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.

But not quite. The amazing detail we can see in this example of a fledgling bird-like enantiornithine published in Gondwana Research is actually a detailed impression made in the amber itself. The flesh, including any DNA, has long since turned to a carbon residue. The structures of the feathers however have been preserved in remarkable detail.

Regrettably, and all the more bizarrely given that the full paper is available to read on line, the publishers, Elsevier, again want money for me to save you the trouble of going there to read it by reprinting the abstract here.

This specimen, embedded in Burmese amber, is from a group of birds that existed contemporaneously with late dinosaurs, known as the 'opposite birds' that were a sister clade to the ancestors of modern birds, the neornithines. The difference was that, whereas modern birds all have a ball and socket shoulder joint, these had a socket and ball joint (there is a difference). The relatively well-developed flight feathers in so young a fledgling, characteristic of this group of birds, suggests a high level of independence probably from hatching and a low level of parental care and supervision.

They had claws on their wings and, like the ancestors of modern birds at that time, they had jaws with teeth. A surprising feature of this specimen, in contrast to the well-developed flight feathers, is the lack of body plumage. The fledgling appear to have been almost naked yet probably capable of fluttering flight. What body feathers there are, suggest fledgling birds of this species had a mixture of the contour feathers seen on adult modern birds and the filamentous proto-feathers found on feathered dinosaurs.

What we have is a species with a dinosaur jaw and teeth and a mixture of dinosaur-like proto-feathers and proper bird feathers. If that's not an example of what creationist dogma says don't exist, a 'transitional' species, then it's difficult to know what is. We also know from the DNA of modern birds that not only do they still carry the genes for making a dinosaur jaw with teeth but also a dinosaur foot. Disconcertingly for 'Intelligent (sic) Design' advocates, these can be reactivated in the embryo. What is intelligent about putting redundant genes in a genome and then having to deactivate them?

This group gave rise to a wide diversity of birds during the Cretaceous, far outnumbering the neornithines, but the entire group all went extinct at the K-T Boundary mass extinction, along with the dinosaurs. It's not clear why they died out but their sister clade survived this extinction event and went on to become modern birds. A lack of parental care could have been a contributory factor and this particular species' relatively naked chicks were probably ill-equipped to survive the years of perpetual darkness and winter that followed the devastating meteor strike at the end of the Cretaceous era.

'via Blog this'

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.

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