Sunday 30 August 2020

Malevolent Designer News - Making Zika Even Worse

A child participating in a longitudinal cohort study of mosquito-borne illness in Managua, Nicaragua, submits an annual blood sample. In a new study, the research team reports that children who have antibodies to the Zika virus are more susceptible to getting sick with dengue.

Photo: by Paolo Harris Paz
Prior Zika virus infection increases risk of severe dengue disease | Berkeley News

Exciting news today for advocates of Intelligent [sic] design, from the University of California, Berkeley! Researchers there, led by Leah C. Katzelnick have discovered that people who have had the Zika Virus (ZIKV) and developed immunity to it, are more vulnerable to developing dengue disease later on. Dengue is caused by a viruses which are closely related to ZIKV.

This finding came from examining two cohorts of Nicaraguan children who lived through the Zikavirus epidemic of 2016 and a dengue epidemic of 2019. It conformed what had long been suspected - that some antibodies to ZIKV interact with the dengue virus to make the infection worse. The team's findings were published a couple of days ago in Science, regrettably behind a paywall. However, the Berkeley News article by Kara Manke has the details:

Saturday 29 August 2020

Covidiots - We've Got'em Too

Pastor David Hathaway. Self-proclaimed evangelist, faith-healer and fantatical Europhobe.
UK evangelist: ‘Only prayer can deliver us from the Covid-19 crisis’ | Barry Duke

Just to show that America is not the only country to have Covidiot Christian fruitloops, self-proclaimed evangelist, faith-healer and fanatical Brexiteer, David Hathaway of the UK, has announced that it's not medical science that will finally defeat the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, but magic spells!

Appropriately, this piece of covidiocy comes soon after news that the term 'covidiot' has been added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

He has launched a petition to instruct PM Boris Johnson to hold a national day of prayer to cure Covid-19. In his petition he claims it was prayer, not the flotilla of little ships, that rescued 300,000 stranded soldiers off the Dunkirk beach, and it was prayer, not the British, Commonwealth and Polish airmen who beat the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain and it was prayer, not the sacrifice of millions of young men in the killing fields of Europe that defeated Germany in WWI.

After that repugnant dismissal of the sacrifice of so many innocent young lives, is it any wonder that Hathaway has no qualms about minimising the efforts of medical science and the health services? It goes without saying, that it is not the medical staff of the NHS who are treating victims of the virus, but God who is saving them because of his prayers.

And it won't be the efforts of millions of scientists which eventually defeats Covid-19 but Hathaway's prayers!

Bad News for Creationism - Another 'Missing' Fossil Found

Left: Artist's impression of Gyaltsenglossus senis. Right: The fossil as it appears in the Burgess shale.
Illustration: Emily S. Damstra
Both images © Royal Ontario Museum
A Bizarre Half Billion-Year Old Worm with Tentacles Solves Evolutionary Mystery | Royal Ontario Museum

You know all those 'missing links' that much of creationism is based on but which turn up regularly in the fossil record?

Well, science has only gone and found yet another one!

This one, which the scientists have named Gyaltsenglossus senis (pronounced Gen-zay-gloss-us senis), turned up in the Burgess shales in the Canadian Rockies, famous for containing the soft-bodied 'Cambrian Explosion' fossils. It closes a gap in the record between two main branches of a group known as the hemichordates, exactly as predicted by the TOE. It was discovered by scientists from at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and the University of Montreal. The team published their work recently in Current Biology, sadly behind an expensive paywall. However the Royal Ontario Museum press release gives the details and explains the significance of this find:

Thursday 27 August 2020

Talibangelical News: "Vote Trump or Else..."

Jim Bakker, dog-whistle signals
Televangelist Jim Bakker: If Trump Loses, “We’re Gonna Have a Revolution” | Hemant Mehta | Friendly Atheist | Patheos

A note of desperation is creeping into Talibangelical Christian extreme right circles as the polls are increasingly predicting a Biden win in November, reversing all the progress they have made towards their dream of a Christian Taliban-style fundamentalist theocracy in America.

Wednesday 26 August 2020

Talibangelical News - God's GOP Nut Jobs

Jo Rae Perkins, God's GOP Candidate
GOP Senate Candidate: Years Ago, in a Hotel Room, God Told Me to Run for Office | Hemant Mehta | Friendly Atheist | Patheos

Few people illustrate the penetration of the extreme, Talibangelical Christian takeover of the once respectable Republican Party than Jo Rae Perkins, the no-hope GOP candidate for rock-solid Democrat Oregon - Merkley.

Perkins is a fully signed-up "QAnon" conspiracy theorist nutter - as are a growing number of GOP politicians, and apparently, hears voices in her head. She claims God came into her hotel room one evening, after a business dinner (some dinner!), and told her he wanted her to become a Senator. Apart from her own conceit and self-proclaimed special, personal relationship with God, there appears to be no reason in her record for God to want her in the Senate particularly.

Tuesday 25 August 2020

Consternation and Shock as Detroit Priest Casts the Wrong Magic Spell

Rev. Matthew Hood. The wrong magic spells!
Invalid baptism of Dearborn priest results in invalid sacraments

LOL! You couldn't make this up!

30 years ago Matthew Hood was baptised into the Catholic Church and, having graduated from the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in 2017, subsequently became an ordained Catholic priest, empowered to carry out the rituals of baptism and marriage. Since July he has been serving as an associate pastor of St. Lawrence Parish in Utica and at Divine Child in Dearborn since 2017.

But there was a hitch!

Monday 24 August 2020

Christian Hypocrisy News - The Falwells and Sex With a Pool Boy

Jerry Falwell Jr.
Business partner of Falwells says he had affair with the power couple

According to Reuters, 29 year-old Giancarlo Granda is claiming he had a sexual relationship with Jerry Falwell Jr. and his wife Becki. Jerry Jr., is the son of the late prominent, influential evangelical Christian, Jerry Falwell and was formerly president of Liberty University, an evangelical Bible college highly influential in conservative Christian circles. He is also a close ally of Donald Trump.

The scandal reveals the stinking hypocrisy festering at the heart of American evangelical Christianity in it's cosy alliance with the extreme Republican right in American politics, where any pretense of sexual morality or financial probity has been abandoned.

Grand Canyon Footprints Refute YEC Claim

Manakacha Trackway
Photo credit: Stephen Rowland
Cliff Collapse Reveals 313-million-year-old Fossil Footprints in Grand Canyon National Park - Grand Canyon National Park (U.S. National Park Service)

Another terrible day for creationists as another dogma collapses like a house built by fools on sand.

Their problem is that new evidence, revealed by chance by the collapse of a cliff in the Grand Canyon, proves beyond doubt that their notion of the Grand Canyon being built by rushing flood-waters during Noah's Flood, is wrong and geologists are right. The strata revealed by the canyon are not the result of sediment deposited by this supposed flood and nor was the canyon formed by a raging torrent as ther flood water 'ran off' (presumably over the edge of the flat Earth!).

Friday 21 August 2020

Dead Bishop Refutes The Fall!

Bishop Peder Jensen Winstrup of Lund (30 April 1605 – 28 December 1679)
Remains of 17th Century Bishop Support Neolithic Emergence of Tuberculosis | Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Ask a creationist to explain parasitic organisms such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis that causes tuberculosis and they almost invariably blame the Bronze Age myth of 'The Fall' when, so they claim, 'sin' entered the world and everything began to go down-hill from then on.

Apparently, they can live with the idea that there is some other creator creating nasty things that their 'omnipotent', omnibenevolent god is powerless to control . But contradictory and mutually-exclusive beliefs rarely cause creationists a problem that a wave of the hand and a blind eye can't solve.

This however, is a little more of a problem for them. Scientists examining the long-dead body of the former Bishop Peder Jensen Winstrup of Lund, Sweden, have found evidence of tuberculosis and (more importantly) shown that the organism was around in the Neolithic - way before the supposed 'Fall'!

The Bible, for instance, clearly refers to Adam toiling in fields, which places the myth firmly in a society which had invented agriculture - unknown in the Neolithic. There is certainly no suggestion that Adam & Eve used stone tools.

Science Refutes Creationism Without Even Trying - Again!

Australian lungfish, Neoceratodus forsteri

Photo credit: Mitch Ames - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
Lungfish fins reveal how limbs evolved | News in detail | Current announcements | News and media | University | University of Konstanz.

Once again, science has managed to comprehensively refute creationism and confirm evolution without even trying!

This time, they showed how the tetrapod limb evolved out of the fin of an ancestor of the Australian lungfish, Neoceratodus forsteri.

We know from fossils such as Tiktaalik that tetrapods first emerged from water as air-breathing, lobe-finned fish, but the evidence that the archetypal terrestrial vertebrate limb, with five digits, evolved from the fin of a lobe-finned fish was difficult to find. Now, an international team of researchers from the University of Konstanz (Germany), Macquarie University in Sydney (Australia) and the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn in Naples (Italy) have shown that the embryo of the Australian lungfish, a descendant of the Sarcopterygian group of lobe-finned fish that closely resembles the fish that were around when the transition from aquatic to terrestrial vertebrates occurred, already has a 'hand' that goes on to develop into a fin.

The team published their findings in Science Advances a couple of days ago:

Monday 17 August 2020

Early Humans Used Fire and Made Grass Beds 200,000 Years Ago

Border Cave, South Africa
2020-08 - 200 000 years ago, humans preferred to kip cozy - Wits University

Here's the sort of problem for Young Earth Creationists that they have to dismiss every day in order to avoid changing their minds.

Despite their belief in the recent origins of humans and their belief in the childish tale of Noah's Ark and a global flood, there is evidence from South Africa that humans lived in a cave and used grass as bedding, and this evidence was not washed away in a catastrophic flood which, if it was anything like the one YECs believe in, would have scoured the cave clean of this evidence.

Saturday 15 August 2020

Jesus Army Cult of Sexual, Physical and Psychological Abuse.

Left to right, Mike Farrant, Huw Lewis, Ian Callard, John Campbell and Mick Haines.
The 'Apostolic Five'.
Jesus Army abuse 'covered-up by church leaders', report claims - BBC News

The Northampton-based, child-abusing Jesus Army that I wrote about in May, 2019, is back in the news again.

According to this BBC report, the five surviving members of the now-disbanded Jesus Army cult were found to have colluded with sexual offenders by the way they handled complaints. This was the finding of an inquiry commissioned by the cult itself in 2017 when it decided to disband after a haemorrhage of members due to a deluge of complaints of sexual, physical and psychological abuse by the cult's leaders.

Ten people from the cult have since been convicted of sex offences.

Friday 14 August 2020

Beneficial Mutations - Another Creationist Howler

Male brown howler, Alouatta guariba clamitans
Photo credit: Ilaria Agostini
Mutations may have saved brown howlers from yellow fever virus | @theU

Until 2007 El Parque El Piñalito in the Misiones province in northeastern Argentina, had low density, but healthy populations of two howler monkeys - the brown, Alouatta guariba clamitans, and the black and gold, A. caraya. Then they both started to die and by 2009 they were almost extinct.

The cause was the yellow fever virus, transmitted by mosquitoes. Yellow fever was introduced by slave traders from Africa to South and Central America. Increased logging and habitat destruction has also brought the howler monkeys into closer proximity to humans, increasing the risk of howler monkeys catching the virus from humans.

Ilaria Agostini, who has been studying the monkeys since 2005 also noticed that a few brown howlers had survived, seemingly resistant to the virus. In 2014 Nicole Torosi, postdoctoral researcher at Rutgers University and then a doctoral student at the University of Utah joined Ilaria Agostini to search for surviving Howlers. They found nine brown howlers and two black and gold howlers.

Black and Gold Howlers, A. caraya
Torisini and colleagues then sequenced the DNA from the livers of specimens which died of yellow fever, and from the faeces of the survivors, to look for genetic differences that might have helped the browns survive better than the black and gold howlers.

Wednesday 12 August 2020

Good News From Science - An Effective Protection Against SARS-CoV-2

SARS-CoV-2 is part of the coronavirus family, named for the spikes that stud the surface of the virus and impart a crown-like appearance when viewed through an electron microscope.
Image by NIH
‘AeroNabs’ Promise Powerful, Inhalable Protection Against COVID-19 | UC San Francisco

A team of researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) is claiming to have developed the most potent anti-SARS-CoV-2 antivirals yet discovered. The molecule can be delivered as an aerosol, which the team have dubbed 'AeroNabs', or as a dry powder and could be more effective if used daily than the PPEs used by medical staff and carers.

They developed it from molecules called nanobodies - very small antibody-like particles found in llamas, camels and related animals but not humans. The molecules can be produced in bulk by introducing the genes to make it into yeast or a bacterium such as E. coli and growing them in cultures so they become factories to make the molecules, in the same way insulin is produced in commercial quantities.

Malevolent Design News - How SARS-CoV-2 Was Designed to Kill Us

COVID-19 coronavirus spike protein
Credit: Alexandra C. Walls, Young-Jun Park, David Veesler
Source: University of Washington Medicine News
Research exposes new vulnerability in SARS-CoV-2 - Northwestern Now

Followers of Creationism's putative intelligent [sic] designer must be awestruck by the sheer brilliance of its latest weapon of mass destruction - the modified coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that causes Covid-19. According to Johns Hopkins University, to date, this virus has infected 20,318,420 people world-wide and killed 742,048. In the USA, it has infected 5,141,879 and killed 164,545. The world-wide pandemic has caused economies to collapsed and major business to be ruined as governments impose lockdowns in a desperate battle to slow its spread.

Now, two research scientists from Northwestern University, Illinois, USA, have shown just how thorough this putative designer would have to have been to make the virus the 'success' it is. They have shown that the virus 'spike' proteins have a positively charged are just a few nanometers away from the actual binding site with which the virus binds to the protein ACE2, on the cell surface, fitting into it like a key into a lock. This forms a strong electrostatic bond with a negative area on the ACE2 protein, so helping the virus bind to the cell and prise open an entrance for it to inject its RNA contents into the cell.

Tuesday 11 August 2020

Malevolent Design - Zombie Cicadas and Massospora cicadina

Return of the zombie cicadas: WVU team unearths manipulative qualities of fungal-infected flyers | WVU Today | West Virginia University

Creationism's malevolent designer is never short of ideas for ever-more grotesque and repugnant ideas for making life for its creation just a little more unpleasant. It has now come up with a design for a fungus that takes over cicadas that have spent years underground before emerging briefly to find a mate, lay eggs and die. This example will feature in my forthcoming book, "The Malevolent Designer: Why Nature's God is not Good", the sequel to my popular book, "The Unintelligent Designer: Refuting the Intelligent Design Hoax"

How Birds Speciate - The North American Orioles

Bullock's Oriole, Icterus bullockii (male)

Photo credit: Kevin Cole Source: Wikipedia CC BY 2.0
Study: Oriole Hybridization Is a Dead End

The the Eurasian carrion crow/hooded crow complex, the North American Orioles are examples of allopatric speciation that has reached some sort of equilibrium where interbreeding is still possible, but there are indications that barriers to hybridization are arising within the two populations. As such, they make interesting examples of speciation in progress and an illustrate of one mechanism for speciation.

I have written before about how and why the carrion crow, Corvus corone, and the hooded crow, C. cornix, are regarded as different species even though they can and do interbreed to produce fertile hybrids - normally a sign that the interbreeding populations are at best subspecies. The decision to classify them as different species was based on the evidence that there is a degree of female sex-selection which favours the hooded crow plumage pattern, so the hybrids tend to be reproductively less successful so any zone of interbreeding remains narrow and needs to be replenished. In other words, hybridization is not leading to significant gene flow between the two species. This sex-selection behaviour is a partial barrier to hybridization.

31% of Pastors Have Narcissistic Personality Disorder!


Almost one in three Christian clergy has a Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)!

That was the finding of an investigation into personality types presented to the American Association of Christian Counsellors in 2015. This is one explanation for the very high incidence of predatory paedophiles within the clergy. The investigation found that:

Pastors with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are to be found in all areas of the country at rates 400%–500% higher than are found in the general population (1%-6%). Narcissists can be found in every age and experience range, and in both sexes. In the Presbyterian Church of Canada, the incidence of NPD in active clergy is between 500% to 3000% higher than is found in the general population.

Monday 10 August 2020

Catholic Abuse News - McCarricks' Paedophile Sex Ring

Theodore McCarrick, 1997
Credit: Steve Auchard/
Theodore McCarrick: Lawsuit alleges ex-cardinal ran NJ sex ring | USA Today

Former Cardinal, now plain Mr Theodore McCarrick, still, pending Cardinal Pell's defrocking, the most senior Catholic cleric to be defrocked by the Vatican because of his involvement in child sex abuse, is now facing court action in Essex County, New Jersey, USA, accused of running a sex ring at his New Jersey beach home.

He is being sued by one of his victims who alleges in the papers presented to the court that he was abused by McCarrick and three other priests at his home in Sea Girt, in the early 1980s. McCarrick has been accused of bringing adult seminarians to his home and harassing them during overnight stays, as well as abusing children. It was these allegations that led to McCarrick being stripped of his title by the Pope.

The unnamed plaintiff alleges that he was abused by two other clerics, including the former Essex Catholic High School principal, who introduced him to McCarrick on the pretext that McCarrick would help him pay for his school tuition.

The lawsuit alleges that the abuse began when McCarrick was bishop of the Metuchen Archdiocese. He later became Archbishop of Newark and later Archbishop of Washington, when he became a Cardinal and essentially the senior Catholic cleric in the USA. However, it emerged two years ago that allegations about McCarrick's predatory sexual behaviour were known to the the Catholic Church when Newark Archbishop Joseph Tobin admitted that allegations of sexual abuse against him had been settled secretly many years before.

McCarrick is also facing two other lawsuits in New Jersey alleging that he sexually abused boys. These lawsuits have been filed under a new law that took effect last December, suspending the statute of limitations for two years. More than 100 such lawsuits have been filed under this law against all five of the state's diocese. Four of the five priests name in the Newark lawsuits have previously faces allegations of child sexual abuse. They are Gerald Ruane, Michael Walters and John Laferrera, all accused of abusing boys aged between 14 and 16 at McCarrick's beach home. Gerald Ruane has since died as has the fourth accused, the former Principal of Essex Catholic High School, Brother Andrew Thomas Hewitt. The fifth person named is Anthony Nardino, accused of abusing a boy aged 11 years old and a parishioner at St. Francis Xavier in Newark in 1978. Nardino has since left the priesthood.

The lawyer acting for the boys alleges that McCarrick began abusing the boy shortly after they met in 1982. The boy was “taken on overnight and weekend trips” to the beach house in Sea Girt.

“McCarrick assigned sleeping arrangements, choosing his victims from the boys, seminarians and clerics present at the beach house,” the suit said. “Minor boys were assigned to different rooms and paired with adult clerics.”

The lawsuit alleged that the Catholic Church knew of McCarrick's abuses for many years and that Pope Benedict XVI placed restrictions on McCarrick. And this is where the affair begins to close in on Pope Francis. The disgruntled and embittered Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò has claimed that both Pope Francis and his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, knew of the sexual abuses by McCarrick but allowed him to continue in his role as the senior American Catholic Catholic cleric. Viganò has alleged that Pope Benedict XVI, now in seclusion as self-style Pope Emeritus in the Vatican, the first pope to resign in 600 years and giving Catholicism the unique experience of having two Popes in the Vatican, placed McCarrick under restraint and that that restraint was removed by Pope Francis, even though he too knew of McCarrick's predatory sexual activities.

Pope Francis has remained silent on the Viganò allegations, probably to protect Pope Benedict XVI, because Benedict is in the double bind position that if he did not know anything about McCarrick's activities then he should have known and if he did but did nothing he was culpable. However, if he did know and did do something, then he is in the clear but Francis is dropped in the mire.

It may be remembered how right-wing conservative Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò fell from favour when he effectively ambushed and embarrassed Pope Francis on a visit to the USA by arranging a meeting with right-wing extremist fundamentalist, Kim Davies, in which Francis appeared to give support to her campaign of refusing to register same-sex marriages, despite their legality and despite a court order instructing her to do so. It appeared that the Pope was interfering in the legal process of the USA as a guest in the country, giving him a less than triumphal end to an otherwise successful official visit. The affair effectively ended Viganò's career and put paid to the hope he had to become a cardinal and the Papal legate to the USA. As a former Vatican staffer, Viganò's toadying and naked ambition had already made him several powerful enemies.

It will be interesting to see whether any more information emerges in court, to shed light on the truth or otherwise of Viganò's allegations. No doubt, the Vatican will be taking a close interest in proceedings. One Pope or the other could well end up with egg on his face as the Pope who did nothing while McCarrick ran his cosy beach-side paedophile sex ring.

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Bats - The Malevolent Designer's Laboratory?

Black fruit bats, Pteropus alecto

Genomic Basis of Bat Superpowers Revealed: Like How They Survive Deadly Viruses | | SBU News

There is a sudden surge of interest in biological circles about bats and in particular why they are the source of so many deadly viral diseases, probably as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and sciences attempt to understand it and find better treatments and a cure.

While I've been working on my next book, "The Malevolent Designer: Why Nature's God is not Good", a book also prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic, a couple of papers were published which suggest, if we accept for a moment the Creationist intelligent [sic] design argument, that their putative designer uses bats as laboratories for developing ever more deadly viruses such as SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus which causes Covid-19, MERS, rabies and ebola.

Sunday 9 August 2020

How Self-Replicating RNA Got Made - Naturally

A hydrothermal vent on the Niua underwater volcano in the Lau Basin, southwest Pacific Ocean. The sort of place abiogenesis could have happened.
Chemical evolution in a tiny Gulf Stream - LMU Munich

I hate to say, "I told you so!", but... I told you so!

Readers of my books and blog-posts may remember how I elaborated on the ten-step process, proposed by Nick Lane and Michael Le Page in New Scientist in 2009, to explain how abiogenesis could have come about, in my blog-post Perfectly Plausible Abiogenesis, and in my popular book What Makes You So Special? From the Big Bang to You, in which I wrote:
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