Monday, 29 July 2013

Religion to Disappear By 2038

Nigel Barber: Atheism to Defeat Religion By 2038

In a recent book, "Why atheism will replace religion: The triumph of earthly pleasures over pie in the sky", Nigel Barber makes a very strong case for thinking atheism will have replaced religion across the world as a whole by 2038, in other words within the next generation.

Accepting the evidence showing a very strong correlation between the wealth of a country, measured by per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) - a measure of average wealth generation - he arrives at this by taking two measures of Atheism:
  1. The projected date by which the average country will reach the 2004 GDP of the nine most godless countries - Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom (proud to see the UK up there!) who transitioned to Atheism in that year. The International Monetary Fund gives an average annual increase in GDP of 3.33%.
  2. Relative religiosity - that is, how important people think religion is in their lives. When they regard it as unimportant they become functionally atheist - in other words, they behave like perfectly normal atheists do - and a country in which more than 50% of the population regard religion as unimportant has effectively become a secular society. On this measure, taking Gallop Organization data, the most godless countries are Spain, South Korea, Canada, Switzerland, Uruguay, Germany and France. This has been increasing at a rate of 1% per annum.

Incidentally, that figure of 1% is exactly the figure reported for the USA between 2004 and 2013 by YouGov poll a few days ago, although the rate of increase appears to be increasing there, being 1.2% for the five years from 2008 to 2013.

Projecting these two measures forward gives, on the first measure, a date of 2041 as the world transition point. The second measure gives 2035. Averaging these gives the most likely date at around 2038.

Barber dismisses the minority view of political scientist, Eric Kaufmann, who has projected differential birth rates forward and has concluded that religious people will out-breed atheists, pointing out that as religious people become more prosperous, not only do they become less religious, but their birth-rate falls. Kaufmann's prediction also seems to me to have ignored the fact that most atheists either were formerly religious and have de-converted, or were born to religious parents. Kaufmann seems to be treating religion as an incurable congenital condition rather than a treatable memetic infection.

I wish I could say I was completely convinced by Barber's prediction but there are of course a lot of assumptions underpinning it.

Firstly, it assumes that per capita GDP will continue to rise at the previous 30 year's rate and that this will be more-or-less uniform throughout the world.

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they attack you - then you win.

Mohandas K Gandhi
Secondly, that there will not be increased resistance to losing faith when people realise they are losing a irreplaceable source of excuses for not taking responsibility for their own actions and behaviour, and something to blame for their personality defects.

Thirdly, those who earn a living from or otherwise depend on other people being superstitious are not going to stand idly by and watch their way of life disappear. What will these people, the conmen who parasitise the gullible and vulnerable, the predatory priests who go into the priesthood to gain trusted access to children and other vulnerable people, the racists, misogynists, homophobes, flag-wrapped nationalist and scoundrel politicians, use if waving a Bible or Qur'an causes derision and contempt?

Maybe a glimpse of their panic can already be seen on Twitter and other social media where they are attempting mob rule and suppression having lost the rational argument to science and reason. We are certainly seeing regular whinging by right-wing nut-jobs who think Atheists should be stopped from making them think - If we're cracking down on Twitter abuse, can we include Richard Dawkins and the atheist trolls?

I would expect them to become increasingly shrill, desperate and violent. Don't get complacent. We have much still to do. The struggle is by no means won - yet.

'via Blog this'

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Twitter Under Attack for Permitting Abuse

BBC News - Twitter 'report abuse' button calls after rape threats

BBC News - Twitter abuse case leads to arrest

It seems that Twitter may be becoming submerged in complaints of harassment and abuse, and of permitting this to continue as it becomes something of a safe haven for people with acute personality disorder to feel powerful in the safety of their bedroom.

At the moment the only weapon normal users have appears to be the ability to spam block offending individuals, which appears to trigger an automated algorithm not requiring human intervention, resulting in the account being suspended. In effect, policing Twitter is in the hands of the Twitter community whilst Twitter either can't, or won't defend their clients against inadequate and dysfunctional individuals whose only achievement in life is to get some attention, presumably working on the assumption that if they can tell themselves they've made someone elses life worse, this will somehow make theirs better.

The inadequacy of this method can be seen by the frequency with which it is used by those wishing to suppress free speech because they know their case is untenable. This is most often religious groups who are well aware that their public religiosity is merely a cover for otherwise unacceptable attitudes and actions and so will go to extraordinary lengths to prevent that being exposed.

Now combine this with, for example, a psychotic personality disorder in someone who has been frustrated in his ambition to gain trusted access to vulnerable people disguised as a priest, and you have a potent mixture for abuse which Twitter almost seems at times designed to facilitate.

'via Blog this'

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Sunday, 28 July 2013

Science Has Life After Death

Stephen Hawking tells how doctors offered to turn off life support in 1985 | Science |

The news that doctors in Switzerland asked Stephen Hawking's then wife Jane to consider allowing them to turn off his life support when he was seriously ill with pneumonia in 1985, before he had completed his most famous book, A Brief History of Time set me thinking.

Apart from depriving us of one of the best-known popular physics books of all time and one of the greatest theoretical physicists of all time, what else would Stephen Hawking's death have cost humanity?

Hawking is quick to point out how, like Newton some 250 years earlier, if he could see farther than other men it was because he was 'standing on the shoulders of giants'. Like Newton, Hawking's theories were developed out of discoveries made by earlier people. For example, the singularity theorems he developed with Roger Penrose were an application of Einstein's General Relativity, which was in turn a development of Galileo's relativity principle and the Michelson-Morley discovery of the constant speed of light. And how much more difficult would all this have been if Hindu scholars had not discovered zero as a mathematical concept and Islamic scholars had not developed algebra?

But do individuals affect the extent of human progress in the longer term?

The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.

Winston Churchill
Science is a voyage of discovery. Methods and techniques can be invented, though a purist might say they are merely discovered, yet the facts which science discovers, and by which theories are either validated or proved false, already exist. No scientist ever invented a fact of nature.

Certainly the pace of progress of science can be affected by the occasional genius like Hawking or Einstein who make strides across the landscape and then wait for the rest to catch up, but the rest are still moving forward, (occasionally backwards and sometimes sideways or in circles) but the general progress is forward towards an ever closer understanding of the truth.

In a time of universal deceit - telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

George Orwell
The truth is out there waiting to be discovered. The whole history of science tells us this, as does the technology which applies these discoveries.

And that really is the great strength of science. It works even without the occasional giant strides of geniuses. Even the untimely death of one of our greats like Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein would not have delayed our progress by more than a generation or two because there would still be giants on whose shoulders we can stand and the same truths would still have been there to be discovered.

You do not need to be a giant to stand on the shoulders of one.

One thing Stephen Hawking did give us though was a good laugh at the expense of desperate theists groping for something to apply their confirmation bias to. Referring to the hypothecated 'Grand Unified Theory' which will integrate Quantum Mechanics with Relativity, he ended the main section of A Brief History of Time with the paragraph:
However, if we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason - for then we would know the mind of God [My emphasis]

Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time; 1988, p. 175
The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.

John F. Kennedy
This sent theological apologist quote miners into a feeding frenzy. You will still find them quoting it as 'proof' (how they love that word) that the 'cleverest man alive' believes in God. I remember thinking at the time, when someone (I forget who now) proclaimed A Brief History of Time as a 'profoundly religious book' - she had gone on to claim it vindicated her church of course - "Huh! What is she talking about? Has she really read it?". The answer was, of course, that, if she had read it and not just that final paragraph, she had read it to find just the vindication she craved. She had been looking for something to apply her confirmation bias too. She hadn't read it; she had trawled it.

Of course those of us who value truth and honesty recognised immediately that the 'God' Hawking was talking about was the God of Einstein and Spinoza - nature. It was almost certainly the god the 'Age of Reason' rationalists like Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin would have believed in ,if only they had been able to stand on Darwin's shoulders. They couldn't, of course, because we had not progressed to that level of understanding for another eighty years. Instead, Darwin stood on their shoulders and so saw further that they could.

Had these eager quote miners been honest enough they would have read that paragraph in context. They only had to look to the previous page, the one which lies opposite their favourite one to find the clue to Hawking's meaning. He had said:
But if the universe is completely self-contained, with no singularity or boundaries, and completely described by a unified theory, that has profound implications for the role of God as a Creator.

Einstein once asked the question: "How much choice did God have in constructing the universe?" If the no boundary proposal is correct, he had no freedom at all to choose initial conditions. he would, of course, still have had the freedom to choose the laws that the universe obeyed. This, however, may not really have been all that much of a choice; there may well be only one, or a small number, of complete unified theories, such as the heterotic string theory, that are self-consistent and allow the existence of structures as complicated as human beings who can investigate the laws of the universe and ask about the nature of GOD

... why does the universe go to all the bother of existing? Or does it need a creator, and, if so, does he have any other effects on the universe? And who created him? [My emphasis]

ibid; p 174
Heaven is a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark.

Stephen Hawking
It is quite clear to anyone that Hawking is pouring cold water on the notion of a creator god, even pointing out in that last sentence that the god hypothesis doesn't actually answer anything; it simply ducks the question by moving it back one. The ontological argument is one of the few 'theories' which not only fails to answer the question it is designed to answer but needs to be promptly abandoned as an argument the moment it is subject to cursory analysis, yet theologists find it compelling.

This says a great deal about theologist.

Later on, of course, having enjoyed the joke on theologists for twenty-two years, he made fools of them all with a few short sentences in The Grand Design where he simply said:
Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing... Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.

Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design; 2010, p. 180
Strangely, you never see those same religious apologists who rushed to proclaim that Stephen Hawking agrees with them now telling people how the 'cleverest man alive' says they are talking ignorant nonsense. Obviously, in religious apologetics, having your favourite argument utterly refuted does not mean it can't now be used anymore. If the audience will still swallow it the truth or falsity of the argument is an irrelevance. Religious apologists are not seekers after truth so much as seekers after money.

Contrast the progressive nature of science to that of religion. With science individuals, and individual geniuses can only affect the pace of progress but never it's ultimate direction, because it is a voyage of discovery and the truth it discovers exists just as much before we have discovered it as afterwards. We can be wrong, and frequently are and always allow for that possibility but the truth is true regardless.

Reason in no way contributes to faith. [...] For reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things.

Martin Luther
With religion, all the facts are pre-known and nothing need be done to discover or verify them. They all 'exist' by fiat with a complete disconnect from any real-world reality. They are there because someone a long time ago declared that they are. Those 'revealed' truths are sacred and must never be questioned. Indeed, to doubt or disbelieve them is to leave the 'faith'. With some faiths doubt or disbelief are terminal conditions. They would be with many others if only they could get away with it.

  1. 'Whatever the Bible says is so; whatever man says may or may not be so,' is the only [position] a Christian can take..."
  2. If [scientific] conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong, no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them.
  3. Christians must disregard [scientific hypotheses or theories] that contradict the Bible.

Preface to Biology for Christian Schools,
William S. Pinkston, John A. Graham, Greg Kuzmic and Carla Vogt;
Bob Jones University Press
No amount of real-world evidence can have any relevance to religious 'facts' because they have been declared immune to reason. You are not permitted to stand on religion's giants shoulders in case you see their mistakes. All you can do is admire the view they claimed they could see. All the 'great' books of religion were written on their foundation and may never be revised; all the great books of science are yet to be written.

For this reason, whilst science always converges on a single answer regardless of the starting point because it always converges on the same pre-existing truth, religions always tend to diverge and fragment because there is no real truth for them to converge on and no mechanism for verifying it is permitted (or possible). The 'truths' that religions hold fast to are the 'truths' which their founders found it convenient for their followers to believe, like the 'truths' religious con-men, theologians and clerics find it convenient to sell to their hapless and gullible customers.

For this reason the fundamentalist religious purists all subscribe to a view of science which was held by the people who wrote their religious books and must never revise or update their knowledge when new information is discovered. Instead, those most admired are those most inventive in their ways to dismiss evidence. The moderates - those who find it hard to ignore scientific progress, often because they earn their living with it - must devise convoluted mental strategies for holding mutually contradictory views simultaneously and coping with the uncomfortable cognitive dissonance they experience.

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Saturday, 27 July 2013

You Really Won't Want To Miss This

As most of you will know by now my Twitter account has been suspended. The reason why is shown here.

I've used a screen capture because otherwise Manuel will accuse me of making up emails like he does. As you can see, it had nothing to do with him, in any of his many guises. (See Manny's Many Twitter Accounts.) In fact, I appear to have triggered some algorithm, probably because I was replying to too many Creationist tweets in @TakeThatDarwin's timeline. They were just too tempting...

Sorry it's a little indistinct but the relevant passage reads: Your account was suspended because it was found to be violating the Twitter Rules (, specifically those rules around interacting with others by sending unsolicited or duplicate @replies or mentions. Double click to see it full size.

I'm flattered and humbled by the very many tweets protesting my suspension and the compliments paid to me. I'm also flattered by the many Creationists who have rushed forward to claim credit for it. I regard this as a mark of achievement and a sign that my campaign against lies and disinformation and for honesty and science is having an effect. Very clearly many people feel threatened by truth and wish to suppress it. None of their reasons can be honest or worthy of the slightest respect and seem to be all too typical of religious fundamentalists these days (are there any moderates left?).

Foremost amongst these has of course been Manuel. Had I requested Manuel to hold the fort for me and to continue to discredit religion in my absence, I could scarcely have expected him to perform half so well as he has. You now see why I refer to him as my unwitting assistant? No wonder the only accounts you ever see RTing his tweets are either his own, or Atheists wanting others to witness his idiocy.

Manuel? Surely you've heard of Manuel!

Manuel is Manuel de Dios Agosto, a 32 year-old former Catholic seminarian with what appears to be a narcissistic personality disorder, who was expelled from a seminary in New York because of his behaviour, at a time when the Catholic Church was embroiled in far too many other scandals to risk yet another. The Catholic newsletter announcing his admission to seminary when Manuel would have been about 18 was archived in 2003 and can be read here. Search for his name - about half-way down.

Just imagine, if he hadn't been caught he could now be a Catholic Priest with trusted access to vulnerable people!

I and Twitter user @Yhwh_TheLord exposed him as a fraud and liar a few months ago in Sacerdotus - The Fraud Exposed. All the credit for the meticulous research and writing it up as a report must go to @Yhwh_TheLord. I simply transcribed it to blog format complete with links. Since then, Manuel has been almost incandescent with rage, his cover having been blown, and his stalking and abuse exposed. His more abusive, sexually explicit and threatening accounts on Twitter have been permanently suspended or deleted.

My involvement with Manuel began last August when he had been confidently boasting that he had irrefutable scientific proof of the Christian god's existence which I challenged him to produce. Those unaware of this history can read the entire thing in my blog, How Christian Fundamentalists Lie To Us

Now Manuel seems to have convinced himself that he had something to do with the suspension of my Twitter account and has become positively hypermanic with joy. So much so that his normal bombing of my blog with attention-seeking spam and infantile gibberish has now reached a new high for volume and a new low for content. Normally the first thing I do when I log on each day is to delete all of his spam but he has exceeded even my low expectations of him in the last few days. I had assumed part of his personality disorder was a retarded emotional development which had ceased at about twelve years old. I've now revised that downwards to that of an eight year-old.

But there is no reason I should keep these to myself and not let others see how far Manuel has now deteriorated. I know many others have fallen foul of his infantile narcissism, so I offer a very small selection - the more savoury ones - for public enjoyment.

Sit back and enjoy watching 32 year-old Manuel de Dios Agosto, the narcissistic failed priest, in full prat mode, posting comments that he thought were going to be deleted unread and behaving with the emotional maturity of an eight year-old.
Wow my blog hits have dropped dramatically. Too bad I can't use twitter to spam and abuse people. LOL! HAHAHAHAHAHA

Help! I was suspended! LOL

Maybe I should become a Christian so God can protect me like He protects Sacerdotus.

That sacerdotus... grrrr. he's the only one who has defeated me. I used to squash creotards and now he has squashed me... grrrrr... No one could suspend me. God is truly with him! grrrr #%!?

Blimey! You are paranoid aren't you old bat!? :) It is important that you break away from that ghastly habit. It is not healthy.

Wow more atheists are disappearing from Twitter. How is your suspension going? You should know not to break the rules Rosie. #WON! LOL!

How are you Rosie? Is the #Sadloser sociopath atheist still raging at the world from his bedroom? Most likely the case I'm afraid.

Did you know an anagram of rosarubicondior is 'toad curses!' #witchcraft #satanism God put me in your path for a reason. You have to seek that reason.
Manuel unwittingly shows the world that he either doesn't know what an anagram is, or he has reading and spelling difficulties on top of all his other developmental problems.

And now the piece de resistance (to date)
Blimey Rosie! You really do think that is me don't you??? Wow, your excommunication from Twitter really got to you and is attacking further your already deteriorated mental health. I will pray for you. Don't you know I have used Skype to show who I really am to some of your friends? It's no wonder why they reported you as well to twitter. Atheists are indeed back stabbers. I also offered to Skype with you so we both can show each other our passports, but you ran away like a coward as usual. I can prove the information you wrote here is fiction with official US Federal documents. So let's try it. :-) Also, this does not help you in the case I'm building against you in the court. Moreover, your Atheist friends who are campaigning for your return are being reported to Twitter as well. DeepSearch17 and others have been wiped out already. More is to come. Those accounts who post your blog links are also being reported, just to let you know. Thankfully, the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, LGBT and even Atheist community is behind me in cleaning up Twitter from abusers like you. Anyhow, I made a memorial for you on my page. Come visit. We are remembering your passing from twitter. I Hope you can find inner peace in the Twitter afterlife and reconcile with God.
I particularly liked that one. Manuel has now gone full megalomaniac - from his bedroom - where he feels safe.

A couple from today's clutch of psychotic and megalomaniacal drivel:
Since you like calling me all kind of different names, call me David. You can call me David since I took you down with my stones. The underdog always wins. :) #WON #ForGrownUps

How's your new job taking care of the Royal's baby boy? :) #WON
Manuel now appears to believe he's controlling Twitter. His world-wide empire is expanding. It almost fills his bedroom now. This is one of today's batch of abusive comments he's posted on my blog.
Thanks to my efforts, Twitter is changing and enforcing its rules. Twitter was never meant to be a place where sociopaths abuse others by using anonymous pseudonyms.
Anonymous pseudonyms, eh? LOL! This from a sociopath with a long list of pseudonym Twitter accounts with which he abuses others anonymously. At least no one could ever accuse Manuel de Dios Agosto of not being a hypocrite.

I'll of course add more later so everyone can continue to enjoy the spectacle.

Well, well. No spam or infantile gibberish from Manuel today. Someone seems to have had a word in his shell-like. (Double-click to see it in its full glory).

Maybe that'll stop his abuse.

Well, maybe. When Manuel's accounts were all suspended last year, it took him about 6 weeks to pluck up the courage to start abusing people again. Might be worth quoting the the reference #119307092 if you're his next victim. Twitter must have quite a file by now, what with so many of his accounts being reported for spam and abuse.

And he never did accept my challenge to a civilised debate. I expect people can work out why.

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Winning With Science

Belief in evolution up since 2004

The recent dramatic advance in the understanding of science and the corresponding rejection of primitive superstitions as an explanation for life on Earth across America was illustrated by a stunning YouGov poll published a few days ago. The last nine years between 2004 and 2013 when the poll was conducted has seen acceptance of the science of undirected, unguided Darwinian evolution as the explanation for human beings rise from just 13% to 21% - an increase of almost 1% per annum.

And it's even more of a shock for Creationists when we look at those figures more closely. Between 2004 and 2008 the increase was 0.5% per annum but this more than doubled to 1.2% per annum between 2008 and 2013. The rate of increase has doubled in just five years. This is beginning to look like the beginnings of an exponential growth phase where the rate of increase also increases steadily, just as we saw, and are still seeing in Europe.

This advance is against a backdrop of a very-well financed, increasingly shrill campaign of disinformation and downright lies conducted by the Discovery Institute and others as part of the 'Wedge Strategy'. The aim being to subvert the US Constitution and turn America into an extremist Taliban-style Old Testament theocracy with self-appointed fundamentalist Christian clerics forming all layers of government, complete with the death penalty for teaching 'false religions'. (See Why Creationists Lie To Us)

The belief that the best explanation is that God created humans in their present form within the last ten thousand years - a fundamental concept of Christianity from which everything else about this remnant superstition of blood sacrifice to appease an angry and vengeful sky god stems - is now a minority view held by only 37% of Americans whilst belief in some form of Darwinian evolution is the majority view at 46%.

As the YouGov poll reports points out, the position for Creationists is likely to worsen in coming years because acceptance that there was no god involved in the evolution of mankind is highest, at 31% amongst the key 18-29 year-old group. This is the group that will be, in the main, producing the next generation. As we found in Europe, once it becomes socially acceptable to dismiss the role of gods the switch in attitudes and beliefs can be quite sudden. Many European countries have switched from devoutly Christian to predominantly Atheist in the last fifty years. America, it seems, is merely lagging behind in this process.

However, the poll was not a total disaster for the Discovery Institute despite them clearly losing the battle over superstition vs science. They appear to have had some success in their campaign to fool the American public into thinking 'Intelligent Design' is an alternative science and not just biblical creationism in disguise, with a majority of Americans believing it should be taught in public schools as an alternative scientific explanation. This is despite Supreme Court and Federal Court rulings that teaching Creationism in either form violates the 'Establishment Clause' and is thus in violation of the constitutional right to be free from government interference in matters of religion. (Edwards v. Aguillard, 1984 and Kitzmiller v. Dover District School Board, 2005.) Curiously, the religious right, which is normally shrill in its opposition to government involvement in anything, including the health and welfare of American citizens and protecting them against predatory corporations, has a diametrically opposite philosophy when it comes to religious freedom. Religion, it believes, should be imposed on Americans with the full weight of the law.

The main challenge now facing rationalists is how to get this view across to people at the lower end of the income and education scale, where primitive superstition is still the norm as the following tables show:

Less than high schoolHigh schoolSome collegeCollege gradPost grad
Undirected evolution9%14%24%32%37%
God-guided evolution29%22%23%28%33%
Created as is in last 10,000 years41%44%39%26%16%
Not sure21%21%14%13%13%

It's quite clear from this that belief in primitive superstition is inversely proportional to educational attainment. It is also clear from other work that the less educated a person is the more likely they are to come from the lower income groups which are, in turn, more likely to be members of the more fundamentalist Christian sects.

It is no surprise therefore to find people like Ken Ham, whose income depends on people remaining uneducated, have recently started teaching the unfortunate children of Creationists strategies designed to shut down any discussion which might lead to better understanding of science. (See Were You There?)

Ironically, in the USA, these lower income groups have been specifically targeted by the Christian political right who gave up victimising the under-classes when they achieved full political emancipation in the 1960s, and now seeks to keep them at the bottom of the social peck-order by keeping them under-educated and aspiration-free by selling them the notion that primitive Christianity is the only way they can have jam tomorrow - after they're dead and it's too late to ask for a refund - provided they accept their inferior social position in this one and vote for the Christian fundamentalist. This is reinforced by the insidious notion that all scientists are either mad, evil or elitist, and probably all three, and that nothing science has to say on anything can possibly be anywhere near as reliable as the folk-tales of Bronze-Age middle-eastern goat-herders - and they'll burn in Hell if they don't buy it.

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Friday, 26 July 2013

Religiously Hypocritical.

Justine Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
BBC News - Archbishop of Canterbury 'furious over' Church investment in Wonga

This made me chuckle. The background to the story is that the new Archbishop of Canterbury and pastoral head of the world-wide Anglican Community, Justin Welby, had said that he has told the head of Wonga, a notorious loan-sharking company , "we're not in the business of trying to legislate you out of existence; we're trying to compete you out of existence". Wonga specialises in luring poor people into spiraling debt then hitting them with extortionate penalty payments they can't possibly afford, eventually sending in baliffs to seize their possessions, like a blood-sucking parasite bleeding its victim to death with all the morality of the financial marketplace.

Before going into the church, Justine Welby, a multi-millionaire Old Etonian aristocrat, who was appointed by Prime Minister David Cameron, a multi-millionaire Old Etonian aristocrat, was a banker. Once ordained, he was given accelerated promotion to the top and only now seems to be gaining some insight into how the Church of England works. He knows well enough how politics works when his old school chums are running the country and knows that any attempt to legislate against these parasites would be a non-starter, if for no other reason than that it would risk damaging an important Tory Party income stream as well as that of many of their MPs and constituency committee members. So, it's to be a high-profile, 'valiant', but of course ultimately ineffective, struggle against a social wrong which leaves everything as it is but enables the CofE. to claim to occupy the moral high-ground whilst pretending to be on the side of the poor.

Thus, by any reasonable standard, Young Earth Creationism has reached a point of intellectual bankruptcy, both in its science and in its theology. Its persistence is thus one of the great puzzles and great tragedies of our time. By attacking the fundamentals of virtually every branch of science, it widens the chasm between the scientific and spiritual worldviews, just at a time where a pathway toward harmony is desperately needed. By sending a message to young people that science is dangerous, and that pursuing science may well mean rejecting religious faith, Young Earth Creationism may be depriving science of some of its most promising future talents.

Francis Collins, The Language of God
It seems that the CofE. has itself been profiting from Wonga's loan sharking and from the desperate plight of poor people made worse by the financial collapse caused by Welby's former banker colleagues and by cuts in welfare by Welby's old school chums Cameron and Old Etonian multi-millionair aristocrat Chancellor, George Osborne, gleefully imposed using the financial crises as an excuse for some Nasty Party class hatred to appease the grassroots Tories who went into politics to show the plebeians just who's boss around here.

The CofE. has £75,000 invested in Wonga out of its investment portfolio worth £5.5bn. (That's five and a half billion!) Just imagine how much debt that could pay off and how much poverty it could relieve if only the Anglican Church was bothered enough to do what Jesus supposedly told them and give their money to the poor. Instead, it is invested to make even more money with all the morality of the financial marketplace where the terms 'good' and 'profitable' are synonyms and the only wrong is failing to get the highest possible return.

Instead, Welby has decided to take the Church deeper into banking and money-lending, apparently planning to turn the churches themselves into places where poor people can get a pay-day loan - at a competitive rate of interest or course. I wonder if this 'service' will be restricted to Christians.

Anyway, what made me chuckle was how this news item illustrated the routine hypocrisy which passed for Christianity (and, to be fair, other religions too) nowadays. The contrast between what they claim Jesus told us to do, what they tell us to do using Jesus as an excuse, and what they do themselves is stark. It is probably one of the main reasons for the collapse in support for religions and the recent phenomenal rise in support for secular bodies and the abandonment of superstitious beliefs and a willingness to self-identify as a non-believer.

The story comes hard on the heels of another scandal involving the Christian Church, this time the Catholic version. Not the normal almost universal child sexual abuse by priests and cover-up scandal, but similar. This one involves the Catholic Church in Spain, which could rely on the fascists regime under Franco to turn a blind eye, stealing and selling babies. Under the fascists the Catholic Church had thrived and had been given virtual control of all social services in Spain including the hospitals. Catholic priests had been compiling list of suitable 'devout' but childless Catholics couples and nuns in the hospitals had been stealing newborn babies for them from usually poor, unmarried girls whilst Catholic doctors lied about the fate of the newborn baby to its mother and the hospital organised a fake funeral for it.

All this was done by people under the pretext of religion and by people who had no moral scruples about lying for money and power and who saw nothing wrong with being hand in glove with fascists who had abolished democracy and routinely murdered their political opponents.

Imagine that you are a teacher of Roman history and the Latin language, anxious to impart your enthusiasm for the ancient world — for the elegiacs of Ovid and the odes of Horace, the sinewy economy of Latin grammar as exhibited in the oratory of Cicero, the strategic niceties of the Punic Wars, the generalship of Julius Caesar and the voluptuous excesses of the later emperors. That’s a big undertaking and it takes time, concentration, dedication. Yet you find your precious time continually preyed upon, and your class’s attention distracted, by a baying pack of ignoramuses who, with strong political and especially financial support, scurry about tirelessly attempting to persuade your unfortunate pupils that the Romans never existed. There never was a Roman Empire. The entire world came into existence only just beyond living memory. Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, Catalan, Occitan, Romansh: all these languages and their constituent dialects sprang spontaneously and separately into being, and owe nothing to any predecessor such as Latin.

Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show On Earth
The conclusion that, to those who still profess to be religious, religion is nothing more than an excuse for antisocial attitudes and behaviour, or their excuse for laying claim to undeserved power and privilege, to which they cling tenaciously rather than take responsibility for their own actions, is now inescapable. In practice, hypocrisy in religion is no longer regarded as a sin, but an essential component of it. Moral bankruptcy is now taken for granted and almost any behaviour can be permitted if you quote religion and blame a god or an old book. It's a delicious irony that an official condemnation of hypocrisy isn't matched by actions. Even their condemnation of hypocrisy is an example of their hypocrisy.

This can be readily seen on practically any of the social media on the Internet. Sites dealing specifically with science or almost any serious subject, for that matter, have to take steps to keep out or reduce the abusive hate-messages and comments from Christians and Muslims, especially on any matter concerning evolution or which is not in strict accord with the early medieval understanding of those who wrote their holy books. This abuse is frequently, indeed usually, personal, threatening and often insane.

At this point I will resist the temptation to use the clearly insane behaviour of Manuel de Dios Agosto, the failed priest, notorious Internet stalker and abuser who currently posts dozens of increasingly bizarre comments on this blog almost every day, as an example. This would be unfair to normal Christians and Muslims who, one assumes, are still employable, capable of living normal lives and are not confined to their unfortunate mother's house by hostile neighbours.

Besides, picking one clearly disturbed, dysfunctional person as representative of the whole is unscientific, tempting though that might be, and it's certainly not fair on the majority of sane and law-abiding religious people. Not all religious people have a narcissistic personality disorder, although very many who stalk the Internet seem to have. It would be like assuming all Catholics are child abusers just because some of them are and a very large number of their priest have been exposed as such and just because the Catholic Church establishment conspired to facilitate their criminal activities, or that all Muslims are suicide bombers or routinely behead those who disagree with them, just because some do and are encouraged, even instructed, to do so by some Muslim clerics.

Devout Christian and Muslim defending their religion against the science of evolution.
Does it look to you as though they believe a god is watching them?
Nor would it be fair to assume that, just because a few people like Kent Hovind, Ken Ham, Dwayne Gish, Michael Behe, William Dembski, David Barton and William Lane Craig earn their living by misinforming and misleading gullible and ignorant people about science, history, mathematics, logic, etc, that all religious people are cheats and frauds.

I simply note how in all these cases, religion is the excuse and how this behaviour is very clearly the act of people who either don't believe in the god they purport to believe in, or have concluded by some bizarre mental gymnastics that it has exempted them from the rules of normal civilised behaviour. I tend to the view that they no more believe in a god of truth and honesty than I do but are too small as people to take responsibility for their own actions and need to cling desperately to something to hide behind.

It is difficult to draw a distinct line though between these clearly mentally disturbed individuals and the generality of those professing to share their faith in whichever god they profess to believe in. It is also hard to exclude the hierarchy of faiths which facilitate abuse and sanctions inhuman acts.

But it is perfectly fair to include those who willingly lie or abuse for their faith because lies and abuse are not the acts of truly religious people, and this seems to include almost all of them. It's also fair to point to the frequency with which a professed belief in a god of is not matched by the actions of the faithful. And they are so easy to expose. See how many of those who claim to 'love Jesus' or to follow 'The Prophet' use obscenities and abuse as common currency in their defence of them. Just like Jesus or Muhammad did!

Try asking one of these questions of any true believer and you will almost invariably get the same result - evasion, abuse, condescension, judgmentalism and lies.
  1. If you believe you get your knowledge of right and wrong from your holy book, how can you be sure it wasn't written by someone or something wishing to deceive you? In other words, if you believe in Satan or in evil gods, how do you know they didn't write your book of morals to mislead you?
  2. If you believe in free will can you make a decision your god hasn't always known you will make and your god still be inerrantly omniscient? If not, you don't have free will. If you can, your god isn't inerrant or omniscient.
  3. If your god is omnibenevolent, why is there suffering in the world it created and why do diseases and misfortune exist? For there to be suffering your god either doesn't care, doesn't know about it or is powerless to prevent it. None of these are consistent with an omnibenevolent, omnipotent god.
  4. If your god is infinitely merciful, why do we need to do anything to earn its forgiveness and avoid its 'justice' when an infinitely merciful god would forgive anything, including disobedience, disbelief and/or worshipping a false god?

I can guarantee you will almost never get an honest answer to any of these questions because they all undermine the very foundations of the faith they purport to hold on to. They would rather lie, evade and abuse than admit their faith is founded on flawed logic at best and a lie at worst. Yet, if they believe a god of truth and honesty is watching them and punishes dishonesty and false witnessing, they would honestly admit they can't answer these questions and that their 'faith' is founded on falsehood.

I don't reject Christ. I love Christ. It's just that so many of you Christians are so unlike Christ.

Given the choice between conforming to what they claim their god requires of them and admitting they have no basis for their faith, they sacrifice personal integrity, adopt dishonesty and do anything but behave they way their faith supposedly requires them to. The normal response will be to hurriedly break off the conversation, usually with a departing curse and a disguised threat, either real or passive-aggressive.

The very concept of sin comes from the Bible. Christianity offers to solve a problem of its own making! Would you be thankful to a person who cut you with a knife in order to sell you a bandage?

Dan Barker, Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist
In other words they adopt hypocrisy, and so reveal that you've peeled back the disguise they were hiding behind. Beneath it you will have found a judgmental, hypocritical bigot, usually full of hate for strangers, whose response to questions reveals how they would behave towards others if only they had the power to. Scratch the surface of almost any sanctimonious theist and you will find a stinking hypocrite trying to keep well hidden. The God Delusion must be maintained at all costs because the individual has invested far too much in it. It takes a very rare, brave and honest individual to be like Dan Barker and admit first to themselves, then to their friends and family, that they have realised their faith was wrong and had no rational basis.

It takes too much honesty to begin the self-questioning process then to begin an honest evaluation of the evidence, or the lack of it, for the average devout theist to even countenance doing so. And what does Atheism offer to those who need an excuse for their personality and a reason to avoid taking personal responsibility for themselves and their opinions?

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Thursday, 25 July 2013

Bacteria Are Winning With Evolution

Antibiotic resistance: The last resort : Nature News & Comment

Evolution is the weapon of choice for bacteria fighting the war on antibiotics.

Except, of course that there is no choice involved and bacteria are not even aware they are fighting a war. All that's happening is that an environment with antibiotics in it has given those few bacteria which have a genetic resistance to antibiotics such a massive advantage that they are quickly replacing the non-resistant form in the population. Bacterial genes are simply doing what they have done since the first self-replicating molecules arose on Earth - they are replicating themselves. The natural environment is sorting out the fittest and allowing them through the natural selection sieve into the next generation.

The above article in yesterday's Nature superbly illustrated evolution in progress. We have created the classical Darwinian model for evolution to be inevitable:
  1. Replication.
  2. Variability.
  3. Selection.
[A]ntibiotic resistance should be added to the UK government’s list of threats to national security, alongside pandemic influenza and terrorism.

Previously, before we started to use antibiotics, any chance variation in the relevant genes might have had no meaning whatsoever, and may even have disadvantaged the carrier. The environmental change we created has changed the meaning of the information carried by the genome. The amount of information hasn't changed, only it's meaning.

As Maryn McKenna points out, we are now reaching the point where bacteria are evolving resistance to one of the last drugs on the shelf. Unless we can invent antibiotics more quickly we will eventually lose this arms race and a purely natural undirected and aimless process, will have beaten everything that human science can muster against it. Such is the power and inevitability of evolution by natural selection. So far, we have not managed to exterminate a single known bacterial species. Even tuberculosis, once having looked to be on it's way out, is making a comeback having overcome our antibiotics of choice.

Of course, we have exterminated smallpox and the cattle disease rinderpest in the wild and have come close to exterminating poliomyelitis, but these are viruses not bacteria and are not touched by antibiotics. The only non-viral organism we have had any real impact on has been the Plasmodium species which cause malaria and they are now showing signs of a similar resistance to antimalarial drugs as are the mosquito vectors which transmit them to us to insecticides.

We have a very serious problem, and we need to sound an alarm.

Thomas Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
Many protozoans such as bacteria have a very short generation time - as low as 10-20 minutes in favourable conditions - so they represent a speeded up version of evolution - humans are several orders of magnitude slower at about 25 years. Bacteria also have a much smaller genome so they show us much more clearly what can be produced in a few generations by environmental change and under intense selection pressure such as a new antibiotic. A multicellular organism, with its much slower generation time would be expected to evolve much more slowly but, with a larger genome, they are likely to be evolving with several gene-lines in parallel.

Bacteria sharing genetic information
Bacteria don't reproduce sexually, of course, which on first consideration might be thought to reduce the scope for evolution which sexually reproducing organisms get from frequent shuffling and mixing of the genomes from two individuals, however, bacteria do exchange genetic material in the form of plasmids by which they can pass antibiotic resistence to other bacteria and even to another species - a process known as horizontal gene transfer. This appears to give bacteria at least the same degree of 'evolvability', in other words, the ability to adapt quickly to environmental change, as does sexual reproduction in more complex organisms.

So here we have a wonderful example of evolution in progress and an illustration of how an arms race can be won not by planning and intelligent design but by a mindless, undirected, yet inexorable and inevitable process of evolution driven by natural selection which looks for all the world to an uninformed observer like an intelligent one.

Now, those few Creationists who didn't stop reading when I opened with the word 'evolution' and who have made it to this point without becoming too afraid to continue reading may still be telling themselves that an invisible magical friend who loves them above all else is directing things, the way the Discovery Institute likes to tell them, have to answer a couple of question:
  1. Why would a benevolent intelligent designer be ensuring our defense against killer bacteria is abolished by making them resistant to it, unless it is on their side and wants to make us sick and die?
  2. Why has it made it look like a natural process, which can be fully explained without the need for magic or gods, or a designer of any description?
If you think you can answer these, you are free to avail yourself of the comment section here to do so.

If you can't, you might like to explain why you still like to believe an imaginary friend is directing things for your benefit.

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Wednesday, 24 July 2013

A Persecuted Minority

Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury and
unelected member of the bicameral UK Parliament's Upper Chamber
As the Humanist march continues, in Europe at least, we are seeing case law being made which establishes that even Christians now have to obey the law. Indeed, this is a common cause of their whinging.

I've noted before how hypocritical Christians like former Archbishop of Canterbury and pastoral head of the Anglican Communion, Lord Carey, keep whining about Christians being a persecuted minority. Carey, in particular is often heard complaining when Christians have lost another court case brought against them for denying goods and services to people, or discriminating against, bullying or committing other hate crimes againt people on the grounds that their religion requires them to.

Carey sees it as a basic human right for Christians to deny basic human rights to non-Christians and regards it as persecution to insist that they comply with the law of the land, which, as an unelected member of the UK parliament he has the right to influence the framing of.

It's not just in the UK where Christians have this inflated sense of entitlement and regard any denial of privilege as a denial of their rights. We recently had an outstanding example from the USA where Christians were complaining that they were having to remain 'in the closet' about their homophobia and not being able to keep homosexuals in the closet where they belong.

Yes! It's a baby!
However, one small event which, if you were watching the BBC News a couple of days ago, seemed to happen on a day when, by great good fortune, nothing else happened anywhere in the world puts this persistent whining into context. The wife of the second in line to the hereditary title of Head of State of the UK (and several other Commonwealth countries, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and titular head of the World-wide Anglican Christian Church, produced an offspring.

This child, if it, and the monarchy, survives that long, will succeed to the post currently held by his great grandmother. In effect, unless the law changes, my grandchildren's children's, and even their grandchildren's ruler has already been chosen, as has the head of whatever is left of the Anglican church. He need do nothing at all to earn that post for which there is no formal job description and no basic standards against which performance can be measured. Of course, given that time-scale and the likelihood of Scotland leaving the Union with possibly Wales following suit, we don't know what he will be king of.

In the UK, the monarchy symbolised both the class system based on hereditary privilege, and how closely interwoven the Anglican Church has been in this system since Tudor times. The right of certain Anglican bishops to sit in the House of Lords and the tradition of some retired ones continuing so to do is a reflection of the privilege which Anglicans have traditionally had in Britain.

One wonders what Prince George has inherited in his DNA which entitles him to this future power but, unless the law is changed under pressure from Humanists, one thing we can be sure of is that one of Lord Carey's 'persecuted' Christians will hold the post of Head of State at least of England, quite possibly into the twenty-second century, and will need to have done nothing at all to deserve it.

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Friday, 19 July 2013

Battle of the Chimpanzee Sexes

Chimps have experimented with sex more than humans - life - 18 July 2013 - New Scientist

Science is moving a little close to working out what our common ape/human ancestors got up to in the bedroom, or whatever their forest equivalent was. And in doing so have discovered a fascinating example of a battle of the sexes in the common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes)

Unlike the other great apes, us included, male chimpanzees use the barrier method of contraception, not to prevent their sperm from finding the female's ovum, mind you, but to prevent those of rival males finding it. The sperm of the common chimpanzee coagulates and forms a plug in the vagina because it contains a coagulating enzyme. The normal method of choosing a mate for the common chimpanzee is to simply offer herself to any available male when she is oestrus. In this way she ensures that she finds at least one fertile and effective male to father her offspring.

With gorillas, the alpha male is the mate of choice for the females, not that she has much choice because he vigorously enforces his right over other males, so is the only male available. She can have any male she wants so long as it's the silver-backed male. This method ensures the female's offspring have the strongest, fittest father. Male gorilla genes have ensured they produce the most descendents by evolving this particular strategy which works because of the slow reproductive cycle of the gorilla, even though it leaves many males redundant. So long as the females reproduce at close to maximum capacity, it matters not to male genes if they all come from the alpha male and leave the other males redundant.

With the common chimpanzee however, there is no particular alpha male so far as the females are concerned. How then do male chimpanzee genes ensure they maximise their chance of success? With very great difficulty, unless they use subterfuge. So, at some time in the past an enzyme which causes the sperm to coagulate in the vagina, so acting as a barrier to other male's sperms, gave those males who carried it an enormous advantage because, if they were selected first, they had a much better chance of success. These genes would have quickly spread throughout the population.

This illustrates perfectly how an arms race (in this case between a female wanting a spread bet and a male wanting to exclude competitors) can lead to no particular advantage to anyone in the long run but mindless, undirected, unplanned and unintelligent evolution ensures it happens anyway.

However, as with many things in evolution, it's not quite that straightforward. Researchers have found that male humans and the other apes all have an enzyme in their sperm which prevents this coagulation occurring. In the common chimp this enzyme is broken, so effectively turning it off. We all have the same gene. Humans have four times as much of this enzyme as chimpanzees do.

Michael Plavcan at the University of Arkansas agrees that the study is consistent with the idea that chimps evolved a unique mating system since their lineage split from ours. "People often forget that chimps, like humans, have evolved from a common ancestor and are not some relict species frozen in time," he says.

Chimps have experimented with sex more than humans, Colin Barras, New Scientist magazine issue 2926, 18 July 2013
What seems to have happened is that an even more remote common ancestor had a similar arms race but that females hit back with a gene to prevent coagulation, which countered that of the male. If this gave them more descendants, this would have come to dominate the genepool. At some point after divergence, the common chimpanzee switched off this gene and a new arms race ensued with the result we see today.

From an evolutionary point of view since this method is absent in all other apes we can be fairly certain that it evolved in the common chimpanzee after they diverged from gorilla and then from us and the bonobo where the female counter enzyme is still active. In the gorilla, male genes have adopted a different strategy in the form of a patriarchal social structure and in humans a more-or-less monogamous relationship, at least for most people most of the time but with cuckolding frequent, and a gorilla-like hareem system in a few, especially for high-caste males.

And this in turn suggests that the chimpanzees have evolved their promiscuous female mating strategy after divergence too.

One intriguing question remains: why hasn't this system evolved in the bonobo, which is notorious promiscuous in it's mating habits, using sex as a social bonding mechanism and for pleasure as well as for reproduction.

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Evolution For Brainy People

Neanderthal. Why did we succeed and not him?
First look into workings of the Neanderthal brain - life - 17 July 2013 - New Scientist

It's beginning to look like our (Homo sapiens) ultimate and apparently quite sudden success over our close cousins the Neanderthals (H. neanderthalensis or maybe H. sapiens neanderthalensis) and the recently-discovered Denisovans who don't seem to have been awarded a scientific name yet, may have been due to changes in a very small number of genes, and maybe whether they were 'switched on' or not.

Incidentally, this same article illustrates how anatomical complexity need not involve increased genetic complexity, as Creationists wrongly claim the evolution theory says. In fact it doesn't even need to involve an increase in information, merely what that information is. I'll expand on this later.

Scientists working for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany have analysed the epigenomes of Neanderthals and Denisovans and compared them with those of modern humans and have found that there was about a 99% match. However, of those 700 or so which differed, about 200 of these were common to Neanderthals and Denisovans but where theirs were active ours were inactive, and vice versa. Many of these are involved with immunity and metabolism and, when they go wrong, with disease. A very large number seem to be associated with psychiatric and neurological conditions.

It may be worth me expanding on the term 'epigenome' before I go much further, if for no other reason than that it was new to me.

The epigenome is the system of chemical markers and attachments to DNA (the genome) which are involved with switching genes on or off. Every cell (with a few special exceptions like red blood cells which are more like packets of haemoglobin than true cells) have the same complement of genes as the original cell from which the organism developed, yet each different tissue requires just a subset of these genes. This is where the epigenome comes into play. Chemical markers, one of which is termed 'methylation', act as switches to turn off unwanted genes and to prevent them firing. One cause of diseases such as some cancers may be a mis-firing of genes cause by failure of the epigenome.

The epigenome can be inherited along with DNA, hence changes here can also be selected for or against by natural selection. For more on this see Epigenetics: DNA Isn’t Everything and What Is Epigenetics?

The fact that these epigenetic markers were present in Neanderthals and Denisovans but were reversed in modern humans suggest we evolved these differences after the first migration out of africa of a common ancestor (probably H. heidelbergensis) which then diverged into Neanderthals and Denisovans in Euro-Asia whilst our direct ancestors remained in Africa, and that this evolution included changes to the details of how our brains work.

This finding reinforces previous work at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology by Svante Pääbo's team:
The findings complement previous studies. In 2012, Pääbo's team sequenced the Denisovan genome and found that humans have eight key gene variants not shared with Neanderthals or Denisovans that allow neurons to project further across the brain and connect with one another. They may have allowed our direct ancestors' brains to become more complex.

Taken together, the studies suggest that changes both in genetic sequences and in pattern of activation of the genes were crucial in enabling our ancestors to develop larger, more complex brains.

That may have helped give us our cognitive edge. For instance, genes and gene-expression patterns that conferred greater abilities in communication and social interaction, or changes in cognition, would have been evolutionarily advantageous for humans, says [Sarah] Tishkoff [University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, USA].

First look into workings of the Neanderthal brain, Sara Reardon, New Scientist Magazine issue 2926 18 July 2013
In the epigenomic regions that differ between species, the human brain contains almost five times as many genes that are linked to early brain development as would be expected by chance, Yi says. Defects in them are connected with problems in the early stages of brain development. Humans also have 3.5 times as many autism-related genes.

So while our brains have become bigger and more intelligent, it seems that evolutionary changes have also made our brains more prone to develop neurological conditions, such as autism and schizophrenia.

Sara Reardon, New Scientist, op cit.
Reporting the findings of Soojin Yi, et. al.
Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, USA.
These findings have to be treated with some caution however, as they are based on analysis of the epigenomes of bone not brain tissue, where the epigenome may have been different, so projecting this into differences between ours and our cousin species brains is only speculative. Never-the-less, the commonality between Neanderthals and Denisovans and the differences they show compared to modern humans, and the implications that has for how and when we diverged still holds true.

To me, the amazing thing is how so much new information is coming from the recently-developed DNA sequencing work done by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and how it's adding so many of those missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle.

We're now almost sure that there were at least two migrations out of Africa and that we are all descended (mostly) from those who remained behind to evolve further and then migrate out again, to find at least two cousin species already established in Europe and Asia with whom, for a brief period in our history we occasionally interbred successfully, much like a ring species showing incomplete speciation. And now we come a little closer to understanding why we eventually replaced them and became the sole survivors, albeit with a few genes which we who came out of Africa in the second wave inherited from them by hybridization.

Now, as for the notion that evolution of increased anatomical complexity involves increased DNA complexity, as per the standard Creationist misrepresentation of evolution theory, this work on epigenetics shows how a more complex brain could well have evolved not by any changes at all in the underlying genome but by simple changes in the epigenes controlling the DNA sequences which express as genes. The only change in information (not addition, but change) need only be the difference between 'on' and 'off' in a particular tissue. So no new complexity in DNA and no change in the amount of information present, merely a change in the meaning of that information.

One wonders how much longer the Discovery Institute loons and liars, and the Ken Hams, Kent Hovinds and Dwayne Gishes of this world are going to remain seated on the beach with their hands out, expecting the on-rushing tsunami of scientific evidence to comply with their requirements. It'd probably difficult to maintain that posture with one's head in the sand.

Further reading:
First look into workings of the Neanderthal brain (Subscription required for full article).
When The Conclusion Is Sacred Facts Must Be Ignored.
A Human Ring Species?
More Evidence For a Human Ring Species.

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Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Too Many Transitional Fossils

Australopithecus sediba
The strange ape that's rewriting our family tree - life - 15 July 2013 - New Scientist

Far from there being no transitional fossils as Creationists claim, we now have what's turning out to be too many of them. Rather than the tree of human evolution being a simple one with just a single branch off the African ape limb, it's turning out to be a much richer, more complicated and interesting one with several different hominins co-existing for most of our history. In fact, the last few thousand years, since the last Neanderthals and Denisovans died out as distinct species, have been unusual and maybe unprecedented; we are now the only member of the Homo genus to survive.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

How We Know The Bible Was Written By Ignorant People

A stone axe from near Shanghai, eastern China. May show a form of primitive writing.
Photograph: AP

Inscriptions found in Shanghai pre-date 'oldest Chinese language by 1,400 years' | World news |

This article in today's Guardian got me thinking about how ridiculous the Bronze Age origins myths in the Bible are and how easy it is to refute them by just looking at the world today.

For example, in Genesis we read about a worldwide flood which only a single family survived. It is inconceivable that the details of this and the names of Noah and his family, the people who saved the world and from whom we are all descended, would have been forgotten in just a few generations.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Cult of Pope Worship

We spent a few days in Rome last month and took in the obligatory tour of St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City to see the Michelangelo ceiling in the Sistine Chapel and the murals by Raphael in the Stanze di Raffaello - book in advance on line for speedy entry; the queues are frightening.

Apart from very obviously being a vast, highly organised money-making industry, the thing that struck us most was how central the figure of the Pope is to everything. Every stall (there is one every few yards) selling tourist tat and over-priced strings of coloured beads to the 'faithful' carried a huge assortment of pictures of smiling Popes in various forms of fancy dress, sometimes with humorously phallic headwear, making pious magic gestures with two fingers, or just grinning beatifically.

Most of them were of the current Pope (how quickly they must have got those to the printers and out onto the stalls in such quantities); quite a lot were of his predecessor, Benedict XVI trying hard not to look like a leering paedophile who can't believe he's gotten away with it, and a few were of the Polish Pope, John Paul II. Conspicuous by their absence were photos of John Paul I whose mistaken election is reputed to have been corrected just 33 days later when he was found dead, allegedly by a nun who was visiting his chamber early in the morning.

Outside in St Peters Square, almost the entire area is divided up with crowd-control barriers for the vast numbers of Catholics who descend on the Vatican whenever a planned papal manifestation is announced. A couple we met in our hotel were telling us excitedly how they had queued (no seats are provided) for hours in the shade-free square in temperatures approaching 35-40 degrees and had been 'rewarded' with a brief glimpse of 'His Holiness'. One could only sympathise. Nuns in various costumes, looking for all the world like devout Muslim women in a hijab, only dressed in white, blue or brown, with every hair, ankle and neck well covered lest they arouse uncontrollable passions in men, twitter excitedly like groupies outside the stage door of the latest boy-band, hoping for a glimpse of the Pope - even the hem of a disappearing white cassock or the wave of a hand from a window will induce raptures.

Some even believe the image of John Paul II will cure terminal illness.

What we both noticed particularly was how the proverbial visitor from outer-space would see Catholicism as Pope worship, with the Pope as a living god in just the same way that the Japanese Emperor was to pre-WWII Japanese and the way the Emperor was in the latter days of the Roman Empire. It looks for all the world as though the pre-Christian official Pontifex Maximus, or high priest of all the gods, had been transformed into the Christian Bishop of Rome.

Emperor Augustus 27 BCE - 14 CE,
Pontifex Maximus. The first Pope.
And this, of course, is precisely what did happen. The first Emperor to declare himself both Pontifex Maximus and a god was Augustus. As Pontifex Maximus he was uniquely placed to declare his elevation to the post of God-King to be the revealed will of God.

This explains why the Catholic Church is still rigidly hierarchical with the cult leader being the source of all clerical powers, the source of all religious dogma and the inerrant, infallible mouthpiece of God. To a devout Catholic, the Pope and God are as one. The Pope speaks the mind of God and announces His will. And with theological matters such as the existence of Limbo, and the qualifications for entry into Heaven, the Pope hands down policy to God.

Catholicism is the cult of Pope worship. The Pope is not the heir to an invented 'St Peter', but the heir to Augustus, the Roman God Emperor who died in 14 CE and whose title and role was passed down to the Christianised ruling god-king, the Pope, Papa or Holy Father.

If you want to see the last Roman god, Pontifex Maximus, a relic of a bygone age and the invention of a degenerate ruling class, go and stand for hours in the Roman sun - and remember to take plenty of money with you.

And women! Cover yourself up. God hates having to oggle at your bodies!

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