F Rosa Rubicondior: August 2013

Wednesday 21 August 2013

A Little Man Thinks He's Finally Achieved Something!

As expected little Manuel de Dios Agosto, who stalks the internet under a variety of bogus names hoping no one will realise who he is, and who seems to have devoted his life to stalking me and getting me banned from the Internet because he was too cowardly to take me on in a simple debate, has descended to a new low as he plumbs the depths of infantile behaviour.

Regular readers will know him as @Sacerdotus, @Rationallyfaith2012, @BronxBomber777, @CatholicBlog, @YearOfFaith2012, @NYCLATINO2013, and a host of other Twitter names, some of which are listed here and many of which have been permanently suspended or taken down altogether because of the sexually explicit abuse and threats of violence he was posting with them.

He seems desperate to claim credit for the current suspension of my @RosaRubicondior Twitter account and has re-commenced spamming this blog with dozens of infantile and deranged comments again - a habit he had managed to control for a couple of weeks.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Oops! Here We Go Again

I wonder how long it will be this time.

Last time it took a week and I increased my Twitter following by about 1500 and my blog hits went up by 50%. The terms 'counter-productive' springs to mind.

That'll teach me to tell creationists that they're not made of dirt and to keep winning debates against religious apologists.

I'm in France from Saturday for a week and won't have Internet access, so I could be away some time.

Love and kisses to anyone who posts a link to my blogs on Reddit. They don't like me doing it myself, for some reason. Weird the obstacles those freedom-loving Christians and Muslims feel they have to put in front of Atheists and Humanists just because they don't have any facts, reasons or logic they can use and so can't debate freely, openly and honestly.

Sunday 18 August 2013

Another Easy One For Muslims... Or Not!

My friend being inspired to write his book
It's not just Christians who won't answer simple questions about their 'faith'. Muslims are no less prone to showing their faith relies on them applying a much lower standard to their god and their dogmas than they do to normal life, and how circular reasoning and logical fallacies are the common currency of religious belief. It seems that intellectually dishonest double standards are essential for religious faith.

For example, I challenged Christian to apply their beliefs about Jesus to a scenario set in modern times with Help! What Should I Do? In this scenario I said someone had told me about someone he's heard about who was now dead but could do miracles and claimed I would live forever if I believed in him. I asked why should not believe him? I've not had a sensible reply in nearly 18 months at the time of writing and yet this is exactly the scenario Christians accept without question in order to maintain their belief in the biblical Jesus.

I also asked Christians, Jews and Muslims which of the stories in their favourite holy book they would believe without more evidence if a passing stranger told them was happening right now a mile or two down the road, in Why Believe The Holy Books?. None have them have been able to think of any, and yet they believe what a stranger told them in their favourite holy book. Why the double standard?

So let's see if Muslims can fare any better with this one:

Saturday 17 August 2013

Edith's Butterfly Shows How Evolution Works

Ediths Checkerspot
I recently came across this striking example of how the ability to evolve fairly rapidly in response to environmental change can be both a benefit and a threat to a species. It also illustrates how a basic understanding of evolution can help us understand distribution patterns for species like this butterfly.

Edith's checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha) is a group of very many subspecies of butterfly from north-western North America. Wikipedia lists 30 subspecies which have so far been identified, many of which are critically endangered. Each tends to be a specialist feeder in that adult females lay their eggs on one specific plant species on which the caterpillars feed. This makes it vulnerable to environmental changes affecting the occurrence and distribution of its host plant species.

A clue to why there are so many subspecies can be found in this abstract to a letter published in Nature from 1993:
RAPID evolution of host association is now occurring independently in two populations of the host-specialist butterfly Euphydryas editha, each of which has recently incorporated a novel host species into its diet. The reasons for these episodes of rapid evolution lie in human land use practices: logging in one case and cattle ranching in the other. In contrast to other insects that have used tolerance of human activities to expand their ranges into disturbed habitats, these rare butterflies have remained at their original sites and evolved adaptations to the changes occurring at those sites. At both sites, the proportion of insects preferring the novel host has increased, in one case clearly because of genetic changes in the insect population. This process is now starting to generate insects that refuse to accept their ancestral host, foreshadowing a new problem in conservation biology. By adapting genetically to human-induced changes in their habitat, the insects risk becoming dependent on continuation of the same practices. This is a serious risk, because human cultural evolution can be even faster than the rapid genetic adaptation that the insects can evidently achieve.

It seems that Euphydryas editha is able to switch it's dependence on one food species to dependence on another but isn't able to extend the number of plant species on which it is dependent. Hence it is easily directed down an evolutionary dead end by its environment and so is vulnerable to short-term changes with which it simply can't keep up.

The environment can change very quickly, in as little as a year or two, but it takes at least a few generations at one or two generation per year for the genepool to acquire the necessary level of allele frequency to make a new subspecies viable, then the species needs to evolve mechanisms to prevent interbreeding to prevent dilution of the new alleles in a larger genepool.

This can only be understood by an appreciation of how evolution is an adaptive response to environmental change but necessarily lags behind it. When the environment is subject to rapid change, as it is under human interference for example, the process of evolution can be too slow and the species can go extinct.

There is simply no way this can be presented as the result of directed evolution by some benevolent intelligence, or as a single act of creation just a few thousand years ago. The reason the distribution of Euphydryas editha, and the large number of subspecies into which it is divided, looks for all the world like it was produced by Darwinian Evolution is because that's exactly what produced it.

Simple little examples such as this entirely refute the infantile notion that a magic man created everything, of course, and yet almost half of American adults continue to believe it to be the best available explanation for the diversity of life on Earth, and of the distribution patterns and existence of so many subspecies of species like the Edith's checkerspot butterfly. This can only be because of ignorance, willful or otherwise, of the facts, or a refusal to acknowledge them.

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Thursday 15 August 2013

Did Cultural Conflict Exterminate Neanderthals?

Neanderthal range.
(May have extended further north than this map shows)
First bone tools suggest Neanderthals taught us skills - life - 12 August 2013 - New Scientist

A fascinating report in New Scientist gives added weight to the idea that modern Homo sapiens may not only have co-existed with Neanderthals (H. neanderthalensis) in Euro-Asia and interbred with them, forming a de facto ring species, but that they also exchanged elements of their culture.

It has long been recognised that soon after H. sapiens arrived on the scene in Europe, H. neanderthalensis started using more sophisticated tool which, it has always been assumed, they copied from H. sapiens. Now however, it seems the traffic in ideas and tool-making techniques (and use) may not have been all one way.
A team of archaeologists has found evidence to suggest that Neanderthals were the first to produce a type of specialised bone tool, still used in some modern cultures today. The find is the best evidence yet that we may have – on rare occasions – learned a trick or two from our extinct cousins.

The bone tool in question, known as a lissoir, was used for making animal skins more pliable so they could be used to make clothes and is still used in some human cultures today.

The recent finds in south-west France have been dated to between 45,000 and 51,000 years ago, which is just before the earliest known appearance of H. sapiens, hence the assumption that H. neanderthalensis invented the tool and we acquired it from them.

Of course, it is always possible to argue that we invented it independently or that we arrived in Europe earlier than is thought, but given that H. neanderthalensis lived for 200,000 years in Europe, which places them there during the whole of the last Ice Age (between 110,000 - 10,000 years ago) it's hard to imagine that they hadn't invented a way to make clothes from animal skins which they could actually bend. Apart from stone tools such as spear-points, hand-axes and skin scrapers it is highly likely that they would have had tools for making clothes. It's hard to see how they could have survived in the harsh conditions of arctic tundra they would have endured for close on 100,000 years without decent clothing.

For us as a single global species it's hard to imagine existing in a relationship with another species so close to us that we could not only interbreed but also exchange cultural ideas. For example, did H. neanderthalensis teach us to make the clothes we needed to survive at the tail-end of the last Ice Age for about 40,000 years in Europe, in a prequel to the way the Native Americans helped the first settlers from Europe get through their first winter? It would be nice to think so.

But how would we have viewed these people? Would we have regarded them as just another animal, like we regard elephants and horses, or even our present-day closest relatives, the chimpanzees? Or would we have regarded them as just other people? To have interbred with them and to have exchanged cultural ideas with them suggests the latter and yet interbreeding seems to have been a rare event and no modern male human has yet been found with a Neanderthal Y chromosome, which we would expect if we had a male Neanderthal ancestor.

And how would a religion which has a creator god and which places its believers at the centre of creation or even the purpose of it, like Christianity or Islam, which presents humans as separate from all the other species, cope with having at least two species of human? Would they regard the other humans as an earlier mistake or as the creation of a lesser god or a demonic attempt to copy their god's special creation? Would they launch a genocide in the name of their god, urged on by their priests and shamans, as the biblical Hebrews believed they were authorised to do in the 'Promised Land'?

Is this what finally exterminated the Neanderthals, like the European settlers in the New World tried to exterminate the people who had helped them survive the first winter because they believed their god had crossed the Atlantic with them and the land was theirs by right because they were the superior people?

'via Blog this'

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Sunday 11 August 2013

How Science Really Tells Right From Wrong

Based on the structure of Arboroharamiya's lower jaw,
palaeontologists believe that the animal had a mammalian-like ear.
Fossils throw mammalian family tree into disarray : Nature News & Comment

This article by Sid Perkins in Nature a couple of days ago illustrates how new information in science often opens up more questions than it answers and challenges previous ideas. It also illustrates how science responds to such challenges and so moves continually closer to the truth.

Creationists hold two diametrically opposite views of science simultaneously - never a problem for creationists who don't do joined-up thinking or bother too much about having inconsistent and contradictory views. They traditionally trot out whichever one they think will fool most people when the opportunity arises. They believe:
  • Science is like a religion and has unchallengeable fixed dogmas which all scientists have to subscribe to.
  • Science is always changing its mind and saying that what they thought was the case yesterday is now wrong and should be disregarded.

The article reports the discovery of two fossils which seem to tell two different stories about the early evolution of mammals around 250 million years ago; or was that 180 million years ago?.
The fossils represent previously unknown species, described today in Nature 1, 2. Both are members of the haramiyids, a group of animals that first appeared around 212 million years ago and that researchers first recognized in the late 1840s. Until now, the creatures have been known only from isolated examples of their distinctive teeth — which have some rodent-like features — and a single fragmentary jawbone. But both fossils described today include not only the distinctive teeth, but also vertebrae and bones from the limbs, feet and tails.
The controversy comes about because one fossil, placed in the genus Arboroharamiya, has characteristics typical of mammals, including a mammal-like lower jaw where some bones present in reptilian jaws have evolved into the small bones of the middle ear. This seems to have lived in trees. Placing this species in the mammal evolutionary tree suggests mammals had evolved somewhere between 282 ands 201 million years ago.

The other specimen, placed in the genus Megaconus, lived between 164 million and 165 million years ago and had characteristics closer to the pre-mammalian reptiles, suggesting that the common ancestor of all living mammals evolved about 180 million years ago and that Megaconus branched away from that tree some 40 million years before true mammals evolved.

These sorts of controversies are of course characteristic of science and are to be expected when looking at fossils from a point close to the divergence into new branches when species would not have diversified that far from ancestral species. We would expect it to be difficult to place these species accurately.

What is really interesting here is how disagreement and conflicting evidence is actually welcomed by science because it raises new questions and causes us to re-examine and re-evaluate evidence and rebuild our understanding. No one minds at all if older ideas are overthrown because that is precisely what good science should seek to do.

But how does science resolve these differences and difficulties?

With more evidence.
Cifelli [a vertebrate palaeontologist at the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History] says that the confusion can be cleared up only with more fossils — preferably ones that include all or a significant part of a skull, whose anatomical features are particularly instructive in working out evolutionary relationships. “To break this tie, we really need more information,” he says.

Op. Cit.
So, creationists may be right in one respect. If there is a dogma in science it is that nothing is certain and the only way to know what is right and what isn't is with evidence.

Contrast that with religion, particularly with Creationism, where everything is certain and the last thing wanted is evidence especially the sort of evidence that would shake their unshakeable certainties. Science is reasonable uncertainty; religion is unreasonable certainty.

'via Blog this'

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Friday 9 August 2013

Now A Human Ring Species In West Africa?

Image: Ton Koene/Corbis
Arabian flights: Early humans diverged in 150 years - life - 02 August 2013 - New Scientist

Dramatic news this week showing how, when humans diverged out of Africa they encountered many new environments and quickly diversified into them. The record of this has been found in the Y chromosome, which males uniquely inherit from their fathers. Females inherit two X chromosomes, one from each parent so it is impossible to say from which unless you have the parents' genome too. Males inherit their Y chromosome from their father and an X chromosome from their mother. For this reason the Y chromosome represents the history of the male line.

Researchers David Poznik and Carlos Bustamante and their colleagues of Stanford University found that within the space of about 150 years, some 50,000 years ago, a single site on the Y chromosome mutated to form two distinct male lines, followed very quickly by a second mutation at the same site creating a third line. These three lines can still be traced in the modern Euro-Asian populations.

It is believe the mutation occurred probably in the Arabian peninsula:

Debate - The Kalam Cosmological Argument

This debate is about the Kalam Cosmological Argument, a favourite of religious apologetics. Here, the Christian blogger, Richard Bushey, who runs the Therefore God Exists blog attempts to establish the proposition that "The Kalam Cosmological Argument Proves The Existence Of God".

It will be echoed here and his blog The Kalam Cosmological Argument.

Opening statement by Richard:

Thursday 8 August 2013

Human Evolution In Progress

Why We "Got Milk": Scientific American

An excellent article on the human lactose tolerance genetic mutation and how it has played an important part in human success. I have blogged about this before in Lactose Tolerance And Creation 'Science' so I won't go into much detail beyond covering the main facts.

Human babies 'normally' (i.e. those who have the normal gene for lactose intolerance) breast-feed for about 18 months to 2 years then develop a distaste for milk due to losing the ability to digest the sugar (lactose) in it. They lose this ability because they stop producing the enzyme lactase which digests it. This natural mechanism ensures babies don't continue breast-feeding indefinitely and are forced to change to an adult diet.

Breast-feeding is a natural contraceptive because the act of suckling stimulates the mother to produce a hormone which inhibits ovulation so, when the baby stops breast-feeding the mother can become pregnant again. Through evolution a balance had been established so a baby gets the mother's attention for the first couple of years, then she can reproduce again. Meanwhile, if the baby dies, the mother can become pregnant again more quickly. This strategy produced most descendants in the long run so it became the normal mechanism.

Saturday 3 August 2013

Four Deceptions of Apologetics

In response to The Four Miracles of Atheism

Sadly, the following seems to pass for religious apologetics these days, as religious superstitions continue to retreat in the face of science. Where once they could rely on a swift execution of heretics to defend their 'faiths' without having to bother justifying it with evidence, reason or logic, they now have to try to mount some sort of defence on the science playing field, and at least look as though they are playing to science's rules. It is taken from one of very many religious apologetics websites which purports to be meeting the challenge from science.

About the only positive thing to say about this site is that, if it has the begging button traditional on these sort of sites, it is very well hidden. Normally one can dismiss them as merely selling spurious confirmation to creationists who'll pay good money to be told that their ignorant superstition trumps science and reason and who crave nothing more than a scientific-looking refutation of the science they so despise.

Friday 2 August 2013

Why Morality Evolved

BBC News - Selfish traits not favoured by evolution, study shows

The laughably absurd claim by followers of religions that they have the one true morality because it was handed down to them by the one true god, took another blow today when, as reported by in this BBC item, research showed that cooperation is an evolved trait and that, contrary to widespread belief and intuition, selfishness is not a successful long-term strategy.

Thursday 1 August 2013

A Tale of Picky Women

BBC News - Do you think I'm sexy? Why peacock tails are attractive

One of the most spectacular displays in the bird world. It shows the power of 'selfish' genes and how they have no regard for the individuals whose bodies they are using to get themselves through time, one generation at a time.

The peacock's tails is a product of female sex selection and comes from the differential investment male and female organisms make to ensuring their respective reproductive cells, their gametes, produce a new carrier of their genes. Females produce a small number of sedentary games, or egg cells while males produce a large number of motile gamete. In the vertebrates these are called sperm cells. Males can therefore afford to be relatively liberal and carefree with their sperm provided at least one finds a 'female' gamete, but the female needs to guard every one of hers.

This means that a female needs to pick and choose her mate because a poor choice could result in a wasted egg. Males, on the other hand, only waste a single ejaculation if they make a poor choice.

So how did this translate into peacock's tails?

Well, with picky females, males have to compete with other males for her attention and her favour, which puts her in charge. So, anything which makes the male more noticeable or more attractive becomes bound up with the evolutionary process by being strongly favoured. Female sex selection thus becomes a powerful form of natural selection; a particularly demanding and unforgiving natural selection sieve only allowing through those genes which are allied to those which the females will choose.

I can see no good reason to doubt that female birds, by selecting, during thousands of generations, the most melodious or beautiful males, according to their standard of beauty, might produce a marked effect.

I strongly suspect that some well-known laws with respect to the plumage of male and female birds, in comparison with the plumage of the young, can be explained on the view of plumage having been chiefly modified by sexual selection,

Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, 1859
As the above research showed, the peacock has to work hard to keep the attention of the peahen because she is easily distracted by other things in her environment - which itself has evolved because she is a prey species for several predators so can't afford to be distracted for too long. The peacock is having to compete not just with other males but potentially with tigers and other predators and even with the wind rustling leaves and bushes. He has also had to overcome dense vegetation, so, although the peacock having gained her attention, the peahen only bothers to take notice of the lower parts of his display, he needs a long tail to get her attention in the first place because their environment has dense vegetation in it. The environment tells the peacock genes, grow a long peacock tail - or don't reproduce.

The result of this is that the males have been driven down an evolutionary path by female sex selection which has resulted in him being disposable. His long tail makes flight difficult and his bright colour and elaborate display seems to be practically designed to attract tigers and other predators. The female can always find another eager male with which to fertilise her few precious eggs. Female sex selection, for peacocks, has obviously out-competed the other natural selection factors which would be expected to produce birds which can hide from predators and easily escape from them.

No intelligent, compassionate designer would design males so they need adopt a practically suicidal strategy in order to reproduce. Selfish genes, on the other hand, have no compassion and no plan. They do exactly what the environment selects them to do and the only measure of effectiveness is that they reproduce themselves and survive into the next generation. That's what they built their carriers for.

'via Blog this'

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The Great Atheist Follow List Blunder

Looks like sad Manuel de Dios Agosto has boobed again. He's published the following list of Atheist's Twitter accounts on his blog asking people to spam-block them and to file false reports in his panic to prevent the truth about him being circulated.

He's spent most of today putting in the usual focussed fanatical effort of the seriously psychotic, no doubt gloating at the 'devastation' his latest 'brilliant' plan to silence Atheists will have, following his latest warning from Twitter about his abusive behaviour - and has succeeded in producing one of the best sources for great Atheist tweeters on Twitter.

I commend this list, though I haven't checked them all. Manuel's idea of an Atheist may not be that of normal people and probably includes people who have merely disagreed with him, so exercise caution. I've removed one fanatical Christian from the list.
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