Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Devil's Own Intelligent Design?

Tasmania devil Sarcophilus harrisii
A second transmissible cancer in Tasmanian devils.

A little over 30 years ago, Tasmanian devils, marsupials that lives only on the Australian island of Tasmania, began to develop fatal tumours on their face. It was subsequently found that this devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) was a transmissible cancer which is passed on when one animal bites another on the face and transfers live tumour cells to the new host.

It is thought that these transmitted cells are not recognised by the devils' immune system as foreign and so destroyed because they are genetically so close to the devil's own cells having developed in a highly in-bred population as the population declined and genetic diversity declined with it. Ironically, a parasite has arisen in a host, derived from the host itself.

Monday, 28 December 2015

2015 - Another Miserable Year for Creationism

This is the third year I've written up a brief summary of some of the most interesting papers on evolution and related science for the past year, and, like the previous two, it's been another miserable year for creationism.

To look at their sites like Ken Ham's AiG, though, it's almost as though they haven't noticed any science this year. There is still no dent in their dogmatic insistence that science has never provided any evidence for evolution.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

New Book: An Unprejudiced Mind

An Unprejudiced Mind: Atheism, Science and Reason is my latest book - a sequel to The Light Of Reason: And Other Atheist Writing series - again consisting of carefully selected essays and articles from this blog, this time concentrating primarily of the science behind biological evolution and how it has led to biodiversity, and contrasting it with the pseudo-philosophy of theology. It is available in both paperback and Kindle editions. Buyers of the paperback can also obtain the Kindle version at a greatly reduced rate.

The title is a partial quote by one Patrick Matthews (20 October 1790 – 8 June 1874) who has a plausible claim to have been the first to published the idea of evolution by natural selection, in 1831, almost 30 years befor Darwin and Wallace published their idea to the Linnean Society. Charles Darwin himself acknowledged his prior claim but pointed to the obscurity of his chosen publication medium - in a book on arboriculture with a very small circulation. Matthews had even published his claim to be the first to describe natural selection in a letter to an obscure gardening magazine.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Has the 'Intelligent Designer' Got OCD?

African straw-coloured bat
Filovirus receptor NPC1 contributes to species-specific patterns of ebolavirus susceptibility in bats | eLife

OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is characterised by repeatedly and obsessively doing something which appears to have no aim, or at least an aim which isn't furthered by constant repetition.

Yet, when we look at biology, we see examples in great abundance of what would appear to be obsessive, constant repetition which actually achieves nothing, as though the designer is on some sort of mental treadmill and incapable of getting off it - assuming, that is, that you believe in a designer. This is not the act of a mentally healthy or intelligent being.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Why Science Works - Looking at New Evidence

Homo erectus
Source: Wikipedia
PLOS ONE: A Hominin Femur with Archaic Affinities from the Late Pleistocene of Southwest China

A point that's been made many times before here and elsewhere, but which creationists don't seem to be able to understand, is that science progresses essentially because nothing is ever completely ruled out and new evidence is always carefully examined before being accepted or rejected. If acceptance means we need to revise our previous understanding, then we revise our understanding. It would be a complete absurdity for science to know that there was evidence showing that our understanding was wrong yet to ignore it and pretend it just wasn't there.

This of course is in stark contrast to creationism where loons like Ken Ham are actually admired for dogmatically stating that no evidence can ever contradict what creationists 'know' because creationists 'know' the truth, and they didn't get it from the evidence. This dogma, which of course is essential for people trying to maintain a sacred conclusion with the evidence so strongly against them and being added to all the time, enabled creationists to simply wave aside

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Happy Christmas - And No Religion Too

Millennials: Christmas more cultural than religious | Pew Research Center

The 'Millennials' in America have been increasingly rejecting mainstream religion and becoming more atheistic for some time now as shown in a Pew Center survey just a few weeks ago.

Now the Pew Research Centre has published a 2013 survey that shows how, rather than rejecting that quintessentially Christian festival, Christmas, Millennials are secularising it and turning it into a cultural celebration rather than a religious one. As a cultural event, Christmas is becoming an inclusive festival rather than an exclusive one that cynically increases in-group cohesion by automatically excludes religious minorities.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Mite Is Right For Evolution

Demodex folliculorum
Global divergence of the human follicle mite Demodex folliculorum: Persistent associations between host ancestry and mite lineages

Evolution is as plain as the mites on your face.

You see, we all have mites living in our hair follicles, especially the hair follicles of our face, such as our eyebrows and eyelashes. We're not unique in this; all mammals have these normally harmless little fellow travellers.

Britain Is No Longer A Christian Country

Baroness Butler-Sloss
LIVING WITH DIFFERENCE - community, diversity and the common good

In a report out a few days ago, a commision of enquiry into the role of religion in public life in Britain led by a former senior judge, The Rt Hon Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss GBE, has acknowledged that Britain is no longer a Christian country and recommends a systematic de-Christianisation of public life.

Not surprisingly, the mainstream Christian churches, who were heavily represented on the enquiry board, are crying foul, squealing like stuck pigs and demanding to be allowed to keep their special privileges and power, despite the fact that they are accountable to no-one and represent only a small and decreasing minority of the population.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

The Daft Designer Does It Again

Cellular defense against latent colonization foiled by human cytomegalovirus UL138 protein | Science Advances

Here's a little challenge to Michael Behe and his chums from the Discovery Institute.

No, it's not to explain how it came about because that's too easy. It's to explain why it came about. The problem is not that it is irreducibly complex but that it is irredeemably stupid.

Here's the situation:

A family of viruses, the herpesviruses, has a mechanism for overcoming the human immune system when it infects cells. It basically hides inside the cell nucleus looking for all the world like part of the normal genome and only in certain situations does it come out of hiding, start replicating and

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Why Science Works - Doing It Like Adults

The basic difference between science and religion is that science is grown up while religion is essentially childish. This is illustrated by a controversy which has suddenly blown up in a fairly obscure but none-the-less interesting aspect of evolutionary biology in the last week.

An interesting paper was published a few days ago which seemed to show that horizontal gene transfer (HGT) may account for up to 18% of the tardigrade ('water bear') genome, suggesting that HGT could have played a bigger role in the evolution of multicelular organisms than is generally recognised.

HGT is widely suspected to have played a part in the evolution of prokaryote cells so that acquiring genes

Thursday, 3 December 2015

How Evolution Gave Us Grannies

Human-specific derived alleles of CD33 and other genes protect against postreproductive cognitive decline

There's something special about a granny. Granddads are special too of course, but not quite like a granny. Ask my grandchildren.

Grandparents are biologically, on the face of it, a little bit of a mystery especially in a social species and especially in one like humans where for most people for most of the time until the discovery of agriculture, life consisted mostly of hunting and gathering food. Anyone not capable of joining in would have been a drain on the resources of those who could so it seems logical to suppose that any process which removed surplus people from the group after their fertile and productive years were over would be advantageous to the group and so would be expected to evolve. In fact, when you look at our closest relatives, chimpanzees, you find that the females tend to die soon after their fertility ceases.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Creationism's Big Problem

Otago researchers describe new North Pacific fossil whale, News at Otago, University of Otago, New Zealand.

This week's 'missing' transitional fossil is a new species of baleen whale which lived in what is now the North Pacific, 30 - 33 million years ago. It shows distinct evidence of transition between the toothed and the baleen whales.

Fucaia buelli is described in a paper published today in Royal Society Open Science by Ewan Fordyce and Cheng-Hsiu Tsa of the University of Otago, New Zealand and Dr Felix Marx of Museum Victoria, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

The Blue Tarantulas and the Stupid Designer

Singapore Blue Tarantula (Lampropelma violaceopes)

Source: Wikipedia
Blue reflectance in tarantulas is evolutionarily conserved despite nanostructural diversity | Science Advances

Imagine you're, say, a manufacturer of refrigerators and you've employed a designer to modernise your range. The basic technology is fine - things like the heat-exchange unit, door switch that turns the light on and off - and all you need is some styling to give your range more appeal in the prevailing market.

Now, what would you think if you found this designer was redesigning the heat exchanger or the coolant pump, not to make it any better - in fact some of his designs are worse than the ones you normally use - but because it hadn't occurred to him to use the ones you have in stock. In fact, he didn't know they had ever been designed before.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Northern Ireland - Catching Up On Human Rights

NI abortion law 'breaches human rights' | BBC News

In another example of how secular humanism is replacing archaic Christian bigotry and judgmentalism, the Northern Ireland High Court in Belfast has ruled that the Northern Ireland Abortion Laws, which differ markedly from those in the rest of the United Kingdom, are in breach of fundamental human rights.

Human rights, of course, come from the concept of maximising individual liberty, freedom of choice, freedom of conscience, equality before the Law and

Friday, 27 November 2015

Ashyxiated Whales Show Evolution In Progress

A: external view of sole’s tail hanging out of blowhole. B: blowhole cut open to the right side, revealing the sole in the vestibular sac. The white arrow indicates the left side of the blowhole opening, while the red arrow indicates the fish’s tail in both images.*
PLOS ONE: Fatal Asphyxiation in Two Long-Finned Pilot Whales (Globicephala melas) Caused by Common Soles (Solea solea)

A sad report published in PLOS ONE serves to illustrate the interaction between a species and its environment and poses a neat little question for those who still doubt that Darwinian Evolution by natural selection is the mechanism of adaptive change in a species.

Long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) normally live and hunt in North Atlantic, living on squid and other cephalopods and only rarely venture into the shallower North Sea. However, for reasons which may be related to the death from disease of one of the pod - a female - who may have become disorientated and led her extended family the wrong way (pods of pilot whales are known to stay close to a sick member) - a pod of 30-40 of these whales found their way into the North Sea in November 2014.

Six weeks later a decomposed long-finned pilot whale was found washed up on the Belgian coast. A post mortem found a flatfish, a common sole (Solea solea), stuck in the blowhole of the dead whale. Three weeks later another dead long-finned pilot whale was found with another common sole stuck in its blowhole. The strong probability is that both these whales were asphyxiated by these flatfish.

Does God Prefer Bats?

The evolution of bat nucleic acid-sensing Toll-like receptors - Escalera-Zamudio - 2015 - Molecular Ecology - Wiley Online Library

Here is today's embarrassing question for creationists. Does your hypothetical intelligent designer favour bats and hate the rest of us?

The reason you need to answer this is because a paper published today shows that bats have a better immune system than other mammals. I'm assuming that creationists only believe in one intelligent designer and not millions of competing intelligent designers all closely guarding their designs and refusing to share.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Drunken Catholic Monks Abused Minnesota School Boys

The Rev. Finian McDonald. "More than 200 victims."
Records reveal Minnesota priests raped hundreds of kids for decades — and church buried the evidence

Records released under court order last Tuesday give a glimpse of the extent of the institutionalised child abuse and cover-up by Catholic priests over a 20 year period at a private boys preparatory school run by monks from the St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota.

The order was granted by the judge as a result of an action brought by one of the victims. This is the first time the monastery has released any information relevant to these claims despite being embroiled in lawsuits for some 20 years. The papers only relate to five priests. Papers relating to allegations against a further fourteen priests have yet to be released.

One of the accused is Rev. Finian McDonald who has confessed to drinking heavily and preying on more than 200 victims, even traveling to Thailand to molest male child prostitutes as young as 13. The other four are Rev. Tom Gillespie, former priest Francis Hoefgen, the late Rev. Bruce Wollmering and the late Rev. Richard Eckroth. Earlier this year, Hoefgen was acquitted on a specific charge of sexually harassing a teenage boy but the released records show a pattern of predatory behaviour from the 1980s onwards.

Tardigrades Shock For Creatards

Inside the Bizarre Genome of the World’s Toughest Animal

If you want good evidence of the common origins of living organisms on Earth, it would be difficult to find anything better than the tardigrades or water bears.

These strange little creatures live just about everywhere on Earth from mountain tops to ocean depths, from hot springs to polar ice. They will even be found living in your guttering, and they are almost indestructible. They are so different to other creatures that they are given a phylum all of their own, the Tardigrada. There are something like 1,150 different species.

They survive long periods of extremely inhospitable conditions by withdrawing all their appendages inside

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Evolution Is Winning The Battle In USA

Majority of Unaffiliated Believe Evolution Occurred Through Natural Processes | Pew Research Center

We're in the End Times. The signs are unmistakable. Any day now, real soon...

The End-times for religious fundamentalism in America, that is. There are now clear and unmistakable signs that the battle in the USA between scientific evolution and biblical creationism is being won by science, and, if Europe is anything to go by, religion in the USA is standing on the brink and staring into the abyss.

Firstly, there was the Pew Research Centre survey into Americans, Politics and Science Issues published on 1st July 2015 from which the chart on the right is taken. This shows how acceptance of evolution has recently shown significant upswing in a year, having been almost static for the previous five. The movement is not large in absolute terms, from about 61 to 65% but this is far larger than anything recorded over the previous five years. There is also a corresponding downward swing in the proportion of people who believe in creationism.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Idiot Design - Why Mice Have Longer Sperms Than Elephants

Honestly! They are THAT big!
Sperm number trumps sperm size in mammalian ejaculate evolution | Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B.

When it comes to sperm, size does matter, but bigger is not always better.

In fact, according to a paper published by a University of Zurich team and published in the Royal Society of London Proceedings B, the bigger the species the better it is to have small sperms while the smaller the species, the better are sperms with big tails. Better, of course, being defined as being better able to find and fertilise the egg.

There are couple of reasons for this, one of which is

"God Hates Humans!" Winning The Antibiotic Arms Race

Escherichia coli
Emergence of plasmid-mediated colistin resistance mechanism MCR-1 in animals and human beings in China: a microbiological and molecular biological study - The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Creationists and especially the 'Intelligent Design' version, have some serious explaining to do.

Although they habitually try to hide the fact that creationism has a politico-religious agenda by pretending it is some sort of valid alternative science, to a person they are religious fundamentalists, usually Young Earth loons, and invariably oppose secularism and try to dismantle the 'wall of separation' which secular nations build between church and state. So, to assume they believe in a benevolent, anthropophilic

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Ancient Teeth Show Human Roots

Reconstruction of a Neanderthal woman
Source: PLOS Biology
Nuclear and mitochondrial DNA sequences from two Denisovan individuals | PNAS

If the name Svante Pääbo doesn't strike fear into the heart of creationist frauds they haven't done enough reading.

Svante Pääbo heads up the Department of Evolutionary Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany which has perfected the art of DNA recovery and is producing masses of DNA data and analysis showing how the modern human species , Homo sapiens, not only evolved but how we interbred with related species as we initially diverged, especially out of Africa. Pääbo's team were the first to extract Neanderthal DNA and to show how non-African H. sapiens have around 4% of Neanderthal DNA and thus must have interbred with them when we migrated out of Africa and found an ancient population of H. neanderthalensis already in Eurasia.

They also isolated DNA from a finger bone found in the Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia and showed that a third species of Homo, related to but distinct from Neanderthals, co-existed in East Asia with both us and Neanderthals and contributed a variable amount of their DNA to the H. sapiens of Southeast Asia and Oceania.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Mormon Cult Losing Members Over Homophobic Bullying

Thousands To Quit Mormon Church Over New Anti-Gay Decree – Public Mass Resignation Event Saturday - The New Civil Rights Movement

News that thousands of Mormons are planning to leave the cult in protest at its decision to increase the persecution of homosexuals is evidence that the Mormon cult, like other churches, is struggling to keep up with the penetration of humanist values into society.

Like the Catholic Church which is haemorrhaging members in the developed world over it's persecution

No More Arguments - Birds Are Modern Dinosaurs

Bird embryos uncover homology and evolution of the dinosaur ankle : Nature Communications : Nature Publishing Group

Science is like a detective story. You accumulate evidence, examine it and let it lead you to the truth. But in that body of evidence there may be a few little pieces that seem to be pointing to a different truth or to falsify the truth that everything else seems to be pointing to. The question is, how strong is this little bit of contrary evidence? Can the overall conclusion live with it or is it fatal so that some other truth has to be found to accommodate it and all the other evidence?

Often, the problem can be solved by a closer reassessment of this evidence. Things look very different under a microscope.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Jumping Genes Jump All Over Creationism


Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Grabbing a parasite by the tail: Team solves 'jumping gene' mystery: First demonstration of the poly(A) tail's key role in LINE-1 retrotransposition -- ScienceDaily

Here's a conundrum for creationists.

What intelligent purpose could there possibly be for creating short pieces of DNA that randomly cause genetic diseases such as haemophilia, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and cancer by randomly jumping from one location to another in our genome and sometimes landing in the middle of an essential gene causing it to mutate?

I can only think of two reasons, if you can call the second one a reason. Malevolent intent or mindlessness. Perhaps a creationist can suggest a benevolent reason for it because I can think of none whatsoever.

Apparently, these short 'jumping' genes come in two forms. Both need a 'tail' of a short stretch of multiple copies of adenosine (poly(A)) so that a protein called ORF2p can attach

Thursday, 12 November 2015

My Books - What The Critics Say

I love Amazon's book reviews. Basically, anyone can say anything they want. Fortunately, there is a check that they've bought the book (a verified purchase) but anyone can write anything they want, truth or lies, accurate or inaccurate. Even semi-literate creationist trolls are free to post their abuse apparently with impunity.

Despite that though, and I'm fairly sure most of these people have actually bought or read the books, there are some really flattering reviews.

From Amazon UK
  • Excellent tonic for the rational. (Amazon Customer, verified purchase)
  • Well written if a little heavy going for someone like me. If you've enjoyed Rosa's blog postings over the years you'll enjoy this with a mix of new articles and some older ones that have been updated. (Wulf)
  • Garbage. A compilation of bullocks from his blog written under a fake name that you can google for free if you want to waste your time. (Timothy - ie Timothy Kerchner, Tiny Tim the habitual Internet abuser and creationist.)

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Religious 'Nones' Quickly Becoming Less Religious

Religious 'nones' becoming more secular | Pew Research Center

More signs of the growing penetration of secular Atheism into that bastion of Christian fundamentalism, the USA, was published today by the Pew Research Center. One wonders if there will ever again be an honest survey which is good news for religion. It has been relentlessly bad news for about the last 50 years and seems to be getting much worse.

Recent surveys have tended to concentrate not so much on the growth of Atheism in America per se but in the growth on 'nones' as a proportion of the population and consequent decline in the proportion of groups such as Catholics, Episcopalian, Baptist and other Protestants, etc.

Several people have rightly pointed out that 'none' is not the same as Atheist and that many 'nones' remain religious, some deeply so. It simply means anyone who doesn't self-identify as affiliated to any particular faith or denomination.

The Power Of Magical Thinking

Believing What We Do Not Believe: Acquiescence to Superstitious Beliefs and Other Powerful Intuitions | PsycNET

How do religious people manage to hold two mutually exclusive view simultaneously?

How for example, does someone like Francis Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project and passionate advocate for evolution on an old Earth in an older Universe, whose entire academic career depended on his understanding and acceptance of the role of DNA in evolution, still manage to believe he needs to beg forgiveness because he inherited the 'sin' of a founding pair of humans who were made by magic a few thousand years ago?

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Blessed Are The Cringe-Makers...

Talking Jesus Booklet | Evangelical Alliance, Church of England & Hope Together

I wrote a few days ago about a survey showing that 39% of English people believed Jesus is fiction. This survey, carried out by Barna Group and ComRes, has now been published in the form of a booklet - and it makes some more astonishing reading.

Firstly, it found that, of those English adults who believe Jesus was real, only 20% believe he was a god. 47% think he was a normal human being, a prophet or a spiritual leader of some sort. If anything, this finding is even more encouraging than the 39% who think Jesus is fiction.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Evolution In Progress In Europe's Smallest Bird

Female Western goldcrest (R. r. regulus)
Photo credit: Missy Osborn Source: Wikipedia
We went to church this morning. To be strictly accurate, we went to a church car park.

Against the backdrop of a leaden sky and slightly damping but unseasonably mild breeze, and following a fair amount of rain yesterday, we decided to go for a slightly muddy walk in St Mary's Fields in Kidlington. What we saw leads me to another illustration of the logical absurdity and scientific sterility of the cult of creationism in its various sub-flavours.

We had to go to Kidlington to check on some work being done to a cottage for an absent relative, so stuck for something to do we decided to explore this village to the north of Oxford which claims to be the biggest

Friday, 6 November 2015

Good Without God - Children of Atheists More Generous

The Negative Association between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism across the World | Current Biology

Despite their posturing as paragons of moral virtue, often shouted out from what more resembles the sewer beneath gutter than the rooftops they imagine they are standing on, a study has shown that children of religious parents, and so it must be assumed the parents from whom these children get their morals, are actually less moral than the children of Atheist parents.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

How Humans And Rice Co-Evolved

Three geographically separate domestications of Asian rice : Nature Plants

Here is a good example of how a change in a species' environment can cause evolution and how that evolutionary change can feed back into the environment to cause changes in yet another species. In this case it's about how the different varieties of rice evolved and how these new varieties then facilitated changes in human populations and human culture.

It has generally been assumed that rice cultivation began in China along the Yangtze River Valley some

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

The Darwin Creationist Award 2015 - Call For Candidates

After a gap of a year, I've decided to reinstate the prestigious Darwin Creationist Award. Well, there are far too many hilarious anti-science, pro-ignorant superstition posts on Facebook and Twitter to waste on the gullible and credulous who probably don't appreciate the funny side or the sheer 22 caret gold balm-pot lunacy that lurks in creationism, so we might as well have a good laugh and allow a wider audience to enjoy them too.

And what better way to discredit creationism than a display of creationist... er... creativity, and lack of critical thinking skills, than to put them on public display?

Unlike the Darwin Award, which is given to anyone who, by an act so stupid, improved the human gene pool by removing themselves and their genes from it, the Darwin Creationist award is given to the creationists who, by a post on the social media so stupid that it helps to improve the human meme pool by removing creationism from it. The winner will be decided by popular vote. The prize will be getting their effort to a wider audience so they can enjoy it too.

Recent winners can be see here, and here. Can anyone beat Joe Cienkowski's winning entry from 2013?

Post links in comments below, in reply to the post on G+ or to my Facebook timeline here or the dedicated Darwin Creationist Award Facebook page. Please supply a link to the candidate post with enough detail to identify the poster and include an optional citation explaining why the candidate is worthy of the award. Posts must be original. Creationists may not nominate themselves, even if under the impression that the award is intended as an endorsement of their post.

Here's a starter:
  1. Nominee: Richard Haralambos (Facebook) - 03 Nov 2015
    Text: Lots nonsense they drape in science that are nothing but (theories) they call it but rare nothing but logical fallacy and strawman invented stories....
    Smaller then the head of a pin.... Idiots with no common sense can tell that's weak and stupid...

    Citation: In typical creationist self-worshipping style, Richard feels he doesn't need to learn any science because his intuition tells him everything he needs to know, including the 'fact' that scientists are mentally defective for not agreeing with him.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Evolution In Progress: New Wasp Species Emerging

Utetes canaliculatus, one of the wasps in the process of evolving.
Sequential divergence and the multiplicative origin of community diversity | PNAS

And another mainstay of creationism - the nonsensical dogma that new species can't arise by evolution - comes crashing down, as does the dogma that speciation has never been observed.

Evolution is primarily driven by environmental change because these changes open up new opportunities for random variations to be an advantage in, so creating something for natural selection to select for (or not to select against). In this way, biodiversity feeds upon itself to give more biodiversity.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Jesus Is Fiction Say 39% of English People

Jesus 'not a real person' many believe - BBC News

According to a poll of 3,000 people living in England, conducted jointly by the Church of England, Hope and the Evangelical Alliance, 39% of those questions didn't believe Jesus was a real person. This was particularly marked amongst the under 35 year-olds who were 25% more likely to reject the historicity of Jesus than the over 35's.

The same survey also found that 'over 43%' of those interviewed believe Jesus rose from the dead. Stated that way round it doesn't look quite so bad for

Friday, 30 October 2015

Transitional Human Ancestor From Spain

Reconstruction of the skull and representation of Pliobates cataloniae.

Miocene small-bodied ape from Eurasia sheds light on hominoid evolution

I said the other day that this was shaping up to be another bad week for creationists (are there ever any good ones?). Now scientists have only gone and found another of those 'non-existent transitional fossils'.

This one is from the our branch of the evolutionary tree at a point soon after the divergence of primates into the Old World or catarrhine monkeys and the anthropoid apes and close to the point where the anthropoid branch diverged again into the gibbons or hylobatids and the hominoids (great apes, including humans). It suggests that the last common ancestor of ours and gibbons was more gibbon-like than has generally been assumed.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Unlike Creationists, Ravens Can Tell Right From Wrong

Tolerance and reward equity predict cooperation in ravens (Corvus corax) : Scientific Reports

Who would you expect to be better at telling right from wrong and deciding on an ethical course of action, a devoutly religious person or a Raven?

The answer, if we take the word of creationists, religious fundamentalists and even many serious theologians, is maybe surprising.

Monday, 26 October 2015

God The Amnesiac Creator

Micromelerpeton credneri from the Early Permian of Germany. Regeneration of the forelimb is indicated in the sequence and results in a hand with malformations.

Credit: Kalliopi Monoyios - Science Illustration and Communication
Source: ScienceDaily
Deep-time evolution of regeneration and preaxial polarity in tetrapod limb development | Nature.

"Why doesn't God heal amputees?"

Despite all the claims of faith healers, all the assurances that if you have enough faith and pray hard enough, God will provide for your needs, humans don't regenerate limbs and nor do any other mammals. I suppose a small handful of amputees could be found who wouldn't want their limb(s) restored in full working order but I've never heard of one and I doubt many people have, so it's safe to assume that amongst amputees there are very many who must have tried prayer.

Yet there is no authenticated case of a human limb ever regenerating beyond the tip of a finger occasionally regenerating in children under 5 years old if the amputation is clean and above the nail bed.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Civil War Erupts In The Vatican

Vatican synod holds its line on gay couples but offers new hope to Catholic divorcees | World news | The Guardian

Pope Francis’s enemies inside the church leaked false story that he had a brain tumour, enraged Vatican says | National Post

Despite starting off with high hopes that Pope Francis would prevail in the Synod of Bishops in his efforts to liberalise the Catholic Church and soften its image, after three weeks of tortuous and acrimonious debate, the conservatives have again prevailed and reaffirmed the Catholic Church's implacably hostile bigotry toward homosexuality, again declaring that homosexuality is an 'intrinsic disorder'.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Why Smelly Eggs Evolved. No Intelligence There, Then!

Stick insect eggs

Photo credit: Piotr Naskrecki/Minden Pictures/Corbis | Source: Science
Stick insects lure ants with fatty knobs | Science/AAAS | News

Here's a lovely example of evolved mimicry, this time in stick insects. Stick insects are noted for their mimicry of, well... sticks really.

By studying the Australian stick insect, Eurycnema goliath, Australian scientists from Macquarie University, North Ryde, New South Wales and The University of Melbourne, have discovered that they also employ mimicry to have their eggs dispersed and protected - by ants.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Earliest Flowering Plants But No Bouquet for Creationists

Montsechia fossil

Photo: Bernard Gomez/Lyon University, France
Source: Smithsonian.com
Montsechia, an ancient aquatic angiosperm

I often used to start these sorts of blogs off with a comment about it being yet another bad week for creationism, but quite honestly it's increasingly difficult to find a week which hasn't been relentlessly bad for creationism.

No wonder they have just about given up trying to refute the scientific evidence against their crackpot notion and have tended to concentrate on trying to discredit the scientific method and even science itself, or simply trying to get away with ancient creationist articles that were long ago refuted by science, in the hope that they'll find a few ignorant dupes who don't know enough to know they've been refuted.

For example, this paper has pushed back the date of

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

How Science Works - New Thinking From Old Teeth

These 47 human teeth, dated to 80,000-120,000 years ago, were found in a limestone cave system in Daoxian, China.
Photos: S. Xing and X-J. Wu
Source: Nature (reprinted under licence #3733841429431)
Teeth from China reveal early human trek out of Africa | Nature.

An example of how science continually reassesses what it thinks it knows and adjusts its theories in the light of new evidence, was published a few days ago in Nature. It's things like this that makes science such an exciting, living thing, full of surprises and so rewarding for anyone interested in gaining a real understanding of the world we live in.

We thought we had the pattern of the expansion of fully modern humans out of Africa and into Eurasia pretty much worked out, give or take a few thousand years. It also seemed fairly clear that our interaction with the

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Order From Chaos, Even In The Rocks Of Ages

Why Hexagonal Basalt Columns? | Physical Review Letters

I've never been to the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland, nor to Fingal's Cave on Staffa in the Outer Hebrides but they're on my bucket list. Maybe one day when I'm rich from <irony>all my book sales </irony>. What I have seen though is the Great Whin Sill alongside Hadrian's Wall at Houseteads in Cumbria.

They're not so obvious there but parts of the Whin Sill are composed of hexagonal stacks like the Giant's Causeway. At first glance it would be easy to assume that they are man-made or even superman-made (hence the legend of Benandonner and Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool)), those remnants of the pre-Christian Irish pantheon.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Creationism Fails! Universe Didn't Need A God To Exist

Short distance physics of the inflationary de Sitter universe - IOPscience.

A team of Canadian theoretical physicists claim to have solved the question of how the Universe arose from nothing. And guess what? It didn't need a magic creator; it can all be explained in materialist terms.

Now, I don't have the maths or detailed knowledge of physics to be able to fully understand the underlying principles they used, let alone to be able to explain it in simple terms, so I'm dependant on what others have said.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Oldest Mammal Skin, Hair and Internal Organs.

Spinolestes xenarthrosus, 125 million-year-old remains, found in Cuenca, in what was the Las Hoyas wetland area of central Spain.

Photograph: Georg Oleschinski.
Source: The Guardian.
A Cretaceous eutriconodont and integument evolution in early mammals | Nature.

Like the stunning early bird fossil from Spain which I wrote about a few days ago, another fossil from Spain, this time of an early mammal from about the same period, demands some answers from creationists. Like the bird fossil, this one sheds a lot of light on the early evolution of this order as they diversified from their reptilian ancestors in an environment still dominated by the dinosaurs.

The thing about this fossil, apart from its age, is the amazing detail of the hair, skin and internal organs which has been preserved. The belief is that the body of this small, rat-sized, insect-eating mammal probably ended up in a bog where it became coated with a bacterial sheet soon after death which offered a degree of protection. It extends the earliest fossil record of mammalian skin back 60 million years to 125 million years.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

No Doubt Now, Birds Evolved From Dinosaurs

A comprehensive phylogeny of birds (Aves) using targeted next-generation DNA sequencing | Nature.

Just a couple of days ago I wrote about another one of those 'transitional' fossils creatonists insist aren't there, and how this one shows how birds had evolved out of theropod dinosaurs and should more properly be regarded as flying dinosaurs.

I also speculated about whether it was warm-bloodedness and feathers which helps them survive the climate change following the the meteor strike which probably abruptly exterminated the terrestrial dinosaurs so opening up niches for the birds and mammals to radiate into.

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