Monday, 31 July 2017

Unintelligent Design - Silly Goose!

I took this photo today, in a park in Oxford. It shows why intelligent design is a stupid idea.

The white goose is almost certainly a hybrid between an Egyptian goose, Alopochen aegyptiaca, and a feral domestic goose. Domestic white gees in Britain are mostly a variety of greylag goose, Anser anser domesticus, so this strange looking goose is a probably a hybrid between the Egyptian and the greylag goose. The give-away is the strange-looking eyes that look spectacled from a distance, the pale brown wing feathers - not obvious in this photo (this one wasn't completely white) - and the long, pink legs.

It is highly unlikely that this was simply a leucistic Egyptian goose. It was also on it's own, not with the typical small group that Egyptian geese are normally seen in. Egyptian geese are believed to be related to the shelduck and so come somewhere between the ducks and geese. They were introduced as an ornamental bird into the UK and have become established in Norfolk, the only place I have seen them before. They have since spread to the Thames Valley (my son has seen them on the Thames).

Incidentally, the other geese in this photograph are Canada geese, an introduced species that has become widespread and which also interbreeds with 'local' geese.

But why does this show how intelligent design is a stupid idea?

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Tardigrades Give Up Their Secrets

Comparative genomics of the tardigrades Hypsibius dujardini and Ramazzottius varieornatus | PLOS Biology

There is something appealing about a tardigrade! There is a certain air of mystery about them - like, for instance, what on Earth are they?

They are justly famous for their ability to withstand just about any extreme environmental conditions other than extreme heat. They are just a few millimetres long and can withstand years of dehydration, being blown about in dust; they can withstand years of freezing. They can even go into space and withstand ionising radiation. They will live in your guttering through a long, hot dry summer, apparently lifeless, and within a few minutes of it raining, will be crawling about happily as though nothing has happened.

Until this study we weren't even sure where they fitted in with the rest of the animal kingdom. Were they primitive or degenerate arthropods; were they nematode worms with legs or some other distinct multicellular organism on a branch of their own? Well, actually, they are related to both nematodes and arthropods, distantly. The question was which are they closest to? The study doesn't settle the matter but it sheds a lot more light on the subject.

Friday, 28 July 2017

DNA Study Shows Bible is Fiction

Researchers sequenced whole genomes from five Canaanites skeletons found in Sidon, Lebanon.
Photo Credit: Ali Hashisho/Reuters/Newscom
Ancient DNA counters biblical account of the mysterious Canaanites | Science | AAAS.

We've known for a long time that the supposed 'history' in the Old Testament is mostly, if not completely, fiction, and I'm not just talking about the frankly ludicrous creation myths in the opening chapters.

As Silberman and Finkelstein showed in The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts, not only did the events described in Exodus never happen but nor did the destruction of the cities and the Canaanite genocide. Indeed, the Bible contains evidence of its own inaccuracy, being clearly written by people who did not know the history of the times in which they set their tales. Briefly, and by no means exhaustively:

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Good Old Biblical Slavery - In The USA Today!

The Word of Faith Fellowship church in Sao Joaquim de Bicas, Brazil.
(AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
They kept us as slaves: AP reveals claims against church

The North Caroline megachurch, Word of Faith Fellowship, can't be accused of not being a traditional Christian fundamentalist church.

The sect, founded by Jane Whaley, a former math teacher, and her husband Sam, uses slaves taken from Brazil to work for the church and in the businesses owned by it's senior ministers. These slaves are trafficked from Brazil, as a Associated Press investigation has revealed. They are attracted to the USA by a branch of the World of Faith cult in Sao Joaquim de Bicas, Brazil and enter the USA on tourists and student visas.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Research Spits On Creationism!


In saliva, scientists have found hints that a “ghost” species of archaic human may have contributed genetic material to ancestors of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa today.

Image credit: Bob Wilder/University at Buffalo.
Archaic hominin introgression in Africa contributes to functional salivary MUC7 genetic variation | Molecular Biology and Evolution | Oxford Academic.

As an example of how divorced religion is from reality, these examples of archaic hominids interbreeding with other hominid species take some beating.

The Abrahamic superstitions require people to believe in a single founder couple from whom everyone alive is directly descended and from whom we have inherited some notional 'original sin' for which we need to constantly atone and beg for forgiveness.

The reality of course is that not only was there never such a single founder human couple but there was not even a single founder human species. The reality is that we are hybrids of three or more species who occasionally interchanged genes and that for a large part of our recent evolutionary history we behaved like an incompletely speciated 'ring species' as an example of evolution in progress.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

'Loving' Christians Trade Insults Over Reforms

General Synod of the CofE, York.
Photo credit: Reuters

Leading evangelical condemns CofE General Synod: 'God's word was mocked openly' | Christian News on Christian Today.

A failing group will normally turn inwards, degenerating further into mutually recriminating factions. This is no less true of the 'loving' Anglicans currently showing brotherly and sisterly love by trading insults over the latest attempt to reform their cult to try to halt the haemorrhage of members.

The vitriol also illustrates the problems faced by a dogma-driven cult as it tries to reform to attract back the former members to whom it has become increasingly irrelevant and who have left in disgust at its abuse of minorities. The decreasing number of moderates comes up against an increasingly large proportion of vocal extremists trying to retain their traditional dogmas.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Persecution and Martyrdom Special!




Is Christianity in crisis? Our survey reveals 9 out of 10 ordinary Christians feel marginalised

As Christianity continues to dwindle into a minority cult in the UK, and as more and more of its privileges are lost, so the whining about persecution, coupled with that old craving for martyrdom gets louder.

This collective whine was revealed in the results of a survey by Premier published last Sunday. The full survey is freely available as a pdf file here but be warned, you'll need to give your name and email address before you can access it.

The reality is of course that Christians in the UK enjoy precisely the same legal rights as anyone else regardless of their faith or lack of it. Rights and privileges are not granted on the basis of membership of a particular church or faith group in the UK anymore; they are granted on the basis of a shared humanity. There are not Christian rights, Atheist rights, Jewish rights or Muslim rights; there are only human rights.

But this survey shows that isn't enough for Christians. Christians feel persecuted if they're not granted the privileges to which they feel entitled. They are not granted the right to state mythology and prejudice as facts and not have them challenged. They're not granted the right to publicly condemn, abuse and persecute others for not sharing their chosen life-style. They're not granted the privilege to 'share' their superstition in the workplace and be quietly and respectfully listened to as they spout their bigotry and tell others that they're morally inferior and will be condemned to Hell.

Religions in the workplace do nothing but spread division, disharmony and isolation. The law requires employers to provide a healthy and safe working environment in which the Human Rights of all employees and visitors are safeguarded. No faith group is entitled to a special dispensation to pretend to occupy some notional moral high-ground with sanctimonious posturing and condemning others as morally inferior. Using what is in effect a captive audience to preach to is an abuse.

Typical of the judgemental sanctimony of the Christian church was the reaction of the Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford:

[B]elievers should not be surprised or downhearted when the sheer beauty of the Gospel is a shock and an affront to a fallen world. The world has never been in accord with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and we've always had the challenge that we need to live it and share it.

I have a book and it entitles me to tell other, lesser, mortals how to live! Ironically, this is exactly the sort of hypocritical judgmentalism that drives people away from a church that spouts this while covering up and facilitating clerical abuse of children, while wining about being treated the way it would like to treat others.

Christians are still vastly over-represented in positions of power in the UK in comparison to their dwindling numbers. No other religion has its titular head as head of state; no other religion has its leading clerics entitles to a seat in the upper chamber of our legislature and no other religion has its senior clerics appointed by the head of government on behalf of the head of state. Culturally we are still expected to defer to the moral authority of someone because he or she has an imaginary friend and dresses in robes and a silly hat.

If Christians feel marginalised then they only have themselves to blame. It's by and large their holier-than-thou judgemental sanctimony and hypocrisy that has driven so many people away from the church. The struggle to emancipate women into the priesthood and their continuing difficulty with accepting members of the LGBT community as entitled to the full range of Human Rights has rightly marginalised the Christian church in UK society. They have done this, not anyone else. The attitude of Christian bigots towards minorities has itself made them a minority now whining wrongly that they are being treated the way tho openly treated minorities themselves.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Oops! Another 'Non-existent' Beneficial Mutation!

The sex chromosome Z of male zebra finches comes in two variants. Males who possess a copy of these variant each have particular reproductive success.

© MPI f. Ornithology
Mutation speeds up sperm of zebra finches | Max Planck Society

For anyone who still imagines creationism is based on real-world facts and observable evidence, this little factoid should go some way to dispelling that myth.

It is yet another example of one of those beneficial mutations that creationists tell us don't and can't exist - usually followed by some garbled nonsense about information theory and thermodynamics that isn't recognisable as real science or even real information theory.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Unintelligent Design - A Purposeless Driven Life

Escarpia laminata.

Image Credit: Chemo III project, BOEM and NOAA OER
Is this Gulf of Mexico tubeworm the longest living animal in the world?

The thing about something well-designed is that it is as simple as can be and fit for purpose. The hallmarks of good design are minimal complexity and fitness for purpose.

Now, you would expect the Intelligent (sic) Designer to at least be good at one of those things wouldn't you! You would expect to be able to look at any of its designs and see an elegantly design, beautiful for it's simplicity, and a fitness for purpose so obvious that this purpose positively leaps out at you.

You should be able to look at anything designed by the creationism industries' Intelligent (sic) Designer and be immediately struck by the beautiful simplicity of it and how perfectly it does what it was obviously designed to do.

The problem is, this is never what we see. Instead, we see immensely complex things which apparently do nothing very much and for which any real purpose is difficult to discern other than making more copies of itself, apparently for no other reason than to make more copies of itself... and so ad infinitum.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Hallelujah! Satan is Dead!

Pastor Paseka Motsoeneng, aka Prophet Mboro
Pastor Paseka Motsoeneng is a very busy man and constantly at God's beck and call, but at least Christians and Muslims can sleep soundly tonight. Satan is dead!

He was killed by Pastor Paseka Motsoeneng, aka Prophet Mboro, who went to Hell on a special mission from God's to kill the world's number one enemy.

He told his jubilant Facebook followers:

...when I got to hell there was a queue of millions of people waiting to be braai’d [roasted] by Satan. I even saw some prominent South African politicians. I was so shocked because they lived like angels here on earth. I thought they went to heaven. When Satan saw me he panicked and directed his army to kill me. Like Samson in the Bible, I defeated them. Satan was my last victim.

Stupid Design - Cannibal Caterpillars


Beet armyworms on tomato leaves. A choice of nasty-tasting leaves or juicy sibling!
Plants under attack can turn hungry caterpillars into cannibals

I almost laughed out loud when I read this one. Not only is it a lovely little piece of biology and so easy to explain in terms of genetic evolution but it's also an example of the mind-numbing stupidity of any sentient designer who had to come up with such a design to solve a problem it had designed!

Abstract
Plants are attacked by myriad herbivores, and many plants exhibit anti-herbivore defences. We tested the hypothesis that induced defences benefit tomato plants by encouraging insects to eat other members of their

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Zebra Finches Show How Evolution Works

Zebra finch, Taeniopygia guttata.
Source: Wikipedia
Courtship song preferences in female zebra finches are shaped by developmental auditory experience | Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences

A paper published recently in Proceedings of the Royal Society B by researcher from McGill University, California, USA, illustrates a couple of interesting aspects to evolution and how species diverge.

The team found that zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) reared in the absence of their fathers do no react in the same way to male courtship songs as those raised by both parents.

Now, this in itself might not be particularly important apart from one thing - female sex selection. Females normally select the best singers as their mates and there is growing evidence that the best singers are also the healthiest and fittest males. Females who don't have the ability to discriminate lose out in the competition for the best mates. This, after all, is probably one of the main drivers for the evolution of female sex selection.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Suffer Little Children - For Money

Pope Francis is surrounded by children as he speaks with patients and caregivers at Bambino Gesu in December 2016.
Credit:AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino
'Pope's hospital' put children at risk as it chased profits

If you're a Catholic and you have a sick child, you know really that prayer doesn't work so you send them to a hospital where they apply science instead, unless of course it's the 'Baby Jesus' children's hospital, run by the Vatican with branches throughout Italy.

These hospitals were dirty, badly run money-making organisations that had little to do with curing and caring or sick children. Corners were cut, safety protocols were ignored and sick children were suffering as a result.

In typical Vatican style, a 2014 report on the secret three-month investigation following complains from staff and patients' families, was itself kept secret. Some of the recommendations were allegedly implemented, but many were not.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

What A Carry On At The Vatican!

Msgr. Luigi Capozzi.
Fun-loving Vatican insider with influence.
The truth about the Vatican sex-and-drugs scandal | Catholic Culture

It's reassuring to learn that in the Vatican at least, some things just never change. Everything is carrying on much as it was in the 16th Century.

You might have missed the latest piece of gossip because it seems such events are now scarcely worthy of the epithet 'news'. There simply isn't anything to justify several column inches of news print of several minutes of airtime to report something that scarcely raises an eye-brow these days. It was just another gay sex and drugs party in the Vatican involving a middling official with friends and considerable influence in high places. It was just another example of the hypocrisy we have come to expect of the Catholic clergy.

Now, what would be news is if we went a whole year without another sex and drugs, financial or rent-boy scandal at the Vatican, or even (not that this is even remotely possible) a whole year without another child sexual, emotional and physical abuse scandal involving Catholic priests and/or nuns complete with institutionalised cover-up or even active facilitation of it, somewhere in the world

Friday, 7 July 2017

How Creationists Lie To Us - Carbon Dating Hoax

Diagram of production of carbon-14 in the upper atmosphere by reaction of neutrons with nitrogen, and of the subsequent incorporation of carbon-14 into the biosphere.
Having been called a liar by a creationist for saying there were no scientifically valid examples of 14C dating of dinosaur fossils, and then, despite his claim that there were 'lots' of them, being treated to him prevaricating and deflecting for several days before failing to provide any such examples even after numerous requests, I decided I would look closer at this claim.

First a brief background. For more detail see this article by A. J. T. Jull, a research scientist at the NSF Arizona AMS Facility and Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona, in Tucson, Arizona, USA.

Carbon-14 (14C) dating is, when done correctly on carefully decontaminated specimens, an accurate method of dating an organic specimen within well-known limits of confidence and within a well-defined date range. The date obtained will always be expressed as x years BP ± y years.

Doing it correctly not only means careful decontamination but also understanding its limitations, the major one being the date range over which it is reliable, why this limit exists and, importantly, exactly what carbon you are measuring in the sample and how it got there.

Not all carbon is organic in origin and not all carbon in archaeological samples is derived from the original organic carbon. For example, although carbonates may be present in the mineralised bones of which fossils are made, this does not mean it came from the original bone. After all, fossils will contain large amounts of silicates but bone does not normally contain silicon. The minerals in fossils are replacements for the original material, not necessarily the products of it.

Another Gap Closes. No God Found!

Asiatic Yellow-striped Caecilian (Ichthyophis kohtaoensis)
Photo credit: cowyeow (via Flickr)
Stem caecilian from the Triassic of Colorado sheds light on the origins of Lissamphibia

Scientists working for the Department of Integrative Anatomical Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC have closed another one of those gaps in science that creationists scrabble around in, desperately searching for as somewhere to fit their god.

Although no serious biologist these days sets out to confirm evolution or to refute creationism, papers such as this one do that quite incidentally because they report on the reality of the natural world and objectively assess the evidence. Quite naturally, this refutes any notions such as creationism which are not based on real-world evidence.
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