F Rosa Rubicondior: April 2015

Thursday 30 April 2015

Convergent Evolution - No Intelligence Required

Convergent Evolution of Mechanically Optimal Locomotion in Aquatic Invertebrates and Vertebrates - PLOS Biology

A nice example here of how the environment drives evolution by imposing limits on what is possible and what is optimal, in this case by the physics of fluid dynamics.

Researchers from Northwestern University in Evanston Illinois studied 22 different species in eight clades from three aquatic phyla of a wide range of shapes and sizes that all swim by 'median/paired fin swimming', in other words, by using a pair of long fins, running along each side of their body.

Wednesday 29 April 2015

Creationism Is As Dead As The Dodo

Head of a Dodo 1638 - Cornelis Saftleven (1607-1681). Probably the last depiction of a living dodo.
Boijmans Museum, Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Ancient megadrought entombed dodos in poisonous fecal cocktail | Science/AAAS | News

For an illustration of the inability of evolution to predict the future and so lead a species to, if not actual extinction, then the brink of it, it would be hard to find a better example than this one from the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius.

Mauritius is famous, for amongst other things, being the home of that enduring icon of extinction, the dodo. The dodo was a flightless pigeon (itself an example of evolution because flight must have been something it lost after having arrived on the island) which went extinct in around 1662 probably through being hunted for food by humans and predated on by pigs. Hunting is probably too strong a word, as dodos reputedly had no fear of humans or any other predators, as there were none on the island prior to the arrival of European sailors. The Mauritius giant tortoise also went extinct for much the same reason.

But this wasn't the only example of dodos being incapable of adapting

Liars For Jesus Get A Taxpayers' Handout

CMI propaganda cartoon. Probably about as good as it gets.
Australian film agency awarded creationist film AUD$90,000 | Film | The Guardian

Creation Ministries International is the Australian version of Answers in Genesis from which it split when it's founder, Dr. Carl Wieland fell out with it's then president, Ken Ham, who went off to the USA where more money could be made.

It is little different to AiG in that it specialises in misrepresenting science to misinform the people to whom it sells books, and Christian fundamentalist groups who invite guest speakers to provide spurious confirmation of their existing bias by giving it the semblance of a scientific basis.

Closing The Gap - Why Science Is True And Religions Aren't

This salamander arived in South America before the Panama Isthmus formed, if current opinions are right.

Photo: STRI Archives
Ancient connection between the Americas enhanced extreme biodiversity -- ScienceDaily

The thing about science is that it tends to converge on a single answer, no matter what the starting point. Religions, on the other hand, rarely, if ever converge. If anything, they tend to diverge and splinter into different, mutually hostile factions, each clinging to its 'answer', each unable to muster up arguments why their answer is the right one while all the others have it wrong and each never being able to find that definitive, clinching piece of evidence that would make their arguments indisputable and win over the dissenters.

The reason for this is very simple, and is the reason

Tuesday 28 April 2015

UKIP Promises a Bigot's Charter - Just For Christians

Extreme right: Nigel Farage
Ukip promises legal protection to Christians who oppose same-sex marriage | Politics | The Guardian

UKIP are scraping the bottom of the barrel for support and have apparently found some disgruntled Christians in the dregs.

UKIP are currently falling in the polls following some disastrous performances by Farage in televised live debates (something he later blamed on a bad back) and are scraping the bottom of the barrel for support. They are now forecast by some pollsters to get somewhere between 0 and 1 candidates elected and Farage may well lose the seat he himself is standing in.

Monday 27 April 2015

Pain In The Back For Creationists

It's no secret that humans have back problems. About eight in ten of us will suffer back pain at some point in our lives, often chronically. One person in twenty will slip a disc - the fibrous cushions between the bodies of our vertebrae - most often in our lumbar region and most commonly, but by no means exclusively, in men between the ages of 30 and 55.

Actually, the disc doesn't literally slip; the capsule surrounding it tears and some of the contents herniate out. This causes inflammation and swelling; the muscles spasm to protect the injury and the swelling can put pressure on the sciatic nerves coming out of the spine and going to the legs. This causes referred leg pain or sciatica.

Loon At The Bottom

Jim Wells,
Protestant fundamentalist and Young Earth Creationist
Jim Wells resigns as Northern Ireland health minister - BBC News

The Young Earth Creationist and fundamentalist Christian, Jim Wells, who was appointed Health Minister in the Northern Ireland Power-Sharing Executive only last September (see Loon At The Top), has been forced to resign over remarks made in his campaign to become the DUP member for South Down in the Westminster Parliament. Wells had told a meeting that children brought up in households with same sex partnerships were much more likely to be neglected. The meeting was interrupted by uproar from the audience.

He is later alleged to have repeated his remarks during a conversation with a lesbian couple during door-to-door canvassing. Wells later tried to go into the couple's house to apologise but they refused to let him in or to speak to him. The daughter of one of the women involved, a former staunch DUP supporter, later said her mother would no longer be voting for the party. Although expressing regret that his bigotry had caused offense, whilst not withdrawing the allegation, Wells cited his wife's serious illness as the reason for his resignation, not his politically embarrassing bigotry.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

Chimpanzees Make Spears To Hunt With

Tool-assisted hunting by chimpanzee at Fongoli, Sénégal. Adult male chimpanzee uses tree branch with modified end to (a–c) stab into a cavity within a hollow tree branch that houses a Galago he ultimately captures as (d) his adolescent brother looks on.
Images credit: BBC.
It's been many years now since we realised the thing that we thought made us uniquely human - the ability to use tools - isn't unique at all, but we still clung to the notion that, while many species use things like sticks and stones as tools, humans were the only species to actually make them. That too has now had to be abandoned since chimpanzees were seen making tools out of plant stems to fish for termites and crows have been filmed making tools out of wire - not a natural material - to solve complex problems.

Now a group of savannah chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) has been observed not only using spears to hunt with, but selecting suitable tree branches and sharpening a point on them. Like

Tuesday 21 April 2015

How Wolves Evolved Into Dogs

How the wolf became the dog

There is no doubt now that the domestic dog is a domesticated wolf. It has recently been reclassified by taxonomists as a subspecies of wolf, Canis lupus, so instead of Canis familiaris it is now Canis lupus familiaris. It was almost certainly the first animal to be domesticated but ideas have differed over how this came about.

In 1907, Francis Galton proposed that humans had taken wolf puppies back to their camp and raised them, maybe as playthings for the children, but this view is now seen as naive. You can raise a wolf puppy by hand but you don't get a dog; you get a dangerous wild animal. The genes of children who played with growing wolf puppies would probably have been quite quickly eliminated from the human gene pool as well as the puppies' genes being eliminated from the wolf gene pool.

So, clearly something else happened.

Sunday 19 April 2015

Creationists - More Green Than They're Cabbage-Looking

I thought I'd share some more holiday snaps. These were taken on the coastal path that runs along the Dorset coast near Durdle Door. They're wild cabbage (Brassica oleracea), although, with so many domestic cabbages around it's highly likely that they will have interbred so they may not be pure wild cabbages. Anyway, they're probably as close to the original wild cabbage as you're going to get in Britain.

The reason they're so abundant in this part of the world is because they evolved as a plant on lime-rich chalk and soil with high salt content. The covering of soil over these chalk deposits is ideal because that's what they've evolved to live on.

So why doesn't it look like a typical cabbage? Because, from this original wild type, by a process of evolution driven by human selection over thousands of years, humans have produced a whole range of different plants for food, each filling a different function and each exaggerating a particular feature inherent in the wild form. This neatly illustrates how a wide range of morphologies can be obtained by a simple selection process. We did the same with the close relatives of the cabbage, B. rapa, B. nigra, B. napus, B. juncea and B. carinata

The reason we were able to do this is because, at some time in their evolution, B. oleracea, B. rapa and B. nigra hybridized to form three entirely new species, B. napus, B. juncea and B. carinata and this gave a wide range of genetic potential. This is of course, a complete refutation of three creationist assertions; that mutations are always harmful, that new information can't arise, and that evolution can't give rise to new species.

Saturday 18 April 2015

Evolving Together In Amazonia

Yanomami hunting party
Bacteria bonanza found in remote Amazon village : Nature News & Comment

Much to the chagrin of creationists, no doubt, we can trace our evolution by the evolution of the obligate parasites and symbiont organisms that live on and in us - our microbiome. Just as with the evolution of our lice, the evolution of which and their diversification from the lice which live on the other African apes, maps exactly onto our diversification from a common ancestor with those same apes, so our microbiome can show how human groups are related and have diversified over history.

It has long been suspected that the number of different species in our microbiome declined as we became more hygienic and especially since we discovered antibiotics, so a team who studied the microbiome of the recently-contacted Amazonian tribe, the Yanomami, expected to find a high degree of biodiversity - which they did, finding some 60 unique genes. However, what they didn't expect to find was that a number of the Yanomami gut bacteria have already evolved antibiotic resistance, including resistance to man-made antibiotics.

The general view of antibiotic resistance is that this evolves in bacteria in the presence of antibiotics because the environment is favourable to those with mutations which convey resistance in a basic Darwinian evolution by natural selection. However, the Yanomami have no history of antibiotic use, at least not in the way antibiotics are used by modern medicines.

So, there are two ways to look at this - either antibiotic resistance has evolved in the Yanomami's gut bacteria in response to naturally occurring antibiotics or toxins (toxic to the bacteria) which resemble them, or they have been exposed to man-made antibiotics even though they have remained isolated. This latter seems the least likely and the team believe they eliminated it, so, if their bacteria evolved resistance to man-made antibiotics the probability is that our gut bacteria already had the capacity to 'switch on' resistance even before we began synthesising them. And that raises some worrying possibilities for future antibiotics in our continuing arms race with bacteria.

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Oldest Stone Tools Show Intelligence Pre-Dates Humans

Olduvai Gorge, Kenya
World’s oldest stone tools discovered in Kenya | Science/AAAS | News

Humans are known to science as Homo sapiens, or 'thinking man' partly because the thing which we used to believe distinguished us from other species was out ability to make tools, which was considered a unique skill indicating high intelligence.

That view has of course been under sustained attack for decades now ever since chimpanzees were seen to

Monday 13 April 2015

Bummer For Behe As Science Proves Him Wrong Again

Credit: Sonja-Verena Albers
Attaching the propeller: How the motility structure of unicellular archaea is fixed to their surface -- ScienceDaily

Scientists working at Freiburg University, Germany, have worked out the structure of the flagellum used by archae. Archae are regarded as the most primitive prokaryotes - the group of single-celled organisms which don't have a cell nucleus and which includes bacteria.

And it's bad news for devotee of creationist loon and virtual designer of the Intelligent Design fraud, Michael J. Behe.

Readers may recall how Michael J. Behe was recently exposed as a liar by molecular biologist, Professor Kenneth R. Miller who

Even Pebbles on a Beach Refute Creationism

I saw something from our hotel room window a couple of days ago. It's not unusual; you can see it on almost any beach in the right conditions. And it utterly refutes one of creationisms central dogmas (to be fair to creationists, it's more a mindless mantra than a dogma and it's used more like a magic spell than a reasoned argument).

The claim is that you can't get order out of disorder (or chaos). They chant this to try to make the evidence for evolution go away because someone has fooled them into thinking evolution is some sort of increasing order from chaos.

Sunday 12 April 2015

Black Flamingo Poser for Creationists

Here are a few simple little questions for creationists to ignore in the hope they'll go away, like ignored facts do.

These pictures are of the only known all black flamingo. It was photographed in Cyprus in the last few days. There was one previous record of a black flamingo in Israel last year. This one from Cyprus may be a different one, but given that the Israeli one has disappeared and given that Cyprus is an easy flight for a flamingo from Israel, there is a strong possibility that this is the same one, and possibly the only one in the world.

Obviously, the mutation which gives rise to melanism (an overproduction of melanin) is a rare event. We know flamingos produce melanin because they have some black wing feather and some black on their beaks, so what is probably happening here is that the gene(s) controlling when and where the gene for making melanin is switched on (or off) has failed.

The New Forest - No Intelligent Design Here

I thought I'd share a couple of holiday photos with you. We've been to Bournemouth for a few days and spent one day in the nearby New Forest, just wandering around, looking at birds and flowers and generally appreciating nature.

But when you look at nature and really try to understand and appreciate why things are as they are, the one thing that stands out most markedly is how utterly stupid so much of it is. It is full of examples of pointless and ultimately wasteful arms races as one species seeks to gain an advantage over another in the general competition for resources or even as one species tries to use another as a resource and the other tries to resist it.

The result is the wonderful complexity and diversity we can see and enjoy but to pretend it all has some ultimate purpose directed towards humans is sheer anthropocentric arrogance.

Look at these pictures of thicker broad-leaf woodland and what do you see?

Bearing in mind that it's early Spring here in the UK and most trees are just breaking into leaf, so what you are seeing is the wood without it's canopy. In a matter of weeks this forest floor will be considerably darker than what you see here.

Saturday 11 April 2015

You Can't Blame Loonies on The Full Moon

OMG! The Lamb of God has appeared on the end of the Isle of Wight!
This must be a sign!
Stop blaming the moon: Intelligent people can develop strong entirely incorrect beliefs -- ScienceDaily

An article published a few days ago in Nursing Research shows how easy it is for people to misinterpret data to see a pattern where there is none. Professor Jean-Luc Margot took the data used in a 2004 paper which purported to show a correlation between the number of people admitted to an emergency department suffering from gastro-intestinal bleeding and the incidence of full moons.

The errors came from imprecision with the method

Saturday 4 April 2015

God The Ignorant Biologist

Jacob's lambs
Of all the passages in the Bible, even allowing for the nonsense about thinking with your heart and breathing 'life' into things, there is one passage which shows the author was utterly ignorant of basic biology. If this was a creator god then it is no excuse that we hadn't discovered basic genetics in the Bronze Age when this stuff was first made up; any decent intelligent designer should understand how its creation works.

That passage is:

Friday 3 April 2015

How Europeans Evolved

Archetypal European hunter-gatherer
How Europeans evolved white skin | Science/AAAS | News

A new study has provided more detail on the discovery reported a year ago that Europeans evolved white skin fairly rapidly about 8000 years ago but not, as one might assume, in Europe itself but rather in three different distinct populations of hunter-gatherers and farmers who moved into Europe, each contributing genes to the 'European' genome.

A paper published in February this year showed that the origin of the Indo-European languages was probably a population of nomadic herders from the Russian steppe north of the Black Sea who appear to have migrated massively into Europe about 4500 years ago. These people are known as the Yamna Culture. Indo-European languages exist now in about 400 different languages and dialects from Irish in the west to Hindi and Urdu in the east.

Ancestral Adam & Eve Probably Never Even Met

The Y-chromosome point mutation rate in humans : Nature Genetics : Nature Publishing Group

Scientists have revised their estimate of when the last common ancestor of men lived, bringing it much closer to the estimate of when the last common ancestor of women lived. The basis for this estimate is the range of diversity in the Y-chromosome and the estimated rate of mutation.

The calculation for women is based on the same principle but based on mitochondrial DNA (mDNA). We inherit our mDNA from our mothers but males inherit their Y-chromosome from their father. Women don't have a Y-chromosome.

Thursday 2 April 2015

Origin of the Adam & Eve Myth

A pair of Old Testament scholars at Holland's Protestant Theological University, Amsterdam & Groningen believe they have found the origins of the Adam & Eve myth in the Hebrew Bible. It is a version of an old Canaanite myth based on the original Canaanite pantheon.

Dr Marjo Korpel and Professor Emeritus J.C. de Moor claim to have found the evidence on Ugaritic clay tablets of a 13th-century BCE story about the gods who lived on the slopes of Mount Ararat, in modern-day Turkey, in the 'vineyard of the great gods', identified with the Garden of Eden.

The top god was El the creator god and amongst the lesser gods in the pantheon or Elohim (children of El) were Adam and his wife. El is, of course, the Hebrew, Christian and Muslim god whom Arabic speakers still call Allah.

Wednesday 1 April 2015

Cowardly Catholic Runs Away Again

Apparently, Mad Manuel, who many people will know as Sacerdotus or other less printable versions of his pseudonym, is claiming I have agreed to debate with him live on a web page he controls. Not surprisingly, given Manny's reputation as a habitual liar, this is a lie, as the record of our conversation on Google+ shows.

What I did do, however, was re-issued the challenge to him to hold an impartially moderated debate on neutral territory that panicked him several years ago. The result was the same - total panic, abuse, crude threats and a desperate attempt to save face.
Web Analytics