## Tuesday, 28 February 2012

### Evolving Simple Complexity.

 Airbus A320
Sitting inside a plane a few months ago I was struck by the similarity between aeroplanes and segmented animals. On a typical short-haul plane, once you're inside and looking down the plane you see a central aisle with rows of three seats on either side. Overhead is a row of lockers. There are rows of windows spaced evenly along the sides, with a few modified as emergency exits, etc.

If we could see the wiring for lights, in-flight entertainment, pipes for fresh air supply, emergency oxygen and so on, we would see this segmentation repeated. No doubt the same basic segmentation is repeated in the construction of the body of the plane itself, with superstructure, panels, etc. Running the length of the plane will be cables and wire for flight control, warning lights, etc, etc.

Compare this with an internal view of the skeleton of a python. See the basic similarity?

 Python skeleton from the inside
The reason for this similarity is not a coincidence. It is easier to construct a series of identical or slightly modified modules and join them together to make a larger structure. In python embryology, where this process happens, the same genes with the same set of controls in the form of hox genes only needs to be repeated at each segment; to make a plane you only need to design a single row of seats, one set of overhead lockers, one window pane, one unit of lighting, fresh air supply, emergency oxygen, etc, then make a lot of them and fit them together.

So, this brings me in a roundabout way to the idea of complexity. Very generally speaking, as the so-called 'higher' animals evolved and more functionality was added so they apparently became more complex. But, this is largely illusory and in many cases actually false.

For example, does it add complexity to add an addition body segment to a python? One might as well argue that two pythons are more complex than one. Would it be a more complex aeroplane if an additional row of seats were to be added to the body, complete with all the accessory structures, leaving aside that it might need bigger wings or more powerful engines? Are two Airbus A320s more complex than one?

So, it should be fairly easy to see that, apart from a more complex (or is it just larger?) brain, there is no increase in complexity as humans evolved from the early hominids to modern Homo sapiens. There is no additional complexity to explain and certainly our DNA is no more complex and has no more information in it that that of Pan troglodytes (common chimpanzee), with whom we share 98.5% of our DNA anyway.

But, there are many examples of evolution evolving a loss of complexity. Indeed, the python itself lost complexity when it's ancestors lost their legs and shoulder and pelvic girdles with them.

Very many parasites have lost complexity during their evolution, especially parasitic worms, some of which have even lost their digestive systems and have become little more than machines for making more worms. See my blog "Intelligently Designed By A Loving God?" for examples of parasites.

And now here comes a bit that will really annoy creationists: humans, and all warm-blooded animals, are less complex than many cold-blooded animals. For example, some salamanders have vastly more DNA than we do. Some up to 30 times as much per cell.

The reasons for this are disputed, but one explanation, I think, makes a great deal of sense. A salamander needs its body to function over a wide range of ambient temperatures; warm-bodied creature have no such problem. All metabolic processes are essentially enzyme-controlled chemical reactions. It's a characteristic of enzyme-controlled reactions that they are optimal only over a very narrow temperature range, so salamanders need several different enzyme systems for the same basic process where mammals and birds only need one. So, salamanders need lots more DNA to produce all those different sets of enzymes.

Once our early ancestor, probably a small mammal-like reptile living between 30 and 70 million years ago, had evolved the ability to regulate their body temperature they could dispense with all those unnecessary enzyme systems which were now free to evolve into other systems or atrophy and the DNA could be lost or co-opted or become just junk, free to mutate away with no loss of function. But the main thing was that, with warm-bloodedness, our ancestors had become genetically less complex.

Here's an interesting database with comparative genome sizes for all sorts of animals. As you can see, in terms of genome size, the human genome at just over 3 million base pairs (Mbp) is nothing out of the ordinary for a mammal so, on the basis so beloved of information theorist creationists of 'increasing DNA complexity' being synonymous with evolution, humans are far from being the most complex and mammals are less evolved than many other orders.

Would an information theorist creationist care to explain how the second law of thermodynamics renders this evolution impossible, please? Preferably one who hasn't taken the Creationist Oath and so may not be trying to mislead us for money or political power.

Of course, this isn't a problem for the Theory of Evolution which is the scientific model for explaining the fact of evolution, because increasing complexity and relative genome size are not and never were part of the theory. Genes, and with them the species which carries them, evolve by differences in them carrying differential advantages in the given environment. Evolution by natural selection can explain the differences in the genome without resorting to magic. By contrast, creationists are left once again attacking a straw man which has only a tangential bearing on evolution and which is based, through ignorance or by deliberation, on a fundamental misunderstanding of the subject they are purporting to refute.

## Saturday, 25 February 2012

### Science vs Religion - A Relative Difference

Whilst reading the excellent A Universe From Nothing by Lawrence M. Krauss, I was struck by the following example of the different approaches to truth of religion and science.

The first person to propose the Big Bang was Georges Lemaïtre, a Belgian cleric. A former engineer, he had taken up mathematics when studying for the priesthood and had then studied cosmology under the British cosmologist Sir Arthur Eddington and later at Harvard.

Lemaïtre solved Albert Einstein's equation for General Relativity and concluded that the universe was expanding, not static as just about everyone, including Einstein, had assumed. He concluded that the universe must have begun as a 'primordial atom'.

Einstein himself had realised an earlier form of his equation had 'predicted' an expanding universe and, so ingrained was the assumption of a static, eternal and small universe, he assumed his equation was incomplete and had included a 'cosmological constant' to correct the 'error'. He later called this the biggest mistake of his life and removed it, otherwise Einstein would have been credited with having predicted the Big Bang simultaneously with having explained gravity far more accurately than Newton had, all with the Theory of General Relativity.

## Friday, 24 February 2012

The trouble with nothing is that you can't say what it is because it's er... nothing, so there is nothing to describe or define, well nothing you can put your finger on exactly.

You see, the problem with explaining how something came from nothing is that it couldn't have done. Not because it's impossible but because it's impossible for there to be nothing.

It's a bit like trying to explain what is outside the universe. It can't be nothing because there is no time or space outside the universe for nothing to be in. In fact, there can't be an outside to the universe because there is no where for an outside to be in.

In some ways, it's a bit like asking what is north of the North Pole. The question SEEMS like a logical one because we think of north as being a direction and of course, you can always move a little bit further in the same direction even when you've arrived at the first destination. The problem is that NORTH itself stops at the north pole, just as space-time stops at the 'edge' of the universe, or at least our concept of it, because with no outside there IS no 'edge'.

And so does existence because existence itself needs space and time to exist in. In fact, it could be said that existence IS space-time.

The problem isn't with science; the problem is with human psychology and how it's evolved to help us survive on Earth where answers to questions like "What is nothing?" and, "What is outside the universe?", or even, "What is north of the North Pole?", don't really help us catch lunch, find a mate or rear children, or avoid being something else's lunch or food for their children, or food for a prospective mate.

So, to ask how everything came from nothing might SEEM like a sensible question but it's no more sensible than asking what's north of the North Pole. In fact, the notion that the default state of existence is non-existence is just that - a notion. It's merely a product of human psychology. There is of course no reason; no fundamental law; no rule which says 'nothing' should be assumed and not 'something'.

You only need consider what the question implies. "What caused something to come from nothing?", or, "How did something arise?", all imply not nothing but something to cause whatever it was. This is true whether you do what theists and religious apologists do and assume there was something and define this as a god or some force, or even a set of rules of some kind which 'caused' something to exist, or if you do what theoretical physics does and try to explain how matter arose in a quantum vacuum, which is about as close to defining 'nothing' as science can get.

Clearly, none of those things are 'nothing', not even a quantum vacuum, so they aren't 'explaining' how something came from nothing but how something came from something else; and they are no closer to explaining where this something else came from than they were to explaining where something came from in the first place.

To avoid the absurd logical regress of invoking an assumed something to explain another something, the logical thing to do is to turn the question on its head and ask why we are assuming a 'nothing' in the first place. Where did 'nothing' come from and in what sense can 'nothing' exist?

The hypocrisy of religious apologetics in demanding science explain how something came from nothing, when they are hopelessly devoid of an answer to the same question and have to define their something as nothing to try to get round it, and then being unable to explain how magic created everything from nothing, is too obvious to avoid mentioning here. There is absolutely no reason to assume the default state of existence is non-existence other than our limited human psychology which has evolved fit for purpose, but not the purpose which we are now expecting of it.

The basic problem is with trying to use human intuition to arrive at answers to these questions which are outside our experience and not what our intuition evolved for. Human intuition is a very poor measuring device for the very small, the very large, and the very strange - and quantum events are nothing if not very strange. It takes humility to accept that the answer might not be what seems intuitively obvious and this is where science as a methodology scores against religion. Science demands that you explain things in terms of what can be shown to be so, and not in terms of what seems right to you. Personal incredulity is not a scientific argument.

Remember Xeno's paradox where it seemed obvious that Achilles couldn't overtake a tortoise when looked at one way, and yet obvious that he could when looked at another? A 'paradox' which taxed the best philosophers for centuries until science gave them the right mathematical tools to show why what seemed like the right mathematical model wasn't. It was intuition which had failed, not science.

One of the ways in which apologetics gets away with it of course is that they aim their 'arguments' at those who neither have nor want the humility to think their intuition isn't the best available measure of reality. This is basically the same reason why these same people lack the humility to believe science no matter how compelling the evidence and have no hesitation in condemning it based on nothing more substantial than personal incredulity.

Slicing gods, and magic, and absurdly infinite regresses away with Occam's trusty razor leaves us with the most parsimonious answer - nothing came from nothing because there never was nothing in the first place. There is absolutely no reason to assume there ever was, intuitive though that may seem. Your personal incredulity really is not the ultimate measure of reality.

## Thursday, 23 February 2012

### Religion And The History Of Blood Sacrifice

There seems to be something in the human psyche which assumes sacrifice in general and blood sacrifice in particular is somehow magical and has the power to change the universe. In particular, those cultures which worship a malicious or angry god seem to assume it is mollified, even pleased by the sacrifice of an animal rather than a plant and especially if it involves blood.

Cultures in which sexual activity is regarded as sinful or frowned upon by one of more of their gods often include virginity in the ritual so the best and most powerful effect is obtained by the blood sacrifice of a virgin, and best of all a human virgin.

This has lead to the notion that a god made angry by transgressing one of it's rules, or simply by not worshipping it enough, or in exactly the right way, or even by just being born and existing, can be persuaded to forgive that 'sin' by a blood sacrifice.

The earliest accounts of human sacrifice cannot be distinguished from myth with any certainty but the existence of those myths in the first place with their assumption that human sacrifice to appease or simply to please gods, is indicative of a cultural assumption and a vestigial belief.

 Khali
The Hindu Vedas refer to purushamedha, a symbolic human sacrifice which is clearly derivative of an earlier actual sacrificial ritual. Actual human sacrifice was probably practised in Bengal until the late 19th century and by the Khond tribe in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh as late as 1835. The Thuggee cult dedicated to the Hindu god of death and destruction, Khali, probably accounted for some 2 million deaths.

According to Roman historians, the Celts of Europe, including the British Isles practised human sacrifice. This is supported by archaeological evidence. It has also been suggested that the 'sacred groves' of Druids, rather than places of natural beauty where one could be as one with nature, as is romantically assumed, may have been fearful places of human sacrifice where human body parts were hung up as offerings; a grotesque tradition which may have an echo in dressing the Christmas tree. See Kingdom Of The Celts by John King.

There is evidence of human sacrifice during early Greco-Roman times. The god Artemis saving Iphigeneia, who was about to be sacrificed by her father Agamemnon, by replacing her with a deer, may be a version of the Abraham and Isaac myth of the Hebrews where the deer has become a ram.

 Hawaii Human Sacrifice
One form of human sacrifice, the retainer sacrifice, where a powerful person's servants were killed and buried with him, was common across Euro-asia from earliest times and was in some areas, an integral part of the comitatus system by which a ruler gathered a trusted band of supporters, often tied with blood rituals and oaths of personal loyalty. The comitatus system found it's way into early Islam following Islam's expansion into Central Asia. The stories of the putative Christian founder, Jesus, having a small band of loyal disciples may also be a form of this.

 James Cook Witnessing Human Sacrifice, Tahiti
Human blood sacrifice was certainly praticed in the Pacific islands, notably in Hawaii where luakini temples were constructed specifically for human sacrifice, and in Tahiti where it was witness by James Cook.

In pre-Columban America Mixtec, Aztec, Maya and Inca people all practiced human sacrifice.

All three Abrahamic religions trace their origins back to a legendary Bronze Age nomadic tribal leader, Abraham, who according to tradition, seems to have accepted that it was perfectly natural for a god to demand a human sacrifice, albeit one which is stopped at the last moment. There is nothing in the legend to suggest that Abraham found the idea strange, or grounds for doubting the divinity of the voice he was hearing, so very clearly the culture in which the legend arose saw human blood sacrifice as a normal way to appease gods,

Later on, as the Hebrew legends develop there are accounts of the slaughter of defeated enemies being ordered by their god and of its demands that anyone who transgresses the more important of its 'laws' were to be killed to appease it or its wrath would be visited on those who had allowed the sin to go un-punished. This is still to be found in the religions which have evolved out of this primitive Bronze Age legend.

And of course there is the Hebrew scapegoat tradition where the sins of a people can somehow be transferred to an animal which is then ritually sacrificed to the god who then forgives the people for their 'sins'.

And finally, we see the blood sacrifice represented by the death of the legendary Jesus of Nazareth, an act which even today followers of that tradition believe somehow 'saved' them from the wrath of the very god of whom the sacrificial victim was supposedly a manifestation. What sacrifice could possibly better the blood sacrifice of a mere mortal other than the blood sacrifice of a god itself, and a virginal one at that? You will still even hear people today claiming their 'sins' have been 'washed away' by the blood of Jesus as here and here.

In 1099 when Crusaders captured Jerusalem after a long siege, they ritually slaughtered all the Moslems and Jews who had defended the city, so the the city was said to be 'knee-deep in blood'. When Saladin re-took Jerusalem for Islam in 1187, in order to contrast Islam with Christianity, the inhabitants were spared and the former Moslem holy sites were restored and 'cleansed', not by washing them with sacrificial blood as the Christians had done, but with rose water.

A more recent example of the blood sacrifice can be found in Irish history. It is said of the Irish patriot Patrick Pearce:

For Pearse, the idea of a blood sacrifice had additional appeal. Even as a child, he had unusual fantasies of self-sacrifice for his country, derived from Celtic myths and religious writings. He later fused together his nationalism and his Catholic faith. His Christian devotion had always centred on Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion, and he gradually developed a consuming yearning for martyrdom, in conscious emulation of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. He wrote: ‘One man can free a people, as one man redeemed the world’.

Pearse was also influenced by a mystical belief in the assumed benefit to mankind of blood spilt in violent conflict. He wrote in 1913: ‘Bloodshed is a cleansing and sanctifying thing'.

Pearce led the 'Easter Rising', the timing of which was probably deliberate, and was executed for his part in it, as were thirteen others, in an act by the British authorities which resembled ritual sacrifice and which turned Irish popular opinion even more solidly behind the revolutionaries. The 'blood sacrifice' had worked, but not in some magical, mystical way, but by public revulsion at those who had carried it out.

Strangely, in all of this there is never any explanation of just how a blood sacrifice works. It seems to be something buried so deeply in the primordial human psyche that some people just assume it's so obviously true that it requires no explanation. It has been said that the frequent calls for the death penalty for particularly heinous crimes may be a demand for a blood sacrifice and that the burning of heretics and witches were forms of it.

Obviously our memes have picked up some strange mutations during their long evolution, and, as one would expect of a parasitic memeplex, it's component parts serve the needs of the meme, not their host. Possibly these demonstrations of power by a ruling and priestly class came to be accepted as having power in their own right; that rather than being demonstrations of power, the acts of human blood sacrifice was actually the source of their power.

Clearly there are people who are still infected with a memeplex which includes the acceptance of the magical power of blood sacrifice, although they will usually recoil in horror at the thought of followers of other gods, or people from earlier, less civilised times, practising it and yet their religion would not have gained any traction in a society in which the idea of human blood sacrifice was unknown or abhorrent.

## Monday, 20 February 2012

### How A Pig Destroyed Darwin.

Inspired by the powerful arguments made by B. H. Shadduck, Ph.D. in his devastating polemic against Darwin published in 1925, and which is still obtainable from www.creation.org (albeit they have to give it away) I thought I would dip once more into this seminal tome. I have previously blogged about how inspired I was by this monumental work at "Oh Dear Me! How Did Darwin Get It SO Wrong?".

So, with some eagerness I looked for more inspiration in Chaper 3, entitled The Tale Of A Pail. This is what I found:

"My neighbor tells a pig story in four chapters.

(1) He bought a half starved runt of a pig.
(2) He fed it a bucket of slop and it squealed for more.
(3) He fed it a second bucket of slop and it asked for more.
(4) He put the pig in the bucket and the bucket was not nearly full.

I can believe either end of the story by itself.

My neighbor seems to believe all of it because when he tells one part he isn't thinking of the other parts.

It is easy to give mental assent to conflicting ideas, if you keep them so far apart that they do not bump each other. All I ask of students of evolution is to bring its contrary theories into focus at the same time."

So remember now, if you are ever tempted to believe in evolution, think of that neighbour and his not nearly full bucket of pig! How can science compete against this stuff, eh?

Let's see what else the wise doctor has for us.

"There are some sincere souls who think they believe in the Bible and evolution and the more they believe in one, the less they believe in the other."

What? You mean you can't believe in the Bible AND evolution?

Well, I suppose that's true! So, those deluded souls who tell you they are Christians AND evolutionists can't have read the Bible properly.

"Others think they have effected a working compromise, but the compromise is usually all on one side."

Hmm... a compromise that's not a compromise, eh? Moving on...

"I want no harmony that will back the Bible in on a switch to let the circus train go by."

Er... eh?

"... I am not unmindful of those students who would like to believe the Bible, but have had evolution-ism dinned into them till their minds follow the beaten path. If such students will try to undo the dinning long enough to consider all that is missing, misapplied or contradictory in the testimony, I have no fears for the Bible."

Only someone without the dinning could fail to agree with that, obviously. I certainly have no fear of the Bible so the dinning must be completely undone.

"If you have reached the place where you look for contradictions in the Bible and connected truth in evolution, isn't it time to reverse the process in the interest of fair play?"

Well quite! How could any rational, fair-minded and fully un-dinned person connect truth in evolution with contradictions in the Bible without reversing the process and... er... connecting contradictions in the Bible with the truth in evolution?

How can anyone fail to be convinced by the pig in a pail story? So obvious now why Darwin's Theory of Evolution didn't survive this devastating onslaught.

## Saturday, 18 February 2012

### How To Spot A Militant Secularist

With all the dire warnings now in the media on the dangers of militant secularists and the imminent threat they pose to the fabric of society, law and order and life on this planet as we know it, I thought I would produce a handy print-out-and-keep list to help people recognise these individuals and show why it's important to resist their perverted ways.

The first thing to remember is that most militant secularists try to look like perfectly ordinary people. They wear the same sorts of clothes and may not even look particularly scruffy. They may have a proper job, even a well-paid one. They may even live in your street and drive around in cars or use public transport just like normal people.

Are you sure your neighbours or even members of your family aren't militant secularists? What about aunts and uncles, even cousins or the mailman or school bus driver, even that friendly neighbourhood policeman? They do not have green or purple skin and very rarely have red eyes. In fact, in most respects they look just like you or me and are not easy to pick out in a crowd - unless you know the signs.

It is important to remember that, just like socialists, they may look like perfectly respectable, ordinary people!

However, there are a few tell-tale signs that, try as they may, militant secularists are not able to keep hidden for long. If you learn these they can become fairly easy to spot even across a crowded room.
1. Militant secularists say things like "Um... well, I'm not sure I agree with you on that point", and other stuff intended to destroy your self-confidence. This is because they hate you.
2. Militant secularists often say other people have a right to their opinions too, so showing they are anarchists and communists.
3. Militant secularists say people should be free to believe what they want to believe. This is to undermine the foundations of society, cause moral decay and destroy your faith in God and his Church.
4. Militant secularists even disagree with your religion as well as all the others. This is proof that they are Satanists and Marxists.
5. Militant secularists may not even send their children to Sunday School or Bible classes. This is because they don't want their children to learn right from wrong.
6. Militant secularists even admit publicly they believe in evolution. This is because they want you to think you are a monkey and don't have a soul so you will behave like an animal.
7. Militant secularists say religion should be kept out of politics. This is because they want to tax churches, make euthanasia and homosexuality compulsory and outlaw marriage.
8. Militant secularists may even say they believe in god. This proves they tell lies.
9. Militant secularists may be seen reading science books and magazines, even in public. This is because they are elitists who want to take over the government and abolish democracy.
10. Militant secularists are often opposed to wars. This is because they are traitors who hate the flag and want to take our freedom away.
11. Militant secularists are often educated and sometimes even scientists. This shows they are probably mad and think they are better than ordinary people.
12. Militant secularists don't use guns or even shout abuse at people they disagree with or even threaten them. This is to make you think they are moderate and not at all militant. Do not be fooled! Just because they aren't militant this doesn't prove they aren't, really!

Remember these twelve points so you can recognise these dangerous individuals at a glance and can be ever ready to stand up to their sneaky attempts to destroy civilisation as we know it.

God needs your help with this one. Don't let Satan win!

## Friday, 17 February 2012

### A History Of Bizarre Belief

Disbelief in evolution is but one of a long line of religiously inspired disbelief in scientific ideas and principle now taken for granted by anyone with even a rudimentary education and normal intellectual faculties.

There is a very familiar pattern of fallacious arguments attempting to prove a primitive religious notion from a holy book associated with each one. The holy text is always asserted to be correct and all the contrary evidence is dismissed as false, misleading, or deliberately falsified by evil scientists or thinkers to entice you away from your faith.

Leading proponents of it have invariably had a vested, often pecuniary interest in promulgating it, just as with creationism.

#### The Flat Earth.

 Flat Earth Drawn by Orlando Ferguson 1893. Note the biblical references.

## Monday, 13 February 2012

### Mass for Creationists

According to the Bible, God once flooded the earth to a depth which covered the highest mountains (Genesis 7:20 Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered).  I expect a cubit was pretty big in those days because Everest's peak is 30,000 feet above sea level, so a cubit must have been 2,000 feet.

Moving on...

Now, let's assume an average depth of 15,000 feet of additional water above the former sea level.

Obviously that additional mass of water would have given Earth additional mass, which would have affected at least four or five things in the Sun-Earth-Moon system and to the inner planets.

BTW, I'm not a physicist so I'm happy to be corrected by someone who is. Hopefully, someone can do the sums and fill in the detail for me.

• To conserve angular momentum, the speed of rotation of the Earth would have needed to slow down so days would have lengthened.
• Similarly to conserve angular momentum in earth's orbit around the Sun, Earth would have needed to move away from the sun into a larger orbit to give a longer year.
• As Earth moved out towards the orbit of Mars and away from Venus these would have been disturbed in their orbits which would need to adjust accordingly.
• The additional mass of Earth would have pulled the Moon into a closer orbit.

So, to all you creationists who believe the science supports a literal interpretation of the Bible and the inerrancy of the Noah's Ark story, complete with global flood, and who keep telling us how you've all studied science and are experts in stuff like physics, these questions should all be answerable with ease.

Real physicists might like to have a go at this too, please. I'd love to know the answers myself. "A magic man did it by magic" seems such an unsatisfactory answer somehow.

1. By how much would Earth's rotation have slowed down and how long would the days have been?
2. How far out from the Sun would Earth have moved and how long would a year have lasted?
3. How would the orbits of Mars, Venus, and maybe Mercury and Jupiter have been changed by the change in Earth's orbit?
4. How much closer to Earth would the Moon have moved and why did it not get pulled into Earth to destroy both bodies in a catastrophic collision?
5. By how much would the temperature have fallen on Earth as it moved away from the Sun and how did the water remain liquid at this low temperature so the Ark could float about?

Or would it be easier to conclude that the story is one of the least plausible in all mythology and could only have been made up by people completely ignorant of basic physics and astronomy?

## Sunday, 12 February 2012

### Oh Dear Me! How Did Darwin Get It SO Wrong?

Having nothing better to do, I thought I would browse a creationist website just to see what devastating rebuttals of science they are selling to their credulous audience nowadays. I stumbled upon Creationism.org which is surely worth five minutes of anyone's time, though not more. At least the laughs are free, though not most of the books, though a few are - presumably those which even creationist won't buy

I randomly picked an 'absolutely free to download and copy' creationist book from 1925 (no, don't laugh!) which is STILL being pushed as science. It was written by one B. H. Shadduck, Ph.D about whom more may be found with this Google search (Don't say I don't do anything for you!)

It starts off well:
If you will read with this impression, you will think for yourself instead of nursing theories left on your doorstep while you were overawed with scholarship.

No doctrine worth while is beyond the reach of the world's burden bearers--the common people. Only error needs to hide in a fog of words. My effort will be to translate the hocus-pocus of evolution into simple words, believing that the contradictions of this "science," if held up to the light, will not make much of a bluff.

In speaking of the Bible, I mean the Holy Scriptures accepted by Christ and the Apostolic Church.

If these pages are read by any POLITE person who has been unfortunate in the choice of ancestors, I regret that I must discuss the family's unhappy past. I would do anything to help you forget it.

I use the words "evoluter" and "evolution-ism" because they fit the mail and the propaganda of the man who musses up his own ancestry with beasts that crawl and bark and gibber and then, to avoid shame, slanders the parentage of everyone else.

I FIGHT NOT ONE EVOLUTION, BUT TWO.

Evolution means survival by claw and fang and ambush and treachery. They have fixed up another goody-goody kind for the Sunday School. If they believe the brute kind was good TO GET US HERE, LET THEM PRACTICE WHAT THEY PREACH! EVOLUTION HAS NOT ONE LAW FOR FOUR LEGS AND ANOTHER FOR TWO.
Well quite! That convinced me, I don't know about you. No more one law for four leg and another for two for me! I've never mussed up my ancestry with beasts that crawl and bark and gibber. The very idea!

Moving on...

Let's see what else Mr Sadduck, PhD has to help me understand my new enlightenment:
Right now, I ought to have feathers on my arms.

As a boy, I longed for wings--soaring wings, Happing wings, bat-like wings, any kind of wings that would afford deliverance from plodding journeys.

According to the constitution and by-laws of evolution, I ought to have wings.

Do I talk like a fool?

No. I talk like a man who really thinks evolution will work right here and now--if there is one such.
Um... no. Actually, you talk like a fool. Sorry!
If the Bible contained such folly, how evoluters would mock"!

The snakes that could not get feathers started did not die ; they ate birds. Evolution often feeds its "survivors" to those that have been THEORETICALLY survived. I have been survived a great many times in the same way, because I did not have wings.

You don't understand how a reptile could grow feathers?

It isn't supposed to be understood. It has been spread out over such vast periods of time and the mystery has been so thinned out with gradual changes that it is supposed to soak through the cracks of your mind without being understood.

And yet, a feather is such a delicate, complicated, wonderful structure that one wonders how a feather machine could make itself, set itself up in the right place and push feathers out in exactly the right way. You see, if it got them wrong end to or wrong side out or didn't lap them just right, they would be only trouble makers. You wonder just what a feather was ten years before it was a feather.
Let's see if there is a better freebee on offer, maybe written by a sane person. (I'm all for freebees)...

Nope. No more books. Maybe we should be thankful for small mercies, eh?

But, here are some nice pictures which obviously prove creationism:
 And what could be more degenerate than an Eskimo, eh? Whew! And to think I nearly fell for all that rational stuff based on evidence and things. So there! Take that science! If you don't believe in evolution you'll live to the age of 38! Can't top that, eh? And if you follow the Bible NO WAY will you ever mistake an onion for a bird on a nest like an evolutionist would! Just think of the disgrace! Social death or what?! AND Job is TWICE as tall as Darwin! Bible 1: Science 0 How ever did Darwin get it so wrong?

## Saturday, 11 February 2012

### Christians Are Not Above The Law

 Lord Carey Former Archbishop of Canterbury
One thing I found interesting and very revealing in today's BBC Radio 4 Today interview with former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey was not the expected winging about 'persecution' of Christians, by which he meant that Christians were unfairly being made to obey the law of the land and were being deprived of their 'right' to impose their superstition on the non-Christian majority.

What I thought was particularly revealing was his response to the point about how Christianity is still flourishing in the USA where there is a clear separation of church and state and how separation of church and state seems to work in favour of religions. His response, rather than to accept that position and even advocate it as showing that an established church actually reduces church-going and the level of following, he sought to dismiss it and wave it aside (about 4.3 minutes into the interview which can be heard here).

I have previously blogged about the decline in religion and Christian influence in the UK to the point where they are in a minority with non-believers forming 50% or more of the population.

Clearly, to Carey, and I suspect a large number of senior Anglican clerics, power is the important thing. The inconvenience of an established church leading to reduced congregations and a growing rejection of his religion is a secondary consideration. Keep the established church and bugger the results, so long as I get power, a seat in the House of Lords, a job for life and an income independent of performance.

Carey also showed his 'democratic' principles by stating that Britain was not a secular country but a Christian one. This might be the legal position but anyone with a commitment to democracy would find that intolerable when only 44% of the population even identify themselves as Christian and less than 33% of those are actually practising Christians.

For those outside the UK, this interview came at the end of a disastrous week for the Christian church in the UK with two major successes for secularists. Firstly, the High Court has ruled that it is illegal for Bideford Town Council to require councillor to say Christian prayers before each council session. This action was brought by an atheist councillor with the backing of the National Secular Society. The Court ruled that Bideford Council was acting outside the powers given it under the 1972 Local Government Act. Given the way English Law works, this case effectively makes it illegal for ANY council established under that Act, and maybe any other elected assembly in England and Wales, to have this requirement unless specifically empowered to do so.

Secondly, a Christian couple who had refused a room in their guesthouse in Marazion, Cornwall, to a gay couple and had been convicted of having acted unlawfully, lost their appeal in the Court Of Appeal and were ordered to pay damages. The gay couple had had the backing of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. This case establishes that religious belief cannot be used as an excuse for denying goods and services to others or for discriminating against them. It also established the general point that Christians, or followers of any other religion, are subject to the law of the land and are not free to disregard it as they wish.

## Thursday, 9 February 2012

### How Creationists Lie To Us

This parody of human evolution was brought to my attention by @PlasmaEngineer. It was republished from a 1972 reworking of a 1960's version with the addition only of 'Lucy' by 'Big Daddy', Chick Publications.

I'll go through it in detail below but it's worth asking at this point why the author couldn't find a diagram like this from real scientific publication but had to make one up. The answer, of course, is because there is no such thing appearing in any scientific publication or textbook on human evolution written by a palaeoanthropologist. The simple explanation is that no such scientific theory of human evolution has ever been proposed by any serious human evolutionist.

What creationists are using is an invented parody of science designed to mislead and misinform. There can only be one reason for this, and it's not an accident.

Now, the detailed claims made in this cartoon:

## Wednesday, 8 February 2012

### "Most fish in the sea evolved on land" - New Scientist

This article appeared in the on-line version of New Scientist today. I find the headline disturbingly misleading. Even cursory reading of the article shows that Varga and Weins' findings point to the possibility that ray-finned fish may all share a common ancestor which evolved in fresh water.

If true, this is interesting but nothing really surprising. After all, why should a founder species for a major group NOT evolve in fresh water rather than the sea, and why should it not then expand into a salt-water environment and radiate there into the many species we have today?

But, the idea that a founder species evolved in fresh-water (note, NOT on land as the headline says, but in water) and then radiated, is a far cry from the idea conveyed in the headline that 'most' fish evolved that way. And nowhere is it suggested that ANY fish evolved on land as most people would understand the term 'land'.

I'm surprised and disappointed to see this over-simplification and misleading approach to science in a respected science magazine.

Most fish in the sea evolved on land - life - 08 February 2012 - New Scientist:

'via Blog this'

### Boring Beetles And Bad Eggs

 Xyloborus ferrugineus Pest and Diseases Image Library, forestryimages.org
Xyleborus ferrugineus is a boring little beetle. So boring in fact that as a juvenile or grub, it spends its time boring into wood. It is a destructive pest in parts of Australia. But at least it lives up to its Latin name, which translates into English as 'rust-coloured wood-borer'.

What makes this interesting though, is the strange and unusual, and maybe unique, way in which these beetles determine their gender.

First a little about gender determination: in most mammals this depends on the X and Y chromosomes and all species are diploid (that is, they all have pairs of chromosomes in their cells, all apart from one set. In female mammals there are always two X chromosomes, paired up like any other set. In males, however, there is one X and one Y chromosome, of which the Y is small.

During egg and sperm production, these pairs of chromosomes are shared out, one of each pair to each egg or sperm respectively so, all eggs, produced by females who only have X chromosomes, will all have just one X chromosome, that is, they are haploid. Sperm produced by males however, will either have an X or a Y chromosome.

During fertilization the chromosomes from a sperm are transferred to the egg to produce the complete normal number of chromosomes again. Depending on whether the sperm had an X or a Y chromosome, the resulting embryo will either be male or female.

So, in mammals and many other animals and plants, gender is determined genetically.

In some insects, plants and animals, however, rather than the presence or absence of one or other of a pair of chromosomes, gender is determined by the presence or absence of a complete set of chromosomes. In many social insects of the hymenoptera order, such as wasps, bees and ants, and in some coleopterans (beetles), all males are haploid (that is they only have one of each chromosome). Females, on the other hand are diploid (that is they have two, in pairs). In these insects, the fertilised female keeps a store of sperms and can 'choose' to fertilise an egg, or not. Unfertilised eggs become males and fertilised eggs become females. This means, of course, that in these species males have no fathers!

Now, where does our boring little beetle fit into all this?

Well, as with several other related beetles, X. ferrugineus gender depends on whether they are haploid or diploid. To produce a diploid female the egg needs to be fertilised by a sperm from a male. However, and this is the magic bit, to produce a male, the egg ALSO needs to be fertilised, though not with a sperm but with a bacterium!

So, male X. ferrugineus all develop from 'bad' eggs and the bacteria live in their developing bodies and are passed to the females along with normal sperm during mating.

So what we have here is an example of parasitism having progressed to symbiosis when both sets of genes have an 'interest' in the same outcome. The genes of both the host and the parasite form a cooperative alliance because both benefit from it. The beetle gets the benefits of sexual reproduction, with gene shuffling, etc, and the bacterium gets a free ride and all the nutrients it wants.

And of course this is possible because, at the basic level, evolution takes place in genes. Where alliances are beneficial to genes, or any other replicators like memes, for that matter, these alliances are to be expected.

For another example of this see my blog Unintelligent Design - Forming Alliances. Plenty of other gene alliances can be found in nature. For example, look how many copies of wild jungle fowl genes can now be found in domestic hens following their alliance with humans. How many sheep would there be now had humans never formed an alliance with them? And what of wheat and other cereal crops which now form vast prairies in some parts of the world?

More pertinent to the human story maybe is to wonder how many humans would there be today had we never formed alliances with wheat, rice, maize, barley, horses, cattle, pigs, etc, etc, etc.

And of course, the wider lesson from nature from the 'selfish gene' is how very often cooperation results in great advantage to both members of the alliance. Indeed, life itself depends on replicators, or genes, forming alliances with other genes even at the simplest prokaryote cell level. At the higher cell level, alliances of prokaryote cells formed eukaryote cells. These in turn formed multicellular organisms which in many cases formed social groups, and societies. And, especially in humans, in alliance with those other replicators, memes, multicellular life formed cooperative groups, social systems, nation states and cooperative national groups like the European Union.

By contrast, competition between genes and especially between alliances of genes, is frequently harmful to both, especially when it results in arms races.

None of this makes any sense as the work of an intelligent designer of course. Why would a single designer come up with so many different ways to determining gender, and why have genders in the first place when parthenogenesis would be so much simpler?

From the perspective of 'selfish' genes, there is no problem at all and no magic involved, though some might find the result magical indeed.

What a wonderful world.

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## Tuesday, 7 February 2012

### A New Angle On Sex For Creationists

 Male Angler Fish
The extent to which some males will go for sex is amazing, and this has nothing at all to do with dangly things - only females have these and they use them for fishing.

No, I'm not talking about people but about fish. To be precise, the angler fish, the female of which is an ugly looking thing by any stretch of the imagination and yet strangely beautiful. She spends most of her time fishing but at least she takes her mate along with her.

She fishes by dangling a fleshy lure in front of her huge mouth, and gulping down any fish who mistake it for a meal, showing the fine line that many species tread between getting lunch and becoming lunch.

Whenever she fancies a little bit of activity of the reproductive kind, she has a unique way of turning her mate (or mates, because she's not averse to a little group activity) on. She uses her own hormones. The puny little males consist only of the barest essentials - a pair of gonads attached to the female's side which are regulated by HER hormones.

Now, this may be close to the ideal for some extreme feminists, though the thought of carrying your mate around and catering for their every need, few though those are, may not appeal.

But let's spare a little thought to the male, to whom no sacrifice for his art seems to be too great. When hatched, he can barely feed himself, if at all, but he can swim, has a powerful sense of smell with which he detects the merest whiff of a nearby female, and teeth. If there is no female close enough, he dies as he is incapable of fending for himself.

Using this sense of smell, he locates a female and bites her skin, then secretes an enzyme which dissolves the skin of his own lips so they fuse with the female's body. Their circulations then merge so he gets all his nourishment from her. Needing no digestive system, this atrophies and is absorbed by the female, followed by his heart, brain and then the rest of his body, leaving just his gonads attached to her surface. This is one of the most extreme cases of sexual dimorphism known.

Each female may have several sets of gonads from several males ready for when she needs them. When she feels in the mood, and ready to spawn, she produces a hormone which causes 'her' gonads to produce sperm at the moment she lays her eggs. She never has any need to find a mate. It's like being hermaphrodite, yet has all the advantages of sexual reproduction.

Neat, eh?

Now, a question for creationists. (No, don't run away! It should be easy if your preferred notion is correct and you really believe in it!)

Why would an intelligent designer design this bizarre system for producing more angler fish? Why have males, and this complicated process of partial parasitism, when it could have just created a female with gonads and achieved the same thing?

For an evolutionists of course, there is no problem to be explained here. Self-evidently the mechanism suited the angler fish genes because it produced more angler fish genes. So, with no regard for the individual males, this is what evolution led to. A not very efficient and coldly uncaring, yet highly effective method for producing copies of angler fish genes, just as we would expect.

No mystery, no magic, the most parsimonious answer, and yet another win for the Theory of Evolution.

## Sunday, 5 February 2012

### Nebraska Man - A Creationist Hoax

 'Nebraska Man' as fancifully illustrated by Amédée Forestier
Nebraska Man, like the Piltdown Man Hoax, is actually a vindication of science and not the embarrassment creationists would like it to be.

The facts are as follows:

In 1917, Harold Cook, a rancher and geologist, found a fossil tooth which looked vaguely hominid.

In 1922, Henry Fairfield Osborn prepared a paper on it for the journal Science in which he named the putative owner of the tooth Hesperopithecus haroldcookii. (Ape of the western world - note, ape, not man).

Following its publication, scientist Grafton Elliott Smith wrote an article for a popular magazine, The Illustrated London News, (not a scientific journal). This article was illustrated by Amédée Forestier who, with no scientific justification and despite Osborn's protests, based her illustration on 'Java Man' (Pithecanthropus now renamed Homo erectus).

Osborn declared this illustration "a figment of the imagination of no scientific value, and undoubtedly inaccurate". No scientist had ever coined the term 'Nebraska man' and Osborn had always been careful to avoid making any claim that Hesperopithicus was anything more than an advanced primate of some kind.
I have not stated that Hesperopithecus was either an Ape-man or in the direct line of human ancestry, because I consider it quite possible that we may discover anthropoid apes (Simiidae) with teeth closely imitating those of man (Hominidae), ...

Until we secure more of the dentition, or parts of the skull or of the skeleton, we cannot be certain whether Hesperopithecus is a member of the Simiidae or of the Hominidae.
Osborn 1922
Just as with the Piltdown forgery, jingoistic nationalism became entangled with the science in the popular imagination and America was declared by some to be the place where God has chosen to evolve humans.

Few people, if any, outside America took the find seriously and the scientific world was never more than highly sceptical of the claim. In 1924, George MacCurdy published the two-volume book 'Human Origins' in which he gave Hesperopithecus a mere (and inaccurate) footnote mention with:
In 1920 (sic) Osborn described two (sic) molars from the Pliocene of Nebraska; he attributed these to an anthropoid primate to which he has given the name Hesperopithecus. The teeth are not well preserved, so that the validity of Osborn's determination has not yet been generally accepted.
Eventually, further field work was undertaken at the site of the original find in 1925 and further remains were found which confirmed the scientific scepticism. The tooth was found to be that of an extinct peccary, Prosthenops, of which other remains were found.

Osborn then retracted his paper in 1927, less than five years after it was published and Hesperopithecus haroldcookii. was consigned to the trash-can of science, along with so many other briefly considered then discarded ideas. As is usual with science, a hypothesis had been proposed, the facts were considered, further work was carried out, and the hypothesis was falsified and discarded.

And that would have been that had it not been for Christian evangelical preachers like Hank Hanegraff and Grant Jeffrey, who have seized on 'Nebraska man' to dupe the credulous world of creationism by claiming that it was a failed attempt to dupe people into believing in evolution by dishonest scientists, or at least evidence of how science, especially evolutionary science, is full of mistakes and so should be distrusted.

In fact, 'Nebraska man' illustrates very neatly how science proposes provisional hypotheses, checks the facts and carries out further research if necessary, and then either confirms or falsifies the provisional hypothesis. It also shows how the popular press can take a scientific idea and distort it in the popular imagination, often for profit motives rather than from a desire to inform and educate.

'Nebraska man' also neatly illustrates how creationists seek to mislead their credulous public into misunderstanding any science which would undermine their income and how they will deliberately confuse articles from the popular press with genuine science and will present popular misconceptions as established science.

'Nebraska man' was not, and has never been, a problem for science. 'Nebraska man' is a hoax perpetrated on a gullible creationist public, not by science, but by those who make their living fooling those who are keen and eager to be so duped. Such is the dishonesty of those who make a living from religion and those off whom these people live.

[Later note] A few days after writing this blog, another blogger on atheism and science who blogs under the name 'Plasma Engineer' received this parody of human evolution.

Interestingly, it contains a fanciful drawing of 'Nebraska Man' along with a quite ludicrous drawing of an imaginary chimp-like creature labelled 'Lucy' and an equally notional drawing of 'Piltdown Man' about which I have also recently blogged.

Needless to say, neither these drawings nor this implied sequence in human evolution has ever appeared in any scientific publication and no human evolutionist would present such an idiotic sequence as established scientific fact or even propose it as a hypothesis. It is, as we've come to expect, nothing more than a creationist parody prepared with the clear intention of misleading the credulous and gullible, very probably for commercial gain or political purposes, or both.

It's worth mentioning as an aside, that the 'Cro Magnon' man represented has never been claimed to be ancestral to all modern Homo sapiens. Cro Magnon has only ever been seen as a early European culture of fully modern Homo sapiens. The only difference between Cro Magnon and modern Europeans is their respective levels of technological development.

Note too the white supremacist undertones in the implication that human evolutionary theory puts white Europeans at the end-point. No one but a racist would assume that non-Europeans are less than equally evolved modern Homo sapiens. Indeed, how could it possibly be otherwise?

Clearly there is a racist, white supremacist agenda at work, as well as a clear intent to mislead.

### Piltdown Man - A Triumph For Science.

Rather than being the embarrassment for evolutionary science that creationists like to pretend, the Piltdown Man hoax was actually a triumph for science. Its exposure was an example of how the Theory of Evolution made an accurate prediction which was confirmed by evidence.

An article in today's Observer prompted me to write this. This article goes into some detail about how the 'discovery' came to be made and who the likely hoaxer(s) was(were).

Piltdown's acceptance was probably more to do with jingoistic patriotism than with science but it needs to be seen in the context of the then fairly recent history of evolutionary theory, the way it had been received by the Anglican Church and how it fitted into English political life.

Contrary to what one would expect, the history of Bible literalism is a fairly recent American phenomenon; in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Bible was accepted by most Anglican theologians as allegorical. Just as Jesus had used stories or parables to illustrate his points, so too had the early prophets. The creation story in particular was allegorical and few Anglican theologians seriously doubted that evolution was the way God had really created humans.

Another fallacy, and fundamental misunderstanding of Darwinian evolution, was the belief that there was an aim to evolution. Clearly, if God had created evolution, He had done so for a purpose. Obviously, His intention was to put European humans at the apex, with other races occupying inferior positions lower down the 'ladder or evolution'. This was self-evidently so, because this had been the result. How could it be otherwise?

This fundamental error was of course encouraged by the authorities of the time, with the enthusiastic endorsement of the Church of England, because it justified the Empire and placed Englishmen at the pinnacle. Just what the ruling classes required of science. What could be more convincing that a solid scientific theory underpinning the whole edifice?

 Guernica; Pablo Picasso. Painted in protest at the destruction of the Basque town by German aircraft in support of the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War, April 26, 1937
And this church-endorsed misconception of evolution in general and of human evolution in particular was to have catastrophic consequences when taken up with fanatical zeal by Catholic zealots in Germany, Spain and Italy and, it has to be said, certain sections of the ruling classes in other European and New World countries, including England and the USA. It gave rise to Fascism as an expression of European racial and Christian cultural supremacy.

So, the notion that God had evolved humans here in rural southern England seemed perfectly natural and self-evident, and the vindication of everything a true Englishman held most dear. Humans were God's special creation; evolution was the way he had done it and of course, England was the place He had chosen to do it. God was in his Heaven and all was well with the world. Rule Britannia!

But gradually, as discoveries were made from other parts of the world - from Asia and Africa in particular - and these were fitted into the emerging picture of human evolution, not from a monkey, as Piltdown seemed to show, but from a common ancestor with the other great apes, so Piltdown became more and more anomalous. Far from 'proving' human evolution from monkeys in southern England, Piltdown was out of place; a nuisance to be explained away, and, as some bold palaeoanthopologists like Wilfrid Le Gros Clark, Joseph Weiner and Kenneth Oakley thought, an outright forgery.

Professor Sir Wilfrid Le Gros Clark was a friend of mine whom I first met in about 1960. He told me that he and his team in Oxford were sure that Piltdown MUST be a forgery. It was simply too far out of place to be genuine. No amount of stretching the known facts could accommodate it. The prediction that Piltdown MUST be a forgery was thus a falsifiable prediction of evolutionary theory.

Sir Wilfrid told me that as they started to drill into the skull, using a small dental drill, they saw a wisp of smoke and smelled burning bone and knew then, within a few seconds of beginning their examination, that they had a forgery and that their prediction had been vindicated. Subsequent microscopic examination revealed the marks of the forger all over it, including the teeth with file marks.

So, the debunking of Piltdown Man, far from being an embarrassment to science, is a triumph for it and for the theory of evolution. The Theory of Evolution had made a falsifiable prediction and had been entirely vindicated. Science constantly re-examines and re-assess its theories, discovers it's mistakes and moves on to greater things. Even an elaborate hoax having the support of the church and political establishment will eventually be exposed.

And the debunking of Piltdown also dealt a blow to the church-endorsed, and religiously inspired notion of human supremacy and of European racial superiority. The obscenity of social 'Darwinism' is of course a religiously inspired forgery of which the Anglican and Catholic churches in particular and Christianity in general should be thoroughly ashamed and embarrassed. No wonder they like now to pretend that Piltdown was, and continues to be, an embarrassment for science.

When will we see them reviewing their dogmas, reassessing them and correcting their mistakes? When will we see the Anglican and Catholic churches apologise for their misrepresentation of Darwinian evolutionary theory and the obscene dogma of white racial supremacy to which it led and which is still promulgated in some parts of the world?

## Saturday, 4 February 2012

### A Callous And Indifferent God?

 Eurasian Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)
How could a benevolent, all-knowing creator god have created the wren?

Wrens, Troglodytes troglodytes, are one of the smallest British birds, being only marginally larger than our smallest bird, the migratory goldcrest (Regulus regulus). The Eurasian wren inhabits a zone extending from Britain, across Europe and into Iran, Afghanistan and across Central Asia to Japan. Over most of this range, wrens are sedentary.

At the northern extremity of it's range it has to cope with occasional periods of extreme cold such as occurred in Europe and especially Britain in 1963 when our winter weather became Siberian for about 3 months. We are experiencing a period of cold now where the temperature is struggling to get above freezing during the daytime. The wren is one of the smallest warm-blooded animals to survive our winters and yet it doesn't hibernate like some small mammals.

Wrens have a mating ritual which entails males building several nests and then enticing a female to mate and lay eggs in it. She will inspect the nests first and will only choose a mate who has built a nest she finds suitable. Only then is the nest lined and prepared for the brood. She then broods the eggs and tends the young whilst the male goes off to entice another female into another of his nests. This leaves many nests, some of which will not be used for brooding.

So how does the small wren, which because of its small body mass, and consequently a large surface area to mass ratio - meaning it will lose heat very quickly and will need a high metabolic rate to maintain its body temperature - keep warm in these winters?

In normal winters, the old nests from spring and summer are used as roosts. Several wrens will gather together in the same nest, so decreasing their surface area to mass ratio, and so keeping warm.

They do the same thing in these occasional periods of extreme cold. The only problem is that, if too few wrens gather together, or the temperature falls too low, or the nest isn't quite as good an insulator as is needed, very many wrens freeze to death overnight and the population will crash.

As a youngster I lived near the beautiful, and poetically named, River Evenlode in North Oxfordshire, one of the tributaries of the Thames. This river had been diverted at several points when the Oxford to Worcester railway line had been built by the Great Western Railway Company to make it easier to build bridges across it. In one such place in an elm wood, the old river bank was still exposed and formed a sort of shallow over-hang hung with tree roots and wild clematis. I could always guarantee finding several wrens nests under these ledges.

In the summer of 1963, after one of the severest winters on record in the UK, when searching for these nests, I found nest after nest full of mummified bodies of wrens, probably some twenty or thirty dead wrens in all. All of them victims of the winter.

So, how does evolution account for this?

Quite easily. Wrens have evolved a survival strategy which works well enough in most years and which leaves a few survivors even in harsh winters. Even when a local population is wiped out entirely in a single year, as may well have happened in my small elm wood in 1963, sufficient survivors are there in other areas to move into the vacant territory. Wrens also produce several batches consisting of 6-8 eggs in a year so a population can bounce back quickly, especially since food will be plentiful in areas where the population has been reduced.

In this way, the environment and the habits the wren has evolved to cope with it, work well enough together to allow the species (i.e. the wren genes) to survive and to produce more wrens next year. This, of course, takes no account of the suffering and death from cold of the individual wrens. There is no survival value for the genes in evolving mechanism to prevent this altogether, only in as much as it leaves a few gene carriers to carry them into the next generation. Because it works well enough, there is minimal evolutionary pressure to evolve more complicated strategies such as hibernation or a larger body mass.

Interestingly, on the point of a larger body mass, the wrens on St Kilda, a remote North Atlantic island, are measurably larger than the mainland population. The differences are enough for this wren to be given sub-specific status, Troglodytes troglodytes hirtensis.

And of course, the northern limit of the Eurasian wren's range will be determined by a line above which there are no survivors over winter, so a dynamic has been created which will fluctuate a little each year and by a larger amount as climate changes over the long term. The northern limit will always be an area of large-scale occasional population crashes and recovery.

No intelligent, compassionate, loving creator would be this callous and indifferent to the suffering of individuals. Quite clearly, the wren, it's range, its reproductive strategy and its winter survival strategy have all been created by a dynamic and selective environment.

No mystery and no magic required. Evolution by natural selection is again the most parsimonious explanation.

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## Thursday, 2 February 2012

### A Thing Of Beauty

 Vincent Van Gogh. Wheat Field with Cypresses at the Haute Galline Near Eygalieres Saint-Rémy - June 1889
As a materialist, one of the accusations often thrown at me is that materialism cannot account for our aesthetic appreciation; of our understanding of beauty. Now, I'm no philistine. One of my enduring passions in life is art, especially impressionism, post-impressionism and modern art. I also get enormous aesthetic pleasure watching wildlife and looking at plants, even the mundane and ordinary. In fact, nothing in this world is really mundane to me. I can see beauty in a pebble, a lichen-covered wall, the roots of a tree, a spider or a beetle.

I also enjoy classical music, especially that of J. S. Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Elgar and Vaughn Williams, and could listen to the great classical guitarists like André SegoviaJulian Bream or John Williams all day long. Oh how I wish I could play half as well. Although not my favourite piece of classical music, I once totally converted a girl who worked for me to classical music by playing her Pachelbel's Canon in D.

 The nave of Winchester Cathedral, England
So what is this sense of aesthetic appreciation? And why do religious people assume they hold a monopoly on it and that somehow it comes from some supernatural being? Presumably, they believe either that they are somehow being told that something or other is beautiful so they believe it is, or they are seeing what they think is their god's work and marvelling at the god rather than the object it supposedly created.

To me, these things debase the object of beauty. Neither of them seem to recognise the inherent beauty of the thing itself. The idea that I should regard this thing as beautiful because I've been told to, or because of who supposedly made it, rather than for what it actually is, is almost abhorrent to me. That's not to say I don't appreciate good craftsmanship of course. I love churches and cathedrals not for their function but for the craftsmanship of, very often ordinary and completely anonymous, craftsmen - the carpenters and stone masons, stained class makers and iconographers - who actually created the place.

A stooping peregrine, a tree, a hunting cheetah, a swimming seal and a diving whale are all things of great beauty and wonder to me and my wonder is no less because I understand a little of how they work and how they came to be what they are; the evolutionary forces and the balance of competition in their environment which selected those best able to compete from amongst their ancestors.

 Water Lilies; Claude Monet, 1906 (Art Institute of Chicago)
The sense of peace and relaxation I get from looking at Monet's Water Lilies is no less because I know a little about Monet and how his work developed and the influences on him. I can see the illusion he is creating and admire the skill with which he insinuated the most obvious thing in his painting - the surface of the water - without actually painting it at all. Here is a master craftsman at work; a man who has spent a lifetime honing his skill. I can see that, and I can still see a phenomenally beautiful painting; a painting which works on so many levels and can exert such a powerful influence of those who stand in front of it and yet which is 'just' paint on canvas.

Can we analyse beauty and come up with a universal definition? The Star-spangled banner can inspire most Americans to patriotic fervour, but to a bat it's probably a cacophonous sequence of discords, and to an Englishman, just another national anthem. Beethoven's Ode to Joy is for me the essence of the EU and it stirs something in me for it. The German national anthem is still, after 60 years, a little sinister. Does 'uber ales' really mean 'above all else' or 'over everyone'...?

 Audrey Hepburn
The human face is surely one of the strangest of all the mammals with its flatness, receding mouth and silly little triangle sticking out for a nose, yet what a face! What a thing of great beauty! How did Audrey Hepburn, Jean Shrimpton or Mohammed Ali look so good with such unpromising material?

No. We can't define or analyse beauty because it means different things to different people and probably nothing at all to another species, no matter how intelligent. To coin a cliché, beauty is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder.

So where did we get this aestheticism from?

As a materialist, and of course an evolutionist, I know that we must account for it in terms of a benefit conveyed to our ancestors from back in our history, or it is an ability which co-evolved on the back of some other evolving characteristic. Did we evolve our sense of wonder and appreciation along with our intelligence?

Did we become 'hooked' on the endorphin rush we have when we see something beautiful or relaxing? Is it part of our sex-selection where there is a clear survival advantage for our genes in selecting 'beautiful' partners because what we think of as beauty is actually an assessment of good health - symmetry, good muscle structure, curves in the right places, breasts, and yes, genitalia.

Does our appreciation of nature (does everyone have that?) convey a benefit for a hunter-gatherer because it helps us learn and understand nature, the better to find and eat it, and the better to avoid being eaten by it?

 Watersmeet, Devon, England
Do we like a scene with water in it - and almost everyone does - because possession of water supply would have been so beneficial to us? What more could we ask for in life than food, shelter, company and a clean (= babbling, trickling) water supply?

We know our aesthetic values are determined to a large extent by our culture and our back-ground. Would Vaughan Williams 'Lark Ascending' mean so much to a Bantu or Inuit? Why do I find the singing voice of a Bollywood actress quite unpleasant and yet it can send someone from Karela or Gujarat into raptures?

You see, even contemplating the possible reasons for our aestheticism opens up more questions and make it more wonderful for a curious mind.

 Rainbow Stag Beetle, Phalacrognathus muelleri
 Christchurch College, Oxford
The poet Keats once light-heartedly accused Isaac Newton of spoiling the beauty of the rainbow by unweaving it and reducing it to a prism of colours.

Certainly, my atheism has not lessened my love of nature for the great beauty it holds; and that is not diminished in the slightest because I have tried to understand it. Quite the contrary, it has immeasurably enhanced it because the more I learn the more I realise just what a magic world in a magic universe we have the great good fortune to experience for this brief instant of intelligent life that chance has given us.

Perhaps the real beauty of the rainbow lies not in it colours, nor in the way these are split up by rain drops, nor even in the way we see and perceive them.

Perhaps the real beauty of the rainbow lies in understanding why we perceive it as beautiful in the first place.