F Rosa Rubicondior: October 2015

Saturday 31 October 2015

Jesus Is Fiction Say 39% of English People

Jesus 'not a real person' many believe - BBC News

According to a poll of 3,000 people living in England, conducted jointly by the Church of England, Hope and the Evangelical Alliance, 39% of those questions didn't believe Jesus was a real person. This was particularly marked amongst the under 35 year-olds who were 25% more likely to reject the historicity of Jesus than the over 35's.

The same survey also found that 'over 43%' of those interviewed believe Jesus rose from the dead. Stated that way round it doesn't look quite so bad for

Friday 30 October 2015

Transitional Human Ancestor From Spain

Reconstruction of the skull and representation of Pliobates cataloniae.

Miocene small-bodied ape from Eurasia sheds light on hominoid evolution

I said the other day that this was shaping up to be another bad week for creationists (are there ever any good ones?). Now scientists have only gone and found another of those 'non-existent transitional fossils'.

This one is from the our branch of the evolutionary tree at a point soon after the divergence of primates into the Old World or catarrhine monkeys and the anthropoid apes and close to the point where the anthropoid branch diverged again into the gibbons or hylobatids and the hominoids (great apes, including humans). It suggests that the last common ancestor of ours and gibbons was more gibbon-like than has generally been assumed.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Unlike Creationists, Ravens Can Tell Right From Wrong

Tolerance and reward equity predict cooperation in ravens (Corvus corax) : Scientific Reports

Who would you expect to be better at telling right from wrong and deciding on an ethical course of action, a devoutly religious person or a Raven?

The answer, if we take the word of creationists, religious fundamentalists and even many serious theologians, is maybe surprising.

Monday 26 October 2015

God The Amnesiac Creator

Micromelerpeton credneri from the Early Permian of Germany. Regeneration of the forelimb is indicated in the sequence and results in a hand with malformations.

Credit: Kalliopi Monoyios - Science Illustration and Communication
Source: ScienceDaily
Deep-time evolution of regeneration and preaxial polarity in tetrapod limb development | Nature.

"Why doesn't God heal amputees?"

Despite all the claims of faith healers, all the assurances that if you have enough faith and pray hard enough, God will provide for your needs, humans don't regenerate limbs and nor do any other mammals. I suppose a small handful of amputees could be found who wouldn't want their limb(s) restored in full working order but I've never heard of one and I doubt many people have, so it's safe to assume that amongst amputees there are very many who must have tried prayer.

Yet there is no authenticated case of a human limb ever regenerating beyond the tip of a finger occasionally regenerating in children under 5 years old if the amputation is clean and above the nail bed.

Sunday 25 October 2015

Civil War Erupts In The Vatican

Vatican synod holds its line on gay couples but offers new hope to Catholic divorcees | World news | The Guardian

Pope Francis’s enemies inside the church leaked false story that he had a brain tumour, enraged Vatican says | National Post

Despite starting off with high hopes that Pope Francis would prevail in the Synod of Bishops in his efforts to liberalise the Catholic Church and soften its image, after three weeks of tortuous and acrimonious debate, the conservatives have again prevailed and reaffirmed the Catholic Church's implacably hostile bigotry toward homosexuality, again declaring that homosexuality is an 'intrinsic disorder'.

Saturday 24 October 2015

Why Smelly Eggs Evolved. No Intelligence There, Then!

Stick insect eggs

Photo credit: Piotr Naskrecki/Minden Pictures/Corbis | Source: Science
Stick insects lure ants with fatty knobs | Science/AAAS | News

Here's a lovely example of evolved mimicry, this time in stick insects. Stick insects are noted for their mimicry of, well... sticks really.

By studying the Australian stick insect, Eurycnema goliath, Australian scientists from Macquarie University, North Ryde, New South Wales and The University of Melbourne, have discovered that they also employ mimicry to have their eggs dispersed and protected - by ants.

Thursday 22 October 2015

Earliest Flowering Plants But No Bouquet for Creationists

Montsechia fossil

Photo: Bernard Gomez/Lyon University, France
Source: Smithsonian.com
Montsechia, an ancient aquatic angiosperm

I often used to start these sorts of blogs off with a comment about it being yet another bad week for creationism, but quite honestly it's increasingly difficult to find a week which hasn't been relentlessly bad for creationism.

No wonder they have just about given up trying to refute the scientific evidence against their crackpot notion and have tended to concentrate on trying to discredit the scientific method and even science itself, or simply trying to get away with ancient creationist articles that were long ago refuted by science, in the hope that they'll find a few ignorant dupes who don't know enough to know they've been refuted.

For example, this paper has pushed back the date of

Wednesday 21 October 2015

How Science Works - New Thinking From Old Teeth

These 47 human teeth, dated to 80,000-120,000 years ago, were found in a limestone cave system in Daoxian, China.
Photos: S. Xing and X-J. Wu
Source: Nature (reprinted under licence #3733841429431)
Teeth from China reveal early human trek out of Africa | Nature.

An example of how science continually reassesses what it thinks it knows and adjusts its theories in the light of new evidence, was published a few days ago in Nature. It's things like this that makes science such an exciting, living thing, full of surprises and so rewarding for anyone interested in gaining a real understanding of the world we live in.

We thought we had the pattern of the expansion of fully modern humans out of Africa and into Eurasia pretty much worked out, give or take a few thousand years. It also seemed fairly clear that our interaction with the

Tuesday 20 October 2015

Order From Chaos, Even In The Rocks Of Ages

Why Hexagonal Basalt Columns? | Physical Review Letters

I've never been to the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland, nor to Fingal's Cave on Staffa in the Outer Hebrides but they're on my bucket list. Maybe one day when I'm rich from <irony>all my book sales </irony>. What I have seen though is the Great Whin Sill alongside Hadrian's Wall at Houseteads in Cumbria.

They're not so obvious there but parts of the Whin Sill are composed of hexagonal stacks like the Giant's Causeway. At first glance it would be easy to assume that they are man-made or even superman-made (hence the legend of Benandonner and Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool)), those remnants of the pre-Christian Irish pantheon.

Saturday 17 October 2015

Creationism Fails! Universe Didn't Need A God To Exist

Short distance physics of the inflationary de Sitter universe - IOPscience.

A team of Canadian theoretical physicists claim to have solved the question of how the Universe arose from nothing. And guess what? It didn't need a magic creator; it can all be explained in materialist terms.

Now, I don't have the maths or detailed knowledge of physics to be able to fully understand the underlying principles they used, let alone to be able to explain it in simple terms, so I'm dependant on what others have said.

Thursday 15 October 2015

Oldest Mammal Skin, Hair and Internal Organs.

Spinolestes xenarthrosus, 125 million-year-old remains, found in Cuenca, in what was the Las Hoyas wetland area of central Spain.

Photograph: Georg Oleschinski.
Source: The Guardian.
A Cretaceous eutriconodont and integument evolution in early mammals | Nature.

Like the stunning early bird fossil from Spain which I wrote about a few days ago, another fossil from Spain, this time of an early mammal from about the same period, demands some answers from creationists. Like the bird fossil, this one sheds a lot of light on the early evolution of this order as they diversified from their reptilian ancestors in an environment still dominated by the dinosaurs.

The thing about this fossil, apart from its age, is the amazing detail of the hair, skin and internal organs which has been preserved. The belief is that the body of this small, rat-sized, insect-eating mammal probably ended up in a bog where it became coated with a bacterial sheet soon after death which offered a degree of protection. It extends the earliest fossil record of mammalian skin back 60 million years to 125 million years.

Tuesday 13 October 2015

No Doubt Now, Birds Evolved From Dinosaurs

A comprehensive phylogeny of birds (Aves) using targeted next-generation DNA sequencing | Nature.

Just a couple of days ago I wrote about another one of those 'transitional' fossils creatonists insist aren't there, and how this one shows how birds had evolved out of theropod dinosaurs and should more properly be regarded as flying dinosaurs.

I also speculated about whether it was warm-bloodedness and feathers which helps them survive the climate change following the the meteor strike which probably abruptly exterminated the terrestrial dinosaurs so opening up niches for the birds and mammals to radiate into.

Sunday 11 October 2015

Hey Creationists! Guess What A Little Birdie Told Us.

Credit: Stephanie Abramowicz
Source: ScienceDaily
Tiny ancient fossil from Spain shows birds flew over the heads of dinosaurs | Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Would you believe it! Another one of those non-existent transitional fossils has turned up again, this time in a 125 million years ago Cretaceous rock from Spain. And just when creationists were getting used to dismissing all the ones from China as 'forgeries', despite there being no evidence for the claim!

In as clear an example as you could wish for of the transition from dinosaurs to birds, a paper published by an international group of palaeontologists shows that a fossil of a tiny feathered dinosaur proto-bird from Spain has unmistakeable evidence that it had the musculature for sophisticated flight, by being able to control individual flight feathers in its wings.

Saturday 10 October 2015

Special Offer On My Books

My ebook, The Light Of Reason: And Other Atheist Writing is available as a single volume for Kindle at a special discount for the next few days only!

Update: Unfortunately, Amazon have ended the 'Matchbook' scheme so eboks can no longer be bought at a special low price by people who already have the paperback version. They can still be bought for the normal price, however.

And now, the four-volumes of the paperback series are also available as ebooks at a special rate if you buy the paperback versions. They are:

Of course, if you're a subscriber to Kindle Unlimited, you get to read them for free anyway.

And you don't even need to own a Kindle because you can download an app for smartphone or laptop/desktop.

Go on! Treat yourself today. Because you're worth it! Just a click away!

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Friday 9 October 2015

Africans Are Partly Eurasians

Ethiopian cave where the skull was found
Ancient Ethiopian genome reveals extensive Eurasian admixture throughout the African continent

Did we ever imagine that once anatomically modern humans had left Africa to populate Eurasia, they never went back again until modern times?

This seems to be the main thrust of the news media to today's new that a group of geneticists have analysed the genome from a 4,500 hunter-gatherer from the Ethiopian Highlands and found that he was genetically distinct from modern Africans who have since received a massive dose of Eurasian DNA which came into Africa about 3,000 years ago.

Creationism Fails Again! How Elephants Avoid Cancer

Yipee! I've got 20 TP53 genes!
How elephants avoid cancer : Nature News & Comment:

Let's play a game and pretend there really is a magic invisible creator above the sky, like creationists and their pseudo-science version, Intelligent Design, want us to believe. What are we then to make of two research papers which could explain why elephants have such a low incidence of cancer? One team was led by Joshua Schiffman, a paediatric oncologist and scientist at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, USA and the other by Vincent Lynch, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Thursday 8 October 2015

And God Gave Man Dominion...

Chernobyl after the explosion.
Long-term census data reveal abundant wildlife populations at Chernobyl: Current Biology

According to creationists, their magic invisible friend in the sky created everything on Earth for humans, then put them in charge of it, presumably, because it thought its creation needed managing.

So, on that basis, which should be worse for life on Earth, humans or radioactive contamination? Would nature be better off without humans or with humans running the show?

If the results of a survey of the wildlife around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor is a guide, human beings are far less nature-friendly than even nuclear contamination, and, when left alone, nature can be far more resilient than we might expect.

The Chernobyl nuclear reactor, now in Ukraine, then in the Ukraine SSR and under the direct authority of the Soviet Union, became notorious in 1986 when its reactor ran out of control, destroying the building it was housed in and spraying the surrounding area with

Wednesday 7 October 2015

Spider Have Creationists Down On Their Knees

Developing spider embryos.
Lt: expressing the original dachshund gene. Rt: expressing the duplicate gene.

Photo credit: Nikola-Michael Prpic,
Göttingen Center for Molecular Biosciences,
University of Göttingen, Germany
Neofunctionalisation of a duplicate dachshund gene underlies the evolution of a novel leg segment in arachnids | Molecular Biology and Evolution.

If you're an arthropod and unable to fly you need to be good at scuttling, so you need legs that scuttle efficiently. Spiders and scorpions have good scuttling legs because they have kneecaps or patellae. In the arachnid limbs, the patella forms a unique limb segment that gives their legs greater scuttleability.

The way they evolved these patellae has just been worked out and published in Molecular Biology and Evolution. It is acutely embarrassing to the creationist frauds who tell their dupes that no new information can arise by mutation and that mutations are invariably

Monday 5 October 2015

Smelling Of Poo Is Not All Bad

Ceratocaryum argenteum
Faecal mimicry by seeds ensures dispersal by dung beetles | Nature Plants

Only yesterday I suggested that smelling or tasting of faeces might give an advantage to some species by repelling a potential predator which had evolved faecal aversion for obvious reasons. Now today we have a paper published in Nature Plants which shows how smelling of faeces might have another advantage.

Again, this is an example of an evolved feature in one species creating an environment conducive to evolution in a particular direction in another. It's also an example of the sort of deceptive mimicry I wrote about yesterday.

Sunday 4 October 2015

Lessons From The Dordogne - Evolving Insects

Here are some examples of one of the important drivers in evolution - the need to avoid being eaten. I took these pictures on our recent holiday in France but you don't need to go all the way to France to find similar ones. You can probably find several in your back yard or any roadside verge or hedgerow.

The first, on the right is of a grasshopper. It's slightly above dead center.

Can't see it? Well, that's rather the point. Zoom in to find it.

This species lives in grassland and, if it keeps still, looks just like a piece of brown vegetation, even having marks that mimic the shadows cast by blades of grass.

Scroll down for a close up.

Saturday 3 October 2015

The Perfect End To A Perfect Week - For The Vatican Old Guard

Vatican acts after Polish priest reveals homosexuality - BBC News.

Oops! It'd been another bad week for 'Uncle' Pope Francis, the Pope trying to rehabilitate the Catholic Church after being rocked to its foundations as one scandal after another revealed the stinking cesspit the Vatican had become.

One of Hapless Frank's tasks was to make the Church look a little less bigoted and intolerant and a little more kindly disposed to women, homosexuals, non-Catholics, etc. Although little real progress has

Everyone Needs Their Mummy!

Mummified remains of Britons were preserved by smoking or being placed in peat bogs – a different process to those of ancient Egyptians.
Photograph: Keystone-ZUMA/Rex Features
Source: The Guardian
Mummification was commonplace in Bronze Age Britain | News - University of Seffield.

Need a favour? In dispute with your neighbour over land? Want to adjust the world a little in your favour? No problem; just tell your mummy!

News today that the practice of worshipping bits of old dead patriarch or matriarch which I wrote about a few days ago in the context of the Catholic Church and it's obsession with the body parts of dead 'saints', may predate Christianity by many thousands of years and is just another pagan tradition which was incorporated into Christianity.

Thursday 1 October 2015

You Can't Keep A Good Homophobe Down

What happened when Kim Davis met the Pope? - BBC News.

Despite all his public protestations of goodwill to all gays and his desire to reform the Catholic Church to make it more kindly, tolerant, loving and forgiving and willing to embrace even women and homosexuals - or to at least acknowledge their worth as human beings, though not letting them anywhere near the centres of power, obviously, ‘Uncle’ Pope Francis has let slip the mask.

He has revealed the nastiness and sense of privilege and entitlement to hate and persecute that is still hiding beneath this cloak of affable inclusivity.
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