Monday, 27 February 2017

How Science Works - Correcting Errors


Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)



Tiger butterfly (Danaus genutia)
Monarch miscalculation: Has a scientific error about the butterflies persisted for more than 40 years? | Science | AAAS

How does a possible mistake in what was believed to be the number of chromosomes in the monarch butterfly validate scientific methodology?

Well, firstly, if you're looking for certainty, don't look at science - if you value certainty over truth, that is. Certainty and truth are not the same thing at all. The only certainty in science is that there are no certainties. Science is a human endeavour and as with all human endeavours the humans doing it make mistakes. Doubts, not certainties, are what drives science forward and the reason science continues to grow and develop and take us closer to a better understanding of the way things work.

By contrast, religion, and especially the extreme fundamentalist form we see in Bible-literalist creationism, depend on certainty and a complete absence of doubt. Allow in the slightest doubt; ask a difficult question and the whole thing could come crashing down and to make matters worse, the is no factual basis for those certainties so nothing neutral by which to alloy those fears and satisfy those doubts.

Once the doubts are there or the certainties have become uncertain, there is nothing holding it back. And fundamentalists know this, hence their refusal to acknowledge errors, even the glaring contradictions in the holy books. They can't be contradictions because the holy book is the source of all truth. How can they be contradictions?

Saturday, 18 February 2017

How the Intelligent (sic) Designer Hurts Babies.

Differential Responses of Human Fetal Brain Neural Stem Cells to Zika Virus Infection: Stem Cell Reports

Let's play that game creationist frauds like to play with their willing dupes; the game of 'Pretend There Is an Intelligent (sic) Designer', only with slight tweaks to their rules. Let's not ignore inconvenient stuff, and let's play the game as though this designer is really real, then see what we can discover about this designer instead of trying to force-fit the observable evidence into a preconceived notion of it.

Okay? Here we go then.

Fish Evolution Shaped by Intense Rapids

Cichlids Telegramma brichardi

Photo credit: Oliver Lucanus.
Source: American Museum of Natural History.
Congo River Fish Evolution Shaped by Intense Rapids | American Museum of Natural History.

The cichlids are a large group of fish known for their ability to rapidly adapt, diverge and speciate in response to environmental changes as they did in the East African lakes when presented with a new range of potential ecological niches to fill.

In this paper a team led by scientists at the American Museum of Natural History, the City University of New York, and Fordham University, have shown that rock-dwelling cichlids of the genus Teleogramma are diversifying in a very sort stretch near the mouth of the Congo River in Africa. The final 200-mile stretch of the Congo River is exceptional in depth, speed, and turbulence, forming the world’s most extreme rapids.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Nasty Designer?

Parasitic worm may trigger mystery nodding syndrome | Science

Like all parasites, which have a ready explanation in terms of evolutionary biology, parasitic worms which make children sick and die present Intelligent (sic) Design advocates with special problems, not the least of which is one of creationism's own making.

The problem is that creationists presented with these especially nasty inventions of any assumed intelligence invariably fall back on 'The Fall' and say God allowed evil to enter the world because Eve sinned, so it's all our fault really. The problem for Intelligent (sic) Design advocates is that ID was invented as a concept to make creationism look like science so it could be inserted into American school science classes despite the 'Establishment Clause' and taught at tax-payers expense to vulnerable children.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

How the Mammalian Ear Evolved!

Monodelphis domestica
A new developmental mechanism for the separation of the mammalian middle ear ossicles from the jaw | Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Alternative creationist fact:
  1. The Theory of Evolution is in disarray because there is no evidence for it. It will be replaced by Intelligent Design any day now.
  2. There are no transition forms.

These are of course as true as Donald Trump's alternative facts, i.e. not true at all and made up to mislead people because the truth is too embarrassing. This paper shows the real state of evolutionary biology and shows how a clear evolutionary pathway from the reptilian ear to the mammalian ear may have arisen by a simple, single mutation. A team of animal scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, King’s College London, and the University of Chicago have discovered, hidden in the development of opossums, a plausible evolutionary path that led from the simple ears of reptiles to the more elaborate and sensitive structures of mammals, including humans.

When mammalian middle ear bones develop, they begin as part of the arch of cartilage that makes up the embryonic jaw. In reptiles, these structures remain connected to the jaw as developmental processes gradually convert the cartilage to bone.

Abstract
Multiple mammalian lineages independently evolved a definitive mammalian middle ear (DMME) through breakdown of Meckel's cartilage (MC). However, the cellular and molecular drivers of this evolutionary transition remain unknown for most mammal groups. Here, we identify such drivers in the living marsupial opossum Monodelphis domestica, whose MC transformation during development anatomically mirrors the evolutionary transformation observed in fossils. Specifically, we link increases in cellular apoptosis and TGF-BR2 signalling to MC breakdown in opossums. We demonstrate that a simple change in TGF-β signalling is sufficient to inhibit MC breakdown during opossum development, indicating that changes in TGF-β signalling might be key during mammalian evolution. Furthermore, the apoptosis that we observe during opossum MC breakdown does not seemingly occur in mouse, consistent with homoplastic DMME evolution in the marsupial and placental lineages.


Cutting through the scientific jargon, what this is saying is that the mammalian ear probably evolved several times but by a very similar mechanism. The reptilian ear only has one small bone through which sound is transmitted from the ear drum to the inner ear where sound vibrations are converted to electrical signals in the auditory nerves. Mammals, by contrast have three small bones, the other two being derived from bones in the jaw which formed part of the mandibular-maxillary joint.

We came at this project through the approach of evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo), which looks at the development of an organism . . . to help understand its evolutionary history. [We integrated] aspects of paleontology, cellular and molecular biology, developmental biology, and more. We’re looking at the problem from more than one angle, utilizing all of these methods to solve the puzzle.

Daniel Urban, team leader.
Source.
During development of the mammalian embryo these two bones are detached from the mandible when cartilage known as Meckel's cartilage breaks down. They are then free to migrate to the middle ear. This arrangement is thought to result in an auditory mechanism far more sensitive to quiet sounds or sound of certain frequencies.

In order to understand how this developed, the team studied the South American marsupial, the gray short-tailed opossum (Monodelphis domestica) and in particular the role of the gene TGF-β. This gene is known to be involved in the inner ear development of mice. They found that when the gene was blocked with a drug, Meckel's cartilage failed to break down and the bones remained attached to the jaw.

It was truly remarkable how well the developmental stages of our extant opossum model organism matched up with the transitional fossils . . . this makes our study organism, the gray short-tailed opossum, a fantastic living model to aid in the understanding of development of long extinct taxa. By using this modern analogue, we can learn so much more about these earlier species and the origins of mammals.

Daniel Urban, team leader.
Source.
What this shows is that in marsupials, the evolutionary mechanism could have been as simple as a single mutation in a single gene. The adaptive driver than may have driven the spread of this gene through the population could well have been something that probably led to several mammalian features - a nocturnal, insectivorous existence. The early mammals probably became nocturnal because dinosaurs dominated the diurnal environment but were not so active in the dark. There would have been a significant advantage to have sensitive ears in the dark when hunting for insects.

So, contrary to notions creationists like to comfort themselves with, the Theory of Evolution offers a ready explanation which explains the fossil evidence and involves an easily understood transitional mechanism.

Perhaps a creationist would like to offer an explanation for a mammalian embryological development that begins to grow a reptilian jaw then kills off some of the cells to free up a couple of bones that are then re-used for a function unrelated to their original one. Why would an intelligent designer not simply design an efficient middle ear complete with the normal compliment of bones in the first place?

'via Blog this'

Anglicans Struggling to Adapt

Church of England General Synod votes to reject controversial same sex marriage report | The Independent

In a move which illustrates how the Anglican Church in Britain is struggling to keep up with changing social attitudes, the General Synod has voted to reject a report by the House of Bishops which called for continued opposition to and stigmatisation of same sex marriage.

While fully 73% of British non-believers see nothing wrong with same-sex marriage, only 50% of practising Anglicans share that view. However, this is a huge softening in attitudes as reflected in the same NatCen British Social Attitudes Survey which showed only 17% of Anglicans now believe same-sex marriage is always wrong compared to 53% in 1983.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Evolution of Innate Morality

Monkeys and dogs judge humans by how they treat others | New Scientist

Is your dog capable of moral judgements? Is it watching you and evaluating your trustworthiness?

According to a team of researchers from Kyoto and Hokkaido Universities, Japan, it might well be doing so.

Almost to a man or woman, theists will tell you that if gods provided us with anything, they provided us with morals. Neither Christians, Muslims or Jews seem to be able to understand how we could possibly have got morals from anywhere other than their holy book, revealed, so they claim, to mankind specifically to tell us how to behave and what rewards of punishments we could expect to ensure compliance.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Signals From the Dawn of Time!

The animation shows a computer simulation of an oscillon, a strong localized fluctuation of the inflaton field of the early universe. According to the calculations of Prof. Stefan Antusch and his team, oscillons produced a characteristic peak in the otherwise broad spectrum of gravitational waves.

© Department of Physics, University of Basel
Ancient signals from the early universe | University of Basel News.

The early universe sent out signals with information about its formation. All we need to do is look in the right place and in the right way to find these ancient signals. Scientists working at the University of Basel believe they have at last shown what we should be looking for.

The signals are tiny fluctuations in the gravity wave field. Although Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravity waves they were only detected at the end of 2015. Already science is moving on to make use of this new technological ability and so to look further back into the formation of the Universe.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Best of Brexit Britain!

Here's a brilliant idea I've just pinched from Answers in Genes who got it from someone on Reddit (Is that still going?).

It solves lots of the historical problems with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, if only by shortening the ridiculously long name for a country - one of the longest on record and more a short essay than the name of a state. It also solves the problem of lots of people not being particular happy with the present arrangement and having various ambitions to belong or not to belong either to England or to the European Union. Some want in; some want out; some want both at the same time it seems, at whatever level you look at it.

The solution is the Union of Scotland and Ireland (both North and South) and the Kingdom of England and Wales.

Northern Ireland, which has always been a problem, both for Ireland and for England gets the best of both worlds. The Protestants, most of whose ancestors came from Scotland not England and so are mostly Presbyterian rather than Anglican only ever really had

Friday, 10 February 2017

Hypotheses, Experiments, Theories and Laws.

One problem debating science with creationists is that the latter are, almost by definition, scientifically illiterate, unless they are defrauding scientifically illiterate creationists for money by misleading them about the science.

So many debates, even those rare ones where the creationist is interested in learning, founder on some basic misunderstanding and confusion of terms. I'm even engaged with one at the moment who is either feigning scientific ignorance or is genuinely ignorant to the extent that he doesn't understand the difference between a definition, a hypothesis and a theory. I'll not bother to define 'definition' (which should be self-evident anyway) but the following is an attempt to define the terms 'hypothesis', 'experiment', 'theory' and 'law' as they apply to formal science.

Part of the problem is that science uses a slightly different but more precise meanings of ‘hypothesis’ and ‘theory’ to that used in vernacular speech. In the vernacular, hypothesis and theory are pretty much

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Cooperative Evolution

Epicephala lanceolaria moth inside the fruit of Glochidion lanceolarium

Plant keeps moths captive inside its fruits for almost a year | New Scientist

Who ever imagined that selfish genes inevitably lead to mutually destructive competition? Well, by and large, of course, these are the same people who argue that atheist societies will be lawless hell-holes full of rapists and cutthroat murderers with no-one having any reason to be anything other than utterly selfish. Reality was never their strong point.

The rebuttal is of course the same: no such system could evolve because mutual destruction and selfishness produce fewer, not more, descendants. The fact that we observe neither of these outcomes in reality is evidence for the evolutionary process.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

When Fascism Came to America

"When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross."
Attrib. Sinclair Lewis


Has fascism come to America with Donald Trump?

The following fourteen characteristics of Fascism comes from Dr Lawrence Britt, who has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. His analysis is not without its critics, some of whom have a clear motive in not wanting Americans to recognise Fascism when it comes, but in broad outline it serves as working description of a typical Fascist regime such as Europe saw in the first half of the 20th-Century. (My thanks to Facebook user Robert D'Abehtynot for bringing it to my attention)

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

A Little More Nastiness From The Malevolent Designer?

Crypt-keeper wasp, Euderus set

Source: Rice University News & Media
Credit: Andrew Forbes/University of Iowa
Tales from the crypt: a parasitoid manipulates the behaviour of its parasite host | Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences

Sometimes the sheer malevolence of nature, if nature can have a personality, leaves one wondering what, if there could conceivably be some intelligence behind it, whatever sort of sadistic nastiness it could possible be that is so inventive in ways to be so hideously unpleasant. It beggars belief that there are not only people who believe this supposed intelligence is possessed by a real entity but that any entity this malevolent could be worthy of adulation, worship and praise.

The low-lives who breed dogs to put them in pits to fight to the death for the fun of it are paragons of virtue compared to any putative designer of nature given the hideous ways it seems to have found to entertain itself, all day and every day in millions of different ways.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

No More Support for Redundant Churches!

ComptonBeauchamp StSwithun WestPortrait.jpg
St Swithun Church, Compton Beaucham,
Vale of the White Horse, Oxfordshire.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia. By Motacilla - Own work,
CC BY-SA 4.0, Link
National Secular Society - Government must not prop up the Church of England, says NSS

The UK National Secular Society has make strong representation to the UK Government that public money should not continue to be used to prop up the failing Anglican Church and its buildings, pointing out that, despite plummeting congregations and thousands of essentially redundant churches, the Church of England is a very wealthy organisation, having assets estimated at £20 billion!

Despite this wealth, since 2014 the government has allocated some £221 million for repairing and maintaining places of worship, the vast majority of which was spent on Anglican churches and cathedrals.

The representation by the NSS was made to the Department for Culture, Media & Sport which is coordinating the survey for the English Churches and Cathedrals Sustainability Review. The review was set up last March to consider the whole question of the sustainability of the very large number of virtually unused churches.

Weekly attendance at Sunday services has now fallen to 1.4% of the population and some 2000 churches have regular

Saturday, 28 January 2017

The Church of England 'Is Dying'!

Church of England is 'dying' and you should leave - Former chaplain to the Queen

After a few days away from blogging it is gratifying to be able to return to report signs of further disintegration of the Anglican Church. These became evident last week when the former chaplain to the Queen, Rev Dr Gavin Ashenden, resigned and urged others to leave the Church of England if they want to remain true Anglicans.

The Queen of England and Scotland is herself titular head of the Anglican Church so it's especially pleasing that her personal spiritual adviser is telling people they should leave her Church!

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Creationism in Iceland Out In The Cold

Godless Icelanders in violent rampage.
0.0% of Icelanders 25 years or younger believe God created the world, new poll reveals | Icelandmag

You know, if you listen to Christians, you would expect a country in which most people say they are not religious, 40% of young people say they are Atheists and non-one believes God created the world, to be a pretty grim, 'godless' place.

You should expect to see bands of marauding rapist, thieves and cutthroat murderers roaming the streets in an orgy of selfishness and greed with no regard for the sanctity of human life. The last thing you would expect to see would be peace, brotherly love, a high level of social responsibility and good neighbourliness.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Declining Church Weddings in Spain

Church weddings hit historic low in Spain - Olive Press News Spain

Spain has to be one of my favourite countries and not just for the sun, sand and sangria.

But one thing that used to put me off was the overt religiosity. If you don't like public displays of piety don't go there in Holy Week (Semana Santa) - the week leading up to Easter. Whole town centres will be closed and antiquities made inaccessible because one church or another is having one of those bizarre processions where dozens of men in costumes carry immensely heavy tableaux depicting Jesus and Mary.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Was Human Intelligence Made Possible By A Virus?

Viruses in the genome important for our brain | Lund University.

Well no, perhaps human intelligence was not caused by a virus as such but according to new research, its evolution may well have been made possible by an ancient retrovirus which infected an early vertebrate ancestor.

In a blog just a couple of days ago, I explained the origin of the endogenous retroviruses (EVRs) which now form 5%-10% of the human genome, much of it believed to be junk. I also explained that some of it might well have been exapted for other purposes, just as you might expect of a lot of 'spare' DNA hanging around for tens, maybe hundreds, of millions of years.

Catholic Influence Waning in The Philippines

Manilla Slum
Duterte orders full implementation of modern family planning by 2018 - CNN Philippines

Good news last Wednesday from the normally devoutly Catholic Philippines, where, as in the rest of the civilised world, secularisation and rejection of papal authority seems to be gaining ground.

According to CNN, President Rodrigo Duterte signed an executive order providing funds and support for modern family planning, in a bid to make it fully available to the poor by 2018. This comes at the end of a titanic 16 year battle with the Catholic Church which had seemed to have ended in victory for secularists and those campaigning for an end to poverty in 2012.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Something Good From Religion!

Just occasionally, something good can come from religion!

Take for example, something that you'll see everywhere in Lisbon, Portugal, in in most other Portuguese-speaking countries - the wonderful pastel de nata or custard tart!

You see them everywhere in Portugal, in specialist shops and cafés and street vendor's vans. They are consumed in vast quantities and not just by tourists experimenting with local cuisine but by the Portuguese themselves as snacks and treats and just because they are sublimely delicious, glorious in the mouth and very, very moresome. Eaten warm, they are a delight of crisp pastry case and lush, soft egg custard, often flavoured with a light sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar. One is never enough!

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