F Rosa Rubicondior: 2023

Saturday 30 December 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Tears Evolved To Manipulate The Behaviour Of Men, So Where Is The Free Will

Sniffing women’s' tears reduces aggression in men.
Tears without Fears: Sniffing Women’s Tears Reduces Aggression in Men | Weizmann USA

Research by Israeli scientists has shown that sniffing tears can reduce male aggression by almost 44% by lowering the level of testosterone.

The problem for Christianity here is that the entire rationale for the religion is that human free will allowed the mythical founder couple, who were magically created without ancestors, to choose to disobey their magic creator in the so-called 'Fall'.

Because the magic, omnipotent creator has never managed to get over this exercise of the free will it gave them, we need Jesus (the magic creator personified) to help him forgive us, because he had himself sacrificed in a blood sacrifice that everyone knows satiates irascible gods, especially when it's them being sacrificed. (I'm not making this up! Just ask any Christian who Jesus was and what he was born for.)

But, if behaviour is mediated by physiology in the form of hormones and if the levels of those hormones can be mediated by external influences, then external influences can modify behaviour, so where does that leave the notion of free will?

Obviously, the authors of that tale in the Bible knew nothing of hormones and pheromones and how they can modify and influence behaviour.

The research is explained in a press release from the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science:

Friday 29 December 2023

Creationism in Crisis - How New Genetic Information Arises Naturally

The 'Christmas tree (Norwegian spruce) Picea abies
Seven times more DNA than a human.
It is a basic axiom of creationism that no new genetic information can arise in a species genome without the assistance of a magic designer. This is based on some half-baked interpretation of 'Shannon Information Theory' and misrepresentation of the second law of thermodynamics in which 'information' is confused with energy and a species genome with a closed system.

Try to get a creationist to explain the science behind that claim and you're likely to get nothing but rehearsed parrot squawks made in response to trigger words, if they don't run away hurling abuse and passive aggressive threats over their shoulder, or quickly change the subject. There will be no understanding of either information theory or thermodynamics.

The natural world is full of examples of how gene or even whole genome duplication creates redundant DNA and copies of genes than can mutate and be selected by natural selection to create new meaning in the genetic information. The Christmas tree, or Norwegian spruce, Picea abies, has about 29,000 functional genes (marginally more than a human) yet it has a genome seven times larger than the human genome, all packed into 12 chromosomes. The reason for this, according to a research team from Umeå universitet, Sweden, is because the mechanism for correcting duplication errors broke millions of years ago, so these duplications have been accumulating in the Picea abies genome ever since.

Creationists seem incapable of understanding the difference between information and the meaning in that information or how meaning is given by the environment. For example, a mutation which gave Streptococcus aureus resistance to the antibiotic, methicillin, would have had no meaning before medical science invented methicillin; now the same information makes MRSA an intractable condition and a highly successful pathogen. The point being that new meaning can arise without any change in the genome simply by a change in the environment, so evolution is not always dependent on change in genetic information.

Thursday 28 December 2023

Malevolent Designer - How Creationism's Intelligent [Sic] Designer' Denied Us The Ability To Regenerate Limbs But Gave It To A Jellyfish

Cladonema pacificum
How jellyfish regenerate functional tentacles in days | The University of Tokyo.

Imagine for a moment that you're creationism's putative intelligent [sic] designer (the one on whom they've bestowed all the 'omnis' like omnipotence, omniscience and omnibenevolence) and you've created lots of creatures with the ability to regenerate body parts like limbs, tails and tentacles when they lose them, but you haven't given this ability to all of your creation, especially the one you supposedly love above all the others because its designed to be in your own image and you created all the other species to be at the disposal of your favourite.

What are some of the reasons you might have created them without the ability to regenerate missing body parts?
  • Incompetence? It can't be that because you're omnipotent, so nothing is impossible for you.
  • Amnesia? You just forgot to! It can't be that because you're omniscient, so know all things, past present and future so must remember creating the ability to regenerate limbs in salamanders, for example.
  • If it wasn't incompetence and it wasn't amnesia, it must have been deliberate. You chose not to because you didn't want your special creation to have this ability - even though you're allegedly omnibenevolent.

So creationists must be mistaken in at least one and possibly all of the qualities they've bestowed on you.

Or you've chosen to create humans and other animals, especially mammals, birds and most reptiles, less perfectly than you could have created them because you prefer to see them suffer when they have accidents.

And yet, according to recently published research by a Japanese research team, you gave that ability to a small jellyfish so it can regenerate its tentacles. Unless you prefer to see a human amputee struggle but not a jellyfish, why would you do that?

I'll leave that question for creationists to perform their usual intellectual gymnastic over, so they can continue to feel like the special creation of an omnipotent creator of the universe who loves them above the rest of its creation that it created just for them, like a narcissistic toddler, who thinks the world is just for him/her and someone must be making sure it stays that way.

Malevolent Design - How A Cat Poo Parasite Can Change Your Personality

Toxoplasma gondii is an obligate intracellular, parasitic protozoan that causes the disease toxoplasmosis. Diagram of Toxoplasma structure.
Image Credit: Designua / Shutterstock
Toxoplasma 'cat poo' parasite infects billions – so why is it so hard to study?

In my last blogpost, I described how the parasitic organism, cryptosporidium, is one of those 'irreducibly complex' organisms that creationists have been fooled by Michael J Behe into believing are proof of their putative creator god, because, so their ignorant intuition tells them, there can only be one intelligent designer capable of designing an irreducibly complex structure such as the bacterial flagellum or the apical complex structure that all members of the Apicomplex phylum characteristically possess.

Sadly for them, though, their reliance on this 'proof' of their god precludes them from arguing that these nasty little pathogens that appear to be designed to make us and other animals sick is the work of another intelligent creator, 'Sin', so the inescapable conclusion must be that their beloved creator god is designing these pathogens to make us sick and to increase the suffering in the world.

As though that wasn't bad enough, we now have another related parasite, also a member of the Apicomplex phylum, that on the face of it, seems to be an even more determined attempt to make us sick. It's a parasite that once you have it, you have it for life, and the evidence is that it manipulates your behaviour and changes your personality too. This then raises doubts about the idea of free will that is a central part of creationist superstition, and notions of 'Original Sin' (that thing that can supposedly create parasites too).

This organism is Toxoplasma gondii which is carried by about 25% of the world's people, so the chance of you or me or any of your friends and family having it is quite high.

Wednesday 27 December 2023

Malevolent Design - More Nastiness From The Pestilential Designer, Or God, As Creationists Call It

Infections from a diarrhoea-causing parasite are on the rise in the UK – but experts aren't quite sure why

Cryptosporidium is a eukaryote protozoan parasite which creationists dogma says must have been designed by their favourite designer because that is the only entity capable of designing complex organisms, including 'irreducibly complex' structures.

Embarrassingly for creationists who are hoping to be able to blame 'Sin' for them, they are hung out to dry on the same hook that Michael J. Behe hung them on with the flagellum of the pathological E. coli bacterium, which they now happily wave as 'proof' of their designer good. Protozoans of the Apicomplexa phylum, of which the cryptosporidia are species, all have the apical complex organelle which is essential for them to break into a cell in order to infect it.

The characteristic apical complex organelle of the Apicomplexa phylum
Cryptosporidia appear to have two functions: to increase the suffering in the world by causing gastrointestinal disorders, usually resulting in severe diarrhoea; and to make more copies of themselves to infect more people and animals and spread the suffering more widely. They have no known beneficial functions in respect of humans or their other host species.

The species Cryptosporidium hominis is an obligate parasite on humans, so, according to creationists superstition, must have infected one or two of the Ark survivors, assuming there were no more than two individuals of the species present. Either that, or, according to creationist mythology, it has been created in the last four thousand years, which rules out being created by 'Sin' as a result of 'The Fall', which would mean it predates creationism's genocidal flood.

First, some AI background by way of introduction to the subject:

Tuesday 26 December 2023

60 Years Ago Today - Remembering the Big Freeze - From My Book, 'In The Blink Of An Eye: Growing Up In Rural Oxfordshire'

The winter of 1962–63 was something else. It deserves a special mention. It came almost as a punctuation mark for me as my life was about to change when I left school and entered the working class in Oxford.

I was the village’s provider of Sunday newspapers! I felt I had an important job to do because without me, no–one would have anything to read on Sunday mornings! It was my sacred duty to get the Sunday newspapers delivered!

So, on Sunday, 30th December 1962 I got up as usual to go to Charlbury to buy my 60 newspapers for which I charged a penny each for delivery. I noticed there had been some snow and, unusually, the snow on the lower window frame on the back door seemed to be three or four inches up the glass.

The winter had actually started a few days earlier with snow on Boxing Day, the next best thing to a white Christmas, but it was nothing more than the usual few inches which everyone assumed would be gone in a few days. How wrong we were, as I was about to find out!

I opened the door to go to the outside toilet. A pile of snow fell into the kitchen. The back yard was full of snow, literally. It wasn't just piled up on the edges of the windowpanes, but against the door itself.

I went out of the front door to find the world had changed beyond recognition! The Lane was full of snow! A snowdrift came straight off our garage roof, across the front garden, over the garden wall and up to the wall of the house opposite. It was deeper by far than my, by now, 5 feet 10 inches.

And the snow was still falling thick and fast, driven by a gale-force wind! Southern England was in the grip of a major blizzard not seen since 1947 and probably much earlier. Bitterly cold Arctic winds drove the dry, powdery snow into every hollow and piled it up until the hollow was full, then moved on to fill the next, deeper hollow, until the countryside was a smooth as plastered wall.

But the newspapers had to get through!

So, donning wellies with two pairs of thick socks, jumpers, overcoat, scarves – one over my head and over my mouth, another round my neck twice – a balaclava helmet and two pairs of gloves, I slung my paper bag, made out of an old hessian corn sack, over my shoulder and set out. It was a strange landscape, but Main Road wasn’t too deeply covered. There were no car tracks!

I trudged up through the village to just beyond the Finstock turn, marveling at the deepening drifts, and even stopping to help a man trying to get his car out of his drive. He wasn't going to get very far. It was there I met our neighbour’s son-in-law walking over from Charlbury to check on her.

“You goin’ to get yer papers?” he asked incredulously.

“Well, Dad can’t drive me so I’m walkin’!” I explained.

“Well, turn round and go ‘ome” he said. “No–one’s goin’ to get their papers today!”

“Is it that bad?”

“Corse it is! Even the trains ent runnin! Nothin’s movin’ anywhere.”

So, I turned round and walked ‘ome with him, and had a cup of hot soup made out of the remains of the Christmas goose. The village was totally shut off! For the first time on my watch, the Sunday newspapers had not been delivered.

We dug out the lane down to The Green so people could get to Wally Scarrot's shop, but the shop couldn’t get supplies in and was beginning to run down as a village shop anyway, as people got cars and could shop at the new supermarkets in Witney and Chipping Norton. The bakery had ceased to operate several years earlier. It was a time for community action!

Monday 25 December 2023

Malevolent Design - Parasitic Mistletoe - Unintelligent Design, Malevolent Creation Or Evolution?

Mistletoe haustorium on a birth branch.
At a time of giving and receiving, our many Australian mistletoes do it too

Mistletoe is a hemiparasitic plant and obligate parasite on many different species of tree. It can kill a heavily infested tree. Although mistletoe is photosynthetic, so produces its own sugars, it is dependent on its host for water and the nutrients such as nitrates and other minerals that the host plant obtains from soil. There is no evidence that mistletoe gives anything back to the host in the form of sugars.

Mistletoes and similar parasitic plants obtain the nutrients from their host via a structure called a haustorium which infiltrates the host tissues and forms a close association with the vascular bundles.

But why would an intelligent designer create all the complexity needed for a parasitic lifestyle when it had supposedly designed other plants to obtain nutrients from the soil, and simply added another layer of complexity between the host's roots and the parasitic plant's tissues to achieve the same result? In fact, this is just another example of the needless complexity that characterises evolved systems and distinguishes them from intelligently designed systems, which are characteristically minimally complex.
And it hasn't just done it once! There are over 100 parasitic species of similar plants in Australia alone, which I'll come to next, but first, a little AI background on mistletoe:

Sunday 24 December 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Insects Had Already Evolved An Array Of Defence Strategies 100 Million Years Before 'Creation Week'.

Figure 7. Flat wasps (Bethylidae) trapped in Kachin amber while stinging into host larvae for oviposition
(A) Snakefly larva as host, PED 2351.
(B) Beetle larva as host.81
(C) Lepidopteran caterpillar as host, PED 2575.
Insects already had a variety of defense strategies in the Cretaceous - LMU Munich

On top of the evidence of people practicing animal husbandry in the Pyrenees Mountains before, during and after the legendary genocidal flood inflicted on Earth by creationism's 'omni-benevolent' god according to their superstition, and the fact that the predictable layer of silt from such a flood failed to materialise or was away the evidence of this occupation, we have more bad news for creationists.

A paper which describes how insects had evolved a whole array of defensive strategies, 100 million years before the legendary 'creation Week', when the universe was allegedly magicked up out of nothing by a magic man made of nothing, has just been published in the journal iScience.

The significance of this is that it shows an already mature and established ecosystem with predators against which insects needed protection. Defence is one aspect of an evolutionary arms race, of course, and arms races are entirely inconsistent with any notion of intelligent [sic] design because it is not intelligent to create predators to eat your designs, then created mechanisms and structure for the victims of predation to prevent your designs doing what they were designed to do. Arms races are examples of the needless complexity and prolific waste that can result from a mindless, undirected natural process. Needless complexity and prolific waste are the antithesis of intelligent design which should be minimally complex and minimally wasteful.

And of course, the existence of these fossil insects set in amber from 100 million years ago, alone falsifies the childish notion that Earth has only existed for 10,000 years.

The paper is the work of a team of palaeoarchaeologists from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU Munich), Germany and University of Greifswald, Greifswald, Germany, led by Professor Carolin Haug of MMU. It is explained in a brief news release from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität:

Creationism in Crisis - Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Were Practiced Uninterupted In The Pyrenees Through The Biblical Genocidal Flood

First high mountain settlers at the start of the Neolithic already engaged in other livestock activities apart from transhumance - Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona - UAB Barcelona

Figure 1. Location of Coro Trasito cave (Huesca, Spain).

There is no let up for Creationists this week as science continues to reveal facts about the world that casually refute creationism, utterly and irredeemably. Their only hope is for a couple of day's respite over the holiday period when there will be few new science papers published, but we can be sure the onslaught will continue in the New Year.

One of today's clutch shows that there were people living in a cave in the Pyrenees who were practicing animal husbandry before, during and after the mythical genocidal flood. Perhaps someone forgot to tell them that they should all be drowing as the flood waters covered their mountain homes and killed all their livestock.

Curiously, the predicted layer of silt containing a jumble of fossils from disconnected landmasses, which would inevitably result from such a flood, failed to materialise and miraculously, the flood waters failed to wash away the evidence of these farmers' existence. Nor is there any evidence of an abrupt change of culture as the exterminated inhabitants of this cave were replaced by later immigrants from the Middle East.

The Pyrenees is a mountain barrier between the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of Europe. It's not particularly high as mountain ranges go, the highest peak being Pic Aneto, at 3404 metres (a little under 11,200 feet). According to the genocidal flood account in the Bible, however, this peak was under water to a depth sufficient to cover Mount Everest under 15 cubits of water (about 30 feet), so the flood would have been about 29,030 feet deep, covering the tallest peak in the Pyrenees by about 27,000 feet.

Sadly for the Bible narrative, however, archaeologists from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) Archaeozoology Laboratory and the High Mountain Archaeology Group, have shown that from the Early Neolithic (about 7,000 years ago) humans had moved into the Huescan Pyrenees and had taken a number of domesticated animals with them, including cows, goats, sheep and pigs (Bos taurus, Capra hircus, Ovis aries and Sus domesticus). The archaeologists have published their findings, open-access, in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Archaeology. Their research and its significance are explained in a UAB news release:

Saturday 23 December 2023

Small Gods - More Magnificance Of The Real Universe Revealed,

The Running Chicken Nebula comprises several clouds, the most prominent of which are labelled in this vast image from the VLT Survey Telescope (VST), hosted at ESO’s Paranal site. The bright star labelled Lambda Centauri is actually much closer to us than the nebula itself, and can be seen with the naked eye. The clouds shown in wispy pink plumes are full of gas and dust, illuminated by the young and hot stars within them. Overall, this image spans an area in the sky of about 25 full Moons, one of which is shown to scale for reference.

Credit: ESO/VPHAS+ team. Acknowledgement: CASU
New 1.5-billion-pixel ESO image shows Running Chicken Nebula in unprecedented detail | ESO

Astronomers using the European Southern Observatory in Chile have revealed in unprecedented detail, the so-called, 'Running Chicken' nebula, named not after creationists when asked a direct question, but because some people think it resembles a running chicken. The photographs were taken using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) as a series of images capturing different wavelengths of light, then carefully stitched together to form this detailed composite image.

The Running Chicken Nebula actually comprises several regions, all of which we can see in this vast image that spans an area in the sky of about 25 full Moons [1]. The brightest region within the nebula is called IC 2948, where some people see the chicken’s head and others its rear end. The wispy pastel contours are ethereal plumes of gas and dust. Towards the centre of the image, marked by the bright, vertical, almost pillar-like, structure, is IC 2944. The brightest twinkle in this particular region is Lambda Centauri, a star visible to the naked eye that is much closer to us than the nebula itself.

There are, however, many young stars within IC 2948 and IC 2944 themselves — and while they might be bright, they’re most certainly not merry. As they spit out vast amounts of radiation, they carve up their environment much like, well, a chicken. Some regions of the nebula, known as Bok globules, can withstand the fierce bombardment from the ultraviolet radiation pervading this region. If you zoom in to the image, you might see them: small, dark, and dense pockets of dust and gas dotted across the nebula.

Other regions pictured here include, to the upper right, Gum 39 and 40, and to the lower right, Gum 41. Aside from nebulae, there are countless orange, white and blue stars, like fireworks in the sky. Overall in this image, there are more wonders than can be described — zoom in and pan across, and you’ll have a feast for the eyes.

This image is a large mosaic comprising hundreds of separate frames carefully stitched together. The individual images were taken through filters that let through light of different colours, which were then combined into the final result presented here. The observations were conducted with the wide-field camera OmegaCAM on the VST, a telescope owned by the National Institute for Astrophysics in Italy (INAF) and hosted by ESO at its Paranal site in Chile’s Atacama Desert that is ideally suited for mapping the southern sky in visible light. The data that went into making this mosaic were taken as part of the VST Photometric Hα Survey of the Southern Galactic Plane and Bulge (VPHAS+), a project aimed at better understanding the life cycle of stars.

Contrast this small fraction of the visible universe (it occupies an area of the night sky about the size of 25 full moons) with the laughably naïve description of the Universe in Genesis 1: 6-18:
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the third day.

And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth. And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
The Universe as described in Genesis 1: 6-19
And, just to reinforce the ignorance of the authors of Genesis who guessed what they didn't know and got it so spectacularly wrong, here is a selection of deep-space images from the ESO:

Friday 22 December 2023

Malevolent Designer News - How Does Killing Millions of Seabirds Punish Humans For Adam's & Eve's 'Sin'?

Emperor penguins and southern elephant seals on South Georgia.
Both species at risk from avian flu.
Avian influenza has killed millions of seabirds around the world: Antarctica could be next

Avian flu is currently devastating flocks of seabirds, wiping out breeding colonies and even spreading to mammalian species such as sea lions and the southern elephant seal, the mass deaths of which are believed to have been caused by the H5N1 strain of the influenza virus.

Creationists claim that pathological parasites like the influenza viruses are the result of Adam's & Eve's sin which their beloved god inflicted on the world without prior warning in a tyrannical act of mass punishment for an arbitrary 'wrong', designated as such without any logical reason and applied to a couple of people who weren't equipped to know right from wrong and who hadn't been made aware of the real consequences.

But how killing millions of seabirds, elephant seals and other species punishes mankind or why the entire creation is being punished for a human 'crime' is never explained, leaving creationists to perform the most contorted mental gymnastics and denial of basic logic to simultaneously ascribe this to their putative designer god and make excuses to absolve it of blame for its criminal behaviour, for fear it'll come after then for not loving it enough.

Enough of the childish superstition and now for the real-world science:

Malevolent Designer News - How Creationism's Favourite Sadist Designed Ebola to Sneak Past Our Defences

Scientists discover new method Ebola virus uses to infect cells - Texas Biomed

Ebola virus.
Creationism's favourite malevolence is nothing if not sneaky in the way it designs its pathogens to make us sick and die by getting around the immune system it repeatedly designed to protect us from the pathogens it designed to make us sic and die.

For example, as researchers from the Texas Biomedical Research Institute (Texas Biomed) have discovered, the nasty little ebola virus uses a sneaky back-door approach to pass from cell to cell in a way which keeps it hidden from our immune system. Instead, it usurps the system our cells use to pass substances like proteins, nutrients and RNA from one cell to another via a network of nanotubes.

Thursday 21 December 2023

Creationism In Crisis - How We Have Evolved To Understand What Other Primates Are Saying

Can we decode the language of our primate cousins? - Medias - UNIGE

The UNIGE team wanted to find out whether the frontal and orbitofrontal regions of our brain activate in the same way when faced with human and simian vocalisations.
© Leonardo Ceravolo

One of the things that creationist frauds hate is the evidence of common descent in the form of redundant structures that now serve little or no function, but which were present in an ancient ancestor. Their problem with them is that they are evidence of common ancestry and make no sense as the work of an intelligent designer. What rational designer includes details and complications that have no function?

For example, humans and many herbivores such as rhinoceroses still have the enzymes for digesting the chitin exoskeleton of insects and other arthropods, even though they never eat them. However, the ancestral stem mammal was an insectivore, but there has been no selection pressure to remove the mechanism for digesting them as the herbivores evolved, so this retention is like a fossil, showing evidence of common ancestry.

Another example is the tendency for the hairs on our neck (and back, arms and shoulders if we have any hair there) to stand up when we are startled as an automatic part of the fight or flight response and a remnant of when making yourself look bigger was a benefit to a hairy ape suddenly surprised by a potential predator.

Now scientists at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, have discovered another largely redundant ability that only makes sense as something retained from an ancient primate ancestor which is present in modern primates where it still has a useful function, and in humans where its function is redundant for all practical purposes; humans subconsciously recognise the vocalisations of other primates.

This is just another in the list of redundant structures that are evidence of evolution and common ancestry:

Tuesday 19 December 2023

Unintelligent Design - How Creationism's Intelligent [Sic] Designer Stupidly Competes With Itself In An Arms Race.

Oral Herpes simplex
How the Immune System Fights to Keep Herpes at Bay | Harvard Medical School

Throughout the Cold War, starting soon after World War II and continuing through most of the second half of the 20th Century, the world's great powers, led by America on one side and Russia on the other, competed in a wasteful arms race where one side tried to outdo the other by building more powerful bombs and better delivery systems while also building better defences capable of preventing successful attack by the other. Money and resources that went into this ultimately pointless arms race could have been used for better, more peaceful projects like better world health care, better education or ending poverty and famine, yet neither side could afford to do the sensible thing because neither side trusted the other to abandon the race and compete with peace instead.

Although we can understand the pressures and insecurities that caused these wasteful arms races, we can also see the ultimate futility of it all and how the costs escalate with every turn of the spiral.

But how much more stupid would it have been if both 'sides' had the same people running them - if both America and Russia had the same political and military leaders? In other words, if the arms race was being run by one side alone, for no better reason than that the leaders had amnesia and didn't know why they built a bigger bomb or a better defence system yesterday and woke up today faced with a threat they had designed yesterday and needed to spend today designing ways to cope with these new threats?

One might be tempted to call into question the sanity of these leaders and wonder about their fitness to lead. What on Earth had allowed them to behave so stupidly? And for what reason? It certainly would have had nothing to do with the health and welfare or safety of the populations of Russia or America, or indeed the rest of the world, so could not be excused as some sort of well-intentioned altruism. An OCD or sheer malevolence, maybe, but not benevolence.

And yet creationists worship what they believe is a supernatural entity who behaves exactly like the amnesiac maniac I've just described. The natural world it reputedly designed, according to creationists, is full of example of these pointless and wasteful arms races for no ultimate long-term benefit to either 'side'.

Creationism in Crisis - The Periodic Greening Of The Sahara In That Vast Expanse of 'Pre-Creation' History.

Tassili N’Ajjer plateau, Algeria.
A once fertile savannah with lakes and rivers.
The Sahara Desert used to be a green savannah – new research explains why

Having visited the Sahara Desert in April about 10 years ago, I can assure readers that it is not the hot, dry place of repute but can be cold and wet, at least in the Tunisian part. It was so cold with a fine drizzle, that, shivering in a t-shirt, I offered to buy the thick, hooded duffle coat a local troglodyte guide was wearing, but he quoted me 5000 dinars (about £400) with a knowing twinkle in his eye. I elected to shiver until I got back on the coach and the driver turned the heating on. Yes, there are troglodytes in Tunisia!

There have been times in the past when rain in the Sahara was not just freak weather in Spring to annoy tourists, but the norm in much of the year, so much so that the Sahara was mixed savannah and scrub with lakes and rivers, especially the western part.

Readers may recall how I mentioned the periodic greening of the Sahara in my article about the evolution of rock doves and feral pigeons. Briefly, a species of dove resident in West Africa crossed the Sahara during one such period when there was forest, grassland and water in place of sand. Then when the Sahara became desert the two populations diverged and the one which had made it as far as the Middle East hybridized with a resident related dove. This hybrid quickly became the normal form of the rock dove north and east of the Sahara and diversified further into several subspecies, one of which was domesticated and selectively bred to produce lots of different varieties. Some of these eventually reverted to a feral existence and became the ubiquitous town pigeon with a very different lifestyle and habitat to the original rock dove.

This process of African species moving into and across the Sahara during these periods of greening, and then becoming isolated from the African population, is known as the Saharah Pump and accounts for some of the sub-Saharan African species having a closely related counterpart in North Africa and Eurasia.

And this process has been going on since about 8 million years before creationists think Earth was created and may account for the migration of humans out of Africa some 40-50,000 years ago. More recently, however, there was certainly a population of humans living in a green and fertile Sahara up to at least 11,000 years ago (i.e., at least 1,000 years before 'Creation Week'. We know this because they left a record in rock carvings at Tassili N’Ajjer plateau in present-day Algeria, which show us some of the animals that lived there too.

These periods of greening have occurred approximately every 21,000 years and now two geoscientists from Helsinki University, Finland together with colleagues at Birmingham and Bristol universities, UK., have developed a climate model that explains how the climate changed so regularly and so radically. They have published their findings, open access, in Nature Communications. One of them, Edward Armstrong of Helsinki University, has also written an article about their research in The Conversation. His article is reprinted here under a Creative Commons licence, reformatted for stylistic consistency:

Sunday 17 December 2023

Creationism in Crisis - The Woolly Dogs Of The American Coast Salish People Predate 'Creation Week'

Researchers, Coast Salish People Analyze 160-Year-Old Indigenous Dog Pelt in the Smithsonian’s Collection | Smithsonian Institution
The reconstructed woolly dog shown at scale with Arctic dogs and spitz breeds in the background to compare scale and appearance; the portrayal does not imply a genetic relationship.
Credit: Karen Carr.
During that long period of Earth's 'pre-Creation Week' history, before anyone told the people of Siberia that they should wait to be created then wiped out in a genocidal flood before forgetting all about it and only then going to live elsewhere, they migrated to North America, taking their domestic dogs with them.

This is the sort of nonsense that creationism requires you to believe in order to reconcile the scientific evidence with the creation myths of a bunch of Bronze Age Canaanite farmers who thought Earth was small, flat and had a dome over it to keep the water above the sky out. Obviously, these people had almost certainly never heard of Siberia or North America or realised that there were other people living there and were as ignorant of most of Earth's long history as they were of cosmology, biology and geology.

One of the things the Bronze Age Canaanites would never have guessed was that some of the domestic dogs the Siberians took with them had genes for a dense wooly fur that could be woven into blankets and other fabrics, but now a team of researchers from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History have carried out a detailed DNA analysis of the pelt of the last known example of this breed of dog (a dog known as Mutton). Mutton died in 1859 and his pelt was sent to the Smithsonian Institute where it remained until it was rediscovered in the early 2000's.

The analysis has shown that the line diverged from the other dogs about 5,000 years ago (i.e., before creationist superstition says all life on Earth was exterminated in a genocidal flood when their 'all-loving' god flew into a rage because its creation wasn't working as intended).

They have shown that its closes genetic relationship is with the pre-colonial dogs from Newfoundland and British Columbia. The Indigenous Coast Salish communities in the Pacific Northwest (in Washington state and British Columbia) for millennia held these wooly dogs in high esteem, regarding them almost as family members and often keeping them in pens or on islands to prevent them interbreeding with other dogs, to maintain the quality of their wool. This isolation prevented the ingress of genes from other dogs and even from the dogs later colonists brought with them. The genes recovered from Mutton's pelt show that 85% of his genes were from pre-colonial dogs.

The Smithsonian researchers have, with the assistance of Coast Salish Elders, Knowledge Keepers and Master Weavers, now traced the place of the woolly dogs in Coastal Salish culture and the reasons for its decline. Their findings are published in Science and tell a sorry tale of colonial destruction of a people and their culture. Instead of, as has been suggested, the arrival of machinery and woven blankets made the wooly dogs expendable, the truth is that, due to disease and colonial policies of cultural genocide, displacement and forced assimilation, it likely became increasingly difficult or forbidden for Coast Salish communities to maintain their woolly dogs and a 1000 years or more of careful selective breeding was wiped out within a couple of generations.

Creationism in Crisis - A French 7-Year Scientific Program To Disover The Origin Of Life!

Aerial view of the construction site of the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) in the Atacama Desert, Chile.
© G. Hüdepohl (atacamaphoto.com)/ESO
Investigating the origins of life | CNRS News

Although it's nothing to do with evolution, which is the science of how living organisms respond to environmental pressures and diversify over time, abiogenesis is a favourite of creationists because they imagine, without being able to define 'life', that it must involve some magical, God-given quality that turns 'non-life' into 'life'. But then when did facts bother creationists?

So it must be disconcerting to those of them who are still in touch with reality, that 28 French scientific organisations, involving over 100 scientists, have formed a partnership (Programme et Équipement Prioritaire de Recherche - PEPR) led by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (French National Center for Scientific Research - CNRS) to research into the origins of life, not only on Earth but on other planets. The project is already being known as 'Origins'.

According to the CNR News release by Mehdi Harmi:

Saturday 16 December 2023

Malevolent Design - How A Chicken Virus Got More Deadly - Malice Or Evolution?

Ancient DNA reveals how a chicken virus evolved to become more deadly | University of Oxford

Marek's Disease Virus (MDV) is a serious infection in chickens that costs th4e poultry industry over $1 billion annually. Now an international group of virologists and archaeologists led by researchers from Oxford University, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat, Munich, Germany, have discovered how it has evolved over time to become more virulent and deadly, or, as creationists insist, has been intelligently redesigned.

The team reached this conclusion from an analysis of the virus in modern and ancient chickens going back over the past 1000 years. The ancient samples were obtained from DNA extracted from chicken bones recovered from 140 archaeological sites in Europe and the Near East. This analysis showed that MDV was widespread in European chickens for at least 1000 year before being first described in 1907.

Friday 15 December 2023

Creationism in Crisis - How Early Humans Caused A Decline In Megafauna Numbers Thousands Of Years Before 'Creation Week'

Peré Davids deer, Elaphurus davidianus. Now extinct in the wild.
People, not the climate, caused the decline of the giant mammals

About 90,000 years before creationist superstition says the Universe was created, humans, who had been evolving in Africa, began to expand their range into Eurasia and eventually into Austronesia and the Americas.

About 500,000 years later most large species show a sudden decline in their numbers, and now researchers led by Professor Jens-Christian Svenning, head of the Danish National Research Foundation's Center for Ecological Dynamics in a Novel Biosphere (ECONOVO) at Aarhus University, believe they have shown that this was due to human predation and habitat destruction.

They reached this conclusion from an analysis of the genomes of 139 species. This involved crunching the data from 3 billion or so data points to build evolutionary trees of the mutations in the genomes. The bigger the population, the more mutations there will be in the species genome, so this data shows the population changes over time.

Their work is published, open access, in Nature and is explained in a news release from Aarhus University:
For years, scientists have debated whether humans or the climate have caused the population of large mammals to decline dramatically over the past several thousand years. A new study from Aarhus University confirms that climate cannot be the explanation.

About 100,000 years ago, the first modern humans migrated out of Africa in large numbers. They were eminent at adapting to new habitats, and they settled in virtually every kind of landscape - from deserts to jungles to the icy taiga in the far north.

Part of the success was human's ability to hunt large animals. With clever hunting techniques and specially built weapons, they perfected the art of killing even the most dangerous mammals.

But unfortunately, the great success of our ancestors came at the expense of the other large mammals.

It is well-known that numerous large species went extinct during the time of the world-wide colonization by modern humans. Now, new research from Aarhus University reveals that those large mammals that survived, also experienced a dramatic decline.
The eastern gorilla is one of the mammals that have declined the most. Today it's only living in small areas in DR Congo.
Foto: Michalsloviak / Creative Commons
By studying the DNA of 139 living species of large mammals, the scientists have been able to show that abundances of almost all species fell dramatically about 50,000 years ago.

This is according to Jens-Christian Svenning, a professor and head of the Danish National Research Foundation's Center for Ecological Dynamics in a Novel Biosphere (ECONOVO) at Aarhus University, and the initiator of the study.

We’ve studied the evolution of large mammalian populations over the past 750,000 years. For the first 700,000 years, the populations were fairly stable, but 50,000 years ago the curve broke and populations fell dramatically and never recovered. For the past 800,000 years, the globe has fluctuated between ice ages and interglacial periods about every 100,000 years. If climate was the cause, we should see greater fluctuations when the climate changed prior to 50.000 years ago. But we don't. Humans are therefore the most likely explanation.

Professor Jens-Christian Svenning, Lead author
Center for Ecological Dynamics in a Novel Biosphere (ECONOVO)
Department of Biology
Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark.
Who killed the large mammals?

For decades, scientists have debated what is behind the extinction or rapid decline of large mammals over the past 50,000 years.

On one side are scientists who believe that rapid and severe fluctuations in the climate are the main explanation. For example, they believe that the woolly mammoth went extinct because the cold mammoth steppe largely disappeared.

On the opposite side are a group who believe that the prevalence of modern humans (Homo sapiens) is the explanation. They believe that our ancestors hunted the animals to such an extent that they either became completely extinct or were severely decimated.

So far, some of the most important evidence in the debate has been fossils from the past 50,000 years. They show that the strong, selective extinction of large animals in time and space roughly matches the spread of modern humans around the globe. Therefore, the extinction of animals can hardly be linked to climate. Nevertheless, the debate continues.

The new study presents brand new data that sheds new light on the debate. By looking at the DNA of 139 large living mammals – species that have survived for the past 50,000 years without becoming extinct – the researchers can show that the populations of these animals have also declined over the period. This development seems to be linked to the spread of humans and not climate change.
DNA contains the long-term history of the species

In the past 20 years, there has been a revolution within DNA sequencing. Mapping entire genomes has become both easy and inexpensive, and as a result the DNA of many species has now been mapped.

The mapped genomes of species all over the globe are freely accessible on the internet – and this is the data that the research group from Aarhus University has utilized, explains assistant professor Juraj Bergman, the lead researcher behind the new study.

We’ve collected data from 139 large living mammals and analysed the enormous amount of data. There are approximately 3 billion data points from each species, so it took a long time and a lot of computing power. DNA contains a lot of information about the past. Most people know the tree of life, which shows where the different species developed and what common ancestors they have. We’ve done the same with mutations in the DNA. By grouping the mutations and building a family tree, we can estimate the size of the population of a specific species over time.

The larger the population of an animal, the more mutations will occur. It’s really a question of simple mathematics. Take elephants, for example. Every time an elephant is conceived, there’s a chance that a number of mutations will occur, and it will pass these on to subsequent generations. More births means more mutations.

Assistant professor Juraj Bergman, First author
Center for Ecological Dynamics in a Novel Biosphere (ECONOVO)
Department of Biology
Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark.
The large mammals

The 139 large mammals examined in the study are all species that exist today. They include elephants, bears, kangaroos and antelopes, among others.

It is estimated that there are 6,399 species of mammals on the Earth, but the 139 extant megafauna were selected in this study to test how their populations changed over the past 40,000 to 50,000 years, when similar large animals went extinct.

The large mammals are also called megafauna – and are defined as animals weighing more than 44 kg when fully grown. Humans are therefore also considered megafauna. In the study, however, the researchers examined species weighing as little as 22 kg, so that all continents have been represented - except Antarctica.

Source: Journal of Mammalogy
Looking at the neutral parts of the DNA

However, the size of the elephant population is not the only thing that affects the number of mutations.

If the area in which elephants live suddenly dries up, the animals come under pressure – and this affects the composition of mutations. The same applies if two isolated groups of elephants suddenly meet and mix genes.

If not only the size of the population affects how many mutations occur, you would think that the results are rather uncertain. But this is not the case, explains Juraj Bergman.

Only 10 per cent of mammalian genomes consist of active genes. Great selection pressure from the environment or migration will primarily lead to mutations in the genes. The remaining 90 percent, on the other hand, are more neutral. We have therefore examined mutations in those parts of the genome that are least susceptible to the environment. These parts primarily indicate something about the size of the population over time.

Assistant professor Juraj Bergman
Peré Davids deer, shown in this picture, does not live in the wild anymore. The only animals left today is living in Zoos and animal parks.
Foto: Tim Felce / Creative Commons.
The woolly mammoth is an atypical case

Much of the debate about what caused the large animals to either become extinct or decline has centered around the woolly mammoth. But this is a bad example because the majority of the megafauna species that went were associated with temperate or tropical climates, as Jens-Christian Svenning explains.

The classic arguments for the climate as an explanatory model are based on the fact that the woolly mammoth and a number of other species associated with the so-called "mammoth steppe" disappeared when the ice melted and the habitat type disappeared. This is basically an unsatisfactory explanatory model, as the vast majority of the extinct megafauna species of the period did not live at all on the mammoth steppe. They lived in warm regions, such as temperate and tropical forests or savannahs. In our study, we also show a sharp decline during this period in populations of the many megafauna species that survived and come from all sorts of different regions and habitats.

It seems inconceivable that it is possible to come up with a climate model that explains how, across all continents and groups of large animals, there have been extinctions and continuous decline since about 50,000 years ago. And how this selective loss of megafauna is unique for the past 66 million years, despite huge climate change. Given the rich data we now have, it’s also hard to deny that instead it is because humans spread across the globe from Africa and subsequently grew in population.

Professor Jens-Christian Svenning
The final full stop in the debate has probably yet to be set, but Jens-Christian Svenning finds it difficult to see how the arguments for the climate as an explanation can continue.
The team’s findings are explained in detail in their open access paper in Nature:

The worldwide extinction of megafauna during the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene is evident from the fossil record, with dominant theories suggesting a climate, human or combined impact cause. Consequently, two disparate scenarios are possible for the surviving megafauna during this time period - they could have declined due to similar pressures, or increased in population size due to reductions in competition or other biotic pressures. We therefore infer population histories of 139 extant megafauna species using genomic data which reveal population declines in 91% of species throughout the Quaternary period, with larger species experiencing the strongest decreases. Declines become ubiquitous 32–76 kya across all landmasses, a pattern better explained by worldwide Homo sapiens expansion than by changes in climate. We estimate that, in consequence, total megafauna abundance, biomass, and energy turnover decreased by 92–95% over the past 50,000 years, implying major human-driven ecosystem restructuring at a global scale.


The late-Quaternary extinction event1,2 is characterised by the selective extinction of large-bodied animals (megafauna) at a global scale. At the present date, only a small fraction of this prehistorically speciose group2,3,4,5 persists in rapidly diminishing communities, many of which face an immediate threat of extinction6,7. The causes of megafauna decline have been subject to long-standing debate, with fluctuations in paleoclimate and the spread of Homo sapiens emerging as the predominant explanatory factors3,5,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18.

According to the climate-driven hypothesis of megafauna dynamics, a temporal dependency of population sizes on the glacial–interglacial cycle is expected. On the other hand, modern humans are expected to start influencing megafauna densities in recent times, mainly following the Last Interglacial period, corresponding to their worldwide expansion out of Africa19. To distinguish between these two scenarios, previous studies have focused on inferring past species distributions and extinction chronologies based on fossil data3,5,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18. However, while the fossil record provides valuable insight into species’ histories, its fragmentary nature allows for only a limited temporal resolution of past population dynamics.

An alternative approach to fossil-based analyses is using genomic sequence data to reconstruct time-resolved trajectories of species population sizes20,21. Genomics-based methods commonly provide population size estimates for most of the Quaternary period (consisting of the Pleistocene period between 2.58 million and 11,700 years ago and the Holocene period between 11,700 years ago and present), thereby covering multiple glaciation cycles, as well as recent periods of human expansion22,23,24,25,26,27,28,29,30,31,32. Thus, genomics-based trajectories of population sizes should provide a more comprehensive framework for modelling the impact of climatic shifts and humans on megafauna dynamics compared to fossil-based approaches. However, a global analysis of genomics-based megafauna histories and their driving factors is currently lacking.

We focus our study on the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene population trajectories of extant megafauna to address the following hypotheses. On the one hand, the surviving species may have experienced similar dynamics as the species undergoing extinction, showing widespread population declines linked to Homo sapiens or climate. Alternatively, surviving megafauna communities may have exhibited compensatory dynamics33, resulting in an increase in population size due to mechanisms such as competitive release. These scenarios have widely different ecological implications, whereby co-occurrence of population declines and extinctions would result in the exacerbation of ecosystem degradation, while compensatory dynamics would stabilise ecosystem functioning34. Thus, studying population dynamics of the surviving megafauna species during the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene extinction period has major implications for our understanding of past and contemporary biosphere functioning4,35.

We curated a genomic dataset comprising 139 high-quality reference genome assemblies and short-read sequence data of extant terrestrial megafauna and implemented a bioinformatic pipeline to infer their Quaternary population histories. We studied the population dynamics of megafauna as a function of species’ ecology, geographical distribution, climate, and anthropogenic influence. We detect a global, severe decline in megafauna population sizes over the past 50,000 years and show that this observation is best explained by the influence of the worldwide expansion of H. sapiens rather than past climate dynamics. This lack of compensatory dynamics has had major impacts on ecosystem structure and functioning as reflected in a dramatic reduction of wild megafauna abundance, biomass and energy turnover.
Fig. 1: Effective population size (Ne) dynamics of 139 extant megafauna species.
a Each step line represents changes in Ne with respect to time for a single megafauna species, coloured by a gradient based on average adult mass. The dashed line represents the fit of the piecewise linear model, as determined by breakpoint analysis. The grey-shaded area represents the 95% confidence interval of the linear model prediction. The blue rectangle represents the timespan of realm-specific breakpoints (Supplementary Fig. 2). Both axes are log10-transformed. Credit information for photographs of Antilocapra americana, Elephas maximus, Ursus arctos, Macropus giganteus and Giraffa tippelskirschi are available in Supplementary Table 2. All photographs are under CC-BY copyright (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) and adapted for the purpose of the figure. b Relationship between species’ adult mass and the rate of population size change (slope). The x-axis is log10-transformed. Points are median slope values with 95% HPDI ranges indicated by bars (each distribution is derived using n = 1000 posterior samples). c Distribution of species’ decline severity. Source Data for this figure are in Source Data 14.

During that long period that creationists believe was before 'Creation Week', when they think Earth was magicked up out of nothing by a magic man made of nothing, mammalian megafauna such as elephants and mammoths, giraffes, kangaroos and antelopes had evolved, and the humans (who hadn't been created yet, but had been evolving in Africa for several millions of years) had spread out of Africa and across most of the Earth and were busy hunting and killing these large animals, leaving their descendants to tell the tale in the number of mutations in the neutral parts of the genome.

Creationists will need to ignore this evidence and the fact that the Theory of Evolution is the underpinning theory of biology that explains these observations.
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