Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Big Bat Cave Bother For Creationists

Gomantong Cave, Borneo, Malaysia
Photo: Donald McFarlane
https://eos.org/articles/how-bat-breath-and-guano-can-change-the-shapes-of-caves

Deep inside a massive limestone cave in Borneo, there is a mound of bird and bat droppings, produced by a constant 'rain' of fresh excrement from the bats and birds that occupy the ceiling of the cave, some 60 metres above.

This is not a place for the squeamish, and probably not a nice place for creationists desperate to believe Earth is just a few thousand years old.

In places, this mound can be 10 to 12 metres high. So massive it it that is sustains a whole ecosystem of cockroaches, microorganisms and other creatures that depend entirely on the fresh guano.

Monday, 5 August 2019

40% of Americans Believe in Creationism!

40% of Americans Believe in Creationism.

As though having elected Donald Trump as president wasn't bad enough for America's reputation, we now learn that four out of every ten Americans still believe that a god created modern humans exactly as they are today.

However, hidden in these abysmal figure is evidence that this sorry state of affairs is changing. Believe it or not 40% is close to the historical low for this figure since Gallup began polling on this issue in 1982. Although there is a statistically insignificant rise of 2 percentage point in the last year, this is the third year in a row that the figure has been at or below 42%; a figure only once before bettered with 40% in 2010. Prior to 2008, figures in the upper 40s were the norm.

Friday, 2 August 2019

Refuting Intelligent Design Creationism

Lee Thomas Wimberley, MD. CDesign Proponentsist
On the Emergence of Life | Lee T. Wimberley, MD.

First a little background.

Apparently, Lee Thomas Wimberly, MD, is highly regarded in creationist circles in the social media, though not in scientific circles, where he appears to be a complete unknown. He has written what he believes is a critique of evolution and what he calls 'evolutionists'.

He has a medical degree from the University of Alabama School of Medicine and works as an internist associated with several hospitals in Birmingham, Alabama, USA. He appears to have no background in biological research or scientific research of any kind. He is an 'intelligent design' advocate, in other words, he is a creationist. As his record in the social media shows, he is a Bible-literalist Young Earth Creationist who believes in Noah's Ark, and a 6000 year-old Earth.

Having asked on Twitter why evolution can't explain the origin of life, as though demanding a scientific explanation for one thing - evolution - explain another - abiogenesis - is some sort of rebuttal of the ToE, and having conspicuously ignored the proffered ten-step process by which abiogenesis could very plausibly have happened, Wimberly challenged me to read and comment on his blog.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Why Americans Are Losing Confidence In Religion

Why Are Americans Losing Confidence in Organized Religion?

Following on from their poll finding that American confidence in organised religion is continuing to decline, an article by Gallup's Frank Newport analysed the reasons for this decline in greater details.

As I reported a few weeks ago, from being the most respected of American institutions in 1974, with 68% of Americans having a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in it, this figure has now sunk to just 36% in 2019.

Monday, 22 July 2019

New Light on Cichlid Evolution in Africa

Just a few of the Lake Victoria Cichlids
New light on cichlid evolution in Africa - LMU Munich.

Cichlids are a ubiquitous group of freshwater fish in the tropics and are notable for the wide range of morphologies and patterns of behaviour that have adapted them to exploit a wide range of freshwater habitats. There are some 1100 different African species alone, most of them belonging to the Haplotilapiini group.

Now a collaborative research project carried out under the auspices of the GeoBio-Center at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany (LMU), has helped shed light on the origins and causes of this central paradigm in evolutionary biology.

The most notable example of this diversification is in the Great Lakes, Lakes Tanganyika, Malawi and Victoria, and others, in the East African Rift Valley where we can date the beginnings of this radiation with a fair degree of accuracy because several of these lakes are know to have dried up at particular geological times. This effectively zeros the local evolutionary process at the point where the lakes fill again.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Declining Religion in UK

Religion Identity, behaviour and belief over two decades | British Social Attitudes 36 - Religion.

'Christian', as a self-identifier of religious belief, fell below 40% for the first time in 2018 in the UK, while 'non-religious' oustripped all the others combined at 52%.

Coincidentally, the UK voted to leave the EU by exactly the same percentage of those who voted as those who now state they have no religion. On the basis of that margin, the UK is now going through the most fundamental change in its constitution since the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

The constitutional change as a result of 52% of people having no religion has been conspicuous by its absence. In Theresa May's words, nothing has changed. In this instance though, that statement is true.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

The End of Christian Fascism in Greece?


Greek fascist 'Golden Dawn' flag
Greece election results: Landslide for centre-right New Democracy after Syriza concedes defeat | The Independent

Hidden in the result of the recent Greek general election a few days ago was a welcome result which went almost unnoticed by the mainstream news media; the extreme right-wing, Orthodox Christian-supported and openly fascist party, 'Golden Dawn' was totally wiped out, losing all its MPs.

Golden Dawn had previously been Greece's third largest party but under the Greek proportional electoral system, having failed to reach the 3% threshold, it did not qualify to have even one MP.

According to this report, the Greek Orthodox Church, which unlike Catholicism, does not have a rigid hierarchical structure but has devolved regional autonomy, is at least ambivalent towards Gold Dawn's openly fascist, ultra-nationalist policies and violent tactics. While some bishops have been critical other have been lukewarm or even openly supportive of Golden Dawn.

U.S. Confidence in Religion Falls Again

U.S. Confidence in Organized Religion Remains Low | Gallup.

The confidence of Americans in organized religion has fallen by a further two percentage points in the last year and now stands at another historic low of just 36% having a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in it.

Historical lows have been recorded in each successive year for the last 5 years and there has only been one brief respite in an otherwise inexorable decline since 2010. In 1975, soon after Gallup began polling the same question about a number of American institutions, organized religion has fallen from the most trusted at 68% (a position it held until 1985) to sixth place.

Over the same period, those expressing very little of no confidence in organized religion has risen from 11% to 27%.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Catholic Abuse News - Pope's Envoy To France

Archbishop Luigi Ventura, papal nuncio to France
Credit: Rémy Gabalda/AFP/Getty Images
Vatican lifts diplomatic immunity for envoy facing assault claims | World news | The Guardian

On January 17 this year, the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, gave a new year’s address to diplomats, religious leaders and civil society figures in the city hall. Also invited was 74-year-old Archbishop Luigi Ventura, papal nuncio to France, the equivalent of an ambassador for the Vatican City state and the personal representative of Pope Francis. He has held the post since 2009.

While there he allegedly repeatedly sexually assaulted a member of the city staff, by groping his bottom, once in full view of witnesses. The attention was unwanted, uninvited and unwelcome.

The employee reported the matter to his employers who, on 24 January, reported the matter to the police as a sexual assault, and an investigation was launched. After these allegations emerged, a second man alleged that Ventura had molested him in Canada. Christian Vachon alleged Ventura touched his buttocks at least twice during a banquet held at the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, near Quebec.

However, as an accredited diplomat, Ventura was immune from prosecution, as is every other diplomat under the 1961 Vienna Convention, unless diplomatic immunity is withdrawn by the diplomat's own country - in this case, the Vatican City.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Catholic Abuse News - German Congregation Walkout

Rev. Ulrich Zurkuhlen
"I have never experienced anything like this in the 54 years of my life as a priest."
German Catholics Storm Out Of Sermon Urging Forgiveness For Predator Priests | HuffPost UK

Once upon a time, the members of a Christian congregation were nothing if not derential. Not so now though if Münster in Germany is anything to go by.

A congregation would once sit, sometimes for hours, enduring the lectures priests delivered from their pulpit. They would nod piously but silently in agreement, as the sacred words of wisdom poured forth upon the assembled godly, enlightening them, reinforcing their sense of unworthiness and their need to come back again next week to endure another lecture, hand over money and beg for forgiveness.

They would even shake hands with the priest as they left, congratulating him on another wonderful sermon - whilst scarcely remembering a word of it.

Not so today, as events in the German city of Münster showed. Gone is deference to the moral authority of the church and it's priests. Sickened by daily stories of hypocrisy and moral depravity of priests, and in this case Catholic priests, the congregation in the Holy Spirit Church answered back, loudly and angrily. Eventually half the choir walked out followed by about 70 of the congregation and held an impromptu protest meeting outside.

Monday, 8 July 2019

How Christians Lie to Us - Gay 'Conversion' Fraud

Science Journal Retracts Paper That Said Gay Conversion Therapy Works | Hemant Mehta | Friendly Atheist | Patheos

Last August, an American Christian rights pressure group, Liberty Counsel, issued a press release in which they claimed:

A recent study, Effects of Therapy on Religious Men Who Have Unwanted Same-Sex Attraction, confirms the overwhelming effectiveness of people receiving counseling to reduce or eliminate their unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, or identity.

In this study, more than two-thirds of those who participated in group therapy or received professional help had significant heterosexual shifts in sexual attraction, sexual identity, and behavior, and moderate-to-marked decreases in suicidality, depression, substance abuse, and increases in social functioning and self-esteem. The study’s effectiveness rates for counseling people with unwanted same-sex attraction were comparable to the effectiveness rates of psychotherapy in general for any unwanted issue.

[...]

This current research also strongly refutes claims the American Psychological Association [APA] and other organizations have made aimed at discouraging counsel to change unwanted same-sex attractions, behavior, and identity.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Cultural Evolution and Wood Pigeons

Common wood pigeon, Columba palumbus
I'm sitting in my garden enjoying a beautiful sunny summer day with a light breeze. About ten feet to my right is a tangle of buddleia and ceanothus with a vine and a wisteria twinging up through it, having outgrown their pergola. In the centre of this tangle is a wood pigeon's nest. A couple of wood pigeons are strutting about not six feet from me.

Outside my front door, in a tangle of Clematis montanum and making a right mess of my outside lamp and the ground beneath, is another wood pigeon's nest. The first clutch of young having flown about a week ago, they already seem to be sitting on a second clutch of two eggs. Always two and always one male and one female - a 'pigeon pair'.

According to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), wood pigeons, Columba palumbus, are now competing with blue tits and blackbirds for the top spot as Britain's commonest garden bird. Something has changed radically in the behaviour of wood pigeons over the last ten to twenty years.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Muslims Losing Faith Too

The Arab world in seven charts: Are Arabs turning their backs on religion? - BBC News

A major new survey by the Arab Barometer research network for the BBC, conducted across ten countries and the Palestinian territories between late 2018 and spring 2019 shows a marked increase in those with no religious beliefs.

Other finding in the survey show a move towards a more liberal attitude to a range of social issues.

Across the area, those self-identifying as "not religious" rose from just 8% to 13% between 2013 and 2018. This represents a 1% per annum increase. Amongst the under-30's this rose to 18%. The largest increases were seen in Tunisia, Libya, Morocco and Egypt, and only Yemen recorded a fall.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Terrible News for Creationists - Evolution of Ruminants Now Known



Lesser Mouse Deer, Tragulus kanchil
By Seshadri.K.S. - Own work,
CC BY-SA 4.0, Link
Masai giraffe, G. c. tippelskirchi
By © Hans Hillewaert,
CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
From Sheep and Cattle to Giraffes, Genome Study Reveals Evolution of Ruminants | UC Davis

The ruminants are a large and very successful group of mammals ranging in size from the tiny lesser mouse deer of Malaysia to the giant African giraffes, and occupying a wide range of ecosystems. A characteristic of this group is a four-chambered stomach modified to digest a high-cellulose diet with the aid of specialist microorganisms, regurgitation and re-chewing of the food (chewing the cud), a pair of horns or antlers used for defence and sexual display and teeth adapted for eating grass and leaves.

This group emerged between 32 and 39 million years ago and has provided several important domesticated animals such as cattle, sheep and goats, but how exactly they are related had not before been fully worked out.

Now a team of scientists led by Wen Wang and Guojie Zhang at the Kunming Institute of Zoology, China, and Rasmus Heller at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and including Professor Harris Lewin at the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology and Genome Center, Davis California, has gone some considerable way to working out a phylogenic tree for this group.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Catholic Abuse News - Cardinal Nichols' Complacency


Cardinal Vincent Nichols
The Roman Catholic Church Case Study: Archdiocese of Birmingham Investigation Report | IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The leader of the Catholic Church in England, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, has been severely criticised by an Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report, for being more concerned with the reputation of the church than with the protection of children.

Nichols was Archbishop of Birmingham between 2000 and 2009 and, although he denies a coverup, was found to have "ignored" allegations which, if investigated could have prevent the abuses of children. In all, there were 130 allegations of child abuse against 78 Catholic priests in the archdiocese.

The chair of the IICSA, Professor Alexis Jay said, "I am truly shocked by the scale of sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Birmingham." The inquiry concentrated on the case of four predatory paedophile priests in particular, one of them being Father John Tolkien, son of the author JRR Tolkien. One of the four remains anonymous.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Catholic Abuse News - Church of the Holy Hypocrite


Thomas J. Tobin, bishop of Providence, Rhode Island
Catholic bishop who ignored child sex abuse cases calls Pride parades ‘harmful for children’ / LGBTQ Nation

In a stunning display of the nauseating hypocrisy that passes for sanctimonious piety in the Catholic Church, a bishop who stood by and did nothing while priests abused children, has hit out at a planned gay pride month, warning parents that:

[Gays] promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Catholic faith and morals. They are especially harmful for children.

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, served for four years in the 1990s as auxiliary bishop of Pittsburgh, one of six Pennsylvania dioceses covered in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report that reveals a horror story of decades of child abuse by Catholic priests and routine cover-up by senior clerics.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Bear Facts Refute Creationism

Polar bear, Ursus maritimus
Evolved by losing information.
News: How eating meat shifted polar bears’ DNA | College of Natural Sciences (CNS) | UMass Amherst

How did new information create polar bears?

According to creationists, it can't have done because, so the dogma says, no new information can arise due to mutations, and since evolution requires mutations on which selection can work, it should follow that evolution can't include new information. A corollary to this dogma is that loss of information is invariably detrimental.

The problem with that dogma is that real world biology keeps finding examples that shouldn't be there. The latest is the finding that polar bears evolved from a common ancestor with brown bears by adaptations that required changes in the number of certain key genes. This was discovered by researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Natural Science.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Creationism Dogged By More Bad News

Dogs evolved a special muscle that lets them make puppy dog eyes | New Scientist

Creationists are probably used to ignoring yet another example of a 'non-existent' fossil showing intermediate or 'transitional' features between an ancestral and a descendant species. If not, they should be since these turn up with monotonous regularity.

A little more unusual are those examples of another of their 'non-existent' feature of biological evolution - new structure.

So, today's news gives creationists another fact to ignore and proclaim not to be there - domestic dogs have a structure which is not found in their wolf ancestors. Moreover, the mechanism by which it evolved is easy to understand in terms of how the environment selected for the ability this new structure gives dogs.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Has Creationism's Intelligent Designer Blundered?

New vulnerability found in major human viruses: Structural feature may lead to antivirals for the common cold, polio, and other pathogens -- ScienceDaily

It looks like creationism's Intelligent (sic) Designer might have blundered and built a vulnerability into some of its most annoying viruses - if you believe that creationist view of biology.

The vulnerability comes from the way viruses replicate inside cells. To enter the cell, they need to change the shape of their protein coat, so if the shape of this protein can be 'locked' they would be unable to infect cells.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Malevolent Designer News - America Gets A Special Virulent Zika Virus

Source
Are American Zika strains more virulent than Pacific and Asian strains? -- ScienceDaily

It's beginning to look like the malevolent designer, flushed with success at designing the zika virus to cause microcephaly in babies whose mothers became infected during pregnancy, then spreading it from Africa to South America, has now moved to the next level.

From the work done by a Japanese team of researchers from National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan, it looks like a slight tweaking of the design means that the strain of zika now spreading to North America is more virulent. The malevolent designer is planning something a little special for the southern states of the USA.

Their work was published open access in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases yesterday. The accompanying press release explains:
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