F Rosa Rubicondior: November 2023

Wednesday 29 November 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Early European Humans Hunted Beavers 400,000 Years before 'Creation Week'

Eurasian beaver, Castor fiber,
Hunted by early hominins in Europe.
Early humans hunted beavers, 400,000 years ago | Press and Public Relations

You know, this is so much like shooting fish in a barrel, that I would feel sorry for creationists. If only they were so smugly certain and lacking in self-doubt, but here's another of those so predictable scientific papers that refute creationism without even trying.

Previously, it was thought that Middle Pleistocene humans in Europe hunted large game such as bovids and rhinoceros for food, but this may be because the bones of large animals are better preserved than the bones of smaller mammals.

Now, a new study by a team from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), the Leibniz Zentrum für Archäologie (LEIZA), also in Mainz, and Leiden University in the Netherlands, shows that Middle Pleistocene humans hunted beavers as a food resource and possibly also for their pelts, 400,000 years before creationists think Earth was created.

The beavers they hunted were the now extinct Eurasian giant beaver, Trogontherium cuvieri, and the still living European beaver, Castor fiber.

The team have published their findings in the journal Scientific Reports.

The publication is accompanied by a brief press release from Johannes Gutenberg University:

Creationism in Crisis - How Elephants Got Their Trunks and Tusks 20 Million Years Before 'Creation Week' - No Magic Required

Platybelodon grangeri (artist's impression)
How shifting climates may have shaped early elephants’ trunks | For the press | eLife

As expected of scientific research papers, this one deals with events that occurred in that vast expanse of time before creationists think Earth was created, when 99.97% of Earth's history occurred.

This one, published open access in eLife, explains how the ancestors of modern elephants and their recently extinct relatives, the mammoths, got their long flexible trunks and used them for their unique feeding method.

The paper by lead author, Chunxiao Li, and colleagues from the Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China, and including Burt Wolff of the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, USA and Fajun Sun of the Department Environmental Science & Technology, University of Maryland, MD, USA, "combines multiple analyses to reconstruct feeding behaviours in the extinct longirostrine elephantiforms - elephant-like mammals characterised by elongated lower jaws and tusks."

It seems that, as they grew larger, for reasons not yet fully understood, but possibly to give a larger 'vat' in which to ferment their high-cellulose diet, these early ancestors of the elephants had to evolve a longer jaw to reach the grasses and shrubs on which they grazed. The trunk extended as part of this process of facial elongation. This in turn created the opportunity for the end of the truck to play a part in holding the plants as they were cut off by the incisor teeth at the end of the lower jaw. This was more of an advantage in the open grasslands that Platybelodon inhabited, so, when climate change meant loss of habitat and eventual extinction for the two related gomphotheres, Platybelodon's prehensile trunk gave it enough advantage to survive.

A press release by eLife explains the research and its significance for understanding how elephants got their trunks:

Tuesday 28 November 2023

Antivax COVIDiot News - Study Shows Vaccines Halted The Rise In Prem Births Caused By COVID-19

Covidiot Trumpanzees.
Risking the lives of unborn babies for political ends.
Study: Spike in premature births caused by COVID, halted by vaccines

About the last thing the politically-motivated, far right antivaxxers covidiots are interested in is protecting human life. With characteristic hypocrisy, many of the same frauds are also active campaigners against legal abortions and a woman's right to choose which, together with COVID-19 denialism and antivaxx conspiracism, have become major talking points in the Trumpanzee far right playlist.

The hypocrisy of these frauds was revealed yesterday in a study which shows there was a huge spike in the number of premature births during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic when women infected with the virus spontaneously aborted their baby. The same study also shows that in those areas where the vaccine uptake was high, the premature birth rate quickly fell back to pre-pandemic levels, but in areas where uptake was low, it took another year to return to pre-pandemic levels.

The study was carried out by Professor Jenna Nobles of Wisconsin–Madison University and Professor Florencia Torche, of Stanford University who have published their findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

As the Wisconsin–Madison University press release explains:

Monday 27 November 2023

Creationism in Crisis - The Daily Life of a North American Mammoth - 7,100 Years Before 'Creation Week'

Study takes unprecedented peek into life of 17,000-year-old mammoth | uOttawa
A view of the excavation site of the mammoth tusk from north of the Brooks Range in Alaska.

Photo by Pam Groves, University of Alaska Fairbanks

According to creationist superstition, a magic man made of nothing created the entire Universe, Earth, and all life on Earth, out of nothing, using magic words spoken in a language that no-one else spoke, and, using the rotation period of a planet that didn't exist, completed it all in 6 days during what creationists call 'Creation Week'.

7,000 years before that, mammoths were living their daily lives in what is now Alaska, and leaving tusks that carried a daily record of where they were living and consuming vegetation, in the form of 'signature' ratios of isotopes of strontium.

Strontium finds its way into the plants that animals eat from the underlying rocks where the ratio of the different stable isotopes of strontium (87Sr and 86Sr) in it changes very little over millions of years, giving a characteristic 'signature' that can be used to identify where the food plants were growing. This signature strontium was deposited in the growth layers of mammoth tusks, starting at the tip when the mammoth was born, and ending in the root when the mammoth died. In between the two is a complete record of where the mammoth roamed.

But first, scientists need to build a strontium isotope map so they can match up the record in the tusks with the geographical location in which the food grew that day. And this is where voles come in. Voles also eat the strontium-containing grasses that mammoths eat and so build up a record in their teeth. However, voles are mostly very sedentary in their habits so have a very restricted range and because the strontium in the rocks changes little, even present-day voles can be used to build up a strontium isotope map.

Using that knowledge, an international research team led by Clément Bataille, an assistant professor and researcher in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences in the Faculty of Science, Ottawa University, Canada have analysed the strontium content of a mammoth tusk found on Alaska’s North Slope above the Arctic Circle, to build up a picture of its daily life and travels.

The study is explained in a press release from Ottawa University:

Sunday 26 November 2023

Malevolent Designer News - Scientists Have Disovered the Sneaky Way Creationism's Putative Designer Created Childhood Leukaemia

Pediatric oncology: Scientists discover new Achilles heel of leukemia cells | Current news from the Goethe University Frankfurt
Acute myeloid leukaemia, micrograph
Pediatric oncology: Scientists discover new Achilles heel of leukemia cells | Current news from the Goethe University Frankfurt

With the double-think that characterises creationsm, creationists will use, depending on what facts they are disputing, two mutually exclusive arguments:
  1. A combination of the argument from ignorant incredulity and the false dichotomy fallacy. This argument depends on the assumption that there is only one supernatural entity capable of creating something as complex as DNA, with the conclusion "Therefore, God did it!", which of course is also a non-sequitur and an intellectually dishonest presupositional invocation of something unproven as evidence that it exists.
  2. On another day, presented with something so patently evil as childhood cancer or nasty parasites that kill many and make life a misery for millions more (and not just humans, but just about every living thing) creationists invoke somethign called 'Sin' as being responsible for its design and/or creation.
In other words, they will argue both that their god is the only entity capable of creating anything, and that 'Sin' can create things too; and their supposedly omnipotent god is powerless to prevent it.

So, it will be interesting to see what arguments creationists will come up with to counter the argument that, if creationism has any substance, the same designer must have designed childhood leukaemia, in full knowledge of the suffering and grief it would cause not just to the child but to his/her parents and relatives.

But I suppose they could always cite William Lane Craig's repugnant defence of religiously-inpired infanticide - "killing children is not wrong because they go straight to heaven so it makes them happy".

But whatever excuse they make, creationists are hoist by their own petard in arguing the false dichotomy fallacy, so they are stuck with portrying the god they purport to worship as the designer of childhood leukaemia - a position they seem to prefer to having people accept that evolution by natural selection is responsible for the nastiness in nature as well as the wonderful.

So, given that a favourite subject for their argument from ignorant incredulity, is the structure of DNA, how will creationists react to the fact that a team of researchers from the Department of Pediatrics and the Institute for Experimental Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany has discovered a site in the DNA of cancer cells that is essential for leukemia cells to survive?

Unintelligent Design - Why Skunks Have Evolved Different Colour Patterns

Striped skunk, Mephitis mephitis
November: Skunks' warning stripes | News and features | University of Bristol

It's better to warn than to attack because attacking is costly and carries risks, but a warning is often free or takes minimal effort.

This is why many creatures advertise the fact that they can be dangerous so leave them alone - yellow and black wasps; the warning rattle of a rattlesnake, the bright colours of a poison dart frog, or the black and white pattern of a skunk, for example.

But these patterns only work as a deterrent, if the potential threat has some experience or has evolved in their presence so has a genetic aversion.

Saturday 25 November 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Human Footprints from a million years before 'Creation Week'

Children in the water one million years ago: human fossil footprints discovered in a prehistoric river in Melka Kunture | Sapienza Università di Roma
About a million years ago hominin children were wading in the Awash River, near what is now Melka Kunture, Ethiopia. Shortly afterwards there was an eruption of a nearby volcano and their tracks in the river mud got covered in volcanic ask, or tuff, preserving a record of their passing, along with the tracks of several other species and freshwater molluscs. These are now the oldest child footprints known.

Like 99.97% of history this was taking place before creationists believe the universe was magicked out of nothing by a magic man made of nothing who said some magic words in a language that no-one spoke because it hadn't made anyone yet, and using as a basis of time, the rotation period of a planet that didn't exist. Creationists, even some adult ones, believe this magic man had earlier self-assembled out of nothing using a design it made before it existed.

Creationists believe this explains reality better than anything science can discover.

These weren't the children of modern humans but the children of an earlier species that walked upright on legs and feet that were almost indistinguishable from those of modern humans, possible Homo erectus, Home ergaster or maybe even Homo heidelbergensis, but until we have more than just footprints there is no way to be sure. All we know is that they were not Homo sapiens, which wasn't around a million years ago.

The volcanic ash buried more than just the footprints; it buried the remains of butchered animals showing the cutmarks of the obsidian tools used to butcher them, the obsidian tools and the flakes made from knapping them to shape the blades.

How these footprints were discovered by a team led by archaeologists from Sapienza University, Rome, is explained in a press release:
Children footprints.

Animal tracks

Mollusc traces
Melka Kunture, 50 km south of Addis Ababa, is an important complex of Pleistocene archaeological sites located along the upper basin of the Awash River, on the Ethiopian plateau. In this area, archaeological research began more than 50 years ago, and since 2011 has been carried out by the Italian mission led by Margherita Mussi and her team of the Department of Ancient World Studies of Sapienza University of Rome.

Dozens of archaeological levels have been identified over the years, found mainly along the gullies cut by the streams of the area. In 2018, in one of these incisions called the Gombore Gully, the Sapienza team had already found numerous human footprints of adults and children, tools made from volcanic stones (such as obsidian and basalt) and remains of hippos butchered by the hominins. These discoveries, sealed by a 700,000-year-old tuff, helped the researchers to reconstruct a scenario in which children assisted adults engaged in knapping stone and butchering large animals, proving that in the prehistoric environment the acquisition of skills and techniques useful for survival began at an early age.

Today, a new study on the archaeological layers of the Gombore Gully, dating back to the end of the Early Pleistocene, offers another rare image of childhood in the most ancient periods of prehistory. The research, coordinated by Flavio Altamura and Margherita Mussi of Sapienza University in collaboration with researchers from the University of Cagliari, Bournemouth University (UK) and the Urweltmuseum GEOSKOP (Germany), focused on another site of the gully, even more ancient, called Gombore II Open Air Museum where new footprints of children were found on the edge of what was a prehistoric river. The results, which shed further light on the behaviours and habits of our distant ancestors, have been published in the scientific journal Quaternary Science Reviews.

The excavations have documented a sequence of archaeological layers about 3 meters thick, which, according to the researchers, probably formed along a river and in marshy environments, cyclically invested by ashes erupted from volcanoes several tens of kilometers away. The volcanic tuffs allowed to date the layers between 1.2 million and 850,000 years ago using the method called Argon/Argon.

The excavations notably brought to light 18 fossil surfaces with footprints left by hippos, hyenas, some herbivores similar to today's wildebeests, gazelles and birds. Three of the levels have also revealed human footprints, almost all attributable to children and adolescents of the prehistoric human species Homo erectus/ergaster or possibly already to an archaic Homo heidelbergensis.

"These footprints - says Margherita Mussi, director of the Archaeological Mission to Melka Kunture - are among the oldest in the world and the earliest ever discovered made by children. Further proof of human presence near the river are the numerous stone tools: some obsidian flakes were probably trampled by hippos, which made them sink into the mud at the bottom of their footprints, indicating the coexistence of man and these dangerous animals."

In many levels, there are also prints formed by curvilinear trails with small almond-shaped hollows, the traces left by bivalve freshwater mussels, which live anchored at the bottom of rivers and lakes with clean and well-oxygenated running waters. This is an excellent indicator to reconstruct the paleo-environment and also allows to indirectly confirm the existence of fish, on which the molluscs depend during their reproductive cycle.

The children's footprints close to the prints of herbivores and molluscs show that the little hominins entered shallow and clean waters, as did the other animals. "Probably, even a million years ago" - says Flavio Altamura, who carried out the excavations - "the Pleistocene children entered the water for reasons very similar to those of modern children: to drink, to wash themselves or to try to catch fish and molluscs with their bare hands. Or more simply to play."

"This research, – Mussi concludes – carried out thanks to funding by Sapienza University and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, provides a snapshot of Pleistocene childhood and confirms that the children's attraction to watery environments and ponds - puddles included! – is deeply rooted in human behaviour. This is, in a way, the first scientific evidence of "bathing" children."
The age of the volcanic tuff was determined by the argon/argon method:
What is the Argon/Argon method for dating volcanic tuff and what are possible sources of error? The Argon-Argon (Ar-Ar) dating method is a radiometric dating technique used to determine the age of rocks, especially volcanic rocks and minerals. It is a refinement of the more widely known potassium-argon (K-Ar) dating method. Both methods are based on the radioactive decay of potassium-40 (40K) to argon-40 (40Ar) in minerals. Here's a brief overview of the Ar-Ar dating method and some potential sources of error:
  1. Principle of the Method:
    • The Ar-Ar dating method involves irradiating a sample of the mineral or rock with neutrons in a nuclear reactor.
    • This irradiation converts a portion of the stable isotope potassium-39 (39K) into 39Ar.
    • After irradiation, the sample is heated, releasing argon isotopes, including 40Ar, from the mineral lattice.
    • The released argon is then measured using a mass spectrometer to determine the ratio of 40Ar to 39Ar, which allows the calculation of the age of the sample.
  2. Calculation of Age:
    • The age is calculated using the equation derived from the principles of radioactive decay and isochron plots.
    • The presence of 39Ar in the sample is crucial for the precision of the method, as it helps correct for any argon loss during the heating process.
  3. Sources of Error:
    • Argon Loss: If the rock or mineral has experienced partial argon loss due to metamorphism or other processes, the calculated age may be too young.
    • Excess Argon: Presence of excess argon, which was not produced by in situ decay, can lead to an overestimation of the age.
    • Inherited Argon: Some minerals may contain argon inherited from their formation, which can affect age calculations.
    • K-Ar System Resetting: If the rock has undergone significant thermal events, the K-Ar system may have been reset, leading to inaccurate age determinations.
    • Neutron Fluence: The accuracy of the method depends on the precise knowledge of the neutron fluence during irradiation.
  4. Advantages:
    • Ar-Ar dating can provide more accurate and precise age determinations compared to the conventional K-Ar method.
    • It is particularly useful for dating volcanic rocks and minerals with complex thermal histories.
  5. Applications:
    • Ar-Ar dating is widely used in geochronology, especially for dating volcanic tuffs, lavas, and other igneous rocks.
It's important to note that careful sample selection and analysis are critical to obtaining reliable results. Researchers must consider potential sources of contamination and thoroughly understand the geological history of the samples being dated. Additionally, advances in analytical techniques and calibration methods continue to improve the accuracy of Ar-Ar dating.
The team's findings are published in Quaternary Science Reviews:

New ichnological data are available at the prehistoric site of Melka Kunture, Upper Awash Valley in Ethiopia. Excavation of new test pits enabled us to explore the volcanic and fluvio-lacustrine sequence at the Gombore II Open Air Museum archaeological site (ca. 0.85 Ma). This has allowed a detailed reconstruction of the palaeoenvironment and of the fauna present in the time interval between 1.2 and 0.85 Ma. Various-sized mammals, birds, molluscs as well as hominins left tracks throughout the sequence, and document a varied fauna and associated behaviours. Most of the hominin tracks were made by young individuals on the basis of size and are some of the earlier child tracks to be reported. The mollusc traces document the presence and orientation of water streams which, according to the associated vertebrate traces, were visited by hominins, mammals and birds. Most of these traces were found within levels traditionally considered barren for archaeology, yet they all document life activity and are always in situ. This confirms the potential of the ichnological research as an important complementary tool for archaeological investigations.

Graphical Abstract
And so, the casual refutation of the childish fairytale of magic creation by science continues on its inevitable course, showing with every pertinent discovery that the vast majority of Earth's history and the slow evolution of species such as Homo sapiens all happened in that vast expanse of time before 'Creation Week'.

Friday 24 November 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Hippos Were Living Near Rome About Half a Million Years Before 'Creation Week'

Modern Hippopotamus, Hippopotamus amphibius, present in Europe in the Pleistocene
Earliest known European common hippopotamus fossil reveals their Middle Pleistocene dispersal | EurekAlert!

One of the easiest predictions to make is that, in the next few days there will be more science papers casually refuting creationism, without the slightest intention of doing so on the part of the authors.

This is inevitable, of course, because creationism is so profoundly counter-factual that just about every fact is inconsistent with creationism, so, by merely revealing the facts, scientists refute creationism.

And today's example is the revelation that there were hippos living around Rome during the Pleistocene, about half a million years before creationist superstition says Earth was magicked up out of nothing in 'Creation week'. The amazing thing isn't that there were Hippos living near Rome half a million years ago, but the fact that there are grown adults who believe the creationist superstition of a 'Creation Week' 10,000 years ago, before which, there was nothing and nowhere for anything to happen in.

This news comes in the form of an open access paper in PLOS ONE by Beniamino Mecozzi of the Sapienza University of Rome, and colleagues, and a press release from PLoS:

Unintelligent Design - A Bat That Has Non-Penetrative Sex

An 'intelligently designed' device for making holes in Swiss Cheese

Discovery of a new method of mating: a bat reveals its secret to us, size XXL - L · NEWS

It's almost as though creationism's putative designer took lessons from William Heath-Robinson, and then lost its sense of humour, the ludicrously complicated ways it designs to carry out simple tasks.

The evolutionary advantage of penetrative sex is that the male is able to deposit sperm close to the egg, using his penis, and the female is able to exercise a degree of selection in her choice of who is to father her babies. It is a considerable advantage over the more primitive forms of external fertilisation such as those used by amphibians where the sperm is shed onto the eggs as the female lays them, or by fish, where the sperm is deposited near the eggs and then swims towards them. The later method, especially, frequently allows opportunist males to sneak in and fertilise some of the eggs when another male has done all the work.

However, for reasons which are not entirely clear, most male birds have lost their penis and deposit their sperm into the female's reproductive opening by a 'cloacal kiss', a notable exception being the swans, geese and ducks which have retained a penis and sex is penetrative. This may be because a strategy used by male members of this order of birds is forcible penetration or, frankly, rape.

Of course, being unintelligently designed, birds lost their penis, not by simply losing the genes that grow one during embryonic development, but by have a gene that literally kills the growing penis soon after it starts to develop. Inhibit that gene in chickens and the male chick is born with a penis. Give it to a goose, and the male gosling is born without one.

William Heath-Robinson
And now, in what looks like another example of unintelligent design (by that I mean, of course, evolution) there is a species of bat in which the male's penis is too big to penetrate the female, so he uses it to transfer his sperm into the vagina by pressing the tip against her vulva and holding it there until the deed is done. which usually takes about 53 minutes but can take over 12 hours.

The bat is the common serotinus, Eptesicus serotinus. It is the only known example of non-penetrative sex in a mammal. Quite why it evolved is something of a mystery, but it could be something to do with needing to get round the female's tail membrane resulting in a penis that, when erect is 22% of the bat's body length. The tip is large and bulbous and almost seems designed to prevent penetration.

The study began when Nicolas Fasel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and his colleagues noticed that the serotine bat has a rather large and unusual penis. When erect, it is 22% of the bat’s head–body length and has a bulbous, heart-shaped tip. “We were thinking it would be really difficult for it to enter anything,” he says.

It is described in a University of Lausanne (UNIL) news release and published Current Biology:

Creationism in Crisis - Scientists Show LUCA (Last Universal Common Ancestor) Lived 4.32-4.52 Billion Years Before 'Creation Week'

Figure 1: A schematic tree of life with the primary domains, the Archaea and Bacteria shown in purple and blue, respectively and the secondary domain, Eukaryotes in green. The figure highlights key nodes in the tree of life that have been calibrated against absolute time scales of Earth history. Estimates are given in Ga referring to billions of years (or giga annum).
Looking for ‘LUCA’ and the timing of cellular evolution - NIOZ

My previous two blog posts dealt firstly with the discovery of Neanderthal art in a cave in France which had been sealed with river debris since at least 40,000 years before creationism's supposed 'Creation Week' and secondly with the discovery of fossil trilobites in Thailand in rocks independently dated to about 490 million years before 'Creation Week'.

This one is bound to send creationists into deep denialism, shouting abuse at the fact and bearing false witness against the scientists who discovered it; it is the dating of the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA), i.e., the primitive free-living organism from which all life on Earth is descended, to between 4.32 and at the most 4.52 billion years ago, in other words, to soon after Earth was really formed.

This of course means that abiogenesis occurred quite quickly once Earth had coalesced from the accretion disc around the new sun and had recovered from the collision with another minor planet which gave rise to the moon and tilted Earth on its axis.

Biologists Tara Mahendrarajah of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) and senior author Anja Spang discovered this, in collaboration with colleagues from Universities in Bristol, Hungary and Tokyo.

The research is published open access in Nature Communications and is explained in an NIOZ press release entitled "Looking For 'LUCA' and the timing of cellular evolution":

Thursday 23 November 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Newly Discovered Species of Trilobite Aid in Dating Rocks - To 490 Million Years Before 'Creation Week'.

Artist's rendering of a trilobite based on preserved soft body parts.

Nobu Tamura
Trilobites rise from the ashes to reveal ancient map | News

In my last blog post I wrote about the fact that Neanderthals were making marks, interpreted as art, on the wall of a French cave, 40,000 years before creationists believe Earth was created. This blog post is about creatures that lived much further into 'pre-Creation' history, some 490 million years 'pre-Creation' to be precise.

It's also about how the rocks in which their fossils were found were dated and how this means that fossils of these species can now be used to date other rocks, giving the lie to creationist claims that dating rock using 'index' fossils is circular reasoning. And dating those rock formations leads to a new understanding of the details of plate tectonics as the ancient continent, Gondwana, broke up.

Trilobites as a group are known to have diversified and diverged relatively quickly and became extinct relatively quickly too, so each species lived only for a few million years. This means, if we know when the species lived, we can date the rocks they are found in to within a few million years.

The fossils are of ten species of trilobite that are new to science which were found in layers of ancient volcanic ash between layers of sandstone in a little-studied area of Thailand. The ash layer forms greenish 'tuffs' which contains crystals of zircon produced during the volcanic eruption. Zircon crystals are extremely durable and remain unchanged embedded within the rocks. Trapped inside them are atoms of the radioactive isotopes of uranium, 238U and 235U, (both of which have very long half-lives and decay to stable isotopes of lead, which remains trapped within the zircon crystal lattice as a permanent record of what proportion of uranium has decayed to lead and which remain, giving a very precise date of the formation of the rock.

Creationism in Crisis - Neanderthals Were Creating Art in Caves in France, At Least 40,000 Years Before 'Creation Week'.

Neanderthals were the world’s first artists | University of Basel

It's shaping up to be another of those terrible weeks for the creation cult, as yet more scientific papers are published that show just how much of Earth's history happened in that vast period of time before 'Creation Week' - the 7 days about 10,000 years ago that creationists believe the Universe, Earth, and all living things were created by magic out of nothing.

The first of these is a mere 40,000 years before 'Creation Week' when hominins - probably Neanderthals - were making marks on a cave wall in La Roche-Cotard in the Loire Valley, France, in what may be some of the earliest examples of human art.

The La Roche-Cotard cave remained sealed by mud and soil sediments from the Loire for over 50,000 years (i.e., about 10,000 years before Homo sapiens appeared in Europe) until rediscovered in 1974 by French archaeologist Jean-Claude Marquet.

The markings have now been dated by an international team from France, Denmark Switzerland, Portugal and Hungary, which included Jean-Claude Marquet of Université de Tours, Tours, France and archaeologist Dorota Wojtczak from University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.

They have published their findings open access in PLOS ONE. Its significance is explained in a University of Basle news release by Christian Heuss:

Wednesday 22 November 2023

Creationism in Crisis - More Elegant Grandeur That The Little Gods' Prophets Never Told Us About

Hidden Wonders: Webb Space Telescope Detects Unexplained Structures in Heart of Milky Way

How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?” Instead, they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.

Carl Sagan,
Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space
The Universe as described in Genesis 1: 6-10
Compare the following images taken by NASA's James Webb Space Telescope with the way the founding prophets of the Abrahamic religions described the Universe.

Tuesday 21 November 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Which Side Should a True-Believing Creationist Be On? The 'Designer' Who Designs Resistance Or The Scientists?

Diagram of the complex eukaryote, Plasmodium falciparum
New approaches in the fight against drug resistance in malaria | FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg

Despite asking creationists multiple times how they reconcile believing that their putative intelligent [sic] designer designs complex organisms, such as the parasite, Plasmodium falciparum which cause malaria, with their belief that this putative designer is the supposedly omnibenevolent god if the Bible and Qur'an, I can never get a rational answer.

Most often they resort to the fallback claim that parasites and the suffering they cause were not created by their putative intelligent designer, but by another designer they call 'Sin', which of course is nonsensical and borders on blasphemy because it denies the supremacy of their supposed designer god, and allows for another designer over whom their supposedly omnipotent god is powerless.

But, to their embarrassment, if they manage to do the joined-up thinking, their guru, Michael J. Behe - who has the status of a 'brilliant scientist' in creationist circles - wrote a book, The Edge of Evolution in which he argued (wrongly) that the development of anti-malarial drug resistance in Plasmodium falciparum must have been intelligently designed, using the 'big scary numbers' tactic of arguing that the likelihood of each of the five steps needed arising by chance was so small, that the chances of all five of them occurring in the right sequence is so infinitesimally small that it couldn't have happened by chance alone, so needed divine intervention.

The fact that he used bad biology and even worse maths, in effect assuming that all the mutations had to happen together in as single cell as a single event, instead of in parallel across the species gene pool, as was shown by microbiologist Kenneth R Miller, is by the by, since creationists generally treat anything Michael J Behe says as proven science, they are stuck with his claim that their god is responsible for anti-malarial drug resistance in the malaria parasite - which infects about 20 million people, mostly children annually, and kills 700,000 of them.

Creationists also believe, contrary to the claim that humans have free will, that their god has a plan for each of us, so presumably planned to have those people die of malaria, and that to oppose their god's divine plan in any way is to oppose their god.

So, again a question I can never get a rational response to, is what should a true-believing creationist support - the god whom they believe creates parasites like malaria as part of its divine plan, or the biomedical scientists who work to thwart that plan?

This is of course, the sort of dilemmas that creationists need to avoid rather than have people accept that parasites like Plasmodium falciparum are the result of a mindless, amoral evolutionary process.

By contrast, and devoid of the sort of muddle, holding mutually exclusive views simultaneously, and dilemmas that creationism, with its evidence-free superstitions, gets itself into, the scientific view, supported by evidence, is:

Monday 20 November 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Bonobos Show Cooperative Behaviour - And Another 'Uniquely Human' Trait... Isn't

Bonobos offer insight into evolution of cooperation — Harvard Gazette
The researchers considered grooming behaviors of bonobos an indicator of out-group cooperation.

Photos by Martin Surbeck
One by one the human traits that creationists like to cite as evidence of our special creation, apart from the other animals, are being shown to be anything but unique, and very often it turns out that they are in fact evidence of common descent, being present in our closest relatives.

In this case, bonobos have been shown by two Harvard researchers to form relationships for mutual benefit not only with immediate kin groups but across them and even with strangers, something that was thought to be uniquely human, requiring intelligence, empathy, a sense of 'self' and an ability to predict different outcomes from different options.

This conclusion comes as a result of two years of data collection in the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the only place where endangered bonobos exist in the wild in a population of about 20,000.

The findings of senior author, Assistant Professor Martin Surbeck and first author, Martin Surbeck of Harvard's Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, are published open access in Science.

The research and its significance are explained in an article in the Harvard Gazette by Anne J. Manning:

Superstition News - Why Religions Are Mass Superstitions

Aztec human sacrifice ritual
(cf. the Christian blood sacrifice, or crucifixion)
3 Reasons Why Superstitions Work | Psychology Today

In an article in Psychology Today, as part of a series on magical thinking, American psychologist, Dr Mark Travers, PhD, explains why people are superstitious. It's clear from his explanations that religions perfectly fit the definition of superstition and the reasons people are superstitious also explains why people are religious.

I've précised his article below and added my own commentary to show how his definition and explanation of superstition fits the definition of religion and explains religious rituals.

Key points:
  • There are deep psychological reasons why many people engage in superstitions.
  • Superstitions can give people a sense of control or comfort.
  • They can also serve as personalized coping mechanisms.

First, his definition of superstition:
Superstition is the belief in supernatural causality, where certain actions, objects, or rituals are believed to bring about specific outcomes, whether good or bad. While some may dismiss superstitions as irrational, there are deep psychological reasons why many engage in such beliefs. The enduring allure of superstitions transcends time and culture, offering insights into our desire for control and order in a chaotic world.

Sunday 19 November 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Why Did Some Plants Survived The Mass Extinction That Killed The Dinosaurs? - Evolution!

A fossilised cycad
New Nicholas Researcher Finds Plants That Survived Dinosaur Extinction Pulled Nitrogen from Air | Duke Today

About 65 million years before creationists think Earth existed, about 75% of living species were wiped out in what is known as the K-Pg extinction event. This was caused by a massive meteor, believed to be about 9 miles wide, that hit Earth on the edge of the Yucatan peninsula in what is now Mexico, throwing up billions of tons of sulphurous dust and gas high into the atmosphere, blotting out the sun and plunging Earth into a decade or more of darkness and winter conditions.
Along with most of the animal life, most of the plants were exterminated too. Up to that point, the predominant plant life had consisted of species of cycads on which the herbivorous dinosaurs had browsed.

But just a few cycads survived. The mystery was why? What enabled those few to survive when all the others died?

Scientists now think it had something to do with the fact that the survivors all appeared to have formed an alliance with nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria in their roots, in much the same way that legumes have. How this gave them an advantage is unknown, but it is probably no coincidence that the descendants of the survivors all have this symbiotic relationship with cyanobacteria.

This was discovered by a team of researchers led by Michael A. Kipp of the Division of Earth and Climate Sciences, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA. and is the subject of a paper in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Knowing that modern cycads are nitrogen fixers, Professor Kipp reasoned that this means the nitrogen in their tissues is derived from atmospheric nitrogen rather than mineral nitrates in the soil, so, measuring the nitrogen isotope ratios in their fossils should tell us something about the changes in atmospheric nitrogen isotopes over time. However, he discovered that only a few species of fossil cycads had isotope signatures similar to that of living cycads because most of them were not nitrogen fixers. He also realised that those that were nitrogen fixers were the ancestors of living cycads. In other words, only the nitrogen fixers survived the K-Pg extinction.

This is an example of how evolution can give a species an unexpected advantage in a situation that was unplanned and unforeseeable, but which was so instantaneous that the process of evolution couldn’t possibly have provided a solution. So the species without that advantage went extinct and the evolutionary trajectory of those was changed forever, just as it was for the large reptiles, most of which died out, the avian dinosaurs which became birds, small mammals that became all today's mammals from pygmy shrews to blue whales, and the angiosperms which evolved into grasses and flowering plants that diversified into thousands of species, some in association with pollinating insects, birds and even bats.

First, some AI background information.

Saturday 18 November 2023

Creationism in Crisis - The Multiple Origins of Homo Sapiens Over Hundreds of Thousands of Years

Nama women of Namibia
The Nama are an indigenous population known to carry exceptional levels of genetic diversity compared to other modern groups.
New UC Davis Research Using DNA Changes Origin of Human Species, Researchers Suggest | UC Davis

In an article which passed beneath my radar last May, a team of anthropologists led by Professor Brenna Henn of the Genome Center at the University of California, Davis, cast doubt on the theory that modern humans all originated in a single population in East Africa.

Instead, they propose a model in which early Homo sapiens spread across Africa forming partially isolated populations, between which there was limited gene flow by interbreeding.

The earliest split which is still detectable in the DNA of contemporary people occurred between 120,000 to 135,000 years ago after two or more weakly genetically differentiated populations had been mixing for hundreds of thousands of years.

Before creationists start to get over-excited by the news that earlier scientists might have been wrong about the exact details of the evolution of modern humans, they should break the habit of a lifetime and find the courage to read the abstract to the paper in Nature, which makes it clear that the debate is about the details of our evolutionary origins in Africa. There is no serious doubt about the truth of that explanation.

As a UC Davis press release explains:

Creationism in Crisis - Damselflies Evolved Their Colours At Least 5 Million Years Before 'Creation Week'

Common bluetail damselflies, Ischnura elegans

Credit: Quartl, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Scientists have solved the damselfly colour mystery | Lund University

So much history, especially the evolutionary history of life on Earth, occurred before the mythical Creation Week, when creationists believe a magic man who existed when nothing existed made the universe out of that nothing, that it’s difficult to keep up with it all.

Here, for example, is a scientific account of how damselflies evolved their colours at least 5 million years before Creation Week, by an evolutionary process guaranteed to have creationists going into abject denialism and lying to one another about it in their echo chambers, if not throwing a tantrum, stamping their feet and shouting abuse at the facts to make them go away, or at the scientists who discovered the facts.

The bluetail damselfly, like many other damsel flies is sexually dimorphic with males being brightly coloured and the females more drab, usually brown. Females of the common bluetail occur in three color forms, one of which mimics the male, and the mystery was how, why and when did this evolve? Note here how a creationist would simply declare they were designed that way by a god whose purpose in doing so is unknowable, whilst science looks for the how and why, and so discovers a much more satisfying answer than the creationist one which makes them satisfied with not knowing.

By comparing the genome of the common bluetail, Ischnura elegans with that of a close tropical relative, Ischnura senegalensis, the scientists were able to show that the colour differences are due to mutations in a specific genetic region on chromosome 13 that arose at least 5 million years ago, so the question resolves down to why was it retained? In other words, what were the environmental selectors that spread the mutations in the population then conserved them for 5 million years?

The research was conducted by scientists at Lund University, Sweden, under biologist Professor Erik Svensson with colleagues at Stockholm University, Sweden, Institut Pasteur, Université Paris Cité, Paris, France, the University of Rennes, France and Tohoku and Chiba Universities, Japan. Their findings are published, open access, in Nature Ecology & Evolution and its significance is explained in a Lund University press release:

Friday 17 November 2023

Creationism in Crisis - 120 Million-Year-Old Bird Footprints Trample on Creationist Mythology

One of the Early Cretaceous bird tracks that clearly shows all four toes, including the rear toe, or hallux. The track is nearly 10 centimeters wide and is similar in size and form to tracks made by modern-day green herons.
Photo by Melissa Lowery.
Birds set foot near South Pole in Early Cretaceous, Australian tracks show

Some more of that long history of 'pre-Creation' life on Earth was revealed a couple of days ago when an international team of researchers led by Professor Anthony Martin, of Emory University’s Department of Environmental Sciences, and including researchers from Monash University and the Museums Victoria Research Institute in Australia; the Benemérita Normal School of Coahuila in Mexico; and the Smithsonian Institution, published their discovery of 27 bird tracks which vary in form and size in Early Cretaceous rocks. The tracks range from seven to fourteen centimetres wide and resemble those of modern shore birds such as small herons, waders and oystercatchers.

The discovery is published open access in PLOS ONE.

They were found in the Wonthaggi Formation south of Melbourne. The rocky coastal strata mark where the ancient supercontinent Gondwana began to break up around 100 million years ago when Australia separated from Antarctica and are the oldest bird tracks so far found.

At the time, in the rift valley that was opening up between Australia and what was to become Antarctica, the valley would have contained rivers which were subject to drastic seasonal changes between very cold, winters and several months of perpetual darkness and relatively warm summers when the river flood plain would have been home to migrant waders.

The tracks were made in successive stratigraphic layers which suggests seasonal flooding followed by gentle covering with silt or sand which preserved the footprints.

The Wonthaggi Formation is famous for its variety of polar dinosaur bones, although bird-fossil finds are extremely rare. The Cretaceous strata of the formation has yielded only one tiny bird bone — a wishbone — and a few feathers.

Birds have such thin and tiny bones. Think of the likelihood of a sparrow being preserved in the geologic record as opposed to an elephant.

Professor Anthony Martin.

Thursday 16 November 2023

Malevolent Designer News - 16 More Nasties For Devotees of the Divine Sadist To Enjoy

Male wasp of the Loboscelidia genus, a relative of the 16 newly-described Vietnamese species or endoparasitic wasps.
16 strange new parasitoid wasp species discovered in Vietnam | Research Results | KYUSHU UNIVERSITY

Creationist devotees of the divine sadist whom they believe creates all the parasites that increase the suffering in the world, will be thrilled to learn that 16 more endoparasitic wasps have been discovered.

These are all endoparasitic on other insects and lay their eggs inside their victims' eggs where their grubs can then consume the growing embryo. Their strange appearance is thought to be because they have evolved from a myrmecophilous species that mimicked the appearance or ants.

All these were discovered in Vietnam by entomologists from Kyushu University, Japan, and Vietnam’s National Museum of Nature. Their discovery is described in a Kyushu University news release:

Wednesday 15 November 2023

Creationism in Crisis - The Diverse Landscape Of 'Pre-Creation' Europe

Fig. 4.
Palaeoartistic reconstructions of Last Interglacial landscapes in the European temperate forest biome, consistent with our pollen-based estimates of vegetation structure.

Typical Last Interglacial fauna are shown, such as the extinct straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus), an extinct rhinoceros (Stephanorhinus kirchbergensis), and aurochs (Bos primigenius, the extinct wild form of contemporary domestic and feral cattle), alongside common extant species: fallow deer (Dama dama), a great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major), a European robin (Erithacus rubecula), and greylag geese (Anser anser). (Top left) Early-temperate period: Light woodland, including a mix of taller trees and the shrub hazel (Corylus avellana), and grass-dominated open vegetation. (Top right) Early-temperate period: Open, grassy vegetation interspersed with light woodland and bordering closed forest with shade-tolerant trees. (Bottom left) Late-temperate period: Light woodland, denser forest with frequent hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), and some open vegetation (front). (Bottom right) Late-temperate period: Open grass- and sedge-dominated vegetation with free-standing deciduous oaks (Quercus robur), with more closed tree stands in the background.

Illustrator: Brennan Stokkermans.
Pearce, E. A.; Mazier, F.; Normand, S., et al. (2023) (CC BY 4.0)
Europe was not covered by dense forest before the arrival of modern humans

Researchers led by Elena A. Pearce of the Department of Biology, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark, have looked again at the evidence for the flora and fauna of Europe during the last interglacial period (130,000 -150,000 years ago) and believe they have shown that the previous assumption that Europe was covered in dense woodland prior to the arrival of modern human, may be wrong. Europe was, instead, "full of variation. Importantly, the landscapes harboured large amounts of open and semi-open vegetation with shrubs, light-demanding trees and herbs alongside stands of tall-growing shade trees."

When was the last interglacial period in Europe and what caused it? The last interglacial period in Europe occurred during the Pleistocene epoch, specifically the Eemian interglacial. The Eemian interglacial is estimated to have occurred roughly between 130,000 and 115,000 years ago. It was a relatively warm period when temperatures were higher than during the subsequent Last Glacial Maximum.

The primary cause of glacial-interglacial cycles, including the Eemian interglacial, is believed to be variations in Earth's orbit and axial tilt, collectively known as Milankovitch cycles. These variations influence the amount and distribution of solar radiation reaching the Earth's surface. The interplay of these orbital parameters results in periodic changes in climate, leading to alternating glacial and interglacial periods.

During interglacial periods, such as the Eemian, temperatures were warmer, and ice sheets and glaciers retreated. This warmer climate allowed for the expansion of forests and the development of different ecosystems compared to the colder glacial periods. It's important to note that natural climate variability, driven by factors like Milankovitch cycles, played a significant role in past climate changes, but contemporary climate change is also influenced by human activities, particularly the emission of greenhouse gases.
The team arrived at their conclusion after examining pollen grains from soil samples taken from large parts of Europe.

Creationism in Crisis - Biochemists are Homing In On Abiogenesis

Did this chemical reaction create the building blocks of life on Earth?
Scheme 2 Some pathways for the proposed reaction network of formose intermediates and cyanamide based on the autocatalytic cycle proposed by Breslow32 and experiments herein. It is hypothesised that the formation of tetrose and pentose aminooxazolines via the addition of 2-NH2Ox with glycolaldehyde and glyceraldehyde (gray dashed arrows), respectively, is likely not the dominant pathway as originally hypothesised in Scheme 1. See ESI Table S3 for more proposed structures. Note, that although the Breslow autocatalytic cycle is shown for simplicity, the full reaction network is much more complex; see ref. 30, 41 and 42.

Stand by for another bout of petulant histrionics from creationists when biochemists and biophysicists finally work out how a self-replicating molecule could have arisen on Earth, then, through a process of evolution by natural selection, gradually improved its efficiency until free-living, self-replicating organisms emerged. The traditional anti-science rhetoric normally includes abusing the scientists, misrepresenting their findings, and claiming it proves intelligence was needed.

It is generally assumed that this process took place in deep ocean hydrothermal vents, or 'black smokers' where the right chemicals and catalysts were present with sources of energy in the form of geothermal heat, and a rich chemical soup of the basic ingredients needed. It is also assumed that the earliest forms of self-replicating organisms were RNA- based, and only became DNA-based later on. In fact, there is a school of thought that says living things are still essentially RNA-based, using DNA as a data store, since DNA is always transcribed into its RNA counterpart to be useful to a cell in transporting amino acids and producing proteins.

Whatever the final pathway turns out to have been, we can be sure it all started with a relatively simple, self-catalyzing molecule, that just needs a supply of the right raw materials to proceed, and there is a simple chemical reaction, known as the formose reaction, that we have known about since 1861 which fits that requirement. Basically, the formose reaction is where the molecule glycolaldehyde, given a supply of formaldehyde, will keep producing copies of itself and will only stop when the supply of formaldehyde runs out.

The following article by Quoc Phuong Tran a PhD Candidate in Prebiotic Chemistry at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, is reprinted from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license, reformatted for stylistic consistency. In it, he discusses this reaction and the role it could have played in abiogenesis:

Tuesday 14 November 2023

Creationism in Crisis - Green Algae Show How Multicellular Life Evolved

Chlamydomonas, an alga existing on the border between a single-celled and multicellular organism.
New discovery on how green algae count cell divisions illuminates key step needed for the evolution of multicellular life

One of the most important developments in the evolution of life on Earth was the evolution of multicellularity from single-celled organisms, but all multicellular organisms start out as a single cell then needs to divide multiple times and the resulting cells need to differentiate into the different specialties to gain the benefits of multicellularity. The question is, how did this process evolve from a simple cluster of identical cells, each just a copy of the 'mother'cell, to a controlled, organised multicellular organism?

One of the species hovering on the border between a single-celled existence and multicellularity is the green alga, Chlamydomonas, a eukaryote organism with relatives that have evolved into multicellular organisms multiple times.

Now, an international research team led by James Umen, PhD, of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, St Louis, MO, USA, has made an unexpected discovery that sheds some light on how the initial stages of forming a colony of daughter cells in Chlamydomonas is regulated.

First, a little AI background to Chlamydomonas:

Evolution in Progress - How The Different SARS-CoV-2 Variants Rise and Fall In The Population

I came across this the other day while perusing NHS information sources about COVID-19, which is now declining again in UK, having had a brief revival a few weeks ago. It's a chart showing how new variant rise to dominance in the viral population, to be replaced in their turn by newer variants.
Screen clip of page 16 of the National Influenza and COVID-19 surveillance report Week 45
This diagram only covers a year since November 2022.

This, in miniature, is exactly how new gene variants can rise in the species gene pool, depending on how advantageous they are compared to other variants. Some will increase rapidly to become the predominant form and may even stage something of a rally when in competition with a new variant. Some will linger on for a long time as a small proportion of the total, while others will become extinct, or very nearly extinct as newer variants enter the fray. What allows the new variants to increase as a proportion of the total is, of course, that it produces more copies of itself than its rivals do.

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