Friday, 31 August 2018

Building Life's Building Blocks

Researchers have designed a synthetic small protein that wraps around a metal core composed of iron and sulfur. This protein can be repeatedly charged and discharged, allowing it to shuttle electrons within a cell. Such peptides may have existed at the dawn of life, moving electrons in early metabolic cycles.
Image: Vikas Nanda
Source: Rutgers Today
Rutgers Scientists Identify Protein that May Have Existed When Life Began | Rutgers Today

Researchers at Rutgers University have found perhaps the only hard evidence that simple protein catalysts may have existed when life began.

It has long been postulated that life may have begun on iron and sulphur-containing rocks in sea water and that these metals, bound to short peptide chains could have acted as catalysts for simple metabolic processes, long before RNA, DNA and bigger, more complex proteins evolved.

The team used computer modelling to design a short, 12-amino acid peptide for testing. This one had just two different amino acid from the 20 of which larger proteins are made. Being short and simple, it could easily have arisen spontaneously and the metal cluster at the heart of the catalyst are similar to those found in in the oceans on early Earth when life arose.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

More Transitional Fossil News!

Credit: Eva Hoffman / The University of Texas at Austin.
Mammal Forerunner that Reproduced Like a Reptile Sheds Light on Brain Evolution | UT News | The University of Texas at Austin.

More transitional fossils again this week, creationists. That 'non-existent' pile of 'non-existent' evidence just keeps getting bigger and bigger!

This time it's the discovery of a unique set of a female and her newborn young of a species of very early proto-mammal which still had some of the characteristics of their reptilian ancestor, one of which was the size of the litter. The adult female was found with 38 babies - more than double the average litter size of any living mammal. This is the only known example of fossils of the babies of a mammal precursor.

The discovery was made in Arizona about 18 years ago by Professor Timothy Rowe of the University of Texas Jackson School of Geosciences, but he didn't realised then what exactly he had discovered, thinking it was a single specimen of the beagle-sized long-extinct herbivore, Kayentatherium wellesi that coexisted with dinosaurs and lived about 165 million years ago. Kayentatherium wellesi had several features in common with modern mammals and probably had hair.

Then in 2009, Sebastian Egberts, a fossil preparator at the Jackson School spotted a tiny molar-like tooth that suggested there may be babies in the rock as well as an adult. But it wasn't until the advent of modern High-Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography, combined with image-processing technology that lead author, Eva Hoffman, a graduate student at Jackson School was able to examine the fossil-bearing rock to reveal just what Rowe had found.

In addition to the very large litter size, the skulls showed that Kayentatherium wellesi had a very small brain for a mammal and more typical of a reptile. Together with the large litter size, this suggests that part of the evolutionary trade-off for the relatively large mammalian brain was a reduction in litter size. Growing a large brain places a high energy burden on the female, whether the babies develop internally or in an egg. Within a few million years, the early mammals had larger brains and smaller litters.

Because of this large brain, mammal young typically have a bulbous head and a foreshortened (neotenous) face that develops into the adult face as the young grows (the human head and face is an exaggerated version of this neoteny which is retained into adulthood). Kayentatherium wellesi had no sign of this; the babies having a miniature version of the mother's skull.

It is not clear whether the babies were newly hatched or were near to hatching.

Hofmann's, and Rowe's findings are published today in Nature:

Abstract
Transformations in morphology, physiology and behaviour along the mammalian stem lineage were accompanied by profound modifications to reproduction and growth, including the emergence of a reproductive strategy characterized by high maternal investment in a small number of offspring1,2 and heterochronic changes in early cranial development associated with the enlargement of the brain3. Because direct fossil evidence of these transitions is lacking, the timing and sequence of these modifications are unknown. Here we present what is, to our knowledge, the first fossil record of pre- or near-hatching young of any non-mammalian synapsid. A large clutch of well-preserved perinates of the tritylodontid Kayentatherium wellesi (Cynodontia, Mammaliamorpha) was found with a presumed maternal skeleton in Early Jurassic sediments of the Kayenta Formation. The single clutch comprises at least 38 individuals, well outside the range of litter sizes documented in extant mammals. This discovery confirms that production of high numbers of offspring represents the ancestral condition for amniotes, and also constrains the timing of a reduction in clutch size along the mammalian stem. Although tiny, the perinates have an overall skull shape that is similar to that of adults, with no allometric lengthening of the face during ontogeny. The only positive allometries are associated with the bones that support the masticatory musculature. Kayentatherium diverged just before a hypothesized pulse of brain expansion that reorganized cranial architecture at the base of Mammaliaformes4,5,6. The association of a high number of offspring and largely isometric cranial growth in Kayentatherium is consistent with a scenario in which encephalization—and attendant shifts in metabolism and development7,8—drove later changes to mammalian reproduction.


So, these fossils show clear signs of transition from the reptile ancestors of these mammaliform reptiles to the mammals they would soon become. As good an example of a transitional species between two different orders of amniotes as one could wish for; and so another fossil for creationists to have to perform intellectual somersaults over so they can continue to believe the dogma rather than the evidence.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

A Sting in the Tail for Creationism


Illustration of a female Xenomorphia resurrecta ovipositing into a puparium.

Parasitoid biology preserved in mineralized fossils | Nature Communications.

The nasty designer has been at it for years!

It's been at it for tens of millions of years in fact; way before there were humans or anything like humans - which is a bit of a problem for creationists who kneejerk 'The Fall' as the excuse for why their putative intelligent designer designed such nasty little things as parasitic wasps which eat their hosts alive, killing them only when they've finished with them.

We know this because of the the work of a large team of specialists working on a project coordinated by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Karlsruhe, Germany, led by Thomas van de Kamp. Their findings were published yesterday in Nature Communications, along with some clever animations.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Caca Papa Francis!

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.
Photo: Edward Pentin
Ex-Nuncio Accuses Pope Francis of Failing to Act on McCarrick’s Abuse | Catholic Register.

Apparently, following his ignominious dressing down by Leo Varadkar, the Pope is reported to have met some of the abuse victims and described those who facilitated and covered up the abuses what was widely reported in the respectable press as 'filth' or 'excrement'. However, the adjective he actually used was rather more succinct and, shall we say, earthy.

Speaking in his native Argentinian Spanish tongue he called them 'caca' which directly translates into English as 'shits'.

This is a rather unfortunate piece of timing because the whole expanding coverup crisis currently engulfing the Catholic Church just encircled Pope Francis himself! The caca has just hit the fan big time.

The Pope Gets a Lesson in Morality

Taoiseach Leo Varadakar welcomes Pope Francis ahead of his speech in St Patrick's Hall at Dublin Castle, Dublin
Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire
In an astonishingly frank yet polite speech to Pope Francis in Dublin Castle, the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, marked a turning point in the history of the Irish Republic and its relationship with the Catholic Church - and he told the Pope why.

He started the speech by acknowledging the good that the Catholic Church did in Ireland - schools, hospitals, welfare - filling the holes in what the State provided to the people after independence, although he politely sidestepped the fact that the Church clung tenaciously to their control of these institutions and resisted any state involvement, which is why those 'holes' existed in the first place.

According to the transcript of his speech in the Indepenent.ie, reproduced in full below, he then reminded the Pope that the State had now taken on those functions because Ireland is a different place and a different society to that at its founding in 1922.

Holy Father, on behalf of the Irish people, I want to greet you using one of the oldest blessings we use to welcome a special guest to Ireland - cead mile failte - one hundred thousand welcomes.

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Oleg the Priest Cleans Up

After Pride parade, priest cleanses route with holy water | News | LifeSite

After witnessing a gay pride parade through the streets of Odessa, on the Black Sea coast of Ukraine, Eastern Orthodox priest, Fr. Oleg Mokryak, head of the Missionary Department for the Diocese of Odessa sprang into immediate action to save his beloved city and its people.

Making sure his hair was correctly brided and his beard was in order, he donned his best black dress and white smock with the magic symbols on; put on his special hat, filled a red plastic bucket with some water that he had cast spells over and, with about a hundred followers and guarded by some 800 police just in case the spells, beard, symbols and magic water didn't keep the hostile crowds away, strode along Seaside Boulevarde bravely sprinkling it with the magic water using a washing up mop.

Australia is Abandoning Creationism.


Data source: Archer, M, et al.
Thirty two years of continuous assessment reveal first year university biology students in Australia are rapidly abandoning beliefs in theistic involvement in human origins | Evolution: Education and Outreach.

In 1987, Ken Ham moved from Australia to the USA having realised there was a more lucrative market for creationist anti-science disinformation there than in Australia. America's loss was Australia's gain as this heartwarming survey shows.

Evidence comes from a study by researchers from the University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia, published a few days ago in Evolution: Education and Outreach.

It shows that in the 32 years since Ham left Australia, belief in Young Earth Creationism (YECism) amongst Australian first-year university biology student has fallen from 10.0% to 3.6% (peaking at a high of 17.3% in 1988). Over the same time, belief in non-theistic evolution has risen from 25.1% to 62.2% and in theistic evolution has halved from 50.0% to 25.2%. In other words there has been a massive move away from the belief that somehow a god was involved in 'creating' humans towards acceptance of the scientific, evolutionary explanation.

The trends themselves are changing unfavourably for religion; increasing for belief in non-theistic evolution and decreasing rapidly for belief in YECism. These trends have been changing more quickly since the early 2000s.

The combined average change in support for theistic evolution of both sorts was -1.0 percentage points per year while the average annual increase for non-theistic evolution was +1.2%. In the last ten years these average annual change became -1.65% and +1.76% respectively. Over the period there was no evidence of a significant change in the proportions of 'Undecided', averaging 8.6%.

Abstract

Background
For the past 32 years, we have polled first-year biology students annually at the University of New South Wales concerning their views about evolution and creationism. The purposes of the research were to identify the level of commitment among incoming students to creationist beliefs that could interfere with their receptivity to evolutionary science and to assess in retrospect whether these creationist beliefs were changing over time.

Results
The results have demonstrated a downward shift over time from 60% of the class in 1986 believing a god had something to do with the origin of humans, to 29% in 2017. Conversely, the percentage of students convinced that a god had nothing to do with the origin of humans rose from 25% in 1986 to 62% in 2017. The creationist belief that a god created the world de novo within the last 10,000 years declined from 10% in 1986 to 3.6% in 2017. The decline in the Australian students’ commitment to religious views about divine creation, especially creationism, considerably exceeded the corresponding beliefs among American students and their general public, where belief in creationism while slowly declining appears to have remained in the 40% range, four times that seen in our Australian survey.

Conclusions
The very low and declining levels of commitment to the creationist view that god created humans de novo suggests this view is unlikely to be a significant obstruction to accepting the scientific evidence for evolution. The results of the survey of UNSW students correlate with changes documented in the census of the general Australian public suggesting that our survey results of first-year biology students reflect overall changes in the Australian community as a whole.


Of course it would be wrong to conclude that there is a causal relationship between Ham leaving Australia and the education of Australians improving so drastically. There is also a plausible relationship between access to information via the Internet and exposure to the dishonesty, disinformation and ignorant arrogance that underpins much of creationism and features so strongly in creation vs evolution 'debates' in Internet groups. And Ham would have been almost as instrumental in providing the lies and disinformation that creationists deploy had he remained in Australia although he might not have had the resources.

The evidence of Australian census data shows that this increased and increasing rejection of religion and religious explanations shows that this is part of a larger and accelerating trend in rejection of religion in Australia. Over a similar period, those responding 'no religion' increased from about 13% to about 28%.

There are undoubted cultural differences between Australia and the USA which could account or this accelerating rejection of religion in Australia while in America, although rejection of religion is increasing, belief in theistic evolution remains astonishingly high for a technologically advanced country and belief in YECism runs at some four times the rate in Australia. The authors cite the beliefs and motives of the original settlers as one possible difference. American colonists are traditionally believed to have been deeply religious fundamentalists while many early settlers in Australia were transported there largely against their will. They relate how 40% of convicts had no religious affiliation and that compulsory attendance at church on Sunday was seen as part of the punishment. On the first attempt to build a church:

...[T]he first Christian cleric in Australia (Rev. Richard Johnson) who sailed with the First Fleet had an incredibly hard time trying to raise funds to build any form of a church. So much was this the case that he ended up paying for the building out of his own wages. The church was finally built in 1794 and shortly after completion, was deliberately burnt down. After losing his church and much of his own income Rev. Johnson filed for a leave of absence to visit England. He never returned to Australia. In 1805 Johnson appears on a list of officers as “On leave in England, no successor or second clergyman appointed.”

So, although these cultural differences undoubtedly contribute to the collapse of creationist superstition in Australia compared to the USA, as undoubtedly does the better science education, it would be very unfair to deprive Ken Ham of his fair share of the credit.




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And This Week's 'Non-existent' Transitional Fossil Is...

230 million year-old Eorhynchochelys sinensis from Guizhou, China.

Photo Credit: Xiao-Chun Wu
230-million-year-old turtle fossil deepens mystery of reptile's origins | Nature.

This weeks 'non-existent' transitional fossil is... a turtle without a shell!

This 230 million year-old specimen of a stem turtle comes from Guizhou province of south west China was more than 2 metres long. It shows the rib cage expanding but there are no signs of a shell. And it has a beak.

It provides us with an illustration of how science proceeds and how new information can cause us to revise and re-assess what we thought we already knew and how it can even cloud the issue rather than clarify it.

Friday, 24 August 2018

What 'Kind' of Human is a Hybrid Human?

The fragment of bone from Denisova Cave seen from different angles.
The genome of the offspring of a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father | Nature

The ever-developing story of the Homo sapiens who left Africa and migrated eventually to all parts of the world except Antarctica, just took another twist.

Geneticists at the Department of Evolutionary Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany have shown that the greater than 50,000 year-old fragment of bone recovered from Denisova Cave in Siberia is of a female who died aged about 13 whose father was a Denisovan and whose mother was a Neanderthal. This fragment of bone had earlier been shown to be hominin by analysis of the fibrous structural protein, collagen and the mitochondrial DNA. The team who did this analysis had nicknamed her 'Denny'.

Now We Know What Causes Creationism!

Creationism and conspiracism share a common teleological bias: Current Biology

Creationists will probably dismiss it as a conspiracy, but researchers in psychology at Fribourg, France, believe they have shown why creationism and conspiracy theories have so much in common in terms of rejection of science and belief in agency.

The cause is teleological thinking, which is ironic, given that the 'Teleological Argument' from religious apologetics and Intelligent Design, depend entirely on this retained irrational and simplistic psychological response from childhood.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Galling Problem for Creationists

Rice University bioscientists found that love vines attach themselves to galls, extracting energy from the nurseries at the expense of the young wasps inside. Biologists found dead, mummified wasps in almost half of the attacked galls they opened.

Photo: Mattheau Comerford/Rice University
Love vine sucks life from wasps, leaving only mummies.

Today we have more examples of the incompetence and sheer malevolence (if we assume intent) in biological design. This time the examples are from the world of parasites, especially the parasites that produce the many different galls found on oak trees.

The first is from the USA, involving just one of the estimated 13,000 different species of parasitic wasps that cause gall formation in plants, Belonocnema treatae. B. treatea is native to Texas and Florida. But there is a twist. This was discovered by etymologists from Rice University.

Like many other gall-forming wasps it has two generations: one sexually-reproducing with both male and female wasps; the other asexual with just parthenogenetic females, which produce the next sexual generation. The sexually-reproducing females lay eggs in the leaves of oak trees and the developing grub causes a round gall to form on the underside of the leaf.

How the gall is formed is not fully known but is believed to be caused by toxins or proteins (and possibly even a virus) which causes the oak cells to grow into a gall around the developing grub, providing both protection and nutrients. Asexual females emerge from these galls and their generation of grubs develop underground in galls on the oak trees' roots. Incidentally, this is a good example of how exactly the same DNA can produce entirely different structures under different environmental conditions.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Peppered Moth Experiment Confirmed

A target matching a typical moth pinned to a lichen covered tree in woodland in the predation experiments.
Featured news - Study confirms truth behind ‘Darwin’s moth’ - University of Exeter

Just a few days ago, in reply to yet another prediction by a creationist that the Theory of Evolution is a theory in crisis and within a few years scientists will be forced to abandon it in favour of Intelligent Design, because the evidence will be too strong to ignore, I pointed out that there is no evidence whatsoever that the TOE is 'in crisis' and that biomedical scientists regard it as anything less than an established fact and the theory underpinning the whole of biology.

I also said that scientists no longer bother to do experiments to confirm it because it is not seriously disputed.

Then, as thought to prove me wrong, along comes a report by two scientists from Exeter University that does just that. They set out to falsify one of the iconic examples of Darwinian evolution in progress - the evolution of 'industrial melanism' in the Peppered moth, Biston betularia.

Of course, they failed to falsify it and so confirmed it yet again. Not a theory in crisis then, but a theory once again confirmed experimentally.

What the team did was to show how well the moths were camouflaged in the vision of their main predators - birds. They have shown that, to the vision of birds, pale moths are indeed more camouflaged against lichen-covered trees than dark moths – making pale moths less likely to be eaten by birds in unpolluted woodland and giving them an evolutionary advantage.

The team used two methods to demonstrate the improved survival of the lighter moths on lichen-covered trees compared to plain bark trees. Using museum specimens they showed that seen in ultraviolet, visible to birds, they analysed how well pale and dark moths can be seen. They also used baited artificial moths to test predation rates in UK woodlands, mostly in Cornwall. These experiments showed that lighter moths had a 21% higher chance of avoiding predation.

Abstract
Animal defensive coloration has long provided many important examples of evolution and adaptation. Of these, industrial melanism in the peppered moth is the classic textbook example of evolution in action, whereby dark and pale morphs suffer differential predation in polluted and unpolluted woodland based on their camouflage. Despite extensive work, a striking gap remains in that no study has ever objectively quantified their camouflage or related this directly to predation risk. Here we use image analysis and avian vision models to show that pale individuals more closely match lichen backgrounds than dark morphs. Artificial predation experiments in unpolluted woodland show 21% higher survival rates of pale than melanic individuals. Overall, we provide the strongest direct evidence to date that peppered moth morph frequencies stem from differential camouflage and avian predation, providing key support for this iconic example of natural selection.


This is one of the most iconic examples of evolution, used in biology textbooks around the world, yet fiercely attacked by creationists seeking to discredit evolution. Remarkably, no previous study has quantified the camouflage of peppered moths, or related this to survival against predators in controlled experiments. Using digital image analysis to simulate bird vision and field experiments in British woodland, we compared how easily birds can see pale and darker moths, and ultimately determine their predation risk.

Our findings confirm the conventional story put forward by early evolutionary biologists – that changes in the frequency of dark and pale peppered moths were driven by changes in pollution and camouflage.

Professor Martin Stevens,
Centre for Ecology and Conservation,
University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Cornwall.
(Quoted in Exeter University Press Release.
So, in one of those now rare occasions when biologists set out to test the TOE, or in this case one of the iconic examples used to illustrate observed instances of evolution, there is not a hint of a theory in crisis. Quite the opposite in fact. Using new techniques the theory is vindicated and testing one of the assumptions in one of the early experiments - that birds would perceive a difference between the different colour forms - the assumption was confirmed to be valid. Moreover, the improved survival rate has been quantified.

One could even see this as a confirmed prediction of the TOE. The observable fact that there was a change in the allele frequency during industrial pollution which was reversed when the pollution was reduced shows, according to the TOE, that there must have been an improved survival rate due to changes in predation rates and those predation rates must have been due to the perception of predators.

This prediction has now been confirmed.

Crisis? What crisis?

The crisis, of course, is for Intelligent Design which has singularly failed to make any headway as a scientific alternative, is utterly incapable of making testable predictions and still offers nothing by way of an explanatory mechanism. The surprise is that it still survives, albeit only in the minds of those who know little or nothing of science.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Pennsylvania Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal - It's The Gays' Fault!

Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League. Not paedophiles, just gay!
American Catholic leaders blame the Pennsylvania sex abuse scandal on gays / LGBTQ Nation

As Pope Francis expresses his "shame and sorrow" over the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Interim Report that revealed that 300 Catholic priests had abused over 1000 minors in the last 70 years in the state of Pennsylvania alone, and that bishops and cardinals had been complicit if covering up and even facilitating the abuses, the American Catholic League was quick to assign blame, in the finest Catholic tradition.

It was the gays what done it!

Missionary News - Feel That Christian Love!

Jimmy L. Naylor bringing the love of Jesus to Ugandan hotel staff
American Charged In Uganda After Racist Assault On Hotel Workers

Jimmy L. Naylor, American Christian evangelist, missionary and former marine has an interesting new approach when bringing the good news of Jesus to the Godless heathens of Ugandans.

According to this report by Carla Herriria in Huffington Post, he punched and slapped the hotel staff at Kampala's Grand Imperial Hotel, called then n****rs and threatened to kill them.

In this four-minute video, missionary Jim can be seen physically and verbally abusing the staff and telling them:

Friday, 17 August 2018

How Epigenetics Refutes Intelligent Design

With epigenetics persistently being raised in creationist arguments and disinformation sites as an argument against 'Darwinism', I thought it would be worth giving a chapter of my book on 'Intelligent Design' a wider audience. The following is from The Unintelligent Designer: Refuting the Intelligent Design Hoax.

It comprehensively debunks the notion that epigenetics supports intelligent design creationism and refutes evolution.

Epigenetics is a relatively new branch of biology which is presenting biologists with some new challenges, not the least of which is its complexity. It is also presenting creationism with some exciting new gaps in which to try to insert a creator and attack science on the basis that if science doesn’t know something it has failed and proven itself unreliable. No matter that in a few years, maybe a little longer, science, using the scientific method will one day close those gaps and, like all the other gaps, will fail to find a god in them. By then, creationist apologists will have moved on to some more gaps, still confident that this time science will be forced to admit that ‘God did it!’

Whole books are being written about epigenetics and the challenges it presents to biology, one such being Nessa Carey’s The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease and Inheritance[1].

Briefly, epigenetics is the study of how various genes are turned off in different cells as they become specialised during embryonic development. The actual mechanism, the epigenetic processes itself, are beyond the scope of this book but what interests us here is what this means for our understanding of evolution and, more importantly, why the processes are needed.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Another Bad Week for the Vatican as Sex Abuse Scandal Grows

An investigator leaving the Chilean Episcopate in Santiago after Tuesday's raid.
Photograph: Dragomir Yankovic/AFP/Getty Images
Chile police raid Catholic church HQ in sex abuse investigation | World news | The Guardian

You can almost feel sorry for Pope 'Uncle Frankie' Francis as he contemplates the long, slow self-induced implosion of the institutionally corrupt and debauched Catholic Church he struggles to lead and give moral guidance too. It must be like the sale of indulgences scandals of the Late Middle Ages that nearly destroyed the church, only this time it's worse.

This time, people who leave the church in disgust at the hypocrisy and debauchery of clerics don't just have the alternative of another sect of Christianity - which anyway in its now myriad different manifestations, is suffering almost as badly as the Catholic Church from scandals almost identical to those of the Catholics. This time those turning their back on the church have a clear alternative to religion in the form of a large and growing secular humanism and non-affiliation which are now in a very clear majority in many countries in the developed world. Many are now looking not for an alternative religion but for an alternative to religion.

The impunity of the Chilean hierarchy has ended. In Chile, we’re seeing what happens when the Catholic church is treated as an ordinary corporate citizen. Prosecutors in Chile have raised the bar for civil authorities in other countries. The children of Chile will be safer, survivors more likely to find justice, and the church ultimately stronger.

Anne Barrett Doyle,
BishopAccountability.org
(An online clerical abuse database).
And part of this growing secularisation is a loss of the deference that the church, and the Catholic Church in particular especially in Latin America, Southern Europe, parts of Africa and the Philippines and even in the USA, could once have taken for granted. With the Church's loss of moral authority had gone any political authority and influence they once had. Politicians now try to distance themselves from the Church and its clerics rather than demonstrate their closeness and support for them. The mutual support between church and state has broken down.

This must have been brought home to Pope Francis this week, which must surely be one of the worst in his tenure, when the Chilean equivalent of the FBI raided one of the most important Catholic buildings in the capital, Santiago, the headquarters of the Catholic church’s Episcopal Conference, looking for evidence of sexual abuses by the Marist Brothers, a Catholic monastic order. Prosecutor Raul Guzmán has confirmed that he is investigating more than 35 accusations of abuse committed against former students at schools run by the Marists.

The Marist scandal came to light a year ago when the order admitted that Brother Abel Pérez who worked in two of the order's schools, abuse 14 minors between the 1970s and 2008. They later admitted that another brother had abused five students. Although the Marist order opened a canonical investigation and took legal action against Pérez, it later emerged that they had actually know about his activities since 2010, eight years earlier.

Additionally, Chilean abuse victims have filed complaints against three Catholic priests, a Capuchin brother and six more Marists, detailing numerous instances of abuse.

This, in addition to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report detailing over 1000 cases of abuse by 300 Catholic Priests in Pennsylvania alone, and the final sentencing of the most senior Catholic cleric, Cardinal Wilson, to be convicted of a crime related to child abuse (albeit to a sentence of having to live with his sister for six months!) must make grim reading for Pope Francis.

Earlier this year all 34 of Chile's bishops tendered their resignation to Pope Francis following a devastating report by the team under Archbishop Charles Scicluna sent in to investigate allegations against Bishop Juan Barros, who was accused by victims of witnessing their abuse and ignoring it, as well as allegations of abuse involving the Marist Brothers, Salesian and Franciscan orders.

So far, Pope Francis has formally accepted five of these resignations.

The impression is of a noose tightening around the neck of the world-wide Catholic Church that is going to end in a mass resignation and purge of very many of its senior clerics - if the current Pope is serious about putting a stop to these abuses and coverups. The problem then will be how to find replacements from amongst those who have not either abused minors themselves, or been aware of abuses and at best looked the other way and at worst were complicit in it.

The stench of corruption pervades the Catholic Church, just as it did in the Middle Ages.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Pennsylvania Grand Jury - "We need you to hear this."

Archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl. Claims he, "acted with diligence, with concern for the survivors and to prevent future acts of abuse."
Credit: Getty Images
“It happened everywhere”: The unimaginable scale of sexual abuse in Pennsylvania’s Catholic Church. | The New Republic

It might not be typical but there doesn't seem to be anything particularly special and confined to the state that would turn Catholic priests into paedophile sexual predators in the State of Pennsylvania where a Supreme Court Grand Jury investigation has just released a 900-page interim report detailing an astonish 1000 cases of child sexual abuse involving 300 priest over a period of 70 years and revealing systematic coverups.

And that may well be an underestimate. The report states:

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

New Book: A Goose For Christmas

A Goose For Christmas: Stories From an Oxfordshire Childhood, is a kind of prequel to my book In the Blink of an Eye.

It is again set in the small north Oxfordshire hamlet of Fawler in the post-war austerity of the 1950s. The stories are woven mostly from real-life events, all of which happened but not necessarily in the same order or even in the same year. All the characters are real people.

The aim has been to show life through the eyes of children in a rural Oxfordshire community where poverty and self-sufficiency were a way of life and a way of life which had more in common with the 1850s than with rural life even 20 years later. This was the last generation to grow up without television, central heating, piped hot water and in many cases indoor toilets.

The first story, A Goose for Christmas, tells the story of a family as it prepares for Christmas with a difference and with more than a little trepidation. The Adventures of the Carson Gang is a collection of short stories about the children in the hamlet as they explore their surroundings, live out their fantasies and make their own entertainment with little but their own resources and what the hamlet and surrounding countryside had to offer.

The book is illustrated by Catherine Hounslow.

Monday, 13 August 2018

It Doesn't Even Make the National News Anymore

Canon Terrence Grigg, vicar of Cottingham, senior canon of York Minster, former member of the General Synod and sexual predator.
'Hypocrite' who hid his depraved attacks on vulnerable boys finally unmasked as sick sexual predator - Hull Live

It tells us something when news of yet another child-abusing paedophile priest going to prison doesn't even make the national news any more!

How many people in the UK even heard of Cannon Terrence Grigg and his activities that were described by the judge as 'depraved' and 'perverted' when he was sentenced in Hull Crown Court to 12 years in prison last Thursday? And how many people knew that when one of Grigg's alleged victims went to the then Bishop of Hull, James Jones, in the 1990s to complain, he was threatened and warned that he could go to prison if he didn't drop the allegations?

It was only on the local news that people in Humberside heard about The Reverend Canon Terrence Grigg, 84, former rector of St Mary's Church, Cottingham, senior canon of York Minster, and former member of the General Synod, who showed "not a shred of remorse", according to Judge Rose.

Grigg had been convicted of 12 charges of indecent assault and 2 charges of serious sexual assault. He was acquitted of one charge of indecent assault. He had pleaded not guilty to all fifteen charges and claimed to be celibate. The judge told Griggs:

You were no doubt the beneficiary of the church's treatment of [the complainant], which not only refused to pursue the complaint to the Bishop of Hull, but turned the complaint against him with threats of litigation and imprisonment so that he withdrew the complaint because he was so fearful of the consequences... [Referring to the claim of celibacy] instead [you] sexually abused vulnerable young men of your parish for your own immoral, illegal, perverted gratification... Each of them and each of your congregants, and those in the higher echelons of the church, the bishops and archbishops, were deceived and misled and fooled by your outward appearance. For nearly ten years, you were in truth a sexual predator, choosing for your victims the vulnerable and unhappy. The trust placed in you as a priest was, as the jury has found, entirely misplaced.

The court heard the police found two videos of homsexual prography at Griggs' home showing he had a sexual interest in young men as recently as 2016. They also found condoms at both his homes, giving the lie to his claim of celibacy. Judge Rose described it as a deplorable case and excused the jury from further jury service for ten years because of what they had had to endure.

James Jones, former Bishop of Hull
Photo: Rob Stebbing
The court also heared how a man who alleged he had been assaulted by Griggs was advised by Bob Goodram, music and choir leader at the church, to put his complaint in writing and take it to James Jones, then Bishop of Hull, which he did. He then described the intimidation and threats to which he had been subjected and which he claimed led to a mental breakdown.

Some days after handing Bishop Jones the letter he was contacted by Bob Goodram and told there was a problem with the letter which contained material which should not have been included. He was then driven to Bishop Jones' house where he was told the matter had gone to the Archbishop of York for investigation, and there was now a risk that he could have action taken against him.

He was told that the only recourse was to engage a solicitor to have the complaint withdrawn and to write a letter of apology to Griggs withdrawing the allegation. He duly wrote the letter and was told that might be the end of the matter but he could still have action taken against him.

Former Bishop James Jones in no stranger to allegations of bullying. He was was from the Evangelical wing of the Anglican Church and was promoted to Bishop of Liverpool in 1998, a post he held until his retirement in 2013. He was also Chair of the Council of Wycliffe Hall, and Anglican college in Oxford. He resigned after a member of the Council resigned in protest at Jones' handling of an allegation of bullying against the college's Principle, and won a case for unfair dismissal. The college admitted breaking the law and had to pay damages.

Another Blooper by the Unintelligent Designer?

Evolutionary changes in the human brain may have led to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia | ScienceDaily.

When you get past the superficial resemblance of design in living organisms it become impossible to regard any putative designer as anything other than spectacularly inept or gratuitously malevolent.

In this paper published in the American Journal of Human Genetics a few days ago we are given evidence of bad design similar to the bad designs associated with bipedal locomotion, upright posture and smaller jaws that have given us bad backs, problem knees and impacted wisdom teeth.

This time the problems are associated with our large brains, specifically, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Unkind Problem for Creationists

Dojo loach, Misgurnus anguillicaudatus
Photo: Takafumi Fujimoto
Fish reproduction: Two times a lady | Hokkaido University.

A little female fish blows the creationist notion of 'kind' wide open and shatters the no 'macro-evolution' dogma.

When you can pin a creationists down to something approaching a definition of 'kind', it almost always includes something about not being able to breed with any other 'kind', although, naturally, when the needs of the argument dictate this may be abandoned to move the definition up a taxonomic level or two and widen the goalposts, so non-interbreeding but related species can be the same 'kind'.

They will also tell you that a change of 'kind' would involve a change in genetic 'information' to create new systems and structures (something they call 'macro-evolution') which they declare to be impossible because it requires new information (which they also declare to be impossible).

Friday, 10 August 2018

Child Abuse: More Catholic Monkey Business

Ampleforth Abbey.
"'Appalling' sexual abuse over 40 years."
Child abuse inquiry: School 'reputations put before abuse victims' - BBC News

Shocking, horrific, disgusting, abhorrent, are all adjectives one hears all too often in relation to revelations of another religious institution where child abuse was a routine and accepted part of the culture. None of these adjectives would be too strong to describe the contents of the report published todayPDF [Warning! Explicit and distressing contents] of the enquiry into the abuses of boys at two Catholic schools, Ampleforth and Downside School, both run by the semi-autonomous charity, English Benedictine Congregation (EBC).

The executive summary to the report states:

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Baptist Minister in 'Gay Cure' Child Abuse

Gary Wiggins
Charged $21,000 to 'beat the demons out' of gay teens
Texas Authorities Shut Down Boys Camp Run By Baptist Minister Accused of ‘Ex-Gay’ Torture - OutSmart Magazine.

Got a teenage son who is showing signs of being gay? Don't worry! For $21,000 a year, Gary Wiggins, a recovering alcoholic and former drug addict, and a born again Baptist minister, will beat and abuse the evil demons out of them - and use them as free labour in his lawn-care and removal companies; the teenage boys that is, not the evil demons.

Last week, authorities in Burnet County, Texas, USA rescued eight boys aged between 10 and 17 from a religious 'gay cure' camp run by Wiggins. The camp, the Joshua Home, Bertram, Texas, was raided following an investigation into allegations of abuse, neglect, labor violations, fraud, licensing violations, and human trafficking. The investigators believe Wiggins may have been using the boys illegally for a lawn care service and moving company.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Origin of Stonehenge Builders


Stonehenge
Strontium isotope analysis on cremated human remains from Stonehenge support links with west Wales | Scientific Reports.

I have previously written about Stonehenge and the other mysterious monuments and earthworks in Wiltshire, especially about what little we know of the builders, their society and culture and particularly about their god(s) of whom we know nothing.

Now, due to the painstaking research carried out by archaeologists from Bournemouth University, Poole, Dorset, UK, we are perhaps just a little closer to knowing just a little more about who the people who built Stonehenge were.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

It's Not Just the Catholics!

Pastor Harry L. Thomas. Conviction Christian.
Largest Christian music festival founder busted with 18-year prison sentence after molesting five children.

As though to prove the Catholic Church doesn't have a monopoly on child sexual abuse by priests, the senior pastor and founder of the Come Alive New Testament Church in Medford, New Jersey, USA has been sentenced to 18 years in prison for molesting five children.

Pastor Harry L. Thomas, now 74, is also the founder of one of the largest Christian festivals in the USA, Creation Festival, and Come Alive International, a missionary organisation. He was arrested in DEcember 2017 and charged with amolesting 4 children over a 16 year period. He pleaded guilty to raping and sexually assaulting young girls in February and admitted to a fifth offence. The plea bargin included a non parole agreement.

In 2003 Thomas served as an advocate for two church members, Raymond and Vanessa Jackson, accused of starving and neglecting four foster children in their care, setting up the now-defunct website, savethejacksons.org in their support. Vanessa Jackson received a seven year sentence for her part in the mistreatment of the children.

Zombie Insect Made Mad for Sex - By a Fungus

Cicada infected with Messospora fungus.
Photo credit: SuperStock
Parasite fungus sends insects on sex spree by loading them up on drugs | New Scientist

Here we have a very nice example of a host being controlled by a parasite, exactly as I discussed in my latest book, The Unintelligent Designer.

This time, it is a cicada which is controlled by fungi of the Massospora genus.

When infected by these fungi, the victims appetite is suppressed but their sex drive is heightened to the extent that males will spend all their time trying to mate, even with other males. To make it worse for the cicadas the fungus actually castrate them by making the end of their abdomen fall off when they first try to mate, replacing it with a fungal 'plug'.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Another High-Ranking Catholic Resignation

Philip Wilson. Former Archbishop of Adelaide
Archbishop Philip Wilson resigns after sex abuse cover-up - CNN

A brief update on the article of a month ago concerning (now former) Archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, sentenced to 12 months detention (incorectly reported by CNN as 6 months although he will probably serve only 6 months of the 12 month sentence), probably in his sister's house. The court is due to rule in August on the suitability of his sister's house as a detention centre.

At the time of his conviction last May, he continued to protest his innocence and refused to resign his position in the Catholic Church. As recently as last week he was saying he would not resign, pending the outcome of an apeal.
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