Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Evolutionary Transition To Modern Humans


Brain shape evolution in Homo sapiens: brain shape of one of the earliest known members of our species, the 300,000 year-old cranium Jebel Irhoud 1 (left). Brain shape, and possibly brain function, evolved gradually. Brain morphology has reached the globularity typical for present day humans suprisingly recently (right).

Copyright © 2018 MPI EVA/ S. Neubauer, Ph. Gunz
License: CC-BY-SA 4.0
Modern human brain organization emerged only recently | Max Planck Society

The fossil record shows a distinct gradual transition to the modern human brain and cranial capacity from more ape-like origins, even within the species we recognise as Homo sapiens.

This is the finding of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, according to an open access paper published a few days ago in Science Advances. The finding also illustrates nicely how science incorporates new information, even information that at first glance doesn't seem to fit what we thought we knew, and how that new information can lead to a revised understanding and an improved explanation.

Monday, 29 January 2018

New Poll - Creationism Declining in USA

In U.S., Belief in Creationist View of Humans at New Low

Slightly encouraging news a couple of days ago from a Gallop poll in the USA. I say slightly encouraging because the change is small on a small data set (just 1011 adults aged 18 or over) and the same poll is also disappointing in other ways.

The poll shows that belief in creationism as the best explanation for humans fell to 38%, the lowest since polling began in 1981 and below 40% for the first time.

However, a two percentage point fall is within the margin of statistical error on that size data set. None-the-less, it is encouraging - for the USA.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Modern Humans May Have Left Africa 200,000 Years Ago

Misliya-1
This ancient jawbone suggests our species left Africa 40,000 years earlier than expected | Science | AAAS

The story of when and where modern humans first left Africa is continuing to develop and looks like becoming more complicated than first thought when the evidence seemed to point to a single migration by a small group around 50,000 years ago.

A large international team led by Israel Hershkovitz from Tel Aviv University have concluded that the jaw bone found in a Misliya Cave on the western slope of Mount Carmel in Israel is that of a Homo sapiens, but that it is between 177,000 and 194,000 years old. This is some 40,000 years earlier than modern humans were believed to have left Africa to begin their world-wide dispersal. The previous earliest H. sapiens remains were those found nearby in the Skhul Cave on Mount Carmel and Qafzeh Cave in Israel, dated to between 80,000 to 120,000 years old.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

How Creationists Lie To Us - Creation Ministries

When you show the world you need to lie for your faith
You show the world you know your faith is a lie
This meme recently popped up in a Facebook group I help administer.

It is of course a lie.

The lie originated in one of the usual creationist disinformation sites, Creation.com, the online front for Creation Ministries, the Australia-based creationist organisation from which Ken Ham split when he realised America was a more lucrative place for scamming fundamentalist Christians, in an article penned by Jonathan O'Brien, a Creation Ministries staffer.

O'Brien is notorious for, amongst other things, his claim that the primitive carving of a rhinoceros in front of some leaves at Angkor in Cambodia is really a carving of a stegosaurus, a creature with which it has very little real resemblance, and the claim that because a volcanic cone in Mexico grew in a year, this is evidence that mountains did not take millions of years to form, so could all have formed in the last few thousand years (ignoring the fact that most mountain ranges are not volcanic in origin but are due to plate tectonics).

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Pope Attacks Sex Abuse Victims.

Bishop Juan Barros
Pope accuses sex abuse victims of slander

In an astonishing end to his less than triumphal visit to Chile, Pope Francis shocked his hosts by, not to put too fine a point on it, calling those accusing a Catholic Bishop of assisting a cover-up of child abuse, liars.

His visit had been met with demonstrations and much smaller crowds than previous visits because the Catholic Church in Chile is currently embroiled in the now traditional clerical sex abuse of minors scandal. Police had to use tear gas and water cannons to break up one demonstration outside the Pope's open-air address in the centre of Santiago.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Neanderthals Had Sex With Anyone

Upper view of the Montmaurin-LN mandible.
The Montmaurin-La Niche mandible reveals the complexity of the Neanderthals’ origin | CENIEH - Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana

We now know that modern humans interbred with at least two, probably three and possibly more different hominin species when they left Africa. What this new analysis shows is that Neanderthals also interbred with archaic hominins and may not even have formed as single lineage in Eurasia.

Instead, this analysis by a team of scientists from the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (National Research Centre for Human Evolution - CENIEH) in Spain, led by José María Bermúdez de Castro, together with the French researcher Amélie Vialet, from the Musée d'histoire naturelle (Natural History Museum) in Paris, suggests that Neanderthals may have diversified, evolved as isolated populations, then interbred with one another so that later Neanderthals were a mosaic of earlier and divergent populations.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Birds of a Feather - New Species Evolve

Large cactus finch (Geospiza conirostris)
Study of Darwin's finches reveals that new species can develop in as little as two generations

Birds of a feather: U of T researchers discover Amazon bird to be rare hybrid species

This week we have a couple of examples of new species arising - that thing that creationists insist can't happen. The evolutionary process that created them was hybridisation which occurs very much faster than the more usual (at least in vertebrates - speciation by hybridisation is common in plants) divergence by a combination of genetic drift and natural selection. And in these cases, the species are birds.

The first is from those devil figures for creationists - Darwin's finches or Galapagos finches. This was originally reported and commented extensively upon last November and revealed an observed incidence of apparent speciation when a vagrant male appeared on the island of Daphne Major. This was much larger and had a larger, more robust beak than any of the other three species present on the island. It also sang with a different song.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Two More Catholic Clerics - Two More Sex Abuse Scandals

Archbishop Anthony Apuron stands in front of the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica in Hagatna, Guam, Nov. 2014.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Grace Garces Bordallo
Guam archbishop faces new sexual assault allegation | CRUX

The US Pacific territory of Guam, which is almost wholly Catholic, has been rocked by a series of allegations that vehemently homophobic Anthony Apuron, Archbishop of Agana, sexually abuses altar boys in the 1970s. He has vigorously denied all the allegations and has not been criminally charged, but now another accuser has come forward.

The latest accuser, a relative of Archbishop Apuron, has claimed in the local media that he was abused by Apuron in 1990. This latest allegation has been reported to the Vatican. According to Archbishop Michael Byrnes, an earlier Vatican tribunal investigation into the earlier allegations has reportedly concluded and reached a verdict late last year but, for reasons unknown, has not yet made its findings public. Archbishop Byrnes has been given administrative responsibility for the diocese while Apuron is on administrative leave.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Changing Our Mind When the Evidence Changes


European brown bear (Ursus arctos)
Photo credit: Ivan PC
The Iberian brown bears do not descend from those fled from the north during the Ice Age / News / SINC - Servicio de Información y Noticias Científicas

To a creationist, with their simplistic black vs white, right vs wrong mentality, the fact that science can make mistakes or that the understanding is provisional - and all scientific understanding is provisional, even the best-supported - tells them that science, unlike their firmly held and unchangeable dogmas, is unreliable and therefore wrong. Little better than a guess, in fact.

To a scientist, and to anyone interested in truth rather than simple certainty, however, discovering that you have been wrong is actually welcome news and news that was well worth doing the research to discover because it means that what you now think you know is closer to the truth than it was before. Science works because scientists can and do change their minds when the evidence changes, unlike fundamentalist religions, where not changing your mind and not even questioning the dogmas is a prerequisite.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Massive Evolutionary Reduction in Genome Size

A Chilean cicada, which hosts particularly unusual symbiotic bacteria.

Photo credit: Piotr Lukasik
UM Publishes Research on Unusual Gene Evolution in Bacteria - UM News - University Of Montana:

Hopefully getting back to blogging again after spending time on another book, it's a pleasure coming back with details of two papers published by the same team a few days ago that shatter so many creationist dogmas, it's hard to keep count.

Creationists will tell you, for example, that evolution involves an increase in complexity and therefore an increase in information in the genome, and that this is impossible because of some mysterious application of the Second Law of Thermodynamics which ignore the fact that an organism, Earth, and even the solar system are not closed systems. Never-the-less, they'll confidently assure you that in this way science has proved evolution can't happen, it's just that millions of working biologists never got the memo and have been mistaking the observed instances of not evolution for examples of... well... evolution.
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