Sunday, 11 October 2015

Hey Creationists! Guess What A Little Birdie Told Us.

Credit: Stephanie Abramowicz
Source: ScienceDaily
Tiny ancient fossil from Spain shows birds flew over the heads of dinosaurs | Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Would you believe it! Another one of those non-existent transitional fossils has turned up again, this time in a 125 million years ago Cretaceous rock from Spain. And just when creationists were getting used to dismissing all the ones from China as 'forgeries', despite there being no evidence for the claim!

In as clear an example as you could wish for of the transition from dinosaurs to birds, a paper published by an international group of palaeontologists shows that a fossil of a tiny feathered dinosaur proto-bird from Spain has unmistakeable evidence that it had the musculature for sophisticated flight, by being able to control individual flight feathers in its wings.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Special Offer On My Books

My ebook, The Light Of Reason: And Other Atheist Writing is available as a single volume for Kindle at a special discount for the next few days only!

And now, the four-volumes of the paperback series are also available as ebooks at a special rate if you buy the paperback versions. They are:

Of course, if you're a subscriber to Kindle Unlimited, you get to read them for free anyway.

And you don't even need to own a Kindle because you can download an app for smartphone or laptop/desktop.

Go on! Treat yourself today. Because you're worth it! Just a click away!

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Friday, 9 October 2015

Africans Are Partly Eurasians

Ethiopian cave where the skull was found
Ancient Ethiopian genome reveals extensive Eurasian admixture throughout the African continent

Did we ever imagine that once anatomically modern humans had left Africa to populate Eurasia, they never went back again until modern times?

This seems to be the main thrust of the news media to today's new that a group of geneticists have analysed the genome from a 4,500 hunter-gatherer from the Ethiopian Highlands and found that he was genetically distinct from modern Africans who have since received a massive dose of Eurasian DNA which came into Africa about 3,000 years ago.

Creationism Fails Again! How Elephants Avoid Cancer

Yipee! I've got 20 TP53 genes!
How elephants avoid cancer : Nature News & Comment:

Let's play a game and pretend there really is a magic invisible creator above the sky, like creationists and their pseudo-science version, Intelligent Design, want us to believe. What are we then to make of two research papers which could explain why elephants have such a low incidence of cancer? One team was led by Joshua Schiffman, a paediatric oncologist and scientist at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, USA and the other by Vincent Lynch, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

And God Gave Man Dominion...

Chernobyl after the explosion.
Long-term census data reveal abundant wildlife populations at Chernobyl: Current Biology

According to creationists, their magic invisible friend in the sky created everything on Earth for humans, then put them in charge of it, presumably, because it thought its creation needed managing.

So, on that basis, which should be worse for life on Earth, humans or radioactive contamination? Would nature be better off without humans or with humans running the show?

If the results of a survey of the wildlife around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor is a guide, human beings are far less nature-friendly than even nuclear contamination, and, when left alone, nature can be far more resilient than we might expect.

The Chernobyl nuclear reactor, now in Ukraine, then in the Ukraine SSR and under the direct authority of the Soviet Union, became notorious in 1986 when its reactor ran out of control, destroying the building it was housed in and spraying the surrounding area with

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Spider Have Creationists Down On Their Knees

Developing spider embryos.
Lt: expressing the original dachshund gene. Rt: expressing the duplicate gene.

Photo credit: Nikola-Michael Prpic,
Göttingen Center for Molecular Biosciences,
University of Göttingen, Germany
Neofunctionalisation of a duplicate dachshund gene underlies the evolution of a novel leg segment in arachnids | Molecular Biology and Evolution.

If you're an arthropod and unable to fly you need to be good at scuttling, so you need legs that scuttle efficiently. Spiders and scorpions have good scuttling legs because they have kneecaps or patellae. In the arachnid limbs, the patella forms a unique limb segment that gives their legs greater scuttleability.

The way they evolved these patellae has just been worked out and published in Molecular Biology and Evolution. It is acutely embarrassing to the creationist frauds who tell their dupes that no new information can arise by mutation and that mutations are invariably

Monday, 5 October 2015

Smelling Of Poo Is Not All Bad

Ceratocaryum argenteum
Faecal mimicry by seeds ensures dispersal by dung beetles | Nature Plants

Only yesterday I suggested that smelling or tasting of faeces might give an advantage to some species by repelling a potential predator which had evolved faecal aversion for obvious reasons. Now today we have a paper published in Nature Plants which shows how smelling of faeces might have another advantage.

Again, this is an example of an evolved feature in one species creating an environment conducive to evolution in a particular direction in another. It's also an example of the sort of deceptive mimicry I wrote about yesterday.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Lessons From The Dordogne - Evolving Insects

Here are some examples of one of the important drivers in evolution - the need to avoid being eaten. I took these pictures on our recent holiday in France but you don't need to go all the way to France to find similar ones. You can probably find several in your back yard or any roadside verge or hedgerow.

The first, on the right is of a grasshopper. It's slightly above dead center.

Can't see it? Well, that's rather the point. Zoom in to find it.

This species lives in grassland and, if it keeps still, looks just like a piece of brown vegetation, even having marks that mimic the shadows cast by blades of grass.

Scroll down for a close up.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

The Perfect End To A Perfect Week - For The Vatican Old Guard

Vatican acts after Polish priest reveals homosexuality - BBC News.

Oops! It'd been another bad week for 'Uncle' Pope Francis, the Pope trying to rehabilitate the Catholic Church after being rocked to its foundations as one scandal after another revealed the stinking cesspit the Vatican had become.

One of Hapless Frank's tasks was to make the Church look a little less bigoted and intolerant and a little more kindly disposed to women, homosexuals, non-Catholics, etc. Although little real progress has

Everyone Needs a Good Mummy!

Mummified remains of Britons were preserved by smoking or being placed in peat bogs – a different process to those of ancient Egyptians.
Photograph: Keystone-ZUMA/Rex Features
Source: The Guardian
Mummification was commonplace in Bronze Age Britain | News - University of Seffield.

Need a favour? In dispute with your neighbour over land? Want to adjust the world a little in your favour? No problem; just tell your mummy!

News today that the practice of worshipping bits of old dead patriarch or matriarch which I wrote about a few days ago in the context of the Catholic Church and it's obsession with the body parts of dead 'saints', may predate Christianity by many thousands of years and is just another pagan tradition which was incorporated into Christianity.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

You Can't Keep A Good Homophobe Down

What happened when Kim Davis met the Pope? - BBC News.

Despite all his public protestations of goodwill to all gays and his desire to reform the Catholic Church to make it more kindly, tolerant, loving and forgiving and willing to embrace even women and homosexuals - or to at least acknowledge their worth as human beings, though not letting them anywhere near the centres of power, obviously, ‘Uncle’ Pope Francis has let slip the mask.

He has revealed the nastiness and sense of privilege and entitlement to hate and persecute that is still hiding beneath this cloak of affable inclusivity.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Black Rice and Creationist Not-So-White Lies

The Birth of a Black Rice Gene and Its Local Spread by Introgression | The Plant Cell

Here's a nice example of how a change in a species' environment can change the meaning of the information in its genome and so change the direction of the species evolution. Of course, it gives the lie to another basic piece of disinformation traditionally foisted on their willing dupes by creationist frauds.

A team of plant geneticists from Japan led by Dr. Takeshi Izawa have worked out the genetic basis of the black colour in black rice and have traced its origins to a mutation in a gene known to science as Kala4, which controls the amount of anthocyanin pigments the plant produces. The wild rice, Oryza rufipogon, has red grains but, due to a mutation in a gene controlling pro-anthocyanidin biosynthesis, domestic rice, Oryza sativa, fails to produce these pigments so remains white.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Christians for Child Abuse

Florida school apologizes for warning students that evolution deniers were trying to ‘mislead’ them

Close on Pope Francis laying claim to a special privilege for Christians to use their 'faith' as an excuse to abuse minorities, comes news of another mighty blow for lies, disinformation and child abuse by fundamentalists in Florida, USA.

Parents were incensed when they discovered that Heritage Middle School in Deltona, Florida had given students an assignment designed to help them understand the difference between scientific terms like 'theory' and 'law', and how the scientific meaning of these terms differs from their use in colloquial language. The assignment had included the statement:

Monday, 28 September 2015

Pope Francis Just Can't Hide His Bigotry

Pope: Workers Have 'Human Right' to Refuse Same-Sex Marriage Licenses - NBC News

It must be uncomfortable being Pope Francis, as he balances himself on the horns of a dilemma. To mix the metaphor, he needs to stand astride the fence with a foot planted firmly on either side of it. It fair makes yer eyes water.

On the one hand he has to fill his allotted role as the affable, avuncular, love, peace and tolerance-embracing contrast to his sinister predecessor, the former Nazi, Joseph Ratzinger, who, as Pope John Paul II's enforcer, orchestrated the child abuse cover-ups which are still damaging the Catholic Church.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Lessons From The Dordogne - Sacerdos The Fake

The shrine of Saint Sacerdos,
L'église de Saint-Sacerdos, Sarlat-la-Canéda, Périgord Noir, France
Invisible gods just don't cut the mustard when it comes to giving the faithful something to pray to. What they need is bits of body of dead patriarchs; preferably dead patriarchs who were killed 'for their faith' in ways which seem designed to produce plenty of relics for the faithful to worship to.

Dominating the main square in the beautiful Périgord Noir town of Sarlat-la-Canéda is the former Sarlat Cathedral, (Cathédrale Saint-Sacerdos de Sarlat) dedicated to Saint Sacerdos (also known as Sacerdos de Calviac, Sardot, Sadroc, Sardou, Serdon, Serdot) of Limoges, traditionally the first bishop of Limoges who was born in Sarlat in 670 CE and was allegedly martyred in about 720 CE, though no-one seems to know how or why but the important thing is that he was martyred according to local legend.

The cathedral was downgraded to a church in 1801 and the diocese was incorporated in the diocese of Périgueux, but what are claimed to be the remains of Saint Sacerdos are kept in a sealed glass sarcophagus in an ornate chapel in the church. You can't get very close to it but there is what appears to be a clothed wax mannequin in a glass case with a kneeling stool placed thoughtfully in front, so those praying to the bits of dead saint can be seen to be suitably supplicant.

But, powerful though no doubts these bits of dead saint are at granting wishes, very little is actually known about Saint Sacerdos himself and little or nothing is known about how he came to have the reputation of a holy martyr or what he did to earn his place in the Catholic Communion of saints is also a mystery. Some clues however, can be gleaned from the history of the Catholic Church in France and the events immediately preceding Sacerdos' remains being transferred to the newly-created diocese of Sarlat.

Lessons From The Dordogne - Order From Chaos

One of the sacred dogmas of creationism is that it needs a creator to get order from chaos and complexity from simplicity. Like so much else with creationism though, the sacred dogma is contradicted by the readily observable evidence.

Take this photograph for example. It is of the river Dordogne as it runs alongside the lovely village of La Roque-Gageac. Note especially the little pits in the surface caused by little vortices produced as the water flows past the end of the wooden jetty and over the rocks in the shallows.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Lesson From Lot - The Rocamadour Fraud

Rocamadour, Lot, France.
Rocamadour, just outside the Dordogne in the Lot Department, France, is a mediaeval pilgrimage site consisting of a cluster of building clinging to the almost sheer side of a deep gorge. It is also the site of the ‘Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin’ sitting just below the top, accessible only via a steep and winding path (before the modern lift was installed).

If only the pilgrims had looked across the gorge, and had even a superficial understanding of geology and the courage to shake off their theophobic superstition, they would have seen the glaringly obvious evidence that their superstition was (and still is) based on a lie.

Lessons From The Dordogne - Why Are Things Different?

Dordogne Meadow
In case you're wondering where I've been, don't worry - I haven't given up blogging. We’ve been in the Dordogne, South-West France, for a couple of weeks, taking in some of the local culture and history as well as seeing the wildlife. Unfortunately, our gite didn't have broadband and Blogger on Android - well... needs some work.

We were hoping to see the wildlife particularly because it’s different to the wildlife we normally see in the UK. Not entirely different, of course, but different enough to be interesting and certainly different enough to be able to tick off a few more birds, butterflies and wildflowers in my field guides.

But why is it different? I wonder if creationists ever give any thought to this question.

To a biologist, and anyone with even a modicum of understanding of evolutionary biology, the answer to that question is stark-staringly obvious – it’s because the environment is different, so what constitutes ‘fitness’ is different, so the survival value of certain characteristics will be different, so the ecological balances will be different because ecosystems, no less than species, evolve over time.

Geographical diversity is entirely dependent on local environmental factors and how they change. These local factors can include the type of underlying rock strata – chalk, sand, clay, volcanic tufa, etc., – elevation, latitude, average hours of sunlight, average, maximum and minimum temperatures, average rainfall, humidity, human interference, and so on.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Another of Those (Missing) Transitional Species Found!

Homo naledi. Reconstruction by paleoartist John Gurche
Image credit: John Gurche / Mark Thiessen / National Geographic.
Homo naledi: new species of ancient human discovered, claim scientists | Science | The Guardian

We've known about the Rising Star Cave, and that there was something important there, for some time now, so it's no real surprise that palaeoanthropologists have announced this find. In fact, I first wrote about it in November 2014.

What is perhaps surprising is that they've classified these remains as members of our Homo genus rather than members of the Australopithecus genus, because this would be the first archaic hominid from outside East Africa, where it was generally assumed Homo had evolved from Australopithecines such as A. afarensis. But, it ties in quite nicely with the alternative theory that true hominids evolved further south possibly from A. sediba.

This find is stunning not only because of the number of

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Mutant Clones? Not Darwinian But Science Explains Them

Loss of Karma transposon methylation underlies the mantled somaclonal variant of oil palm | Nature.

Despite its daunting title, this research paper shows the explanatory power of the recently-discovered field of epigenetics.

For those not familiar with this science, epigenetics is the study of the way, in complex multicellular organisms where cells are highly differentiated and specialised to perform very different functions, the same genome is made to perform different functions. Clearly, the genes needed to make and work muscles in mammals or leaves in trees, are not the


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