Saturday, 19 August 2017

Just Another (Not) Missing Link!

Chilesaurus diegosuarezi, from the Late Jurassic period.

Artist's impression. Photograph: Gabriel L O/AFP/Getty Images
Chilesaurus and Ornithischia | Biology Letters

One of the mysteries of dinosaur evolution has been explained. It's another of those 'missing' links! It's a transitional species between two major groups of dinosaur - the herbivorous species like stegosaurus and the carnivores like T. rex.

Publishing in Biology Letter Matthew G. Baron of the Department of Earth Science, Cambridge University, UK and Paul M. Barrett of the Natural History Museum, have shown that a dinosaur from the Late Jurassic, found in Chile, formerly believed to be a theropod dinosaur turned vegetarian, is actually the stem species that was the progenitor of two quite different groups - the saurischians and the ornithischians.

These two groups were formerly thought to be only distantly related with no clear connection between them. This new examination of Chilesaurus diegosuarezi shows that this genus was the 'missing link' between the two groups. It wasn't a case of a carnivorous theropod reverting to vegetarianism but the vegetarian group from which the carnivores had evolved.

A close examination showed that Chilesaurus diegosuarezi had a mixture of both groups, just as you would expect as 'transitional' species to have.

The enigmatic dinosaur taxon Chilesaurus diegosuarezi was originally described as a tetanuran theropod, but this species possesses a highly unusual combination of features that could provide evidence of alternative phylogenetic positions within the clade. In order to test the relationships of Chilesaurus, we added it to a new dataset of early dinosaurs and other dinosauromorphs. Our analyses recover Chilesaurus in a novel position, as the earliest diverging member of Ornithischia, rather than a tetanuran theropod. The basal position of Chilesaurus within the clade and its suite of anatomical characters suggest that it might represent a ‘transitional’ taxon, bridging the morphological gap between Theropoda and Ornithischia, thereby offering potential insights into the earliest stages of ornithischian evolution, which were previously obscure. For example, our results suggest that pubic retroversion occurred prior to some of the craniodental and postcranial modifications that previously diagnosed the clade (e.g. the presence of a predentary bone and ossified tendons).

The scientific importance of this discovery is not exactly earth-shattering to science, despite the news media sensationalising it with stories about how the textbooks will have to be re-written. Of course they'll have to be rewritten. They're always having to be rewritten to keep up with the latest discoveries and developments. For science, it simply clarifies something that wasn't fully understood or explained. It merely confirms what was predicted by evolutionary theory anyway - that related groups of dinosaur shared a common ancestor in their evolutionary history.

For creationism, although this discovery will make not one iota of difference to their insistence that these 'transitional' species never existed, it should make a difference if creationism was really based on evidence. Evidence like this, if they applied the same standards they demand science adhere to in terms of evidence, should destroy a fundamental claim of creationism and render the entire notion redundant.

Which is why those who make their living selling creationism will never acknowledge these sorts of facts. The truth is simply too toxic for them.

'via Blog this'

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Creationism In Crisis. A Notion With No Practical Use

Scientists Map Sex Chromosome Evolution in Fungi | Duke Today

Chemical profile of ants adapts quickly to selection pressure

I won't call creationism a theory in crisis because that would be giving it a scientific standing far about what it deserves. It's a notion; a guess with no supporting evidence; an idea with no practical application other than making a few deeply ignorant people feel important enough.

A point I've made several time recently, but which I'll repeat again for those who may have missed it, science, especially biological, geological, archaeological and cosmological science, daily and routinely refutes creationism without the slightest effort or intent simply by reporting the facts.

This is illustrated by two papers published today which show that evolution is the very foundation of modern biology and the theory which makes sense of almost everything we can observe. The first concerns an explanation for how sex determinism in a species of pathological fungus came about. It was published today in PLoS Biology
by a research team from Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, USA: It comes complete with a neat animation summarising the process:

A schematic figure from the paper illustrates how recombination occurred at the centromere and then genes migrated and fused to leave Cryptococcus with just two sexes, when before it had many.

Credit: Sheng Sun, Duke University
This is an uncorrected proof

Species within the human pathogenic Cryptococcus species complex are major threats to public health, causing approximately 1 million infections globally annually. Cryptococcus amylolentus is the most closely known related species of the pathogenic Cryptococcus species complex, and it is non-pathogenic. Additionally, while pathogenic Cryptococcus species have bipolar mating systems with a single large mating type (MAT) locus that represents a derived state in Basidiomycetes, C. amylolentus has a tetrapolar mating system with 2 MAT loci (P/R and HD) located on different chromosomes. Thus, studying C. amylolentus will shed light on the transition from tetrapolar to bipolar mating systems in the pathogenic Cryptococcus species, as well as its possible link with the origin and evolution of pathogenesis. In this study, we sequenced, assembled, and annotated the genomes of 2 C. amylolentus isolates, CBS6039 and CBS6273, which are sexual and interfertile. Genome comparison between the 2 C. amylolentus isolates identified the boundaries and the complete gene contents of the P/R and HD MAT loci. Bioinformatic and chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing (ChIP-seq) analyses revealed that, similar to those of the pathogenic Cryptococcus species, C. amylolentus has regional centromeres (CENs) that are enriched with species-specific transposable and repetitive DNA elements. Additionally, we found that while neither the P/R nor the HD locus is physically closely linked to its centromere in C. amylolentus, and the regions between the MAT loci and their respective centromeres show overall synteny between the 2 genomes, both MAT loci exhibit genetic linkage to their respective centromere during meiosis, suggesting the presence of recombinational suppressors and/or epistatic gene interactions in the MAT-CEN intervening regions. Furthermore, genomic comparisons between C. amylolentus and related pathogenic Cryptococcus species provide evidence that multiple chromosomal rearrangements mediated by intercentromeric recombination have occurred during descent of the 2 lineages from their common ancestor. Taken together, our findings support a model in which the evolution of the bipolar mating system was initiated by an ectopic recombination event mediated by similar repetitive centromeric DNA elements shared between chromosomes. This translocation brought the P/R and HD loci onto the same chromosome, and further chromosomal rearrangements then resulted in the 2 MAT loci becoming physically linked and eventually fusing to form the single contiguous MAT locus that is now extant in the pathogenic Cryptococcus species.

Author summary
This manuscript explores the evolution of the genomic regions encoding the mating type loci of basidiomycetous fungi. Typically, the mating system is tetrapolar, meaning that it is composed of 2 unlinked mating type (MAT) loci (P/R and HD) that are located on different chromosomes. However, species with bipolar mating systems, in which the P/R and HD loci are located on the same chromosome, have also been identified. Tetrapolar and bipolar species are often closely related, suggesting the transition between these 2 mating systems might occur frequently. For example, the species within the human fungal pathogenic Cryptococcus species complex have bipolar mating systems, with 1 large MAT locus that appears to be a fusion product of the P/R and HD loci. On the other hand, the species that is the closest outgroup to these pathogenic species, Cryptococcus amylolentus, appears to have a classic tetrapolar mating system. Interestingly, the 2 MAT loci of C. amylolentus exhibit centromeric linkage during meiosis, and as a consequence, their resulting meiotic segregation pattern differs from other regions of the genome. Additionally, both pathogenic and non-pathogenic species are found to have large regional centromeres enriched with transposable and repetitive elements. Our genome comparison analyses indicated that these regional centromeres underwent ectopic recombination during the evolution of these 2 lineages. Based on these observations, we propose a model for the transition from the tetrapolar mating system in non-pathogenic C. amylolentus to the bipolar mating system in its related pathogenic species that is initiated by intercentromeric ectopic recombination, followed by chromosomal rearrangements. These events moved the 2 MAT loci closer to each other and eventually fused them to form a single MAT locus. This model is also consistent with recent findings on the organization of MAT loci in other basidiomycetous species.

The Duke press release explains:

Scientists have been studying the evolution of sex chromosomes for more than a century. In the 1960’s, Japanese-American geneticist and evolutionary biologist Susumu Ohno proposed a theory in which the genes determining sex first arose at various spots scattered across the entire genome, but over time were “captured” on the sex chromosomes. In humans, those chromosomes go by the familiar X and Y; in birds, they are known as Z and W; in moss, they are called U and V.

Regardless of the name or species, Heitman contends that some universal principles could govern the evolution of all sex chromosomes. He and an international team of researchers focused on the last common ancestor of the human pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans and its nearest sibling species, a non-pathogen called Cryptococcus amylolentus.

In C. amylolentus, dozens of genes at two different locations on the chromosomes control what’s called a tetrapolar, or four-part, mating system. At one location or locus known as P/R, genes encode pheromones and pheromone receptors that help the fungus recognize compatible mating types. At the other locus, called HD, genes govern the development of sexual structures and reproductive spores.

The researchers sequenced the entire genome of C. amylolentus, mapping the location of all the genes as well as the centromeres on each of the organism’s 14 chromosomes.

They found that the genomes had undergone quite a bit of rearrangement since the two species shared a common ancestor, at least 50 million years ago. For example, chromosome 1 of C. neoformans contained pieces of four different chromosomes from C. amylolentus, providing evidence of multiple translocations, some within the centromere.


In this study, the researchers showed that in Cryptococcus amylolentus, the ancestral state, the P/R locus resided on chromosome 10 and the HD locus on chromosome 11. But in Cryptococcus neoformans, the evolved state, those loci ended up in one place. According to their model, multiple translocations deposited the two sex determinants on the same chromosome, with a centromere in between. Subsequent rearrangements put P/R and HD next to each other. The result was an organism with a bipolar mating system, much like the male and female sexes that embody most species.

“In any kind of model like this, you are thinking about what could have been the organization in the last common ancestor, which is now extinct so you can’t know definitively,” said Heitman. “But in each of these lineages, there are multiple evolutionary events that have occurred, and you can use genomics to turn back the hands of time and deduce the trajectory.”

So there we have the entire explanation in terms of evolution and the study was predicated on the two species sharing a common ancestor. The current situation makes no sense otherwise but is perfectly understandable as the product of an evolutionary process. What doesn't make sense is that a designer, intelligent or not, would use two widely different systems for sex determination in two related species unless it keeps inventing solutions to the same problem then forgetting them and starting over.

Nest of Crematogaster scutellaris in a cork oak in southern France.

Photo credit: Florian Menzel, JGU
The second paper deal with the ability of ants to quickly adapt to environmental change. The question for creationists is obvious, and unanswerable - why would an intelligent designer design ants for one environment, then change the environment so it had to redesign the ants. Or perhaps that should be, how can that possibly be described as intelligent or even good design?

Sadly, the paper by evolutionary biologist Dr. Florian Menzel of the University of Würzburg, Germany together with colleagues from the Smithsonian Institute, Washing DC, USA, is behind a paywall and I haven't been able yet to obtain permission to reprint the abstract, but a University of Würzburg press release gives the details (auto-translated from German into English):

Crematogaster levior, a South American ant species that lives in symbiosis with other ant species in the same nest.

Photo credit: Florian Menzel, JGU
The body of ants and other insects is covered by a thin, waxy layer, which protects them from drying out, and which, especially in the case of social insects, serve the exchange of information, for example to distinguish enemies from nesting companions. Because of its dual function, this skin layer is not only essential for life, it is also so unique that it can serve as a unique identification and identification feature for an insect species like a fingerprint. Even closely related species can be distinguished by this layer. This is due to their composition of cuticular hydrocarbons, which form a specific chemical profile. Biologists of the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz (JGU) have now determined.

Kuticular hydrocarbons can consist of over 100 different substances, so they are extremely diverse. They are found on the cuticle of almost all insects and prevent water loss and dehydration so that the animals can survive even in a dry environment. CHCs, abbreviated by English Cuticular Hydrocarbons, are also the most important communication channel for social insects: they provide information about the affiliation of an animal to the colony, its caste and its task in the colony as well as in the case of queens about reproductive status The functioning of an insect colony is irreplaceable. In many solitary insects they serve as sexuallock [sexual pheromones].

"The evolution of such complex features, which fulfill quite different functions, is still bound up with many puzzles", explains the evolutionary biologist Dr. Florian Menzel. The scientist is particularly interested in whether CHC profiles remain relatively stable during the course of evolution, such as morphological features such as size or body shape, or whether they can change more rapidly and flexibly as a result of evolutionary change than other characteristics.

Related ant species with different CHC profiles

For the study Menzel and his co-operation partners from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and the University of Würzburg investigated ants of the genus Crematogaster, with about 1000 species one of the most species of genotypes at all. These tipping elements can tilt their rear body upwards and in this way release poison or defenses into the environment and also into the surrounding air. The scientists selected 43 species of ants from the genus Crematogaster from five continents and examined them for their kinship and their chemical profile. "We wanted to know whether species that are juxtaposed in the family tree also have similar hydrocarbon profiles", says Menzel.

In fact, the evolutionary biologists found no agreement, however: species can differ strongly in the CHC profile. The profiles can therefore change more quickly in the course of evolution than morphological features or behaviors. "The ants obviously have a large genetic arsenal that they can adapt to change their CHC profile", explains Menzel. He assumes that the ants have the possibility to bring the chemical signals to a new level in an evolutionary short time if, for example, they require altered environmental conditions.

The important point from the point of view of this blog post is that once again, evolution provides the only logical way to understand these results. It makes absolutely no sense at all to ascribe it to intelligent design. What intelligent designer would design ants to function in a given environment than have to redesign them because it has change their environment?

Every paper on almost anything to do with biology has the Theory of Evolution as its fundamental basis. No piece of scientific research ever concludes that it was magic done by a magic entity. Simply reporting on the facts as discovered refutes creationism incidentally and without intent. This doesn't look to me like a theory in crisis as the Dishonesty Institute and other fundamentalist Christian extremist front organisations would have their dupes believe. It look very much to any objective observer as though the crisis is with the notion of creationism.

'via Blog this'

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Just Another of Those Mythical 'Missing Links'

Alesi, the skull of the new extinct ape species Nyanzapithecus alesi (KNM-NP 59050).

Photo © Fred Spoor
The Leakey Foundation | New 13 million-year-old infant skull sheds light on ape ancestry

It's another bad week for creationism. Is there ever a good week?

Close on the report of the earliest known primate fossil we now have the remarkably complete skull of an infant who lived 13 million years ago in what is now Kenya, and which is close to the common ancestor of the hominids and the other African apes. It gives us a fairly good idea of what the last common ancestor would have looked like.

The skull was found by fossil hunter John Ekusi in 13 million year-old rock layers in the Napudet area, west of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya; a formation that is easy to date reliably because of the activity of a nearby volcano. The skull, along with forest trees, was buried by volcanic ash, showing that they were buried during the same catastrophic event.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Evolution! Now a Theory With Teeth!

Chupkaornis keraorum.
Credit: Masato Hattori
Amateur collectors in Japan discover country's first and oldest fossil diving bird -- ScienceDaily

As a keen fossil hunter in my early days, I dreamed of finding something more than the usual marine shells - the muscles, oysters, bivalves and marine snails that are common in North Oxfordshire limestone deposits - so I can imagine how two Japanese fossil-hunting brothers, Masatoshi and Yasuji Kera, on the island of Hokkaido must have felt when they found nine skeletal elements of what turned out to be the oldest early Asian diving bird.

Fossils of these birds are relatively common in the Northern Hemisphere, but this is the first to be found in Asia and the first from the easterm margin of the Eurasian continent.

Another Intermediate Gap-Filling Fossil!

3-D images of Archicebus achilles.

Image credit: ESRF/P. Tafforeau. Source: ESRF News.
The oldest known primate skeleton and early haplorhine evolution : Nature : Nature Research

I'm thinking of starting another blog called Filling The Gaps. There are just too many examples of these 'missing' fossils to include in this one without it coming to resemble a blog devoted to nothing else.

These examples of things creationists insist are missing being found and described by science are almost a daily occurrence from the field of biology alone. If science was bothered about creationism and scientists felt they still needed to prove evolution and disprove creationism there would probably be several scientific journals called something like the Journal of Creation Falsification or Journal of Evolution, but of course it isn't needed because science has no such need.

There is a reason creationism is absolutely obsessed with falsifying and misrepresenting science and presenting science as some sort of vast conspiracy theory or based on false assumptions and therefore invalid - unless it can be made to appears to support creationism, then it's conclusive and irrefutable, of course.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Winning The Mammoth War.

On the Menu: Mammoth and Plenty of Raw Vegetables - Early modern humans consumed more plants than Neanderthals but ate very little fish

How fast science progresses!

Not long ago we weren't even sure how and where Neanderthals fitted in the human family tree. Were they ancestors of modern Europeans? Were they just a regional variant; a subspecies; a different species entirely? Did they or could they interbreed with modern humans?

Now most of those questions have been answered with some degree of confidence, and not a few surprises, thanks to DNA analysis, and we're just left with questions about how, why and exactly when anatomically modern humans replaced Neanderthals across western Eurasia.

Was it our superior technology? Hardly. We both used stone tools and hunted with spears. Was it our higher intelligence? Our brains are actually smaller but maybe organised differently, so maybe we could learn and adapt more quickly? Was it a better social organisation? Neanderthals seem to have lived in small, relatively isolated family groups in which incestuous breeding was common if not normal. Did this lead to genetic weaknesses accumulating? Did it mean hunting large game was more difficult with fewer numbers?

Saturday, 5 August 2017

100 Million Year-Old Flower

The ancestral flower was bisexual with multiple whorls (concentric cycles) of petal-like organs, in sets of threes.

Copyright: Hervé Sauquet/Jürg Schönenberger.
What flowers looked like 100 million years ago.

Flowering plants are by far the most diverse group of plants comprising so 300,000 different species. They were, however, late on the scene in evolutionary terms, only evolving some 140 million years ago.

This puts their evolution towards the end of the age of dinosaurs in the Cretaceous, when the ancestors of mammals were still mammaliform synapsids. The evolution of the first flowering plants is one of those enduring mysteries for evolution to explains, Darwin himself referring to it as "an abominable mystery".

Now an new study coordinated by Juerg Schoenenberger from the University of Vienna and Hervé Sauquet of the Université Paris-Sud has shed more than a little light on what the first flowers looked like. The same study has also reconstructed what flowers at the key divergence point looked like.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Just Another Example of the 'Impossible' Happening

An illustration shows nanocrystals assembling into an ordered ‘superlattice’ – a process that a SLAC/Stanford team was able to observe in real time with X-rays from the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL).

Illustration: Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
Scientists Watch ‘Artificial Atoms’ Assemble into Perfect Lattices with Many Uses.

One of the major problems that creationism suffers from is that so many of its claims are demonstrably untrue and can be seen to be untrue.

The leading frauds are acutely aware of that problem so have a work-around for it. They tell their followers that if the evidence tells them their beliefs are wrong, the evidence must be wrong because their beliefs can't be. Then they witter on about 'evidence' and try to mislead people about it as though it does matter after all. They must be the only people who call themselves scientists but argue you should ignore evidence unless you can persuade yourself it agrees with you.

Here, for example, is an example of scientists watching something happen that creationists insist doesn't happen. They watched order (and a high degree of order) emerge out of chaos.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Unintelligent Design - Silly Goose!

I took this photo today, in a park in Oxford. It shows why intelligent design is a stupid idea.

The white goose is almost certainly a hybrid between an Egyptian goose, Alopochen aegyptiaca, and a feral domestic goose. Domestic white gees in Britain are mostly a variety of greylag goose, Anser anser domesticus, so this strange looking goose is a probably a hybrid between the Egyptian and the greylag goose. The give-away is the strange-looking eyes that look spectacled from a distance, the pale brown wing feathers - not obvious in this photo (this one wasn't completely white) - and the long, pink legs.

It is highly unlikely that this was simply a leucistic Egyptian goose. It was also on it's own, not with the typical small group that Egyptian geese are normally seen in. Egyptian geese are believed to be related to the shelduck and so come somewhere between the ducks and geese. They were introduced as an ornamental bird into the UK and have become established in Norfolk, the only place I have seen them before. They have since spread to the Thames Valley (my son has seen them on the Thames).

Incidentally, the other geese in this photograph are Canada geese, an introduced species that has become widespread and which also interbreeds with 'local' geese.

But why does this show how intelligent design is a stupid idea?

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Tardigrades Give Up Their Secrets

Comparative genomics of the tardigrades Hypsibius dujardini and Ramazzottius varieornatus | PLOS Biology

There is something appealing about a tardigrade! There is a certain air of mystery about them - like, for instance, what on Earth are they?

They are justly famous for their ability to withstand just about any extreme environmental conditions other than extreme heat. They are just a few millimetres long and can withstand years of dehydration, being blown about in dust; they can withstand years of freezing. They can even go into space and withstand ionising radiation. They will live in your guttering through a long, hot dry summer, apparently lifeless, and within a few minutes of it raining, will be crawling about happily as though nothing has happened.

Until this study we weren't even sure where they fitted in with the rest of the animal kingdom. Were they primitive or degenerate arthropods; were they nematode worms with legs or some other distinct multicellular organism on a branch of their own? Well, actually, they are related to both nematodes and arthropods, distantly. The question was which are they closest to? The study doesn't settle the matter but it sheds a lot more light on the subject.

Friday, 28 July 2017

DNA Study Shows Bible is Fiction

Researchers sequenced whole genomes from five Canaanites skeletons found in Sidon, Lebanon.
Photo Credit: Ali Hashisho/Reuters/Newscom
Ancient DNA counters biblical account of the mysterious Canaanites | Science | AAAS

We've known for a long time that the supposed 'history' in the Old Testament is mostly, if not completely, fiction, and I'm not just talking about the frankly ludicrous creation myths in the opening chapters.

As Silberman and Finkelstein showed in The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts, not only did the events described in Exodus never happen but nor did the destruction of the cities and the Canaanite genocide. Indeed, the Bible contains evidence of its own inaccuracy, being clearly written by people who did not know the history of the times in which they set their tales. Briefly, and by no means exhaustively:

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Good Old Biblical Slavery - In The USA Today!

The Word of Faith Fellowship church in Sao Joaquim de Bicas, Brazil.
(AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
They kept us as slaves: AP reveals claims against church

The North Caroline megachurch, Word of Faith Fellowship, can't be accused of not being a traditional Christian fundamentalist church.

The sect, founded by Jane Whaley, a former math teacher, and her husband Sam, uses slaves taken from Brazil to work for the church and in the businesses owned by it's senior ministers. These slaves are trafficked from Brazil, as a Associated Press investigation has revealed. They are attracted to the USA by a branch of the World of Faith cult in Sao Joaquim de Bicas, Brazil and enter the USA on tourists and student visas.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Research Spits On Creationism!

In saliva, scientists have found hints that a “ghost” species of archaic human may have contributed genetic material to ancestors of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa today.

Image credit: Bob Wilder/University at Buffalo.
Archaic hominin introgression in Africa contributes to functional salivary MUC7 genetic variation | Molecular Biology and Evolution | Oxford Academic.

As an example of how divorced religion is from reality, these examples of archaic hominids interbreeding with other hominid species take some beating.

The Abrahamic superstitions require people to believe in a single founder couple from whom everyone alive is directly descended and from whom we have inherited some notional 'original sin' for which we need to constantly atone and beg for forgiveness.

The reality of course is that not only was there never such a single founder human couple but there was not even a single founder human species. The reality is that we are hybrids of three or more species who occasionally interchanged genes and that for a large part of our recent evolutionary history we behaved like an incompletely speciated 'ring species' as an example of evolution in progress.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

'Loving' Christians Trade Insults Over Reforms

General Synod of the CofE, York.
Photo credit: Reuters

Leading evangelical condemns CofE General Synod: 'God's word was mocked openly' | Christian News on Christian Today.

A failing group will normally turn inwards, degenerating further into mutually recriminating factions. This is no less true of the 'loving' Anglicans currently showing brotherly and sisterly love by trading insults over the latest attempt to reform their cult to try to halt the haemorrhage of members.

The vitriol also illustrates the problems faced by a dogma-driven cult as it tries to reform to attract back the former members to whom it has become increasingly irrelevant and who have left in disgust at its abuse of minorities. The decreasing number of moderates comes up against an increasingly large proportion of vocal extremists trying to retain their traditional dogmas.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Persecution and Martyrdom Special!

Is Christianity in crisis? Our survey reveals 9 out of 10 ordinary Christians feel marginalised

As Christianity continues to dwindle into a minority cult in the UK, and as more and more of its privileges are lost, so the whining about persecution, coupled with that old craving for martyrdom gets louder.

This collective whine was revealed in the results of a survey by Premier published last Sunday. The full survey is freely available as a pdf file here but be warned, you'll need to give your name and email address before you can access it.

The reality is of course that Christians in the UK enjoy precisely the same legal rights as anyone else regardless of their faith or lack of it. Rights and privileges are not granted on the basis of membership of a particular church or faith group in the UK anymore; they are granted on the basis of a shared humanity. There are not Christian rights, Atheist rights, Jewish rights or Muslim rights; there are only human rights.

But this survey shows that isn't enough for Christians. Christians feel persecuted if they're not granted the privileges to which they feel entitled. They are not granted the right to state mythology and prejudice as facts and not have them challenged. They're not granted the right to publicly condemn, abuse and persecute others for not sharing their chosen life-style. They're not granted the privilege to 'share' their superstition in the workplace and be quietly and respectfully listened to as they spout their bigotry and tell others that they're morally inferior and will be condemned to Hell.

Religions in the workplace do nothing but spread division, disharmony and isolation. The law requires employers to provide a healthy and safe working environment in which the Human Rights of all employees and visitors are safeguarded. No faith group is entitled to a special dispensation to pretend to occupy some notional moral high-ground with sanctimonious posturing and condemning others as morally inferior. Using what is in effect a captive audience to preach to is an abuse.

Typical of the judgemental sanctimony of the Christian church was the reaction of the Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford:

[B]elievers should not be surprised or downhearted when the sheer beauty of the Gospel is a shock and an affront to a fallen world. The world has never been in accord with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and we've always had the challenge that we need to live it and share it.

I have a book and it entitles me to tell other, lesser, mortals how to live! Ironically, this is exactly the sort of hypocritical judgmentalism that drives people away from a church that spouts this while covering up and facilitating clerical abuse of children, while wining about being treated the way it would like to treat others.

Christians are still vastly over-represented in positions of power in the UK in comparison to their dwindling numbers. No other religion has its titular head as head of state; no other religion has its leading clerics entitles to a seat in the upper chamber of our legislature and no other religion has its senior clerics appointed by the head of government on behalf of the head of state. Culturally we are still expected to defer to the moral authority of someone because he or she has an imaginary friend and dresses in robes and a silly hat.

If Christians feel marginalised then they only have themselves to blame. It's by and large their holier-than-thou judgemental sanctimony and hypocrisy that has driven so many people away from the church. The struggle to emancipate women into the priesthood and their continuing difficulty with accepting members of the LGBT community as entitled to the full range of Human Rights has rightly marginalised the Christian church in UK society. They have done this, not anyone else. The attitude of Christian bigots towards minorities has itself made them a minority now whining wrongly that they are being treated the way tho openly treated minorities themselves.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Oops! Another 'Non-existent' Beneficial Mutation!

The sex chromosome Z of male zebra finches comes in two variants. Males who possess a copy of these variant each have particular reproductive success.

© MPI f. Ornithology
Mutation speeds up sperm of zebra finches | Max Planck Society

For anyone who still imagines creationism is based on real-world facts and observable evidence, this little factoid should go some way to dispelling that myth.

It is yet another example of one of those beneficial mutations that creationists tell us don't and can't exist - usually followed by some garbled nonsense about information theory and thermodynamics that isn't recognisable as real science or even real information theory.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Unintelligent Design - A Purposeless Driven Life

Escarpia laminata.

Image Credit: Chemo III project, BOEM and NOAA OER
Is this Gulf of Mexico tubeworm the longest living animal in the world?

The thing about something well-designed is that it is as simple as can be and fit for purpose. The hallmarks of good design are minimal complexity and fitness for purpose.

Now, you would expect the Intelligent (sic) Designer to at least be good at one of those things wouldn't you! You would expect to be able to look at any of its designs and see an elegantly design, beautiful for it's simplicity, and a fitness for purpose so obvious that this purpose positively leaps out at you.

You should be able to look at anything designed by the creationism industries' Intelligent (sic) Designer and be immediately struck by the beautiful simplicity of it and how perfectly it does what it was obviously designed to do.

The problem is, this is never what we see. Instead, we see immensely complex things which apparently do nothing very much and for which any real purpose is difficult to discern other than making more copies of itself, apparently for no other reason than to make more copies of itself... and so ad infinitum.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Hallelujah! Satan is Dead!

Pastor Paseka Motsoeneng, aka Prophet Mboro
Pastor Paseka Motsoeneng is a very busy man and constantly at God's beck and call, but at least Christians and Muslims can sleep soundly tonight. Satan is dead!

He was killed by Pastor Paseka Motsoeneng, aka Prophet Mboro, who went to Hell on a special mission from God's to kill the world's number one enemy.

He told his jubilant Facebook followers:

...when I got to hell there was a queue of millions of people waiting to be braai’d [roasted] by Satan. I even saw some prominent South African politicians. I was so shocked because they lived like angels here on earth. I thought they went to heaven. When Satan saw me he panicked and directed his army to kill me. Like Samson in the Bible, I defeated them. Satan was my last victim.

Stupid Design - Cannibal Caterpillars

Beet armyworms on tomato leaves. A choice of nasty-tasting leaves or juicy sibling!
Plants under attack can turn hungry caterpillars into cannibals

I almost laughed out loud when I read this one. Not only is it a lovely little piece of biology and so easy to explain in terms of genetic evolution but it's also an example of the mind-numbing stupidity of any sentient designer who had to come up with such a design to solve a problem it had designed!

Plants are attacked by myriad herbivores, and many plants exhibit anti-herbivore defences. We tested the hypothesis that induced defences benefit tomato plants by encouraging insects to eat other members of their

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Zebra Finches Show How Evolution Works

Zebra finch, Taeniopygia guttata.
Source: Wikipedia
Courtship song preferences in female zebra finches are shaped by developmental auditory experience | Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences

A paper published recently in Proceedings of the Royal Society B by researcher from McGill University, California, USA, illustrates a couple of interesting aspects to evolution and how species diverge.

The team found that zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) reared in the absence of their fathers do no react in the same way to male courtship songs as those raised by both parents.

Now, this in itself might not be particularly important apart from one thing - female sex selection. Females normally select the best singers as their mates and there is growing evidence that the best singers are also the healthiest and fittest males. Females who don't have the ability to discriminate lose out in the competition for the best mates. This, after all, is probably one of the main drivers for the evolution of female sex selection.
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