Sunday 29 May 2016

Habitable Planets Are Probably Commonplace.

Kepler-62f (Artist's impression).
A planet in the 'habitable zone' of a star located about 1,200 light-years from Earth.

Credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle
A planet 1,200 light-years away is a good prospect for a habitable world: Researchers combine climate, orbit models to show that Kepler-62f might be able to sustain life -- ScienceDaily.

News that astronomers have identified yet another possibly habitable planet raises a number of questions for religion, especially the Abrahamic religions, and even more so for creationist fundamentalism based on a literal reading of the Bible or Qur'an.

Both these books portray a Universe created especially for Earth-bound human beings and a creator god who has, or wants, a close relationship with these specially-created Earthlings. Both Christianity and Islam insist that their god created humans simply to worship it. The entire Universe is supposedly here for somewhere for humans to live as they worship this creator god.

Human Evolution - Another Piece Of The Jigsaw

35,000 year old female skull found in the Pestera Muierii cave in Romania.
Source: Daily Mail
The mitogenome of a 35,000-year-old Homo sapiens from Europe supports a Palaeolithic back-migration to Africa : Scientific Reports

The basic evolutionary history of Homo sapiens is now so well established that new discoveries are tending to fill in the detail rather than cause existing thinking to be substantially revised. Far from being a 'theory in crisis' as the creation industry would have people believe, Darwin's fundamental principles of evolution are actually being confirmed with each new find and the Theory of Evolution is proving to be the only scientific theory capable of making sense of the entire picture.

We know that H. sapiens evolved in Africa and that there was a subsequent migration out of Africa and into Eurasia on at least one occasion. Everything else is now more or less filling in the details of what happened next and how that migrant population spread, diversified and re-mixed to give the modern Eurasian populations with its present geographical distribution of genes.

Thursday 26 May 2016

Are Theists Afraid of Something?

You know, theists seem a frightened little lot especially when it comes to even basic argument against 'faith'. They seem almost to be afraid you'll read something that makes them feel uncomfortable, as though they think it'll expose the vacuous nonsense they rely on to keep the flock of sheeple together. They'll do almost anything to deter you reading criticism, including abandoning even the basic principles of the 'morality' they claim their 'faith' gives them.

The important thing, so far as a theist is concerned, is keeping you from not thinking about your 'faith' rather than thinking about it and finding it worthless.

Take, for example this ludicrously inaccurate, anonymous 'review' of my book, Ten Reasons To Lose Faith: And Why You Are Better Off Without It.It was almost certainly posted by someone who isn't interested in truth since there is not a word of truth in it.

Recycled banal arguments already refuted by scholars. Don't waste your money on this junk. The book has many errors both in grammar and content. This author uses a fake name and plagiarizes other atheists. This book is poor scholarship and offers nothing new. The conclusions that she comes up with are illogical and based on anecdotal inferences, not logic or reason. Over 90% of the book is meandering and doesn't make any points. The reader will get bored and will realize that this author is an amateur and has no academic credentials.

Monday 23 May 2016

How Evolution Works - Evolving Ichthyosaurs

A large aberrant stem ichthyosauriform indicating early rise and demise of ichthyosauromorphs in the wake of the end-Permian extinction : Scientific Reports

A nice example this week of how a major, possibly the main, driver of evolution is not as creationists pretend science says, random mutation, but environmental change. It also seems to go some way to solving something of a mystery in marine evolution during the period following the end-Permian mass extinction.

The Permian Era came to an abrupt end about 250 million years ago when increased volcanic activity and climate change and led to rising sea levels causing the extinction of ninty-six percent of all marine life. Unlike terrestrial metazoans which radiated rapidly to fill the newly-vacated ecological niches this mass extinction provided, the marine reptiles were thought to have evolved much more slowly.

Monday 16 May 2016

A Whale of a Problem For Creationism!

Hector's beaked whale found at Waitpinga Beach
Photo credit: South Australian Museum
Rare whale found on Australian beach believed to be evolutionary throwback | Science | The Guardian

A problem which creationists have to cope with, normally by simply ignoring or denying the evidence, is the problem of redundant structures and genes. These frequently appear in organisms which do not need them any more and look for all the world like they were once needed in an earlier ancestor. They may even still be present in a related species as evidence of common descent.

One of these is the genes for making egg yolk which are still present in placental mammals - which don't have eggs with yolk in them. In humans we have the wonderful example of wisdom teeth which seem to be there now only to provide work for dentists. They are entirely consistent with the fossil evidence that the human maxilla and mandible have become reduced during evolution but our dentistry hasn't kept up with the changes due to a lack of selection pressure, probably because impacted wisdom teeth tend not to inhibit reproduction very much.

Sac Watch - Doppy Dotus Does It Again!

Manuel de Dios Agosto (aka Sacerdotus and very many other aliases) - one of the least competent Internet beggars and frauds in the business - really does take some beating for sheer stupidity on a quite astonishing scale.

Readers may remember his very long list of Twitter atheists. He spent several days compiling it in a desperate attempt to get people to file false reports on them to get them shut down because they were exposing his scams and refuting his lies, only to discover that he had blundered stupidly into compiling one of the best source lists of atheists to follow. This rapidly became 'Manny's List' which indignant atheists soon began complaining of being omitted from.

Now it seems he did it again in even more spectacular style! This time he's compiled and published a list of blog posts about himself that he doesn't want anyone reading! No, honestly!

Saturday 14 May 2016

Evolving a Loss of Complexity!

First eukaryotes found without a normal cellular power supply | Science | AAAS

One of the problems creationism suffers from, apart from not having any supporting evidence, is that it relies almost entirely on dogma. One such dogma, for example, is that scientists believe evolution is all about life progressing from the simple to the complex and that somehow all evolutionary change must involve an increase in complexity.

Yes, I know this is nonsensical and at odds with the facts, but that's the point of dogma; it means evidence doesn't need to be bothered with because the truth is 'known' by fiat. The dogma says so...

Tuesday 10 May 2016

Carrot Evolution And Creationism

A high-quality carrot genome assembly provides new insights into carotenoid accumulation and asterid genome evolution:

Can there be any other group of people who cling to a belief so tenaciously in spite of all the evidence against it as creationists?

I suppose, to be fair, there are climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers, moon landing conspiracy nut-jobs and other associated wack-a-doodle cults, but there can be few who do it with such fanaticism as creationists. There just doesn't appear to be any connection between their fanatically-held beliefs and what the evidence shows to be true. For example, a central dogma of creationsm is that mutaions are

Friday 6 May 2016

Why You Need To Lose Faith

Another excerpt from my book, Ten Reasons To Lose Faith: And Why You Are Better Off Without It,this time explaining why you would be better off without faith and by embracing the doubt and uncertainty that comes from acceptance of evidence as the only basis for making rational decisions.

It is not insignificant that for everyday life, and for any activity where material reality has to be taken into account, the only way to make rational decisions is to behave atheistically. The simple task of crossing a road is the same for an atheist as for a theist, even though a theist might want to mutter a few prayers as well. In the end, it is the physical evidence that the road is safe to cross that determines the appropriate action.

Atheists and theists leaving a sinking ship must go through exactly the same process of getting into a lifeboat even though the theist might spend a moment in prayer. Only the most insane of theist would decline to get in a lifeboat believing a god would be along to save them shortly. In effect, theists crossing a road or theists getting into a lifeboat are behaving just like atheists. Even Christians have a saying, ‘God helps those who help themselves’, to explain why people need to behave like atheists in everyday life. That rather begs the question though of why the Christian god would favour people who behave like atheists.

Wednesday 4 May 2016

A Crisis of Faith

The phenomenon of the 'crisis of faith' is curious. Theology must be the only academic discipline where practitioners regularly have severe doubt about their subject being real. A 'crisis of faith' should more properly called an intrusion of reality, as common sense tries to take over and allow reality in.

The following is an excerpt from my book, Ten Reasons To Lose Faith: And Why You Are Better Off Without It,dealing with this curious phenomenon that seems to be an occupational hazard in clerical circles.

There is probably a very good evolutionary explanation for the tendency to check the evidence before making a life or death decision. Those who did not check had a greatly reduced likelihood of passing on their genes, so the genes for not bothering about evidence would tend to lose out in competition with their counterparts which regarded evidence as important.

So, when it comes to life and death decisions in real life, normal people not only rely on evidence but look for it and regard it as the best available basis for the decision. Importantly, they regard absence of evidence of cars as perfectly reliable evidence of the absence of cars. Why would they not? What would be the purpose of looking for evidence then regarding its presence or absence as evidence of the same thing?

Sunday 1 May 2016

Why Dinosaur-Birds Evolved Beaks

Diet affects the evolution of birds -- ScienceDaily

One of the nicest things about studying biology, and particularly evolutionary biology, is the way it all dovetails neatly into place and fits in with, for example, climate change, geology, etc., to form a complete coherent picture that tells us not only why things are as they appear today but how.

For example, we it take for granted that there will be birds around. The world as we know it would be quite a different world without birds. Flowering trees might not have small berries; humans might not have colour vision because our simian ancestors would not have needed to recognise ripe fruit by the colour change that signals to birds that the fruit is ripe.
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