Saturday, 31 October 2020

Covidiot News - Catholic Wingnuts Claim Facemasks are Against God

Covid-19 daily new cases - Michigan (Saturday, October 31, 2020 at 03:00 AM EDT)

Religious school, parents argue mask mandates violate rights

Two parents, supported by a Catholic School, are suing the US state of Michigan over the order requiring school students to wear a facemask at all times. They claim the order violates their religious beliefs.

At the time of writing, Michigan is experiencing a high and rising second wave of Covid-19 cases, with a record high of 3555 new cases on Oct. 29.

In their submission the parents, Christopher Mianecki and Stephanie Smith, acting for their respective children, and Resurrection Catholic School from Ingham County, Lancing claim:
In accordance with the teachings of the Catholic faith, Resurrection School believes that every human has dignity and is made in God’s image and likeness. Unfortunately, a mask shields our humanity. And because God created us in His image, we are masking that image.

The Five Faces of Donald Trump - Trump's Mental Makeup

Trump: A Man of 5 Emotions | Psychology Today

Arash Emamzadeh, a psychologist writing in Psychology Today, believes he has observed five emotions that dominate Donald Trump's personality.

He points out firstly that:
Compared with the last US president, Barack Obama, Trump appears less emotionally in control and perhaps less capable of experiencing or expressing a "range of human emotions."
In other words, although Emamzadeh doesn't use the words, Trump appears to have a lack of self-control and the empathy of a psychopath.

Thursday, 29 October 2020

Evolution News - Closing Creationism's God-Shaped Gap

Models for potential precursors of cells endure simulated early-Earth conditions | Eberly College of Science

Another shovel-full of science has just been thrown into Creationism's favourite God-shaped gap - abiogenesis - by a bunch of scientists from Penn State University Eberley College of Science.

The abiogenesis question is the increasingly-used last resort of Creationists who can no longer mount a serious challenge to the science of evolution. Never slow to use a dishonest false dichotomy fallacy, they challenge scientists to explain how the first 'life' assembled without the intervention of a magic creator, and to replicate it in a laboratory - as though the ultimate proof of a scientific theory is to replicate it in a laboratory, regardless of the fact that the theory might involve a whole planet or conditions only found near hydrothermal vents in the ocean abyss, and millions of years!

But that God-shaped gap just got smaller, as it has been doing now for several decades, as chemists, physicists and geologists discover more about the conditions on the early Earth when living systems first arose, and about the chemical and physical processes that were possible, even likely under those conditions.

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Covidiot News - Welsh Christians Above The Law

Pastor Wade McLennan, New Hope Church, Llanrumney, Cardiff.
"God told me to break the law!"
Watch: Police in riot van interrupt Welsh church during 'illegal' lockdown service

American-style Christian covidiocy is alive and well (unlike many American pastors and their Covid-19 victim dupes) and living in Wales.

Because of the high and rising numbers of coronavirus cases in Wales, the Welsh Government has introduced a partial lock-down which includes a ban on gathering in places of worship. In the USA Churches have proved to quickly become Covid-19 hotspots and church services have become super-spreader events.

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Malevolent Designer News - The Evil Genius' Bat Testbed!

David's myotis bat Myotis davidii
Duke-NUS study uncovers why bats excel as viral reservoirs without getting sick

Bats have a unique immune system that enables them to play host to a virus such as SARS-CoV-2 (the virus responsible for the current coronavirus pandemic) while not being harmed by at and, more importantly from the virus' point of view, not killing it either.

In this way, the virus is free to mutate and replicate and, when a mutation which can live in another species arises, can transfer to that other species, the way SARS-CoV-2 is believed to have transferred to humans.

As I said in my latest book, The Malevolent Designer: Why Nature's God is not Good, it is as though Creationism's putative magic invisible designer has set bats up as a pathological virus factory and test bed for developing nasty little viruses to make humans and other animals sick and die, like some bitter and twisted evil genius, full of hate for its creation, who now spends its time devising ways to increase the pain and suffering in the world.

Malevolent Designer News - A Brilliant Way to Kill Plants!

Phytoplasma symptoms in vegetable crops.

(A) Little leaf in brinjal; (B) close up view of brinjal flower showing phyllody; (C) big bud in tomato; (D) witches broom’ in Cucurbita pepo; (E) flat stem in lettuce; (F) witches’ broom in chili; (G) witches’ broom in potato; (H) witches’ broom in cabbage; and (I) flat stem in cowpea.
Phytoplasma effector proteins devastate host plants through molecular mimicry (APS) - Leibniz-Institut für Alternsforschung (FLI)

Here we have yet another example of the malevolence of any creative intelligence that can come up with so much of nature. In this case we have a type of obligate, endoparasitic bacterium that lives in plant cells and prevents the plant from reproducing while the plant supports bacterial reproduction, in what has been termed 'zombification' - where a parasite converts the host to work for it, often against its own interests.

This pathogen is currently imposing a major economic burden on those least able to bear it - third-world farmers.

Two teams of researchers have worked to explain exactly how this bacterium works. The Lipmann Insitute press release explains:
Phytoplasma are a type of bacteria that live within the cells and cause devastating diseases with damaging effects. For example, in many cases plants infected with phytoplasma are no longer able to develop flowers. These plants have actually been described as "zombies," since they allow the reproduction of phytoplasma but are unable to reproduce themselves anymore. A group of biologists based at Friedrich Schiller University and the Fritz Lipmann Institute in Germany are working to help better understand exactly how phytoplasma cells bring about the so-called zombification of plants.

Trump's Disastrous Year Explained - It Was Them Witches What Did It!

America leads the world again in new coronavirus cases as a third, even bigger wave threatens to spin out of control.
Thousands of Witches Plot a 'Binding Spell' Tonight Against President Trump | CBN News

Why has Donald Trump had such a disastrous year - getting impeached and making such a hash of the coronavirus pandemic? It's all the fault of witches, apparently and not because of the spells they cast on him a year ago, but because they signally failed to work!

According to the conservative Christian website, Christian Network Broadcasting (CBN) News a year ago today, thousands of witches were planning to join forces and cast a 'binding spell' on Donald Trump. Being Wiccans, these witches are forbidden from doing harm, so the binding was simply to prevent Trump doing any more harm to America and Americans than he had done already, short of harming him.

Sunday, 25 October 2020

Covid-19 - Neanderthal's Revenge?

The ancient Neanderthal hand in severe COVID-19 | Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University OIST

Who would have thought that some of the Neanderthal DNA we inherited from those of our ancestors who interbred with them, could be causing some of us to suffer much more with Covid-19 than those of us who don't have those particular bits of Neanderthal DNA?

Yet that's the conclusion of a two researches, Hugo Zeberg of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany and the Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden and Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, and the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, Onna, Japan.

Their findings were published in Nature on September 30, 2020.

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Still Lying to Win. How Desperate Donny is STILL Trying to Fool Americans

Belief in the truth-value of narratives by candidate preference.
QAnon story gains credence with up to 44% of Americans: News: The Media School

The latest report from Indian University's Observatory on Social Media shows a continuing campaign of lies and disinformation emanating from QAnon, designed to win support for Donald Trump by fooling Americans.

It shows how this tactic is having its greatest success amongst republican voters, who appear to be the most gullible and susceptible to conspiracy theories and unlikely narratives. This bears out the recent article in Psychology Today which explained the psychology behind the making of a Trump voter.

Friday, 23 October 2020

Evolution News - Another Way in Which Humans Are Just Like Chimpanzees

Three males groom together in a chain — Likizo (a younger male) grooms Big Brown (an older male), who grooms Lanjo (another younger male).
Photo: John Lower
Source: Havard Gazette
Aging chimps show social selectivity – Harvard Gazette

Despite the denial of Creationists, humans are very like their closest relatives, the chimpanzees in so many way, and not just physical, physiological and genetic. Our psychology is similar too, as this latest finding shows.

A team of psychologists and primatologists from the Harvard Department of Human Evolutionary Biology has shown that chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes, like humans, tend to be increasing selective in their friendships as they age. Their findings are published today in Science.

It had been thought that this tendency was unique to humans and stemmed from our sense of our own mortality (itself believed to be a uniquely human trait). However, detailed observation has shown that aging chimpanzees also show the same selectivity in their friendship, tending to favour those they know and trust and with whom there has been little history of animosity.

Malevolent Designer News - Covid-19 Design Even MORE Devious!

Neuropilin-1 (NRP1) is a host factor for SARS-CoV-2 infection. The image shows human cells infected with SARS-CoV-2 and expressing viral proteins (shown in green). Removal of NRP1 from cells or treating cells with a drug or an antibody targeting NRP1 reduces SARS-CoV-2 infection

Credit: University of Bristol
October: Neuropilin-1 study | News and features | University of Bristol

Intelligent design creationist fans of the designer whom they believe created the SARS-CoV-2 virus that is currently causing the coronavirus pandemic, killing people by the hundreds of thousands, making millions more sick and wrecking economies as governments attempt to slow its progress and prevent medical services from being overwhelmed, will be thrilled to learn just what a thorough job it did this time, apparently having practiced first with SARS.

The malevolent brilliance of this designer can scarcely be imagined!

One of the puzzling things about SARS-CoV-2 is that it is so much more virulent than the closely related SARS virus and now two independent research teams have discovered why. Both viruses have a 'spike' protein on their outer coat which helps them bind to their victim's cells as a prelude to gaining entry into the cell, where it releases its RNA which converts the cell's reproductive machinery to making new viruses, killing the cell in the process. And yet, SARS-CoV-2 seems to be so much more successful at doing this.

The Bristol University press release explains:

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Evolution News - How Ants Evolved by Losing Complexity

Cataglyphis bombycina workers and (larger) queens.
Credit: Philip Hönle
Losing flight had huge benefits for ants, finds new study | Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University OIST

How did ants evolve their famous strength and endurance, which far exceeds even the fittest and strongest mammals in comparison to their size?

The answer to this was provided yesterday by a combined team of researchers from Institut d’Écologie et des Sciences de l’Environnement, Sorbonne Université, Paris, France and the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University, Okinawa, Japan.

And Once again, a science paper refutes another sacred Creationist dogma - that so-called 'macro-evolution' always involves an increase in complexity and is therefore impossible because the new information needed can't arise naturally, so needs a magic man to provide it.

Monday, 19 October 2020

What Makes a Trumpanzee?

5 Psychological Reasons Why the 45th President Remains Popular | Psychology Today

Why would anyone in their right mind even think of voting for Donald Trump again? That question was answered by the psychologist, Vinita Mehta Ph.D., Ed.M., writing in Psychology Today.

There are five things that make a Trumpanzee:

  1. Social Dominance Orientation (SDO).

    Readers of my blog-posts may remember we met this term in another Psychology Today article which explained why religious fundamentalists can so easily turn violent and why Creationists feel compelled to over-claim their expertise and insist they know impossible things to be true. Basically, they have a hierarchical view of society and try to elevate themselves up this assumed social hierarchy by pretending to be the superior of educated people, privy to 'secrets' and having a special understanding not available to lesser folk. People who are high in SDO:

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Malevolent Design News - How Covid-19 was Designed to be Sneaky

SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, appears to have evolved silent changes to its RNA code that gave it a biological edge over previous strains.

Credit: Felipe Esquivel Reed
'Silent' Mutations Gave the Coronavirus an Evolutionary Edge | Duke Today

Sadly, this news came just too late to be included in my new book, The Malevolent Designer: Why Nature’s God is Not Good, because it is a brilliant example of what intelligent [sic] design creationists are obliged to assume was deliberately designed by their putative designer god, and which, if such a god existed, would make it a pestilential, genocidal misanthrope of the highest order.

What researchers at Duke University, Durham, N.C., USA have discovered is the 'silent' mutations that turned a harmless coronavirus, infecting bats and other animals, into a deadly, pandemic virus currently causing mayhem with world economies and deaths in the millions as governments all over the world struggle to contain the virus and avoid local health services being overwhelmed.

New Book - The Malevolent Designer

It hasn't all been boredom and worry during the coronavirus lockdown, when we were confined to our homes for most of the day for several weeks during Spring this year! I spent most of it getting a suntan in my garden and writing a book!

The Malevolent Designer: Why Nature's God is not Good, richly illustrated by my good friend and companion in life, the artist Catherine Hounslow-Webber, is a sequel to my popular book, The Unintelligent Designer: Exposing the Intelligent Design Hoax.

This book, with a close look at the realities of nature, shows why any creative entity who designed much of nature could not honestly be regarded as resembling the notional Abrahamic god, whom we are expected to believe, despite the evidence of its resemblance to an irascible Bronze Age Middle-Eastern tribal warlord in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, and the fear, amounting to a psychotic phobia, it evokes in the minds of devotees, is nevertheless an all-loving, maximally good god.

The book takes the reader through a whole range of parasite-host relationships, from the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) to parasitic plants, explaining how parasites are often equipped with mechanism to make them more effective at making their hosts sick and finding their way into new victims. The concluding chapter looks at ways in which any such designer has already given some species a much superior system such as the immune system of sharks, the cancer-avoiding system in elephants and the superior eyes and respiratory systems of birds, yet neglected to give other species those same systems, instead handicapping them with inferior 'designs'.

Catholic Corruption News - What a Carry On At The Vatican!

Cecilia Marogna / Cardinal Angelo Becciu
Woman arrested amid Vatican financial scandal claims she worked in ‘parallel diplomacy’ | News | LifeSite

The mystery over the sudden sacking by the Pope of Cardinal Angelo Bacciu, amidst rumours of financial impropriety and misuse of Vatican funds, deepened yesterday with the announcement that a close female associate of his, Cecilia Marogna, 39 had been arrested in Milan and charged with embezzlement.

Until his abrupt sacking, Bacciu had been effectively number two in the Vatican; one of the few members of the Pope's inner cabinet with direct access to him without needing to make an appointment.

Marogana had been employed by Bacciu as a “security advisor”. According to this report in the Catholic-leaning LifeSite:

Friday, 16 October 2020

Christian Loonies for Trump

True to form, Evangelical Christian lunatics are coming out in strength for Donald Trump, that most un-Christian of American presidents.

Here we have a clutch of such fruitloops. The first is one is self-styled "prophetess" Kat Kerr, whom readers of my blog will remember from when she had ordered 100 million angels to guard the GOP National Congress and announced that her personal friend, Jesus, was a Trump supporter.

She has now announced that she can draw God from memory, because she has met him, touched his 'living' hair and has a photographic memory.

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Ireland to Reduce Catholic Interference in its Education System

A selection of religious symbols on display at Citywest and Saggart Community National School, an Education and Training Board (ETB) school.
Photograph: Eric Luke
Catholic symbols in State schools to be phased out | Irish Times

The Irish Times is reporting that Catholic influences are to be phased out in State-run schools. This is part of an increasing recent trend towards rejection of religion, especially Catholicism, in Ireland in recent years, and is an important milestone on the road to a fully secular society in the Republic.

Amongst the catholic influences to be removed will be graduation masses, Catholic-only symbols and inspection visits by Catholic diocesan inspectors.

Covidiot News - Wackadoodle Conspiracists

Covidiots protesting against lockdown in Harrisburg, PA, USA
Credit:
Paul Weaver
Popular COVID-19 conspiracies linked to vaccine ‘hesitancy’ | University of Cambridge

Researchers from Cambridge University, UK have analysed data obtained from five different countries and have shown how readily misinformation and fake news about the coronavirus can gain traction. The countries are USA, UK, Mexico, Ireland and Spain.

Using this data, they were able to identify a number of 'key predictors' for susceptibility to fake pandemic news. They also found a clear link between susceptibility to fake news about coronavirus and hesitancy about receiving any future vaccine against it.

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Covidiot News - Playing the Persecuted Victims Card

Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn protested new restrictions put in place this week on synagogues, schools, restaurants and nonessential businesses.
Credit: Mark Abramson, The New York Times
Cuomo’s Restrictions on Synagogues in Virus Hot Spots Can Go Forward - The New York Times.

A federal judge in Brooklyn has ruled that Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's restrictions to limit the spread of the corona virus do not violate the right to free exercise of religion for Orthodox Jews.

As though to demonstrate that Evangelical Christian covidiots were not the only religious fundamentalists keen to help spread the coronavirus as widely and quickly as possible, a group of ultra-Orthodox American Jews calling themselves Agudath Israel of America, had sued Gov. Cuomo over his plans to restrict gatherings in areas with high and rising Covid-19 cases. These infection hot-spots include zones with a high Jewish population. The order sets new capacity limits on places of worship, depending on the level of infection in the zone.

Monday, 12 October 2020

Trump's Disastrous Presidency Exposed

Illustration: Señor Salme
How Trump damaged science — and why it could take decades to recover

The science magazine, Nature, which is normally carefully apolitical, has come out firmly against re-election of Donald Trump as POTUS because of the damage he has done and will continue to do to science. This article really should be read by anyone interested in getting the best outcome from the November elections for America, for science and for the world.

Pandering to his scientifically illiterate, evangelical base, Trump has not only shown his ignorance of science but his open hostility to it, epitomised as it is by his attitude towards the measures to contain and control the coronavirus pandemic.

For example, on September 13 this year, in Henderson Nevada, in contravention of Nevada state rules for social distancing, Trump held a rally in which thousands of Trumpanzees (fanatical Trump supporters) packed shoulder-to-shoulder, without face-masks, in a warehouse in conditioned that looked designed to maximise the spread of the virus, and late boasted about breaking the rules and getting away with it.

Sunday, 11 October 2020

Malevolent Designer News - How Parasitic Plants Got Better At Parasitism

Common Broomrape, Orobanche minor

Illustration: Catherine Hounslow-Webber
From The Malevolent Designer: Why Nature's God is not Good
© Catherine Hounslow-Webber.
Planting Parasites: Unveiling Common Molecular Mechanisms of Parasitism and Grafting | Nagoya University Research Achievements

Good news for intelligent [sic] design advocates!

Researchers at Nagoya University, Japan, have worked out how parasitic plants have been modified to make it easier for them to parasitise other plants. They secrete an enzyme known as β-1,4-glucanase (GH9B3). They showed that the process of attaching the haustorium (the organ through which a parasitic plant extracts water and nutrients from its victim is very similar to the way a graft unites the tissues of the scion and the stock. The press release from Nagoya University explains:
Plant parasitism is a phenomenon by which the parasite plant latches onto and absorbs water and nutrients from a second host plant, with the help of a specialized organ called the "haustorium." Once the haustorium forms, specific enzymes then help in forming a connection between the tissues of the parasite and host plants, known as a "xylem bridge," which facilitates the transport of water and nutrients from the host to the parasite.

Evolution News - Fossils of Oldest Monkey Found

Reconstruction of M. pentelicus from Shuitangba.
Image credit: Mauricio Antón
Oldest monkey fossils outside of Africa found | Penn State University

A combined team of American and Chinese palaeontologists have examines fossils found in a lignite mine in south-eastern Yunan Province, China, and concluded that they are the oldest fossils of monkeys yet found outside Africa. At about 6.4 million years old, they coexisted temporally and geographically with early apes.

The significance of these fossils, appart from being some thousand times older than Creationists believe the Universe to be, is explained by A'ndrea Elyse Messer in a Penn State University news release:
"This is significant because they are some of the very oldest fossils of monkeys outside of Africa," said Nina G. Jablonski, Evan Pugh University Professor of Anthropology, Penn State. "It is close to or actually the ancestor of many of the living monkeys of East Asia. One of the interesting things from the perspective of paleontology is that this monkey occurs at the same place and same time as ancient apes in Asia."

The researchers, who included Jablonski and long-time collaborator Xueping Ji, department of paleoanthropology, Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, Kunming, China, studied the fossils unearthed from the Shuitangba lignite mine that has yielded many fossils. They report that "The mandible and proximal femur were found in close proximity and are probably of the same individual," in a recent issue of the Journal of Human Evolution. Also uncovered slightly lower was a left calcaneus — heel bone — reported by Dionisios Youlatos, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, in another paper online in the journal, that belongs to the same species of monkey, Mesopithecus pentelicus.

Saturday, 10 October 2020

Continuing Human Evolution

Sketch of median artery vessel which supplies blood to the human forearm and hand.
Credit: Professor Maciej Henneberg
Forearm artery reveals human evolution continues – News

Three scientists from Flinders and Adelaide Universities, Australia, have found evidence of continuing human evolution in the increasing occurrence in adults of an artery known as the median artery, in the forearm. The median artery begins as the main blood supply to the developing forearm but normally atrophies in the embryo when the role is taken over by two other arteries - the radial and ulnar arteries.

Friday, 9 October 2020

Evolution News - More Incidental Rebuttals of Creationism

Blind but ferocious: The Iberian mole (Talpa occidentalis) that is common in Spain and Portugal has a peculiar property – the females develop strong muscles and testicular tissues due to increased levels of male sex hormones
© David Carmona, Departamento de Genética,
Universidad de Granada, Granada, Spain.
The problem with being a Creationist is you are obliged to hold opinions that are continually being refuted by evidence - which probably explains Creationist disdain for evidence and the science that keeps producing it.

Only yesterday, for example, I wrote about two recent pieces of research that, looked at objectively, should tell any Creationist with a modicum of intellectual honesty and personal integrity that there is something wrong with their dogmas. And here, today, are two more papers that utterly refute Creationist claims quite incidentally and with no intention of doing so on the part of the authors.

Science reveals the truth. It's not complicated; if the truth is at variance with your beliefs than your beliefs are wrong and need to be revised. If you subscribe to a 'faith' that prevents you changing your mind when the evidence demands it, then you don't have free will and are a slave to someone else's dogmas.

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Malevolent Designer News - Two More Examples of Malevolence?

Indigobird, Vidua chalybeata
Cheating birds mimic host nestlings to deceive foster parents | University of Cambridge

A couple of papers recently illustrate just how far a malevolent designer must have gone to create the conditions for parasites to thrive in, if we are to believe intelligent [sic] design advocates.

The first is by scientists from the Zoology Department, Cambridge University, UK and the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town concerning mimicry in bird brood parasites.

The 19 African finches of the Vidua genus, also known as indigobirds or wydahs, are all brood parasites on species of grassfinch. Unlike many brood parasites they do not destroy the hosts eggs and sometimes lay more than one egg in their nest. Each species of Vidua parasitises a single species of grassfinch.

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Clerical Child Abuse News - Anglicans As Bad as Catholics

Church of England failures 'allowed child sexual abusers to hide' - BBC News

A report published yesterday by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, paints a sorry picture of an Anglican Church more interested in protecting its own reputation and that of its clergy, than in the welfare of its victims. In an carbon-copy of the Catholic Church's approach to reports of its priests sexually abusing minors and other vulnerable people, the Anglican Church sought to keep the problem under wraps rather than deal with the problem, while its victims were left to fend for themselves and seek justice against an uncaring and indifferent Church establishment.

From the Executive Summary to the report:

Executive Summary


This investigation concerns the extent to which the Church of England and the Church in Wales protected children from sexual abuse in the past. It also examines the effectiveness of current safeguarding arrangements. A public hearing on these specific areas was held in 2019. This report also draws on the previous two case studies on the Anglican Church, which related to the Diocese of Chichester and Peter Ball.

In addition to recommendations made in the case studies, we make eight recommendations in this report, covering areas such as clergy discipline, information-sharing and support for victims and survivors. We will return to other matters raised in this investigation, such as mandatory reporting, in the Inquiry’s final report.

Monday, 5 October 2020

Evolution News - Mosquitoes Refute Creationist Dogma

The image above shows the exoskeletons of a normal mosquito larva on the left and a mosquito larva with the gooseberry gene edited out on the right.
Credit: Alys Jarvela/University of Maryland.
Mosquitoes Lost an Essential Gene with No Ill Effects | College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences.

The bad week for Creationism is continuing. This time a sacred dogma bites the dust as scientists from Maryland University, USA, show that mosquitoes evolved with a loss of genes - something that Creationists tell their dupes is impossible, despite the evidence from parasitology of evolution by reduction in complexity.

The initial discovery of the missing gene, known to entomologists as paired, was made by the lead researcher, Alys M. Cheatle Jarvela when she was looking for it in mosquitoes to use as a standard for comparison to the genes she was studying in crickets. Paired is found in almost all segmented arthropods and it controls the growth of repeated segments during development. If it is deactivated in fruit flies, for example, every alternate segment fails to develop and the developing embryo dies.

Evolution News - Evolution in Progress

Marine flatworm, Procerodes littoralis
Scientists repeat century-old study to reveal evolutionary rescue in the wild - University of Plymouth

A tiny marine flatworm, Procerodes littoralis, has shown that some species can evolve very quickly to adapt to a changing environment.

In an interesting experiment, researchers at the School of Biological and Marine Science, University of Plymouth, UK have repeated an experiment carried out 104 years earlier and shown that this flatworm had adapted to changes in salinity in its environment over the intervening years.

The first series of experiments were conducted by Dr Dorothy Jordan Lloyd, who was based at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth, and focussed on individuals found in Wembury Bay, Plymouth. Dr Jordan Lloyd's results were published in 1914. She showed that there was an optimum level of salinity at which these flatworms were able to regenerate and recover from minor injuries.

Sunday, 4 October 2020

Creationism's Abiogenesis God-Shaped Gap Just Got Smaller

From the mixture of all four nucleobases, A:T pairs emerged at about 100 degrees Celsius and G:C pairs formed at 200 degrees Celsius.
Credit: Ruđer Bošković Institute, Ivan Halasz
DESY News: Searching for the chemistry of life - Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY

It's been one of those awful weeks for Creationists again.

Not only did we have those lovely wasps embedded in 25-million-year-old amber, and then their beloved Covidiot In Chief, Donald Trump being laid low with the virus he had pronounced to be a hoax and a mild illness that would all be over by April, but now we have another shovel-full thrown into their favourite god-shaped hole, abiogenesis. Abiogenesis is the current fall-back of every creationist who runs out of arguments against evolution, and to which they cling like a fool to a deck-chair in the face of an on-rushing tsunami.

This time we have news that a team led by Ivan Halasz from the Ruđer Bošković Institute and Ernest Meštrović from the pharmaceutical company Xellia have shown just how easy it must have been to create DNA by perfectly natural processes in conditions which would have been found on the early Earth. Their findings were published a few days ago in the journal Chemical Communications, regrettably behind a paywall. However, the news release from the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY), A Research Centre of the Helmholtz Association, explains the problem and the team's findings:

Saturday, 3 October 2020

Parasitic Wasp Fossils Sting Creationists

Ensign wasp embedded in fossilised amber
Salute the venerable ensign wasp, killing cockroaches for 25 million years | Oregon State University

It is finds like this that makes observing Creationists so much fun.

On the one hand, they grasp at fossils such as these, which are strikingly similar to the modern-day species, and proclaim them as evidence that there has been no evolution for 25 million years. On the other hand, they have to explain a 25-millionyear-old fossil on an Earth that they believe is less than ten thousand years old.

It's enough to make even the most swivel-eyed, science denying Creation pray for guidance (or more likely wait for one or other Creationist disinformation sites to come up with a cobbled rationalisation - which may well be some time coming).

Friday, 2 October 2020

UK Faiths Can't Resist Discriminating Despite the Equality Act 2010

Equality law ‘failing to protect people from faith-based discrimination’, says report - National Secular Society

A report by the National Secular society into the working of the Equality Act - Faith-shaped holes: how religiously privilege undermines equality law, which was intended to end discrimination in the UK, shows how religious organisations are exploiting in-built loopholes in the law to continue to discriminate against people with the 'wrong' religion (or none) and, because of the link between some faiths and ethnicity, on the basis of race or ethnic origin.

These loopholes were intended as allow discrimination in matters of employment in situations where religion was an important part of the job, for example, not to provide holes through which religious bigots, who want to continue to discriminate and victimise minorities, could drive a coach and horses, so rendering the law unenforceable and ineffective. In the matter of education particularly, religions are exploiting privileges granted to them by the Education Act to discriminate against minorities and those from the 'wrong' faith or none and so to circumvent the provisions of the Equalities Act.

In her forward to the report, the former Equalities Minister, Rt Hon Baroness Featherstone said:

The Equality Act is something that, as a country, we should be extremely proud of. It has contributed to the UK becoming, on the whole, a more tolerant nation and has been vital in tackling discrimination against minorities and safeguarding individuals’ rights.

...the continued existence of exemptions for religious privilege is completely at odds with ambitions to create a fair society. Whilst the aspirations of the Equality Act were – and remain – laudable, this should not blind us to the fact that provisions within the Act itself have created stark areas of on-going discrimination and gaps in the guarantees of equality. Until exemptions that create religious privilege are tackled and ended, we cannot claim to have created a just and fair society.

In the Executive Summary to the report, the National Secular Society say:

Equality is an essential principle not merely for its own sake. It underpins community cohesion, democratic participation, and personal liberty.

Freedom of religion or belief is an indispensable component of personal liberty. It also pertains to an area of UK society that has undergone dramatic change within the past ten years since the Equality Act became law.

Firstly, diversity of different religions has increased. Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism are amongst the religions on the rise.

Secondly, the UK is now more irreligious than ever, with more than 50% of British adults saying they have no religion. This rise coincides with a dramatic fall in adherents of the established church, the Church of England. Only 2% of young adults identify as belonging to the C of E.1

But according to Humanist International’s Freedom of Thought Report 2018, this non-religious majority in the UK suffer from systemic discrimination in all areas monitored: government, education, society, and free expression. This is in stark contrast to some of our surrounding European neighbours – France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland – where the non-religious enjoy ‘free and equal’ treatment in all or most of these areas.2

The report identifies three key areas in which there is still discrimination on religious grounds:

KEY FINDINGS


Education
  • The religious ‘gaps’ in the Equality Act take their heaviest toll on our children. Although our nation’s schools should be beacons of tolerance and equality, the entrenchment of religion in British education systems shatters these aspirations. This report finds that exceptions to accommodate faith schools, faith-based admissions and religious practice in schools are leading to a level of religious discrimination that would not be tolerated in any other area of society.

Caste-based discrimination
  • Migration into the UK from Asia has meant caste-based discrimination and harassment has become a feature of British life. Although tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of people belonging to oppressed castes live in the UK, they still have no genuine protection from discrimination.

Employment
  • There is evidence that some organisations might be using the ‘genuine occupational requirement’ exceptions in the Equality Act as ‘loopholes’ to avoid employing people who don’t belong to the ‘right’ religion in seemingly secular roles. This shuts off job opportunities for talented people who do not share the same beliefs.


It is perhaps in the area of education where religions, especially Anglicanism and Catholicism, the two largest providers of publicly-funded 'faith schools', can't resist the opportunity to discriminate both in their selection and treatment of children and in their employment of teachers. The National Secular society cite several examples of children being bullied and victimised for not sharing the religious views of the schools 'ethos' - public humiliation for not preying correctly, being coerced into attending a Catholic mass even though not a Catholic, valuable hours of study being lost to attend compulsory religious ceremonies, being excluded from the class for not saying the school prayer, etc.

The report listed several examples of discrimination, bullying and victimisation in faith schools, including:
  • A child placed in a Catholic faith school in Medway which was not the parents' first choice but no other schools were available, and being made to attend all Catholic services, including Mass.
  • An Atheist girl from Preston being chastised in front of the whole school for not praying properly.
  • A sixth form girl from Gloucester made to miss crucial A-level lessons to attend compulsory religious ceremonies such as mass, and being threatened and punished for non-attendance.
  • A student from Sheffield forbidden to participate in the class and being made to sit at the back and not speak or ask questions, because he wouldn't say the school prayer.

The report outlines a case study of Burford Primary School. Burford is of interest to me because I have ancestral family connections with this lovely Cotswold town and it was against the wall of the church on May 17, 1649, that three Levellers (early English socialists who had sided with Cromwell in the civil war but whom he then suppressed) who had taken refuge in the church along with about 150 others, were dragged from the church and summarily executed by firing squad, by Puritan soldiers of Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army. The bullet holes can be seen in the wall. May 17 is now commemorated as Levellers Day.

But that event, relevant only in that it shows how draconium, discriminatory and blood-thirsty a fundamentalist theocratic government would be if it got the power fundamentalists crave, is not germane to this case study:

CASE STUDY: BURFORD PRIMARY SCHOOL


This is a summary of casework handled by the NSS. The full versions can be read at:

www.secularism.org.uk/opinion/2018/12/my-childrens-school-has-become-christian-by-default
www.secularism.org.uk/news/2019/11/coe-trust-to-introduce-alternative-to-worship-after-legal-challenge

Burford Primary School is a community ethos school in Oxfordshire. Lee and Lizanne Harris enrolled their children there “primarily because it was a non-faith-based community”, one of a minority of non-faith schools within four miles. The parents were both active contributors to the school, with Lizanne taking a leading role in the Parent-Teacher Association.

In 2015, the school joined the Church of England’s Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust (ODST) under the condition that its community school ethos would be protected. But the Harrises discovered through conversations with their children that regular assemblies were being held by the church in the school. The children said they were encouraged to participate in active prayer, Christianity was positioned as truth, and Bible stories were 'acted out' including beatings and crucifixion.

When the Harrises raised concerns, the head explained that she was legally entitled to run daily worship and was simply operating within the law.

The Harrises decided to withdraw their children from collective worship. This led to the children feeling “increasingly excluded” from assemblies and school activities, left to sit in side-rooms for long periods of time with a teaching assistant. “More and more it felt like our children were being discriminated against”, Lee said. “Daily activities that could help to provide an inclusive environment were seemingly being ignored.”

In July 2019, the Harrises launched a judicial review against Burford Primary School, arguing that the school must provide an inclusive assembly as a meaningful alternative for pupils withdrawn from Christian worship.

In response, ODST agreed to provide an inclusive alternative assembly for pupils withdrawn from Christian collective worship.

This case represents a rare win for the parents, but it shows the damage caused to inclusion and cohesion in school life, and the relationship and trust between school and parents, when religious worship is imposed. No parents should have to threaten legal action in order to ensure their children are treated equally to others. No school should impose collective worship.

When given the opportunity and excuse, the Anglicans who took over the running of Burford Primary School, clearly wasted no time in exploiting the provisions of the Education Act to avoid their obligations under the Equalities Act and seeking to impose an intolerant Christianity on non-believers and the children of non-believers, and to isolate and discriminate against non-believers. Not surprisingly, the Anglican Church is very much in favour of faith schools and the requirement in the Education Act that all schools should have a 'Christian ethos', including a daily act of worship.

The report lists instances of discrimination in their selection process by faith schools. These include:
  • An autistic child from Sheffield unlikely to be accepted by any of the smaller-intake schools which are all faith schools, because his parents are not church-goers.
  • Children in Guildford, Surrey being unable to get into their local school while the school bussed 60% of its intake in from surrounding counties.
  • A girl in a London borough unable to get into a local school because of discrimination on religious grounds.
  • A girl in Liverpool unable to get into the school of her parents' choice because of religious discrimination. As her parents point out, it would not be tolerated if secular schools refused to take children of religious families.
  • A Girl in Warrington unable to get into high school because she was not baptised, her parents believing she had the right to chose her religion, or none, when she reached adulthood.
  • A girl in Romford refused admission to her closest school because the family were Atheists.
  • A school governor in Cambridge who reported that middle-class parents had succeeded in turning the local faith-schools into state-funded independent schools by selection criteria that excluded under-privileged children, resulting in segregated education on socioeconomic status.
  • A parent from Bath who admitted lying to get his children into what was considered a better school than the alternative on a local sink estate where bullying and drugs were endemic.
  • Atheist parents from Preston going to church regularly to get their children into a local school.

As can be seen, selection criteria are not only being abused by faith schools but are also being used to artificially boost church attendance figures. Religious bigots seem unable to resist abusing the little bit of power and privilege the Education Act affords them.

There is also considerable evidence of active discrimination on religious grounds in faith schools: There are from the Secular Society report:

TESTIMONIALS:

DISCRIMINATION WITHIN FAITH SCHOOLS

The following quotes are from parents, pupils and teachers who have experienced or witnessed discrimination and alienation due to the religious curriculum at faith schools. All quotes come from signatures of the No More Faith Schools campaign petition at www.nomorefaithschools.org.

“My children were always under pressure to believe in God in their C of E primary. It was seen as naughty/ disrespectful to question or disagree with the school ethos.” – AMANDA, BIRMINGHAM

“My son is currently being forced by his C of E secondary school (an academy) to take a GCSE in RE which means he will have to drop either history (his preferred choice of humanity) or triple science. This is a ridiculously stressful and unnecessary thing to put a young person through. This is the only secondary school in our town and we had no choice but to send him there.” – JENNY, BATH

“The overwhelming emphasis on religion at my children’s Church of England school is affecting my son’s mental health. He is constantly being reprimanded for questioning Christianity.” – NANCY, READING

“As someone who is about to finish their time at a Catholic school, I have seen first-hand over the last 13 years the toxic environments they can be. I hold no ill will towards religion, that’s not what this is about. This is about a more equal and inclusive society where people aren’t indoctrinated. Since finding out about my atheist beliefs, I have been singled out, berated and humiliated by more than one teacher, even though my personal religious beliefs are none of their business. Despite my respect for them, they evidently show a lack of respect for me.” – FRANKIE, GLASGOW

“My daughter was discriminated against repeatedly at age 4 for coming from a nonreligious family. First she wasn’t able to attend our local state school because we had to prove we attended Catholic mass for her to be admitted. Then she was repeatedly discriminated against at the Church of England school she attended. Despite not being voluntary aided, the local vicar and people from his congregation who did not have children or grandchildren at the school had taken up all the school’s governor positions. This resulted in the school holding mass rather than assembly every morning, making the children pray four times a day and overall an inordinate religious influence. Although we had officially requested that she not have to attend RE – as this was taken as an opportunity for indoctrination rather than teaching tolerance and understanding of different beliefs – we were told this would be too difficult for the school to implement so she was forced to attend. Following repeated night terrors after being told by the vicar that nails were put into Jesus’s hands and feet due to YOUR sins, she asked please not to go into assembly again and was punished by the school for making this request.” – EUGENIA, YORK

“My son has to go to a Roman Catholic school because of SENS needs - his timetable includes five periods of RE every two weeks. This is more than any other subject and is straight up evangelising. Educational should be secular, faith schools severely limit the choice of pupils especially in areas like mine which is a grammar area.” – SALLY, CANTERBURY

“As a non-Catholic who has worked as a supply teacher in a Catholic school for two years, I have seen first-hand religious discrimination and horrible attitudes. This has no place in our society and would be illegal in any other work place.” – HAYLEY, GLASGOW

“I come from Slovenia where religion has no place in the educational system. I am now facing a tremendous problem finding a school for my child that will teach her to think for herself instead of valuing faith as a virtue. She has been given a place at a Church of England school because all non-religious schools in the area are full. I am an atheist, a scientist, an engineer. I suffer from anxiety knowing my kid is at risk of being indoctrinated into a religion… The only alternative the UK government is giving me is to have her home-schooled and deprive her of the social aspects of going to school.” – ELIZABETH, READING

“We have taken the very hard decision to remove our children from our local C of E school. The attempted indoctrination and divisive nature of the school became too much.” – CHRISTINA, PETERBOROUGH

“Our children’s infant and primary schools were both C of E, which caused them a great deal of confusion - their teachers telling one thing, when they knew we didn’t believe. Our son in particular became very upset about it. I find it almost beyond belief that in 2018, when only a minority of people in the UK still believe in a god, our local schools can still exclude on the basis of faith.” – CHRISTOPHER, GUILDFORD

“My great grandchildren attend a village faith school and are raised as free thinkers by their family which causes conflict and confusion for the children.” – MARK, COLCHESTER

Once again we see religious authorities unable and unwilling to resist abusing the power over others that the Education Act allows them, to abuse, bully and victimise those who disagree with them or who come from the 'wrong' background. Faiths are fulfilling their historical role of spreading division, disharmony and suspicion within society, made worse in a multicultural, multi-faith, multi-ethnic society such as the UK. The National Secular Society report makes recommendations which would close these loopholes and pivileges in the Education Act which are enabling religious leaders to circumvent the intention and spirit of the Equalities Act and continue to bully, victimise and alienate minorities of their choice.

In the days when non-believers are now in a very clear majority at 53%, totalling more than all other faiths together in the UK, and where believers make up only 3% of the key 'parent' age-group of 25-34, there is now no excuse for continuing these privileges for faiths in the UK. Because they have now shown themselves incapable of resisting the temptation to abuse what privileges they might have, it is time to remove these privileges and put an end to faith schools altogether. Anglicans and Catholics comprise only 12% and 7% of the UK population yet are given an enormous and privileged status in the education of our children!

Religion should have no place in the education of children, other than as part of a curriculum which looks objectively at world religions and compares the value of faith over an objective assessment of the evidence in forming opinions - prospect which would no doubt terrify religious leaders and have them foaming at the mouth and screaming about discrimination and not being privileged enough.






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