F Rosa Rubicondior: January 2012

Tuesday 31 January 2012

Feel The Love.

When I read this passage from the Christian Bible recently, my first thought was that the author simply got carried away with himself and went on a binge of hatred and spite, thinking of all the things he would like to do to people if only he had the power. One can almost picture the little man (and surely he is an example of small man syndrome), complete with bristling moustache, scribbling furiously away, getting redder and redder in the face.

The passage is from Leviticus 26. I actually still find it hard to read without starting to giggle at the thought of this hate-filled little man. I just hope he didn't make his unfortunate wife and children suffer by playing out his nasty little fantasies for real, though I doubt he would have the courage. One never knows though...

Here goes:

But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments; And if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments (sic), so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant:

I also will do this unto you; I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you.

And if ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass:

And your strength shall be spent in vain: for your land shall not yield her increase, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruits. And if ye walk contrary unto me, and will not hearken unto me; I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins.

I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your high ways shall be desolate. And if ye will not be reformed by me by these things, but will walk contrary unto me; Then will I also walk contrary unto you, and will punish you yet seven times for your sins.

And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall avenge the quarrel of my covenant: and when ye are gathered together within your cities, I will send the pestilence among you; and ye shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. And when I have broken the staff of your bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall deliver you your bread again by weight: and ye shall eat, and not be satisfied.

And if ye will not for all this hearken unto me, but walk contrary unto me; Then I will walk contrary unto you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins.

And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat. [No! I'm not making this up!]

And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you. And I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation, and I will not smell the savour of your sweet odours.

And I will bring the land into desolation: and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it. And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste.

Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies' land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths. As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest; because it did not rest in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it.

And upon them that are left alive of you I will send a faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; and the sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee, as fleeing from a sword; and they shall fall when none pursueth. And they shall fall one upon another, as it were before a sword, when none pursueth: and ye shall have no power to stand before your enemies.

And ye shall perish among the heathen, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. And they that are left of you shall pine away in their iniquity in your enemies' lands; and also in the iniquities of their fathers shall they pine away with them.

Leviticus 26:14-29 (KJV)

And this was supposed to be a story about something a loving, compassionate god was saying. Obviously it never occurred to the author that this god, if it were real, could (and would, if it really was as described) simply perform some convincing miracle again like it is claimed to have done with Moses and Abraham, and all those earlier prophets to whom it was said to have appeared.

But maybe the author knew that wasn't going to happen. Maybe the author just got carried away as his fantasy got the better of him and all that pent-up aggression and hate came pouring out. Or maybe the author just wrote to order for a boss who wanted to frighten the people into obeying him and used the threat of a god as a proxy. Being technologically backward and superstitious, it was probably easy to use this technique to control the people at whom this was aimed in those days.

Priests and preachers still use this 'persuasive' technique today, of course, and it still seems to work on some people.

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Sunday 29 January 2012

Going, Going...

Source: Churchsociety.org
In what sense of the words is Britain a Christian country?

Post-war Britain has seen a very sharp decline in religion and nowhere is this seen more markedly than in church attendance in the established Anglican church. By 2009, church attendance had fallen to 50% of that of 1968, despite an increase in population.

In 2010, Peter Brierly, former head of Christian Research, told Christians that while in 1998, all but five counties in England had a churchgoing population of at least 6 per cent, today there are only 12 English counties with that figure and there are seven counties with a churchgoing population of less than 4.5 per cent. He predicted that almost all counties would have a churchgoing population of less than 4.5 per cent by 2020.

He also said that while 60 per cent of British people are not in the church, that figure rises to around 80 per cent among the under-15s and around 75 per cent among 15 to 29-year-olds, with 59 per cent of all churches in England having no members between the ages of 15 and 19 He warned that in the 2020s many churchgoers will die out (Source)

Friday 27 January 2012

The Teleological Fallacy or Paley's Broken Watch

One of the favourite fallacies used by creation 'scientists' to give spurious credence to creationism and its fashionable (and very lucrative) version, Intelligent Design, is the argument from design, or the teleological argument.

This argument has a long history but perhaps its most famous exponent was William Paley, the English theologian and philosopher. Briefly, his argument, which pre-dated Darwin's Origin of Species by 57 years, was that, if you found a watch on a piece of heathland, the most logical conclusion would be that someone had dropped it there and that it had been designed by one or more watchmakers and not by natural forces.

And of course, this is unarguable for a watch, for the simple reason that there is no other mechanism which could explain the watch's production, nor how it came to be where it was found. That explanation requires no mystery; there is nothing required which can't be readily understood and certainly there is no need to include an unproven supernatural hypothesis in the explanation. The explanation that a watch was designed by a watchmaker is complete and the most parsimonious answer available.

And, with the state of our knowledge of biology and biological systems in 1802, there seemed to be no reason why this analogy did not apply to living animals as well. Living animals appear to be designed in that they have component parts which need to be arranged in the right way, though, curiously, there are no wheels in nature so any movement has to rely on levers with lots of pushing and pulling, acceleration and deceleration and not the far more efficient rotary action of wheels (imagine a car with legs!) but that's by the by.

Now, what purpose does a living animal have which is in any way comparable to the utility value of a watch? Living things exist only to produce other living things. Not so watches. Watches have a very specific purpose and that is to keep an accurate record of the passage of time.

Thursday 26 January 2012

An Evolving Sense Of Self

It's usually taken as given that a measure of high intelligence, in comparative terms between species, is that only the most intelligent species have a sense of self, in other words, it takes a high level of intellect to have self awareness.

A rather nebulous definition of 'self-awareness' is awareness of your own individuality which is about as useful as defining 'impressionist art' as 'art done by impressionists'.

A standard test of self-awareness used by animal psychologists is the mirror test. This test assumes that the more intelligent an animal is the more likely it will be to identify itself in a mirror. Apparently, all of the African apes, the orang utan and three species of gibbon have all passed the mirror test, and so have bottlenose dolphins, killer whales, elephants and European magpies (a bird of the crow family). All of these are known from other tests to be highly intelligent.

But I have long been suspicious that these test have an inbuilt species bias. They test not for intelligence or self-awareness but how similar the subjects are to humans in respect of the thing being tested.

To understand self-awareness you need to understand how our brains model the world around us and map it into a concept which can be projected into the future. We see cars moving in the street and project them forward in our conceptual model to calculate where they will be in a few seconds time and whether we can safely pull out in front of them, start to cross the road, or need to hurry over. We see other people and take verbal and nonverbal clues from them which we then place in our conceptual model to gauge how they might react to us according to what we do or say next.

And, to complete this model, we must include ourselves as an object in it. It is the awareness of how and where we fit in this model which we call self-awareness. It is our ability to include ourselves and to incorporate our own actions and reactions in our model world which makes us self-aware, and the construction and manipulation of this model is what we call 'consciousness'.

I remember standing outside the place where I worked in Oxford, on the edge of a local nature reserve run by the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust, which I am proud to support, and watching a grey squirrel travel though a small stand of beech trees. It was obvious the squirrel knew where it wanted to get too and had plotted a route which included frequent jumps across gaps, detours up one branch and down another and occasional pauses as it prepared itself for a particularly long jump.

Clearly, this squirrel had a conceptual model of its environment and had plotted a course through it. It was also clear that it had projected itself into that model and placed itself at each stage through that route. More importantly though, it had originally projected itself forward in its model world to where it wanted to be. I have yet to understand how it could have done that without self-awareness, yet our grey squirrel would probably never pass the mirror test and would be regarded as not especially intelligent.

Not every animal needs to navigate a route through the branches of a stand of trees of course, but many animals, especially predators, need to plan, even to chase down their prey. Simply to walk across the ground they need to 'know' where they want to get to. In Corfu I have also watched a snake, which I've never been able to identify as I didn't have a camera with me, hunting along the banks of a small stream, clearly looking for frogs and voles, and very clearly acting with purpose as it swam back and forth, working first one bank then the other and gradually working up the stream. I really don't see how it could have done this without a conscious sense of purpose and without placing itself in a conceptual model of its world, if only to swim across the stream.

During my life-time our idea of intelligence in other animal, especially mammals and birds, has changed. I remember when we took it as read that humans were the only thinking animals - our scientific name Homo sapiens means 'man who thinks' as though nothing else does. This was taken as a sign that we were a special 'creation'; somehow different in a material way to other animals which was, naturally, 'evidence' that we were somewhere between the angels and the rest of 'creation' with no doubt at all that the world was created especially for us.

We were, of course mistaken, as you would expect of an idea based on nothing more substantial than superstitions, which are themselves merely the projection of our anthropocentric arrogance onto our conceptual model of the universe, and of the assumption that the 'self' we include in our model is another entity which lives in our body and watches the world for us through the windows we call eyes; that reification we call a 'soul' which earlier superstitions had mistaken for consciousness.

Stories began to emerge from detailed studies of wild chimpanzees that they could make tools and practiced subterfuge - which needs self-awareness AND empathy with other chimps.  It was then recognised that all the great apes had a high level of intelligence and were self-aware.  Then marine biologists discovered that dolphins, including killer whales, were also highly intelligent. Some even claimed they may be MORE intelligent that humans. Certainly they seem to have a complex language which has so far defied human understanding.

Laboratory tests showed that rats can quickly learn their way through a maze, that some birds can solve puzzles and even fashion tools.

When milk started to be delivered to our doorsteps in foil-covered bottles, several species of bird, including blue and great tits, blackbirds, magpies and jackdaws all learned to open them to get the cream. This behaviour was mapped and was found to radiate out from centres where it started, showing that learning by observation was taking place. How can a bird learn if it has no sense of self? Why would it realise that if it does what that other bird is doing, it will get cream, if it had no self-awareness.

In parts of the United States there has been a kind of arms race between householders and raccoons which have learned to open trash cans. As more elaborate methods have been used to keep them out, so raccoons have learned to overcome them. In the UK, if you still put bin-bags out and haven't been wheely-binned yet, don't blame the local dogs, cats and foxes for them being ripped open and the contents scattered; in the summer, it's just as likely to have been hedgehogs! And why not? The contents of pet-food tins and pieces of pizza are just as filling as slugs, snails, earthworms and woodlice.

Look closely!
And so gradually, another cherished myth given to us by religion and which has so badly damaged our view of the natural world and our position within and part of it, has been eroded by science and has now all but gone. Very clearly, other animals have consciousness and a sense of self.

Man is a unique species without doubt, which is why, like all other species, science gives us a unique classification, and so we have features which make us unique, but having consciousness and a sense of self-awareness are not amongst them. Nor is intelligence per se, though we may have an especially well-developed form of it, just as elephants have an especially well-developed nose, though no one would give them semi-divine status because of it, save perhaps a superstitious elephant.

The observable facts once again fail to support the notion that Man is the special creation of a god and not just another evolved mammal. All the evidence supports the theory that man is the product of evolution with common descent and has a body plan which is a 'merely' a variation on the basic mammalian theme.

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Science and Religion. Pity the Poor Theologians.

Just came across this paragraph in "Science and Religion. A Very Short Introduction" by Thomas Dixon.

Pity the poor theologians! They are faced with a seemingly impossible dilemma when it comes to making sense of divine actions in the world. If they affirm that God does act through miraculous interventions in nature, then they must explain why God acts on these occasions but not on numerous others; why miracles are so poorly attested; and how they are supposed to be compatible with our scientific understanding of the universe. On the other hand, if they deny that God acts through special miraculous interventions, then they are left with a faith which seems to be little more than Deism - the belief that God created the universe but is no longer active within it. If God is real, should we not expect to be able to discern at least some special divine acts? The theologian seems to have chosen between a capricious, wonder-working, tinkering God and an absent, uninterested, undetectable one. Neither sounds like a suitable object for love and worship.

Dixon, Thomas; Science and Religion. A Very Short Introduction, IBSN 978-0-19-929551-7.

Well, quite!

So, theists, which is it? Is your god a wonder-working, capricious, tinkering god, or an absent, uninterested and undetectable one?

Or, which makes far more sense, and removes any need for inventive mental contortions and logical absurdities, is it just a non-existent one?

(Incidentally, if you wish to buy this book from Amazon and do so through this blog site, any commission I get will go to Oxfam to help ameliorate some of the appalling conditions in which people live and die in this world, with or without its interventionist/non-interventionist/absent gods)

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Wednesday 25 January 2012

Not Good With God

So you thought religion was a GOOD thing?

Infant mortality, homicide, income inequality, child well-being, prison population. All adversely affected by belief in god(s).

Oh! And of course, the more religious a society is, the less likely the people are to accept science, especially evolution.

Friday 20 January 2012

Christians For Genocide - Again

In an astonishing development, and apparently stung by the success of the Atheist Humanist community in exposing the repugnant views of Christian apologist, William Lane Craig, he has launched a counter-attack, and has promptly dug himself even deeper into the hole he created for himself earlier. One wonders if it's kind to keep handing him a bigger shovel.

I have blogged previously on this here, here and here.

To recap:

William Lane Craig originally sought to gain academic respectability by trying to share a platform with leading Atheist, Humanist and evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins to debate the existence of gods. Dawkins refused to share a platform with a person who had previously sought to defend the Canaanite genocide and child murder as described in the Bible, and had said so in a Guardian article.

Unbelievably, Lane Craig had explained that:
  • Genocide is not wrong if you believe a god has ordered it. In fact you have a moral duty to carry it out.
  • Child murder is not wrong because it makes them happy.
The only problem he had with the biblical story was the traumatic effect having to murder women and children might have had on the poor soldiers who had had to do the killing. No! Honestly!

The article in which he 'explained' this can be read here

Where Creationists Get Confused.

Darwin's sketch of part of the tree of life
Creationists, either disingenuously, or because of genuine ignorance, seem to have missed the whole point of taxonomy, so they continually make idiotic mistakes which, even though they might imagine them to be valid arguments against evolution, are recognised by those who understand the subject as evidence only of their ignorance. And, with so much information readily and freely available, this ignorance can ONLY be either deliberate or feigned. No one remotely interested in the subject has any excuse for their level of ignorance.

The point of taxonomy is to classify all organisms into a hierarchical system of relationships starting at the lowest level and working up through various levels of increasingly close relationships, ending with recognised and defined sub-species and varieties. These classifications are as man-made as are the political boundaries on maps. Simply drawing a line on a map does nothing to the land either side of that line. The geology itself is completely unaware of the line and feels no compulsion to conform to it.

Species are defined in broadly utilitarian terms and often it's a matter of differing opinion about whether this population or that is actually a distinct species, a sub-species, or a variety, and sometimes it's not clear even into which genus a species should be placed. This is even more complicated with plants where hybridization, environmental variants and polyploid varieties are common, especially in some families.

But the point is that it is humans who make these 'rules' of classification and create the groups into which we fit individual species.

Additionally, the rules were originally devised to classify living species. Life was seen as a hierarchy forming a tree-like structure with living species forming the terminal twigs of branches which were themselves branches of main boughs, all branching off a main trunk. In reality, of course, this tree is still growing and has always been growing.

Moreover, many branches don't arise abruptly but gradually diverge from each other, as we can see from the many examples of ring species and clines, so that, if we were to cut a cross-section of branch at any point in its development at different times and tried to classify it, we would see different degrees of divergence, decreasing as we go back in time and increasing as we come forward so that it would become increasingly difficult and meaningless to force any branch into one of the modern classifications. The only solution might be to create a new species into which to place it or give it a sub-specific or varietal status of its own.

If we could visualise the entire tree of life, we would see divergence occurring followed sometimes by re-uniting in some branches, or even one branch meeting and fusing with a near-neighbour. This could happen if populations of a species become isolated for a while and begin to diverge into different races, then come back into contact and interbreed freely to form a single race again, as is happening with homo sapiens today.

So, not only is classification a man-made concept with rules to which nature was not party and feels no obligation to conform but it becomes even more meaningless when used to classify earlier forms of an evolving species. Nature does not read the rule book!

This is why we can laugh at creationists when they come out with such ignorant statements about micro- and macro-evolution and get so confused about classification of ancestral forms of modern species and the supposed lack of transitional forms between a pair of randomly chosen modern species which no one in their right minds would ever expect to see because no one in their right mind would ever imagine evolved into one or the other, or between an ancestral form given the status of a distinct species and a modern form given a different one.

Of course, we can understand those under-educated simpletons who get so confused about this aspect of biology because they simply lack the ability to think for themselves. What is unforgivable is those educated pseudo-creationists (how do they know what to lie about if they don't know the truth?) who make a handsome living out of maintaining this ignorance in their target victims and supplying them with the necessary misinformation with which to pretend to know as much about biology as those who actually do, without going to the trouble of learning any.

Even more unforgivable are those who assiduously maintain their own ignorance by refusing to read anything, like this blog, which might cause them to abandon their cherished beliefs, for these are the people who are quite deliberately and consciously fooling themselves into believing what they know to be false. These will be the ones who are constantly asking what they like to think are the 'killer knock-down' questions of biologists and who then ignore the answers and ask the same questions again next week. You only need to read their sanctimonious condescension and pretence to have greater knowledge than the scientists who spend years learning and researching the subject, to see what they are getting out of their intellectual dishonesty.

I wonder if they really believe they are fooling their imaginary god by being dishonest even with themselves. No one who believes they are being watched over by an omniscient god of truth and honesty who knows our very thoughts, could conceivably believe it is being fooled by dishonesty.  If this god really existed, it would be as ashamed of them as they should be of themselves.

I suppose the parasitic meme of theophobia can induce all sorts of strange irrationality in its sufferers. Once one sets off down the path of irrational belief, all manner of irrationality becomes possible, even essential, to maintain the delusion. Maybe we shouldn't expect anything better from it's victims.

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Wednesday 18 January 2012

Why You?

Orange and Yellow, Mark Rothko
Like the Anthropic Principle, the deeper you look into it the more you understand.
You are one of the lucky ones because you are alive. You are special. You are unique in the history of the cosmos; so is everyone else, and every other living thing. None of us has existed before and we never will again. Of all the possible humans and all the possible forms of life, only a very tiny fraction will actually exist.

Why can we say this?

Because the process of producing a new individual ensures that the genes get shuffled and there are far more possible combinations of genes than there are humans alive now or have ever been alive, so the chances of producing exactly you, of all the trillions of possible humans, is almost vanishingly small.

And yet, given the nature of human reproduction, once the conditions for one of several million sperm finding and fertilizing an ovum had been created, the likelihood of producing a human being was highly likely. The only thing that was unpredictable was exactly what hand of genes that individual would be dealt by the process.

Monday 16 January 2012

Easter - Conspiracy or Cock-up?

If we are to believe the Bible, and apparently some still do, we are supposed to believe that the Jesus story was all part of a divine plan. According to whoever wrote the chapter attributed to 'John',

God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son that whomsoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:16

So, the whole thing was planned. God intended for Jesus to be put on trial, condemned to death and executed because, for some reason, in some inexplicable way, this was going to save the world, or at least those who believed the story.

Leaving aside the whys and wherefores of that plan and what passes for the rational thinking behind it, how does the rest of the story stack up in view of it?

Let's just recap the main points:
  • Jesus came to Jerusalem, apparently knowing everything that was going to happen and that the whole thing was planned.
  • He had to be identified to the Roman soldiers by Judas.
  • Simon Barjona, aka Simon Peter, whom Jesus earlier had named as the 'Rock upon which I build my church', then lashes out with a sword and cuts off a centurion's ear.
  • Jesus has to intervene in the fracas and tells Peter off. For some reason, Peter isn't arrested for the assault.
  • Judas is then ostracised by the group and is so mortified by guilt that he tops himself. Jesus does nothing to stop this.

So, if the whole thing was planned, which of Judas and Peter ensured the plan worked?

Clearly, Judas. Peter tried to put a stop to the plan to 'save the world'. Yet we see poor old Judas treated as a pariah and no one lifts a finger to explain to him that he was a key player in the game; that he had ensured the world got saved. And yet Jesus stands by, supposedly fully aware that Judas was just playing out his predestined role, consciously or otherwise, and lets him go down in history as the archetypal traitor; next to Satan, probably the most hated figure in Christendom.

And Peter, who was so badly off message he was in danger of wrecking the whole scheme, is still the 'Rock'; Jesus's chosen successor.

Finally, Jesus himself, if the scribes who wrote the chapters ascribed to Matthew and Mark are to be believed, lost the plot at the end and thought God had forsaken him. Strange that, for the person who was supposedly god himself, but moving on...

Does that stack up to you? Does that sound like a well-managed master plan being run by an omniscient master planner and inerrant judge of character?

It sounds to me more like the plot of a Keystone Cops movie. Either that, or the scribes who wrote this stuff weren't capable of putting a coherent story together and probably never fully understood themselves the story they were supposed to be telling. I suppose the ability to write in those days was no more a guarantee of the ability to think rationally than it is today.

And to think, people kill other people for not believing this stuff, and claim the right to interfere in all aspects of our lives because they do. Should we blame the Bible's authors for the stuff they wrote, when they were probably only doing their best, or should we blame the unthinking and credulous people who believe their nonsense?

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Saturday 14 January 2012

Ring Species - Evolution in Progress

The natural phenomenon of rings species presents another major problem for creationism, which requires its supporters to believe that there are no transitional forms and that speciation has never been observed. Ring species refute both these notions and so deliver a fatal blow to notions requiring them to be true.

Ring species can be found where a complex of species, sub-species and closely related members of the same genus exist over a large range and where various local varieties or subspecies have evolved to suit local conditions or to adapt to opportunities in local ecological niches. They are a special form of the phenomenon known to biology as a cline, which is where a species gradually changes across a wide geographical range so that an expert can generally recognise roughly where a specimen was from. We see this in many species, especially insects, birds, plants and some mammals. A ring species is a cline where the ends of the range meet to form a ring.

A few examples should illustrate this but a search on Google will yield several more examples.

Friday 13 January 2012

Something Fishy About Creationism

East African Lakes
The lakes of East Africa with their diverse populations of a group of related species of cichlid fish provide a superb example of radiating evolution over a very short time scale and so are a major problem for creationism. These fish represent an aquatic version of Darwin's finches, and are, if anything, an even more dramatic example of the way new species arise by evolving into new ecological niches and an example of the very short time-scale over which this can occur. See The root of the East African cichlid radiations.

First a little about the lakes and their geology:

Between 17,000 and 16,000 years ago, towards the end of the last Ice Age, there was a surge of icebergs and glacial meltwater into the North Atlantic which altered ocean currents and changed the weather pattern over the African and Asian monsoon areas, which experienced a resulting mega-drought. Analysis of sediments show that this caused Lake Victoria, Lake Albert and Lake Tana to dry up and disappear.

A similar event 14,000 - 15,000 years ago caused Lake Victoria to dry up again and a subsequent lowering of water levels 5,000 years ago left a small satellite lake, Lake Nabugabo, isolated. So, from this we know how long ago each lake received its founding population of cichlids from their feeder rivers. In the case of Lake Victoria, this was between 14,000 and 15,000 years ago. We also know that the micro-lake, Lake Nabugabo, has been isolated for just 5,000 years. By contrast, nearby Lake Tanganyika is tens of millions of years old and has remained filled for all that time. See AfricaPaleo - FOCUS 1: Lake levels and evolution.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Deep Time

One of the problems Creationist 'scientists' exploit in their target market is a general ignorance about the age of Earth and the lack of any real appreciation of just how much time has elapsed for evolution to occur in. This is exploited in fallacies like claiming there just hasn't been enough time for the present diversity to have evolved and for the complexity in the higher animals that we see today.

To get some idea of just how much time life has been evolving, try this little analogy, which Richard Dawkins quotes in 'Unweaving The Rainbow':
Fling your arms wide in an expansive gesture to span all of evolution from its origins at your left fingertip to today at your right fingertip. All the way across your midline to well past your right shoulder, life consisted of nothing but bacteria. Multi-celled invertebrate life flowers somewhere around your right elbow. The dinosaurs originate in the middle of your right palm, and go extinct around your last finger joint. The whole story of Homo sapiens and our predecessor Homo erectus is contained in the thickness of one nail-clipping.

As for recorded history; as for the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Jewish patriarchs, the dynasties of the Pharaohs, the legions of Rome, the Christian Fathers, the Laws of the Medes and Persians which never change; as for Troy and the Greeks, Helen and Achilles and Agamemnon dead; as for Napoleon and Hitler, The Beatles and Bill Clinton, they and everyone that knew them are blown away in the dust from one light stroke of a nail file."
[Later note] Incidentally, it's ironic that Creationists use the fallacious 'not enough time' argument against evolution when it's a fatal flaw in their daft myth of Noah's Ark. This myth requires all the diversity we see in every species now to have evolved at a vastly faster rate than that required by the scientific theory of evolution. In some instances it would require a new variant to have arisen more than once in each generation for this diversity to have arisen in some 4-5000 years from just two (or seven) founder individuals.

Once again we see Creationists actually believing the infantile parody they accuse science of believing, seemingly without realising it.

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Sunday 8 January 2012

Religion! Mind Your Own Business!

Where do religious institutions get this idea that somehow they should be included in the institutions of government or that our elected representatives should pay them any attention beyond that due to any other member of society? Religious institutions are by their nature, autocratic and undemocratic, even anti-democratic. All are self-appointing, self-interested organisations which exist ONLY for their own aggrandisement and perpetuation.

Few, if any religions have a democratically elected leadership. Few if any of them are accountable to their members for policy and/or doctrine. Almost all of them have a top down structure which is answerable only to itself.

Where then do they get their authority to interfere in government and the right to influence the nature and structure of society? They can't even claim to represent the opinions of their members since they never seek to discover them. Indeed, almost every religious service seems to consist of autocrats telling their members what they should believe.

Thursday 5 January 2012

Albert Einstein On Religion.

Nauseated by repeated attempts by religious apologists to claim Albert Einstein as one of theirs and so deceive their gullible followers, I reproduce a letter Einstein wrote in German to Erik Gutkind in January 1954, a year before he died. In it, he refutes any suggestion that he believes in anything resembling the Judeo-Christian god.

An English translation:

Princeton, 3. 1. 1954

Dear Mr Gutkind,

Inspired by Brouwer’s repeated suggestion, I read a great deal in your book, and thank you very much for lending it to me ... With regard to the factual attitude to life and to the human community we have a great deal in common. Your personal ideal with its striving for freedom from ego-oriented desires, for making life beautiful and noble, with an emphasis on the purely human element ... unites us as having an “American Attitude.”

Still, without Brouwer’s suggestion I would never have gotten myself to engage intensively with your book because it is written in a language inaccessible to me. The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still purely primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. ... For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstition. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong ... have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything “chosen” about them.

In general I find it painful that you claim a privileged position and try to defend it by two walls of pride, an external one as a man and an internal one as a Jew. As a man you claim, so to speak, a dispensation from causality otherwise accepted, as a Jew of monotheism. But a limited causality is no longer a causality at all, as our wonderful Spinoza recognized with all incision...

Now that I have quite openly stated our differences in intellectual convictions it is still clear to me that we are quite close to each other in essential things, i.e. in our evaluation of human behavior ... I think that we would understand each other quite well if we talked about concrete things.

With friendly thanks and best wishes,


A. Einstein

Einstein reinforced this in a letter to J. Dispentiere on 22 March 1954, in which he said:

It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

Despite this denial, religious apologists continue to claim Einstein was religious. Obviously, it's much safer to claim a dead scientist as one of your own when fewer and fewer living ones are.

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Sunday 1 January 2012

As A Former Atheist. Don't Give Me That Crap

"As A Former Atheist..." Don't Give Me That Crap!

No, don't worry, I haven't suddenly taken leave of my senses, abandoned logic, reason and rational thinking and 'found God'.

Several time a week you'll see some fundamentalist Christian or Muslim come on to Twitter and claim to have been "an Atheist just like you", or to be "a former Atheist who's found the peace of Jesus/Allah... blah!... blah!... blah!".

And of course, blogs making that claim are ten a penny.

I say they are either lying or have not bothered to understand what Atheism is.

I say that for this reason:

Atheism is NOT just not going to church/mosque or not praying or not reading the local holy book.

I Can't See Any Sane Person Believing This Stuff Nowadays

And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.

Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf's foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass.

And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings. Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward.

As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle. Thus were their faces: and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies.

And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went. As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning.

And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning.

Ezekiel 1:4-14

Well, the only thing to say to that is, "I'll have a glass of whatever he was drinking".

Seriously though, I guess people knew little of mental health problems and the effects of substance abuse in those days but, in this day and age, do sane people really hang on every word of people who come out with stuff like that?

Would you follow someone who was ranting this stuff on a street corner near you?


Me neither. I'd assume their medication needed reviewing or they had stopped taking it.
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