsic beauty in the phrase, try spotting the intrinsic beauty in the phrase, “There is no one worthy of worship but Thor!” Is there intrinsic beauty and power in that phrase sufficient to form the ‘bedrock’ of a new religion?

There is no attempt to explain how faith gains this special insight. Faith is simply the acceptance of dogma. “I believe because I believe… and because I believe, what I believe is beautiful and true without question!” This is the self-referential certainty of the smugly self-satisfied.

The acceptance or denial of this phrase produces a world of difference among human beings. The believer finds out the right path, knows the truth and chalks out the course of life in the light of reality; the unbeliever chases one illusion after the other and gropes into the dark. For the believers, there is the promise of unhampered progress and resounding success in this world and in the Hereafter; whereas failure and ignominy are ultimately the lot of those who refuse to believe in it.

Again, these are merely assertions which to an outsider are patently false and which are nothing more than appeals to existing biases, intended to reinforce in-group versus out-group self-satisfaction and contentment.

The Bible is not much help in understanding how this faith thing is supposed to work either.

The entire 11th chapter of St Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews is about faith, but it only starts off with a nebulous ‘definition’, and then has a lot of claims about what people have done through faith, all of them from the Old Testament and none of them demonstrably true. One might have expected some more contemporary examples but apparently Paul, or whoever wrote Hebrews, did not know of any.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh. By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

Hebrews 11:1-6

The nebulous platitude in the first verse is trotted out ad nauseum by Christians but it means absolutely nothing as a practical definition. It might as well read; ’Now faith is pretending to know things you do not know’. What exactly is this ‘substance of things hoped for’? What on earth is the ‘evidence of things not seen’? How do we know what these invisible things are, to be able to say with any degree of certainty that this or that is the evidence for them? This is something pretending to be deep that is not even shallow. As a piece of philosophy it would not deserve to be pinned up behind a bar. Why not be honest and say faith is just wishful thinking and the pretence of knowledge?

Hebrews 1:1 would have been far more honest, and might have served humanity better if it had read, "Now faith is the triumph of ignorance over knowledge; the triumph of certainty over truth and an abdication of personal responsibility." But of course the author was not writing truth but propaganda. The author was providing slogans to be used in place of rational thought

The problem is faith.

But that's not the whole problem.

The problem is also those who tell the faithful that faith is a virtue; that's it's a character flaw - a sin even - NOT to have faith. The problem is also the ever-so-moderate Imam, no doubt bosom pals with the local rabbi, the local Anglican parson, Catholic priest, Baptist pastor and the local Sikh granthi, who, along with his pals, tells his congregation what a great thing faith is, and how, by faith, they know with complete certainty that all other faiths are wrong.

The problem is also with bishops and archbishops; with the monarch and heir to the throne, and the Prime Minister who all proclaim faith to be the greatest of virtues.

The problem is that, by 'faith', God's holy words in God's holy books DO tell the faithful what God wants and who God wants punished and how to punish them, and by 'faith' there is no way to tell which are the good, moderate, socially responsible, caring and loving things that God wants, from the extreme, antisocial, hateful things that God wants. By faith alone it is impossible to tell right from wrong because, by definition anything and everything God wants is 'right'. Ever-so-moderate Christian apologists like William Lane Craig, for example, can divine meaning in the Bible that makes infanticide and genocide not only good things but moral imperatives, mandatory on all good Christians, when God wants them!

Moderates, by proclaiming faith to be a virtue and God's word as great, empower and permit the extremists. By telling them that there is an afterlife; that this life is merely a preparation for something infinitely better if they just do what God wants; the life is a cage from which death liberates us, the moderates might just as well help them into their suicide vests, arm them with machetes, and send them out to do what God wants! And they 'know' this ONLY by 'faith'.

The problem is faith in the hands of the simple-minded faithful, empowered and encouraged by those who sell them faith as a virtue because they don't have anything else. The truth is, faith is the triumph of ignorance over knowledge; the triumph of certainty over truth and an abdication of personal responsibility.

The murdering fanatics who carried out these atrocities were just as much victims of faith, and those who sell faith a virtue, as were their innocent victims.

Friday, 2 June 2017

The Meaning of Information to a Flightless Cormorant

A genetic signature of the evolution of loss of flight in the Galapagos cormorant | Science

The thing about information is that it means nothing without a reader; a reader moreover that can interpret the information and give it meaning.

Try this for example. Look at the following sequence of letters and see if it means anything:

teave

The chances are, especially if you're reading this in English, it won't mean much. It's information but it doesn't have much in the way of meaning. Maybe something to do with a popular beverage? Is it an accidental typo? Leave, heave, beaver, maybe?

New Book - What Makes You So Special?

My latest book goes on sale today!

It tells your story and how the stuff you are made of came to be and found itself on a tiny speck in the cosmos where the conditions were right to make more stuff stuff that could reproduce itself.

It explains why, 3.8 million years later, you can look at the cosmos and wonder how it all happened.

This book tries to answer that question, not in the technical terms one scientist would use when talking to another but in terms that should be understandable to anyone who wants to know this amazing story - the story of you!

Like all good books it should leave you feeling satisfied but wanting more. Above all, it should leave you feeling both very special and very humble.

From Chapter 1 'Something for Nothing'
The singularity cannot have had a cause because there was nothing to cause it. It could not have exist anywhere because there was nowhere for it to exist. It cannot have had a before because there was no time for it to have been in. It did not exist in space or time because there was no space or time for it to exist in.

For all practical purposes, it did not exist. It is zero; nothing; nada; not.

And yet this nothing gave birth to the entire Universe!

Thursday, 1 June 2017

How Science Works - Ancient Egyptian DNA

Geographic context, of the samples used in this study.
Ancient Egyptian mummy genomes suggest an increase of Sub-Saharan African ancestry in post-Roman periods : Nature Communications

The thing about writing science books is that the moment you publish them they start to go out of date. The reason for this is obvious to anyone familiar with how science works and how knowledge is continually improving and being refined. Creationists, with their preference for certainty, no matter how false, over truth, this continual self-checking and self-revising nature of science is both baffling and disturbing.

As though to illustrate this point, no sooner had I put the finishing touches to my most recent book, "What Makes You So Special?", and submitted it for publication, than a paper was published that answered one of the mysteries that I alluded to in it. I had briefly covered, amongst other things, the origin of the Ancient Egyptians and their part of the human story. The mystery was who exactly the Ancient Egyptians were and where they came from.

The answer has been made possible by a new technique which has enabled DNA of sufficient quality to be extracted and compared to the DNA of other human groups. There is probably a lot more yet to come from these studies, including identifying what foreign incursions there were into Egypt in ancient times.

Coming Soon - Your Story!

Several years ago I wrote a blog post based on a much earlier post I originally put in a CompuServe Forum (who remembers those?). It told the story, as I then understood it, from the Big Bang to the evolution of modern humans. I called it What Makes You So Special?

When I promoted it on Twitter it sent several fundies into a frothing rage but the reaction I got from the science and especially Atheist community was surprising. One person said it made her cry and she kept reading it over and over. Another said he's printed it out and given it to his grandson to read. A third said it had changed her life.

Several said I should add more detail and make a book out of it...

That idea had been gestating for several years, and had even suffered one false start. Now it is nearing fruition: I am about to publish the book!

The book is aimed at the curious; at those who want to know and understand a little more about how they got to be alive, here and now and who find mystery and magic wholly unsatisfactory answers.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Declining Faith - The Fall Continues

Catholic Research Forum Reports 3 - The 'no religion' population of Britain | The Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society

Yet more confirmation, if any were needed, that Christianity in particular and religion in general are still declining rapidly in the UK. This report by The Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society, launched by St Mary's University, Twickenham, has shown that for every one person moving from no religious affiliation ('None') to affiliation with a Christian church, twenty-six leave the Christian faith and identify themselves as 'Nones'.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

How Creationists Lie To Us - Zuul crurivastator

Life restoration of Zuul crurivastator.
Credit: Danielle Dufault
© Royal Ontario Museum
New ankylosaurine from Montana | Open Science

The discovery by palaeontologists of one of the most complete fossils of an ankylosaurine dinosaur which they have named Zuul crurivastator is interesting to creationists only in so much as that it can be misrepresented as evidence of a very young Earth and of the idiotic notion that humans and dinosaurs co-existed. The problem of dinosaurs for creationists is that they are evidence of a very old Earth with life having gone through lots of stages with diversification and extinctions commonplace tens of millions of years before humans evolved. They thus refute the myths and invalidate the Bible's account of creation. So, creationists are desperate to mislead their followers about this evidence.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Stupid Designer - Oak Joke

It always amuses me how creationists often resort to "It's all around you! You only have to open your eyes and look!", when asked for evidence of design in nature.

The simple truth is that if you really open your eyes and look, you find abundant evidence of stupidity in 'design' in nature. Even leaving aside the obvious evidence of callous indifference to suffering which if it were evidence of intent, would also be evidence of grotesque malevolence, there is abundant evidence 'all around you' that there is only dumb, unthinking and unplanned... I was going to say stupidity, but even that implies some sort of inept intent and culpability. It's just unthinking; literally mindless!

Walking our grandson to school this morning we came across this tree in the photographs. From the leaves and bark it looks to me like a species of oak. It's not the usual English oak, so I don't know what species it is, but the species isn't important. What is important is the fantastically wasteful method is uses to reproduce. Who in their right mind would regard this as an intelligent design?

Over it's lifetime, a tree needs to produce just one tree for the population to remain stable. Just a single tree over a lifetime of maybe a couple of hundred years!

You would expect good design to be efficient design. Who in their right mind would buy bread from a baker who is so bad at baking bread that you need to buy two, let alone tens or hundreds of thousands of loaves, just to get a slice that's fit to eat?

Monday, 8 May 2017

Moral Compass - Ohio Televangelist Used Slaves

Televangelist and Slave Owner, Ernest Angley
Televangelist Ernest Angley ordered to pay $388,000 for using unpaid labor at Cuyahoga Falls buffet | cleveland.com

The finest old Christian traditions are being maintained in Cuyahoga Falls, Akron, Ohio, USA!

Unfortunately, a federal judge, Benita Pearson, didn't agree that he had a right to own slaves and ordered televangelist preacher, 95 year-old Ernest Angley, to pay $388,000 to his victims. Judge Pearson ruled that Angley and his managers at the Grace Cathedral Buffet had put undue pressure on members of his church to work as volunteers in his for-profit restaurant to save money, so they were entitled to be paid for their labour.

The Same Old Appeal For Special Priviledges

Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, and Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby
Co-signatories of the letter
Church of England Election Letter

In an astonishing letter to "The Parishes and Chaplaincies of the Church of England", the Archbishops of Canterbury and York came as close as they dared to urging Christians to vote Conservative.

This is not because Conservatives under Theresa May or any other leader have shown any compassion for the poor and sick or subscribe to any notions of the essential equality of Man, quite the opposite in fact, but because they see this as the best way to maintain and extend their 'entitled' special privileges and assumed right to discriminate against the minorities of their choice.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

How Xenophobia Evolved

Overt xenophibia, used during the United Kingdom EU referendum.
Subconscious fear of infection may explain skepticism towards immigrants - ScienceDaily:

Xenophobia, one of the most irrational and destructive of human emotions, may have an evolutionary basis as a defence against infection, so argue scientists from Aarhus University, Upsala, Sweden in a published in American Political Science Review yesterday.

It is readily understandable how an aversion to excrement and putrefaction evolved, even evolving olfactory mechanisms which interpret the scents given off as repulsive. It is maybe not quite so easy to understand why some people at least overreact and are repelled by such signs of difference as physical deformity, birthmarks, skin colour and dress and yet these reactions are strong enough and commonplace enough to prevent successful integration of immigrant and refugee populations. The internal immune system, which attempts to cope with potential pathogens once they have gained access to our bodies, is supplemented by a behavioural immune system which helps prevent infection in the first place. The authors argue that this is an overreaction of a hypersensitive behavioural immune system.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Bonobos Refute Creationism!

Bonobo, Pan paniscus.
Credit: iStock
Bonobo anatomy reveals stasis and mosaicism in chimpanzee evolution, and supports bonobos as the most appropriate extant model for the common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans | Scientific Reports

A paper published a few days ago is bound to cause a frenzy of denialism amongst creationists of all varieties and not just because of the length of its title. It appears to confirm what many people have suspected for a very long time - that the closest living relative of Homo sapiens is the bonobo, Pan paniscus.

In fact, in some respects the difference between humans and bonobos is less than the difference between different varieties of creationist. Creationism has been evolving and diversifying at warp speed since its invention in the 19th century in response to the discovery by science of biological evolution.

Now the differences are so wide it's difficult to find two creationists who agree on anything very much. They can't agree on such basic as whether evolution occurs at all, whether it occurs at a fantastic speed or slowly, how intelligent an intelligent (sic) designer would need to be, how well or badly the evidence fits old religious myths, whether there is any value in scientific evidence. They can't even agree on what shape Earth is, how old it is and whether it orbits the sun or the sun orbits Earth.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Does the 'Intelligent (sic) Designer' Hate Humans?

Scanning electron micrograph of a mass of Yersinia pestis, apparently thriving inside Acanthamoeba castellanii.
Plague Bacteria Take Refuge In Amoebae

For those who claim to subscribe to the intelligent (sic) design notion, parasitism is always embarrassing and not something they will normally bring themselves to discuss.

Take the battles medical science is having with the zika virus, the ebola virus, the malaria parasites, antibiotic resistent in pathogens, etc., for instance. If we assume for a moment that resistance to the various treatments is by design, not evolution, then one has to conclude that the designer is on the side of the parasites and is actively trying to out-manoeuvre medical science's efforts.

This study serves as a proof of principle that amoebae can support prolonged survival of Y. pestis in the environment.

Viveka Vadyvaloo, PhD, Co-author
Assistant Professor, Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health,
Washington State University, Pullman, WA
Now we have the example of one of the most devastating disease organisms ever to hit mankind - the Black Death-causing Yersinia pestis - has been 'designed' to take refuge in the common amoeba which is abundant in soil and so provides a ready safe haven for Y. pestis to hide in.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Core Blimey! A Glacier Older Than Creation!


Panoramic view of an ice cliff inside the Scărișoara Ice Cave, where the research was done.

Credit: Gigi Fratila & Claudiu Szabo
Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past | NSF - National Science Foundation

Quietly and without fuss, and quite unintentionally, science again refutes creationism.

As it often does, in fact as it almost invariably does, another piece of scientific research based on observations of the real world, incidentally refutes the primitive superstition that the Universe and Earth were created by magic just a few thousand years ago. It also refutes the myth that there was a global flood even more recently, within the written history of civilisations such as those of Ancient Egypt, China and Northern India - who all seem to have forgotten to record it or even notice that there was anything amiss.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Another Ape-Man Makes a Fool of Creationists

Credit: Chris Stringer, Natural History Museum, United Kingdom
Source: Wikipedia. (CC-BY 4.0)
Homo naledi is only 250,000 years old – here’s why that matters | New Scientist

Creationists now have another problem and it's not just 250,000 year-old fossils in a 6000 year-old Universe. It's even more fundamental than that.

First, a little background:

Homo naledi is from South Africa and, like another South African hominin, Australopithecus sediba, has a mixture of very human physical characteristics and some very primitive ones. With A. sediba, the primitive characteristics are enough to place it in the Australopithecus genus and so either an ancestor of the Homo genus or a cousin of one of our ancestors.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Little 'Hobbit' is a Big Problem for Creationists

An artist's impression of Homo floresiensis based on recent research. Dubbed a human "hobbit", the species of humanoid was about a metre tall and died out about 54,000 years ago.
Photo credit: ANU
© 2017 Katrina Kenny (CC-BY 4.0)
Origins of Indonesian hobbits finally revealed:

In its slow, methodical way, science shed a little more light on one of the mysteries of the evolution of the hominid family tree - the origin of the so-called hobbit, Homo floresiensis. The remains of H. floresiensis were found in a cave in Liang Bua in the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003. Initially, they were thought to be about 12,000 years old but later analysis has pushed this back to about 50,000 years.

The mystery isn't so much now how they came to be still living in isolation up to 12,000 years ago or why they are so small, being only about 1 metre tall, but where they fit in the hominid evolutionary tree and how they got to Flores Island.

Now a team from The Australian National University (ANU) has carried out a detailed statistical analysis and

Friday, 21 April 2017

New Book With A Difference

Cover photo:
Some of the children of Fawler about to be given a ride by Fred Able, "The Donkey Man." About 1955-56.
Part of the reason I haven't been blogging quite so much in recent weeks is because I have been writing another books.

No, not another book about my usual subjects - general science, biology, atheism, religion and it's fallacies - but a much more personal book; a book about my childhood in rural Oxfordshire in the 1950s and 60s.

Of course, I cover my realisation that I was an Atheist and how my love of nature and science developed but I also cover life in general in a small agricultural hamlet. I talk about how important the countryside was to us as a playground and in particular how important the River Evenlode was to us children.

We spent the summer swimming, diving or lying half asleep with noses buried in fresh clover on the river bank and generally showing off to the local girls whose bodies were taking on strangely fascinating shapes. Some of the girls even began to wrap themselves in towels when they got changed. It was all very strange!

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Give The Designer The Clap it Deserves!

Neisseria gonorrhoeae infection in the human endocervical tissue is visualized by immunofluorescence microscopy. Bacterial (red) colonization causes columnar endocervical epithelial cells to shed and lose the barrier function, which allows bacteria to enter the endocervical tissue. Frozen tissue sections were stained for immunofluorescence with specific antibodies to the apical junctional protein ZO1 (green) and N. gonorrhoeae (red) and the nuclear dye DAPI (blue).

Credit: Liang-Chun Wang,
Department of Cell biology and Molecular Genetics,
University of Maryland, USA
Neisseria gonorrhoeae infects the human endocervix by activating non-muscle myosin II-mediated epithelial exfoliation

The Intelligent (sic) Designer really does deserve a big clap! It has come up with a brilliant solution to the problem it caused by its lack of a plan!

You see, the Intelligent (sic) Designer, that imaginary being so beloved of creationists but definitely not God because that would make it religion, not science, wants to make life unpleasant for humans (for strictly scientific reasons, obviously, and nothing to do with The Fall because that's religion) so it designed nasty little organisms like Neisseria gonorrhoeae to infect them when they had sex because it doesn't like them having sex the way it designed them to.

The trouble was, in a forgetful moment, it had designed humans so they could cope with nasty little organisms like N. gonorrhoeae and not be made sick by them. Now though, it has briiantly redesigned N. gonorrhoeae so it gets around the protection if gave humans.

In an open access paper published in PLOS Pathogens today, a team of scientists led by Liang-Chun Wang of the University of Maryland, College Park, have worked out how it got around the problem it had created. It does it by exploiting the very defence mechanism the Intelligent (sic) designer designed in the first place.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Layers of Evidence Against Creationism


Stratification in Tibet sediment. Climate variations are reflected in color variations with the red sediment typically indicating a wetter climate and the white indicating a drier climate.
Photo credit: Qingquan Meng
Tibet sediments reveal climate patterns from late Miocene, six million years ago

There is science; and there is creationism. They have nothing in common.

Science looks at evidence and bases its opinions on it. When the evidence changes, science changes its mind. How could it be otherwise when the evidence is in charge? Creationism, on the other hand, starts with opinions as dictated by a holy book and then tries to force-fit the evidence around those opinions so they look sort of sciency to the scientifically illiterate and less like irrational superstitions and magical thinking. When that fails even for the gullible credulity of creationists, the fact are simply ignored and the main problem for creationists becomes how to get away with dismissing what can be plainly seen without looking too dishonest and deluded.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Parasites Bug Creationists

Several specimens such as this Cimex latipennis female found in the Paisley Caves in Oregon date nearly 11,000 years ago.
Photo credit: Martin E. Adams
Cimicid Remains Found in Oregon Caves are Oldest Ever Found – Entomology Today

Newly discovered bat-bugs from the floor of a cave in Oregon are the earliest so far found - and it's bad news for creationists, again.

Parasites are a problem for creationists for number of reasons and not just that so many creationists are susceptible to parasitic frauds who sell them spurious confirmation of their superstition for large amounts of money. It's no accident that so many creationist charlatans are multi-millionaires while the people they live off are amongst the poorest of people.

Monday, 3 April 2017

How Evolution Works - Squirrels and Pine Martens

Europen red squirrel, Sciurus vulgaris
Population crash in an invasive species following the recovery of a native predator: the case of the American grey squirrel and the European pine marten in Ireland | SpringerLink

Sometimes, evolution can produce intriguing and unexpected results. At first glance it may be hard to see why introducing a predator can result in an increase in the population of a species. This is especially pleasing when the species benefiting is a charming and endangered species, the European red squirrel and the predator is an almost equally beautiful member of the stoat family, the pine marten.

So, having been away from blogging for a couple of weeks with other distractions, it gives me considerable pleasure to write about this open access paper, albeit from 2014, which reports just that from Ireland.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Observable Evolution Over Nine Generations!

Plants pollinated by bumblebees become more fragrant.
Picture: UZH
Real-time divergent evolution in plants driven by pollinators | Nature Communications.

Until a few years ago, almost all creationists had no doubt at all; evolution simply didn't happen. All living things were created in a couple of days exactly as they are today. There was no debate; evolution didn't happen because it wasn't mentioned in the Bible and that was that.

This is still the position maintained by a large number of creationists who believe the world was created just a few thousand years ago, as we see it today, and nothing has changed since.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Noses Run Counter To Creationism


Image: © iStock Photo kowalska-art
Investigating the case of human nose shape and climate adaptation | PLOS Genetics

Scientists believe they have uncovered evidence that the different human nose types are at least partly or even mostly adaptations to different climates as humans spread out from our ancestral homeland in Africa.

An important function of the nasal cavity and the nasopharynx is to humidify the sir before it reaches the lower respirator tract and the lungs.

Using 3D facial imaging, the team measured the width of the nostrils, the distance between nostrils, the height of the nose, nose ridge length, nose protrusion, external area of the nose and the area of the nostrils. They found the two measures: the width of the nostrils and of the base of the nose differed between different human populations by more than would be expected from genetic drift alone. They found a positive correlation between the width of the nose and the warmth and humidity of the climate in which the populations lived.

Unintelligently Designed Epigenenetics

Creationists, especially those who try to disguise their religious cult as 'Intelligent (sic) Design' and pretend it's science, seem to be getting themselves over-excited by the relatively new science of epigenetics.

It's easy to see why, given the abysmal ignorance which characterises creationism, because it superficially seems to challenge some of the basic principles of Darwinian evolution because it appears to open up the possibility that changes acquired after conception can be passed on. This is, of course Lamarckian, not Darwinian inheritance.

Given the creationist assumption that if they can show any science to be ever so slightly wrong in any way, the entire body of science if proven false and their primitive, evidence-free superstition wins by default, they grasp desperately at epigenetics like a drowning man grasps at straws and wave it in triumph.

Monday, 27 February 2017

How Science Works - Correcting Errors


Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)



Tiger butterfly (Danaus genutia)
Monarch miscalculation: Has a scientific error about the butterflies persisted for more than 40 years? | Science | AAAS

How does a possible mistake in what was believed to be the number of chromosomes in the monarch butterfly validate scientific methodology?

Well, firstly, if you're looking for certainty, don't look at science - if you value certainty over truth, that is. Certainty and truth are not the same thing at all. The only certainty in science is that there are no certainties. Science is a human endeavour and as with all human endeavours the humans doing it make mistakes. Doubts, not certainties, are what drives science forward and the reason science continues to grow and develop and take us closer to a better understanding of the way things work.

By contrast, religion, and especially the extreme fundamentalist form we see in Bible-literalist creationism, depend on certainty and a complete absence of doubt. Allow in the slightest doubt; ask a difficult question and the whole thing could come crashing down and to make matters worse, the is no factual basis for those certainties so nothing neutral by which to alloy those fears and satisfy those doubts.

Once the doubts are there or the certainties have become uncertain, there is nothing holding it back. And fundamentalists know this, hence their refusal to acknowledge errors, even the glaring contradictions in the holy books. They can't be contradictions because the holy book is the source of all truth. How can they be contradictions?

Saturday, 18 February 2017

How the Intelligent (sic) Designer Hurts Babies.

Differential Responses of Human Fetal Brain Neural Stem Cells to Zika Virus Infection: Stem Cell Reports

Let's play that game creationist frauds like to play with their willing dupes; the game of 'Pretend There Is an Intelligent (sic) Designer', only with slight tweaks to their rules. Let's not ignore inconvenient stuff, and let's play the game as though this designer is really real, then see what we can discover about this designer instead of trying to force-fit the observable evidence into a preconceived notion of it.

Okay? Here we go then.

Fish Evolution Shaped by Intense Rapids

Cichlids Telegramma brichardi

Photo credit: Oliver Lucanus.
Source: American Museum of Natural History.
Congo River Fish Evolution Shaped by Intense Rapids | American Museum of Natural History.

The cichlids are a large group of fish known for their ability to rapidly adapt, diverge and speciate in response to environmental changes as they did in the East African lakes when presented with a new range of potential ecological niches to fill.

In this paper a team led by scientists at the American Museum of Natural History, the City University of New York, and Fordham University, have shown that rock-dwelling cichlids of the genus Teleogramma are diversifying in a very sort stretch near the mouth of the Congo River in Africa. The final 200-mile stretch of the Congo River is exceptional in depth, speed, and turbulence, forming the world’s most extreme rapids.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Nasty Designer?

Parasitic worm may trigger mystery nodding syndrome | Science

Like all parasites, which have a ready explanation in terms of evolutionary biology, parasitic worms which make children sick and die present Intelligent (sic) Design advocates with special problems, not the least of which is one of creationism's own making.

The problem is that creationists presented with these especially nasty inventions of any assumed intelligence invariably fall back on 'The Fall' and say God allowed evil to enter the world because Eve sinned, so it's all our fault really. The problem for Intelligent (sic) Design advocates is that ID was invented as a concept to make creationism look like science so it could be inserted into American school science classes despite the 'Establishment Clause' and taught at tax-payers expense to vulnerable children.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

How the Mammalian Ear Evolved!

Monodelphis domestica
A new developmental mechanism for the separation of the mammalian middle ear ossicles from the jaw | Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Alternative creationist fact:
  1. The Theory of Evolution is in disarray because there is no evidence for it. It will be replaced by Intelligent Design any day now.
  2. There are no transition forms.

These are of course as true as Donald Trump's alternative facts, i.e. not true at all and made up to mislead people because the truth is too embarrassing. This paper shows the real state of evolutionary biology and shows how a clear evolutionary pathway from the reptilian ear to the mammalian ear may have arisen by a simple, single mutation. A team of animal scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, King’s College London, and the University of Chicago have discovered, hidden in the development of opossums, a plausible evolutionary path that led from the simple ears of reptiles to the more elaborate and sensitive structures of mammals, including humans.

Anglicans Struggling to Adapt

Church of England General Synod votes to reject controversial same sex marriage report | The Independent

In a move which illustrates how the Anglican Church in Britain is struggling to keep up with changing social attitudes, the General Synod has voted to reject a report by the House of Bishops which called for continued opposition to and stigmatisation of same sex marriage.

While fully 73% of British non-believers see nothing wrong with same-sex marriage, only 50% of practising Anglicans share that view. However, this is a huge softening in attitudes as reflected in the same NatCen British Social Attitudes Survey which showed only 17% of Anglicans now believe same-sex marriage is always wrong compared to 53% in 1983.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Evolution of Innate Morality

Monkeys and dogs judge humans by how they treat others | New Scientist

Is your dog capable of moral judgements? Is it watching you and evaluating your trustworthiness?

According to a team of researchers from Kyoto and Hokkaido Universities, Japan, it might well be doing so.

Almost to a man or woman, theists will tell you that if gods provided us with anything, they provided us with morals. Neither Christians, Muslims or Jews seem to be able to understand how we could possibly have got morals from anywhere other than their holy book, revealed, so they claim, to mankind specifically to tell us how to behave and what rewards of punishments we could expect to ensure compliance.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Signals From the Dawn of Time!

The animation shows a computer simulation of an oscillon, a strong localized fluctuation of the inflaton field of the early universe. According to the calculations of Prof. Stefan Antusch and his team, oscillons produced a characteristic peak in the otherwise broad spectrum of gravitational waves.

© Department of Physics, University of Basel
Ancient signals from the early universe | University of Basel News.

The early universe sent out signals with information about its formation. All we need to do is look in the right place and in the right way to find these ancient signals. Scientists working at the University of Basel believe they have at last shown what we should be looking for.

The signals are tiny fluctuations in the gravity wave field. Although Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravity waves they were only detected at the end of 2015. Already science is moving on to make use of this new technological ability and so to look further back into the formation of the Universe.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Best of Brexit Britain!

Here's a brilliant idea I've just pinched from Answers in Genes who got it from someone on Reddit (Is that still going?).

It solves lots of the historical problems with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, if only by shortening the ridiculously long name for a country - one of the longest on record and more a short essay than the name of a state. It also solves the problem of lots of people not being particular happy with the present arrangement and having various ambitions to belong or not to belong either to England or to the European Union. Some want in; some want out; some want both at the same time it seems, at whatever level you look at it.

The solution is the Union of Scotland and Ireland (both North and South) and the Kingdom of England and Wales.

Northern Ireland, which has always been a problem, both for Ireland and for England gets the best of both worlds. The Protestants, most of whose ancestors came from Scotland not England and so are mostly Presbyterian rather than Anglican only ever really had

Friday, 10 February 2017

Hypotheses, Experiments, Theories and Laws.

One problem debating science with creationists is that the latter are, almost by definition, scientifically illiterate, unless they are defrauding scientifically illiterate creationists for money by misleading them about the science.

So many debates, even those rare ones where the creationist is interested in learning, founder on some basic misunderstanding and confusion of terms. I'm even engaged with one at the moment who is either feigning scientific ignorance or is genuinely ignorant to the extent that he doesn't understand the difference between a definition, a hypothesis and a theory. I'll not bother to define 'definition' (which should be self-evident anyway) but the following is an attempt to define the terms 'hypothesis', 'experiment', 'theory' and 'law' as they apply to formal science.

Part of the problem is that science uses a slightly different but more precise meanings of ‘hypothesis’ and ‘theory’ to that used in vernacular speech. In the vernacular, hypothesis and theory are pretty much

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Cooperative Evolution

Epicephala lanceolaria moth inside the fruit of Glochidion lanceolarium

Plant keeps moths captive inside its fruits for almost a year | New Scientist

Who ever imagined that selfish genes inevitably lead to mutually destructive competition? Well, by and large, of course, these are the same people who argue that atheist societies will be lawless hell-holes full of rapists and cutthroat murderers with no-one having any reason to be anything other than utterly selfish. Reality was never their strong point.

The rebuttal is of course the same: no such system could evolve because mutual destruction and selfishness produce fewer, not more, descendants. The fact that we observe neither of these outcomes in reality is evidence for the evolutionary process.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

When Fascism Came to America

"When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross."
Attrib. Sinclair Lewis


Has fascism come to America with Donald Trump?

The following fourteen characteristics of Fascism comes from Dr Lawrence Britt, who has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. His analysis is not without its critics, some of whom have a clear motive in not wanting Americans to recognise Fascism when it comes, but in broad outline it serves as working description of a typical Fascist regime such as Europe saw in the first half of the 20th-Century. (My thanks to Facebook user Robert D'Abehtynot for bringing it to my attention)

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

A Little More Nastiness From The Malevolent Designer?

Crypt-keeper wasp, Euderus set

Source: Rice University News & Media
Credit: Andrew Forbes/University of Iowa
Tales from the crypt: a parasitoid manipulates the behaviour of its parasite host | Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences

Sometimes the sheer malevolence of nature, if nature can have a personality, leaves one wondering what, if there could conceivably be some intelligence behind it, whatever sort of sadistic nastiness it could possible be that is so inventive in ways to be so hideously unpleasant. It beggars belief that there are not only people who believe this supposed intelligence is possessed by a real entity but that any entity this malevolent could be worthy of adulation, worship and praise.

The low-lives who breed dogs to put them in pits to fight to the death for the fun of it are paragons of virtue compared to any putative designer of nature given the hideous ways it seems to have found to entertain itself, all day and every day in millions of different ways.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

No More Support for Redundant Churches!

ComptonBeauchamp StSwithun WestPortrait.jpg
St Swithun Church, Compton Beaucham,
Vale of the White Horse, Oxfordshire.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia. By Motacilla - Own work,
CC BY-SA 4.0, Link
National Secular Society - Government must not prop up the Church of England, says NSS

The UK National Secular Society has make strong representation to the UK Government that public money should not continue to be used to prop up the failing Anglican Church and its buildings, pointing out that, despite plummeting congregations and thousands of essentially redundant churches, the Church of England is a very wealthy organisation, having assets estimated at £20 billion!

Despite this wealth, since 2014 the government has allocated some £221 million for repairing and maintaining places of worship, the vast majority of which was spent on Anglican churches and cathedrals.

The representation by the NSS was made to the Department for Culture, Media & Sport which is coordinating the survey for the English Churches and Cathedrals Sustainability Review. The review was set up last March to consider the whole question of the sustainability of the very large number of virtually unused churches.

Weekly attendance at Sunday services has now fallen to 1.4% of the population and some 2000 churches have regular

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