Friday, 29 August 2014

Wandering Stones - A Lesson for Creationists

'Wandering stones' of Death Valley explained : Nature News & Comment

The 'mystery' of the 'Wandering Stones' of Death Valley, California has been definitively solved by, surprise! surprise!, science - and there is a subtle but crushing lesson for creationists and other magical thinkers in the mystery. Actually, the stones aren't in Death Valley but in Racetrack Playa in a valley in nearby mountains. The mystery was how they move across the flat dried-up lakebed, apparently without any assistance.

The answer had been proposed earlier but observation - the basis of all good science - has finally proved that thin ice sheets form when the normally dry ancient lakebed floods to a depth of a few centimeters and then freezes

Yawning Wolves Show Empathy

Yawning Spreads Like a Plague in Wolves | Science | Smithsonian

More evidence emerged this week that the ability to empathise with members of the same species, and even, in some cases, across species, is not unique to humans but is also present in non-humans. A paper published today in PLOS One by a team of researchers from Tokyo University showed that yawning is contagious in wolves (Canis lupus).

Yawning is generally regarded as an empathetic response when it is copied. It is very difficult for

Thursday, 28 August 2014

How Creationists Lie To Us - Age Of The Sun

Spot the liar.

Dr Paul D. Ackerman, Creationist:

Around the turn of the century, the famous scientist Lord Kelvin created difficulties for evolutionists by presenting a number of powerful arguments against the long ages needed by their theory. In a widely heralded debate with the famous evolutionist Thomas Huxley, Lord Kelvin tore the evolutionists' position to shreds with simple and straightforward physical arguments that the earth and solar system were not old enough for life to have arisen by Darwin's proposed evolutionary process. Among Lord Kelvin's arguments on the age issue was the time factor for the sun's survival based upon Helmholtz's accepted model of gravitational collapse. Lord Kelvin had the theory of evolution on the ropes and had seemingly dealt the knockout blow.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Pests and Creationism

The German Cockroach, Blatella germanica.

Image: Alex Wild/Visuals Unlimited/Corbis.
Meet the lodgers: Wildlife in the great indoors - life - 24 August 2014 - New Scientist

The german cockroach, Blatella germanica, lives almost everywhere that humans live. It lives in our homes, our hospitals and hotels, in our shops and factories and sewers and offices. In fact it lives in practically any buildings built by humans and especially heated ones with food in. But it is completely unknown in the wild and quickly dies if stranded outdoors. (It is probably all too obvious already what question I'll be asking creationists at the end of this blog.)

Quite when and where it took up with humans and evolved its complete dependence on us is unknown but it is believed to have been somewhere in Africa, probably before we were modern humans. Its ancestors might well have lived in caves like several other species of cockroach.

B. germanica has shown itself to be capable of rapidly evolving. In the 1980's the control method of choice was to use sugars laced with insecticides then, in the 1990s, this stopped being effective. Cockroaches had not, as might seem probable, evolved a resistance to, or tolerance of, insecticides; they had evolved

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Vatican Still Avoiding Responsibility For Abusive Priests

Top Vatican figure in row over child abuse comments.

A senior Vatican Official astounded the Australian victims of peodophile priests by telling the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that the Catholic Church had no more legal responsibility for the actions of its priests than a truck firm has for the actions of its truck drivers.

Cardinal Pell, a former archbishop of both Melbourne and Sydney, was personally appointed to a top job in the Vatican, as head of the finance ministry, by Pope Francis

Monday, 25 August 2014

Unintelligently Designed Hummingbirds

Blue-tailed-Emerald, Chlorostilbon mellisugus. Photo: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen
Evolution of sweet taste perception in hummingbirds by transformation of the ancestral umami receptor

Hummingbirds are unique amongst birds in living off nectar and being able to detect sweetness. Typically, hummingbirds only feed from flowers with nectar containing more than 10% sugars. The way this evolved illustrates a couple of basic principle of diversification by evolution and the lack of a directing intelligence or plan behind it. Something else for creationists to misrepresent, lie about or ignore but never, under any circumstances, face up to.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Chimp Eyes Show Evolution of Ethics

Chimps show empathy by mimicking pupil size - life - 22 August 2014 - New Scientist

More evidence guaranteed to trigger the avoidance reflex in creationists was published in PLOS ONE this week. It shows two things which any creation pseudo-scientist worthy of the name will need to misrepresent, lie about or ignore altogether. It shows evidence that humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor and that chimpanzees too have empathetic ability - the basis of a ethics and the ability to make ethical decisions. In other words, chimpanzees have morality and they,

More Manny Insanity

As regular readers will know, some two years ago I posted a challenge to a Twitter user then using the account name @Sacerdotus who had been posing as a Catholic priest in training and claiming multiple university degrees in philosophy, physics, theology, psychology - in fact almost anything you cared to mention. He had been claiming to have irrefutable, scientific proof that the Christian god existed and that no other go did, and challenging people to debate him.

After one hilarious day during which, in the small hours of the morning in the UK, he posted dozens of challenges to me, one every few seconds and then declared victory claiming I had ignored him, I decided to call his bluff and challenged him to a formal, neutral and independently refereed debate,

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Pygmies - Another Big Problem for Creationists

Baka pygmies, West Africa
African pygmies evolved their short stature twice - health - 18 August 2014 - New Scientist

A paper published in PNAS last month is interesting for what it tells us of human evolution and of evolution in general, and it raises a major question for creationist loons to carefully avoid.

Significance

Tropical rainforest hunter-gatherer populations worldwide share the pygmy phenotype, or small human body size. The evolutionary history of this phenotype is largely unknown. Here we studied DNA from the Batwa, a rainforest hunter-gatherer population from east central Africa, to identify regions of the Batwa genome that underlie the pygmy phenotype. We then performed population genomic analyses to study the evolution of these regions, including comparisons with the Baka, a west central African rainforest hunter-gatherer population. We conclude that the pygmy phenotype likely arose due to positive natural selection and that it arose possibly

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Scientists At War!

Homo floresiensis
Scientists at war over claim that Flores hobbit man is modern human with Down's syndrome | Science | The Observer

This slightly alarming headline from the Observer leads neatly into a comparison between how scientists wage 'war' what's going on in the Middle East at the moment where theists are waging war - and happily killing one another and innocent civilians including women, children and other non-combatants as a matter of routine.

Another contrast of course is that, whereas the scientists' 'war' will undoubtedly end in agreement with almost

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Abiogenesis - The Day of Reckoning For Creationists is Nigh

Meet your maker: Homing in on the ancestor of all life - life - 12 August 2014 - New Scientist

Creationist pseudo-scientists have a problem, and not the obvious one of more and more people seeing through their deceptions, working out why they are necessary and realising a rational, scientific explanation is preferable to a magical one which requires lies and misinformation to promote it. The problem they have is, like the problem of the virtual certainty that at some point in the near future, scientists will find evidence of life on another planet, probably in another planetary system, the problem of one of their fundamental arguments being shown to be without any foundation.

I'm talking about the fact that science is getting closer

Religious Intolerance

Someone posted a question in our Why Atheism? Facebook group the other day asking which religion was the worst, especially in the context of the Middle East where the three Abrahamic religions are currently slugging it out for control of Iraq, Syria and Palestine, and in Africa where Muslims and Christians are also fighting and killing for their religions.

Looking at the history of Europe and the Middle East particularly, and later the history of European colonialism, it's probably true to say that, until 1948 the one Abrahamic religion that had generally been on the receiving end of persecution and atrocity and yet had no history of retaliation or counter atrocity was Judaism.

In fact, the contribution of Jews to European and Middle Eastern philosophy, art, politics, science, medicine,

Friday, 15 August 2014

Unintelligently Designed Fractal Ediacarans

A paper published recently in PNAS, showing how the earliest forms of multicellular life probably evolved and diversified according to a few simple mathematical rules, raises an important question for creationists which we can confidently expect them to ignore completely.

This early evolution occurred at a time when there would have been little or no cell specialisation and, perhaps more importantly, when there would have been no predators and the only competition would have been for limited resources in terms of dissolved nutrients. Quite simply, the organism which absorbed more nutrients would have produced more copies of itself.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Human Evolution - Completing the Picture

Neanderthal family (artists impression) Photograph: Nikola Solic/Reuters
To me, watching a science grow and develop is what makes it more like an adventure than a dull, academic subject. Discoveries are made and fed into the mix; ideas and opinions are contributed by people who are experts in the field; old ideas are revised, reviewed and discarded if necessary and eventually a new consensus emerges which is, in the long run, a little closer to the truth. All the while the picture grows in clarity, sometime becoming more complex that we thought and sometimes simpler.

How unlike religion where the entire effort is devoted to excusing yet again that which is nothing more than evidence-free dogma, finding new and ever-more creative workarounds for the fact of no evidence, and inventing new ways to bamboozle a diminishing following into believing that, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and despite the enormous gains of science and its contribution to human welfare since the enlightenment, their Bronze-Age belief in magic is the best explanation of reality.

A couple interesting articles in this week's New Scientist illustrate how our knowledge of human evolution keeps being added to and our understanding of is revised and refined accordingly.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Silly Bible - Lot of Nonsense

Albrecht Dürer Lot Fleeing with his Daughters from Sodom (1498)
The biblical story of Lot is another strange tale with no obvious reason for being in the Bible, at least so far as morality tales go. In fact, it shows the god of the Hebrews in a very poor light, overly obsessed with what humans do with their genitalia but having a low regard for women and no problem at all with incest. It also portrays it as far from omniscient, unsure of what justice means and easily persuaded by a mere human but then capriciously changing its mind and killing innocent people anyway simply for being there at the time.

We also see how the person writing it had difficulty holding a thought across more than a couple of paragraphs.

I have already written about the nonsensical account of God telling Abram that he was going to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and Abram bargaining God down from fifty to ten as the number of righteous people to be found in the cities to prevent him killing everyone, innocent or guilty.

There doesn't seem to have been any such attempt to find ten righteous men though and God sets about killing everyone anyway. To accomplish this he sends two angels to the city and they end up at Lot's house, where a mob comprising all the men of the city gather outside demanding to be allowed in to bugger the angels.

Monday, 4 August 2014

More Bible Blunders

Some time ago I wrote about Thomas Paine's debunking of the notion that the Pentateuch was written by Moses, as though supposedly writing about his own death and burial in a secret place wasn't enough. Thomas Paine, in The Age of Reason, written in 1794 showed that the Bible refuted that argument itself. First we are told in Genesis that:

And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan.

Genesis 14:14

Then later on we discover that it wasn't actually called 'Dan' until much later; before then it was called 'Laish'.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Parasites and Creationists

Heligmosomoides polygyrus
Photo: Janice Murray & Maizels Laboratory/University of Edinburgh
I've commented before on how parasites are a problem for creationists and, apart from their understandable shyness at discussing parasitism, this probably explains why creationist loons who misrepresent science and misinform scientifically illiterate people for a living never seem to discuss parasites or explain how they fit into an intelligent design model, especially one in which the supposed intelligent designer is omnibenevolent and created everything just for humans.

For example, the leading Discovery Institute (aka Liars For Power and Money, Inc.) propagandist for ID, Michael Behe, avoids completely any reference to the fact that his 'intelligently designed' E. coli flagellum appears to have only one purpose - helping E. coli make us sick.

With their evident discomfort in mind then, it gives me great pleasure to invite creationists to comment on an article and two papers published recently in Science concerning how infection by a parasitic worm (helminth) can appear to aid other parasites by helping them overcome the body's natural immune responses. In particular, I would like them to explain how this phenomenon is better explained by their intelligent-design-by-an-omnibenevolent-designer-who-did-it-all-for-humans model than it is by Darwinian evolution by Natural Selection.

Friday, 1 August 2014

The Incredible Shrinking Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs shrank for 50 million years to become birds - life - 31 July 2014 - New Scientist

I was surprised and more than a little disappointed to to see the angle taken in the above article. It looks almost designed to supply a handy quote for quote-mining creationist pseudo-scientists to mislead their credulous victims with.

"No other dinosaur group has undergone such a long and extended period of miniaturisation," says Mike Lee of the South Australian Museum in Adelaide. "Statistically this trend was far stronger than by chance, analogous to flipping a coin a dozen times and getting all heads."

[...]

The analysis reveals that the ancestors of birds shrank without interruption. "What was impressive was the consistency of the size change along the dinosaur-to-bird transition, with every descendant smaller than its ancestor," says Lee.

It's not till we get to the final sentence in that last paragraph that we discover there is a simple and obvious answer and one moreover which illustrates how Natural Selection makes evolution non-random.

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