Monday, 29 June 2015

Unlike Fundamentalists, Chimps Can Tell Right From Wrong.

Chimpanzees’ Bystander Reactions to Infanticide | Human Nature

Unlike fundamentalist Christians, who proudly boast that they have to use their holy book to understand what's right and what's wrong, and so bizarrely claim to be more moral than people who don't need a handbook, it seems even chimpanzees understand the difference, either instinctively or through culturally-inherited memes. Ironically, this indicates that this ability may even have been present in the last common ancestor shared by chimpanzees and humans.

This was the conclusion of a team from the University of Zurich, Switzerland, who allowed chimpanzees to

Catholic Church Just Doesn't Get It!

Anthony Colin Fisher, Archbishop of Sydney. Inconceivable tht he would not have approved the letter.
Catholic church writes to companies that support same-sex marriage | World news | The Guardian

The Catholic Church really doesn't get it.

It's not just the paedophile priests and nuns, abuse of vulnerable adults, financial corruption, support for autocratic right-wing dictatorships, the sale of 'confiscated' children, the systematic, sometimes brutal, cover-ups, the habitual avoidance of responsibilities for their crimes and casual hypocrisy of the church and it's clerics, bad though they are, that are causing people to vote with their feet and stay away from church.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Cardinal Brady Admits Official Abuse Coverup

Cardinal Seán Brady. Intimidated victims to keep abuses secret.
Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry: Cardinal Seán Brady admits 'shroud of secrecy' over Church sex abuse inquiry - BBC News

Cardinal Seán Brady, former head of the Catholic Church in all Ireland, has admitted the official church enquiry into the sexual abuse of young boys by Catholic priest, Fr Brendan Smyth, was conducted under a cloak of secrecy designed not to reveal the truth and protect and compensate the victims, but to protect the abuser and the church against scandal.

For his part in this coverup, Cardinal Brady, who has never been officially sanctioned by even so much as being stripped of his title, was allowed to retire on a full pension at the normal retiring age for a priest, after spending a year on fully-paid gardening leave whilst an underling did his work for him.

Brady made this admission to the Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry and admitted that the questioning of a 14 year-old victim was intimidatory, intrusive and

Another Transitional Fossil Turtle!

Grandfather turtle, Pappochelys
Photo credit: Rainer Schoch. Source: Smithsonian.com
A Middle Triassic stem-turtle and the evolution of the turtle body plan : Nature : Nature Publishing Group

These examples of what creationists tell us don't exist - transitional fossils - are getting so frequent that I'm wondering whether it's worth writing yet another blog about yet another one being found, or whether it would be simpler to just publish a weekly list of the latest.

But, having almost certainly just shed any creationists who might have had the courage to read the blog at all with that shocking title, I'll carry on, as those interested in truth might find it interesting.

This example, published in Nature yesterday, is of a 240 million year-old fossil from Germany which is

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Now Something Else For Creationists To Ignore!

One gene may drive leap from single cell to multicellular life - life - 22 June 2015 - New Scientist

Creationists need to isolate themselves as far as possible from the reality around them - which why they're oblivious to that fact that, to normal people, they resemble a comical King Canute, ordering the tide to retreat, except that they also have their eyes shut and are pretending to not even notice the tsunami of scientific evidence engulfing them.

Actually, to be fair to the much maligned Canute, whose tale was told by the eventual winners, he was almost certainly trying to demonstrate to his army that even a king's powers are limited, so he shouldn't really be compared to a creationist.

Monday, 22 June 2015

More Sex With Neanderthals But No Original Sin

Smile!
Photo credit: AFP/Getty
An early modern human from Romania with a recent Neanderthal ancestor | Nature

This isn't so much new information as adding detail to what we already know.

We've known for several years now that all non-African populations have some Neanderthal DNA, showing without a doubt that humans came up against and interbred with, to a limited degree, the Neanderthal population that had evolved from members of an earlier migration out of Africa.

Does God Hate Vultures Too?

Lappet-Faced Vulture, Torgos tracheliotus
Another Continental Vulture Crisis: Africa's Vultures Collapsing toward Extinction | Conservation Letters - Wiley Online Library.

With so many species in serious decline and under threat of imminent extinction, creationists and Intelligent Design hoaxers have some explaining to do. They at least owe it to their followers to explain why their creator god either intended this to happen or is powerless to prevent it. Admittedly, they will need to face up to some unpleasant realities to do so, but at least they'll know they aren't living a lie.

What they need to grasp is that their notion, it it were any good, would be applicable across the entire range of biological science, not just the cherry-picked pieces that make their dupes feel important or to provide easy, default answers to the parts that are hard to understand without learning basic science, putting aside

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Watching Evolution As It Happens

Evolution and coexistence in response to a key innovation in a long-term evolution experiment with Escherichia coli | bioRxiv

The world's longest running evolutionary experiment has just produced another embarrassing result; embarrassing for creationists that is. The result is, of course, exactly what the Theory of Evolution predicts.

This experiment, Richard Lenski's Long-term Experimental Evolution Project, has been running since 1988 when Lenski set up 12 cultures of a single strain of E. coli. Every day since then a sample of each culture has been taken and used to seed a new

Friday, 19 June 2015

Pope Is Part Of The Climate Change Problem

Generally, Popes talk what can only politely be called cobblers, and so far the current pope has been no exception. Normally it quite easy to read something a pope has said and to write an article pointing out the bigotry, superstition, scientific illiteracy or clerical self-interest which underpins it. A religious commentator might even regard popes as a godsend for the frequency with which they open their mouth just wide enough to get a red-booted foot in it.

But now we see a pope actually talking sense about climate change and man's responsibility for it and for once the Catholic Church isn't supporting the right-wing and the forces of reaction. From a quick skim through an English translation of his encyclical, Laudato Si', it appears to be well informed and even well-argued. No doubt Pope Francis is not personally the author of it and has depended a great deal on his science advisers to do the actual science but that doesn't detract from his responsibility for the contents, and he deserves praise for it.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Toothed Whales Laughing At Creationists

Laughing at creationists
Mx1 and Mx2 key antiviral proteins are surprisingly lost in toothed whales - PNAS

More evidence today that the supposed 'intelligent designer' is neither intelligent nor a designer. It's not clear yet whether the ID industry will become honest as a result of all this evidence against their daft notion and give up exploiting gullible people, or whether they will ignore it all as usual and rely on their victims' aversion to reading any science literature which might shake their 'unshakeable' faith.

Researchers have shown that the toothed whales all have broken versions of two genes (Mx1 and Mx2)

Rapid Human Evolution - Update

Fore victim of kuru
Eating human brains helped Papua New Guinea tribe resist disease, research shows | Science | The Guardian

Researchers have discovered that the gene which arose in the Fore people of Papua New Guinea in response to the prion disease, kuru, also gives protection against other prion diseases.

Some time ago I reported on an unarguable case of rapid Darwinian evolution in the Fore people of Papua New Guinea. Briefly, the local religious custom of ritually eating the brain of dead relatives had produced a high risk of contracting the transmissible prion disease, kuru, an invariably fatal dementia very similar to BSE (mad cow disease) in cattle, scrapie in sheep and CJD in humans. This placed the population under intense selection pressure where any resistance to this disease had high survival value.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Popes, Predators, Paedophiles And Priests

Józef Wesołowski
Photo credit: Manuel Diaz / AP
Vatican Sets Trial for Ex-Ambassador Accused of Sexual Abuse - The New York Times.

Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis resigns after charges of sex abuse coverup - The Washington Post

For my 1000th blog, it's a pleasure to be presented with not one but two cases of senior Catholic clergy being involved in child abuse and coverup amounting to facilitation of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. These cases involve an ambassador for the Vatican, an archbishop and an auxiliary bishop.

On the day that the Vatican announced it is putting on trial it's former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Archbishop Józef Wesołowski, for molesting young boys and posessing child pornograpy, came news that the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Archbishop John Nienstedt, along with his assistant, Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché had resigned. The Vatican denies any link between the two cases.

The case of Archbishop Wesołowski is revealing and tells us much of the Vatican's basic instinct - to protect its own and keep them out of the reach of the law-enforcement agencies in the countries where they

Monday, 15 June 2015

Magna Carta - And Why The Pope Tried To Kill It

On this the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, it's worth spending a few minutes remembering how fortunate we are that the Pope Innocent III didn't succeed in his determination to annul it and put an end to this dangerous idea of equality before the law.

Although it was probably never intended as such, Magna Carta has become one of the most important documents in history, being regarded as the origins of several basic principles now taken for granted:

  • The idea of equality before the law. This establishes the right to a fair trial and the rule of

Saturday, 13 June 2015

No Comfort For Ray As God Hits Bananas

Americas may be hit by catastrophic banana disease -- ScienceDaily

In a long-expected response to Ray Comfort's cruel attempt to make American Christian fundamentalists look even more stupid with his banana 'proof' of creationism and Intelligent Design, God is sending a disease, Fusarium wilt, to decimate the American Cavendish banana crop.

Comfort, readers may remember, hilariously exposed the credulity of his creationist followers and simultaneously showed his contempt for them by

Friday, 12 June 2015

Grand Canyon Catastrophe For Creationism

Geomorphic constraints on the age of the western Grand Canyon

It can't be easy being a creationist.

The problem is the need to be increasingly inventive to cope with the troublesome cognitive dissonance that comes from trying to stick to a belief while the evidence against it just keeps on piling up. This makes them prey to pseudoscience charlatans who will try to sell them spurious confirmation of their bias with lies, misinformation and misrepresentations of the data.

It also means they have to avoid reading proper science like a claustrophobe avoids lifts.

Guess Who!

Guess who this is a description of:

...described as a “man spiralling downwards”. He had no job but many debts... Seeking “power and influence”...

Pretending to be an important cleric... Sordid crimes... was rejected as too “weird”. “His constant goal in life appears to have been achieving significance.”

Diagnosed with a number of mental health problems, he was a relentless attention seeker with delusions of grandeur and a con man, who elevated his personal grievances with the heavenly glow [of a religious campaign]... *

The Bigots Are Whinging Again

In what is becoming something of a tradition in Christian circles, Christians are whinging again because they've lost another court case in which they sought to defend what they see as their God-given right to persecute people of their choice. The need for martyrdom seems as strong as ever in fundamentalist circles.

In this case, the Court of Appeal refused leave for a fundamentalist Christian charity, Core Issues Trust, to appeal the ban on putting offensive, homophobic advertising banners on London buses, in a spiteful response to the Stonewall advertisement pictures below.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Spider Venom Toxic To Creationism

Tegenaria agrestis
Weaponization of a Hormone: Convergent Recruitment of Hyperglycemic Hormone into the Venom of Arthropod Predators: Structure

These examples of unintelligent design just keep piling up in the science literature. No wonder trying to get a creationist to read a proper, peer-reviewed science paper is like trying to get an acute arachnophobe to pick up a spider.

This paper, for example, if the Intelligent Design hoax was taken seriously by proper biologists who actually work in the field of biology and value their academic reputation, could only be seen as an example of this designer designing something to do the same job, even starting from the same point but doing it differently with one result not as good as the other.

Ice Age Camels Give Creationists The Hump

North American Western Camel (artist's impression)
Ice age camel DNA discovered in Canada change theories on species | World news | The Guardian

Here we have a good example of how our understanding of DNA and the fact that evolution occurs at the genetic level, is informing biological research. It perfuses this paper concerning camel evolution and how the extinct North American Western Camel was related to the Asiatic camels, the Bactrian camel and the dromedary, and to the South American llamas, guanacos, alpacas, and vicuñas.

Based on morphology of fossil bones, it had been thought that the Western Camel was a giant llama. That view has now been disproved; it was a sister species of the Asiatic camels.

Mutant Europeans

Yamnaya skull from the Samara region colored with red ochre.
Photo Credit: Natalia Shishlina
Nomadic herders left a strong genetic mark on Europeans and Asians | Science/AAAS | News

More news yesterday on the subject of the origins of Euro-Asian people and in particular, lactase persistence in Europeans, which should, if they understood it, be causing creationists to rethink their superstitions.

So, if you've fallen for the 'Intelligent Design' hoax and want to stay duped, or if you need to believe you have a close personal relationship with the creator of the Universe so you feel important enough, stop reading now because there will be some hard questions at the end designed to make you think.

The news comes from two rival teams of geneticists who analysed the DNA from a total of 170 individuals from archaeological sites in Europe and Asia. These people lived between 3000 and 5000 years ago so covering the period when the Bronze Age spread from the Middle East out into Europe and Asia. The debate has always been about whether this was a spread of ideas as neighbours learned the

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

A Catholic Explains Why Atheists Are Cleverer Than Catholics

Catholic Religion Quiz, Part I

Having had close on five years to work out why Atheists were shown in a Pew Research Center survey to know more about religion than theists and in particular, Catholics, Mark Shea, writing in the National Catholic Register has come up with an 'answer'. To be more precise, he's come up with an excuse:

The reason atheists did better is that, being at war with all mankind about the thing that matters to it most, they oppose all theists and are wary of the whole broad spectrum of religious belief...

So that's that then. The only reason to investigate and learn is to wage war. It's not to discover the truth or anything like that. But of course:

Christians, in contrast, can hold up their end when talking about Christianity, but have never boned up on Jewish, Mormon, Islamic, or Hindu teachings since, well, they're Christian.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Night-Flowering Bloomer For The Unintelligent Designer

Night-flowering catchfly (Silene noctiflora)
Maintaining a massive mitochondrial genome

This pretty little plant, known as the night-flowering catchfly (Silene noctiflora), is a native to Eurasia and is an introduced species in North America where it is a weed in cereal crops. It's also a major embarrassment for the Intelligent Design industry - or would be if they weren't carefully ignoring it.

Like so much else in biology, when you look at the detail, the notion of Intelligent Design is reduced to an absurdly ignorant superstition.

But first a little background (skip the next three paragraphs if you know about mitochondria):

Like all eukaryotic organisms, S. noctiflora has organelles called mitochondria within its cells. These are the powerhouse of the cell whose role is to convert glucose and oxygen into carbon dioxide and water and to use the released energy to turn ADP into ATP by adding an additional phosphate and so binding up some of the energy in a chemical bond. This energy store is then used to power the cells metabolic processes by breaking ATP back down to ADP and phosphate.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Psychosis, Miracles And Catholic Frauds

Psychological Medicine - Psychotic-like experiences in a community sample of 8000 children aged 9 to 11 years: an item response theory analysis - Cambridge Journals Online

It seems that hallucinations are far more common in children that was previously thought, and in fact are fairly frequent. In one 2011 study of nearly 8000 children, two-thirds were found to have had at least one psychotic-like experience (PLE) which was more than a simple childhood play fantasy.

Do we have here a simple, and above all natural, explanation for many of the supposed miracles, very often involving young girls, of visions of, in Catholic countries, the Virgin Mary?

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Dinosaur Teeth Another 'Intelligent' Design Blunder?

Wear biomechanics in the slicing dentition of the giant horned dinosaur Triceratops ! Science Advances

One of the more popular fallacies taught to their dupes by the creation industry and Intelligent Design hoaxers is that humans are what it's all for; the entire universe was created as somewhere for humans to live.

Even those few who know and understand enough about evolution, so accept that it happens, manage to rationalise it as 'Intelligent Evolution' with a magic man ensuring that evolution produced humans complete with all the animals and birds we need to have food, clothes and somewhere nice to live.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Bird Sex And The Intelligent Design Hoax

Evolutionary analysis of the female-specific avian W chromosome

One of the things you need to believe, if you believe in an Intelligent Designer and know just a little bit of biology, is that the 'Intelligent Designer' isn't very intelligent. It's not very intelligent to keep on re-inventing different solutions to the same problem, for example.

Speak to any half decent professional computer programmer and they will tell you they use a modular approach to design. They have a library of tried and tested routines and functions for doing a specific task. No decent programmer is going to reinvent a way to send a document to a printer, request and handle a password input or send a MySQL string to a server.

All These Transitional Fossils To Be Ignored!

Ossinodus pueri
Based on figure 11 of "New data on Ossinodus pueri, a stem tetrapod from the Early Carboniferous of Australia" by A. Warren Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 27(4):850-862.
Oldest Pathology in a Tetrapod Bone Illuminates the Origin of Terrestrial Vertebrates - PLOS ONE

While creationist doctrinal, evidence-free pseudoscience continues to insist that there are no transitional fossils, and certainly none showing the evolution of a major taxon such as the evolution of terrestrial tetrapods from bony fish, real, evidence-based science not only accepts the available evidence but has moved the debate on. The question is no longer 'if', but when, where and what?

As this new fossil from Queensland, Australia, now suggests, the first land vertebrates may have emerged from water earlier than we thought and not in what is now Europe, but in Gondwana before it split to become,

Conservation, Ecosystems and Evolution 101

Conservation challenges of predator recovery - Conservation Letters

If anyone seriously doubts that evolution happens and can be seen to be happening, simply observing what happens when conservation measures inevitably change the ecosystem should convince them they are wrong.

The only way to retain a belief that evolution can't happen is to use the tried and tested creationist technique of simply ignoring the evidence and maintaining a belief at the expense of intellectual integrity.

New Frogs Expose The Intelligent Design Hoax

Brachycephalus mariaeterezae
(The intensity of the light of the flash during photography led the light-blue coloration along their vertebral column to become less apparent.)
Seven new microendemic species of Brachycephalus (Anura: Brachycephalidae) from southern Brazil - PeerJ

In what appears to be a spooky example of Richard Dawkins' analogy of 'Climbing Mount Improbable', where he likened a species evolving in a fitness landscape to occupying the peaks by moving up an improbability gradient a small step at a time as small changes accumulate into big difference, we have this lovely example of seven new species of frog, each occupying a different mountain peak.

This was also something I tried to illustrate with a blog a few years ago which, with typical disingenuity, several creationists managed to 'misunderstand' completely,

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

The News Just Keeps Getting Better

British Social Attitudes: Church of England decline has accelerated in past decade

Another survey and again we see the inexorable decline in religious belief in the UK and the accelerating increase in Atheism. This is such a common thing nowadays that it would probably make the news if the decline in religion was halted or reversed.

This survey comes from NatCen, the leading independent social research agency:

The Church of England has been in decline for over

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

How Africa Shaped Humans

Body composition in Pan paniscus compared with Homo sapiens has implications for changes during human evolution

As I've said several times here, if you want to understand modern humans, think East African plains. Almost all about us can be explained by the basic human model which evolved on the plains of East and South Africa as we gradually changed from an arboreal ape to a terrestrial one and changed from a primarily vegetarian one to a hunter-gatherer eating a mixed diet and opportunistically eating whatever was available when it could be found.

Now evolutionary anthropologists Adrienne L. Zihlmana and Debra R. Bolter have published the results of a comparison of the soft tissues, mostly fat, muscle and skin, of humans and our closest relatives, bonobos, to understand better the adaptive changes that occurred during this process over the past 4-5 million years. During this time, proto-human apes

Monday, 1 June 2015

Taslima Nasrin Needs Your Help

Help Taslima Nasrin:
Secular Activist’s Life Threatened by Islamic Radicals


The following appeal has been launched by the Centre For Inquiry to keep Talima Nasreen safe in the USA. Taslima is an online friend of mine who did much to promote my blog on the Indian sub-continent and elsewhere. She did me the gret honour a few years ago of inviting me to guest blog on her No Country For Women blog.

A champion of free expression needs your immediate help. Islamic radicals reportedly linked to al-Qaeda, the same violent extremists who claimed responsibility for the recent murders of freethought writers Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman, and Ananta Bijoy Das, have been threatening the life of Taslima Nasrin.

Taslima is a world-renowned secular activist and author, whose uncompromising advocacy of human rights and criticism of religion forced her into exile from her native Bangladesh in 1994. A physician by training, she has written innumerable books, articles, and poems, and she has been at the forefront of political activism for secularism, free expression, and equality. Since 2004 she has lived in India, but even there she has faced persecution and threats.
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