Thursday, 16 May 2019

Evolution News - How One Thing Leads To Another

Giant armadillos (glyptodonts), Doedicurus clavicaudatus
Credit: © Peter Schouten
Climate, grasses and teeth: the evolution of South America mammals | UANews

Recent findings by scientists from the Universities of Arizona, Wyoming and Connecticut, give a fascinating insight into how Earth's ecosystems are dynamic, and how evolution is an integral part of how the system works to maintain itself, without the need for magic or interference.

The researchers, led by Barbara Carrapa, professor and head of the UA Department of Geosciences, showed that there was a major change in the climate of South America between 7 and 6 million years ago, caused by a change in the global tropical atmospheric circulation known as the Hadley circulation. The result was that South America became drier allowing subtropical grasslands to expand.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

'Persecution' News - 'Good Christian' Paedo Rapist Treated Leniently

Good Christian, David Lynn Richards Jr, convicted of nine counts of rape, incest and sexual battery.
Photo credit: Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel
Former pastor sentenced to 12 years in prison for rape conviction

A former Christian pastor who repeatedly raped his 14 year-old adopted daughter has been given a light sentence by a Judge in Knox County, Tennessee because he is a good Christian.

According to this report in the Knoxville News Sentinel, David Lynn Richards Jr, a former minister in the My Father's House Church of God in Lenoir City, was convicted by a jury at Knox County Criminal Court on nine felony counts of rape, icest and sexual battery. He protested his innocence throughout the trial, despite the evidence of his DNA being found in semen on his daughters bed frame.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Malevolent Designer News - Winning The Antibiotic Arms Race

The mcr-9 gene's protein structure graphic depicts the differing protein chains (solid color ribbons) and the protein surface (mesh) surrounding it.
Credit: Ahmed Gaballa/Cornell University
Cornell scientists discover new antibiotic resistance gene | Cornell Chronicle

Creationism's malevolent designer has been at it again in its arms race with human medical science, and it seems to have gone into overdrive.

As Cornell University food scientists have discovered, it has created a new 'diabolical' gene to convey resistance in bacteria to our antibiotic of last resort, colistin.

And not content with giving that resistance to a bacterium like salmonella, it has made the gene fully transferable to other species via a plasmid, so, by horizontal gene transfer, any bacteria can now acquire resistance to colistin. Colistin has been designated by the World Health Organisation as a highest-priority antibiotic. Unless we can find a better one or find some new way of killing bacteria when they infect us, that's it. We will have run out of options.

Creationism Goes off the Rails

Aldabran White-throated rail, Dryolimnas cuvieri subsp. aldabranus.

Photo credit: Charles J Sharp [CC BY-SA 4.0]
The bird that came back from the dead | UoP News

Here we have a very nice example of how evolution is 'directed' by the environment, and an example of how the Theory of Evolution has explanatory powers that creationism simply does not have. This example is of a flightless member of the rail family of birds that evolved not once but twice on the small Indian Ocean atoll of Aldabra.

Julian P Hume of the Bird Group, Department of Life Sciences, Natural History Museum, Tring, Herts, UK and David Martill of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, UK, have shown that the present day flightless white-throated rail of Aldabra has some strikingly similar features to an extinct flightless rail. The extinct rail inhabited the atoll until climate change caused the sea level to rise and cover the atoll about 136,000 years ago, exterminating all plant and animal life.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Anglican Abuse News - Peter Ball, Prince Charles and the Archbishop of Canterbury

Peter Ball, Bishop of Gloucester, jailed in 2015 for sexually abusing 18 young men.
Inquiry publishes report into the Diocese of Chichester and Peter Ball | IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has revealed that the Church of England had a casual approach to child abuse by it's clerics that was the equal to that in any Catholic diocese. All the 'sympathy and understanding' was reserved for the cleric who had given in to temptation and been caught, and none for their victims.

This 'understanding' went all the way to the top and included Prince Charles, future titular head of the Anglican Church. As with the Catholic Church, according to the IICSA, the Anglican Church was more concerned with “putting its own reputation above the needs of victims”.

The IICSA has found that former Bishop of Gloucester, Peter Ball, misused his position to sexually abuse young men, talking them into stripping naked to prey, and taking part in masturbation and flagellation sessions. Ball was convicted and given a 32 month sentence for the admitted sexual abuse of 18 young men between 1977 and 1992. Two further charges of indecently assaulting two boys, aged 13 and 15, were allowed to lie on file by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Peter Ball, along with his twin brother Michael, set up the Community of the Glorious Ascension, an Anglican monastic order through which he met many young men and boys as novice monks. He later became Bishop of Lewes, within the Anglican diocese of Chichester and in 1992 he was appointed Bishop of Gloucester.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Perfectly Plausible Abiogenesis

I get more than a little bit bored with almost every debate with creationists eventually, and often very quickly, coming down to a demand that we explain abiogenesis, or more likely an assertion that it can't be explained because it's 'impossible'.

Then comes the parrot squawk, "you can't get life from non-life", as though any of them could define this 'life' thing.

So, with that in mind, I thought I would both give a puff for my book, What Makes You So Special? From the Big Bang to You and put on record a perfectly plausible explanation for how abiogenesis could have happened. Note, it's not meant to be an account of how it actually happened, just how it could have happened, to refute creationist claims that it is impossible.

If any creationists wishes to substantiate that claim, please feel free to go through the following ten steps and say which laws of chemistry and/or physics would make one or more of them impossible. If you can't, clearly, it is not impossible.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Catholic Abuse News - The Rapist Paedophile Nun

Edward Hayes and his daughter
Man raped by NUN at Catholic home meets daughter he fathered for first time 62 years later - Irish Mirror Online

While researching the article on the abuse and starvation of children by the Catholic nuns who ran the Irish Mother and Baby homes, I came across this news item. It makes a change from the tens of thousands of accounts of Catholic priests raping children.

This account is of a nun repeatedly raping a boy in her care and eventually getting herself pregnant by him.

Catholic Ireland Where Nuns Sold Dead Babies

Bessborough Mother and Baby Home, Cork.
Highest infant mortality rate of any religious-run institution.
Pat Flanagan column: Selling 1,000 dead babies shows how much Catholic Church hated children - Pat Flanagan - Irish Mirror Online

The fifth interim report of the Irish Government's Commission Of Investigation On Mother And Baby Homes, published a few days ago, has added yet more horror to the catalogue of horrors that the homes became under the Catholic Church's supervision.

The homes were run by Catholic nuns and became almost autonomous, being accountable to no-one but themselves. They served as homes for pregnant unmarried women and mothers and became virtual places of punishment with both the women and their babies treated as sub-human and worthless by the nuns, who saw them as sinners and the products of sin. When they died, and they died very often, they were not even accorded respect as human beings.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Malevolent Designer News - Making Better Mosquitoes

Aedes aegypti

Credit: Muhammad Mahdi Karim [GFDL 1.2],
via Wikimedia Commons
Aedes aegypti Mosquitoes Detect Acidic Volatiles Found in Human Odor Using the IR8a Pathway | Current Biology.

Following close on the news that creationism's malevolent... er... sorry... intelligent (sic) designer has designed liver flukes to be better at making us and our livestock sick, comes news of another brilliant piece if design to improve a mosquito's ability to give us serious infections with life-threatening parasites.

Researchers from the Department of Biological Sciences & Biomolecular Sciences Institute, Florida International University, Miami, FL, USA have shown how the antennae of female Aedes aegypti Mosquitoes can 'smell' characteristic signature chemicals in human body odour. Their findings were published open access in Current Biology yesterday.

Malevolent Designer News - Making a Better Liver Fluke

Liver flukes, Fasciola hepatica.
Mechanism of a protein upon infection of the 'Fasciola hepatica' -- ScienceDaily

Scientists working at the University of Córdoba, Spain, have discovered just how devious any intelligent designer would have to have been when it designed the liver fluke, Fasciola hepatica.

Creationists who advocate intelligent design as the best explanation for organisms and the diversity of living things need to believe several key things about their purported designer:

Monday, 22 April 2019

Catholic Bishops Admit Bible Class Disadvantages School Children

Richard Brunton, TD.
In Letter to Irish Government, Bishops Admitted Religion Makes Kids Dumber | Hemant Mehta | Friendly Atheist | Patheos

In an astonishing letter to the then Irish Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, TD PDF, Catholic bishops have unwittingly revealed that even they regard religious education as detrimental to the children being subjected to it.

The letter, which had never been made public, came to light by chance when Seamus and John from The Free Thought Prophet Podcast were researching for a podcast and submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Irish Department of Education and Skills.

The letter was written in response to Circular Letter 0013/2018 PDF from the Department of Education and Skills, detailing proposals for changes in the purpose of the circular was to:

... set out a new approach to the arrangements that are made for religious instruction and worship in the schools covered by this circular in order to ensure that the rights of children to attend the school without having to attend religious instruction will be conducted in a manner that takes account of the likelihood, given changing demographics, of an increasing number of families wanting to exercise their constitutional right to withdraw.

Bishop Brendan Leahy, co-signatory.

Bishop Brendan Kelly, co-signatory.
Clearly, the Irish Government had recognised the increasing rejection of Catholicism by its citizens - a fact which has been documented elsewhere. The circular letter recognised that, while it may once have been reasonable to assume that most, if not all, the students would have been Catholic, this was no longer a reasonable assumption.

Previously, those pupils who had been opted out of religious instructions were 'supervised' and given other activities. What they weren't given were formal lessons. The proposal and key change proposed in the circular was that:

...those who do not want instruction in line with the requirements of any particular religion should be timetabled for alternative tuition throughout the school year rather than supervised study or other activities.

In other words, those opting out of religious instructions were to be given tuition additional to that given to those taking religious instructions.

It is this intention to provide tuition to the opted-out pupils that has angered the Catholic bishops and prompted them to write in protest. The pertinent paragraph of their letter reads:

While we are respectful of the wishes of those who opt out of religious education (the Model Agreements and Deeds of Trust have always allowed for this provision), we are equally clear that those who continue to take religious education should not be disadvantaged in terms of the examinable curriculum by offering those who do not take religious education additional classes in an examinable curricular subject or by offering them another examinable curricular subject. Students must not be disadvantaged for taking religious education. [My emphasis]

In other words, and quite unequivocally, the bishops are saying that religious instructions placed those not opting out in a disadvantageous position, if those opting out occupy their time productively. Instead, the bishops would prefer those opting out to have the same handicap as those being subjected to religious instruction.

The disgraceful thing is that the Irish Government caved in to this interference and brought the rules into line with the Bishops' demands - that all Irish school children will be taught about religion but in a secular format, so there will be no opt out, since the law only allows opt out for religious instructions, not for secular lessons.

Sri Lanka and New Zealand - Why the Different Responses?

Dead bodies of victims lie inside St. Sebastian's Church damaged in blast in Negombo, north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sunday, April 21, 2019. More than two hundred people were killed and hundreds more injured in eight blasts that rocked churches and hotels in and just outside Sri Lanka's capital on Easter Sunday.

Credit: AP/Chamila Karunarathne
In a world in which we've become used to mass killings and atrocities by religious fanatics, often perpetrated against members of a different religion, the New Zealand atrocities carried out by one fanatical Christian against Muslims peacefully at prayer stood out for it's barbarity and brutal violation, not just of the lives destroyed but of a peaceful and tolerant society.

The death toll was 50. People across the world were rightly outraged by it.

In Sri Lanka, an as yet unidentified (but assumed to be Muslim) group yesterday targeted Christian churches with bombs designed to kill as many as possible while Christians were at prayer on a day which many Christians regard as the most holy of the year.

Also targeted were hotels where mostly Europeans stay in a country in which Europeans are assumed to be Christian. This was clearly an attack against members of a religion by members of a different one.

The death toll currently stands at about 300. And yet the response to the Sri Lanka massacre has been far more muted than the response to the New Zealand massacre.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Moral Decisions - No Gods Required

How Do We Make Moral Decisions?

Contrary to Christian apologists' assertions, humans do not get 'objective' morals from a god whose capricious whims determine right and wrong.

No matter how much C.S.Lewis tied himself into knots with his intellectual contortions, trying to prove that because he couldn't tell right from wrong, the god his mummy and daddy believed in must be real, the evidence of other cultures with other gods, and with none, shows that moral codes have broad principles common to all human cultures.

The rule probably most basic to all human cultures is the 'golden rule' - do as you would be done by or, as Christians would say, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. However, why people generally stick to this principle has been the subject of debate. Do they do it because of guilt, because we would feel bad about letting the other person down, or because of an innate sense of fairness where we want the fairest outcome.

Evolution News - A Matter of Joined-Up Thinking

Buff-browed Foliage gleaner, Syndactyla rufosupercilita.

Photo credit: Ricardo O. de Oliveira
The Cerrado once connected the Andes with the Atlantic Rainforest | AGÊNCIA FAPESP

Far from being, as creationists would have their duped believe, a theory in crisis, evolution is so well embedded as a fundamental science that no serious scientists even question it any more, that it can be used to settle debate about things like climate change and distribution of different biomes in the past.

An example of this is the paper in Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution in which the distribution of a family of oven birds in the Amazon and Andean rain forests was used to show how and when these two rainforests were connected at times.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Fall in US Religious Affiliation is Accelerating

U.S. Church Membership Down Sharply in Past Two Decades.

A second poll in a few days has confirmed the sharp, and accelerating, decline in religious affiliation in the USA. Now only 50% of Americans identify themselves as belonging to any particular church, synagogue or mosque, compared to 68% or more between 1937 and the 1990s.

This fell by only 2% between the 1970s and 1990s, but in the last 20 years the decline has accelerated massively to 20% with more than half of that in the ten years up to 2018. Projecting this accelerating trend forward, religious affiliation in the USA should be below 30% within the next 15-20 years.

Monday, 15 April 2019

Notre Dame - Not Just a Catholic Cathedral

No trip abroad or to a new city in the UK for my partner and I would be complete without a visit to the local cathedral, and so it was when we were in Paris some years ago. We put an afternoon aside for it.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame was a monument not just, or for us as Atheists even partly, to the 'Glory of God', but to to the glory of mankind's artistry and craftsmanship.

We looked upon the skill and dedication of the carpenters, stonemasons, iconographers and stained-glass window designers and creators and wondered who they were. What lives did they live? How did they get those skills? What were their thoughts as they made their mark and left a record of their existence for future generations?

Sunday, 14 April 2019

The 'Nones' Take The Lead in USA

'Black Protestant' and 'Jewish' subsumed into 'Other faiths' to give 'Other affiliation'
'No religion' includes Atheists, Agnostics and spiritual but not affiliated to any religion.
Survey: As many Americans claim no religion as there are evangelicals, Catholics - CNN.

The 'nones' are winning.

Within a few days of one another, we have two major opinion surveys by respected organisation, both showing a huge and growing movement away from religious belief, especially Christianity, towards having no religion. Last week we saw a 46% increase in no belief in the UK between 2011 and 2018 and now we hear that the largest single demographic in the USA is the 'none', who have overtaken the Catholics and evangelicals for the first time.

This latter survey was released last month but has only just found it way into the mainstream news media.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Evolution in Just Six Generations

Rape, Brassica rapa, pollinated by bumblebees has more attractive flowers.
Image: Florian Schiestl, UZH
Interplay of pollinators and pests influences plant evolution

Evolution is a dynamic process in which a species responds to competing selection pressures in its environment. Some of these might push the species in one direction and others in the opposite direction. Changing environmental factors effectively redefine the term 'fitness' as it applies to relevant characteristics.

Brassica plants, for example, have large attractive flowers which attract insect pollinators. They are also monoecious or hermaphrodite and, like many plants, have both male and female parts in the same flower, so are capable of 'selfing' or self-pollination.

Pollination by pollen from other flowers, carried by pollinating insects, increases genetic mixing, so reducing the change of deleterious mutations occurring in the same individual. This pressure pushes the species towards the evolution of larger, more attractive flowers.

However, there is a price to pay in that large attractive flowers also attract herbivores that eat brassica leaves, so wasting the plant's resources and reducing their vigor. This pressure pushes the species towards less attractive flowers. This in turn reduces the likelihood of cross pollination, which pushes the species toward selfing and characteristic that make that more, not less likely.

Massive Increase in Non-Belief in UK

Number of non-religious people in Britain jumps by 46%, new figures show » Humanists UK

Figures released by the Office of National Statistic last week show that non-belief in the UK has increased by an astonishing 46% since 2011.

Over the same period, the percentage of those self-identifying as Christian has fallen by a further 15%. This is consistent with other polls that have show a sharp decline in religious affiliation and particularly affiliation to the Anglican Church whose attendance continues to fall.

However, there has been criticism, notable from Humanists UK, about the leading nature of the question asked, which significantly overestimates religious belief by tying it to religion as a cultural identifier rather than a description of actual belief.

The question asked by ONS was "What is your religion?". Other studies have shown that when people are asked, "What is your religion, if any?" they give a different answer. Subliminally, the question as asked by ONS implies the respondent is expected to have one. For example, the British Social Attitudes Survey, by using a two-part question, concluded that 52% of British people have no religious belief.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Old Blue Eyes and the Mutant Gene

Blue-eyed humans have a single, common ancestor – University of Copenhagen

Some 6-10,000 years ago, probably in the agricultural lands to the north east of the Black Sea, a person was born with strange, blue eyes. He or she was the common ancestor of all blue-eyed people alive today.

This is the conclusion of Professor Hans Eiberg and his colleagues from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, University of Copenhagen. They arrived at this conclusion after analysing the genes of a large Danish family to pinpoint the area of DNA responsible for regulating the OCA2 gene known to be the major contributor to human eye colour. This gene, HERC2 exists in a number of alleles, one of which is the mutation that causes blue eyes.

Catholic Abuse News - Indian Bishop Charged With Raping a Nun

Bishop Franco Mulakkal
Kerala Nun Rape Case: Franco Mulakkal Charge-Sheeted, First Bishop To Go On Trial In India For Rape

Bishop Franco Mulakkal, bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Jalandhar since 2013, has been charged with raping a nun nine times. This is the first time a Catholic bishop has been charged with such a crime in Indian history.

The attacks are alleged to have taken place in the southern Indian state of Karela over a two year period between 2014 and 2016. Mulakkal faces life in prison if convicted. The charge sheet includes statements from more than 80 witnesses including a cardinal, three bishops, 11 priests and 25 nuns.

He also faces charges of intimidation, illegal confinement and unnatural intercourse, charges which carry a ten year sentence.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Human Evolution News - Another New Species?

Callao Cave, Luzon, Philippines. Home of Homo uzonensis.
New species of ancient human discovered in the Philippines: Homo luzonensis

The wonderful human evolutionary story that only a few days ago became a little more complicated with the discovery of two more 'Denisovans' in Papua-New Guinea, just got even more complicated with the announcement of yet another possible species of archaic hominins on the island of Luzon in the Philippines.

A combined French, Filipino and Australian team of archaeologists led by Florent Détroit of Département Homme & Environnement, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France have discovered twelve more fragments of hominin bones and teeth to add to the metatarsal bone found in 2007 and dated to 67,000 years ago. These recent finds of two more toe bones along with seven teeth, two finger bones, and part of a femur, are from the same stratigraphic layer as the earlier find and come from at least three individuals.

Unintelligent Design News - WWI Muddle

Vibrio cholerae bacteria. If swallowed, these highly contagious organisms release toxins in the gut that cause severe diarrhoeal disease.
Credit: David Golding,
Wellcome Sanger Institute
Genetic code of WWI soldier's cholera mapped | Wellcome Sanger Institute

Creationism's putative intelligent (sic) designer seems to have gotten itself into a right old muddle during World War I, according to the findings of a team of researchers published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Science today.

The team from the Wellcome Sanger Institute analysed the genome of a strain of the bacteria normally responsible for causing cholera, Vibrio cholerae, isolated from a sample of the stools of a WWI soldier of the British Expeditionary Force which had been taken in 1916 while the soldier was convalescing in Egypt.

As the Wellcome Sanger Institute press release explains:

Why Christians Need to Hate Atheists

A theist comforts himself after losing another argument on the Internet.
Fox & Friends Says Protecting Atheists From Discrimination Is Anti-Christian! | Crooks and Liars

This little item by Heather from Crooks and Liars shows Christians arguing that protecting Atheists from discrimination is anti-Christian.

In other words, so they imply, to be a Christian, you should actively discriminate against people who disagree with you, or at least you should have the right to, so treating them as lesser people deserving of lower standards than you are entitled to by virtue of your religion.

None of that essential equality of man or all people being created equal stuff. That's all very well in theory and certainly applies when Christians are being discriminated against, but Atheism threatens Christianity so Christianity needs to abandon ... er... Christianity to defend itself.

So what is it about Atheism that threatens Christian fundamentalists that way? There are a couple of reasons, none of which reflect well on Christians:

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Neanderthals and Mammoths Refute Creationism Again

News Page (Archaeology) - American Friends of Tel Aviv University

The news from science is never good news for creationism, but that's the problem with having opinions which are not based on reality.

This little item from Tel Aviv University, for example, shatters several creationist myths. It shows the fallacy behind the claim that all mutations are harmful and result in degradation (or 'increased entropy') in the genome. It shows common ancestry between two distantly related mammals; it shows how environmental change drives evolution and it shows how mutation does not inevitably lead to a loss of function.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Catholic Abuse News - How the Church Corrupted Ireland

Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland, Diarmuid Martin

Image credit: Gareth Chaney Collins
Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin reveals paedophile priests cannot identify new victims because they abused so many - Irish Mirror Online.

The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, the senior Catholic cleric in the whole of Ireland, has revealed in an astonishingly frank interview on Irish TV, that some paedophiles priests were so prolific in their abuse that when presented with names of possible victims, they could not remember, there had been so many. In some instances, their victims numbered more than a hundred.

He made the statement in an RTE program detailing the scale of the Catholic Church's interference in Irish public life, becoming involved in just about every aspect of life since the foundation of the Republic. The programme by former government minister, Michael McDowell, looks at how this situation was allowed to develop. How could an organisation with no democratic mandate, accountable only to itself and owing allegiance to a foreign state in the form of the Vatican City, wield so much power in a supposedly democratic state?

Human Evolution - More Evidence of Interbreeding

Some of the last Denisovans may have intermingled with modern humans on mountainous New Guinea or nearby islands.
Photo credit: Dozier Marc/ Images
Moderns said to mate with late-surviving Denisovans | Science.

The human evolutionary story just got a lot more complicated and a lot more interesting than we thought.

Before we discovered that non-African modern humans hybridised with Neanderthals we thought it was quite straightforward. Modern humans evolved in Africa then a small group migrated out and spread all over the world.

Then we discovered the Denisovans - a different species of human that lived in Asia and with which we also interbred, making the non-African humans the result of hybridisation between three related but different species.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Catholic Abuse News - One Law for One, One Law for Another

Archbishop Anthony Apuron of Guam
Catholic Archbishop of Guam removed from office | RTE.

The Vatican is nothing if not inconsistent.

The Catholic Archbishop of the US island territory of Guam, Anthony Apuron, has been convicted by a Vatican tribunal, upholding an earlier guilty verdict by an earlier tribunal, of sexually abusing three underaged boys but is to be allowed to retain his archbishop title.

By contrast, (former) Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, was stripped of his title and defrocked for similar offences, and Cardinal Pell, sentenced to 6 years in prison by an Australian court for sexually abusing minors, has been presumed innocent by the Vatican, pending his appeal.

Friday, 5 April 2019

A Catastrophic Flood Piled Up The Evidence Against Creationism

Fossilized fish piled one atop another, suggesting that they were flung ashore and died stranded together on a sand bar after the wave from the seiche withdrew.

Photo credit: Robert DePalma
Does fossil site record dino-killing impact? | Science.

66 million years ago, the world changed suddenly and without warning. The Cretaceous era ended, virtually instantaneously, and gave way to the Triassic.

The cause was a massive chunk of rock hurtling in from space, super-heating the atmosphere, and crashing into Earth, setting off a chain of events which exterminated the large dinosaurs and much else - and cleared the way ultimately for the rise of mammals and birds.

The asteroid impacted at Chicxulub on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. The earth and the asteroid turned liquid with the heat of the impact, exploding liquid glass spheroids high into the atmosphere to rain down again like red hot bullets. The impact set off a seismic shockwave with catastrophic tsunamis which surged up river valleys, destroying everything in their path. These surges of salt and fresh water are known to science as seiches.

And now scientists believe they have found the result of one site of devastation, some 3000 Km from the Chicxulub impact site, at the Tanis deposit in North Dakota, USA. They have found the fossilised, chaotic debris left by one such surge. The species in the jumble are of course only the species that were around at the time, including freshwater sturgeons, apparently suffocated by the glass beads that rained down, blocking their gills.

Another 'Non-Existent' Transitional Fossil

Peregocetus pacificus
© A. Gennari
Ancient four-legged whale with webbed feet and hooves uncovered in Peru | Natural History Museum

Another discovery this week of one of those 'non-existent' intermediate fossils is causing creationists to think of inventive ways to explain it away and so maintain the myth that these things just aren't really there.

This time it closes another gap in the story of the evolution of whales - or as creationists will probably claim, it opens up two gaps now where there was previously only one.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Three-toed Skink Is an Evolutionary Intermediate

Which came first the lizard or the egg? - The University of Sydney

Three-toed skink, Saiphos equalis.
Today from the the reptile world, we have a very nice example of evolution in progress, or at least in a state of dynamic equilibrium between two characteristics, each of which could be advantageous in different circumstances.

This example is an Australian skink which appears to be so finely balanced between egg-laying (oviparous) and live-young bearing (viviparous), that one individual has been observed doing both in the same pregnancy. Several weeks after laying a batch of three eggs, an individual three-toed skink, Saiphos equalis, was seen to give birth to a live young.

Examples of individuals reptiles of the same species being either oviparous or viviparous (bimodally reproductive) are rare but by no means unknown, however this is the first observed example of the same individual being able to be both. The three-toed skink is native to Australia's east coast. In the northern highlands of New South Wales it normally gives birth to live young but in the Sydney area, it lays eggs.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Malevolent Design News - A New Way To Make Us Sick

Asian longhorn tick, Haemaphysalis longicornis
Photo credit: Center for Disease Control and Prevention
New Yorkers Brace for Self-cloning Asian Longhorned Tick | Columbia News.

Creationism's Malevolent Designer has been busy recently. Not only have we recently learned how it has armed a bacterium with a virus to use to trick our immune systems so it can prevent wounds from healing, we have just discovered how it has designed a new way to deliver parasitic pathogens directly into our bloodstream.

This delivery system is the Asian longhorn tick, Haemaphysalis longicornis, an invasive species that is rapidly becoming common in Staten Island, New York, USA, and will almost certainly spread from there. Ticks are arachnids which live as blood-sucking parasites, mostly on vertebrates. Like other blood-sucking parasites they can transfer blood-borne infections between its hosts.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Changing Morals as Society Evolves

Utah Governor Gary Herbert
Utah Gov. Signs Bill That Legalizes Sex Outside Of Marriage : NPR

A lovely example of how the morals of human society evolve and change over time was unwittingly provided by the legislators of Utah, USA, a few days ago, despite a die-hard campaign by the religious fundamentalist forces of reaction.

Governor Gary Herbert signed a bill that decriminalizes sex outside of marriage in the state. Until that point, consensual sexual intercourse between non-married couples anywhere in the state of Utah, USA, was a criminal offence, liable to a fine of up to $1000 and a 6-month prison sentence.

Malevolent Design - A Virus to Help a Bacterium Make Us Sick!

Internalization of Pf bacteriophage within a mammalian cell.

Endocytosis of Pf by dendritic cells and other leukocytes triggers viral pattern recognition receptors, which suppress bacterial clearance. This three-dimensional image was generated by using confocal microscopy and z-stacked images (purple, actin stain; blue, DAPI (4′,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole) stain; green, Alexa Fluor 488–labeled Pf4).
Bacteria partners with virus to cause chronic wounds | News Center | Stanford Medicine

My admiration for the malevolent inventiness of creationism's putative Intelligent (sic) Designer, is growing by leaps and bounds.

Not content with designing a bacteria to infect wounds and prevent them healing, this supposed designer has given it a virus to enhance it's virulence.

We normally think in terms of viruses being parasites and there is a class of viruses known as bacteriophages (or phages) which often are parasitic on bacteria. Bacteria and viruses have been co-evolving for tens of billions of years so it shouldn't really be surprising that some have come to some sort of accommodation where the virus contributes something to the bacterium and the bacterium derives some benefit from being infected.

This example of a degree of symbiosis was however, surprising, and it could not have come about before there were more complex, multicellular organisms that could sustain damage that needed to heal.

Friday, 29 March 2019

Unintelligent Design - God Hates Frogs

Yellow-legged frogs killed by chytrid fungus in Sixty Lakes Basin area of the Sierra Nevada, California, USA

Photo credit: Joel Sartore/Natural History Museum.
Amphibian fungal panzootic causes catastrophic and ongoing loss of biodiversity | Science

Continuing our quest to discover the nature of the 'Intelligent (sic) designer', we continually discover that any such sentient entity is ever-more malevolent in its inventiveness.

Here, for example, is evidence that it hates the frogs it designed and is intentionally killing them off in very large numbers - or so you would be required to believe if you had accepted the ID hoax and were taking an honest view of the reality of the natural world.

An international team led by Ben Scheele of the Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, ACT, Australia has estimated that some 501 species of amphibian have severely declined in number with some 90 species becoming extinct in the last 25 years or so, due to two closely related chytrid fungi Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis and B. salamandrivorans.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

New Bird Shows How Species are Maintained

Newly-identified Cream-eyed bulbul, previously thought to be a variant of the Cream-vented bulbul.

Credit: Subir Shakya, Louisiana State University
Department of Biological Sciences
New Bird Species Discovered by LSU Researchers

A very nice example of how speciation between closely-related species occupying the same or overlapping ranges is maintained, is illustrated by the discovery of a new species of bird hiding in plain sight in Borneo.

Over most of its range, the Cream-vented bulbul, Pycnonotus simplex, a rather drab olive-brown bird, has white eyes but on the island of Borneo it was thought to have occurred in two forms; the locally more common red-eyed form and the 'normal' white-eyed form.

Now, after painstaking analysis of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of both red and white-eyed bulbuls and other related species, a team of researchers from Louisiana State University (LSU) led by PhD student, Subir Shakya, has shown that the white-eyed form on Borneo is a newly-identified species, genetically distinct from the red-eyed Borneo form and the white-eyed form found elsewhere. They have named this new species, Pycnonotus pseudosimplex.

Their paper was published a few days ago in the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Catholic Bishops Want Privilege to Hate and Abuse Minorities

Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, president of the Scottish Bishops’ Conference
with Anthony Horan, director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office.
Scottish bishops reject proposed hate crime laws, fear criminalization of religion | News | LifeSite

One of the more repugnant tendencies of organised religion is its tendency to demand and require privilege, even assuming it to be theirs of right and seeing it as an attack on their religious freedom to deny it to them. There is a breathtaking arrogance in that assumption that is so embedded in our culture that it passes almost unnoticed. It is even expect.

Religions, or those powerful enough, expect the law to incorporate and accommodate their prejudices and dogmas or at least provide them with exemptions when they conflict with the law of the land.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Casually Refuting Creationism With Codfish Genes

Polar cod, Boreogadus saida
Molecular mechanism and history of non-sense to sense evolution of antifreeze glycoprotein gene in northern gadids | PNAS

The amazing thing is that creationists never seem to notice how frequently scientific research, quite incidentally and without conscious intent, casually refutes creationism and the claims of creationists. It's as though there is a complete detachment from reality in creationism.

This paper, for example, about the evolution of 'antifreeze' genes in an arctic fish related to cod, utterly refutes four creationist claims whilst giving a completely consistent evolutionary explanation supported by evidence.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Human Societies Evolved Gods

Complex societies gave birth to big gods - CSH

Locations of the 30 sampled regions on the world map, labelled according to precolonial evidence of moralizing gods.

An international research team has investigated the role of "big gods" in the rise of complex societies and, not surprisingly, have found an evolutionary relationship between the two.

The slightly surprising thing was though that their findings show it was not as previously thought - that "big gods" are the cause of the evolution of complex societies, but are a consequence of them.

Gods, it seems are the product of human cultural evolution.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Catholic Abuse News - Carry On Regardless

Pope Rejects Resignation of French Cardinal Convicted of Abuse Cover-Up - The New York Times

Cardinal Barbarin meets Pope Francis
Apparently, the Pope doesn't think covering up for child-abusing priests is that serious. Either that or he feels he can ignore the fact that one of his cardinals, the most senior Catholic cleric in France, has been convicted of the crime in a French court.

In an extraordinary twist to the story I reported on just a few days ago, the Pope has refused to accept the resignation of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyon, France, despite his conviction in a French court on 7 March 2019. He has cited "the presumption of innocence" as his reason.

Subversive Christian News - South Dakota Theocrats

Gov. Kristi Noem
Noem signs Capitol concealed firearm carry, 'In God We Trust' laws.

The Christian plan to subvert the US Constitution and replace democratic government in the USA with a Christian theocracy took another step forward yesterday.

Despite the very clear constitutional prohibition on established religion, Governor Kristi Noem, signed into law a bill requiring all public schools to prominently display "In God We Trust". According to this report by Lisa Kaczke in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader:

Every public school will be required to prominently display the national motto, "In God We Trust," beginning in the 2019-20 school year, according to a bill signed into law by Noem this week. The bill requires the display to be easily readable and no smaller than 12 inches tall and 12 inches wide. A prominent location is defined as a school entryway, cafeteria or other common area where students are likely to see it, according to the bill.

In other words, the clear endorsement by the South Dakota state government is to be thrust into every student's face. Imagine the hysteria if the law required schools to display "Allahu Akbar" or "Imagine! No Religion!" (the latter slogan actually expressing the clear intent in the First Amendment).

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Evolution News - Explaining Mammalian Forelimbs

Photographs of the upper arm bones from seven kinds of early mammal relatives. The three bones on the left are from an early group called pelycosaurs, and the bones are all roughly the same shape. The four bones on the right are from therapsids, the group that includes today's mammals, and they show the greater variety of shapes and sizes that characterize therapsid limbs. The black scale bars represent 2cm.
Credit: (c) Jacqueline Lungmus, Field Museum
Mammals’ unique arms started evolving before the dinosaurs existed | Field Museum

Creationists and evolution deniers have been predicting the imminent demise of the Theory of Evolution almost since the day Darwin and Wallace presented their idea to the Linnean Society in 1858.

The latest claim, repeated forlornly every day by creationists like a prayer or a protective mantra, is that the notion of 'Intelligent (sic) Design' will soon replace the ToE as the accepted scientific explanation for biodiversity, so becoming the only established body of science to be replaced by magic. Imagine, a 'scientific' explanation that includes magic and an unproven notional entity that no-one can explain, doing things that no-one has ever witnessed it doing by a process that remains a mystery.

The fact that ID has been refuted comprehensively and dismissed by serious biologists, and declared in a court of law to be creationism in disguise, with the intention of deceiving people, is lost on creationists, apparently.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Catholic Abuse News - Cardinal Pell Gets Six Years

George Pell sentenced for child sex abuse - Live Coverage Catholic church news Melbourne

Cardinal George Pell, former number three in the Vatican as its financial controller, brought in by Pope Francis to sort out the Vatican's byzantine finances, has been sentenced to six years imprisonment for sexual abuse of children. He will serve a minimum of three years and eight months before being eligible for parole.

Pell is by far the most senior Catholic cleric to be convicted in a criminal court of the sexual abuse of minors. At the age of 77 and with health issues, it is quite possible that he may never leave prison alive.

Monday, 11 March 2019

Catholic Abuse News - Competing Contrition

The Most Rev. Leonard P. Blair, Archbishop of Hartford, CT
Catholic Archbishop, on His Hands and Knees, Begged for Forgiveness Over Abuse - The New York Times

As Catholic bishops panic to release lists of abusive priests to avoid accusations of coverup, following the shocking Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, there appears to be a competition developing over who can show himself to be the most contrite.

The archbishop of Hartford, CT, The Most Rev. Leonard P. Blair, for example, held a special Mass of Reparations and went down on his hands and knees, even laying prostrate before the altar, and begged the congregation for forgiveness.

He had earlier released the names of 48 priests accused of sexual abuses; five of them from the same small church, St George's, in the small coastal town of Guilford where the special Mass was held.

He went one better than Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, the archbishop of Newark, who only expressed his "genuine sorrow and regret to the victims who put their trust in a member of the church only to have that trust so profoundly betrayed."

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Christian Corruption News - Fleecing the Flock

Terry Waye and Brenda Millender
Virginia pastor gets 8 years for $2 million fraud scheme | Fox 5

What's the point of having a flock if you don't fleece them? The sentencing of a Virginia pastor to eight years in prison a few days ago illustrates this principle very nicely.

Christian pastor, Terry Wayne Millender and his wife Brenda, who together ran the Victorious Life Church in Virginia, USA, had been convicted by an Alexandria jury of fleecing their flock of $2 million. They faced up to 20 years in prison.

Terry Milender was convicted in December 2017 of 31 charges including wire fraud, money laundering, false-tax-return filing and obstruction; Brenda was convicted of 7. In a wonderful example of the fine Christian principle of a wife standing by her husband through thick and thin, Brenda's lawyers tried to distance her from his crimes, expressing pleasure that the jury has recognised her lesser role in the affair and implying that she had played little part in her husband's scam.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Catholic Abuse News - Another Day, Another Cardinal

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin
French Cardinal, Convicted of Ignoring Child Sex Abuse, Will Resign from Church | Hemant Mehta | Friendly Atheist | Patheos

The French Catholic cardinal recently convicted of failing to report a serial paedophile priest to the police, has decided to offer his resignation to the Pope.

Had Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon and France's most senior Catholic cleric, not been convicted in a civil court, it is unlikely that anything would have been done. In essence, he is resigning for embarrassing the church, not for failing to protect the victims of one of his priests.

Friday, 1 March 2019

Christian Abuse News - How Piety Provides Excuses

Matthew Lane Durham
Christian missionary, paedophile and multiple rapist
Oklahoma Missionary Sentenced to 40 Years for Raping Nairobi Children, Underscoring the Harm Done by Some Foreigners in Africa

The account of how Matthew Lane Durham, then 19, from Oklahoma, raped four African children in an orphanage in Kenya whilst working as a Christian missionary, is an illustration of how piety can be used as a cover for socially unacceptable activity, just as we see it used by Catholic priests and priests and pastors of other denominations.

According to this report from CNN, Matthew Lane Durham, 21, was sentenced to four decades in prison by Judge David L. Russell on four counts of "engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places". According to court documents, in the course of just 33 days, Durham "raped three girls -- ages 5, 9 and 15 -- at least eight times. During that same time period, he sexually molested a 12-year-old boy twice." Durham had volunteered for the Oklahoma-based charity which runs the Upendo Children's Home in Nairobi. The charity recruits volunteers from the Oklahoma Christian community.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Unintelligent Design News - Zebras Winning The Arms Race

Grant's Zebra, Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
© Muhammad Mahdi Karim
Published under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Source: Wikipedia
Why Do Zebras Have Stripes? Scientists Camouflaged Horses to Find Out - The New York Times

News this week that scientists believe they have explained the reason zebras look like they're living barcodes, is another major embarrassment for 'Intelligent Design' hoaxers.

It is also yet another casual vindication of the Theory of Evolution, done simply by revealing the truth. It's perhaps worth reiterating at this point that scientists don't set out to disprove creationism and confirm evolution - there would be absolutely no point in doing that yet again. They refute creationism and confirm the science simply by discovering the facts.
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