Thursday, 28 July 2016

Minnesota Sex Scandal - Pope's Envoy in 'Criminal' Cover-up.

Archbishop Niestedt
Minnesota Priest’s Memo Says Vatican Ambassador Tried to Stifle Sex Abuse Inquiry - The New York Times

The simmering sex scandals that have beset the US Catholic Archdiocese of Minnesota and St Paul bubbled over again this week with the news that an outraged priest, the Rev. Dan Griffith, released a memo in which he detailed possible criminal activity by none other than the Papal Nuncio. The Rev Griffith was working at a high level in the diocese and was the diocesan liaison with lawyers appointed to investigate the handling of sex abuse scandals.

The memo records how Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the Vatican's ambassador to the USA, ordered the destruction of evidence which implicated the former Archbishop of Minnesota and St Paul, Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, in possible criminal activities. In the memo Rev Griffith said the actions of the Papal Nuncio amounted to “a good old fashioned cover-up to preserve power and avoid scandal.”

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The 'Intelligent Designer' Gets Up Our Nose.


Photograph: By R Parulan Jr./Getty Images/Flickr RF
Human commensals producing a novel antibiotic impair pathogen colonization : Nature : Nature Research

Although examples of stupid design abound in nature, especially in the related fields of biological arms races and parasitism, this one take some beating. It's been going on not just under our very noses but up them.

The story so far (if you believe in intelligent (sic) design, that is): the common bacterium Staphylococcus aureus comes in several varieties, most of which are harmless to humans but a few are harmful. Intelligent (sic) design proponents who normally deny that intelligent (sic) design has anything to do with religion because that would make it difficult to get this Bible literalism disguised as science taught in schools in secular countries, will never-the-less tell you that these harmful bacteria are God's punishment on mankind for original sin.

Another End Of The World!

Rev John Hagee
For people who enjoy these regular ends of the world when Jesus returns, saves a few self-righteous Americans and kills everyone else, John Hagee is the man to follow!

His current prediction is for 30 August this year. There is no doubt at all about this. Like all his other predictions, this has been revealed to him by God and from his study of 'God's Holy Word' in the 'inerrant' Bible, so there can't be any doubt. There never is any doubt! There was never any doubt about all the previous predictions either!

Monday, 25 July 2016

Morality And Pre-Roman Civilisation in England

Field system in South Downs, England
South Downs National Park Authority
South Downs pre-Roman 'farming collective' discovered - BBC News

A little news item from southern England has been causing a flutter of excitement by posing a few questions for historians recently. It should, if properly understood, cause fundamentalist theists to ask themselves a few questions too.

The news item concerned a recent discovery that agriculture was highly organised in the immediate pre-Roman era in England. This was shown by the discovery of an extensive field system in what is now modern West Sussex and Hampshire. It was discovered using a new laser-based aerial survey technique known as LiDAR.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Gut Microbes Confirm Our Evolution

Artist's impression of hominid gut microbiota.

Image credit: The University of Texas at Austin. Illustration by Jenna Luecke
Cospeciation of gut microbiota with hominids | Science

Further confirmation that scientists have the hominid family tree about right in terms of time and branching has been provided in a paper published today in Science. It shows that some of the symbiotic bacteria we carry in our gut today have been with not only us but our close relatives from before we diverged into the different African apes and humans, and that they diverged and speciated at the same time.

This isn't really a surprise to evolutionary scientists because that is exactly what we would expect to happen. Mere confirmation of what is already known from the fossil and genetic evidence would scarcely raise an eyebrow and might not even be considered worth publishing. But, from a scientific point of view, the interesting thing here is that we don't, as was thought, acquire all out gut microbiota from our general environment. At least some of it seems to be inherited, hence forming a relatively isolated genetic line which has been maintained in the different diverging species over hundreds of thousands of generations.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Kendall House Abuse: What God Was Watching?

Kendall House Abuse Centre
Kendall House: Girls drugged and abused at church-run home - BBC News

The report of the review of Kendall House, an Anglican girls' home in Gravesend, Kent, ordered by Bishop of Rochester, is truly shocking! It reveals a regime of systematic physical, psychological and sexual abuse of young, troubled girls, some as young as 11 years old, to the extent that almost every child was subjected to this abuse routinely and as a matter of 'normal' practice.

Bear in mind as you read this that one of the supposed 'selling points' of religion is that unlike 'atheistic' or secular institutions, they provide these social support institutions out of a sense of moral duty and obligation to their fellows - and because Jesus told them to!

Monday, 18 July 2016

European Union - Impact of EU Immigration

Brexit Lie
Brexit and the Impact of Immigration on the UK

Maybe I'm talking to the converted and maybe I'm saying "I told you so!" but this report from the Centre for Economic Performance of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) by Jonathan Wadsworth, Swati Dhingra, Gianmarco Ottaviano and John Van Reenen, vindicates just about everything I have written about the immigration issue in respect of the EU referendum.

It reveals the blatant lies peddled by the Leave side for their own Machiavellian political ambitions, and it has to be said, shows the failure of the Remain side in failing to counter those lies.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Transitional Bird Wings In Cretaceous Amber!

For description see original paper
Mummified precocial bird wings in mid-Cretaceous Burmese amber : Nature Communications : Nature Publishing Group

More bad news for creationists to find coping strategies for. An interesting find in amber deposits from Myanmar has revealed a little more about the evolution of birds, or more precisely feathers, during the Cretaceous. It shows a bird wing with a transitional skeleton!

The details were published in an open access paper in Nature Communications a few days ago by an international research team was led by Dr Xing Lida from the China University of Geosciences, and colleagues from Canada, United States and Professor Mike Benton from the University of Bristol, UK. It shows tiny wings in astonishing detail, including bones, skin, muscles and feathers. The fine structure of the feathers even shows what is probably evidence of colour.

The significance of this find, apart from the fact that the wings were tiny - only two to three centimeters long - is that they are from hatchling enantiornithine birds which still had fingers with well-developed claws. This group of early birds became extinct along with dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Just Another Catholic Paedophile Seminarian

Seminary Student Sentenced To 15 Years For Arranging Sex With Infants

It would not be fair to assume that all expelled Catholic seminarians were expelled for paedophilia, but this example shows the continuing weakness in the Catholic Church's recruitment procedures in that these predators are still not being picked up earlier. If they hadn't been so careless they might well have made it into the priesthood where they had trusted access to vulnerable people.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

And No Religion Too...

People of no religion outnumber Christians in England and Wales – study | World news | The Guardian

Having been away from active blogging about religion for a while, what with a few personal family issues and a little matter of my fellow countrymen and women having voted to commit economic suicide by trying to go back to the 1970s instead of forward as part of a united Europe, it's good to come back with some good news, albeit a little late.

Ironically, it is news that illustrates how much like the rest of Western Europe we are. As with many other European countries, religious affiliation and church attendance continues to tumble in England at a rate that is causing panic and despondency in the established churches. The reaction of the established churches may reveal something about the attitude of clerics to 'faith'.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Faith Is A Feminist Issue

In the concluding chapter, Freedom to Choose, in my book, Ten Reasons To Lose Faith: And Why You Are Better Off Without It,I point out the following after reproducing an extract from which spells out in minute detail the role of both husband and wife in a marriage accordign to Christian dogma:

Note the entire ‘justification’ for men declaring the role of women, and for abrogating to themselves the right to do so with no reference to women’s opinions. It is wholly and solely that they can find excuses for it in a book of highly dubious provenance, which some people assert is the inspired word of an invisible magic man for which there is not an iota of definitive evidence.

The stories in the Bible were written by people with a Late Bronze Age Middle Eastern tribal misogyny who saw women as goods, not people. The cultural norms, prejudices and assumptions in that society are expected to be appropriate for today and half the world’s population are expected to meekly comply, because some men say so – and they have a book they can blame.

European Union - After The Storm

Oh! This was just a mistake!
It's now clear that Cameron's decision to try to shut up the minority of Europhobes in his own party and head off UKIP with a simple in/out referendum on Britain's EU membership was a monumental political blunder; a blunder possibly worse even than Eden's decision to invade Egypt and occupy the Suez Canal almost 60 years ago. It was a gamble that has ended his political career and may well lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom as Scottish independence is now very much on the cards.

The result has already wiped £200 billion off the value of UK shares - some 20 years EU contribution - caused Sterling to fall to it's lowest level for 30 years, relegated Britain from the fifth to the sixth largest economy and caused credit agencies to downgrade our credit worthiness.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

European Union - The Three Big Brexit Lies

The defining feature of the Brexit campaign has been its dishonesty and use of lies and distorted statistics right from the beginning. This intensified and became even more overtly racist and xenophobic when opinion polls began showing the Remain side pulling comfortably ahead and panic set in amongst those whose political ambitions depend on Cameron being forced out if he loses.

The main lies concern three major question:
  1. Britain's Contribution.

  2. The Brexiteers claim that it costs Britain £350 million a week in EU contributions. This is a lie. After the famous Thatcher rebate of £100 million and after the amount the EU gives back to finance regional development, improved transport infrastructure, etc, this falls to £161 million or $23 million a day. This is 1% of total government spending!

Monday, 20 June 2016

European Union - Why I'm In

I'll be departing from my usual science and Atheism posts for the next few days to concentrate on the impending referendum on the UK's continuing membership of the European Union.

The EU is important to me because I believe it represents one of the most significant achievements of human history. For the first time, previously waring and generally hostile states decided to put aside historical differences and build something new. Within an increasingly united Europe, trade wars and tariff barriers were to be abolished and political differences were to be settle by consensus.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Lessons From Menorca - Religious Intolerance

Statue of Jesus on Menorca's highest point - Monte Toro
As I said in my previous post, Menorca has a lot of history, having a large natural harbour and occupying a strategic location almost midway between the Spanish mainland and Italian Sardinia and relatively close to France.

At the end of the Punic wars between Rome and Carthage, Minorca fell under Roman control. By the fifth century it had acquired a large Jewish population which seems to have coexisted more or less peacefully with the predominantly Christian population. However, this was not to last.

In 415 AD there was a forced conversion of the Jews as related by a bishop Severus in The Letter on the Conversion of the Jews. 540 Jews were forcibly baptised, including many of the leading and most wealthy members of the community. Those that remained were expelled to the centre of the island. The synagogues were burned. However, many Jewish families retained their religion whilst showing an outward appearance of Christianity. These went on to form the persecuted and shunned Xueta community with it's distinct form of non-Catholic Christianity.

Lessons From Menorca - More Dead Gods!

Naveta d'Es Tudons, Menorca. A burial tomb for about 100 bodies between 1200 and 750 BCE. Possibly the oldest roofed building in Europe.
We've just spent a very pleasant few days in Menorca - one of the Spanish Balearic Islands and one of the few places we've visited twice.

Menorca has a very long history of conquest and religious persecution which will be the subject of another blog post; what I want to deal with here is how religions and gods that we know little or nothing of can inspire their believers and shape their cultures, yet they disappear without trace when their last believer dies.

It's a theme I've previously written about in my book, Ten Reasons To Lose Faith: And Why You Are Better Off Without It, and in earlier blog posts such asThe Old Dead Gods of Wiltshire, Old Dead Gods - Lessons From Silbury Hill, Old Dead Gods - Lessons from Cirencester, Gods Come And Go But Truth Remains, etc.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

How Evolution Works - Suffering Saxifrage!

I noticed this saxifrage which has been struggling for about three years to survive on a the patch of gravel which constitutes my front garden and it suddenly dawned on me how neatly it illustrates some aspects of evolution. It shows how a species fits itself into an available niche and how it diversifies as it spreads its range, not necessarily because it changes but because the environment in which it finds itself changes. The genetic information doesn't need to change for the meaning of that information to change because meaning is given to the information by environmental context.

If that idea seems a little obscure, consider the word karutis. It is probably meaningless to the average reader of this blog. Show it to a Latvian speaker however, and the meaning will be obvious - wheelbarrow. Of course, if you showed the word 'wheelbarrow' to a Latvian, it would be as meaningless as 'karutis' is to an English speaker. The information in the words is the same in either language; only the meaning changes with the language environment

Saxifrage is good ground cover for gravel because it can survive in shallow soil and spreads mostly vegetatively by short runners and so forms colonies of what are essentially clones of the parent plant. It can also survive being scuffed and kicked occasionally, which is useful when postmen and others going door to door walk to your neighbours door across your gravel garden as though it's a public footpath. It's there partly for ground cover but also for the pretty red flowers it puts up at the right time of the year.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Human Evolution and Neanderthal Inbreeding

The Genetic Cost of Neanderthal Introgression - Genetics

According to a paper recently published in GeneticsPDF, interbreeding between modern humans and Neanderthals in Eurasia may have been much more common that the small quantity of Neanderthal DNA in modern non-African peoples suggests. The two populations may even have behaved like a single breeding group, in which Neanderthals were eventually genetically swamped by Homo sapien DNA.

The team led by Kelley Harris, of Stanford University used computer simulation of mutation accumulation during Neanderthal evolution to model how humans were affected by imported neanderthal genes. The simulations used known data on mutation rates and population dynamics of hominids.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Habitable Planets Are Probably Commonplace.

Kepler-62f (Artist's impression).
A planet in the 'habitable zone' of a star located about 1,200 light-years from Earth.

Credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle
A planet 1,200 light-years away is a good prospect for a habitable world: Researchers combine climate, orbit models to show that Kepler-62f might be able to sustain life -- ScienceDaily.

News that astronomers have identified yet another possibly habitable planet raises a number of questions for religion, especially the Abrahamic religions, and even more so for creationist fundamentalism based on a literal reading of the Bible or Qur'an.

Both these books portray a Universe created especially for Earth-bound human beings and a creator god who has, or wants, a close relationship with these specially-created Earthlings. Both Christianity and Islam insist that their god created humans simply to worship it. The entire Universe is supposedly here for somewhere for humans to live as they worship this creator god.

Human Evolution - Another Piece Of The Jigsaw

35,000 year old female skull found in the Pestera Muierii cave in Romania.
Source: Daily Mail
The mitogenome of a 35,000-year-old Homo sapiens from Europe supports a Palaeolithic back-migration to Africa : Scientific Reports

The basic evolutionary history of Homo sapiens is now so well established that new discoveries are tending to fill in the detail rather than cause existing thinking to be substantially revised. Far from being a 'theory in crisis' as the creation industry would have people believe, Darwin's fundamental principles of evolution are actually being confirmed with each new find and the Theory of Evolution is proving to be the only scientific theory capable of making sense of the entire picture.

We know that H. sapiens evolved in Africa and that there was a subsequent migration out of Africa and into Eurasia on at least one occasion. Everything else is now more or less filling in the details of what happened next and how that migrant population spread, diversified and re-mixed to give the modern Eurasian populations with its present geographical distribution of genes.


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