F Rosa Rubicondior

Monday 22 April 2024

Religion In The USA -The Decline Gathers Pace - Two-Thirds Of Baltimore Catholic Parishes To Close

Baltimore Archdiocese's Proposal Could Cut City Parish Locations by Two-Thirds - The Tablet

In contrast to the view we in Europe sometime have of the USA where fundamentalist religion and far-right Christian nationalism seem to be growing, especially in their political influence, the reality is that religion in the USA is following Europe's lead and losing its grip on the population.

Symptomatic of this decline is the recent announcement that the Catholic diocese of Baltimore, Maryland, is to close about two-thirds of its parishes and amalgamate them with others, because the numbers attending church services has declined too far to make them economic to keep open, with their own priest.

They are now facing a similar problem to that experienced in the UK, and elsewhere in Europe. The biggest problem for the Anglican Church in the UK is what to do with all its unused and boarded-up churches? Many of these are listed buildings, having special historic or architectural significance and the burial grounds are protected by law, so the owners (the C of E) have a legal duty to maintain the buildings that can't be demolished, sitting on land that can't be built on.

In Baltimore, the problem has been getting increasingly acute for several years now. As the Catholic online news magazine, The Tablet, reported on 18 April 2024:

Malevolent Designer News - How Creationism's 'Intelligent Designer' COULD Have Designed Us To Survive A Heart Attack - But Chose Not To

Zebra fish, Danio rerio
Why can zebrafish regenerate damaged heart tissue, while other fish species cannot? – @theU

If you're foolish enough to believe the claims of creationist frauds that we were intelligently designed by an omniscient, omnibenevolent god, then the work of four researchers at Utah University, USA, should be a cause for concern.

They have shown how the zebra fish is 'designed' to survive a heart attack by repairing the damaged cardiac muscle unlike humans and other mammals who replace the damaged muscle with non-functional scar tissue, which can cause several life-limiting problems for those who survive the initial attack.

Just to recap; a heart attack is caused when an artery supplying blood to the heart muscle becomes blocked, so depriving the muscle of oxygen. Unless cleared very quickly, the muscle will die and will be replaced with scar tissue which lacks the contractile ability of cardiac muscle. How much this affects the functioning of the heart will depend on how much muscle was damaged.
How the zebra fish heart is able to repair itself is the subject of an open access paper in the journal Biology Open and of a news release from Utah University:

Sunday 21 April 2024

Malevolent Designer News - How The Monkeypox Virus (MPVX) Was Redesigned To Make It More Contagious

Monkeypox virus (MPXV)
New Research Defines Specific Genomic Changes Associated with the Transmissibility of the Monkeypox Virus | Mount Sinai - New York

Why did the monkeypox virus (MPXV) suddenly become much more contagious in 2022 to transform it from a relatively harmless, low-level infection of humans and other animals into a potential pandemic virus?

Scientists from Mount Sinai, New York, USA, in collaboration with researchers from the Carlos III Health Institute (ISCIII) in Madrid, Spain believe they have worked out the answer to this puzzle - a substantive change in the DNA virus' genome.

Creationists will reject the idea that this change was an evolutionary change driven by environmental selectors, despite the obvious explanation of the observed facts that this explanation offers because their cult dogma states that changes in genomes only happen if caused by their putative intelligent [sic] designer, although, to be fair to creationists, some of them will betray the religious nature of creationism by blaming viruses and these sorts of changes in their genomes on another creator, called 'Sin' to make it compliant with fundamentalist beliefs in a literal Bible.

But these apologists are continually undermined by those fundamentalists who generally, in their kind, caring and compassionate way, greet every new epidemic as their god's punishment for something they don't like. This will usually be some far-right political hobbyhorse in the USA, the way HIV was greeted with great jubilation by Christians as a 'Gay Plague', sent to punish homosexuals, and COVID-19 was declared to be God's punishment on New Yorkers for voting for Democrats.

However, those few creationists intelligent enough to realise they should be supporting the Discovery Institutes efforts to disguise creationism as science, will avoid these excuse, but they are then left with either evolution by natural selection, or intelligent [sic] design, so let's go with those who claim to see their god's hand in these viruses, so at least have managed to avoid the blasphemy of believing in two or more creators, while presenting their allegedly loving god as a pestilential malevolence.

Saturday 20 April 2024

Abiogenesis News - RNA's Hidden Potential & Role In Early Cells

RNA's Hidden Potential: New Study Unveils Its Role in Early Life and Future Bioengineering | Tokyo University of Science

In a recent open access paper in the online journal, Life, a Tokyo University of Science team led by Professor Koji Tamura of the Department of Biological Science and Technology, has given support to the 'RNA World' hypothesis that explains the beginnings of self-replicating organisms as self-catalysing RNA assemblies known as 'ribozymes'.

Ribozymes have the ability to catalyse the production of new ribozymes, so overcoming the 'problem' for abiogenesis that proteins are needed to catalyse the assembly of DNA but DNA is needed to create proteins, leading to a classic 'chicken and egg' paradox. Since ribozymes don't need proteins, this solves the problem.

How Professor Tamura' team did this is the subject of a Tokyo University of Science news release:

Friday 19 April 2024

Creationism in Crisis - How A Small Mutation Made Us Human - And Shows Our Common Origin With Other Apes

A regulatory variant impacting TXB1 expression contributes to the morphology at the base of the skull. (SNP = single nucleotide polymorphisms).
Genetic Variant Identified that Shaped the Human Skull Base|Tokyo Medical and Dental University, National University Corporation

Creationists like Michael J Behe try to fool their fellow cultists that all mutations are 'devolutionary' and move the organism away from some notional idea of created perfection, although perfection for what is never stated. It is left to the parochial ignorance of the reader to fill the gap and conclude that the religious superstition of 'The Fall' must be true, so he can claim his absurd notion is not really Christian fundamentalism in a lab coat like his 'intelligent design' notion, but real science.

The same parochial, ignorant religious fundamentalists will also assume that somehow humans represent the supreme created perfection (how could it be otherwise for those who, with the 'humility' of a religious fundamentalist, see themselves as the perfect creations of a perfect creator?).

So how does that square with the many examples of mutations being what makes humans different to other species, as shown by any comparison of our genome with that of apes such as chimpanzees or bonobos?

Of course, it's biological nonsense to talk of perfection without reference to the environment and how a mutation affects fitness in that environment, and fitness is what the process of natural selection produces. There is no perfect pattern against which to compare what evolution produces, so both Homo sapiens and Pan troglodytes (common chimpanzee) are perfect at being human or common chimpanzee respectively, as is are African elephants, a cabbages, or a bacteria, perfect at being what they are.

And this was demonstrated a few days ago with publication of a paper by a team from Tokyo Medical Dental University (TMDU), the University of Helsinki, and the University of Barcelona who have analysed the genetics of the shape of the base of the human skull and found it to be due to a mutation in a single gene called TBX1. The mutation is a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), which means a change in a single letter in the DNA 'code' for a single amino acid. The SNP (“rs41298798”) is in the DNA involved in the regulation of TXB1.

This single mutation allowed the base of our skull to change shape as our brain enlarged as we became more intelligent and more dependent on technology and the cognitive abilities that enabled us to become Homo sapiens.

The team have published their findings, open access, in the Cell Press, American Journal of Human Genetics, the journal of the American Society for Human Genetics, and explain it in a TMDU News release:

Creationism in Crisis - How Interspecies Rivalry Gave Rise To Multiple Hominin Species

Australopithecus sediba
Interspecies competition led to even more forms of ancient human – defying evolutionary trends in vertebrates | University of Cambridge

The gulf between science and creationism continues to widen with the publication of an open access research paper in Nature Ecology & Evolution in which the two authors argue that early hominins speciates as a result of inter-species competition, but not like most vertebrates through competition for niches, but because the evolution of technology enabled species to evolve quickly into new niches with what amounts to memetic evolution, i.e., evolution of cultures which, in an intelligent species can occur much more quickly than the slow, genetic evolution in other species.

In this respect the pattern of early hominin evolution was more like that of beetles evolving on an island.

Creationists, by contrast, as still stuck desperately looking for evidence that all humans are descended from a single pair of humans who were magically made from dirt just a few thousand years ago.

The researchers, Laura A. van Holstein and Robert A. Foley of the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies, Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK, explain their research in a Cambridge University new release:

Thursday 18 April 2024

Creationism in Crisis - How People Lived In Caves in Arabia Before, During And After Creationism's Mythical Genocidal Flood

The entrance to Umm Jirsan Cave.
Credit: Green Arabia Project
First evidence of human occupation in lava tube cave in Saudi Arabia – Griffith News

In a stunning, if incidental and unintentional, rebuttal of creationist mythology, a team of palaeontologists led by scientists from Grifith University' Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution (ARCHE), have uncovered evidence of human occupation of caves in Saudia Arabia about 10,000 - 3,500 years ago.

This, of course, as any creationist will pretend isn’t significant, means that humans were living in these caves from before 'Creation Week' right through the mythical global genocidal flood, and beyond, and were completely undisturbed by any of it.

How Science Works - Darwin's Wonderful Worms Revisited

How a little-known clergyman studying worms by candlelight in the 1700s inspired Charles Darwin – but didn’t get the credit he deserved

Almost exactly 10 years ago today, I wrote an article in praise of the last work Charles Darwin wrote about, in 1881, where he showed how earthworms were not the garden pests they had been assumed to be, but how they were essential for creating the soil and how their activity had transformed the landscape. He showed how they were responsible for burying very much of history, transforming the budding science of archaeology.

He also showed how the planet is not a static place, unchanged since its 'creation' like the Christian dogma taught, but a dynamic and changing place where the present has been shaped by natural forces which were also responsible for the history that archaeology and geology were revealing.

So, it's rewarding to write about how Darwin did this research and particularly how he built on the knowledge of those who had gone before him, in the best traditions of science, where knowledge is accumulative and build on the known to discover the unknown and so advance the sum total of human knowledge. The sad thing is that either deliberately, or through forgetfulness in his advanced years, Darwin neglected to give due credit to Rev. Gilbert White.

This is the subject of an article by Kevin Richard Butt, a Reader in Ecology, University of Central Lancashire, UK, published in The Conversation. His article is reprinted under a Creative Commons license, reformatted for stylistic consistency:

Wednesday 17 April 2024

Creationism in Crisis - How Plant Leaves Were Evolving 201 Million Years Before 'Creation Week'

Fossil leaves of Furcula granulifer from the Late Triassic, Greenland, scale bar = 5cm.

© Mario Coiro, Leyla Seyfullah
Seed ferns: Plants experimented with reticulated leaf venation 201 million years ago

Check any plan leaf and it will normally be one of two types - the monocotyledons with parallel leaf veins and the dicotyledons with a network of veins organised around a central vein with regular branches.

But this has not always been so. As a team of researchers at Vienna University, in collaboration with colleagues from the National Museum of Natural History in Stockholm and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, have discovered, plants seem to have evolved the network pattern of leaf several times over the course of their evolution with most of them becoming extinct fairly quickly on an evolutionary timescale.

Their findings are published, open access, in the journal New Phytologist and explained in a University of Vienna news release:

Creationism in Crisis - How Copy & Paste Errors Created New Genetic Information - 700 Million Years Before 'Creation Week'

Examples of bilaterans
Centre for Genomic Regulation Website

Contrary to creationists dogma that no new genetic information can arise in a genome without god-magic because of some half-baked notion that the Third Law of Thermodynamics, which applies to energy, somehow applies to genetic information, researchers at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) in Barcelona, Catalunya, Spain, have shown how errors in replication in DNA some 700 million years ago eventually resulted in a vast supergroup of animals (the bilaterans, i.e. animals with bilateral symmetry) including vertebrates (fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals), and invertebrates (insects, arthropods, molluscs, worms, echinoderms and many more).

These errors where whole genomes and genes were duplicated, created the condition where the original genes could continue to function while copies of them were free to mutate and produce new genes with new functions, under the control of natural selection which retains anything which is better than what preceded it and quickly eliminate anything which is worse.

Bilaterians are animals that exhibit bilateral symmetry, meaning they can be divided into two equal halves along a single plane. The vast majority of animals on Earth are bilaterians, including many familiar groups such as:
  1. Mammals: Humans, dogs, cats, elephants, and dolphins are all examples of bilaterians within the mammalian group.
  2. Birds: Birds, like sparrows, eagles, penguins, and ostriches, are also bilaterians.
  3. Reptiles: Snakes, lizards, turtles, and crocodiles exhibit bilateral symmetry.
  4. Amphibians: Frogs, toads, salamanders, and newts are examples of bilaterians within the amphibian class.
  5. Fish: Most fish species, including tuna, salmon, sharks, and goldfish, are bilaterians.
  6. Insects: Butterflies, ants, bees, beetles, and flies are bilaterians within the vast group of insects.
  7. Arachnids: Spiders, scorpions, ticks, and mites are bilaterians within the arachnid class.
  8. Mollusks: Snails, slugs, octopuses, and squids exhibit bilateral symmetry.
  9. Annelids: Earthworms, leeches, and marine worms are examples of bilaterians within the annelid phylum.
  10. Echinoderms: While not as obvious due to their radial symmetry as adults, echinoderms like sea stars and sea urchins exhibit bilateral symmetry during their larval stages.
These are just a few examples, but bilaterians encompass an incredibly diverse range of animal life on Earth.
The researchers have published their findings in Nature Ecology & Evolution and have explained it in a news release from the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG):

Monday 15 April 2024

Creationism in Crisis - Jumping Jehosaphat! It's Giant Kangaroos 30,000 Years Before 'Creation Week'!

Impression of South-eastern South Australia during the Pleistocene
(~500 thousand years ago)
Peter Schouten
We found three new species of extinct giant kangaroo – and we don’t know why they died out when their cousins survived

Archaeologists have re-assesses the fossils of giant kangaroos that lived in the Pleistocene along with other megafauna such as giant goannas (an Australian lizard) or Megalania, Varanus priscus, that grew to 4 meters (about 13 feet) long and went extinct about 40,000 years ago along with much of the megafauna. One of these kangaroos, the short-faced kangaroo Procoptodon goliah grew to three metres (9.5 feet) and probably weighed over 250 kilograms (about 550 lbs).

Why these large animals went extinct and what part if any the arrival of Homo sapiens played any part in it is a matter of debate, but what is not a matter for debate is whether or not they existed and when. Their discovery is explained by Isaac A. R. Kerr, a Research Assistant in the Palaeontology Laboratory, Flinders University, Australia in an open access article in The Conversation. His article is reprinted here, reformatted for stylistic consistency, under a Creative Commons license:

How Science Works - Tracking How Great Tits In An Oxfordshire Wood Are Responding To Climate Change

Early morning, Wytham Wood
The great tits in this Oxford wood are adapting their breeding times as climate changes – here’s how

This article caught my eye because it concerns the birds in a wood which is local to me - Wytham Wood, near Oxford, to which I have licensed access. This is reputedly the most intensively studied area of woodland in the world, belonging, as it does, to Oxford University.

Wytham Woods form an iconic location that has been the subject of continuous ecological research programmes, many dating back to the 1940s. The estate has been owned and maintained by the University of Oxford since 1942. The Woods are often quoted as being one of the most researched pieces of woodland in the world, and their 1000 acres are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

The wooded parts of the Wytham Estate comprise ancient semi-natural woodland (dating to the last Ice Age), secondary woodland (dating to the seventeenth century), and modern plantations (1950s and 60s). The fourth key habitat is the limestone grassland found at the top of the hill. Other smaller habitats include a valley-side mire and a series of ponds.

The site is exceptionally rich in flora and fauna, with over 500 species of plants, a wealth of woodland habitats, and 800 species of butterflies and moths.

Through intensive observation over successive years, researchers are able to measure changes in behaviour of species such as the Great Tit, Parus major with some of the best examples of observational biology in the form of research papers. For example, a few years ago a team of researchers showed that the British race of Great tits were diverging from their European relatives with changes in the beaks probably reflecting the fact that we in Britain provide feeding stations for birds to sustain them through the winter much more frequently than other Europeans, so the British Great tits are evolving so they can get the food in the bird feeders in British gardens.

In the following article, ecologist, David López Idiáquez, a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Behavioural and Evolutionary Ecology, University of Oxford, explains how their research is measuring how Great tits are responding to climate change. His article is reprinted here from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license, reformatted for stylistic consistency, with photographs from Internet sources:

Creationism in Crisis - When Earth Was Flooded, According To Creationist Mythology, Australian Aboriginal People Were Making Pots And Campfires And Sailing To Pacific Islands

View across excavation to Blue Lagoon and reef flat.
Photograph: Ian J. McNiven.
Aboriginal people made pottery and sailed to distant offshore islands thousands of years before Europeans arrived

Sometimes you wonder whether creationists ever stop to think whether what they believe is rational, then you realise that most of them are from America where parochial ignorance and cultural chauvinism are the norm. They can believe, for example, that a global flood which left ancient cultures intact and their artifacts just where they left them, and which failed to lay down the predictable global layer of sediment full of jumbled fossils was still a global flood because er... Grand Canyon.

So, news that Australian archaeologists have unearthed potshards from 6,500 years ago in a shell midden which can be accurately dated (unlike potshards), will almost certainly pass unnoticed by the majority of American creationists.

But for those few who are interested in the truth, here is an article by Sean Ulm Sean Ulm, Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Indigenous and Environmental Histories and Futures, James Cook University, Ian J. McNiven, Professor of Indigenous Archaeology; Chief Investigator, ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity & Heritage, Monash University and Kenneth McLean, Director, Walmbaar Aboriginal Corporation, Indigenous Knowledge describing how they found this evidence. Their article is reprinted here under a Creative Commons license, reformatted for stylistic consistency:

Saturday 13 April 2024

Creationism in Crisis - How Multicellularity Evolved - With New Genetic Information

Green Alaga, Stigeoclonium sp.

Macroalgal deep genomics illuminate multiple paths to aquatic, photosynthetic multicellularity: Molecular Plant

What are the main types of algae and how do they differ? Algae are classified into several main groups based on their characteristics, including pigmentation, cellular structure, and mode of reproduction. The main types of algae include:
  1. Diatoms (Bacillariophyta):
    • Diatoms are single-celled algae characterized by their unique glass-like silica cell walls called frustules.
    • They are typically found in freshwater and marine environments.
    • Diatoms are important primary producers and play a significant role in the global carbon cycle.
  2. Green Algae (Chlorophyta):
    • Green algae encompass a diverse group of algae that are mostly freshwater but also found in marine and terrestrial environments.
    • They contain chlorophyll a and b, giving them a green color, similar to land plants.
    • Green algae can be unicellular, colonial, filamentous, or multicellular, with a wide range of morphologies.
  3. Red Algae (Rhodophyta):
    • Red algae are predominantly marine algae, although some species can also be found in freshwater.
    • They contain pigments like chlorophyll a and various accessory pigments, including phycobiliproteins, giving them shades of red, pink, or purple.
    • Red algae often have complex multicellular structures and are important contributors to coral reef ecosystems.
  4. Brown Algae (Phaeophyta):
    • Brown algae are primarily marine algae, commonly found in cold-water habitats.
    • They contain chlorophyll a and c, along with fucoxanthin, which gives them their characteristic brown color.
    • Brown algae can range from small filamentous forms to large, complex seaweeds like kelps.
  5. Blue-Green Algae (Cyanobacteria or Cyanophyta):
    • Despite being called algae, cyanobacteria are actually prokaryotic organisms, classified within the domain Bacteria.
    • They are photosynthetic and often form colonies or filaments.
    • Cyanobacteria can be found in diverse habitats, including freshwater, marine environments, soil, and even extreme environments like hot springs.
    • Some cyanobacteria can produce toxins under certain conditions, leading to harmful algal blooms (HABs) and posing risks to aquatic life and human health.
These main types of algae differ in their pigmentation, cellular structure, habitat preferences, and ecological roles. While some are beneficial and essential for ecosystem health, others can become problematic under certain conditions, such as nutrient pollution or climate change. Understanding the characteristics and ecological functions of different types of algae is crucial for managing and conserving aquatic ecosystems.
Today’s refutation of creationists dogma comes in the form of an open access paper just published in the Cell Press journal, Molecular Plant. Research biologists have revealed how multicellularity evolved several times independently in algae, and how many of the new genes were acquired initially by viruses.

This gives the lie to creationist claims that new information can't arise in the genome because of some half-baked confusion of information with energy and a nonsensical assumption that new genetic information would need to come from nothing.

And of course, like about 99.99% of the history of life on Earth, it all happened in that very long period of pre-'Creation Week' history between Earth forming in an accretion disc around the sun and creationism's little god creating a small flat planet with a dome over it in the Middle East out of nothing, according to creationist mythology

In information provided by Cell Press ahead of publication, the scientists at New York Abu Dhabi University and Technology Innovation Institute, United Arab Emirates, said:
A deep dive into macroalgae genetics has uncovered the genetic underpinnings that enabled macroalgae, or "seaweed," to evolve multicellularity. Three lineages of macroalgae developed multicellularity independently and during very different time periods by acquiring genes that enable cell adhesion, extracellular matrix formation, and cell differentiation, researchers report April 12 in the journal Molecular Plant. Surprisingly, many of these multicellular-enabling genes had viral origins. The study, which increased the total number of sequenced macroalgal genomes from 14 to 124, is the first to investigate macroalgal evolution through the lens of genomics.

This is a big genomic resource that will open the door for many more studies. Macroalgae play an important role in global climate regulation and ecosystems, and they have numerous commercial and ecoengineering applications, but until now, there wasn't a lot of information about their genomes.

Alexandra Mystikou, co-first author
Division of Science and Math
New York University Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Macroalgae live in both fresh and seawater and are complex multicellular organisms with distinct organs and tissues, in contrast to microalgae, which are microscopic and unicellular.

There are three main groups of macroalgae -- red (Rhodophyta), green (Chlorophyta), and brown (Ochrophyta) -- that independently evolved multicellularity at very different times and in very different environmental conditions.

Rhodophytes and Chlorophytes both evolved multicellularity over a billion years ago, while Ochrophytes only became multicellular in the past 200,000 years.

To investigate the evolution of macroalgal multicellularity, the researchers sequenced 110 new macroalgal genomes from 105 different species originating from fresh and saltwater habitats in diverse geographies and climates.

The researchers identified several metabolic pathways that distinguish macroalgae from microalgae, some of which may be responsible for the success of invasive macroalgal species.

Many of these metabolic genes appear to have been donated by algae-infecting viruses, and genes with a viral origin were especially prevalent in the more recently evolved brown algae.

They found that macroalgae acquired many new genes that are not present in microalgae on their road to multicellularity.

For all three lineages, key acquisitions included genes involved in cell adhesion (which enables cells to stick together), cell differentiation (which allows different cells to develop specialized functions), cell communication, and inter-cellular transport.

Many brown algal genes associated with multicellular functions had signature motifs that were only otherwise present in the viruses that infect them. It's kind of a wild theory that's only been hinted at in the past, but from our data it looks like these horizontally transferred genes were critical factors for evolving multicellularity in the brown algae.

David Nelson, co-first author
Division of Science and Math
New York University Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Creationism in Crisis - Another Mystery Solved By Science - Giant Ichthyosaurs From 250 Million Years Before 'Creation Week'

Do some mysterious bones belong to gigantic ichthyosaurs? — University of Bonn

The thing about disagreements in science is that they aren't used as an excuse for persecution and schism, based on the notion that the side with the most power or the most followers wins as though truth can be determined by violence or opinion polls. In science, disagreements lead to discovery because in scientific debate the fact are, or should be, neutral, so they can referee the debate. The side with the evidence wins and the losers graciously accept that they were wrong.

This is the case of the long-standing disagreement in palaeontology over the mystery of giant bones which regularly turn up in deposits on Europe, which were first discovered in 1850 by the British naturalist Samuel Stutchbury, who reported finding a large cylindrical bone in Aust Cliff, near Bristol, UK. Similar fossils have also been found at sites around Europe, including Bonenburg in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany and Provence, France. Stutchbury assumed they were from an extinct crocodile-like land animal, labyrinthodontia, but others disagreed. Other candidates were long-necked sauropods and an as yet unidentified, large dinosaur.

Not the mystery may have been solved by two palaeontologists working at the University of Bonn, Germany. They have published their findings, open access, in the journal PeerJ and explain it in a Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität Bonn news release:

Friday 12 April 2024

Creationism in Crisis - How An Early Jawless Fish Was Feeding - About 400 Million Years Before 'Creation Week'

Fossil of Rhinopteraspis dunensis

Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, Germany
3D mouth of an ancient jawless fish suggests they were filter-feeders, not scavengers or hunters - University of Birmingham

Today's incidental refutation of creationism comes to us from an international team of palaeontologists led by scientists from the University of Birmingham. They have shown how an early jawless fish was feeding, almost 400 million years before creationism's little pet god decided to create a small flat planet with a dome over it in the Middle East, in what creationists refer to as 'Creation Week'.

The researchers have used CT scanning techniques to construct a 3D image of the mouth-parts of Rhinopteraspis dunensis, an early, heavily-armoured boney fish that lived some 380 million years ago.

Thursday 11 April 2024

Creationism in Crisis - News Structure Evolved in Just 36 Years - 'Macro-Evolution' in Progress

Italian Wall Lizard, Podarcis sicula
Rapid large-scale evolutionary divergence in morphology and performance associated with exploitation of a different dietary resource | PNAS

Because of the regularity with which creationists demand evidence of 'macro-evolution' claiming that it has never been observed, I had decided to repost an expanded version of this article I originally wrote in 1918, to include more of the scientific evidence reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).

It's another one of those 'non-existent' things that creationists must dread being shown.

No. This time it's not yet another of those 'missing' transitional fossils or intermediate forms. This time it's yet another example of something else 'impossible' and 'never observed'. It's yet another example of observed rapid evolution, including the evolution of new structures.

Wednesday 10 April 2024

Creationism in Crisis - How A Complex Organ Evolved Naturally

Spotted dolphins, Stenella frontalis
Toothed whale echolocation organs evolved from jaw muscles | Hokkaido University

There is nothing a creationist fraud likes more than an organ or process that can be presented as 'irreducibly complex' because it will only work if all components are present and in the right place. They can sell this to their dupes as an example of something they claim couldn't have evolved gradually because it only works when all components are assembled, with no functional intermediate stages, so it must have been 'intelligently designed' - by the locally-popular god, obviously.

Creationist guru Michael J Behe, used the example of the E. coli flagellum for that purpose, confident that his target dupes would not be aware that almost all the components of the proton motor were present in the Type III secretory system and only needed a few minor changes to function as a hugely advantageous organ of motility. The process of exaptation of redundant structures is quite sufficient to explain how 'irreducibly complex' structures can evolve.

What are the current theories of how the Escherichia coli flagella evolved? The evolution of Escherichia coli flagella is a subject of ongoing research and debate among biologists. While there isn't a single universally accepted theory, there are several hypotheses and models proposed to explain the evolution of bacterial flagella, including:
  1. Co-option Hypothesis: This hypothesis suggests that the flagellum evolved from pre-existing structures that were repurposed for motility. Some researchers propose that the flagellum shares ancestry with the Type III secretion system (T3SS), a needle-like structure used by bacteria to inject toxins or other proteins into host cells. According to this hypothesis, mutations and selective pressures led to the transformation of T3SS components into flagellar components.
  2. Selective Advantage Hypothesis: This hypothesis proposes that the early ancestors of bacteria acquired flagella as a means of enhancing their ability to move towards favorable environments or away from harmful ones. The ability to move towards nutrient-rich areas or away from toxic substances would have provided a significant selective advantage, leading to the evolution and refinement of flagellar structures over time.
  3. Genomic Evidence: Comparative genomics studies have provided insights into the evolution of flagella by examining the genetic sequences of various bacterial species. By analyzing similarities and differences in flagellar genes across different organisms, researchers can infer evolutionary relationships and trace the origins of flagellar components.
  4. Modular Evolution: Some researchers propose that the flagellum evolved through a process of modular evolution, where individual components or substructures of the flagellum evolved independently before being integrated into a functional motility apparatus. This model suggests that the flagellum may have originated from the sequential addition and modification of simpler structures, such as proto-flagella or pili.
  5. Evolutionary Intermediates: Studying the flagella of diverse bacterial species can provide insights into the evolutionary intermediates that may have existed during the transition from non-motile to motile forms. By identifying and characterizing these intermediates, researchers can gain a better understanding of the stepwise process by which flagella evolved.
Overall, while there is still much to learn about the precise evolutionary history of E. coli flagella, ongoing research efforts continue to refine our understanding of how these remarkable structures originated and diversified over time.
Just such an example of exaptation of redundant structures has just been revealed by researchers working Hokkaido University, Japan, who have shown that the complex echolocation system used by the toothed whales such as dolphins and orcas evolved out of the muscles and jaw bones that had previously been used to chew food but were redundant due to evolutionary changes which meant the whales swallowed their food whole.

The team have published their findings in the journal Gene. It is explained in a Hokkaido University news release: Toothed whale echolocation organs evolved from jaw muscles

Genetic analysis finds evidence suggesting that acoustic fat bodies in the heads of toothed whales were once the muscles and bone marrow of the jaw.

Toothed whale echolocation organs evolved from jaw muscles

Genetic analysis finds evidence suggesting that acoustic fat bodies in the heads of toothed whales were once the muscles and bone marrow of the jaw.

Illustration of the body plan of a toothed whale, with a cross section of the head showing the melon (dark yellow) and the extramandibular fat bodies (light yellow) which are key organs for using sound such as echolocation.

Hayate Takeuchi, Takashi Fritz Matsuishi, Takashi Hayakawa. Gene. January 20, 2024
Dolphins and whales use sound to communicate, navigate and hunt. New research suggests that the collections of fatty tissue that enable toothed whales to do so may have evolved from their skull muscles and bone marrow.

Scientists at Hokkaido University determined DNA sequences of genes which were expressed in acoustic fat bodies—collections of fat around the head that toothed whales use for echolocation. They measured gene expression in the harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) and Pacific white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens). Their findings were published in the journal Gene.

The evolution of acoustic fat bodies in the head—the melon in the whale forehead, extramandibular fat bodies (EMFB) alongside the jawbone, and intramandibular fat bodies (IMFB) within the jawbone—was essential for sound use such as echolocation. However, little is known about the genetic origins of those fatty tissues.

How Eyes Evolved - A Worm's Eye View

Marvelous eyes, but you be the judge of this sea critter’s beauty. Vanadis is a byname of the Norse goddess of love, Freya.
Photo: Michael Bok
Mediterranean marine worm has developed eyes "as big as millstones"; – University of Copenhagen

Creationists love to cite the eye as an example of irreducible complexity' which could not have evolved by Darwinian step-wise evolution because anything less than a whole eye can't function as an eye.

They even misquote Darwin who, so they claim, admitted the evolution of the eye could not be explained, as though the entire unifying theory of biology rests on the opinion of one man who wrote his books about 160 years ago. But in their usual intellectually and morally bankrupt way, what they fail to do is to give the whole quote in the context in which Darwin used it to show that his theory of evolution was fully capable of explaining how something as complex as an eye could have evolved. It was typical of his style that he would set out a problem for biology, then show how his theory solved that problem. (see the full quote later).

Tuesday 9 April 2024

Borderline Personality Disorder - Or Why Does Donald Trump Fly Into Rages So Often?

The Link Between Borderline Personality Disorder and Anger | Psychology Today

In an article today in Psychology Today, psychologist, Bernard Golden, Ph.D, explains the link between Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Anger.

Although he doesn't name him, most of his article reads like a description of Donald Trump and his frequent loss of self-control and bouts of angry shouting, which characterised his term in the White House, when aids would frequently be sacked in a fit of rage because they had had the temerity to question him or hint at disagreement.

To us in Europe it often seems America was being run from the bedroom of an over-privileged, petulant adolescent that someone had given a Twitter account to and told him he runs the world, where the most bizarre things were tweeted in the small hours of the morning and the world would wake up to the latest outburst and half-baked policy announcement.

This behaviour is explained by his borderline personality disorder, as described by Dr Bernard Golden

Creationism in Crisis - Evolution Of Improved Hearing In Mammals - 165 Million Years Before 'Creation Week'

Reconstruction of Feredocodon chowi (right) and Dianoconodon youngi (left).

© Chuang Zhao
New Fossils Change Thinking on Early Mammal Evolution | AMNH

Some 165 million years before their god created the small flat planet with a dome over it that Creationists love hearing about, early mammals were evolving into modern mammals, complete with the tiny bones called ossicles that are essential for hearing. These three small bones transmit sound across the inner ear to the auditory sense organ, the cochlea.

Changes in the mammalian dentition were key to freeing these parts of the jaw joint, according to an analysis of two Jurassic-era mammal fossils which are the subject of articles in Nature. These analyses fill a gap in our understanding of the evolution of mammalian dentition and provide evidence of the transition from part of the jaw to the auditory ossicles - the stapes, malus and incus.

Like almost all of the history of life on earth, this all happened in the very long 'pre-Creation' age when 99.99% of Earth's history happened. The discovery was made by a research team that included Jin Meng of the American Museum of Natural History. Their findings are explained in an American Museum of Natural History press release.

Monday 8 April 2024

Evolution News - An Atlas Of The Human Ovary Shows Common Ancestry of Mammals

Human ovarian follicle
First atlas of the human ovary with cell-level resolution is a step toward artificial ovary | University of Michigan News

This piece of research caught my eye, not so much because it refutes creationism with its daft notion of the special creation of humans as separate from all the other animals but because it's reminiscent of the research I used to be involved with in my first profession - a research technician in Oxford University's Department of Human Anatomy.

The research our small group was doing involved the hormonal control of reproduction in guinea pigs, which involved preparing light microscope slides of sections of guinea pig ovaries, and later on, transmission electron micrographs of ovarian tissues.

Like humans, guinea pigs have oestrus cycles where they periodically shed eggs from their ovaries regardless of whether they have mated or not. This is unlike some other mammals which ovulate soon after mating, stimulated to do so by the act of mating. Unlike human females, guinea pigs are only receptive for two or three days before and just after they ovulate. Outside that receptive period, they have a closure membrane that makes penetration impossible.

Sunday 7 April 2024

Malevolent Designer News - How Creationism's Divine Malevolence Creates Genetic Defects

UC Irvine-led research team builds first tandem repeat expansions genetic reference maps – UCI News

Creationists assure us that creating new genetic information is impossible without magic performed by the magic creator because they have been sold some half-baked notion that genetic information follows the same laws of physics as energy, so can't be created according to the Third Law of Thermodynamics.

The fact that this is demonstrably wrong since gene duplication is readily observable doesn't stop them trotting out the same refuted claims time after time, but then to a creationist, having a claim refuted is not seen as a reason not to try to get away with it again later. You'll see this repeatedly as an apologist fraud such as William Lane Craig, Ken Ham or Michael J Behe will be comprehensively refuted in a public debate one day, only to try the self-same argument a day or two later on a different opponent in front of a different audience.

Sadly for creationists, however, this tactic leads them down a cul-de-sac where they are left arguing that DNA duplication must have been intelligently designed and, so they will also claim, evidence of intelligent design is evidence that their favourite god (and no other!) exists.

Creationism in Crisis - Researchers Have Discovered An Essential Step In The Evolution Of Walking

Tiktaalik, (artist's impression)
In the evolution of walking, the hip bone connected to the rib bones | Eberly College of Science

From the day its discovery was announced, Tiktaalik has been a major embarrassment for creationists because not only does it refute the claim that there are no intermediate forms, but it also belies the claim that the Theory of Evolution can't make predictions.

Not only is it intermediate between fully aquatic lobe-finned fish and terrestrial tetrapod, but its discoverers predicted exactly where it would be found in the geological column and promptly went and found it there, exactly were predicted in Canada's Ellesmere Island.

But that embarrassment is about to become even more acute.

Researchers at Penn State's Eberly College have shown that Tiktaalik's ribs were attached to its pelvis and that fact helped in the evolution of walking. The research team, co-led by Tom Stewart, assistant professor of biology in the Eberly College of Science at Penn State and Neil H Shubin, one of the discoverers of Tiktaalik, have published their findings open access in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). It is also explained in a Penn State Eberly College news release by Sam Sholtis:

Creationism in Crisis - How Rusty Patched Bumblebee Genes Show Evidence of Evolution Under Intense Selection Pressure

The rusty-patched bumblebee, once common in the United States, has declined from about 90% of its former range.
Photo by Jay Watson
Rusty-patched bumblebee’s struggle for survival found in its genes - Warner College of Natural Resources

Evolution, or more precisely change in allele frequency over time, inevitably records selection pressures on a species resulting in a genome which, when correctly read and compared to predecessors, should tell the story of changes in the species environment.

This principle is illustrated by the threatened species of bumblebee, the rusty patch bumblebee, Bombus affinis, which has recently declined by about 90% in the USA and is now considered an endangered species. If this rate of decline continues the species will probably be extinct within 20 years. This level of intense selection pressure has inevitably left its mark on the genome of the species.

On of the problems facing the species is the result of the way bees breed. The queen can normally produce two sorts of egg - a fertilised, diploid egg which will develop into a female and a haploid, unfertilised egg which will develop into a male or drone. The problem arises when there is a high level of inbreeding, due, for example, to a small population - which the bee is now facing. In that situation, the female can produce diploid males because both sets of chromosomes can be identical. Diploid males are normally sterile so reducing the breeding success of the local species.

Saturday 6 April 2024

Creationism in Crisis - A Rainbow On Another Planet! Did God Flood That One Too?

Each glory is unique, depending on the composition of the planet’s atmosphere and the colours of the light from the star that illuminates it. WASP-76 (the «Sun» of WASP-76b) is a yellow and white main sequence star like our Sun, but different stars create glories with different colours and patterns.

© ESA, work performed by ATG under contract for ESA. CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.
CHEOPS detects a "rainbow" on an exoplanet - Medias - UNIGE

Scientists working at the CHEOPS space telescope control centre in the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, working in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the University of Bern (UNIBE), have discovered something which should ring alarm bells in the minds of Bible literalists.

It is the discovery of a rainbow in the atmosphere of an exoplanet known to science as WASP-76b.

WASP-76b is an exoplanet discovered in 2013 and confirmed in 2016 by a team of astronomers led by Neale P. Gibson using data from the Wide Angle Search for Planets (WASP) project. It belongs to the class of exoplanets known as "hot Jupiters," which are gas giants similar in size to Jupiter but with much higher temperatures due to their close proximity to their parent stars. Here are some key characteristics of WASP-76b:
  1. Discovery: WASP-76b was discovered using the transit method, which involves observing the slight dimming of a star's light as an orbiting planet passes in front of it. This dimming effect is periodic and can be used to infer the presence and characteristics of the planet.
  2. Physical Characteristics: WASP-76b is approximately 1.8 times the size of Jupiter but significantly more massive. It has a high surface temperature, estimated to be around 2,400 degrees Celsius (4,350 degrees Fahrenheit). This extreme heat is due to the planet's close orbit around its host star, WASP-76, which is located about 640 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Pisces.
  3. Atmospheric Composition: One of the most intriguing features of WASP-76b is its atmospheric composition. Observations using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile revealed the presence of iron and titanium vapor in the planet's atmosphere. This finding is significant because it provides insights into the atmospheric chemistry and physical processes occurring on hot Jupiter exoplanets.
  4. Extreme Conditions: The extreme temperature and atmospheric conditions on WASP-76b make it an inhospitable world, unlikely to support life as we know it. Its atmosphere is thought to be dominated by high-speed winds and extreme atmospheric dynamics, which may lead to unusual weather patterns and atmospheric phenomena.
  5. Importance for Exoplanet Research: WASP-76b is one of many exoplanets discovered in recent years that are helping astronomers better understand the diversity of planetary systems beyond our solar system. Its unique atmospheric composition and extreme conditions make it a valuable target for further study, particularly in the field of exoplanet atmospheres and planetary formation theories.
Overall, WASP-76b represents a fascinating example of the diverse range of exoplanets that exist in our galaxy and provides valuable insights into the atmospheric characteristics and physical processes occurring on these distant worlds.
The reason this should set alarm bells ringing in the minds of Bible literalists, is because they believe that 'the' rainbow was sent by the god of the Bible to show believers that he wouldn't ever inflict another genocide on the planet because, although being omniscient and perfect, he regretted the time he did it in a fit of temper and flooded the planet to a depth that covered the highest mountains.

Or so the tale goes.

Before about 4,000 years ago, obviously, sunlight wouldn't have been diffracted into its component colours by passing through raindrops, or so those who didn't understand how rainbows are formed wrote.
And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; And with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth.

And I will establish my covenant with you, neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.

And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.

Genesis 9: 8-17

Apparently, God is so forgetful that he needs the rainbow to remind him not to lose self-control and commit genocide again.

But the question for creationists is, did God commit genocide on another planet too and put a rainbow there to remind him not to do it again? If not, how do rainbows form on another planet if they only appear on Earth because God puts them there?

If he did commit genocide on another planet, this means there must have been life there too, yet WASP-76b is far too hot to sustain life as we know it, being a 'hot' Jupiter-like gas giant which orbits its sun (WASP-76) closer than mercury orbits ours.

How this discovery was made is the subject of a news release by the University of Geneva:

Superstition News - How Belief in God(s) Evolved in Human Culture

Christian church service
Why Do People Believe in God? | Psychology Today

From the point of view of an Atheist like me who realised religion was nonsense at the age of 9 and have been an atheist ever since, the fact that grown adults believe in a magic man in the sky who magically makes things happen does seem incredible.

It gets even more incredible that grown adults believe that, although omniscience and having a perfect plan for our individual lives, he needs to be told of bad things that need to be changed because he either doesn't know they're happening or doesn't know they are wrong.

And yet, for most people in the world, the answer seems obvious: Because it’s self-evident that God exists. From the point of view of the believer, the really puzzling question is how anyone could not believe.

Shinto shrine in Kyoto, Japan
So why do so many grown adults believe in at least one god, or if they're Hindu or Shintoist, or one of the other polytheist religions, several gods?

According to a 2018 article in Psychology Today by David Ludden, PhD, professor of psychology at Georgia Gwinnett College, religion is an evolved feature of human culture and there was a time when people didn't believe in gods.

In his article he makes the following key points:
  • Early in the history of humans, nobody believed in a god of any sort.
  • Religious belief is considerably lower in developed countries compared with the underdeveloped world.
  • Believing that God has a plan helps people regain some sense of control, or at least acceptance.
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