Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Unintelligent Designer News - How the Stupid Designer's Blunders Gave Us Mustard

Phylogeny and diversity.


A chronogram of both Brassicales families (Upper) and Pierinae butterfly genera (Lower), showing species numbers and identification of clades in the adjacent table. A common temporal scale is provided between the two chronograms. The branches in the Brassicales phylogeny are colored to indicate the origin of indolic glucosinolates (purple), methionine derived glucosinolates (green), and novel structural elaborations to glucosinolates unique to the core Brassicaceae lineage (orange). Vertical dashed lines also indicate the origin of these novel chemical groups. Primary host–plant associations of various Pierinae lineages are similarly colored: orange (Brassicaceae), green (Capparaceae or Cleomaceae), orange-green (mixture of previous), purple (more basal Brassicales that synthesize indolic glucosinolates), blue (non-Brassicales feeding) and gray (unknown). The phylogenetic positions for the At-α and At-β WGDs are depicted with white diamond symbols, and significant net diversification rate shifts with red star symbols.

Scientists uncover how caterpillars created condiments

While researching for my previous blog post about the unintelligent design in the horseradish flea beetle, I noticed I failed to write about this beautiful piece of research from 2015, despite having referenced it and wrote about the discovery in my popular book, Unintelligent Design: Refuting the Intelligent Design Hoax

I'm referring to the paper published in PNAS in June 2015, entitled The butterfly plant arms-race escalated by gene and genome duplications, now freely available under PNAS' open access option, the work of a large international team of scientists including biologists from The University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USA, The Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Jena, Germany, and the Institute of Aquaculture, University of Stirling, Stirling, Scotland, UK.

This work confirmed the conclusions made 50 years earlier by two now-renowned biologists, Peter Raven and Paul Erhlich, who introduced the concept of co-evolution, where two species influence the evolution of each other, by showing how gene duplication, and subsequent repurposing of the spare genes produced, was responsible for plants evolving a defence against the caterpillars of butterflies and how, beginning about the same time as the extinction of the large dinosaurs in the mass extinction at the KT boundary, this gave rise over several million years to the co-evolutionary diversification of brassica-eating butterfly species and the brassicas, in an ultimately pointless arms race. Raven and Erhlich had even used the brassicales and cabbage butterflies as examples (A case of a prediction of the Theory of Evolution being proved correct, 50 years later!)
.
The result of this arms race was the tangy taste we call mustard, produced by glucosinolates - chemicals which are toxic to butterfly caterpillars and other leaf-eating insects - the large number of brassicales and a large number of brassica-eating butterflies.

The blunder by Creationism's putative intelligent [sic] designer, if you believe that nonsense, is that it apparently thought it was good design to create species to eat the leaves of plants, then redesign the plants to prevent them being eaten, then redesign the plant-eating insects to overcome the toxins intended to stop them eating the plants. An example there of the designer's right hand not knowing what its left hand was doing!

Unintelligent Designer News - Overcoming the Defences It Designed

Horseradish flea beetle: Protected with the weapons of its food plant | MPI CE

One of the more idiotic aspects of intelligent [sic] design Creationism is the way its advocates ignore the evidence that for there to have been a single sentient designer (as required by the central dogmas of Christianity and Islam), this designer would have to be incredibly stupid or amnesiac.

As research like this shows, there are very many cases in nature of a defence being 'designed' then a workaround for that defence also being designed in a predator or parasite, as though the 'designer' treated its solution for one species as a problem to be overcome - a problem of its own creation!

Quite simply, this is not an intelligent act. Nor is it a characteristic of good design, let alone intelligent design.

However, it is a predictable outcome for a mindless, undirected, natural process like evolution, where the randomly mutating genes will be naturally selected for whichever mutation results in the most copies of themselves appearing in the next generation, with no concern for the genes of another species. Hence, we have abundant examples of arms races in nature and arms races are themselves a major driver of evolution.

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

How Religions Cause Divisions

'Healing' crystals

Photo credit: Hasan Can Devsir/Unsplash (CC-BY)
Pagan 'metaphysical' shops navigate threats from Christian critics

An example here of how religion divides communities through bigotry and intolerance and by reacting to competition in the market place of gullible fools to exploit.

In fact, the latter could be seen as an example of how religions control their victims in order to prevent hybridization with other wackadoodle cults, in the same way genes control diverging gene pools to set up barriers to hybridization and so cause speciation to go to completion. Religions are acting like meme pools in a Darwinian competition, and so tending to cause divisions and barriers to social peace and harmony.

This example is that of Heron Michelle, a purveyor of 'pagan metaphysical' objects such as crystals, jewellery and herbs allegedly with mystical properties, from a shop, The Sojourner Whole Earth Provisions, in Uptown Greenville, North Carolina. She and her shop have attracted the hostile attention of the local fundamentalist Christians. Ironically, the trouble came to a head after a festival on the last day of April, ostensibly organized to bring the whole community together following the Covid-19 lockdown.

As part of the festival, Heron set up a table outside her shop and offered to do tarot readings for anyone interested in that sort of thing. Fairly soon though, she had a visit from two young men dressed in identical green t-shirts who wanted to 'share the Gospel of Jesus' with her. She explained that she already knew about Jesus and had been baptised into three different Christian faiths but found none of them 'took'. She now believes she has found the 'love that Jesus was trying to bring to the world' outside of Christianity. She also told them that in her faith, proselytizing was regarded as a cardinal sin.

After patronising her with more preaching, the pair eventually left to re-join their large group who had been moving through the festival talking to other shop keepers and festival-goers, trying to win recruits for their cult. Afraid of what was going to happen next, Heron folded up her table and stopped offering tarot readings.

After the festival was over, things turned ugly and menacing. The entire green t-shirted mob of fundamentalists turned up outside her shop physically blocking the entrance and standing and staring at her through the windows.

This is not the first time that Heron has faced crowds of hostile Christians. When she first opened her shop in 2008, the local church organized a boycott and a crowd of women vandalized her shop by paining crosses on the windows. They then stood outside chanting about demons.

In 2017, Philip Brown, a local street preacher who travels around preaching through a bullhorn and harassing other metaphysical stores, set up outside her shop and began preaching, so she engaged him in a discussion about the Gospels. It was soon obvious that she knew them better than he did. Nevertheless he posted his recording of his 'work for Jesus' on You Tube.

According to this report in Religion News Service, these attacks by fundamentalist Christians on metaphysical stores are commonplace:
Vandalism, protests, harassment and regular proselytizing are not uncommon for metaphysical shops. In 2010, Rondell Gonzalez, the owner of Pye’Wackets, south of Anchorage, Alaska, found a 7-foot cross attached to her store’s sign. In 2015, someone tossed a gasoline bomb through the storefront window at Shooting for the Moon Spiritual Development Center, in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. (It failed to explode, and the attackers were never identified.)

In Minnesota in 2016, metaphysical shop owner Bonnie Gurney filed a cease-and-desist order to stop a local woman from posting protests on her store’s social media page, publicly burning store fliers, blocking the shop entrance and harassing patrons, telling them to “repent.” In 2019, a newly opened metaphysical shop in Staunton, Virginia, was shut down, reportedly after the property owner belatedly realized his renter was a metaphysical shop.
Clearly, fundamentalists who go to these lengths to suppress any alternative superstitions, have something to fear from them. Their own faith in the truth of their beliefs must be on shaky ground for them to fear alternative views. It's not just Atheists whom they fear but anyone who might put them in danger of wondering if they could be wrong.

This was found, in a piece of research by Cory L Cook, Florette Cohen and Sheldon Solomon, published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science, entitled What If They’re Right About the Afterlife? Evidence of the Role of Existential Threat on Anti-Atheist Prejudice. Human knowledge of death gives ris to:
...potentially paralyzing terror that is assuaged by embracing cultural worldviews that provide a sense that one is a valuable participant in a meaningful universe.
Anything which might cause a believer in one of these worldviews carries the risk that their terror will reassert itself, so hostility to other religions is a simple matter of terror management in response to an existential threat. In their research, which focussed on the relationship between believers and Atheists, the authors found that thinking about death made the believers more hostile to Atheism and thinking about Atheism made them more aware of the issue of death. It seems that any other set of ideas that don't include some sort of hope of survival after death, is an existential threat to fundamentalist Christians and evokes the same terror management response.

As these attacks on alternative metaphysical beliefs show, it's not just Atheists who attract the hostile attention of fundamentalist Christians. The worst thing you can do to a fundamentalist is make them wonder if they could be wrong and the response is often aggression. This is why they have developed all manner of mental gymnastics for rejecting any evidence, or logical reasoning you can offer them that might cause them to have self-doubt, and why they are so susceptible to frauds and charlatans who sell them cosy platitudes and disinformation intended to reinforce their cosy certainties and comforting freedom from their terror of death.

This tendency, in Christianity especially, to build barriers to shut out alternative ideas and to divide society up into mutually hostile camps, each distrusting the others, has resulted in over 30,000 different Christian churches in the USA alone.

Truly a house built on sand and a faith standing on the shaky ground of absent evidence and a book full of internal inconsistences and contradictions. No wonder so many fundamentalist Christians are also gun nuts, opposed to any restrictions on their right to carry weapons of mass destruction. And no wonder the USA with its very large evangelical Christian population is also the most violent, divided and intolerant of all developed economies, in contrast to the countries of Europe with their large and growing populations of non-believers and rapidly falling numbers of believers.

In Darwinian terms, what these cultural memeplexes are doing is ensuring their survival in the human meme pool by rigorously excluding any potential rivals for the human resource they all depend on and preventing any dilution of their dogmas with which they recruit and retain members who are themselves looking for a means to manage their potentially paralyzing fear of death.


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Monday, 10 May 2021

Humanism is Slowly Civilising Christianity

Bishop-elect Megan Rohrer of the Sierra Pacific synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. The San Francisco pastor is the first transgender person to be elected bishop in the denomination or in any of the U.S.'s major Christian faiths.
Lutherans elect Megan Rohrer first transgender bishop

In an example of how Humanist egalitarian ideas have penetrated even the more fundamentalist, historically misogynistic and macho flavours of Christianity, the American Lutherans have elected their first transgender bishop.

In the early days of Luther's Protestant Reformation, women were expected to be married 'as ordained by God' and had a strict role within the marriage of motherhood and subservience to her husband.

Nunneries were suppressed and the former nuns were expected to marry, as remaining unmarried was considered to be a defiance against God's ordinance. Indeed, one such nun, Katharina von Bora, having been helped escape the nunnery by Luther himself who sent a cart with barrels of herring for her and 8 other nuns to hide behind, made her way to Wittenberg and married Martin Luther and dutifully bore him several children.

Lutheran reformers established matrimonial and moral courts to enforce Luther's Bible-based ideas of gender roles within a marriage. Adultery is now strictly prohibited and both genders must make their bodies available for “conjugal duties”. Women now have one role and one role only - they are to be professional mothers - to bear children and raise them in the 'one true faith'. There is no role for women outside of marriage and subservience to her husband, because God has ordered it thus.

Women should remain at home, sit still, keep house and bear and bring up children… If a woman grows weary and at least dies from child bearing, it matters not. Let her die from bearing - she is there to do it.

Women have narrow shoulders and wide hips, therefore they ought to be domestic; their very physique is a sign from their Creator that he intended them to limit their activity to the home.

And, they have a book which says so!
For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

1 Corinthians 33-35



Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

Ephesians 5:22-24



Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.

Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.

1 Peter 3:1-7



Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

1 Timothy 2:11-12


The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.

Titus 2:3-5


And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.

Ephesians 5:21-22
These 'Orders from God' reputedly inspired St Augustine of Hippo - considered one of Christianity's greatest thinkers - to declare:
Any woman who acts in such a way that she cannot give birth to as many children as she is capable of, makes herself guilty of that many murders.

This obsessive repression and subjugation of women reaches its peak in the teachings of the Swiss Lutheran, Johannes Calvin, founder of the misogynistic Presbyterians, who can scarcely conceal his loathing of women:

John Calvin
We take nothing from the womb but pure filth [meras sordes]. The seething spring of sin is so deep and abundant that vices are always bubbling up from it to bespatter and stain what is otherwise pure.... We should remember that we are not guilty of one offense only but are buried in innumerable impurities.... all human works, if judged according to their own worth, are nothing but filth and defilement.... they are always spattered and befouled with many stains.... it is certain that there is no one who is not covered with infinite filth.

In John Calvin: A Sixteenth-Century Portrait, 1989,
William J. Bouwsma, Oxford University Press, USA, p. 36.
The modern manifestation of this Lutheran misogyny was of course the allotted role of women in Nazi Germany as expressed in the slogan - Kinder, Küche, Kirche (Chidren, Kitchen, Church). These "3K's" were originally 4 K's in the Lutheran German Proverb by Karl Friedrich Wilhelm Wander:
Vier Ks sind Voraussetzung für eine fromme Frau, nämlich dass sie Rücksicht auf Kirche, Kammer, Küche, Kinder nimmt. (Four K's are requisite of a pious woman, namely, that she keeps regard for church, bedroom, kitchen, children.)
It's a sign of just how far decent Humanist ideas of full human rights for all, regardless of gender, sexuality, skin colour, ethnic origin, social class or ability have penetrated the once deeply misogynistic Lutheran church that they are now prepared to allow not just a woman but a transgender woman to be anything other than silent in church and confine herself to the home in dutiful submission to her 'superior' husband.

At this rate of progress, there will be little of these old, outmoded religions left in a generation or two, although it's hard to imagine how some of the more fundamentalist flavours of Christianity can abandon their fundamental, institutionalised hatred of others and still claim to be Christian. The one hope is that, if the American Lutherans can manage it, the others can too.


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Evolution News - Refuting More Creationist Dogmas With Real-World Evidence

Illustration of a tree representing the legume family tree with branches representing the six subfamilies. On each branch are flowers or pods of species belonging to the subfamilies.The lines extending from the nutrient bag on the upper left corner indicate the positions of some of the proposed whole-genome duplications.

Credit: Yiyong Zhao, Chien-Hsun Huang, and Hong Ma
Massive molecular study uncovers clues to the evolution and diversification of essential plant family | Eberly College of Science

Every so often a piece of research is published that so devastates yet another Creationist dogma that it's difficult to think it wasn't through a deliberate attempt to refute Creationism.

Yet here we have another one which does that comprehensively without the least effort or intention on the part of the research team. It does it of course by revealing real-world evidence that could not exist if Creationist dogmas were based on real-world evidence.

This time it was a group of researchers from Penn State University Eberly College of science, and the Department of Biology, The Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, PA, USA, the Center of Evolutionary Biology, School of Life Sciences, Fudan University, Shanghai, China, and the Germplasm Bank of Wild Species, Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming, China, who did the work. Their findings were published last February in Molecular Plant sadly behind a paywall. However the article by Sam Sholtis in Penn State Eberly College of Science News has the details:

Saturday, 8 May 2021

Covidiot News - Faith-Based Covid Vaccination Rejection

A faith-based coronavirus super-spreader event, (December 2020)
Religious Identities and the Race Against the Virus: Engaging Faith Communities on COVID-19 Vaccination | PRRI

A survey published a few days ago shows how people of faith are taking their information about the efficacy and safety of the anti-covid vaccines not from science but from their cult's leadership.

The same survey also confirms the findings of other polls that those least concerned about the welfare of other people, even those in their own community, are the white evangelical Christians - the very same people who are most likely to:
  • Support Donald Trump.
  • Support white supremacist organizations.
  • Be right-leaning Repugnicans.
  • Be Creationists.
  • Oppose restrictions on gun ownership.
  • Be pro-life, anti-choice, mysogynists.
  • Believe the ludicrous, pro-Trump, antisemitic, Dominionist QAnon conspiracy hoax.
  • Believe that Trump won the 2020 election by a landslide.
  • Think Earth is just a few thousand years old and probably flat, with the sun orbiting it.

The main findings, listed in the Executive Summary to the report by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) are:

Friday, 7 May 2021

Malevolent Designer News - Getting Even Sneakier with SARS-CoV-2

Lab studies of genetically engineered human cells suggest the RNA (blue) of SARS-CoV-2 could convert to DNA in infected people and slip into their chromosomes.

Credit: CLAUS LUNAU/SCIENCE SOURCE
Further evidence supports controversial claim that SARS-CoV-2 genes can integrate with human DNA | Science | AAAS

In an open access paper published in PNAS today, a group of scientists have repeated their claim that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can act like a retrovirus and hide inside our genome even after we've recovered from an infection. If this is true, people could remain potentially infectious for months or years without realising it, although the team say this is unlikely.

Basically, RNA retroviruses perform this neat little trick by reversing the transcription process which normally converts lengths of DNA to RNA in preparation for making the protein for which it is the template. To do this they use an enzyme known as reverse transcriptase. The resulting length of the DNA template for the viral RNA is then inserted into the normal DNA of an infected cell and replicates with it as the cell replicates normally. The resulting daughter cells then all carry the DNA for making new viral RNA and our immune system has no way of recognising it as foreign. To all intents and purposes, it becomes part of our genome.

Evolution News - Putting the Pieces of The Puzzle Together

Extant and fossil ape distribution.


Extant apes live in (or nearby) densely forested areas around the equator in Africa and Southeast Asia. Except for the recently recognized tapanuli orangutan (which may represent a subspecies of the Sumatran orangutan), each of the three extant great ape genera presently has two geographically separated species. The Congo River (highlighted in dark blue) acts as the current barrier between common chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos (Pan paniscus). Red stars indicate regions with Miocene sediments (spanning ~23 to 5.3 Ma) where fossil apes have been uncovered. (Some regions may contain more than one site; contiguous regions are indicated with different stars if they extend over more than one political zone.) It is possible that modern great ape habitats do not represent the ancestral environments where the great ape and human clade evolved. Paleontologically, the vast majority of Africa, west of the Rift Valley, remains highly unexplored. Extant ape ranges were taken from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN Red List).

Background image sources: Esri, DigitalGlobe, GeoEye, i-cubed, USDA FSA, USGS, AEX, Getmapping, Aerogrid, IGN, IGP, swisstopo, and the GIS user community.
Review: Human Origins Stories Incompatible with Known Fossils | AMNH

Reconstructing the evolutionary history of a species often resembles creating the picture in a jigsaw puzzle from only a few pieces. The many gaps will be inevitable and there is no real certainty about the resulting picture.

This is especially true of the evolutionary history of the hominins, for example. But one thing is certain: none of it makes any sense other than as the picture of an evolutionary process, as this review of the known evidence by researchers from the American Museum of Natural History show in their paper published in Science today shows.

Although the evidence is far from complete, nowhere is there evidence of that forlorn Creationist lie that the TOE is a theory in crisis, about to be replaced by magic creationism, as the first ever scientific theory to be replaced by evidence-free supernaturalism with a god and god-magic inserted in every conceivable gap.

Paradoxically, the picture is often made more complicated and uncertain, not less, with the discovery of more fossils of 'transitional' species, because it is often not obvious just how this or that latest find fits in with the overall picture (we do not have a picture on the lid to follow). Despite the false claims of Creationist frauds that science doesn't have any 'transitional' species (is it only human evolution that worries them?) science actually has so many it's difficult to know what to do with them all, so far as fitting them into a coherent, evidence-based narrative goes.

This is made clear in the opening paragraph of the press release from AMNH:
In the 150 years since Charles Darwin speculated that humans originated in Africa, the number of species in the human family tree has exploded, but so has the level of dispute concerning early human evolution. Fossil apes are often at the center of the debate, with some scientists dismissing their importance to the origins of the human lineage (the “hominins”), and others conferring them starring evolutionary roles. A new review out on May 7 in the journal Science looks at the major discoveries in hominin origins since Darwin’s works and argues that fossil apes can inform us about essential aspects of ape and human evolution, including the nature of our last common ancestor.

When you look at the narrative for hominin origins, it’s just a big mess—there’s no consensus whatsoever. People are working under completely different paradigms, and that’s something that I don’t see happening in other fields of science.

Sergio Almécija, Lead author
Senior research scientist
Division of Anthropology
American Museum of Natural History.
Humans diverged from apes—specifically, the chimpanzee lineage—at some point between about 9.3 million and 6.5 million years ago, towards the end of the Miocene epoch. To understand hominin origins, paleoanthropologists aim to reconstruct the physical characteristics, behavior, and environment of the last common ancestor of humans and chimps.

[...]

There are two major approaches to resolving the human origins problem: “Top-down,” which relies on analysis of living apes, especially chimpanzees; and “bottom-up,” which puts importance on the larger tree of mostly extinct apes. For example, some scientists assume that hominins originated from a chimp-like knuckle-walking ancestor. Others argue that the human lineage originated from an ancestor more closely resembling, in some features, some of the strange Miocene apes.
In The Descent of Man in 1871, Darwin speculated that humans originated in Africa from an ancestor different from any living species. However, he remained cautious given the scarcity of fossils at the time. One hundred fifty years later, possible hominins—approaching the time of the human-chimpanzee divergence—have been found in eastern and central Africa, and some claim even in Europe. In addition, more than 50 fossil ape genera are now documented across Africa and Eurasia. However, many of these fossils show mosaic combinations of features that do not match expectations for ancient representatives of the modern ape and human lineages. As a consequence, there is no scientific consensus on the evolutionary role played by these fossil apes.

Current disparate theories regarding ape and human evolution would be much more informed if, together with early hominins and living apes, Miocene apes were also included in the equation. In other words, fossil apes are essential to reconstruct the ‘starting point’ from which humans and chimpanzees evolved.

Sergio Almécija
But there is no problem per se with having two major approaches as both are capable of producing results and neither approach produces a complete answer, as the rest of the press release explains:
In reviewing the studies surrounding these diverging approaches, Almécija and colleagues with expertise ranging from paleontology to functional morphology and phylogenetics discuss the limitations of relying exclusively on one of these opposing approaches to the hominin origins problem. “Top-down” studies sometimes ignore the reality that living apes (humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and hylobatids) are just the survivors of a much larger, and now mostly extinct, group. On the other hand, studies based on the “bottom-up” approach are prone to giving individual fossil apes an important evolutionary role that fits a preexisting narrative.

“In The Descent of Man in 1871, Darwin speculated that humans originated in Africa from an ancestor different from any living species. However, he remained cautious given the scarcity of fossils at the time,” Almécija said. “One hundred fifty years later, possible hominins—approaching the time of the human-chimpanzee divergence—have been found in eastern and central Africa, and some claim even in Europe. In addition, more than 50 fossil ape genera are now documented across Africa and Eurasia. However, many of these fossils show mosaic combinations of features that do not match expectations for ancient representatives of the modern ape and human lineages. As a consequence, there is no scientific consensus on the evolutionary role played by these fossil apes.”

Living ape species are specialized species, relicts of a much larger group of now extinct apes. When we consider all evidence—that is, both living and fossil apes and hominins—it is clear that a human evolutionary story based on the few ape species currently alive is missing much of the bigger picture.

Ashley Hammond, Co-author
Assistant curator
Division of Anthropology
American Museum of Natural History.
Overall, the researchers found that most stories of human origins are not compatible with the fossils that we have today.

“Living ape species are specialized species, relicts of a much larger group of now extinct apes. When we consider all evidence—that is, both living and fossil apes and hominins—it is clear that a human evolutionary story based on the few ape species currently alive is missing much of the bigger picture.

Kelsey Pugh, a Museum postdoctoral fellow and study co-author adds, “The unique and sometimes unexpected features and combinations of features observed among fossil apes, which often differ from those of living apes, are
The unique and sometimes unexpected features and combinations of features observed among fossil apes, which often differ from those of living apes, are necessary to untangle which features hominins inherited from our ape ancestors and which are unique to our lineage.

Kelsey Pugh, Co-author
Postdoctoral fellow
American Museum of Natural History
necessary to untangle which features hominins inherited from our ape ancestors and which are unique to our lineage.”

Living apes alone, the authors conclude, offer insufficient evidence. “Current disparate theories regarding ape and human evolution would be much more informed if, together with early hominins and living apes, Miocene apes were also included in the equation,” says Almécija. “In other words, fossil apes are essential to reconstruct the ‘starting point’ from which humans and chimpanzees evolved.”
More detail is given in the structured abstract to their paper in Nature:
Structured Abstract

BACKGROUND

Ever since the writings of Darwin and Huxley, humans’ place in nature relative to apes (nonhuman hominoids) and the geographic origins of the human lineage (hominins) have been heavily debated. Humans diverged from apes [specifically, the chimpanzee lineage (Pan)] at some point between ~9.3 million and ~6.5 million years ago (Ma), and habitual bipedalism evolved early in hominins (accompanied by enhanced manipulation and, later on, cognition). To understand the selective pressures surrounding hominin origins, it is necessary to reconstruct the morphology, behavior, and environment of the Pan-Homo last common ancestor (LCA). “Top-down” approaches have relied on living apes (especially chimpanzees) to reconstruct hominin origins. However, “bottom-up” perspectives from the fossil record suggest that modern hominoids represent a decimated and biased sample of a larger ancient radiation and present alternative possibilities for the morphology and geography of the Pan-Homo LCA. Reconciling these two views remains at the core of the human origins problem.

ADVANCES

There is no consensus on the phylogenetic positions of the diverse and widely distributed Miocene apes. Besides their fragmentary record, disagreements are due to the complexity of interpreting fossil morphologies that present mosaics of primitive and derived features, likely because of parallel evolution (i.e., homoplasy). This has led some authors to exclude known Miocene apes from the modern hominoid radiation. However, most researchers identify some fossil apes as either stem or crown members of the hominid clade [i.e., preceding the divergence between orangutans (pongines) and African great apes and humans (hominines), or as a part of the modern great ape radiation]. European Miocene apes have prominently figured in discussions about the geographic origin of hominines. “Kenyapith” apes dispersed from Africa into Eurasia ~16 to 14 Ma, and some of them likely gave rise to the European “dryopith” apes and the Asian pongines before 12.5 Ma. Some authors interpret dryopiths as stem hominines and support their back-to-Africa dispersal in the latest Miocene, subsequently evolving into modern African apes and hominins. Others interpret dryopiths as broadly ancestral to hominids or an evolutionary dead end.

Increased habitat fragmentation during the late Miocene in Africa might explain the evolution of African ape knuckle walking and hominin bipedalism from an orthograde arboreal ancestor. Bipedalism might have allowed humans to escape the great ape “specialization trap“—an adaptive feedback loop between diet, specialized arboreal locomotion, cognition, and life history. However, understanding the different selection pressures that underlie knuckle walking and bipedalism is hindered by locomotor uncertainties about the Pan-Homo LCA and its Miocene forebears. In turn, the functional interpretation of Miocene ape mosaic morphologies is challenging because it depends on the relevance of primitive features. Furthermore, adaptive complexes can be co-opted to perform new functions during evolution. For instance, features that are functionally related to quadrupedalism or orthogrady can be misinterpreted as bipedal adaptations. Miocene apes show that the orthograde body plan, which predates below-branch suspension, is likely an adaptation for vertical climbing that was subsequently co-opted for other orthograde behaviors, including habitual bipedalism.

The evolutionary history of apes and humans is largely incomplete.


Whereas the phylogenetic relationships among living species can be retrieved using genetic data, the position of most extinct species remains contentious. Surprisingly, complete-enough fossils that can be attributed to the gorilla and chimpanzee lineages remain to be discovered. Assuming different positions of available fossil apes (or ignoring them owing to uncertainty) markedly affects reconstructions of key ancestral nodes, such as that of the chimpanzee-human LCA.

OUTLOOK

Future research efforts on hominin origins should focus on (i) fieldwork in unexplored areas where Miocene apes have yet to be found, (ii) methodological advances in morphology-based phylogenetics and paleoproteomics to retrieve molecular data beyond ancient DNA limits, and (iii) modeling driven by experimental data that integrates morphological and biomechanical information, to test locomotor inferences for extinct taxa. It is also imperative to stop assigning a starring role to each new fossil discovery to fit evolutionary scenarios that are not based on testable hypotheses.

Early hominins likely originated in Africa from a Miocene LCA that does not match any living ape (e.g., it might not have been adapted specifically for suspension or knuckle walking). Despite phylogenetic uncertainties, fossil apes remain essential to reconstruct the “starting point” from which humans and chimpanzees evolved.

Abstract

Humans diverged from apes (chimpanzees, specifically) toward the end of the Miocene ~9.3 million to 6.5 million years ago. Understanding the origins of the human lineage (hominins) requires reconstructing the morphology, behavior, and environment of the chimpanzee-human last common ancestor. Modern hominoids (that is, humans and apes) share multiple features (for example, an orthograde body plan facilitating upright positional behaviors). However, the fossil record indicates that living hominoids constitute narrow representatives of an ancient radiation of more widely distributed, diverse species, none of which exhibit the entire suite of locomotor adaptations present in the extant relatives. Hence, some modern ape similarities might have evolved in parallel in response to similar selection pressures. Current evidence suggests that hominins originated in Africa from Miocene ape ancestors unlike any living species.

So, given what these experts say about the fossil evidence for humun evolution from a common ancestor with the other African apes and how best to use it, would any creationist like to explain why this shows evidence for Creationism and a 'theory in crisis' as Creationist frauds like Ken Ham, Michael Behe, et al. continue to insist? If not, from where do these frauds get the evidence for their claims?

Monday, 3 May 2021

Malevolent Designer News - Why SARS-CoV-2 is Deadly and Different

New Cell Atlas of COVID Lungs Reveals Why SARS-CoV-2 is Deadly and Different | Columbia University Irving Medical Center

Creationist mode:


News today shows just how amazingly brilliant the Intelligent [sic] Designer who designed the SARS-C0V-2 virus to kill as many people as possible was. Scientists at Columbia University's Irving Medical Center have shown how it is far more deadly and has a longer-lasting effect on survivors than other similar viruses.

According to the Columbia University news release:

Trumpanzee News - More Bull From Robin Bullock

Robin Bullock - False Prophet
Youth Force Ministries Church International
Robin Bullock Claims President Hillary Clinton Would Have Ushered in the Great Tribulation | Right Wing Watch

2020 did not go well for American televangelical 'Prophets of God' when all of their prophecies of a landslide win for Trump failed to come true, and 2021 has so far been even worse with so many of them having prophesied an imminent military coup or some other means of deposing Biden and reinstalling Trump in the White House.

So, fresh from his stunning failures at prophesying the future, loopy right-wing Trumpanzee Talibangelist and self-appointed 'Prophet of God', Robin Bullock, has now taken to prophesying the past. At least he seems to have learned the lesson that a successful prophet never makes himself a hostage to future events by prophesying something specific - that can fail to happen. Keep it general; keep it vague and always use words that can be reinterpreted later if need be.

Last Monday, he appeared on the loony right-wing Elijah Streams You Tube channel to tell his credulous followers that Barak Obama had planned the Covid-19 pandemic and for Hilary Clinton to become President in order to destroy America and usher in the 'End Times', because, as everyone knows, destroying America is what these supposed 'End Times' in the 'Book of Revelations' is all about.

Not only was the future existence of the USA known to the writers of the New Testament in 2nd century Rome, but the racial profile, social stratification and exact form of the democratic system that no-one had ever heard of at the time, was known, so they were accurately describing its destruction in 2020, give or take a year or two.

For the parochially ignorant American extreme right, 'America' and 'the World' are synonyms. Everything of any importance happens in the USA and onlythings that happens in the USA are of any importance. If their mythical god, Jesus, ever manifests himself, it will be in America, without a shadow of doubt, because he is American - and he speaks English.

Playing to their paranoias and hatred of the liberal left, Bullock told his credulous audience:
Remember when Barack Obama left the presidency? He said, ‘Maybe we were 15 to 20 years too early.’ Why would he say that? He’s talking about the demoralization period… He said, ‘Maybe we were 15 or 20 years too early,’ because he was a Saul Alinsky follower. He’s following the four stages of subversion.

He thought it was gonna happen, and he thought Hillary Clinton should have stepped in, and it was demoralized, destabilize, pushed to a crisis. The crisis was COVID. That’s what it was. It was to push the nation to a crisis — COVID — and so they planned on Hillary Clinton being president right at that moment. That’s why they went berserk when Trump won. They couldn’t get over that. They said, ‘We got to get him out, got to get him out, got to get him out, got to get him out,’ because they knew the virus was coming in 2020, and she should have been the president. And if it had been, the book of Revelation — we don’t have time to look at that — said she would have taken us into the Great Tribulation. And that’s what was planned.
The Saul Alinsky referred to is high on the conservative right's demonology because he advocated social justice and democratic community action to achieve it. Elements of his 'community action' teaching were initially adopted by the right wing Republican faction, the Tea Party, until they realised that both Obama and Hillery Clinton had studied his work too, so he instantly became the focus of misrepresentation and bogeyman scaremongering by the extreme right.

In fact, both Clinton and Obama had been critical of aspects of his direct community action, but that was lost on the right wing propagandists looking to smear them with accusations of un-American activities and ambitions. How dare anyone advocate social justice for the poor and dispossessed and even racial minorities? They'll be wanting real democracy, equal rights and a say in shaping their own destiny next! Then where would we be!? The 'End Times' indeed for the extreme right.

But Bullock seems even more confused than usual here. Aren't these 'End Times' what every evangelical fruitloop Christian is working for? Isn't that the time when the greatest thing they can hope for will happen - their imaginary friend comes and kills everyone who disagrees with them and they get everything for themselves and the reward of a grandstand view to watch people, even their friends and relatives, being tortured for eternity in the final satiation of their hatred for anyone who isn't in their cult?

This case highlights the difference between mental health-care in the UK and the rest of the civilised world, and the USA. In the civilised world people who hear voices and suffer from psychotic delusions and paranoia get admitted to a place of safety and given medication; in the USA they are put on television and people hang on their every word and give them money.

Look What Religion Can Be Used For! Kansa Rep. Mark Samsel Arrested for Battering a School Boy

Rep. Mark Samsel (R-Wellsville, Kansas)
Kansas Republican Mark Samsel arrested on battery charge after substitute teacher videos surface - The Washington Post

The other day, Christian fundamentalist and elected Representative for Kansas Wellsville, Mark Samsel, Republican, harangued a bunch of school kids about their sex live, masturbation, God and the Bible, then kneed one of the boys in the groin and invited his classmates to 'check his nuts', then told them they had permission to 'kick him in the balls'. He was acting as a substitute teacher at the time.

He was later arrested after complaints from parents and charged with battery. He was released on $1,000 the same day, and now claims it was a stunt in which his victim was fully compliant. They did it to warn the other children about the dangers of suicide [sic] allegedly. In a posting on SnapChat he said: It was all planned. Every little bit of it. That’s right. The kids and I planned ALL this to SEND A MESSAGE about art, mental health, teenage suicide, how we treat our educators and one another. To who? Parents. And grandparents. And all of Wellsville.
Samsel claimed he was trying to warn the children about:
A sophomore who’s tried killing himself three times [because] he has two parents and they’re both females. He’s a foster kid. His alternatives in life were having no parents or foster care parents who are gay.
And if you believe that, you'll probably believe anything.


Apparently, this is best done by pinning a child against a way and threatening to "Put the wrath of God in you" then sexually assaulting him in a way that could have affected his fertility and had life-changing consequences. After rhetorical questions about whether they enjoy 'making babies' because it feels good, he then asks the class if any of them have every masturbated and tells them not to answer because God knows already. At one point he asks the boy pinned against the wall if he believed God has been speaking to him (Samsel).

Samsel works with students in several capacities, including as a referee and through church groups, parents said. One parent, Joshua Zeck told the Kansas City Star:
I’m a concerned parent who doesn’t want this swept under the rug. He's around Kids all the time. He’s a state representative. He’s in a position of power.
Wellsville Unified School District Superintendent Ryan Bradbury said that Samsel will no longer be allowed to work for the district. Their priority is the safety of students.

Last February, Samsel was one of 13 Repuglicans who voted against a bill to end Kansas’s exclusion of spouses from sexual battery laws. Currently, it's not an offence for a man to rape or sexually assault his wife in Kansas, and Samsel wants to keep it that way. Speaking ahead of ther vote he said he did not want to criminalise sexual relations between spouses! Clearly, he has strange ideas about what normal sexual relations between spouses are and has no concern about the safety of women in an abusive marriage.

Samsel behaved like this because he is a fundamentalist Christian zealot.

The question is, has his Christian zealotry made him act in this bizarre way, or is it his excuse for sexually assaulting and verbally abusing children in his care? In other words, was Christian fundamentalism the cause of his insane behavious or was insanity the cause of his Christian fundamentalism?
Answers below, please.

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Talibangelical News - False Prophets For Trump Getting it Wrong Again

Jeff Jansen, False Prophet
Global Fire Ministries International
‘Prophet’ Jeff Jansen Says Trump Will Be Back in Office by June | Right Wing Watch

Either God is very bad at predicting events, or his self-declared 'prophets', like the hapless Jeff Jansen, are lying about what God said to them.

Having guaranteed, on the word of God as revealed to him, that Trump would win in November 2020, Jansen is now, like the others who gave the same God-given assurance, frantically trying to present that 'prophesy' as accurate, even though it plainly wasn't. One of the ways he does this is by telling his dupes that Trump did win really, but the election was stolen (God, apparently lacking the power to prevent that theft, or allowed it for some ulterior reason, other than making his chosen 'prophets' look like incompetent liars and frauds, too stupid to know you should never make a prophesy that can fail, like that old fraud Harold Camping did some years ago).

False Prophets make False prophesies

Trump will be back by end of April, definitely! Guaranteed. Would I lie to you?

... Er... no! Scrub that! It'll be June! Got that? June, not April! Okay? Definitely end of June! Guaranteed! God sez!
So, having been cheated of his (God's that is) victory, God is now going to reverse that result and install Trump in the White House - any day now, real soon - you'll see!

Originally God told Jansen to tell his dupes er... followers that he would do it no later than the end of April...

When April came to an end and there was no sign of Trump being installed by a military coup like Jansen prophesied, he realised God must have meant June when he said April, so Jansen has now had to tell his dupes er... credulous dupes, that things have been delayed but God will definitely have Trump back in the White House and confirmed as rightful president by the end of June.

Maybe by the end of 2021, Jansen will be announcing that his first prophesies got the year wrong and it'll be April (or is it June?) 2022 when the military intervene and put Trump back. And the world-wide 'dancing in the street' has just been delayed - as though the rest of the world is just hanging on Jansen's word and gives a toss how Americans chose their president.

But then Jansen's little god has the same level of parochial ignorance as Jansen and his gullible dupes... er loyal fools have, it seems, and thinks the only events of any importance or interest to the rest of the world all happen in America.

[Biden is] not our president! He is not, nor will he ever be. Everybody knows there was a red tidal wave, there was a Red Sea moment, which is a red tidal wave. And quite frankly, America voted in Donald J. Trump.

We will be rejoicing in the streets by March, April, May, June. There’s going to be an amazing turnaround. You just watch what happens. And the world will rejoice. Not just America, the world will rejoice because of this exposure. I’m telling you that’s going to take place. I’m going down with the ship on this. The Lord showed me this.

Jeff Jansen - False Prophet and raving loon.
Global Fire Ministries International
Murfreesboro, Tennessee, USA
Jansen seems to have other worries, apart from people realising he's just a false prophet grifter, blowing hot air for money. He also seems concerned that they might think he's "turned effeminate, almost homosexual", so he needs to be a big tough man to prove he hasn't. Back in mid-April Jansen issued a new interpretation of the pacifism Christians have claimed to believe in because Jesus told them to turn the other cheek and forgive their enemies.

He announced that Jesus was a tough guy who wouldn't hesitate to use violence, and the church has "turned effeminate, almost homosexual" so he has told all the ushers in his church to carry guns and kill anyone who even thinks of 'trying something'. He says he's told them:
Listen, guys, if I’m up there preaching and somebody comes up running, make sure you get them. Just kill ’em. Just shoot ’em dead.
In other words, if you're late, don't run up to Jeff Jansen's church; you won't make it through the door alive. His heavies will gun you down like a dog to prove Jeff Janson isn't even a little bit homosexual and not at all effeminate.

So, from now on, any Chritian who doesn't carry a gun and who doesn't think it's right to kill people who 'try something', is officially, "effeminate, almost homosexual", according to God's own (false) prophet, Jeff Jansen.

And gullible people still send these frauds money so they can live in a style of which their dupes er... victims can only dream.

Far Beyond Carbon-Dating - A New Method for Building Timelines of Human Evolution

Fragments of ostrich eggshells from the Ysterfontein 1 site near Cape Town, South Africa. Researchers have determined that these eggshells are about 120,000 years old, discarded by early Homo sapiens who lived along the coast and exploiting marine food resources as well as ostrich eggs. The scale bar at lower right is 1 centimeter (0.4 inches).
Photo credit: Elizabeth Niespolo
Discarded ostrich shells provide timeline for our African ancestors | Berkeley News

Don't tell Creationist frauds like Ken Ham and Kent Hovind this, but scientists have found a way to extend the accuracy of precision radiometric dating of hominin activity to about 500,000 years - some ten times as far back as carbon-14 dating reliably takes us. It all depended on discarded ostrich shells from the midden tips of our African ancestors!

This holds out the possibility of accurately tracing the progress of our ancestors over time so giving us a more detailed picture of the timing and movement of the different archaic forms as they evolved.

A long and detailed news item from University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley) explains how, and the scientists' paper can be read in PNAS, sadly behind a paywall, so only the abstract and statement of significance is freely available.

Explaining the significance of their technique, the Berkeley team say:

Significance


Novel 230Th/U burial dating of ostrich eggshells complements other dating methods applicable to archaeological materials beyond the range of radiocarbon dating. New ages for the Ysterfontein 1 (YFT1) shell midden show it accumulated rapidly between ∼120 to 113 ka closely following the Last Interglacial sea-level highstand. The ages show the great antiquity of intensive human coastal adaptation, date a distinctive lithic industry, and show that teeth from YFT1 are among the oldest H. sapiens fossils recovered in southern Africa. Stable isotopes of ostrich eggshells indicate rapid cooling and drying during site occupation. Despite rapid sea-level drop and increasing aridity, the site’s occupants maintained a consistent diet, which may not indicate a stable paleoenvironment but rather results from systematic, selective foraging.
From the UC Berkeley News release:

Saturday, 1 May 2021

40 Million Year History of the Central Asian Steppe

Mongolian steppe.
Unfolding 40 million years of Asian steppe history | CNRS News

Young-Earth Creationist dogma, based on nothing more than a calculation by an Irish Bishop, not from looking at the geological record, but by reading a Book of Hebrew origin myths written in the Bronze Age by people who thought Earth was small and fat with a dome over it and that the Universe worked by magic and was haunted by demons, is that Earth was created in about 4004 BCE and so is about 6,000 years old give or take a century or two.

Bear that in mind as you read this article about the findings of a combined Dutch and French team of scientists who have just completed a project to map the evolution of the Central Asian steppe over the past 40 million years, then ask yourself why Bishop Ussher got it so badly wrong, if that's not already obvious.

What does this tell us about using religion, not science, to try to discover the truth about the world we live in? Answers below, please.

A news item from Le Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) (The French National Center for Scientific Research) explains how they went about this. The key to understanding how this vast area evolved over time was in the pollen grains trapped in sediments:
From the northern foothills of the Tibetan plateau to southern Siberia, and from western Kazakhstan to eastern Mongolia lies one of the world’s largest ecosystems, the Central Asian steppe. As far as the eye can see, an ocean of grass harbours a rich biodiversity. Elk, gazelles, brown bears, leopards and Siberian tigers, among other remarkable species, have made it their home.

However, until now, there was something missing from this vast region: its natural history. The evolution of the steppe over geological time remained a mystery, since it had hardly ever been studied. A French-Dutch team has now set out to fill the gap, by publishing the first-ever chronology of the main climatic and environmental events that have affected the region over the past 40 million years. This segment of history shows the extent to which this grassland is fragile and vulnerable to climate change.

Using pollen as a time machine


To reconstruct the evolution of the steppe, the researchers made use of one of the best indicators of past ecosystems: pollen. Every grain has a specific shape and pattern, making it possible to identify the plant species or family that produced it. As a result, a record of successive floras is preserved in different geological strata.

There we have a record that spans a period from 40 to 15 million years ago. It’s a unique site that provided us with an overview of the history of the steppes.

You have to be extremely careful not to contaminate samples with recent pollen.

One possible scenario is that the advance of the desert will leave only scattered islands of fertility. Then, if the barren areas continue to expand, the fertile patches will in turn disappear. What our work shows is that there is a threshold beyond which there is no turning back. Once a desert environment takes hold, it could last for millions of years. So, even if we managed to control levels of atmospheric CO2, returning to the previous situation would be impossible,

Guillaume Dupont-Nivet
CNRS researcher Université de Rennes, CNRS, Géosciences Rennes, France and Universität Potsdam, Institute of Geosciences, Potsdam, Germany.
In northwest China, the researchers found an exceptional location for the collection of pollen near the town of Xining, the capital of Qinghai province. “There we have a record that spans a period from 40 to 15 million years ago,” explains Guillaume Dupont-Nivet, a CNRS researcher at the Geosciences Rennes laboratory[1] and at the University of Potsdam (Germany). “It’s a unique site that provided us with an overview of the history of the steppes.”

Collecting these microscopic grains is a particularly tricky job. “You have to be extremely careful not to contaminate samples with recent pollen,” the researcher explains. Under the microscope, it is indeed very difficult to distinguish a 30 million-year-old grain from one that has just been released from a nearby flower.

To reconstruct the history of the climate and environment of the region, the scientists also used other information. They relied on climate models, animal fossil records, and isotopic data that can help track variations in temperature and precipitation over millions of years. This enabled them to identify three major ecological phases in the steppes of Central Asia.

Successive climate upheavals


Looking for pollen in sediments, bushes and plants (Xining Basin, Qinghai province, China, 16 August 2017).
© Guillaume Dupont-Nivet
Some 40 million years ago, two families of shrubs, the Nitrariaceae and the Ephedraceae, were found everywhere in the region. These plants fostered the emergence of a remarkable fauna dominated by the ancestors of horses and rhinoceros, the Perissodactyla, or odd-toed ungulates.

But then the local climate started to change. The Himalayas and Tibet began to rise, pushed up by the collision of the Indian subcontinent with Eurasia, leading to a change in the monsoon regime. To the north of Tibet, rainfall started to decrease. At the same time, the Paratethys, the extensive sea that stretched from Mongolia to the Mediterranean, gradually dried up, causing the area to become increasingly arid.

However, the final blow that ushered in the end of these early steppes occurred 34 million years ago. A global crisis known as the Eocene-Oligocene Transition brought about a mass extinction of species in many regions around the world. It was largely caused by the formation of the Antarctic ice sheet, an event that rapidly cooled the planet, leading to a sharp drop in precipitation in Central Asia. The steppes turned into a desert as arid as the Sahara. Sand dunes covered the last refuges of life. In this hostile environment, the fauna mainly consisted of a few rodents and rabbits.

Evolution of the geographical distribution of pollen records in Central Asia from the Eocene period (40 million years ago) to the modern era. These paleogeographies also show mountain ranges gradually rising and the Paratethys Sea receding westwards.
© G. Dupont-Nivet/Sciences Advances DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abb8227
The desert persisted for millions of years. Then, in the middle of the Miocene, 17 to 14 million years ago, the climate became wetter again. As Dupont-Nivet admits, scientists don’t know what caused the change. Yet for whatever reason, there was a significant shift in conditions, which once again became more favourable to life. Steppes like those seen today, covered with grasses and shrubs, emerged. Large mammals, such as lions, aurochs and megaloceros (giant deer) encountered their ecological niche there, before being ruthlessly hunted down by a new invasive species that arrived 50,000 years ago: Homo sapiens.

The uncertain future of the steppes


This great ape may well turn out to be the cause of another environmental upheaval. Climate change models show that Central Asia is fast becoming one of the hottest and driest places on the planet. Researchers think that the steppes could turn into a highly arid desert again. Ecosystems are already visibly deteriorating, as shown by the expansion of the Gobi Desert, which has led the Chinese authorities to embark on a massive reforestation programme dubbed “the Great Green Wall”. “One possible scenario is that the advance of the desert will leave only scattered islands of fertility. Then, if the barren areas continue to expand, the fertile patches will in turn disappear,” the scientist predicts.

The problem is that this process could be irreversible. “What our work shows is that there is a threshold beyond which there is no turning back. Once a desert environment takes hold, it could last for millions of years. So, even if we managed to control levels of atmospheric CO2, returning to the previous situation would be impossible,” Dupont-Nivet warns. If this worst-case scenario were to come about, the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people would collapse in just a few decades.
The team's open access paper was published last October in Science Advances:

Abstract

The origins and development of the arid and highly seasonal steppe-desert biome in Central Asia, the largest of its kind in the world, remain largely unconstrained by existing records. It is unclear how Cenozoic climatic, geological, and biological forces, acting at diverse spatial and temporal scales, shaped Central Asian ecosystems through time. Our synthesis shows that the Central Asian steppe-desert has existed since at least Eocene times but experienced no less than two regime shifts, one at the Eocene–Oligocene Transition and one in the mid-Miocene. These shifts separated three successive “stable states,” each characterized by unique floral and faunal structures. Past responses to disturbance in the Asian steppe-desert imply that modern ecosystems are unlikely to recover their present structures and diversity if forced into a new regime. This is of concern for Asian steppes today, which are being modified for human use and lost to desertification at unprecedented rates.

So there we have a clear, coherent picture of how the Central Asian steppe came to be what it is today over a period of some 40 million years.

Which all goes to show how:
The Bible is a book about what people used to believe before we knew any better.




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Evolution News - Filling More of Creationism's God-Shaped Gaps With Science

Researchers performed a more detailed comparison of the genomes of modern and archaic humans and found that the way genes turned on and off could have resulted in changes in the brain and vocal tract.
Image: Getty Images
Stanford study dives deeper into genetic differences between modern and archaic humans

I've just posted an article about how advances in techniques for DNA recovery and analysis are closing Creationism's god-shaped gaps by the dozen and finding no gods and no place for gods in them. Now here is another example from Stanford University, where researchers have developed a technique for analysing not only the DNA sequence of ancient hominins but also the likely way they were activated.

This opens up the prospect of a far greater depth of analysis of ancient DNA than simply sequencing it, and so discovering finer details not only of DNA changes but changes in the way particular genes were activated. Changes in the sequence and duration of activation of genes during embryonic development can have a profound effect on the resulting genotype with little or no change in the genes themselves.

The Stanford group have used the technique to show how the brain and vocal tract evolved as our ability to vocalise developed.

The Stanford News Service article by Taylor Kubota explains how this was done:

Friday, 30 April 2021

The Ever-Shrinking God of the Gaps Just Got a Bit Smaller.

This skull of the extinct horned crocodile from Madagascar (Voay robustus) has been part of the American Museum of Natural History’s scientific collections since the early 1930s.

Credit: M. Ellison/© AMNH
Ancient DNA of Crocodile Sheds Light on Croc Family Tree | AMNH

It has been said the creationism's God of the Gaps is the only thing faster than light because it's always gone just before Science shines its light in the gap, leaving Creationists to search around for another gap to put it in - or invent one if they can't find one.

Just such a gap was found to be empty a few days ago when science solved an ongoing puzzle - how did the extinct Madagascan horned crocodile fit in the crocodile family tree? It was quite obvious from just looking at it that it was a crocodile of some sort but its evolutionary relationship to the others was unknown - until now. The key to closing the gap was the recent advance in the recovery and analysis of ancient DNA - the same scientific advance that is proving the Theory of Evolution to be correct, closing gaps and evicting gods by the dozen.

The Madagascan horned crocodile, Voay robustus (artist's impression)

In this case, it turned out that the Madagascan horned crocodile, Voay robustus, was very much part of the crocodile family tree but deserved a branch in the tree all to itself.

A research report from the American Museum of Natural History tells the story:
New research based on two skulls that have been in the Museum’s collection since the early 1930s resolves a long-standing controversy about an extinct “horned” crocodile that lived in Madagascar.

Another Religion-Based Dogma Falls to Science

Mice form categories to simplify their world. Showing that, researchers identified neurons that encode learned categories.
© MPI of Neurobiology/ Kuhl
Simplifying our world - Mice master complex thinking with a remarkable capacity for abstraction | Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

Yet another religion-based dogma fell to investigation by science recently. The dogma was that there is something unique about humans that sets us apart from the other animals as some sort of special creation - the basis of our belief that we own the planet and everything on and in it, including the other animals, incidentally.

In particular, humans were once thought to be the only sapient, tool-making species. That dogma has been laid to rest many times with many species now known to be capable of logical reasoning, tool-making and use, and problem-solving.

Now here we have evidence, provided by scientists working at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, Martinsried, Germany, that mice can categorise information and think in the abstract - a fundamental of logical reasoning, information processing and learning, and mice use the same parts of their brain to do it with as we use. Their results were published, open access, in Nature recently.

The Max Plank Gesellschaft news release explains:

Thursday, 29 April 2021

How Creationists Lie to Us - Tom Meyer

'Leonardo', the 77-million-year-old Brachylophosaurus canadensis Showing the beautifully-preserved 'soft' tissue.
Dinosaur discovery contradicts theory of evolution, claims creationist Bible expert | Weird | News | Express.co.uk

Young-Earth Creationist, Tom Meyer's claim to fame is that he can recite large chunks of the Bible from memory - so this makes him an expert biologist, geologist and cosmologist, fully qualified to inform millions of working biomedical scientists, geologists and cosmologists, that they've got it all wrong and he knows best - because he's memorised large chunks of a book.

Only trouble is, he also seems to realise he needs to misrepresent science, misinform his audience and play to their gullible, scientifically-illiterate credulity to foist his superstitions on his dupes.

Subversive Christian Talibangelicals Just Keep on Trying!

Rep. Mary Bentley (R-Perryville), seen here introducing a bill to ban abortions in Arkansas, despite the Supreme Court ruling in Roe vs Wade, which decriminalised it in all 50 states.
House advances bill to let schools teach creationism

Subversive Talibangelical Christians are continuing their efforts to circumvent the Constitutional Establishment Clause which forbids any tier of US government from promoting any religion.

This time their effort is in Arkansas where the Repuglican-dominated House has approved a bill (by 72-21) to allow the teaching of Intelligent [sic] Design Creationism to children at tax-payers expense. All the Repuglican voted for the bill and all the Democrats voted against it. This is in direct contravention of a 1980 court ruling which forbids the teaching of Creationism in Arkansas schools, several Supreme Court rulings which have struck down previous attempts to do so and the famous Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District which ruled that Intelligent Design is religion in disguise, not science. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Fundamentally Racist Christians

Do Multiracial Churches Offer Healthy Community for Non-White Attendees? - Barna Group

A survey by the Christian Barna Group has revealed a shocking level of racism in American churches, according to their Beyond Diversity project.

29% of practicing Black Christians reported experiencing racial prejudice in multiracial churches; 27% reported feeling required to give up their racial/ethnic identity in order to integrate successfully into a multiracial church and 28% say they find it difficult to build relationships in multiracial churches.

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