Thursday, 26 March 2015

Even Monkeyflowers Ridicule Creationists

M. lewisii (A), an F1 hybrid (B), M. cardinalis (C), and examples of variation in floral traits found in F2 hybrids (D–L).
Pollinator preference and the evolution of floral traits in monkeyflowers (Mimulus)

Imagine for a moment a species of flowering plant with a three important genes, each of which has two different alleles. Let's say Gene A which can be A1 or A2, gene B which can be B1 or B2 and gene C which can be C1 or C2. Gene A determining flower shape, gene B determining flower colour and gene C determining how much nectar the flower produces.

Now imagine two different pollinators which transfer pollen from one flower to another while gathering nectar, one having a preference for one shape and colour and the other having a preference for a different colour and more nectar.

It doesn't take a genius to work out what will happen. The flowers with the alleles which attract one pollinator are much more likely to pollinate other flowers with those same alleles and those with the other alleles will be much more likely to pollinate the flowers with these alleles.

In effect, there will be a premating or 'prezygotic' barrier to cross-pollination between plants with different combinations of alleles and selection pressure against permutations of alleles

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Seeing Evidence Of Inept Design

Müller cells separate between wavelengths to improve day vision with minimal effect upon night vision : Nature Communications : Nature Publishing Group

Although they will probably deny it, even creationists must be aware of the inept design that is the vertebrate eye where the retina is wired backwards, so the nerves from the photoreceptor have to travel towards the source of light then across the surface of the retina to join up with the main optic nerve and finally back down through the retina, causing the 'blind spot' - an area of the retina where light doesn't register.

Our neural circuitry has to infill this area for us so we don't notice it. Consequently, there is a small risk that we won't notice pieces of grit, small flies and other foreign bodies that get in our eyes, and the nerves going in the 'wrong' direction inevitably create a barrier for the light to get through.

In effect, the photoreceptors are are actually shielded by their circuitry. It's like the designer of a digital camera putting all the wiring and processors between the lens and the detector. Creationists call this 'intelligent'.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Catholicism's New York Meltdown

St Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie, New York, USA
Patric D’Arcy Is N.Y. Archdiocese’s Only New Priest -

I came across this while researching for another blog and it illustrates just how low Catholic fortunes have sunk in New York since the world-wide scandals of physical and sexual abuses of minors and other vulnerable people began to hit the Church.

In 2012, the Catholic Church in New York ordained a priest by the name of Patric D'Arcy. Nothing remarkable in that you might think.

However, he was the only one to be ordained in that year. In the 1960s the average was somewhere

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Mother Teresa's Fake Miracle

On the subject of the Catholic Church's faked miracles, in the style of a phony televangelist or 'faith healer' fraudster, we have the example of the faked Mother Teresa 'miracle' which was used as evidence to support her accelerated beatification by the Vatican when poor old Pope John Paul II was in his dotage and had been reduced to reading prepared speeches in an almost inaudible voice.

Mother Teresa (real name, Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu) head and absolute ruler of the 'Missionaries of Charity' order had been carefully building up a reputation for caring for the poor sick and dying when in reality, they had been merely collecting them together in missions where they could be denied effective pain relief and given almost no medical care because Mother Teresa had an obsession with pain and suffering, believing in some perverted way that being made to suffer like Jesus did was a privilege, or 'the kiss of Jesus' as she called it. Meanwhile, the vast amount they collected in donations was amassed in bank accounts whilst Mother Teresa jetted around the world first class and, when in pain herself, booking into the top American hospitals to get the best cardiac care available rather than entrusting her care to her own order's tender mercies.

See How Christians Lie To Us - Birth Of A Myth and How Christians Lie To Us - Fact And Fiction for details of how the myth of Mother Teresa and the fiction of the good works her order was doing was created almost out of thin air, including testimonies of many people who worked with her.

The final piece the Vatican needed to fast-track this beatification was an authenticated post-death miracle attributable to her, showing how she could intercede with God directly and cause the laws of nature to be set aside, so causing things to happen for which there could be no scientific explanation.

Monica Besra
Miracle of miracles! This was dutifully supplied by the nuns of the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta (Kolkata), India. According to their 34,000 page submission, on the first anniversary of her death, a poor peasant woman named Monica Besra had come to them for assistance suffering from acute abdominal pains which she said was caused by a cancerous tumour. They then placed a photograph of Mother Teresa and a locket over the pain, which promptly went away, along with the tumour. Quite why they chose this novel and untested method of treating a painful abdominal tumour was never explained.

The facts however were slightly different. Monica Besra had been treated at the government-run hospital in Balurghat where an ultrasound investigation had revealed a tuberculous mass (not a cancer) on one of her ovaries for which she was treated, according to the hospital's records, by Dr.Tarun Kumar Biwas and Dr. Ranjan Mustafi, a gynaecologist. After leaving hospital her care was continued as an outpatient at the North Bengal Medical College and Hospital until she was discharged, fully cured in March 1999, a final ultrasound scan showing no trace of the tumour. The treatment and cure were perfectly straightforward and Monica's condition progressed exactly as expected.

The hospital's superintendent handed Monica Besra's entire medical records, including the ultrasound scans, details of medication and doctors notes detailing a perfectly normal treatment and cure, to Sister Betta (sic) of the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata, who appears to have promptly lost them. After first claiming that they had misplaced these records, the Missionaries of Charity then changed their story and now claim they were never given them, simply denying in best theological tradition, the mass of evidence to the contrary. Bearing false witness would appear not to be regarded as a sin by these devout Catholic nuns.

Then another miracle happened. Although Monica Besra is illiterate and speaks only her local dialect with a smattering of Bengali and English, never the less she was able to prepare a statement in perfect English and which revealed details of Catholic doctrine to which she could never have been privy, to be handed by one of the sisters to Brian Kolodiejchuk who was investigating the claims on behalf of the Vatican.

Along with this miracle, several statements by 'doctors' from the hospitals which treated Monica certifying that her recovery was miraculous and could not be explained by science, also appeared amongst the 34,000 pages. The only slight problem was that the hospitals have no record of ever having had doctors with those names working for them and attempts to trace them have all been unsuccessful. The entire 34,000 pages of evidence supplied to the Vatican by the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata contain not a single word from any of the medical staff actually involved in Monica Besra's treatment, her entire medical records now having disappeared, presumed destroyed, the last person known to have handled them being Sister Betta (sic) who refuses to comment when asked about them. Meanwhile, protestations by Dr. Ranjan Mustafi that her condition was not cancerous, was curable and was cured by him and the staff at Balurghat Hospital using perfectly standard medicines and procedures went unheeded.

My wife did feel less pain one night when she used the locket, but her pain had been coming and going. Then she went to the doctors, and they cured her. My wife was cured by the doctors and not by any miracle.

Monica Besra's husband, Seiku
Monica's husband, Seiku, has never made any secret of the fact that the reported miracle cure was never anything of the sort. Irritated by the constant stream of sick people coming to his door expecting a miracle cure themselves, he freely tells people it was the doctors at the hospital who cured his wife, not a miracle.

In 2008, Monica herself began to claim that her miracle cure was nothing of the sort when the stream of poor people seeking a miracle cure reduced to a slow trickle. At this point the third miracle appears to have happened. The Vatican decided that Monica was suffering from amnesia and the poor family now needed a great deal of money, which they channeled to them via the Missionaries of Charity who explained that this was a perfectly normal charitable donation to a poor family in need, and places were suddenly found for Monica's four sons at an expensive Catholic-run private school. Monica's faith in the miraculous nature of her cure and the saintliness of Mother Teresa seems to have been restored almost as quickly as her 'cancer' was cured and she now even remembers the miraculous light that shone out of the photograph and into her body, curing her instantly. No doubt a case of poverty-induced amnesia being miraculously reversed with holy money.

Would you please ask Jesus to stop kissing me?

Dying patient denied pain relief
to a smiling Mother Theresa
And so the world had a new Catholic demi-saint by the name of "The Blessed" Teresa of Calcutta, based on carefully constructed myths, forged documents and false testimonies by people whose mission in life was to deny dying people pain relief and effective medical care because this loathsome old woman told them this is what Jesus would have wanted, and one who in life amassed a huge fortune from people who believed they were actually giving to aid poor people and help them die in dignity and free from pain and suffering in the care of ministering angels.

Another miracle is required for this fake to be elevated to full sainthood. Presumably, someone somewhere is working on that at the moment.

After her death it was revealed that Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu had written to a friend admitting that she had never been able to find God and doubted that he was there. Her entire life's work had been for her own self-aggrandisement and in the hope that Jesus would appreciate what she was doing to recognise his suffering by making others experience it and so would reveal himself to her.

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Pope Francis Faking It in Naples

Pope Francis showed his honesty and personal integrity by participating in the fake 'miracle' of appearing to turn the dried blood of a saint into liquid blood in front of a crowd in Naples gathered at the cathedral to witness this conjuring trick, which is performed three time a year, and so fool the credulous masses into thinking he has magic powers and is somehow chanelling the long-dead, legendary first bishop of Naples, Saint Januarius, or San Gennaro as he is known localy. Inhabitants believe he keeps Naples safe from the over-looking Vesuvius volcano.

Naples Cathedral is easily the worst cathedral I have visited, and I have been to very many all over Europe. It is located in a run-down and over-crowded slum just north of the dock area and was actually locked when we tried to go in last year.

Perhaps this was to protect the treasures inside from the surrounding poor in the crime capital of Europe where the devout Catholic inhabitants will steal anything that isn't bolted down, only to have their sin counter reset in confession on Sunday. Meanwhile, the rubbish piles up in the streets and bins remain unemptied because the organised crime syndicates who run the collection service haven't had a big enough bribe this month. Maybe the inside of the cathedral is better than the grim facade, but if this is the best San Gennaro can do by way of protecting the city he loves, he's a sorry excuse for a patron saint.

The fraud miracle is performed on a sample of brownish, dry powdery substance that, from a distance, could look a bit like very old dried blood, especially to someone who's never seen any. When the container is shaken is appears to turn liquid. Then the officiating bishop pronounces the miracle to a fanfare of trumpets and declares this shows San Gennaro still love Naples. On the rare occasion that the miracle fails this is taken as a sign that the saint has withdrawn his love. Obviously, as with all these 'holy relics', the Church refuses all applications to subject the 'blood' to scientific analysis because this would inevitably involve destroying some of the sacred substance.

Occasionally, due to rough handling when carrying the bottle of 'blood' from its safe keeping place, locked away from prying and sceptical eyes, in the crypt of the Cathedral, the blood will already have liquified before a pope or bishop gets anywhere near it. On these occasions, San Gennaro is declared to have been so keen to show his love for the city that he started the miracle early, presumably in an example of premature liquifaction such as we might expect of a celibate saint. There's always a sensible explanation for these things.

Often, failure to 'liquify' is followed in the coming weeks or months by an earthquake, which happen frequently and unrelated to whether the 'miracle' occurred or not, in this part of Italy which is so seismically active that the western suburb of Naples is called Fuorigrotta, or 'smoking field'. This earthquake will be presented as evidence that San Gennaro had withdrawn his love and Neapolitans should give more money to the Church. When earthquakes happen anyway, this is definitely not a sign from San Gennaro at all... got that!?

So, the blood can turn liquid on it's own, or when handled by a pope or a bishop, or not turn liquid at all, and these are all miraculous signs from San Gennaro - and they all mean give more money to the Church. Isn't religion marvelous!

As B.F.Skinner showed, you can get the same effect with operant conditioning of pigeons when you randomly give a reward, dissociated from the pigeon's actions. They also become religious and perform random and pointless rituals, apparently ascribing success to their actions and failure to their own failures in not performing the actions correctly.

If you want to perform this 'miracle' for yourself, all you need is a glass bottle partly filled with a brownish substance called iron chloride mixed with calcium carbonate and salt. Apart from the bottle, all these things can be found near Naples, especially around Vesuvius and Fuorigrotta. It can even look quite like you would imagine nearly 1700 year old dried blood to look like. When you shake the bottle, however, it becomes quite liquid for a while until it settles back into the dried powder. With any luck you should be able to find some credulous and gullible people to fool but generally it works best when done by someone whom the people have been conditioned to believe already have magic powers anyway.

Just as with his veneration of the obviously fake Shroud of Turin which attracts visitors from all over the world to give money pay homage to the miracle in the hope of a reward for themselves, Pope Francis has shown himself to be perfectly comfortable with trying to keep the faithful faithful with the time-honoured Catholic tradition of faked miracles. The only miracle here is how the Catholic Church has managed to keep people from finding out they've been duped.

Honest Uncle Frankie, the 'reforming' people's Pope, is not the least concerned about using the tactics of the snake-oil seller, the faith healer and the confidence trickster to keep the wool between their ears pulled over the eyes of the Catholic Church's victims. After all, who's bothered about honesty and integrity when there's money to be made and privileges for clerics to be defended?

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Saturday, 21 March 2015

Creationist Nightmare Approaches

Chemists claim to have solved riddle of how life began on Earth

The creationist nightmare scenario came a little closer a couple of days ago when a team of scientists published a paper in the Journal of Nature Chemistry, demonstrating that the three chemical precursors for building the basic components of a cell - RNA, lipids and proteins - can all be built by the same chemical process.

The nightmare scenario for creationists is of course the closure of one of the few remaining gaps in which they arbitrarily sit their favourite god and claim this proves its existence. This transparently circular reasoning and deliberate use of the false dichotomy fallacy is also a major plank in the under cover, pseudoscientific form of creationism, intelligent (sic) design. The belief seems to be that, if they can find something science can't currently explain then the only alternative explanation on offer is that their imaginary invisible friend did it. In normal life this form of argument would be seen as laughingly childish but religion has managed to get away with it for centuries.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Faith-Inspired Genocidists To Face Trial

Bosniak victims of faith-based Christian genocidists
BBC News - Serbia arrests seven over 1995 Srebrenica massacre

News that the former Yugoslavian states of Bosnia and Serbia are cooperating over war-crimes committed during the Bosnian war marks a welcome replacement by humanist standards of the murderous faith-based morality which led to the Bosnian genocide of Muslims by Orthodox Christian neo-Nazi fundamentalists, and acceptance that those who committed these atrocities weren't nationalist heroes but murderous thugs whose religion told them killing people for having the 'wrong' religion was the right thing to do.

Giant Arctic Camels And Another Gap Closes

Giant Arctic camels (Artist's impression)
Image credit: Julius Csotonyi PR
Mid-Pliocene warm-period deposits in the High Arctic yield insight into camel evolution | Nature Communications

Modern camels come in two species - the one-humped dromedary or Arabian camel (Camelus dromedarius) and the two-humped Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus). Although both exist in their wild forms in central Asia, they are normally seen as the domesticated beasts of burden in Arabia and the Horn of Africa. Their closest relatives are the South American guanaco (Lama glama) (domesticated as the llama) and vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) (domesticated as the alpaca).

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Science Closes Another Gap - God Still Not Found

Macrauchenia patachonica (Artist's impression)
Ancient proteins resolve the evolutionary history of Darwin’s South American ungulates | Nature/

News that evolutionary biology has closed another gap and found no gods in it, left creationists totally uninterested again today.

The gap was one that Darwin pondered over - the origin of two of the recently-extinct (geologically speaking) South American ungulates. They seemed to be a mixture of hippopotamus, rhinoceros, rodent, camel, and even elephant in that they appeared to have a small trunk. Some biologists had suggested they may be related to African species such as elephants or aardvarks while others thought they may be related to South American species like armadillos and sloths.

Creationism Fails Again - Human Evolution in 2014

Like 2013, 2014 has been another very bad year for creationism as more and more of those 'missing' intermediate fossils are found and the human evolutionary story becomes more and more complete.

Perhaps I should say it's been a good year for those who might be tempted to believe the disinformation put out by creationist pseudoscientists but who still remain objective and open to evidence and reason.

Diehard fundamentalist creationists of course will remain stoically and proudly resistant to evidence, no matter how strong it may be, simply waving it away as wrong or lies, so we are never going to see a committed creationist, least of all one who earns a living by misinforming others, announcing that this or that piece of evidence has convinced them that they have been wrong all along. In many cases, that degree of honesty would be more than their job's worth and would earn them the immediate approbrium of their colleagues.

This little list was produced by a quick search of the science magazine sites. I don't claim it to be exhaustive or even particularly representative, only a random sample of the sort of science shedding light on the human evolutionary story and the way it is growing and being

Monday, 16 March 2015

Pope Francis May Soon Throw In The Towel

And it's goodnight from him...
Pope Francis says he 'doesn't mind' being Pope but wishes he could go out for a pizza unrecognised - People - News - The Independent

Will the Catholic world soon have three popes in the Vatican?

That was the clear implication of Pope Francis' strong hint again that he might retire early like his immediate predecessor Benedict XVI. In an interview with the Mexican TV station, Televista, to mark his second anniversary he said he longed for anonymity and a private life and even hinted that his retirement might be very soon.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Is This Bronx Scam Artist Getting Too Greedy?

Minister Creflo Dollar asked parishioners to buy him a $65 million dollar jet for Jesus « Why Evolution Is True

Bronx-based Manuel de Dios Agosto is going to have to do much better if he is to come anywhere close to matching another Bronx-based religious scam artist who has just asked his victims followers to stump up for a brand new $60 million top of the range G650 Gulfstream jet for him and his family.

The humorously named Creflo Augustus Dollar,

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Religion and Mental Illness

Religious Fundamentalism 'May Be Categorised As Mental Illness & Cured By Science'

The opinion that extremist religious beliefs in particular may be symptoms of mental disorder and psychiatric illness seems to gaining ground in informed neurophysiology and psychiatry circles, though this is hardly news to those of us who spend a while trying to engage religious fundamentalists and creationist in intelligent debate on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.

Psychosis and paranoia often seem to be endemic in these people, for example the unfortunate individual whom I stopped trying to engage on Facebook recently when he told me he

Friday, 13 March 2015

Catholic Child Abuse, St.Josephs, Bronx

Father Robert Harrison
Bronx School Ousts Priest After Admissions of Abuse -

An assistant principal at Cardinal Hayes Catholic High School in Bronx, New York, has been dismissed for sexually abusing ten minors in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Rev. Robert Harrison, of the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St.Josephs, had worked at the school since 1989. The abuses came to light just before last Christmas when it was discovered that Father Harrison was borrowing money from colleagues at the school. When asked why, he admitted it was to pay an abuse victim. He then admitted to the sexual abuse of other boys in Manhattan, Milwaukee and the Bronx during the 1970s and 1980s. None of the abuse victims are believed to have been students at Cardinal Hayes High School.

A spokesman for the province said that none of the victims had ever reported the abuse.

Father Harrison has been permanently relieved of all ministerial duties and placed in a 'facility' where he does not have contact with children. The matter has been referred to prosecutors.

[I] personally ask for forgiveness for the damage [some priests] have done for having sexually abused children. We will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and the sanctions that must be imposed.

Pope Francis
New York of course isn't the only Archdiocese in the USA to suffer from endemic child sexual abuse by Catholic clerics.

In Minnesota the rearguard action designed to deny or delay compensation to the Catholic Church's victims continued. The Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection just a week before going to court to defend lawsuits from victims of child sexual abuse by its priests. With assets estimated to be between $10 million and $50 million and liabilities estimated to be between $50 million and $100 million, this is the twelfth US Catholic Archdiocese to file for bankruptcy because of the compensation claims from their victims.

The lawsuit will now be delayed while the bankruptcy application is heard. Patrick Noaker, lawyer for some of the victims, said the bankruptcy filing robbed him of the chance to reveal information that could help protect children. "I don't think it's any accident that they filed a week before this trial was going to start," he said.

'via Blog this'

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Creationists All At Sea Over Water On Earth

Huge ocean confirmed underneath solar system’s largest moon | Science/AAAS | News

To read a creationist disinformation site, you'd think Earth was the only body in the Solar System - the entire Universe even - to have water, and that the only explanation for how it all got there must be that a magic man magicked it all.

Take this piece of scientific illiteracy and Bible babble, or this attempt to mislead their victims by Creation Misinstries International about the discovery that there is a lot of water bound up in hydrated minerals in Earth's mantle - a false claim that was so easy to predict at the time.

Clearly, creationists pseudoscientist frauds would like their dupes to believe that the presence of water on Earth is some sort of scientific mystery; a miracle - another gap in which to sit their god and explain with "God did it!" Water is, of course, essential for life on

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Church Claims Religious Freedom to Cheat Abuse Victims

Cardinal Timothy Dolan
Archbishop of New York, former Archbishop of Milwaukee.
Catholic Church Claims It Can Refuse To Pay Victims Of Sex Abuse Because Of Religious Freedom | ThinkProgress:

The Catholic diocese of Milwaukee has suffered a setback in its attempt to avoid its moral responsibilities to the victims of its abusive priests. Its former archbishop, Timothy Dolan, now a cardinal and Archbishop of New York, had tried to insulate its funds by transferring $55 million into a trust fund for maintaining the diocese's cemeteries and mausoleums, then claiming they were not the Church's funds but belonged to the Trust, so the Church had no money with which to compensate its victims, and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Recent Evolution In The Caribbean.

Prehistoric fighting conch Strombus puglis (L) and modern shells of the same species (R) show how the shellfish has decreased in size over time.
Image credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute/Aaron O'Dea
Evidence of size-selective evolution in the fighting conch from prehistoric subsistence harvesting.

Scientists working for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute have discovered a lovely example of environmental change driving evolution, this time the environmental change being the presence of humans who predated on the Caribbean fighting conch, Strombus puglis, as a source of food.

Juveniles of this species live in muddy sediments and only emerge to mate when they reach sexual maturity - at which point they become easy for humans to catch - but only after they have developed a thick outer lip as a protection from predators. This means that having attained sexual maturity can be assessed in ancient shells by measuring the thickness of this lip.

Careful observation and measurement of modern

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Can The 'Intelligent Designer' Get Any Nastier?

Dinocampus coccinellae
Who is the puppet master? Replication of a parasitic wasp-associated virus correlates with host behaviour manipulation | The Royal Society Proceedings B.

Here's a pretty little insect from the wasp family. Like a lot of members of this family, it is a parasitoid species, the females of which lay their eggs in the living bodies of other creatures, often other insects. This particular one, Dinocampus coccinellae, lays its eggs in ladybirds.

For several weeks an infected ladybird will carry on hunting aphids as though nothing much is happening and oblivious of the maggot growing inside it and eating its internal organs, apart from those essential to the ladybird, obviously. The ladybird needs to be kept

Monday, 9 March 2015

Evolution of a Strange Pair of Geese

The thing about knowing you don't know all the answers, but also knowing that nature is amenable to reason, is that when you see something that makes you curious, you know you will probably find the answer if you look hard enough. With nature, that answer will be interesting, thought-provoking and will mean you will understand nature just a little better.

We saw these two wild geese on on lake near Oxford the other day when we went for a long country walk with our grandson and his parents. My grandson would much rather talk about Minecraft and wasn't even interested when I showed him the hole where the little gall wasp came out of an oak-apple gall - how can that not be interesting? He'll soon be old enough to have that copy of Richard Dawkins' "The Magic Of Reality" I bought him when he was about 4.

Anyway, what we noticed about these geese was that, while they are obviously a pair and the one on the right is a perfectly normal-looking greylag goose, the other was a slightly odd-looking Canada goose. Canada geese are an alien species in Britain but have spread very rapidly throughout the Thames Valley and beyond.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

2013. Another Very Bad Year For Creationism.

The Most Fascinating Human Evolution Discoveries of 2013 | Observations, Scientific American Blog Network

This is another of those articles I stored away intending to deal with later, but then left them to sink towards the bottom of the stack as other topics intervened. It deals with the most significant discoveries related to the evolution of modern humans in just one year - 2013. It goes without saying that a number of them involved more of those pesky 'intermediate forms' creationists are having to work so hard to ignore so they can pretend there aren't any.

The list is based on an article by Kate Wong, published in Scientific American in January 2014. The commentary is mine. Feel free to hit creationists over the head with it.

No Soul? Rats!

Nobel prize find: search for ‘soul of rat’ revealed brain’s navigation system | Science | The Guardian

I meant to write a commentary on this at the time, but it just kept getting shuffled down the stack as other topics intervened. Last year's Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was shared by Professor John O'Keefe, University College London, for his work on understanding how the brain maps the world around us so we can navigate. He jokingly claims he was looking for the soul of the rat when he discovered 'place cells'. It has now been found by Edvard and May-Brit Moser, that these 'place cells' form a grid of recorded coordinates.

We have known for some time that the hippocampus is involved since a UCL team led by Eleanor Maguire found that as London Taxicab drivers acquire 'The Knowledge' their hippocampus enlarges. 'The knowledge', for those who haven't heard of it is the detailed street knowledge London Black Cab drivers must demonstrate before they qualify for their licence to operate.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Beware of Abusive Imitations

Please Note: This is my only blog.

Others purporting to be by me or bearing my ident will contain plagiarised and altered material from this site or material presented as being by me. They will usually be run and maintained by a well-know unemployable Internet abuser, fraud and expelled Catholic seminarian who appears to have developed an obsessive fascination with me, bordering on the psychotic and who seems to be trying to ride piggy-back on my popularity to lure traffic to his beggar blogs.

Go to his blog and you will find well over 60 articles fantasising about me with all manner of lurid tales. Bear in mind though that he will count the hit as a triumph and routinely deletes comments he doesn't want others to read.

You can read about him here.

Still Making A Difference - Thankyou

Great news that my AdSense account has reached another payment threshold, so I have donated it to Oxfam again.

This donation also benefits from the UK Government's UKAid scheme which doubles donations, in effect making it £140, plus another 25p per pound donated in GiftAid as a UK tax-payer.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Yet Another of Those 'Missing' Transitional Fossils

Fossil jawbone with distinctly hominid teeth
Photo: Arizona State University/Kaye Reed
BBC News - 'First human' discovered in Ethiopia

A fossil lower jawbone with five intact teeth, discovered in 2013 in the Afar region of Ethiopia, may well have pushed back the earliest known hominid by about 400,000 years to 2.8 million years ago. The huge significance of this, if it turns out to be true, is that it sits neatly in time and place between the undoubtedly australopithecine Australopithecus afarensis from the same area about 3 million years ago and the undoubtedly hominid Homo habilis, from about 2.4 million years ago, previously the earliest known hominid.

The key to this new find is the distinctly hominid small teeth. In our evolutionary history, teeth reduced in size

Unreasonable Faith - Robert G. Ingersoll

Why is Robert G. Ingersoll not better known in America, or the rest of the world, for that matter? He wrote and spoke with such power and passion, and regard for truth and honesty above all, that his writing is a joy to read, more lyrical even than that of Thomas Paine and worthy of Christopher Hitchens at his best.

Here he is delivering a 'Thanksgiving Sermon'. This is a cut-down version; the full sermon can be read here.


MANY ages ago our fathers were living in dens and caves. Their bodies, their low foreheads, were covered with hair. They were eating berries, roots, bark and vermin. They were fond of snakes and raw fish. They discovered fire and, probably by accident, learned how to cause it by friction. They found how to warm themselve — to fight the frost and storm. They fashioned clubs and rude weapons of stone with which they killed the larger beasts and now and then each other. Slowly, painfully, almost imperceptibly they advanced. They crawled and stumbled, staggered and struggled toward the light. To them the world was unknown. On every hand was the mysterious, the sinister, the hurtful. The forests were filled with monsters, and the darkness was crowded with ghosts, devils, and fiendish gods.

These poor wretches were the slaves of fear, the sport of dreams.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Some Pictures Just Speak For Themselves

I'm sometimes accused of using too many words in my blogs, which might well be true, though I can appreciate how Mozart felt when he was accused of using too many notes, so it's refreshing to be able to make a point with a few pictures:

Hunting With Wolves - To Catch Creationists

Artists impression: Wolves hunting mamoths in the Upper Pleistocene Epoch
Photo: Alamy
How hunting with wolves helped humans outsmart the Neanderthals | Science | The Guardian

In a book, The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction, to be published this month, US Anthropologist, Pat Shipman, of Pennsylvania State University, puts forward the idea that domestication of wolves played a key role in the conquest of Europe by modern humans, and may have given us the edge over Neanderthals, so driving them to extinction. I haven't read this book so what I know of it is second hand.

Her argument is that wolves, Neanderthals and

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Vatican At War As Pell Lives it Up in Rome

Cardinal George Pell arrives for a morning session at the Vatican.
Photo: Alessandra Tarantino
Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican's financial watchdog, slammed for lavish spending

In a leaked document, Cardinal Pell, the former Archbishop of Melbourne who was put into the Vatican by Pope Francis to sort out its finances and root out the endemic corruption, has been accused of living a lavish lifestyle and handing out money to a chum in the form of an inflated salary.

But the real story here is the leak itself and what it shows is going on behind the scenes, as the Pope accuses the Curia of of suffering from fifteen 'spiritual diseases' including 'spiritual Alzheimers' and 'theological schizophrenia and Pell himself reveals that heads of departments in the vast Vatican bureaucracy had been salting away tens of millions in secret bank accounts, made possible because of shoddy bookkeeping and an almost complete lack of financial accountability with no records of where the money came from nor what it's to be spent on. The discovery of these large secret bank accounts potentially transformed the Vatican's financial position from precarious to very healthy.

Pell was put in soon after Pope Francis replaced the odious Pope Benedict who had done nothing to put a stop to the corruption revealed by his 'butler' in the 'Vatileaks' affair.

How Science Works - European History

Bouldnor Cliff submerged pre-historic site
DNA recovered from underwater British site may rewrite history of farming in Europe | Science/AAAS | News

An interesting example of how science works appeared in Science a couple of days ago. It concerns DNA evidence that domestic wheat, normally associated with farming, was being used by hunter-gatherers living in what is now southern England 8000 years ago, 2000 years before agriculture is believed to have reached north-west Europe.

Rather annoyingly, the article quotes archaeobotanist Dorian Fuller, of University College London, who was not involved in the research, as saying "[The work confronts archaeologists] with the challenge of fitting this into our worldview". Now, I'm not entirely sure what a 'worldview' is exactly but I suspect it's some sort of post-modernist nonsensical construction implying that all sorts of views of the world are possible and even equally valid, but reading the article it's very clear that what might need to be adjusted is this 'worldview' itself because this particular 'worldview' is a conclusion based on evidence. There is no fitting of new facts into a pre-existing conclusion; just the opposite in fact. The conclusion is adjusted to allow for the new information, just as the title of the article itself implies.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Britons Now Find Atheists More Moral Than Theists

I must be slipping as my attention was only drawn to this survey today in my copy of BHA News.

An opinion poll carried out for Huffington Post by Survation last November confirmed the astonishing rejection of religion in favour of non-belief in the UK in recent years and a consequent shift in the perception of the relative morality of Atheists and religious people.

Despite the 2011 census in which 55.3% of people in England and Wales described themselves as Christian and only 25.1% described themselves as having no religion, this survey revealed this to be

Sunday, 22 February 2015

More of Those 'Missing' Transitional Forms

Mammalian and non-mammalian jaws. In the mammal configuration, the quadrate and articular bones are much smaller and form part of the middle ear. Note that in mammals the lower jaw consists of only the dentary bone.
Evolutionary development in basal mammaliaforms as revealed by a docodontan

An arboreal docodont from the Jurassic and mammaliaform ecological diversification

Two papers published in last week's Science by the same team of researchers, describe two more of those 'non-existent' transitional fossils on which so much creationism depends.

They both deal with fossils of two members of an early and now extinct order of vertebrates which seems to sit somewhere between pre-mammalian reptiles and true mammals in that they have a transitional jaw joint closer to the 'squamous' joint typical of reptiles, where the mandible articulates with the squamous bone, and the mammalian jaw joint in which some bones have become reduced and now form the ossicles of the mammalian inner ear, allowing a new jaw joint to form between the quadrate bone and the mandible.

In all other respects these early proto-mammals have a mammalian skeleton and dentition. Because of this difference in jaw joint, the order is not universally accepted as a true mammal but are normally referred to an 'mammaliaforms', i.e., mammal-like - exactly the sort of taxonomic problem we would expect of something which is part-way between two others.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Collapsing Catholic Church in USA

St. Agnes Catholic Church, Chicago.
It seems it's not just in Europe where Christianity is declining at an accelerating rate, Catholicism no less so than the other Christian denominations.

Catholicism is also rapidly approaching the point of no return in the USA, as its congregations dwindle, churches close, parishes have to be amalgamated to reduce costs as donations dwindle accordingly, and recruitment to the priesthood of people of the right personal qualities, who are not going to embarrass the church later, becomes increasingly difficult.

Everywhere from Boston to Minneapolis, Catholic churches have closed or been consolidated into regional clusters. The chief reason is declining Mass attendance.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Pope Francis No Longer Mr. Nice Guy

Pope Francis compares trans people to nuclear weapons - Gay Star News

In a new book published in January, Pope Francis appears to have abandoned his attempt to make the Catholic Church look a little more civilised, even slightly humanitarian, by not being quite so hateful towards gays and transgender people.

He has now reverted to the tradition name-calling and threats, playing on people's ignorant superstitions, phobias and anthropocentric arrogance to enforce the Church's historical dogmas and policies of hate, demonisation, dehumanisation and division.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Even Crows Can Put Two And Two Together

Crows Spontaneously Exhibit Analogical Reasoning

One of the major difficulties creationists seem to suffer from, at least in the way they deny evidence and logical argument, is a seeming inability to do basic joined up thinking. I appreciate that many creationist merely feign this inability in the same way they feign ignorance and even difficulty with basic comprehension when presented with unarguable facts.

For example, lead a creationist carefully through the three steps needed for evolution to be inevitable and you can get them to agree every single stage -

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Idiot Designer. Beautiful Evolution

Luna moth, Actias luna (female)
Source: Wikipedia - Actias luna.
Uploaded by Kugamazog
Luna Moths’ Gorgeous Wings Throw Off Bat Attacks | Science | Smithsonian

Here's a beautiful moth that teaches us a great deal about evolution, how it works and how it can end up producing things that look decidedly maladaptive, even sometimes a little ridiculous and unnecessarily ostentatious. But perhaps the most important lesson here is how it has nothing to do with us and our perception of what looks intuitively to us to be maladaptive and unnecessary. In fact, in this case, what it has to do with is bat perception.

I'm referring to those long streamers on the ends of the hind wings which twirl around more or less randomly as the moth flies. They surely make flight more difficult, don't they?

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

How Muslim Clerics Lie To Us - Dr Ahmed Al-Muzain

Hamas TV Scientist Dr. Ahmad Al-Muzain: Bayer Invented Its Cure for AIDS on the Basis of a Hadith by Prophet Muhammad about the Wings of Flies

I don't know about you but if I really believed something was true and wanted to convince you, I would present the evidence for it and tell you where you could check the facts for yourself, confident that the facts supported my belief, and if they didn't, then I'd be wrong, not the facts.

If you check any blog I have published you'll see I almost invariably provide links to supporting evidence, especially on scientific matters. This is because, as a rationalist, my beliefs are based on evidence and so I believe this evidence will also convince you. I don't ask you to just take my word for it but I have confidence that the evidence can speak for itself. I have no interest in

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Even Other Apes Laugh At Creationists

Watch this video. It illustrates the work of Marina Davila Ross of the Psychology Department, Portsmouth University, UK, and her colleagues.

Be honest now, what was your reaction when you saw the bonobo laughing? I'll bet a fiver to Oxfam that you smiled at least, or even laughed.

What you were doing was responding just the way you would if you saw a human laugh. You did this because we share laughter with all the living Great Apes, even our most distant relative, the Orangutan, and the

Was Jesus a Fundamentalist Extremist?

Expulsion of the Moneychangers from the Temple,
Luca Giordano (1632–1705)
Reading all three so-called 'Synoptic Gospels', Matthew, Mark and Luke, they all agree that Jesus' arrest, trial and crucifixion followed closely after the 'cleansing of the temple' when Jesus allegedly drove the moneychangers out of the temple. Was this in fact the violent terrorist act of an extremist leading a bunch of dissidents in an attack on the Jewish authorities who ran Judea under Roman suzerainty and who were de facto the local government of the day?

There is no hard evidence that Jesus ever existed at all, and certainly no contemporaneous eye-witness accounts of anything associated with his life and death exist and even the two historians living and writing at the time (Philo-Judeus and Justus of Tiberius) are entirely silent on the matter, so it's hard to make a case for the stories of Jesus being based on

Saturday, 14 February 2015

How Religions Evolved By Mistake

The evolution of superstitious and superstition-like behaviour

Ever wondered what the biological basis for irrational superstition and religions is?

It turns out to have a perfectly rational explanation in terms of biological evolution in a sentient species. Darwinian evolution can even explain why people are religious in the absence of any evidence for a god or any rational reason to suppose that gods ever do anything.

Human beings are superb at pattern recognition and see patterns in the natural world, often where there aren't any - Jesus on toast, a face in a cloud, etc. The only reason Muhammad never appears on toast is because no one knows what he

Friday, 13 February 2015

Confused Pope Abuses Childless Couples

Pope Francis. Confused.
Pope Francis: 'The choice not to have children is selfish' - People - News - The Independent

In another astonishingly insensitive outburst, just a few weeks after telling Catholics who had been obeying official Catholic teaching prohibiting contraception and effective family planning that they are wrong for "breeding like rabbits", he has now told childless couples that they are selfish for choosing not to have children.

There is no recognition of the fact that some couples


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