Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Civilised Societies Leaving Religions Behind

Pastor Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church.
Preacher of hate.
World - Christian US Pastor Who Prayed For Obamas Death And Celebrated Orlando Gay Club Massacre Becomes The First Person Banned From Ireland | Daily Mail

In a stunning example of the yawning chasm that has opened up between fundamentalist American Christianity and what is considered normal, civilised standards of behaviour, the Irish government has banned an American preacher from entering the country because of the hateful and socially unacceptable nature of the opinions he spouts from the pulpit.

The Irish Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, signed an exclusion order to stop Pastor Steven L Anderson entering Ireland after learning that he had publicly prayed for President Obama's death, celebrated the Orlando massacre of 48 people in a gay bar and called for the death of all homosexuals.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Evolution News - How One Thing Leads To Another

Giant armadillos (glyptodonts), Doedicurus clavicaudatus
Credit: © Peter Schouten
Climate, grasses and teeth: the evolution of South America mammals | UANews

Recent findings by scientists from the Universities of Arizona, Wyoming and Connecticut, give a fascinating insight into how Earth's ecosystems are dynamic, and how evolution is an integral part of how the system works to maintain itself, without the need for magic or interference.

The researchers, led by Barbara Carrapa, professor and head of the UA Department of Geosciences, showed that there was a major change in the climate of South America between 7 and 6 million years ago, caused by a change in the global tropical atmospheric circulation known as the Hadley circulation. The result was that South America became drier allowing subtropical grasslands to expand.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

'Persecution' News - 'Good Christian' Paedo Rapist Treated Leniently

Good Christian, David Lynn Richards Jr, convicted of nine counts of rape, incest and sexual battery.
Photo credit: Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel
Former pastor sentenced to 12 years in prison for rape conviction

A former Christian pastor who repeatedly raped his 14 year-old adopted daughter has been given a light sentence by a Judge in Knox County, Tennessee because he is a good Christian.

According to this report in the Knoxville News Sentinel, David Lynn Richards Jr, a former minister in the My Father's House Church of God in Lenoir City, was convicted by a jury at Knox County Criminal Court on nine felony counts of rape, icest and sexual battery. He protested his innocence throughout the trial, despite the evidence of his DNA being found in semen on his daughters bed frame.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Malevolent Designer News - Winning The Antibiotic Arms Race

The mcr-9 gene's protein structure graphic depicts the differing protein chains (solid color ribbons) and the protein surface (mesh) surrounding it.
Credit: Ahmed Gaballa/Cornell University
Cornell scientists discover new antibiotic resistance gene | Cornell Chronicle

Creationism's malevolent designer has been at it again in its arms race with human medical science, and it seems to have gone into overdrive.

As Cornell University food scientists have discovered, it has created a new 'diabolical' gene to convey resistance in bacteria to our antibiotic of last resort, colistin.

And not content with giving that resistance to a bacterium like salmonella, it has made the gene fully transferable to other species via a plasmid, so, by horizontal gene transfer, any bacteria can now acquire resistance to colistin. Colistin has been designated by the World Health Organisation as a highest-priority antibiotic. Unless we can find a better one or find some new way of killing bacteria when they infect us, that's it. We will have run out of options.

Creationism Goes off the Rails

Aldabran White-throated rail, Dryolimnas cuvieri subsp. aldabranus.

Photo credit: Charles J Sharp [CC BY-SA 4.0]
The bird that came back from the dead | UoP News

Here we have a very nice example of how evolution is 'directed' by the environment, and an example of how the Theory of Evolution has explanatory powers that creationism simply does not have. This example is of a flightless member of the rail family of birds that evolved not once but twice on the small Indian Ocean atoll of Aldabra.

Julian P Hume of the Bird Group, Department of Life Sciences, Natural History Museum, Tring, Herts, UK and David Martill of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, UK, have shown that the present day flightless white-throated rail of Aldabra has some strikingly similar features to an extinct flightless rail. The extinct rail inhabited the atoll until climate change caused the sea level to rise and cover the atoll about 136,000 years ago, exterminating all plant and animal life.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Anglican Abuse News - Peter Ball, Prince Charles and the Archbishop of Canterbury

Peter Ball, Bishop of Gloucester, jailed in 2015 for sexually abusing 18 young men.
Inquiry publishes report into the Diocese of Chichester and Peter Ball | IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has revealed that the Church of England had a casual approach to child abuse by it's clerics that was the equal to that in any Catholic diocese. All the 'sympathy and understanding' was reserved for the cleric who had given in to temptation and been caught, and none for their victims.

This 'understanding' went all the way to the top and included Prince Charles, future titular head of the Anglican Church. As with the Catholic Church, according to the IICSA, the Anglican Church was more concerned with “putting its own reputation above the needs of victims”.

The IICSA has found that former Bishop of Gloucester, Peter Ball, misused his position to sexually abuse young men, talking them into stripping naked to prey, and taking part in masturbation and flagellation sessions. Ball was convicted and given a 32 month sentence for the admitted sexual abuse of 18 young men between 1977 and 1992. Two further charges of indecently assaulting two boys, aged 13 and 15, were allowed to lie on file by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Peter Ball, along with his twin brother Michael, set up the Community of the Glorious Ascension, an Anglican monastic order through which he met many young men and boys as novice monks. He later became Bishop of Lewes, within the Anglican diocese of Chichester and in 1992 he was appointed Bishop of Gloucester.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Perfectly Plausible Abiogenesis

I get more than a little bit bored with almost every debate with creationists eventually, and often very quickly, coming down to a demand that we explain abiogenesis, or more likely an assertion that it can't be explained because it's 'impossible'.

Then comes the parrot squawk, "you can't get life from non-life", as though any of them could define this 'life' thing.

So, with that in mind, I thought I would both give a puff for my book, What Makes You So Special? From the Big Bang to You and put on record a perfectly plausible explanation for how abiogenesis could have happened. Note, it's not meant to be an account of how it actually happened, just how it could have happened, to refute creationist claims that it is impossible.

If any creationists wishes to substantiate that claim, please feel free to go through the following ten steps and say which laws of chemistry and/or physics would make one or more of them impossible. If you can't, clearly, it is not impossible.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Catholic Abuse News - The Rapist Paedophile Nun

Edward Hayes and his daughter
Man raped by NUN at Catholic home meets daughter he fathered for first time 62 years later - Irish Mirror Online

While researching the article on the abuse and starvation of children by the Catholic nuns who ran the Irish Mother and Baby homes, I came across this news item. It makes a change from the tens of thousands of accounts of Catholic priests raping children.

This account is of a nun repeatedly raping a boy in her care and eventually getting herself pregnant by him.

Catholic Ireland Where Nuns Sold Dead Babies

Bessborough Mother and Baby Home, Cork.
Highest infant mortality rate of any religious-run institution.
Pat Flanagan column: Selling 1,000 dead babies shows how much Catholic Church hated children - Pat Flanagan - Irish Mirror Online

The fifth interim report of the Irish Government's Commission Of Investigation On Mother And Baby Homes, published a few days ago, has added yet more horror to the catalogue of horrors that the homes became under the Catholic Church's supervision.

The homes were run by Catholic nuns and became almost autonomous, being accountable to no-one but themselves. They served as homes for pregnant unmarried women and mothers and became virtual places of punishment with both the women and their babies treated as sub-human and worthless by the nuns, who saw them as sinners and the products of sin. When they died, and they died very often, they were not even accorded respect as human beings.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Malevolent Designer News - Making Better Mosquitoes

Aedes aegypti

Credit: Muhammad Mahdi Karim [GFDL 1.2],
via Wikimedia Commons
Aedes aegypti Mosquitoes Detect Acidic Volatiles Found in Human Odor Using the IR8a Pathway | Current Biology.

Following close on the news that creationism's malevolent... er... sorry... intelligent (sic) designer has designed liver flukes to be better at making us and our livestock sick, comes news of another brilliant piece if design to improve a mosquito's ability to give us serious infections with life-threatening parasites.

Researchers from the Department of Biological Sciences & Biomolecular Sciences Institute, Florida International University, Miami, FL, USA have shown how the antennae of female Aedes aegypti Mosquitoes can 'smell' characteristic signature chemicals in human body odour. Their findings were published open access in Current Biology yesterday.

Malevolent Designer News - Making a Better Liver Fluke

Liver flukes, Fasciola hepatica.
Mechanism of a protein upon infection of the 'Fasciola hepatica' -- ScienceDaily

Scientists working at the University of Córdoba, Spain, have discovered just how devious any intelligent designer would have to have been when it designed the liver fluke, Fasciola hepatica.

Creationists who advocate intelligent design as the best explanation for organisms and the diversity of living things need to believe several key things about their purported designer:

Monday, 22 April 2019

Catholic Bishops Admit Bible Class Disadvantages School Children

Richard Brunton, TD.
In Letter to Irish Government, Bishops Admitted Religion Makes Kids Dumber | Hemant Mehta | Friendly Atheist | Patheos

In an astonishing letter to the then Irish Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, TD PDF, Catholic bishops have unwittingly revealed that even they regard religious education as detrimental to the children being subjected to it.

The letter, which had never been made public, came to light by chance when Seamus and John from The Free Thought Prophet Podcast were researching for a podcast and submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Irish Department of Education and Skills.

The letter was written in response to Circular Letter 0013/2018 PDF from the Department of Education and Skills, detailing proposals for changes in the purpose of the circular was to:

... set out a new approach to the arrangements that are made for religious instruction and worship in the schools covered by this circular in order to ensure that the rights of children to attend the school without having to attend religious instruction will be conducted in a manner that takes account of the likelihood, given changing demographics, of an increasing number of families wanting to exercise their constitutional right to withdraw.

Bishop Brendan Leahy, co-signatory.

Bishop Brendan Kelly, co-signatory.
Clearly, the Irish Government had recognised the increasing rejection of Catholicism by its citizens - a fact which has been documented elsewhere. The circular letter recognised that, while it may once have been reasonable to assume that most, if not all, the students would have been Catholic, this was no longer a reasonable assumption.

Previously, those pupils who had been opted out of religious instructions were 'supervised' and given other activities. What they weren't given were formal lessons. The proposal and key change proposed in the circular was that:

...those who do not want instruction in line with the requirements of any particular religion should be timetabled for alternative tuition throughout the school year rather than supervised study or other activities.

In other words, those opting out of religious instructions were to be given tuition additional to that given to those taking religious instructions.

It is this intention to provide tuition to the opted-out pupils that has angered the Catholic bishops and prompted them to write in protest. The pertinent paragraph of their letter reads:

While we are respectful of the wishes of those who opt out of religious education (the Model Agreements and Deeds of Trust have always allowed for this provision), we are equally clear that those who continue to take religious education should not be disadvantaged in terms of the examinable curriculum by offering those who do not take religious education additional classes in an examinable curricular subject or by offering them another examinable curricular subject. Students must not be disadvantaged for taking religious education. [My emphasis]

In other words, and quite unequivocally, the bishops are saying that religious instructions placed those not opting out in a disadvantageous position, if those opting out occupy their time productively. Instead, the bishops would prefer those opting out to have the same handicap as those being subjected to religious instruction.

The disgraceful thing is that the Irish Government caved in to this interference and brought the rules into line with the Bishops' demands - that all Irish school children will be taught about religion but in a secular format, so there will be no opt out, since the law only allows opt out for religious instructions, not for secular lessons.

Sri Lanka and New Zealand - Why the Different Responses?

Dead bodies of victims lie inside St. Sebastian's Church damaged in blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. More than two hundred people were killed and hundreds more injured in eight blasts that rocked churches and hotels in and just outside Sri Lanka's capital on Easter Sunday.

Credit: AP/Chamila Karunarathne
In a world in which we've become used to mass killings and atrocities by religious fanatics, often perpetrated against members of a different religion, the New Zealand atrocities carried out by one fanatical Christian against Muslims peacefully at prayer stood out for it's barbarity and brutal violation, not just of the lives destroyed but of a peaceful and tolerant society.

The death toll was 50. People across the world were rightly outraged by it.

In Sri Lanka, an as yet unidentified (but assumed to be Muslim) group yesterday targeted Christian churches with bombs designed to kill as many as possible while Christians were at prayer on a day which many Christians regard as the most holy of the year.

Also targeted were hotels where mostly Europeans stay in a country in which Europeans are assumed to be Christian. This was clearly an attack against members of a religion by members of a different one.

The death toll currently stands at about 300. And yet the response to the Sri Lanka massacre has been far more muted than the response to the New Zealand massacre.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Moral Decisions - No Gods Required

How Do We Make Moral Decisions?

Contrary to Christian apologists' assertions, humans do not get 'objective' morals from a god whose capricious whims determine right and wrong.

No matter how much C.S.Lewis tied himself into knots with his intellectual contortions, trying to prove that because he couldn't tell right from wrong, the god his mummy and daddy believed in must be real, the evidence of other cultures with other gods, and with none, shows that moral codes have broad principles common to all human cultures.

The rule probably most basic to all human cultures is the 'golden rule' - do as you would be done by or, as Christians would say, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. However, why people generally stick to this principle has been the subject of debate. Do they do it because of guilt, because we would feel bad about letting the other person down, or because of an innate sense of fairness where we want the fairest outcome.

Evolution News - A Matter of Joined-Up Thinking

Buff-browed Foliage gleaner, Syndactyla rufosupercilita.

Photo credit: Ricardo O. de Oliveira
The Cerrado once connected the Andes with the Atlantic Rainforest | AGÊNCIA FAPESP

Far from being, as creationists would have their duped believe, a theory in crisis, evolution is so well embedded as a fundamental science that no serious scientists even question it any more, that it can be used to settle debate about things like climate change and distribution of different biomes in the past.

An example of this is the paper in Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution in which the distribution of a family of oven birds in the Amazon and Andean rain forests was used to show how and when these two rainforests were connected at times.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Fall in US Religious Affiliation is Accelerating

U.S. Church Membership Down Sharply in Past Two Decades.

A second poll in a few days has confirmed the sharp, and accelerating, decline in religious affiliation in the USA. Now only 50% of Americans identify themselves as belonging to any particular church, synagogue or mosque, compared to 68% or more between 1937 and the 1990s.

This fell by only 2% between the 1970s and 1990s, but in the last 20 years the decline has accelerated massively to 20% with more than half of that in the ten years up to 2018. Projecting this accelerating trend forward, religious affiliation in the USA should be below 30% within the next 15-20 years.

Monday, 15 April 2019

Notre Dame - Not Just a Catholic Cathedral

No trip abroad or to a new city in the UK for my partner and I would be complete without a visit to the local cathedral, and so it was when we were in Paris some years ago. We put an afternoon aside for it.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame was a monument not just, or for us as Atheists even partly, to the 'Glory of God', but to to the glory of mankind's artistry and craftsmanship.

We looked upon the skill and dedication of the carpenters, stonemasons, iconographers and stained-glass window designers and creators and wondered who they were. What lives did they live? How did they get those skills? What were their thoughts as they made their mark and left a record of their existence for future generations?

Sunday, 14 April 2019

The 'Nones' Take The Lead in USA

'Black Protestant' and 'Jewish' subsumed into 'Other faiths' to give 'Other affiliation'
'No religion' includes Atheists, Agnostics and spiritual but not affiliated to any religion.
Survey: As many Americans claim no religion as there are evangelicals, Catholics - CNN.

The 'nones' are winning.

Within a few days of one another, we have two major opinion surveys by respected organisation, both showing a huge and growing movement away from religious belief, especially Christianity, towards having no religion. Last week we saw a 46% increase in no belief in the UK between 2011 and 2018 and now we hear that the largest single demographic in the USA is the 'none', who have overtaken the Catholics and evangelicals for the first time.

This latter survey was released last month but has only just found it way into the mainstream news media.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Evolution in Just Six Generations

Rape, Brassica rapa, pollinated by bumblebees has more attractive flowers.
Image: Florian Schiestl, UZH
Interplay of pollinators and pests influences plant evolution

Evolution is a dynamic process in which a species responds to competing selection pressures in its environment. Some of these might push the species in one direction and others in the opposite direction. Changing environmental factors effectively redefine the term 'fitness' as it applies to relevant characteristics.

Brassica plants, for example, have large attractive flowers which attract insect pollinators. They are also monoecious or hermaphrodite and, like many plants, have both male and female parts in the same flower, so are capable of 'selfing' or self-pollination.

Pollination by pollen from other flowers, carried by pollinating insects, increases genetic mixing, so reducing the change of deleterious mutations occurring in the same individual. This pressure pushes the species towards the evolution of larger, more attractive flowers.

However, there is a price to pay in that large attractive flowers also attract herbivores that eat brassica leaves, so wasting the plant's resources and reducing their vigor. This pressure pushes the species towards less attractive flowers. This in turn reduces the likelihood of cross pollination, which pushes the species toward selfing and characteristic that make that more, not less likely.

Massive Increase in Non-Belief in UK

Number of non-religious people in Britain jumps by 46%, new figures show » Humanists UK

Figures released by the Office of National Statistic last week show that non-belief in the UK has increased by an astonishing 46% since 2011.

Over the same period, the percentage of those self-identifying as Christian has fallen by a further 15%. This is consistent with other polls that have show a sharp decline in religious affiliation and particularly affiliation to the Anglican Church whose attendance continues to fall.

However, there has been criticism, notable from Humanists UK, about the leading nature of the question asked, which significantly overestimates religious belief by tying it to religion as a cultural identifier rather than a description of actual belief.

The question asked by ONS was "What is your religion?". Other studies have shown that when people are asked, "What is your religion, if any?" they give a different answer. Subliminally, the question as asked by ONS implies the respondent is expected to have one. For example, the British Social Attitudes Survey, by using a two-part question, concluded that 52% of British people have no religious belief.
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