Thursday, 8 February 2018

An Intermediate Spider-Scorpion!

Chimerarachne yingi, preserved in amber in exquisite detail.

Photo: Bo Wang
Part spider, part scorpion creature captured in amber | Science | AAAS

Continuing with what has turned out to be another dreadful week for creationism, we now have two papers about a 100 million year-old species, beautifully preserved in exquisite detail in amber, which has characteristics of both spiders and scorpions.

Spiders, a group of arachnids are characterised by modified body appendages called spinnerets which extrude silk, and, in males, a pair of pedipalps which are used to insert sperm into females. All but the most primitive spiders also have smooth, non-segmented abdomens. Scorpions, on the other hand have segmented abdomens and lack spinneretes and pedipalps. They also have the characteristic tail.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Yet Another Newly Evolved Species

Marbled crayfish, Procambarus virginalis
By Chucholl C. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
An aquarium accident may have given this crayfish the DNA to take over the world | Science | AAAS

Like most weeks, it's been a pretty dreadful one for creationists so far as scientific research is concerned. Another week and still not one iota of support for creationism or its lab-coated mock-science version, intelligent (sic) design. Instead we have the usual plethora of papers which quite incidentally, and with no effort or intent on the part of the authors, refutes creationism and confirms evolution.

I've already written about two - bacteria evolving to digest plastic and the extraordinary evolutionary history of the house dust mite. Now we have this observed evolution of a new species of crayfish which fills all the criteria for what creationists call 'macro-evolution', which they claim is impossible. Later, I'll be writing about a beautiful example of a fossil of an intermediate ancestor of both spiders and scorpions - again, something creationists tell their dupes don't exist. That one 'impossible' thing and one 'nonexistent' thing in the same week!

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Mites Evolving All Around Us

A scanning electron microscope image of an American house dust mite, Dermatophagoides farinae.
Image credit: Ellen Foot Perkowski
House dust mites evolved a new way to protect their genome | University of Michigan News

Unless you have a microscope or exceptionally good eyesight you are never likely to see one but you are living now with millions of them in your carpets, furniture and beds. They are of course the ubiquitous house dust mites, and they have an interesting and unusual evolutionary history.

This history in turn is probably responsible for a unique solution to a common problem faced by all organisms - how to cope with those pieces of non-coding DNA called transposons, part of the junk DNA, that can randomly relocate themselves within a genome, causing mutations and diseases. Transposons behave a little like independent strands of DNA with evolutionary pressures to survive despite evolutionary pressure on their 'hosts' to control them.

Bacteria Evolved to Eat Plastic


ILLUSTRATION: P. HUEY/SCIENCE
Feeding on plastic | Science

One of the more subtle aspects of evolution, and one that creationists are either unable or unwilling to understand, is the difference between genetic information and the meaning of that information. A paper published in March 2016 by a Japanese team, illustrates that principle very well. It is about the discovery of a strain of bacteria that has evolved the ability to digest the man-made plastic, poly(ethylene teraphthalate) (PET).

Currently, the world-wide production of PET is over 50 million tons and none of it was biodegradable - until now!

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Evolutionary Transition To Modern Humans


Brain shape evolution in Homo sapiens: brain shape of one of the earliest known members of our species, the 300,000 year-old cranium Jebel Irhoud 1 (left). Brain shape, and possibly brain function, evolved gradually. Brain morphology has reached the globularity typical for present day humans suprisingly recently (right).

Copyright © 2018 MPI EVA/ S. Neubauer, Ph. Gunz
License: CC-BY-SA 4.0
Modern human brain organization emerged only recently | Max Planck Society

The fossil record shows a distinct gradual transition to the modern human brain and cranial capacity from more ape-like origins, even within the species we recognise as Homo sapiens.

This is the finding of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, according to an open access paper published a few days ago in Science Advances. The finding also illustrates nicely how science incorporates new information, even information that at first glance doesn't seem to fit what we thought we knew, and how that new information can lead to a revised understanding and an improved explanation.

Monday, 29 January 2018

New Poll - Creationism Declining in USA

In U.S., Belief in Creationist View of Humans at New Low

Slightly encouraging news a couple of days ago from a Gallop poll in the USA. I say slightly encouraging because the change is small on a small data set (just 1011 adults aged 18 or over) and the same poll is also disappointing in other ways.

The poll shows that belief in creationism as the best explanation for humans fell to 38%, the lowest since polling began in 1981 and below 40% for the first time.

However, a two percentage point fall is within the margin of statistical error on that size data set. None-the-less, it is encouraging - for the USA.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Modern Humans May Have Left Africa 200,000 Years Ago

Misliya-1
This ancient jawbone suggests our species left Africa 40,000 years earlier than expected | Science | AAAS

The story of when and where modern humans first left Africa is continuing to develop and looks like becoming more complicated than first thought when the evidence seemed to point to a single migration by a small group around 50,000 years ago.

A large international team led by Israel Hershkovitz from Tel Aviv University have concluded that the jaw bone found in a Misliya Cave on the western slope of Mount Carmel in Israel is that of a Homo sapiens, but that it is between 177,000 and 194,000 years old. This is some 40,000 years earlier than modern humans were believed to have left Africa to begin their world-wide dispersal. The previous earliest H. sapiens remains were those found nearby in the Skhul Cave on Mount Carmel and Qafzeh Cave in Israel, dated to between 80,000 to 120,000 years old.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

How Creationists Lie To Us - Creation Ministries

When you show the world you need to lie for your faith
You show the world you know your faith is a lie
This meme recently popped up in a Facebook group I help administer.

It is of course a lie.

The lie originated in one of the usual creationist disinformation sites, Creation.com, the online front for Creation Ministries, the Australia-based creationist organisation from which Ken Ham split when he realised America was a more lucrative place for scamming fundamentalist Christians, in an article penned by Jonathan O'Brien, a Creation Ministries staffer.

O'Brien is notorious for, amongst other things, his claim that the primitive carving of a rhinoceros in front of some leaves at Angkor in Cambodia is really a carving of a stegosaurus, a creature with which it has very little real resemblance, and the claim that because a volcanic cone in Mexico grew in a year, this is evidence that mountains did not take millions of years to form, so could all have formed in the last few thousand years (ignoring the fact that most mountain ranges are not volcanic in origin but are due to plate tectonics).

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Pope Attacks Sex Abuse Victims.

Bishop Juan Barros
Pope accuses sex abuse victims of slander

In an astonishing end to his less than triumphal visit to Chile, Pope Francis shocked his hosts by, not to put too fine a point on it, calling those accusing a Catholic Bishop of assisting a cover-up of child abuse, liars.

His visit had been met with demonstrations and much smaller crowds than previous visits because the Catholic Church in Chile is currently embroiled in the now traditional clerical sex abuse of minors scandal. Police had to use tear gas and water cannons to break up one demonstration outside the Pope's open-air address in the centre of Santiago.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Neanderthals Had Sex With Anyone

Upper view of the Montmaurin-LN mandible.
The Montmaurin-La Niche mandible reveals the complexity of the Neanderthals’ origin | CENIEH - Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana

We now know that modern humans interbred with at least two, probably three and possibly more different hominin species when they left Africa. What this new analysis shows is that Neanderthals also interbred with archaic hominins and may not even have formed as single lineage in Eurasia.

Instead, this analysis by a team of scientists from the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (National Research Centre for Human Evolution - CENIEH) in Spain, led by José María Bermúdez de Castro, together with the French researcher Amélie Vialet, from the Musée d'histoire naturelle (Natural History Museum) in Paris, suggests that Neanderthals may have diversified, evolved as isolated populations, then interbred with one another so that later Neanderthals were a mosaic of earlier and divergent populations.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Birds of a Feather - New Species Evolve

Large cactus finch (Geospiza conirostris)
Study of Darwin's finches reveals that new species can develop in as little as two generations

Birds of a feather: U of T researchers discover Amazon bird to be rare hybrid species

This week we have a couple of examples of new species arising - that thing that creationists insist can't happen. The evolutionary process that created them was hybridisation which occurs very much faster than the more usual (at least in vertebrates - speciation by hybridisation is common in plants) divergence by a combination of genetic drift and natural selection. And in these cases, the species are birds.

The first is from those devil figures for creationists - Darwin's finches or Galapagos finches. This was originally reported and commented extensively upon last November and revealed an observed incidence of apparent speciation when a vagrant male appeared on the island of Daphne Major. This was much larger and had a larger, more robust beak than any of the other three species present on the island. It also sang with a different song.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Two More Catholic Clerics - Two More Sex Abuse Scandals

Archbishop Anthony Apuron stands in front of the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica in Hagatna, Guam, Nov. 2014.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Grace Garces Bordallo
Guam archbishop faces new sexual assault allegation | CRUX

The US Pacific territory of Guam, which is almost wholly Catholic, has been rocked by a series of allegations that vehemently homophobic Anthony Apuron, Archbishop of Agana, sexually abuses altar boys in the 1970s. He has vigorously denied all the allegations and has not been criminally charged, but now another accuser has come forward.

The latest accuser, a relative of Archbishop Apuron, has claimed in the local media that he was abused by Apuron in 1990. This latest allegation has been reported to the Vatican. According to Archbishop Michael Byrnes, an earlier Vatican tribunal investigation into the earlier allegations has reportedly concluded and reached a verdict late last year but, for reasons unknown, has not yet made its findings public. Archbishop Byrnes has been given administrative responsibility for the diocese while Apuron is on administrative leave.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Changing Our Mind When the Evidence Changes


European brown bear (Ursus arctos)
Photo credit: Ivan PC
The Iberian brown bears do not descend from those fled from the north during the Ice Age / News / SINC - Servicio de Información y Noticias Científicas

To a creationist, with their simplistic black vs white, right vs wrong mentality, the fact that science can make mistakes or that the understanding is provisional - and all scientific understanding is provisional, even the best-supported - tells them that science, unlike their firmly held and unchangeable dogmas, is unreliable and therefore wrong. Little better than a guess, in fact.

To a scientist, and to anyone interested in truth rather than simple certainty, however, discovering that you have been wrong is actually welcome news and news that was well worth doing the research to discover because it means that what you now think you know is closer to the truth than it was before. Science works because scientists can and do change their minds when the evidence changes, unlike fundamentalist religions, where not changing your mind and not even questioning the dogmas is a prerequisite.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Massive Evolutionary Reduction in Genome Size

A Chilean cicada, which hosts particularly unusual symbiotic bacteria.

Photo credit: Piotr Lukasik
UM Publishes Research on Unusual Gene Evolution in Bacteria - UM News - University Of Montana:

Hopefully getting back to blogging again after spending time on another book, it's a pleasure coming back with details of two papers published by the same team a few days ago that shatter so many creationist dogmas, it's hard to keep count.

Creationists will tell you, for example, that evolution involves an increase in complexity and therefore an increase in information in the genome, and that this is impossible because of some mysterious application of the Second Law of Thermodynamics which ignore the fact that an organism, Earth, and even the solar system are not closed systems. Never-the-less, they'll confidently assure you that in this way science has proved evolution can't happen, it's just that millions of working biologists never got the memo and have been mistaking the observed instances of not evolution for examples of... well... evolution.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Climate Change is Shrinking Moose

The researchers measured the length, width and height of moose skulls to study the impact of climate change on the iconic Northwoods species. The team measured 662 moose skulls and observed a 16 percent decrease in size over 40 years.

Credit: Sarah Bird/Michigan Tech
The Shrinking Moose of Isle Royale | Michigan Tech News:

Moose on Isle Royale, Michigan, USA are evolving rapidly in response to environmental change, especially climate change.

Unlike nearby populations of moose which have halved in the past 12 years, the Isle Royale moose population has increased by more than twenty percent per year for the last six years - but they are getting smaller. Measurements of skulls collected over a forty year period show they have shrunk by about sixteen percent. Life-span is also reducing.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Suffer Little Children - At the Hands of Priests and Nuns

Smyllum Park Catholic Children Abuse Centre, Lanarkshire, Scotlanda
Nun broke girl's arm after discovering she was being sexually abused by a priest | Metro News

When a nun caring for children at the Catholic-run Smyllum Park children's home in Lanarkshire, Scotland walked into the chapel and found a priest sexually abusing an eight year-old girl, she sprang immediately into action.

She grabbed the girl by one arm and flung her against the wall, breaking her arm, called her a 'whore' and shouted “get the f*** out of here” at her.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Pope Francis Thinks the Bible is Wrong!

Lord's Prayer: Pope Francis calls for change - BBC News

Pope Francis has been thinking.

No, it's not about how the church can avoid taking responsibility for the child abuses carried out by it's priests and nuns and certainly not about how it can compensate and support their victims and avoid creating any more.

It's about how to resolve a curious contradiction in the Bible that has been taxing the brains of theologians and biblical scholars for close on 1700 years, ever since the Bible was compiled. The contradiction is between James 13:1 with:

Human Evolution - Dispersal Out of Africa

Map of sites with ages and postulated early and later pathways associated with modern humans dispersing across Asia during the Late Pleistocene.

Regions of assumed genetic admixture are also shown. ka, thousand years ago.

© Bae et al. 2017. On the origin of modern humans: Asian perspectives. Science.
Image by: Katerina Douka and Michelle O’Reilly
On the origin of modern humans: Asian perspectives | Science

One of the exciting things about science is how knowledge is never fixed and unchanging. It grows and develops as new findings are incorporated into existing understanding, sometimes even needing quite fundamental revisions of what we thought we knew.

One such branch of science is that of human evolution and dispersal out of Africa which is in an exciting phase at the moment as new archaeological discoveries are made and new techniques of DNA recovery and analysis are revealing genetic evidence of relationships and interbreeding.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Plagiarists For Jesus

Willaim Lane Craig. Accused of plagiarism
Christian Apologist William Lane Craig Accused of Plagiarizing Thesis.

In an article published yesterday by David G. Mcafee in the Patheos blog, No Sacred Cows, Christian apologist and apologist for faith-based genocide, William Lane Craig has been accused of plagiarising his Masters Degree thesis.

This accusation is not new; it has been around for several years, but has been given another airing by atheist, author and former student of William Lane Craig's, John W Loftus. Loftus has written extensively about Lane Craig's cowardice in refusing to debate him publicly despite Lane Craig making an issue of Richard Dawkins' refusal to give him a platform following his repugnant apologetic for the Canaanite genocide in which he presented infanticide as morally justifiable.

Friday, 1 December 2017

A Loving Nativity Scene That Christians Hate


Religious Conservatives Outraged By Gay Nativity ‘Sacrilege’

Apparently, conservative Christians are queuing up to be outraged by a Christmas nativity scene in a Los Angeles front garden that shows Jesus with two fathers.

It's not the pretty pink matching costumes that they're wearing but the fact that there are two of them which is causing the great gnashings of teeth and calls for retribution on the grounds of 'blasphemy'.

It was this Twitter tweet by Twitter user Cameron Esposito which sent them into a frothing-mouthed, venom-spitting spectacle on the social media.

But how is this a blaphemy? Isn't this exactly what the Bible says when it claims Jesus was the son of God, even making great play of the claim and basing the entire Christian religion on that claim, and also claiming Jesus was the son of Joseph and thus of the 'House of David' in fulfilment of a prophecy?
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