Thursday, 30 November 2017

Bigots Kicked Down Under!

The Australian Senate
Photo: Lukas Coch / AAPIMAGE
The Senate Just Voted Down All The Conservative Amendments To The Same-Sex Marriage Bill

Following the stunning victory for basic human decency and those campaigning for an inclusive Australia in the same-sex marriage referendum recently, the Australian Senate handed out another kicking to the Christian bigots still looking for victims and demanding the right to persecute people of their choice.

According to this report by Lane Sainty in Buzz News, the Senate voted down by a large majority a series of amendments by the conservative Christian right that would have given Christians an effective veto on same-sex marriages and provided them with a legal right to continue to persecute and victimise homosexuals by denial of goods and services.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Still Not Yeti

Abominable Snowman? Nope. Study ties DNA samples from purported Yetis to Asian bears

Just like their religious myths, the myth of the Yeti is a central part of the folklore of Tibet and Nepal. In that respect if differs not at all from other mythologies, religious or otherwise from other parts of the world. Lots of anecdotes and stories of people who knew of someone who's acquaintance once met someone who saw a Yeti or accounts of people seeing a shadow in a blizzard.

In the case of the Yeti, however, there was maybe something a bit more substantial - a tuft of hair, some faeces, skin, teeth, even a bone or two.

The problem is, the people who purportedly found these bits of evidence and sold them to collectors and Yeti hunters never counted on modern forensics and especially nor on modern DNA recovery and analysis.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Muddling Through With 'Intelligently Designed' Mistakes!

Adaptive mechanisms such as activation and use of cryptic splice sites or alternative transcription start sites as well as nonsense-associated alternative splicing and skipped exons maintaining reading frame shore up a sea of mutations expected to cause premature translation termination and loss of function.
Artist: Neta Shwartz.
What can zebrafish teach us about our survival in the face of mutations? | Carnegie Institution for Science

What would you do if you were an intelligent, omniscient, omnipotent designer and found that your perfect design kept going wrong in unexpected and unpredictable ways?

Well, if you were a creationist intelligent designer it seems, you would still regard yourself as an omniscience, omnipotent, perfect designer but you would wouldn't improve your design so it didn't keep going randomly wrong - because it's already perfect! Instead, you would set about designing a clunky workaround that went some way towards rectifying those omniscient mistakes and you would settle for near enough is good enough - apparently.

This is (leaving out the intelligent designer nonsense) what researchers Steven Farber, Jennifer Anderson and colleagues, of the Carnegie Institution have show happens in the zebrafish to cope with detrimental mutations. Rather than putting up with mutations resulting in individuals failing and being removed from the population gene pool, zebrafish, and maybe lots of other species, have evolved mechanisms for coping with them by either neutralising them or at least minimising their detrimental effects.

According to the Carnegie Institution press release:

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Another Faith-Based Massacre

The al-Rawda Sufi mosque, Bir al-Abed, Sinai, Egypt
Photo credit: EAP
Egypt attack: Gunmen kill 235 in Sinai mosque - BBC News

Islamic jihadists believed to be affiliated to Islamic State (IS) have attacked a Sufi mosque in Sinai, killing at least 300 people, now revised upwards from the BBC News report.

The reason? Because the Islamic tradition of Sufism is considered heretical by fundamentalist Sunni Muslims, so obviously those who believe they know the mind of Allah believe Allah wants heretics killed and needs their help to kill them.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Malaria - Good News for Creationists as Trump Helps God!

World-wide incidence of malaria
(Note: the USA is mamaria-free)
The US President's Malaria Initiative, Plasmodium falciparum transmission and mortality: A modelling study

At last something for creationists of the ID persuasion to celebrate!

Remember, creationists believe that their intelligent (sic) designer is the god they claim is the maximally good giver of morals who always acts to maximise the good in a world which runs perfectly according to his omni-benevolent, omnipotent and omniscient plan.

The Brutal Despot and the Catholic Priest


Robert Mugabe.
"God has saved his life" - Fr. Mukonori
Photo credit: AP
Zimbabwe: Who is the Catholic priest behind Robert Mugabe? | Christianity today

As we say goodbye to the tyrannical psychopath who has run Zimbabwe for the last 30 years and the Zimbabwean people celebrate, let's look at the role of the Catholic Church and in particular the Catholic priest who was his confidante and most loyal supporter - Fr. Fidelis Mukonori.

Fr. Mukonori is a Jesuit priest and has been a friend of Robert Mugabe since before he came to power. During the independence struggle as ZANU-PF led by Mugabe and ZAPU led by Joshua Nkomo waged a guerilla war against the illegal white supremacist government under Ian Smith, Fr. Mukonori travelled around Zimbabwe - then called Rhodesia - under the cover of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Rhodesia, gathering information about the progress of the liberation struggle and passing it on to Mugabe.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Another Victory for Humanism Over Faith-Based Barbarity


Ratko Mladić, mass murdering war criminal
Ratko Mladic jailed for life over Bosnia war genocide - BBC News

Ratko Mladić, devout Orthodox Christian, the Butcher of Bosnia, has been found guilty by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague of crime against humanity for his part in the Bosnian Genocide in the early 1990's.

He has been on trial since 2012 since when he has been held at the Scheveningen prison in The Hague where he spends his days playing chess against his compatriot, coreligionist and fellow genocidist, Radovan Karadžić, former president of Serbia, who was convicted of genocide in 2016. The third member of the murderous regime that took over Serbia following the break up of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milošević, escaped conviction by dying during his trial.

Mladić, aged 74, has been sentenced to life imprisonment.

The crimes were committed in the series of wars which followed the break-up of former Yugoslavia when Orthodox Christian Serbia tried to exert control over neighbouring Bosnia and Croatia to create a 'Greater Serbia', maintaining the traditional Serbian domination of Yugoslavian politics.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Christians and Jews Unite to Defend Paedophilia

Rabbi Noson Shmuel Leiter, director of Help Rescue Our Children
Speaking in Birminham, ALabama in support of Roy Moore
New York rabbi lends support to Roy Moore at Birmingham rally | Southern Jewish Life Magazine.

Following close on American Christian fundamentalists discovering that their religion permits lying, sexually assaulting women, adultery, cheating, fraud and bullying when they discovered that Donald Trump represented all the values they stand for, they now seem to have realised what good and moral things paedophilia, sexual assault on and non-consensual sex with a minor are, with the Roy Moore affair.

Now we learn it's not just extremist Christians who have these conveniently flexible morals and an imaginary friend who approves of every abuse of power and antisocial, divisive and abusive policy you can think of when it suits your selfish ambitions. Some extremist Jews have the same flexibility it seems.

Evangelical Christian preachers seem to be vying for the best Bible-based apologia for Moor's alleged sexual abuse of young women including a fourteen year-old girl some years ago. It not only does not debar him from holding elected public office, but is makes him eminently suitable as a good Christian - apparently. They have just discovered that the Bible is full of child molestation and non-consensual sex (or 'rape' as we now call it) all done with the tacit approval of God or even on his orders. Why, even Jesus's own mother was a minor!

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Evolving Creationists!

Old Order Amish, evolving - naturally
Why these Amish live longer and healthier: an internal ‘fountain of youth’ - Northwestern Now

Shocking news for creationists yesterday!

Fundamentalist Christian creationists have been caught evolving and breaking one of the sacred creationist dogmas - that all mutations are harmful and degenerative. This was discovered in a group of appropriately-named Old Order Amish from Indiana, USA.

Due to a mutation, they are living 10% longer compared to those members of the same Amish group without the mutation.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Two 'World Views'

Kingston University study reveals how food poisoning bacteria Campylobacter uses other organisms as Trojan horse to infect new hosts - News - Kingston University London

I heartily dislike the term world view. It's nothing more than an attempt to pretend that an opinion which isn't supported by the evidence is the equal of one that is. And that's a very convenient way to justify demanding the right to be taken seriously on any subject without bothering to learn anything about it.

A 'world view' that either eschews scientific evidence or actively rejects it is not an opinion based on an interpretation of the data; it's an opinion that ignores it.

But let's play this 'different world view' game that creationists play where they pretend they have looked at all the evidence and simply arrived at a different conclusion based on their 'world view' not the scientific 'world view' - which, so they would claim, is no more valid than their own!

A Victory for Human Decency in Australia

Australians celebrate victory over religious bigotry
Australians back gay marriage in non-binding vote - BBC News:

Great news from Australia!

In a non-binding 'advisory' postal vote, Australians have voted 61.6% in favour of legalising same-sex marriages on a 79.5% turnout. Unlike normal Australian voting where voting is compulsory, this referendum was voluntary, which makes this turnout even more remarkable.

On a regional basis, only 17 of the 150 electorates voted against the proposal "Should the marriage law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?" Australia's chief statistician, David Kalisch said, "This [turnout] is outstanding for a voluntary survey and well above other voluntary surveys conducted around the world. It shows how important this issue is to many Australians".

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Be Upstanding For Jesus

Paseka 'Mboro' Motsoeneng of the Incredible Happenings Ministry.
Photo credit: Sandile Ndlovu
Pastor demands footage of him reviving parishioner's erection be shown on TV | Metro News

A South African pastor is proclaiming a miraculous cure for impotence and demanding it be shown on Soweto television.

Pastor Paseka ‘Prophet Mboro’ Motsoeneng, of the Incredible Happenings Ministry in Katlehong, South Africa, will already be familiar to readers of this blog for his amazing powers (and amazing wealth). Only last July, on God's instructions, he went into Hell and killed Satan according to his announcement on his Facebook page (that was mysteriously taken down soon after it appeared - which had nothing to do with a very large number of complaints, obviously).

We can be sure this is true because Prophet Mboro is a Christian and it is forbidden for Christians to bear false witness, i.e., lie!

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Religion Is Not Natural


The Camino de Santiago de Compostela
source: Wikipedia (CC-BY-SA 3.0)
Why do we believe in gods? Religious belief not linked to intuition or rational thinking, new research suggests

Are people born with the propensity to be religious, as some studies seem to have shown?

It is even claimed in some religious apologetic circles that somehow being religious is the natural state, either an evolved genetic predisposition, or, in fundamentalist creationist apologetics, that God intelligently designed us to be religious (obviously it couldn't have evolved, that would be heretical!).

Strangely, this god intelligently designed us to be religious but couldn't make us all have the 'one true religion'.

Of course, the bottom line is that somehow, atheism is unnatural, even perverse and definitely not something God intended.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

'Missing Link' in Abiogenesis Found!

Scientists find potential 'missing link' in chemistry that led to life on Earth

You know, sometimes I get carried away and fantasise about creationist frauds like Ham, Comfort and Hovind hearing the tune Aproaching Menace by Neil Richardson as they read yet another scientific paper showing how science is closing in on one of their sacred dogmas - that only God can create life.

But then I come back to reality and remember that they don't do science and evidence, so none of this makes any difference to them. They'll still claim it's impossible, knowing they can rely on their willing dupes not to check just in case.

Only three days ago I reported here on the work of a team from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA, USA who are homing in on one of the pre-biotic precursors of one of the fundamental cell processes. Just a day later we had this paper published in Nature Chemistry showing how another fundamental process could similarly have arisen pre-biotically. The process is that of phosphorylation, i.e, adding a phosphate group to three key components of cells.

Human Kindness - In Bonobos!

Close primate cousins with whom we share 99 percent of our DNA, bonobos will help strangers even when there is no immediate payback, and without having to be asked first.
Photo credit: Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary.
Bonobos Help Strangers Without Being Asked | Duke Today

Bonobos and humans share some 99% of their genes so it's hardly surprising that we share some behavioural traits too.

As this news item from Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA explains:

A passer-by drops something and you spring to pick it up. Or maybe you hold the door for someone behind you. Such acts of kindness to strangers were long thought to be unique to humans, but recent research on bonobos suggests our species is not as exceptional in this regard as we like to think.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Oh Creation! Now An Intermediate Short-Necked Giraffe!


Reconstruction of Decennatherium rex sp. nov.
A, skeletal reconstruction; B, life reconstruction of an adult female; C, life reconstruction of the head of an adult female.
Illustration by Oscar Sanisidro.
A new giraffid (Mammalia, Ruminantia, Pecora) from the late Miocene of Spain, and the evolution of the sivathere-samothere lineage

Another gap filled; another 'intermediate form' found!

So, do creationists give up with their disinformation, misrepresentation and downright lies? What do you think?

Of course not! It's just one more thing to misrepresent and lie about. A literal interpretation of the Bible says it shouldn't exist, so it doesn't exist! End of! FACT!

Anyway, back to the real world.

According to this report in the New York Times:

A near-perfect fossil unearthed close to Madrid appears to be an ancient European ancestor of giraffes, representing a new species in the family and one that had two sets of bony bumps on its head rather than the single set of modern giraffes.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Ancient Wisdom And Genetic Diversity

Neanderthal family group
Photo credit: Nikola Solic/Reuters/Newscom
Ancient genomes show social and reproductive behavior of early Upper Paleolithic foragers | Science

Two papers published a few days ago in the same edition of Science show that hunter-gatherer people, both modern human and Neanderthal, had evolved cultures which minimised the genetic risks inherent in inbreeding in the small bands of which these groups consisted.

Small groups consisting only of related extended families would have a very high probability of consanguinity and inherited recessive genes unless they had strategies for regularly introducing genetic material from other more distantly related groups.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Gene Duplication Gave Us Spiders

Common house spider, Parasteatoda tepidariorum
The house spider genome reveals an ancient whole-genome duplication during arachnid evolution | BMC Biology | Full Text

For creationists still trying to get away with the absurd claim that mutations are always harmful and that no new information can arise in the genome because of the second law of thermodynamics, this is another of those bad news stories.

No! I'm not joking! They really do claim that! Creationists think nothing of claiming an observable thing can't happen, knowing that their willing dupes won't go and check. They'll no doubt continue to claim it even after this paper showing how the scorpions and arachnids have evidence of whole genome duplication in a common ancestor about 400 million years ago.

The Chemical Origin of Life


Accretion of SSU rRNA as illustrated by helices 7–10/es3 from species of increasing complexity. A four-way junction at the surface of the common core, formed by helices 7–10, has expanded by accretion. Accretion adds to the previous rRNA core, leaving insertion fingerprints. (A and B) Secondary (A) and 3D (B) structures are preserved upon the addition of new rRNA. (C) Superimposition of the 3D structures highlights how new rRNA accretes with preservation of ancestral rRNA. (D) A characteristic insertion fingerprint is shown in red and blue boxes. In all panels, the rRNA that approximates the common core is blue. An expansion observed in both archaea and eukaryotes is green. An expansion that is observed only in eukaryotes is gold. An additional expansion in higher eukaryotes (mammals) is red.*
History of the ribosome and the origin of translation

A team of scientist from Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA, USA believe they are close to solving one of the mysteries of how living systems first arose from chemical precursors. They believe they have identified a small section of the ribosome which is so fundamental that it is common to all living organisms, from the simplest single-celled organisms to the most complex multicellular plants and animals

In short, this looks to be the starting point for life and a structure that was present in LUCA and maybe before it.

Rather than the bottom up approach where scientists have attempted, with limited success so far, to reconstruct the fundamental units from which living systems could have arisen, the team took a top down approach by reverse engineering the cell organelle common to all living cells and therefore almost certainly present from the first moments, maybe even before something that could be called 'living' existed, the ribosome.

Ribosomes are composed of a tangle of RNA and proteins and are fundamental to living cells in that they only perform one task - they translate the code in DNA and construct proteins from amino acids. They differ from one species to another only in the 'ornamentation' present on their surface, and this gave the clue to the method of reverse engineering the team used.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Nasty Design; Nasty Designer?

Mosquito feeding
Credit: Mircea Costina / Alamy Stock Photo
Malaria parasite makes mosquitoes more likely to suck your blood | New Scientist

Continuing with the theme of exposing creationism's putative designer as a malevolent thug, full of evil intent and far from the benevolent, maximally good father figure god they purport to believe in, here is an an example from the mosquito-malaria 'design', published a few days ago in Biorxiv.

Abstract
Whether the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum can manipulate mosquito host choice in ways that enhance parasite transmission toward human is

Friday, 3 November 2017

Cultural Woolly Mammoths

A mammoth tusk on Wrangel Island.
Credit: Patrícia Pečnerová
Male mammoths more often fell into 'natural traps' and died, DNA evidence suggests -- ScienceDaily:

Elephants are well known for the cultural organisation in which a matriarchal group, led by a older female who acts as a repository for group knowledge such as where the water may be found during a drought, etc. This group consists of females with their young but males, when they reach a certain age, generally fend for themselves in smaller groups or as solitary individuals often associated with but not members of a matriarchal group.

This, of course, deprives males of the protection of the group and of the knowledge and wisdom of the matriarch.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

A New Species of Orangutan and More...

Orangutans in Sumatra's Batang Toru forest are now officially a new species:
Pongo tapanuliensis.

Credit: Maxime Aliaga/SOCP-Batang Toru Programme
Newly discovered orangutan species is also the most endangered : Nature News & Comment

Not only is there great news about a new species of orangutan but the article in Nature announcing it quite casually shows how different strands of science all confirm current scientific understanding of evolution.

Firstly, the newly discovered orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis).

Well, it's not exactly newly discovered so much as newly identified as a new species. It was first reported by western scientists about 50 years ago when they heard rumours of a population of orangutans living in a the Batang Toru forest in a remote part of the island of western Sumatra. However, it was not until anthropologist Erik Meijaard, that discovered the paper in the mid-1990s that scientists actually went looking for the population. They found the remains of a female, evidence of nests and a male killed by local people in 2013. From these, it was possible, using genetic evidence, to show not only that this was a new species, but how it relates to the other orangutans.

Animals Refute Creationism By Rational Thought

Cameron Buckner, assistant professor of philosophy at UH, says empirical evidence suggests a variety of animal species are able to make rational decisions, despite the lack of a human-like language.
Do Animals Think Rationally? - University of Houston

Do animals other than humans think rationally?

Cameron Buckner, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Houston, think some at least do and believes he has evidence to support that view. His article is published a few days ago Philosophy and Phenomenological Research sets out his reasoning.

Regrettably, it sits behind an expensive paywall but a News release by Jeannie Kever of Huston University explains his findings:

"These data suggest that not only do some animals have a subjective take on the suitability of the option they are evaluating for their goal, they possess a subjective, internal signal regarding their confidence in this take that can be deployed to select amongst different options," he [Cameron Buckner] wrote.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Chimps More Like Us Than We Thought

Co-operating chimpanzees
Credit: Christopher F Martin
Chimpanzees shown spontaneously ‘taking turns’ to solve number puzzle | University of Oxford

A new study by researchers from Oxford and Kyoto universities and Cincinnati Zoo has revealed a new level of co-operative behaviour not seen before in other than humans. The chimps were shown to be spontaneously taking turns co-cooperatively to complete a task, a form of behaviour believe to be basic to effective communication where timing cues are taken from one another.

As Dr Dora Biro, co-author of the study from Oxford’s Department of Zoology, said:

Coordinating behaviour is an essential component of many social situations and can enable groups of individuals jointly to solve problems. In communication, coordination often takes the form of turn-taking, where one individual takes cues from the other to decide on the timing of their own input. This can allow for the efficient exchange of information.
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