Wednesday 31 August 2022

Unintelligent Design - One Hand Doesn't Know What The Other Is Doing

The FISH image - FISH stands for a visualisation method called fluorescence in situ hybridisation - shows amoebae infected simultaneously with the Viennavirus (for the first time isolated in this study and therefore named by the research team) and the bacterial symbiont. In the image, the amoebae are shown in magenta, their symbionts in cyan and DNA in yellow. The larger yellow structures are the virus factories, which are still in the initial phase here and cannot produce infectious viruses.

Credit: Patrick Arthofer
Bacteria provide immunity against giant viruses

Here we have a very nice example of the reality of biology that devotees of the childish intelligent [sic] design notion, must either ignore or explain away as an unexplained mystery if they are to retain their childish superstition.

Similar example abound in nature, when one looks beneath the superficial of course, as I showed in my popular book, The Unintelligent Designer: Refuting The Intelligent Design Hoax, but this is an especially nice one.

It involved an amoeba, a bacterium - chlamydia - 'designed' to infect the amoeba, and a giant virus, also designed to infect the amoeba. The problem is, when the amoeba is infected with chlamydia, it gains protection against the giant virus. This was discovered by scientists from the University of Vienna, Austria, and the Université de Poitiers in France, led by microbiologist Matthias Horn from the Centre for Microbiology and Environmental Systems Science at the University of Vienna.

Giant viruses are unique in that they are several times larger than normal viruses and contain genes normally only found in cellular organisms such as bacteria, animals, plants and fungi. Fortunately, they are harmless to all but Protista such as amoebae which they infect then takeover to turn them into virus factories. Their only purpose seems to be to kill amoebae and produce more giant viruses. Biologists believe the reason for such a large, relatively complex virus is due to an evolutionary arms race between the virus and chlamydia, each vying for control of the host amoeba. The exact evolutionary pathway remains to be worked out, but it looks like another example of horizontal gene transfer.

Chlamydia are infectious bacteria which infect many species, including humans where they are a serious, sexually transmitted pathogen. The species that infects amoebae is closely related to the human pathogen and normally takes up residence in the amoeba where is slows down growth. In that respect it behaves like a parasite, but it also behaves like a symbiont when it protects the amoeba against infection by the giant virus.

So, let's just summarise what intelligent [sic] design advocates have to believe. This is based on the assumption that a designer such as the one believed in by Creationists, i.e. an omniscience, omnipotent creator god, would have known exactly what its creations would do, so designed them for that very purpose and no other:

Evolution News - How the Evolution of Land Plants Changed Earth's Environment.

Ferns were some of the first land plants to colonise the continents.

Credit: Dr Tom Gernon
Land plants changed Earth’s composition, say scientists | University of Southampton

Another piece of the story of how Earth came to be the way is today has been revealed by an international team of scientists led by led by Dr Christopher Spencer of Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, and including researchers at the University of Southampton, Hampshire, UK, the University of Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, UK and the University of Geosciences, Wuhan, China.

They have shown how the evolution of land plants changed Earth's environment, paving the way for the eventual evolution of dinosaurs, 200 million years later, followed by birds and mammals and the diversity of vertebrates we see today.

And of course, it is entirely at odds with the account in the Bible which Creationists have been fooled into thinking is the way it happened. Obviously, magic was not involved anywhere in the process

Tuesday 30 August 2022

Donald Trump's Narcisistic Personality Disorder Should Disqualify Him from Public Office

Is narcissism a mental health problem? And can you really diagnose it online?

There are very real fears in the civilised world that Donald Trump could stand and even win again in 2024. The fear is that his behaviour is dangerously unpredictable because he is given to bouts of paranoid anger and a desire for revenge for imagined wrongs, or even for failure to acknowledge his expertise on everything.

He is psychologically incapable of accepting that he isn't the best at everything and that there really are people who know more than he does and understand things better than he does, and whose advise he should be listening to.

This manifested early on in his presidency when he obsessively undid everything his predecessor, Barak Obama, had achieved, including the measures to combat climate change, the 'nuclear' deal with Iran, the Affordable Care Act, the disastrous dismantling of the provisions for a possible pandemic, and later, in his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. He not only rejected the advice of the scientists but launched a campaign of abuse and vilification of those who tried to give him advice on the handling of it because it wasn’t the advice he wanted. Instead, he encourages the view that the virus was a hoax and not very serious, as he advocated untried and dangerous quack medicine he had heard about from far-right fruitloop sources, and even suggested drinking bleach to kill the virus.
But is that a symptom of an all-controlling narcissistic personality disorder?

According to the symptoms of narcissism described in this article by Paula Ross, a psychology lecturer at the Australian Catholic University and Nicole Lee, a professor at the National Drug Research Institute (Melbourne), Curtin University, Australia, he might well have. The article is reproduced here under a Creative Commons license and has been reformatted for stylistic consistency. The original can be read here.

Is narcissism a mental health problem? And can you really diagnose it online?

Paula Ross, Australian Catholic University and Nicole Lee, Curtin University

It’s not uncommon these days to hear someone – such as an ex romantic partner or a politician – described as a “narcissist”.

Singer Robbie Williams recently told an interviewer he took an online test to see if he was one. He revealed the test suggested a “mild indication of narcissistic personality disorder”.

But what is narcissism, when is it a problem and can an online test really provide a reliable diagnosis?

A fixation on oneself

According to the Greek myth, a beautiful young man called Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. He stayed staring at it for the rest of his life. His name gave rise to the term “narcissism”, characterised by a fixation on oneself.

Narcissism is a cluster of traits along a range of severity. At one end of the spectrum, people may be confident, charming and well-adapted.

In the middle of the spectrum, people may be overly focused on seeking out status, success and admiration at work or in their social lives. They can have a need to appear perfect, special or superior to others in order to feel OK about themselves.

At the very extreme end, it may become a disorder in which people can be self-centred, grandiose and destructive.

painting of young man looking at his own reflection
Narcissus as painted by the Italian Baroque master Caravaggio, circa 1597–1599.
Source: Wikiart

Read more:
Narcissists: there's more than one type – and our research reveals what makes each tick

What’s ‘narcissistic personality disorder’?

“Narcissistic personality disorder” is a mental health diagnosis given to people with extremely narcissistic traits. These traits have reached the point where they start to impact on the person’s ability to function at work or socially.

Narcissistic personality disorder is relatively rare. It is estimated around 1% of the population has a diagnosable form of the condition.

Men tend to be more narcissistic than women. There is no evidence that young people are more narcissistic than previous generations at the same age.

Their symptoms are described as “pervasive”, meaning they are obvious across all of a person’s activities, not just in specific situations. So, on the face of it, pop star Robbie William’s insistence his score on the quiz reflected only his narcissistic personality on stage is not quite accurate.

People with narcissistic personality disorder tend to overestimate their abilities and exaggerate their achievements. And they are surprised or angry when others don’t notice their accomplishments.

They need constant confirmation of their value, specialness or importance. They may have fantasies about power, success, having perfect lives or relationships, believing these are not only achievable but deserved.
Specialness by association

People with narcissistic personality disorder might talk a lot about how people in their lives are extra special in some way – such as being the very best at something or leaders in a particular field – because it increases their own sense of specialness by association.

When their status or superiority is challenged they can respond with extreme anger, rage or belittling the person and their opinion. They find it difficult to tolerate the thought they may be flawed or vulnerable in some way.

In relationships, they can have exceedingly high expectations of devotion from partners and friends, but may themselves be low in empathy and lack of awareness of others’ needs. They may be envious of and unable to celebrate the success of others, and respond by devaluing them.

They are often unaware of the impact of their behaviours on others.

Read more:
'Impulsive psychopaths like crypto': research shows how 'dark' personality traits affect Bitcoin enthusiasm

How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosis should only be made by a mental health professional. Trying to diagnose yourself or someone else with an online quiz may give you results that are misleading and unhelpful.

Narcissistic personality disorder is a cluster of symptoms on a continuum and many diagnoses share similar symptoms. For a proper diagnosis, a clinician needs to assess which cluster of symptoms is present, how far along the continuum they are, and which other diagnoses to exclude.

But a symptom checklist might help you work out whether you should consider seeing a mental health professional for further assessment or support.

person holds phone with break up messages
People with extreme narcissism can be demanding and destructive.
Credit:Pexels, CC BY

Read more:
Before you judge personality tests, consider what they don't judge

How do people get this way?

We don’t know exactly what causes narcissistic personality disorder.

There is probably a genetic component. Traits such as aggression, poor emotional regulation and low tolerance to distress tend to be high in people diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder.

Certain experiences in childhood are also more likely to lead to narcissistic personality disorder. These might be either particularly negative, such as trauma or rejection, or overly positive, such as excessive praise or being constantly told you have extraordinary abilities. Parenting styles that are either very neglectful or overly protective are also associated with the development of narcissism.

People with narcissistic personality disorder often have other mental health conditions, particularly mood disorders. They also have a high rate of suicide. These conditions may have a common cause or they may be a result of the difficulties people with narcissistic personality disorder have with social interactions.

Can it be treated?

Narcissistic personality disorder is a lifelong condition that is considered manageable but not curable. There is no standard medicine or psychological treatment for narcissistic personality disorder.

Psychological treatment aims to reduce the severity of symptoms, improve mood, manage impulses, and build communication and relationship skills. One of the main goals of therapy is to develop more realistic expectations of others.

Medicines that help with other mental health problems like anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder may also help reduce some symptoms.

People are more likely to seek help for another mental health condition, such as depression. Getting treatment for these conditions can also positively impact on personality disorder symptoms.

The Conversation Paula Ross, Sessional psychology lecturer, Australian Catholic University and Nicole Lee, Professor at the National Drug Research Institute (Melbourne), Curtin University

That then is a general description of narcissistic personality disorder. The help judge whether this is what causes Donald Trump's bizarre behaviour in (and out) of office, this is another article from The Conversation, originally published on January 5, 2021, the day before he officially left office, having lost to Joe Biden and updated on January 7, 2021, the day after Trump had incited an attempted coup d’état to reverse the election result. The article is by Steven H. Appelbaum, Professor of Management, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada. It is reproduced here under a Creative Commons license. The original article may be read here.

Trump’s dangerous narcissism may have changed leadership forever

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a rally protesting the electoral college certification of Joe as president on Jan. 6, 2021, in which he successfully incited a mob to storm Congress.
Creadit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Steven H. Appelbaum, Concordia University

Donald Trump and his narcissistic style of leadership will soon vacate the political stage, despite his recent attempt to cajole elected officials into illegally changing the outcome of November’s presidential election and inciting a mob of supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol.

But what about those who aspire to key leadership positions who have been inspired by Trump? Will they perpetuate this new model of dangerous leadership without understanding that the potential fallout could be viral and spread to their organizations and employees?

American psychologist and author John Gartner, formerly of Johns Hopkins University, sounded the alarm about Trump three years ago, calling on him to be removed from office because he was “psychologically incapable of competently discharging the duties of president.” The petition garnered thousands of signatures.

Narcissism can be described as a grandiose sense of self-importance. A healthy dose of narcissism can be an integral part of a mature adult’s psyche. It can foster positive traits such as confidence, creativity, humour and wisdom.

These are of course important qualities that many of the world’s genius artists, business people and scientists possess.

But there’s a flip side to this coin, since pathological narcissism may leave people extremely isolated, distrustful and lacking in empathy. Perceived threats can easily cause pathological narcissists to fall into fits of rage.

How narcissism affects leadership styles

Their confidence and larger-than-life attitude, after all, have propelled them to the top. Narcissistic leaders often emerge during times of crisis where followers seek the leadership of a charismatic, confident and creative chief.

To the outside world, narcissists appear self-assured, charming and likeable upon first glance. For this reason, they often emerge as leaders. However, important research has shown the thin veneer of these qualities becomes apparent over time, and there’s often a stark contrast between a narcissist’s perceived leadership abilities and their actual abilities. The narcissistic leader’s weaknesses come to the surface.

Trump stands in the Oval Office
Trump stands in the Oval Office in December 2020.
Credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
While their hunger for power and admiration may yield positive results in the beginning, in the long run, narcissistic leaders are bound to leave damaged systems and relationships in their wake.

Identifiable negative traits of narcissists include sensitivity to criticism, poor listening skills, lack of empathy, intense desire to compete, arrogance, feelings of inferiority, need for recognition and superiority, hypersensitivity, anger, amorality, irrationality, inflexibility and paranoia. Some of these traits seem to fit Trump.

‘Destructive tyrant’

A leader who was perhaps once seen as a visionary slowly but surely transforming into a destructive tyrant can have grave consequences for organizations that are helmed by narcissists. Narcissistic leadership can negatively affect job satisfaction and morale while fuelling chaos of the type we saw at the U.S. Capitol as well as employee turnover.

As time goes on, their insecurities, domineering nature and disregard for the feelings and needs of others lead to employees’ emotional exhaustion, burnout and withdrawal from the organization. In essence, only the leader’s beliefs, experiences and knowledge count. This was evident when Trump publicly stated he knew more than his generals and even in his recently revealed phone call to Georgia officials, when he attempted to browbeat and threaten them to “find” more than 11,000 votes.

Indeed, there is no more relevant or obvious example of the damaging effects of excessive narcissism on leadership ability than Trump. His chaotic leadership style is useful to study since very few of us are trained to deal with this type of behaviour and this type of person.

Before he was elected president, Trump had made a name for himself in the mainstream media and turned his public persona into a lucrative brand. His 1988 book, The Art of the Deal, and later his NBC show, The Apprentice, garnered a large following of admirers, many in leadership positions.

A Trump supporter carrying a Trump 2020 sign stands near the president's vandalized star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
A Trump supporter stands near the president’s vandalized star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in July 2018.
Source: AP Photo/Reed Saxon
Of course, Trump floundered at times, declaring bankruptcy six times, but he always managed to save himself and threaten his naysayers until they disappeared.

We’ve experienced signs of the destructiveness of his behaviour on the world stage. Rather than knowing the “art of a deal,” a president and any other leader should know the art of diplomacy, empathy and service. Unfortunately, these are words that aren’t part of Trump’s vocabulary.

What’s more, his erratic behaviour seems to have had a detrimental effect on his team members, who can never seem to control his outbursts. This should serve as a warning to organizational leaders flirting with this type of leader.

Can the narcissist be managed?

In today’s uncertain market, more and more companies are becoming comfortable with this type of unpredictable and chaotic leadership style, hoping for big gains and magic.

It’s critical to understand that it’s possible for businesses to reap the benefits of a narcissistic leader as long there’s a trusted sidekick or No. 2 who can anchor their grandiose ideas and help control them. This is tricky to do and not common in contemporary organizations as they attempt to eradicate any perceived competition or control.

Any type of controlling influence has been absent in the Trump administration as he operates without guardrails, creating great fallout.

The issue for followers is it never ends well. We have seen this real-time case study play out for the past four years of the Trump presidency.

The challenge is: How will current and future organizational leaders accept or reject the type of narcissistic and damaging leader who is determined to win at any cost? The Conversation Steven H. Appelbaum, Professor of Management, Concordia University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

There is little doubt in Professor Appelbaum's mind that Trump does have a narcissistic personality disorder, or that this was the cause of the chaos during his presidency as he made policy in response to the fake news in the far right news media, encouraged the wildest conspiracy theories, sacked anyone who dared to disagree with him, or even failed to admire him sufficiently, made an international laughing stock of the USA, attacked and tried to undermine American democracy because it didn't deliver the result he demanded, and in the end came to personify a lying, corrupt, incompetent would be dictator that all reasonable people who hadn't been suckered into his personality cult, were glad to see the back of.

It would probably be the end of American democracy if he is re-elected in 2024. It would certainly be dangerous for the rest of the world. Having one paranoid , psychotic narcissist with nuclear weapons, in the shape of Vladimir Putin of a resurgent Russia, who is almost a clone of Donald Trump, is dangerous enough, without adding another one to the mix.

Monday 29 August 2022

Religious Bigotry News - After the Methodists, the Anglicans Are Now Splitting Over Whether to Hate Gays or Not.

The Anglican split: why has sexuality become so important to conservative Christians?

I wrote recently about how the American Methodist church is breaking up over the question about whether members of the LGBTQ community are entitled to full human rights or whether they should continue to be figures of hate, condemnation and persecution.

Now the Anglican Church in Australia is falling apart over the self-same issue. The cause, as always, is tension between what modern evolved social ethics is demanding these churches conform to, or whether they should continue to adhere to the outmoded behaviour codes as first laid down by Bronze Age male tribal leaders, some of whom were so insecure in their sexuality that they forbade homosexual sex between men (though not between women), in the belief that these are the objective and unchangeable commands of an invisible sky man on whose whims our social ethics should be based.

Curiously, the diehards these days have little difficulty accepting the triumphs of the progressives in society who in the past have adjusted to changing social attitudes towards slavery, female emancipation, European Christian white supremacism and the colonial imperialism it gave rise to, to disability right, to full adult suffrage, etc, which they now accept as right and proper in a civilised society where once they vigorously opposed them as going against the sacred word of their favourite god.

But they seem to be stuck on the question of equal rights for homosexuals, including the right to marriage, consensual sexual activity and ordination as priests in the church of their choice, though why anyone would want to be a member of, let alone a minister in, any church in which such bigotry was tolerated, and even admired, is quite beyond me.

In the following article, reprinted from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license, reformatted for stylistic consistency, Mark Jennings, Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies, University of Divinity, Australia and an employee of the Anglican diocese of Perth, Australia, analyses this split and the origins of homophobia in the Anglican Church. The original article can be read here.

Malevolent Designer News - How Creationism's Divine Malevolence is Spreading Rat Lung Worms To Humans

Platydemus manokwari, an introduced flatworm present in Hawai‘i, which can act as a paratenic host of the rat lungworm parasite and that has been implicated in causing rat lungworm disease in Okinawa.

Credit: Shinji Sugiura.
Slugs, snails are not alone in causing rat lungworm disease in humans | SOEST

These days, I seem to be constantly reporting on yet another way Creationism's putative intelligent [sic] designer has found to make us sick and generally cause an increase in the suffering in the world - if you believe the Creationist disinformation about biology.

Here we have yet another example.

As though the rat lungworm, Angiostrongylus cantonensis, wasn't nasty enough, especially when it infects humans and destroys the brain, the divine malevolence has been busy finding new ways to make sure humans become infected with this nasty little nematode, as reported by researchers from the Pacific Biosciences Research Center, University of Hawaii at Mānoa, Honolulu, HI, USA and the Royal Veterinary College, London, UK, who combed through nearly 140 scientific studies to show that slugs and snails are far from being the only possible vectors of the disease.

These so-called, paratenic hosts include 32 species of freshwater prawns/shrimp, crayfish, crabs, flatworms, fish, sea snakes, frogs, toads, lizards, centipedes, cattle and pigs. Of these, at least 13 species of prawns/shrimp, crabs, flatworms, fish, frogs, toads, lizards, and centipedes have been associated with causing rat lungworm disease in humans.

Although these paratenic hosts can become infected, the parasites remain in their immature form until eaten by a rodent, when they mature. If one of these paratenic hosts or an intermediate host such as a slug or snail is ingested by a human, the parasite continues to develop but only up to a point. That point is when they are in the person's brain, moving around and feeding on brain cells, then they die. The resulting brain damage and inflammation as the immune systems tries to cope with the dead worms is the cause of the symptoms of rat lung worm disease. Not usually fatal, but the process and debility it causes can be prolonged.

Here is what the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has to say about it:

Sunday 28 August 2022

Creationism In Crisis - More Bad News for Creationists as Scientists Use the TOE to Work Out How Mucus Evolved

The evolution of mucus: How did we get all this slime? - University at Buffalo

Fig. 1. Novel and previously known mucin genes in select mammalian species.
Phylogeny on the left represents the relationship between the species analyzed here [human (hg38), mouse (mm10), cow (bosTau9), and ferret (musFur1)]. Schematic karyotypes show the chromosomes in each species that harbor mucin genes. Mucin gene locations are indicated on each chromosome. Ancestral mucin genes that are orthologous in the four genomes are indicated in blue fonts. Lineage-specific mucins are indicated in green fonts. Mucin genes found within the SCPP gene family, all of which, except for MUC7, are lineage-specific are indicated in pink fonts. Note: Some of the orthologous genes carry different names in different species. For example, rodent Muc3 is orthologous to human MUC17. For those genes, we indicated in parentheses following the official gene annotation the name of the likely human ortholog based on sequence similarity and synteny. In ferrets, the “S” proceeding the putative chromosome number indicates on which Hi-C scaffold the mucin genes were found.

Possibly not the most fascinating of subjects, especially if you're a Creationist fraud trying to convince your dupes that the theory of evolution is a theory in crisis due to not being able to explain stuff like the evolution of proteins, but scientists at the University of Buffalo, New York, USA, have worked out how the various forms of mucus, or slime, evolved.

And guess what! The Theory of Evolution was absolutely essential to understanding the process!

And even worse for creationist frauds who are trying to convince their dupes that the second law of thermodynamics somehow means that no new information can arise without the assistance of a magic creator, is the news that this evolution involved examples of gene doubling where a mistake in replication - a mutation - has provided the process of evolution with genetic 'information' that can be changed without harming the carrier of that mutation. In other words, mutation followed by natural selection has increased the amount of information in the genome by perfectly natural processes, with no need to include magic or a magic creator in the explanation.

The News release by Charlotte Hsu, from the University of Buffalo explains how the scientists made this discovery:

Fewer in U.S. Now See Bible as Literal Word of God

Fewer in U.S. Now See Bible as Literal Word of God | Gallop

Source: Gallop
The decline in fundamentalist religious belief in the USA continues to plummet, according to a Gallop Survey published last July.

This shows the percentage of American adults who believe the Bible is the literal word of God is down to just 20%, half what it was in July 1980. This is still astonishingly high by European standards and means 1 in 5 American Adults believe Adam & Eve, Noah's Ark, and the Tower of Babel were actual, historical events and that the Universe was created by magic in just 7 days, including the dome over earth into which the sun, moon and stars are fixed, and from which stars can shake loose and fall down during earthquakes.

Nevertheless, halving that percentage in 42 years represents something of a triumph for science and common sense.

Even more encouraging news is that the percentage who believe the Bible is just a collection of myths, history and moral precepts written by men has now established a firm lead over the literalists, at 29% (almost triple what it was in 1980).

Wednesday 24 August 2022

Science News - How We Know What Happened Millions of Years Ago.

Skull of Afropithecus turkanensis
Ken Ham, along with other Creationists frauds, have managed to convince their child-like followers that asking "Where you there?" of scientists who try to talk about the past, and particularly how the Universe, Earth and life on Earth came to be as they are, is some sort of rational rebuttal of the claim. The idea seems to be that we can only ever know anything happened if we were actually there to see it. If that were true, of course, forensic science would be useless and no criminal could ever be convicted by a jury unless all 12 of them witnessed the crime.

The tactic depends on Creationists not realising that deductive logic and objective analysis of the evidence is a perfectly valid way to determine what happened. Ask a Creationist who is trying out that fallacy, how they can be certain their great grandparents had sex if they weren't there to witness it, and they usually withdraw from the conversation, often hurling abuse and threats as they do so. Of course, theirs, their parents and their grandparents existence are all evidence that their great grandparents got close at least ones.

That was a long-winded introduction to a piece of research published recently in PNAS that reports how an international collaboration of scientists have shown how fossil teeth of pre-human African apes can be analysed to determine the climate changes that may have driven theirs, and eventually our, evolution.
The account of how they did this and its significance is explained in an article in The Conversation by Tanya M. Smith, Professor in the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution & Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research, Griffith University, Australia, and Daniel Green, a Postdoctoral Research Scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Climate School, Columbia University, New York.

The article is reproduced here, reformatted for stylistic consistency, under a Creative Commons licence. The original article can be read here:

Sunday 21 August 2022

Christian Hate News - Now The Methodists are Splitting Over How Best to Hate LGBTQ People

Bishop Ken Carter, former president of the UMC's Council of Bishops.
For United Methodists, the center is not holding

A losing or defeated group invariably turns inward and fragments as it looks for scapegoats.

This was never more true than of the American United Methodists, America's second largest Protestant denomination, who, like other Christian denominations, are struggling against falling membership and with trying to keep up with rapidly changing cultural attitudes such as acceptance of LGBTQ people as being as entitled to full human rights as anyone else, including the right to same-sex marriage and/or ordination as pastors in the church of their choice.

It's the same old story of a religion which believes it's morals are handed down from divine authority and codified in a sacred book. These morals eventually become outdated and no longer suitable, as social ethics evolve along with society, to the extent that they come to be regarded as immoral. The mistake is in assuming that morality is fixed and unchangeable and based either on some objective standard or the arbitrary whim of a deity. In reality, of course, they evolve as part of cultural evolution.

Like the Catholic and other Christian Churches, the Methodists are now tearing themselves apart because, to change and accommodate the growing cultural acceptance of LGBTQ rights is to abandon what die-hard conservatives regard as core beliefs. The traditionalists regard the progressives as no longer 'real Methodists' while the progressives regard the conservatives as truculent die-hards, holding the church back and preaching an immoral gospel that gives excuses to would-be bullies and sanctimonious hypocrites, who would deny basic human rights to people of their choosing if allowed to, whilst preaching freedom and the essential equality of Man.

Saturday 20 August 2022

Why Scientific Evidence Doesn't Change a Fundamentalist's or Conspiracist's Mind

Fig. 2. Belief networks and development of interdependence over measurements.
The networks are shown for GM food (A) and childhood vaccines (B) and include moral beliefs (orange nodes) and social beliefs (green nodes). The ties represent the partial correlations between two beliefs controlled for all other beliefs. Blue (red) ties represent positive (negative) correlations, and the widths of the ties correspond to the strength of the correlations. The strength of the ties ranged from 0.02 (between the beliefs “Chi” and “Fam”) to 0.30 (between the beliefs “Med” and “Sci”) for GM food and from 0.02 (between the beliefs “Com” and “Jou”) to 0.28 (between the beliefs “OnE” and “OnC”), N = 979.
Study: new model for predicting belief change | Santa Fe Institute

Two reserchers at the Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA, postdoctoral Fellows Jonas Dalege and Tamara van der Does, have developed a model to predict whether a person is likely to change his/her beliefs when presented with evidence-based information.

Those who have ever tried debating in the social media with Creationists, Antivaxxers, QAnon cultists or people who believe Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election, will be aware that people with these counter-factual beliefs are almost impossible to shift from those positions, no matter how strong the evidence presented to them.

The problem is our old friend, cognitive dissonance. Briefly, cognitive dissonance is the conflict or dissonance that is generated when firmly held belief meets contrary evidence. The result is emotional discomfort, sometimes amounting to a perceived threat, which needs to be resolved one way or another.

Friday 19 August 2022

Fleecing the Flock - An Evangeilcal Pastor Shouts Abuse at His Followers For Not Buying Him a Luxury Watch

Carlton Funderburke, Senior Pastor and co-founder,
Church of the Well, Kansas City, Missouri, USA
US pastor calls congregation ‘cheap’ for not buying him a luxury watch | Missouri | The Guardian

Self-styled 'prophet', Pastor Carlton Funderburke of the non-denominational Church of the Well in Kansas City, Missouri, thought he had hit upon a new method of extracting wealth from his followers - demand they give him expensive gifts, then shouts abuse at them to try to make them feel guilt and shame for not obeying him.

Having asked his dupes er… congregation, to buy him an expensive Movado watch, he pointed out that the watch he wanted was on sale in the warehouse at 'Sam's Club' and he had told them he wanted one last year, "and here it is, August", and they still haven't bought it for him!

In a jaw-dropping display of hypocrisy, he then shouted at them like a spoiled toddler who didn’t get what he wanted for his birthday, complaining that they think more of their own possessions than they do of him:

Thursday 18 August 2022

Why Religious Fundamentalists Won't Change Their Minds

Everyone, even scientists are prone to trying to cling to cherished beliefs, but this is especially noticeable with people who are wedded to extremist cult beliefs such as Creationism, Fundamentalist religions, and/or wackadoodle conspiracy theories such as the belief that the 2020 US presidential election was 'stollen', COVID-19 is a hoax or that 9/11 was a 'inside job', as anyone who tries to engage these deluded fools in the social media will quickly discover.

Reinforce that natural resistance to change with the paranoid idea that there is a mind-reading, invisible sky man who will punish you with unimaginable horrors for eternity for even thinking of doing so, and you have the explanation for this intellectual cowardice and scientific bankruptcy.

In this article reproduced from The Conversation, reprinted under a Creative Commons license and reformatted for stylistic consistency, Professor Keith M. Bellizzi, Professor of Human Development and Family Sciences, University of Connecticut, USA, explains this basic aspect of human psychology. The original article can be read here.

Malevolent Designer News - A Brief History of The Divine Malevolence's Favourite Pestilence

This is the second in a series looking at the history of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, taken from articles in The Conversation.

In the first of the series, I looked at how the SARS-CoV-1 virus that caused the short-lived SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic of 2002/2003 looks, from an Intelligent [sic] Design perspective (if you believe that superstitious nonsense), to have been a prototype which Creationism's divine malevolence built on to produce the much more devastating SARS-CoV-2 virus. This virus causes COVID-19 (Corona VIrus Disease 2019) and is still posing a serious threat to life, long-term health, health services and economies world-wide, almost 3 years after it was first detected, at the end of 2019.

SARS-CoV-2 is a member of the coronavirus family, so-called because they have prominent 'spike' proteins on their surface which give the virus particles a crown-like (corona) appearance under sufficient magnification. They are all RNA viruses that have a single strand of RNA as their functional genome. The spike proteins are used by the virus to lock onto the surface of cells, prise them open and inject their RNA into the cell, where it uses the cell's own metabolic processes to make more virus particles and kill the cell.

In this article reprinted from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license, reformatted for stylistic consistency, Lindsay Broadbent, a Research Fellow at the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, Queen's University Belfast, explains the history of coronaviruses. The article is undated but reads as though it was written during the first lockdown in about April or May 2020.

The original article can be read here.

Wednesday 17 August 2022

Malevolent Designer News - How SARS Was The Malevolent Designer's Prototype for SARS-CoV-2.

The 'original' SARS (SARS-CoV-1) threat lasted about 6 months and then it was over. So why did this virus apparently go extinct, yet it's close relative, SARS-CoV-2, remains a significant pandemic threat almost three years after it was first identified?

The answer seems to be in the way it is transmitted from one person to another. SARS patients were only infectious when they had symptoms and were relatively ill. This meant that they tended to self-isolate, because they didn't feel well enough to mix socially, and symptom-based measures such as compulsory isolation were effective control measures.

SARS-CoV-2, on the other hand can be asymptomatic for long enough for the victim to have mixed socially before becoming unwell, if at all, and SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted effectively by asymptomatic carriers.

From a Creationist perspective, the Malevolent Designer was just practicing with its SARS-CoV-1 prototype, and added refinements to its later version to overcome our early measures to contain it, which had worked well against its prototype.

The following article from The Conversation was written in 1920, when the pandemic was in its earlier phase and before the vaccines against it had been produced. It is reproduced here under a Creative Commons license, reformatted for stylistic consistency. The original can be read here.

Tuesday 16 August 2022

Evolution News - How Fungi Got Their Diverse Shapes

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August: Fungi evolution | News and features | University of Bristol

Scientists from Bristol University, UK, have shown that the current diversity in the shape of fungi was the result of bursts of evolutionary radiation, following increases in multicellular complexity.

Creationists will need to ignore the fact that this explanation shows how the Theory of Evolution is fundamental to understanding biodiversity, in complete contrast to what their reality-denying disinformation sources have been claiming for the last half century.

Sadly, the team's published paper in Nature Ecology & Evolution is behind an expensive paywall, but the Bristol University press release explains their method and basic findings:

Monday 15 August 2022

Creationism - A Notion In Crisis - Now Its Human Evolution by LOSS of Complexity!

A Japanese macaque producing a coo call.

Credit: WRC/Hideki Sugiura
Simplified voice box enriches human speech | KYOTO UNIVERSITY

Question - How can you tell it's time to ditch a daft idea?

Answer - When its basic claims keep being refuted by science.

This is the problem, Creation Inc. (No donation too large; give till it hurts!) is now facing, as yet another basic axiom is refuted by scientific observation. To make matters worse for them, scientists led by researchers from Kyoto University, Japan, who discovered this latest refutation of Creationism, had no intention of doing so. Their intention was to reveal another factoid in the story of human evolution and, as so often, that factoid just happens to refute a basic Creationist claim.

Chimpanzee vocalization
The factoid in question was the discovery that what makes complex speech possible in humans, unlike in our closes relatives, the other Great Apes, was a modification to the voice box or larynx which involved losing specific vocal folds or cords in the larynx. In other words, a simplified, less complex larynx was the highly beneficial change that allowed early humans to develop speech and so communicate ideas and information and facilitate group cooperation and, ultimately civilisation, writing and science.

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