Monday, 22 July 2019

New Light on Cichlid Evolution in Africa

Just a few of the Lake Victoria Cichlids
New light on cichlid evolution in Africa - LMU Munich.

Cichlids are a ubiquitous group of freshwater fish in the tropics and are notable for the wide range of morphologies and patterns of behaviour that have adapted them to exploit a wide range of freshwater habitats. There are some 1100 different African species alone, most of them belonging to the Haplotilapiini group.

Now a collaborative research project carried out under the auspices of the GeoBio-Center at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany (LMU), has helped shed light on the origins and causes of this central paradigm in evolutionary biology.

The most notable example of this diversification is in the Great Lakes, Lakes Tanganyika, Malawi and Victoria, and others, in the East African Rift Valley where we can date the beginnings of this radiation with a fair degree of accuracy because several of these lakes are know to have dried up at particular geological times. This effectively zeros the local evolutionary process at the point where the lakes fill again.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Declining Religion in UK

Religion Identity, behaviour and belief over two decades | British Social Attitudes 36 - Religion.

'Christian', as a self-identifier of religious belief, fell below 40% for the first time in 2018 in the UK, while 'non-religious' oustripped all the others combined at 52%.

Coincidentally, the UK voted to leave the EU by exactly the same percentage of those who voted as those who now state they have no religion. On the basis of that margin, the UK is now going through the most fundamental change in its constitution since the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

The constitutional change as a result of 52% of people having no religion has been conspicuous by its absence. In Theresa May's words, nothing has changed. In this instance though, that statement is true.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

The End of Christian Fascism in Greece?


Greek fascist 'Golden Dawn' flag
Greece election results: Landslide for centre-right New Democracy after Syriza concedes defeat | The Independent

Hidden in the result of the recent Greek general election a few days ago was a welcome result which went almost unnoticed by the mainstream news media; the extreme right-wing, Orthodox Christian-supported and openly fascist party, 'Golden Dawn' was totally wiped out, losing all its MPs.

Golden Dawn had previously been Greece's third largest party but under the Greek proportional electoral system, having failed to reach the 3% threshold, it did not qualify to have even one MP.

According to this report, the Greek Orthodox Church, which unlike Catholicism, does not have a rigid hierarchical structure but has devolved regional autonomy, is at least ambivalent towards Gold Dawn's openly fascist, ultra-nationalist policies and violent tactics. While some bishops have been critical other have been lukewarm or even openly supportive of Golden Dawn.

U.S. Confidence in Religion Falls Again

U.S. Confidence in Organized Religion Remains Low | Gallup.

The confidence of Americans in organized religion has fallen by a further two percentage points in the last year and now stands at another historic low of just 36% having a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in it.

Historical lows have been recorded in each successive year for the last 5 years and there has only been one brief respite in an otherwise inexorable decline since 2010. In 1975, soon after Gallup began polling the same question about a number of American institutions, organized religion has fallen from the most trusted at 68% (a position it held until 1985) to sixth place.

Over the same period, those expressing very little of no confidence in organized religion has risen from 11% to 27%.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Catholic Abuse News - Pope's Envoy To France

Archbishop Luigi Ventura, papal nuncio to France
Credit: Rémy Gabalda/AFP/Getty Images
Vatican lifts diplomatic immunity for envoy facing assault claims | World news | The Guardian

On January 17 this year, the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, gave a new year’s address to diplomats, religious leaders and civil society figures in the city hall. Also invited was 74-year-old Archbishop Luigi Ventura, papal nuncio to France, the equivalent of an ambassador for the Vatican City state and the personal representative of Pope Francis. He has held the post since 2009.

While there he allegedly repeatedly sexually assaulted a member of the city staff, by groping his bottom, once in full view of witnesses. The attention was unwanted, uninvited and unwelcome.

The employee reported the matter to his employers who, on 24 January, reported the matter to the police as a sexual assault, and an investigation was launched. After these allegations emerged, a second man alleged that Ventura had molested him in Canada. Christian Vachon alleged Ventura touched his buttocks at least twice during a banquet held at the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, near Quebec.

However, as an accredited diplomat, Ventura was immune from prosecution, as is every other diplomat under the 1961 Vienna Convention, unless diplomatic immunity is withdrawn by the diplomat's own country - in this case, the Vatican City.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Catholic Abuse News - German Congregation Walkout

Rev. Ulrich Zurkuhlen
"I have never experienced anything like this in the 54 years of my life as a priest."
German Catholics Storm Out Of Sermon Urging Forgiveness For Predator Priests | HuffPost UK

Once upon a time, the members of a Christian congregation were nothing if not derential. Not so now though if Münster in Germany is anything to go by.

A congregation would once sit, sometimes for hours, enduring the lectures priests delivered from their pulpit. They would nod piously but silently in agreement, as the sacred words of wisdom poured forth upon the assembled godly, enlightening them, reinforcing their sense of unworthiness and their need to come back again next week to endure another lecture, hand over money and beg for forgiveness.

They would even shake hands with the priest as they left, congratulating him on another wonderful sermon - whilst scarcely remembering a word of it.

Not so today, as events in the German city of Münster showed. Gone is deference to the moral authority of the church and it's priests. Sickened by daily stories of hypocrisy and moral depravity of priests, and in this case Catholic priests, the congregation in the Holy Spirit Church answered back, loudly and angrily. Eventually half the choir walked out followed by about 70 of the congregation and held an impromptu protest meeting outside.

Monday, 8 July 2019

How Christians Lie to Us - Gay 'Conversion' Fraud

Science Journal Retracts Paper That Said Gay Conversion Therapy Works | Hemant Mehta | Friendly Atheist | Patheos

Last August, an American Christian rights pressure group, Liberty Counsel, issued a press release in which they claimed:

A recent study, Effects of Therapy on Religious Men Who Have Unwanted Same-Sex Attraction, confirms the overwhelming effectiveness of people receiving counseling to reduce or eliminate their unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, or identity.

In this study, more than two-thirds of those who participated in group therapy or received professional help had significant heterosexual shifts in sexual attraction, sexual identity, and behavior, and moderate-to-marked decreases in suicidality, depression, substance abuse, and increases in social functioning and self-esteem. The study’s effectiveness rates for counseling people with unwanted same-sex attraction were comparable to the effectiveness rates of psychotherapy in general for any unwanted issue.

[...]

This current research also strongly refutes claims the American Psychological Association [APA] and other organizations have made aimed at discouraging counsel to change unwanted same-sex attractions, behavior, and identity.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Cultural Evolution and Wood Pigeons

Common wood pigeon, Columba palumbus
I'm sitting in my garden enjoying a beautiful sunny summer day with a light breeze. About ten feet to my right is a tangle of buddleia and ceanothus with a vine and a wisteria twinging up through it, having outgrown their pergola. In the centre of this tangle is a wood pigeon's nest. A couple of wood pigeons are strutting about not six feet from me.

Outside my front door, in a tangle of Clematis montanum and making a right mess of my outside lamp and the ground beneath, is another wood pigeon's nest. The first clutch of young having flown about a week ago, they already seem to be sitting on a second clutch of two eggs. Always two and always one male and one female - a 'pigeon pair'.

According to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), wood pigeons, Columba palumbus, are now competing with blue tits and blackbirds for the top spot as Britain's commonest garden bird. Something has changed radically in the behaviour of wood pigeons over the last ten to twenty years.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Muslims Losing Faith Too

The Arab world in seven charts: Are Arabs turning their backs on religion? - BBC News

A major new survey by the Arab Barometer research network for the BBC, conducted across ten countries and the Palestinian territories between late 2018 and spring 2019 shows a marked increase in those with no religious beliefs.

Other finding in the survey show a move towards a more liberal attitude to a range of social issues.

Across the area, those self-identifying as "not religious" rose from just 8% to 13% between 2013 and 2018. This represents a 1% per annum increase. Amongst the under-30's this rose to 18%. The largest increases were seen in Tunisia, Libya, Morocco and Egypt, and only Yemen recorded a fall.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Terrible News for Creationists - Evolution of Ruminants Now Known



Lesser Mouse Deer, Tragulus kanchil
By Seshadri.K.S. - Own work,
CC BY-SA 4.0, Link
Masai giraffe, G. c. tippelskirchi
By © Hans Hillewaert,
CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
From Sheep and Cattle to Giraffes, Genome Study Reveals Evolution of Ruminants | UC Davis

The ruminants are a large and very successful group of mammals ranging in size from the tiny lesser mouse deer of Malaysia to the giant African giraffes, and occupying a wide range of ecosystems. A characteristic of this group is a four-chambered stomach modified to digest a high-cellulose diet with the aid of specialist microorganisms, regurgitation and re-chewing of the food (chewing the cud), a pair of horns or antlers used for defence and sexual display and teeth adapted for eating grass and leaves.

This group emerged between 32 and 39 million years ago and has provided several important domesticated animals such as cattle, sheep and goats, but how exactly they are related had not before been fully worked out.

Now a team of scientists led by Wen Wang and Guojie Zhang at the Kunming Institute of Zoology, China, and Rasmus Heller at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and including Professor Harris Lewin at the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology and Genome Center, Davis California, has gone some considerable way to working out a phylogenic tree for this group.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Catholic Abuse News - Cardinal Nichols' Complacency


Cardinal Vincent Nichols
The Roman Catholic Church Case Study: Archdiocese of Birmingham Investigation Report | IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The leader of the Catholic Church in England, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, has been severely criticised by an Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report, for being more concerned with the reputation of the church than with the protection of children.

Nichols was Archbishop of Birmingham between 2000 and 2009 and, although he denies a coverup, was found to have "ignored" allegations which, if investigated could have prevent the abuses of children. In all, there were 130 allegations of child abuse against 78 Catholic priests in the archdiocese.

The chair of the IICSA, Professor Alexis Jay said, "I am truly shocked by the scale of sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Birmingham." The inquiry concentrated on the case of four predatory paedophile priests in particular, one of them being Father John Tolkien, son of the author JRR Tolkien. One of the four remains anonymous.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Catholic Abuse News - Church of the Holy Hypocrite


Thomas J. Tobin, bishop of Providence, Rhode Island
Catholic bishop who ignored child sex abuse cases calls Pride parades ‘harmful for children’ / LGBTQ Nation

In a stunning display of the nauseating hypocrisy that passes for sanctimonious piety in the Catholic Church, a bishop who stood by and did nothing while priests abused children, has hit out at a planned gay pride month, warning parents that:

[Gays] promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Catholic faith and morals. They are especially harmful for children.

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, served for four years in the 1990s as auxiliary bishop of Pittsburgh, one of six Pennsylvania dioceses covered in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report that reveals a horror story of decades of child abuse by Catholic priests and routine cover-up by senior clerics.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Bear Facts Refute Creationism

Polar bear, Ursus maritimus
Evolved by losing information.
News: How eating meat shifted polar bears’ DNA | College of Natural Sciences (CNS) | UMass Amherst

How did new information create polar bears?

According to creationists, it can't have done because, so the dogma says, no new information can arise due to mutations, and since evolution requires mutations on which selection can work, it should follow that evolution can't include new information. A corollary to this dogma is that loss of information is invariably detrimental.

The problem with that dogma is that real world biology keeps finding examples that shouldn't be there. The latest is the finding that polar bears evolved from a common ancestor with brown bears by adaptations that required changes in the number of certain key genes. This was discovered by researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Natural Science.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Creationism Dogged By More Bad News

Dogs evolved a special muscle that lets them make puppy dog eyes | New Scientist

Creationists are probably used to ignoring yet another example of a 'non-existent' fossil showing intermediate or 'transitional' features between an ancestral and a descendant species. If not, they should be since these turn up with monotonous regularity.

A little more unusual are those examples of another of their 'non-existent' feature of biological evolution - new structure.

So, today's news gives creationists another fact to ignore and proclaim not to be there - domestic dogs have a structure which is not found in their wolf ancestors. Moreover, the mechanism by which it evolved is easy to understand in terms of how the environment selected for the ability this new structure gives dogs.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Has Creationism's Intelligent Designer Blundered?

New vulnerability found in major human viruses: Structural feature may lead to antivirals for the common cold, polio, and other pathogens -- ScienceDaily

It looks like creationism's Intelligent (sic) Designer might have blundered and built a vulnerability into some of its most annoying viruses - if you believe that creationist view of biology.

The vulnerability comes from the way viruses replicate inside cells. To enter the cell, they need to change the shape of their protein coat, so if the shape of this protein can be 'locked' they would be unable to infect cells.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Malevolent Designer News - America Gets A Special Virulent Zika Virus

Source
Are American Zika strains more virulent than Pacific and Asian strains? -- ScienceDaily

It's beginning to look like the malevolent designer, flushed with success at designing the zika virus to cause microcephaly in babies whose mothers became infected during pregnancy, then spreading it from Africa to South America, has now moved to the next level.

From the work done by a Japanese team of researchers from National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan, it looks like a slight tweaking of the design means that the strain of zika now spreading to North America is more virulent. The malevolent designer is planning something a little special for the southern states of the USA.

Their work was published open access in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases yesterday. The accompanying press release explains:

Christians - It's Intolerant not to Tolerate Their Intolerance

Barronelle Stutzman, Christian
Intolerable that the courts won't tolerate her intolerance.
Christian Florist Who Won’t Sell Flowers for Gay Weddings Loses in Court Again | Hemant Mehta | Friendly Atheist | Patheos

Christians in the USA are again crying foul because a court has found against their intolerance and faith-based need to victimise, demonise and deny the rights to others that they demand for themselves.

The case involved a Washington State Christian florist who in 2013 refused to supply flowers for a same-sex marriage between Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, even though same-sex marriages were legal in the state. She had been prosecuted by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in the Benton County Superior Court, and fined $1000 for discrimination. She then appealed to the Washington State Supreme Court.

Having lost in the Washington State SC, which ruled that Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in the city of Richland had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law and a consumer protection measure, Stutzman took the case to SCOTUS.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Religious Marriages Plummet As UK Rejects Religion

Marriages in England and Wales - Office for National Statistics

Figures for 2016, released by the UK Office for National statistics a few days ago, show rapidly changing attitudes to marriages and especially to religious marriages in England and Wales. Religion is becoming detached from the institution of marriage and playing little or no part in relationships between adults now. Marriage is quite simply not a religious institution in England and Wales anymore.

The main points were:

  1. In 2016, there were 249,793 marriages in England and Wales, 1.7% more than in 2015, but 1.0% fewer than in 2014.
  2. 97.2% of all marriages were between opposite-sex couples and 2.8% were between same-sex couples.
  3. There were 7,019 marriages between same-sex couples in 2016, an increase of 8.1% from 2015; of these marriages, 55.7% were between female couples.
  4. Marriage rates for opposite-sex couples in 2016 were lower at all ages compared with 2006, except for men aged 60 years and over and women aged 50 years and over.
  5. For the first time ever, less than one-quarter (24%) of all marriages in 2016 were religious ceremonies.
  6. 30 July was the most popular day to get married in 2016, with 4,742 marriages on this day.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Another Mega-Church - Another Sex Scandal

Naasón Joaquín García, leader of the La Luz Del Mundo church mega-church, Los Angeles, California. Accused of human trafficking, producing child pornography, forcible rape of a minor and other felonies.
Attorney General Becerra Announces Arrest of Naasón Joaquín García, Leader of Religious Organization La Luz Del Mundo, in Major Sex Trafficking Case | State of California - Department of Justice - Office of the Attorney General

Religion is often, probably very often, and the more closely you look at the behaviour of those who profess loudly to be religious, almost always, used as an excuse for behaviour that would be otherwise socially unacceptable.

The daily news stories of criminal, predatory behaviour by priests, pastors, nuns and practically anyone with power over children and other vulnerable people, of just about all churches and religious orders, cults and communities, are now routine; barely raising an eyebrow. This can surely leave little doubt that churches of all denominations are stuffed with people who are merely using them as a cover.

Naasón Joaquín García, leader of the La Luz Del Mundo mega-church, Los Angeles, California, USA seems to be yet another example of loud piety being used as a cover and the church providing the excuses he needed.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Homophobic Fruitloop For Brexit

Ann Widdicombe MEP
Ann Widdecombe says science may 'produce an answer' to being gay | Politics | The Guardian

Ann Widdecombe, the recently-elected MEP for Nigel Farage's Brexit Party, not content with pursuing a relentlessly right-wing political agenda, has decided she needs to add the role of gay-bashing homophobe to her list of unpleasant qualities.

She stood for a 'party' that had coalesced around Farage, had no manifesto and a single policy, which mysteriously had the finances to launch a major political campaign. Farage's record of racism, lies, disregard for electoral laws and cynical disregard for truth, was of no consequence to self-righteous, everso holy Ann.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Catholic Abuse News - Poland Learns the Truth

Tell No One: YouTube documentary shows sex abuse victims confronting Catholic priests

That most Catholic of European countries, Poland, is having a major child abuse scandal involving Catholic priests all of its own. Whether this results in the same rejection of Catholicism that we've seen in Ireland and elsewhere remains to be seen.

The documentary, Tell No One, which includes secret recordings of Catholic priests being confronted by their victims and confessing to the abuses, has provoked a storm of outrage, having already had more that 21 million views on YouTube, which has resulted in moves to double the prison sentence for paedophiles from 15 to 30 years.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Catholic Abuse News - Church Struggling to Keep up With Secular Humanism

Don Gino Flaim - "It was the Children's fault"
Italian priest Don Gino Flaim justifies paedophilia on live TV and blames children for ‘seeking affection’ | The Independent

A measure of just how far the Catholic Church has been forced to adopt decent Humanist standards of behaviour can be gauged by this article from 2012 and comparing it with Catholic PR today.

To day, senior Catholics know they need to be very guarded and circumspect when they try to blame others for their church's moral bankruptcy and its arrogant abuse of power. Not so just a few years ago, as Don Gino Flaim, 75, of the diocese of Trento in Northern Italy, showed when he went on TV to blame the victims, and by inference their parents, telling the viewers:

Increasingly Secular Ireland as Catholic Church Declines

Baby boom in the past as new figures show birthrates drop again - Irish Mirror Online

The degree to which the Irish Republic has rejected Catholicism in recent years can be seen in a few birth and marriage figures for 2018, released yesterday.

Traditionally, a typical Irish family of previous generations, following the diktats of the Catholic Church, would have been very large. My partner's mother, born into an Irish Catholic emigre family, was one of twelve children, for example. Her Irish-born grandfather from County Mayo, born just a few years after the famine, was one of fourteen children. By the time of the 2011 census, this was down to an average of just 1.38 children, itself a fall from 1.41 in 2006.

Friday, 31 May 2019

Christian Abuse News - Jesus Army Church Closes

The Jesus Centre, former home of the Jesus Army, Northampton
Jesus Army churches close after child sex abuse claims - BBC News

In what could be a metaphor for Christianity itself, an extreme fundamentalist church in Northampton, UK, has lost so many members over child abuse scandals that it has decided to call it a day and close its doors, just as have so many other Christian churches.

Decent people are walking away from the church, repelled by the behaviour of the clerics and the church's leadership in tolerating it and even facilitating it and participating in it.

Monday, 27 May 2019

Christian Hypocrisy News - The Preachers of Hate

Six antigay church leaders who have found themselves ensnared in sex scandals / Queerty

Sanctimony is commonly used as a cover. Who would believe that upright, married Christian pastor who weekly fulminates against homosexuals and calls down the wrath of God upon them, would be gay?

It's like the scandalised gossip who condemns others but who keeps her curtains tightly drawn and only opens her door a chink to callers lest they glimpse the squalor in her own home.

We are becoming inured to the daily scandals as yet another priest is caught abusing his position to abuse yet more children or procuring an abortion for his under-age victim while preaching the sanctity of life and a ban on abortions for others. We now almost take it for granted that behind public sanctimony there will be private hypocrisy and the louder the condemnation of others, the more likely is the attacker likely to be an abuser.

Here, by way of illustration is a very short select of Christian hypocrites whose actions contrast sharply with their preaching lectures on what constitutes decent behaviour and whose virulent messages of hate directed at homosexuals are intended to deflect from their own behaviour. The list comes from Queerty, an online magazine with an openly gay agenda.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Another Massive Rejection of Catholicism in Ireland

1995 campaign poster.
Jesus says no; Ireland said yes. Now Ireland says more, by a massive majority.
Divorce referendum: Ireland votes to liberalise laws - BBC News

In another massive rejection of the teaching and advise of the Catholic Church in the Republic of Ireland, the Irish people have voted to liberalise their divorce laws in a referendum held on Friday.

The scale of this shift away from Catholic teaching can be gauged by the scale of the vote in favour of liberalisation compared to the vote to allow divorce in 1995. In 1995, the majority in favour of divorce itself was a mere - 50.3%. Friday's referendum gave an 82.1% vote in favour of the liberalisation of it.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Ark Encounter Suffers Flood Damage

Ark Encounter owners sue over rain damage

Don't laugh!

Ken Ham's Ark Encounter in North Kentucky, which claims to have a replica Ark, is suing its insurers for not paying out for the flood damage caused by heavy rain in 2017 and 2018.

Perhaps, the five different insurers regard this flood damage as an act of God or force majeure. It was caused by an act of gross stupidity. The insurers say they didn't ensure against "correcting design deficiencies or faulty workmanship."

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Civilised Societies Leaving Religions Behind

Pastor Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church.
Preacher of hate.
World - Christian US Pastor Who Prayed For Obamas Death And Celebrated Orlando Gay Club Massacre Becomes The First Person Banned From Ireland | Daily Mail

In a stunning example of the yawning chasm that has opened up between fundamentalist American Christianity and what is considered normal, civilised standards of behaviour, the Irish government has banned an American preacher from entering the country because of the hateful and socially unacceptable nature of the opinions he spouts from the pulpit.

The Irish Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, signed an exclusion order to stop Pastor Steven L Anderson entering Ireland after learning that he had publicly prayed for President Obama's death, celebrated the Orlando massacre of 48 people in a gay bar and called for the death of all homosexuals.

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.

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
Source
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.
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