Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Small Problem of the Hobbit

Homo floresiensis (cast)
I'm obviously not keeping up.

Reading Becoming Human: Our Past, Present and Future a special publication by Scientific American editors, the chapter Rethinking the Hobbits of Indonesia by Kate Wong was something of a surprise.

I had assumed the so-called 'Hobbit', the diminutive hominid known to taxonomists as Homo floresiensis and to paleoanthropologists as LB1, after Liang Bua, the name of the cave it was found in in 2004 on the Indonesian island of Flores, was generally considered just that - a member of the Homo genus which had become miniaturised. Miniaturisation is common on islands, probably in response to limited resource and a generally smaller number of predators.

The problem, as I understood it, was that the cranial capacity of LB1 was only a little larger than a chimpanzee's and yet stone tools were found associated with it which showed a tool-making ability at least as advanced as H. erectus with a far larger brain.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Revising Our Attitude To Sex as Christianity Fades

Image: Sven Görlich/Plainpicture
UK sex survey highlights tolerance, diversity and abuse - health - 27 November 2013 - New Scientist

A survey into attitudes to sex published in The Lancet today highlights the demise of Christianity and the advance of secular humanism in Britain with a subsequently healthier, more tolerant and more considerate attitude to sex and sexuality. The survey, the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal) shows a marked change in attitudes towards a more tolerant, less censorious attitude to multiple parnerships and same-sex relationships but a reduced tolerance for infidelity. People are taking their responsibilities in a relationship more seriously but are less concerned about the sexual activities and preferences of others.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Christianity No Longer An Excuse For Discrimination.

Hazelmary and Peter Bull. No right to act unlawfully.
BBC News - Gay snub Cornish B&B owners lose Supreme Court appeal

In another landmark ruling today, the Supreme Court for England and Wales ruled that a Christian couple, Hazelmary and Peter Bull, had acted unlawfully when they refused to allow a gay couple to share a room in their guesthouse in Marazion in Cornwall in 2008. The five judges ruled that the Bulls' Christianity did not entitle them to deny other people their human right to not be discriminated against on the grounds of sexual orientation.

A Peculiar Bird is the Pelican...

Nose to beak with a Christian hero heavyweight champ - life - 26 November 2013 - New Scientist

I thought I'd share this with you. Not only is it a lovely photo but it makes you wonder what else St Thomas Aquinas, leading Christian thinker of his time, got wrong.

The Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus) is the heaviest flying animal of any kind and needs about 1.2 Kg (2.6lb) of fish to supply the fuel for keeping that bulk aloft. It swallows as much as it can and stores any surplus in the large pouch in it's throat. In one of those fascinating examples of evolution's utilitarian approach to 'design', the existence of this large, expandable bag of skin was put to an entirely

Monday, 25 November 2013

Unintelligent Evolution

The thing about Darwinian Evolution by Natural Selection is that it is, and cannot be, directed. There is no plan and so no strategy or purpose. If it leads a species over an evolutionary cliff to extinction, then so be it. In fact, there are so many ways of going extinct that it is almost surprising that only some 99% of all known species have gone extinct.

Just imagine how crowded the place would have been in the beginning if the Christian creation myth were true and a magic man in the sky really did magic all the species into existence one day, with a hundred times as many species then as there are now!

One way evolution can drive a species to extinction is by specialisation. If the conditions are right a species can become more and more specialised to cope with them simply because each improvement produces more descendents in those conditions. The species has no choice in the matter.

Friday, 22 November 2013

DNA and a History of Slavery and Genocide

A History of Slavery and Genocide Is Hidden in Modern DNA | Surprising Science

New techniques of DNA sequencing and analysis, combined with an understanding of neo-Darwinian evolution, is proving a powerful tool with which to study human history with far greater accuracy than is provided by archaeology. Quite simply, we carry a record of our history in our DNA.

I remember reading in one of Richard Dawkin's books some years ago - I forget which, possibly The Greatest Show On Earth - that it should in theory, if only we could read it in sufficient detail, be possible to 'read' the evolutionary history of any species because each stage in evolution leaves its mark on the DNA. We should also be able to read changes in Earth's climate and major changes in ecosystems because each species which survived them would have needed to adapt, and adaptation means changes in DNA.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Hey Folks! Have You Seen Manny's New Account?

Looks like Manuel is back on Twitter and has started abusing people already. Details here.

For those not familiar with Manuel, the unemployable former Catholic seminarian who was expelled from seminary due to his abusive behaviour and narcissistic personality disorder, and who now spends all day abusing people on the Internet from the safety of his room in the Bronx, you may find the details here.

[Update 24 November 2013:] Things move quickly in Manny World. He is now on yet another account - @SacerdotusLIves. I expect Twitter Safety are already aware but they often need reminding...

I see from the profile that Manuel is now claiming to have contacts inside Twitter. I wonder if these contacts resemble the vast army of contacts he claims to have in the UK for monitoring my every move and reporting back to him so he can include the details in the weekly reports on my criminal activities he claims he submits to 'The UK Authorities', in other words, another figment of his deranged imagination.

Those wishing to make use of Twitter's abuse reporting system can find details here.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Monstrous Regiment of Christians

BBC News - Church of England synod vote 'paves way' for female bishops

In a nice example of the "you'll keep voting till you get it right!" approach to democracy, the General Synod of the Church of England, which a year ago voted against allowing the ordination of women bishops, was today told to try again, and managed to get it right - and by a substantial margin of 378 to 8.

Well, not quite. There is still some work to do but they have 'paved the way'.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Christianity Is Dying Out

Christianity at risk of dying out in a generation, warns Lord Carey - Telegraph

This article made me laugh out loud. Not so much at the thought that the Church of England could be on the verge of a long-overdue world-wide extinction, welcome though that prospect is, but because of a particular paragraph which kind of gives the whole game away.

Lord Carey's warning came as he addressed the Shropshire Light Conference at Holy Trinity Church in Shrewsbury at the weekend discussing how the church could be “re-imagined”.

Re-imagined, eh? Is the Christian Church belatedly admitting that the whole thing was imaginary all along?

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Boston's Bigots

Boston in Lincolnshire is a pretty little market town in the heart of the Fens, surrounded by acres and acres of cabbage fields which, when we were there last Friday, gave off a distinct hint of decaying cabbage.

This part of the England's coast is behind a defensive system of medieval dykes with extensive salt-marshes between the dyke and the sea making much of the actual coast inaccessible for much of the time and so a haven for millions of waders and other sea birds. These dykes are all that is preventing the entire area from reverting to the coastal marshes they were before reclamation in the early Middle Ages.

The tower of St Botolph's Church, known as the Boston Stump, dominates the surrounding fenlands and can be seen from miles away. It is Boston's claim to historic fame in that prominent member of the congregation of St Botolph's together with their fundamentalist rector, Rev. John Cotton, emigrated in 1630 to the New World to set up a Puritan Christian colony. They sailed on the Arbella and landed in Massachusetts Bay, where they founded the colony which became the city of Boston.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Lincoln Fundamental

We had a nice couple of days in Lincoln and Boston, Lincolnshire on Thursday and Friday. I'll blog about Boston next but this is about Lincoln, especially Lincoln Cathedral and what we can learn from it.

First a little background:

The See of Lincoln was the seat of one of the most powerful bishops in the Middle Ages and was certainly the largest, stretching at one time from the Thames to the Humber. It was thus immensely rich feeding off the produce of the surrounding agriculture, which included a large share of England's medieval wool wealth as well as the produce of the fertile reclaimed fenlands.

The Cathedral is thus suitably impressive and sits atop a steep climb from the River Watham, which was

Monday, 11 November 2013

Evolving Theology

Charles Darwin to receive apology from the Church of England for rejecting evolution - Telegraph

I was amused to read today that the Church of England apologised to Charles Darwin in 2008 for rejecting his Theory of Evolution by Means of Natural Selection. It must have passed me by at the time as I wouldn't dream of picking up a copy of the Telegraph which used to be regarded as the Tory Party house journal, let alone ever opening it.

But that aside, I was still amused that the dear old CofE, forever chasing popularity and struggling to keep up with mainstream public opinion as its membership dwindles even further and more churches close despite population growth, would try to get away with the pretense that Darwinian Evolution and Christianity are compatible.

Yes, I know that many Christians, including, at least officially, the Pope, accept that evolution is the cause of diversity of living things and that the Darwinian Theory of Evolution is the best explanation of how it happens. I also know that a few evolutionary biologists like Francis Collins purport to be practicing Christians, but I have to assume they have managed to compartmentalize their beliefs and have squeezed two mutually inconsistent views into the same brain. It's surely no coincidence that religious evolutionary biologists are only slightly more common than hens' teeth.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Lessons From Nature

We've just spend a lovely afternoon walking over a footpath from Abingdon to the village of Sunningwell, where we had an especially good English Sunday roast dinner with a very drinkable Rioja at the Flowing Well. What made it even more enjoyable, apart from an almost cloud-free blue sky, was the profusion of wild berries amongst the autumn leaves on the hedgerows. The footpath is mostly ancient, so is well stocked with different plant species.

Now, a religious person, and especially a religious person who knew little of evolution and so would almost certainly not believe in it, would probably look at the beauty in the English countryside and marvel at how wonderful his or her god had been in magicking such a pretty planet just for them to marvel at. They

Saturday, 9 November 2013

ET Will Destroy Religion's Foundations

An editorial in today's New Scientist very boldly states:

The idea that there might be another living planet a few light years from home, orbiting a star visible with the naked eye, is a tantalising prospect. For better or worse, the odds are stacked against that. But we can be pretty confident that, if life is common in the universe, we will have found signs of it by the middle of the next decade. [My emphasis]

We'll have the tools to spot nearby aliens by 2030; New Scientist 9 November 2013 (No. 2942)

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The Silly Bible's Failed Prophecies.

Ask almost any Christian fundamentalist for one single proof that the Bible is the word of God and they will almost invariably trot out the accepted dogma that there are proven prophecies in the Bible which only a god could have inspired and they confirm the Bible's inerrancy.

Asking them for examples of these often results in indignant flounces and abuse, however, because, quite simply, there are none. There are a few statements which, at a stretch, parallel later events, usually events which were entirely predictable anyway - a bit like prophesying that there will be an earthquake in Japan or that the Caribbean will suffer a devastating hurricane sometime soon.

Very many of them are only 'confirmed' later in the Bible and have no extra-biblical evidence, like the alleged birth of Jesus, which apparently also prophesied he would be called Immanuel - a name by which he was never ever known in the Bible. The New Testament 'confirmation' of Old Testament 'prophecies' were written by people like the author of Matthew specifically to make it look like Jesus was the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy to suit a Jewish cultic agenda.

I have even had it claimed that the prophecy about Jesus returning, which is attributed to Jesus himself, is really a fulfilled prophecy because it will be fulfilled at sometime.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Darwin Creationist Award 2013 - Tiebreaker!

The votes are in for the 2013 Darwin Creationist Award and we have an unprecedented three-way tie!

Three excellent candidates and it's all up for grabs. It's good to see Joe Cienkowski still in there as Joe seems to have been trying for this prestigious award for several years now, even writing semi-literate, and scientifically fully illiterate, books to support his claim.

I'm sorry to see my personal favourite, Errol Smythe, in all his different manifestations, failing to make the grade. Perhaps his multiple attempts to refute the children's fairy tale Cinderella, in the mistaken belief that it is a standard biology textbook dealing with evolution, was just too preposterous for most people's tastes. Regrettably, Errol seems to have a minder who kindly deletes his more insane tweets and he regularly changes his user name, so his little gems are hard to come by.

Anyway, good luck for next year Errol. I'm sure you'll be in with another chance.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Evolution's Relics

Our genes have a very long history. 99% of them were in other species before they were in Homo sapiens.

About six million years ago they were in Africa in an ancestor we have in common with the other African apes. Three million years ago they were in the bipedal chimpanzees-like apes called Australopithecines in Southern and Eastern Africa. 375 million years ago most of them were in early amphibians that had recently evolved from lobe-finned fish to move out onto the land. 160 million years ago they were in the earliest mammals.

So it's not surprising that they still produce a few structures that were useful to something else but are no longer useful to us.

Scientists have identified several things that we no longer need and some that, although we no longer need them for what it was originally used for, have been adapted for another purpose. The appendix, for example, is no longer needed to aid digestion of cellulose like it is in some herbivores but serves a useful, though non-essential, role in the lymphatic and immune systems.
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