Sunday, 26 June 2016

Faith Is A Feminist Issue

In the concluding chapter, Freedom to Choose, in my book, Ten Reasons To Lose Faith: And Why You Are Better Off Without It,I point out the following after reproducing an extract from http://www.allaboutgod.com/ which spells out in minute detail the role of both husband and wife in a marriage accordign to Christian dogma:

Note the entire ‘justification’ for men declaring the role of women, and for abrogating to themselves the right to do so with no reference to women’s opinions. It is wholly and solely that they can find excuses for it in a book of highly dubious provenance, which some people assert is the inspired word of an invisible magic man for which there is not an iota of definitive evidence.

The stories in the Bible were written by people with a Late Bronze Age Middle Eastern tribal misogyny who saw women as goods, not people. The cultural norms, prejudices and assumptions in that society are expected to be appropriate for today and half the world’s population are expected to meekly comply, because some men say so – and they have a book they can blame.

European Union - After The Storm

Oh! This was just a mistake!
It's now clear that Cameron's decision to try to shut up the minority of Europhobes in his own party and head off UKIP with a simple in/out referendum on Britain's EU membership was a monumental political blunder; a blunder possibly worse even than Eden's decision to invade Egypt and occupy the Suez Canal almost 60 years ago. It was a gamble that has ended his political career and may well lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom as Scottish independence is now very much on the cards.

The result has already wiped £200 billion off the value of UK shares - some 20 years EU contribution - caused Sterling to fall to it's lowest level for 30 years, relegated Britain from the fifth to the sixth largest economy and caused credit agencies to downgrade our credit worthiness.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

European Union - The Three Big Brexit Lies

The defining feature of the Brexit campaign has been its dishonesty and use of lies and distorted statistics right from the beginning. This intensified and became even more overtly racist and xenophobic when opinion polls began showing the Remain side pulling comfortably ahead and panic set in amongst those whose political ambitions depend on Cameron being forced out if he loses.

The main lies concern three major question:
  1. Britain's Contribution.

  2. The Brexiteers claim that it costs Britain £350 million a week in EU contributions. This is a lie. After the famous Thatcher rebate of £100 million and after the amount the EU gives back to finance regional development, improved transport infrastructure, etc, this falls to £161 million or $23 million a day. This is 1% of total government spending!

Monday, 20 June 2016

European Union - Why I'm In

I'll be departing from my usual science and Atheism posts for the next few days to concentrate on the impending referendum on the UK's continuing membership of the European Union.

The EU is important to me because I believe it represents one of the most significant achievements of human history. For the first time, previously waring and generally hostile states decided to put aside historical differences and build something new. Within an increasingly united Europe, trade wars and tariff barriers were to be abolished and political differences were to be settle by consensus.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Lessons From Menorca - Religious Intolerance

Statue of Jesus on Menorca's highest point - Monte Toro
As I said in my previous post, Menorca has a lot of history, having a large natural harbour and occupying a strategic location almost midway between the Spanish mainland and Italian Sardinia and relatively close to France.

At the end of the Punic wars between Rome and Carthage, Minorca fell under Roman control. By the fifth century it had acquired a large Jewish population which seems to have coexisted more or less peacefully with the predominantly Christian population. However, this was not to last.

In 415 AD there was a forced conversion of the Jews as related by a bishop Severus in The Letter on the Conversion of the Jews. 540 Jews were forcibly baptised, including many of the leading and most wealthy members of the community. Those that remained were expelled to the centre of the island. The synagogues were burned. However, many Jewish families retained their religion whilst showing an outward appearance of Christianity. These went on to form the persecuted and shunned Xueta community with it's distinct form of non-Catholic Christianity.

Lessons From Menorca - More Dead Gods!

Naveta d'Es Tudons, Menorca. A burial tomb for about 100 bodies between 1200 and 750 BCE. Possibly the oldest roofed building in Europe.
We've just spent a very pleasant few days in Menorca - one of the Spanish Balearic Islands and one of the few places we've visited twice.

Menorca has a very long history of conquest and religious persecution which will be the subject of another blog post; what I want to deal with here is how religions and gods that we know little or nothing of can inspire their believers and shape their cultures, yet they disappear without trace when their last believer dies.

It's a theme I've previously written about in my book, Ten Reasons To Lose Faith: And Why You Are Better Off Without It, and in earlier blog posts such asThe Old Dead Gods of Wiltshire, Old Dead Gods - Lessons From Silbury Hill, Old Dead Gods - Lessons from Cirencester, Gods Come And Go But Truth Remains, etc.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

How Evolution Works - Suffering Saxifrage!

I noticed this saxifrage which has been struggling for about three years to survive on a the patch of gravel which constitutes my front garden and it suddenly dawned on me how neatly it illustrates some aspects of evolution. It shows how a species fits itself into an available niche and how it diversifies as it spreads its range, not necessarily because it changes but because the environment in which it finds itself changes. The genetic information doesn't need to change for the meaning of that information to change because meaning is given to the information by environmental context.

If that idea seems a little obscure, consider the word karutis. It is probably meaningless to the average reader of this blog. Show it to a Latvian speaker however, and the meaning will be obvious - wheelbarrow. Of course, if you showed the word 'wheelbarrow' to a Latvian, it would be as meaningless as 'karutis' is to an English speaker. The information in the words is the same in either language; only the meaning changes with the language environment

Saxifrage is good ground cover for gravel because it can survive in shallow soil and spreads mostly vegetatively by short runners and so forms colonies of what are essentially clones of the parent plant. It can also survive being scuffed and kicked occasionally, which is useful when postmen and others going door to door walk to your neighbours door across your gravel garden as though it's a public footpath. It's there partly for ground cover but also for the pretty red flowers it puts up at the right time of the year.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Human Evolution and Neanderthal Inbreeding

The Genetic Cost of Neanderthal Introgression - Genetics

According to a paper recently published in GeneticsPDF, interbreeding between modern humans and Neanderthals in Eurasia may have been much more common that the small quantity of Neanderthal DNA in modern non-African peoples suggests. The two populations may even have behaved like a single breeding group, in which Neanderthals were eventually genetically swamped by Homo sapien DNA.

The team led by Kelley Harris, of Stanford University used computer simulation of mutation accumulation during Neanderthal evolution to model how humans were affected by imported neanderthal genes. The simulations used known data on mutation rates and population dynamics of hominids.

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