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.

The Anglican church has been tearing itself apart for several years now over the issue of ordination of women and latterly over its stigmatisation of homosexuals and transgender individuals. It has also been finding it increasingly difficult to come to terms with having to comply with secular equality and equal opportunities laws from which it feels entitled to an exemption. Underpinning this of course is the loss of active members, the loss of moral authority and the loss of political power and influence.

The issue came to a head when the CofE General Synod debated a private members motion proposed by Jayne Ozanne describing 'gay conversion therapy' as harmful. Gay conversion therapy is based on the dogmatic assumption that homosexuality is some sort of life-style choice or mental illness that will respond to the right treatment. The 'conversion therapy' usually consists of spouting Bible-inspired dogma and making the victim feel ashamed of their sexuality. The fundamentalists' god hates gays of course because they are an 'abomination' in the same way that eating shellfish, wearing mixed-fibre clothing or being a victim of rape is - i.e. worthy of the death penalty.

Susie Leafe, Director of Reform (sic).
In a retaliatory paper dripping with vitriol, Susie Leafe, director of the ironically named conservative group Reform said:

Again and again, both the decisions made, and the manner in which they were made, showed scant regard for Scripture or the traditions of the Church. Instead, members were asked to base their decisions on emotional stories or the impact of secular headlines. More worryingly, perhaps, was the atmosphere of the chamber; God's word was mocked openly and decisions were made lightly, with arrogant laughter. As one member put it: "God is not mocked. The laughter and lack of respect for those who bravely gave the alternate case was beyond words. Bruised, battered, bullied, betrayed, bewildered... [The debate was] chaired poorly' [by the Bishop of Manchester, David Walker]. At key points in the debates members were called to share stories of those who had committed suicide, but very few conservatives were called to speak...

In the space of four days, the General Synod of the Church of England have, in effect, rejected the doctrines of creation, the fall, the incarnation, and our need for conversion and sanctification. Instead we have said that we are "perfect" as we are, or as we see ourselves, and that the Church should affirm us and call on God to validate our choices. No wonder we do not want to proclaim Christ's unique identity and significance for all people.

We have chosen to understand the world through secular reports, unconscious bias training, the teaching of other religions and the results of polls and media headlines, rather than the unchanging word of God.

Well, obviously, the prejudices of the conservatives should count for at least as much as the distress caused by their hateful bigotry. Their extreme fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible is the only true one and gays should be condemned, stigmatised, persecuted and even driven to suicide because God sez so.

Jayne Ozanne hit back with what amounts to a coded accusation of lying to support a hidden agenda with:

I don't think the majority of synod members will recognise Susie's description of synod at all. It seems she and others are set on depicting synod's considered decisions in a poor light in order to suit their own purposes. Saying we are not committed to scripture and mission is just ridiculous, as are their assertions that God's word was mocked. I begin to wonder what their real objective is?

Meanwhile Bishop David Walker responded with another ipso facto accusation of lying with:

In two debates, over consecutive days, attention was turned first to the practice of "conversion therapy" and then to support for those who have transitioned. Both debates were characterised by the passion, courtesy and good humour that had been heard in February. Beyond this, Synod showed an overarching desire to hear the voices of LGBT+ people, whether expressed directly or through their stories being shared by their friends. And most important of all, we heard from a Synod that wanted decisive change and action now. Members listened to, but clearly rejected, demands that these matters required further study, be it theological or scientific, ahead of any decision... Synod has set its new tone, and begun to speak compassionately and clearly in the voice it has found. I look forward to hearing what it says next.

Clearly, the die-hard bigots can't stand the thought of the loss of another minority to victimise and the prospect of having to treat yet more people as normal humans beings with the full range of human rights enjoyed by Christians. Their self-apportioned privileges and their self-appointed guardianship of the moral high-ground is under attack and must be defended at all costs, even at the expense of truth. False witnessing is the order of the day.

The Anglican Church is in the same bind as the Catholic Church. Unless it reforms it will continue on it's path to complete irrelevance and it if does reform it will cease, at least in the eyes of it's increasingly conservative members, to be Christian. What is happening is that society is moving on without them. Their time is over.

'via Blog this'

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.

Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford
The headline figures revealed in this limited and largely self-selecting sample with it's questions designed to appeal to those predisposed to simmering martyrdom and who like to feel their 'persecution' somehow validates their faith, are exactly what you would expect. Of the 12,000 who responded:
  • 93% believe that Christianity is being marginalised. But if they choose to hold marginal views and refuse to integrate with mainstream opinion and life-style, the solution to this problem is in their gift and their gift alone. Society has moved on. We no longer wish to subscribe to the prejudices and traditions of Christian dogma concerning sexuality and sexual relations. It would be frankly astonishing if Christians do in private either. Per-marital sex and cohabitation are now the norm in UK society as is female sexual freedom. What Christianity once condemned as adultery and promiscuity, based on nothing more than religious dogma, are now normal behaviour.
  • 50% have experienced prejudice. With no details about what is regarded as 'prejudice' this could be anything from being denied goods and services, jobs or promotion opportunities (which are all illegal and easily redressed, as they are for non-Christians). If it means being told they shouldn't be preaching in the work-place or otherwise pushing their narrow sectarian views where they are not welcome, then again, this is of their own doing. Only recently Christians were complaining loudly that they were not allowed to discriminate against minorities and had to recognise the full Human Rights of homosexuals and others. This refusal of special privileges was presented as a form of prejudiced victimisation!
  • 80% say Christianity is not given equal respect. This smacks of denied entitlement to privilege. Which groups or religions are accorded more respect? But isn't respect something you earn and not something you're simply entitled to? If you hold socially unacceptable views about the rights of minorities does that deserve respect? Has a church who's clerics have actively abused children and vulnerable adults and in which senior leaders have participated in cover-ups actually deserve respect? No! Nor is it worthy of respect to try to impose your bigotry and superstitions onto others. Anti-social behaviour should be condemned, not respected . Cloaking it in a veneer of piety does nothing to rehabilitate or to make it socially acceptable.
  • 26% are unable to be open about their faith. Again this smacks of being denied privilege. Prejudiced bigots should not be free to openly express their bigotry in the work-place and in public. There are laws against hate crimes and rightly so. Displays of holier-than-thou sanctimony are not, and should not be, welcome. British society has moved on and mostly shaken off the last vestiges of the control Christianity once had over it. We rejected it for a good reason - it has no moral justification for its claim to be the guardian of the nations morals nor its claim to political influence. It is an outmoded, self-appointed, moralising hypocrisy way past its use-by date. e have no further use for it. But actually, although this 26% was one of the 'shocking' statistics the survey revealed, the authors of the report appear not to have noticed that 63% disagreed with it! 63% actually felt they could be open about their faith!

As Christianity dwindles into a marginal cult of wacka-a-doodle bigots, no-one will miss it and it only has itself to blame. Perhaps the slow death of a simmering martyr is poetic justice for how it has actively and with relish marginalised, stigmatised and persecuted every other minority whenever and wherever it has had the ability to do so. It is only fair. It has been setting a bad example for far too long and the bully is now getting its comeuppance.

Incidentally, it is interesting to read the comments in the above article if only for the ironic demonstration of exactly the wack-a-doodle bigotry that passes for Christianity nowadays, and exactly why people are leaving this cult in droves as it becomes more and more extreme and the domain of bigots and scientifically illiterate, self-possessed fools. This is not a representative sample of course, but also conspicuous is the absence of Christians condemning this arrogance and fundamentalist ignorance.


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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!

Abstract
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.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Suffer Little Children - For Money

Pope Francis is surrounded by children as he speaks with patients and caregivers at Bambino Gesu in December 2016.
Credit:AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino
'Pope's hospital' put children at risk as it chased profits

If you're a Catholic and you have a sick child, you know really that prayer doesn't work so you send them to a hospital where they apply science instead, unless of course it's the 'Baby Jesus' children's hospital, run by the Vatican with branches throughout Italy.

These hospitals were dirty, badly run money-making organisations that had little to do with curing and caring or sick children. Corners were cut, safety protocols were ignored and sick children were suffering as a result.

In typical Vatican style, a 2014 report on the secret three-month investigation following complains from staff and patients' families, was itself kept secret. Some of the recommendations were allegedly implemented, but many were not.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

What A Carry On At The Vatican!

Msgr. Luigi Capozzi.
Fun-loving Vatican insider with influence.
The truth about the Vatican sex-and-drugs scandal | Catholic Culture

It's reassuring to learn that in the Vatican at least, some things just never change. Everything is carrying on much as it was in the 16th Century.

You might have missed the latest piece of gossip because it seems such events are now scarcely worthy of the epithet 'news'. There simply isn't anything to justify several column inches of news print of several minutes of airtime to report something that scarcely raises an eye-brow these days. It was just another gay sex and drugs party in the Vatican involving a middling official with friends and considerable influence in high places. It was just another example of the hypocrisy we have come to expect of the Catholic clergy.

Now, what would be news is if we went a whole year without another sex and drugs, financial or rent-boy scandal at the Vatican, or even (not that this is even remotely possible) a whole year without another child sexual, emotional and physical abuse scandal involving Catholic priests and/or nuns complete with institutionalised cover-up or even active facilitation of it, somewhere in the world

Friday, 7 July 2017

How Creationists Lie To Us - Carbon Dating Hoax

Diagram of production of carbon-14 in the upper atmosphere by reaction of neutrons with nitrogen, and of the subsequent incorporation of carbon-14 into the biosphere.
Having been called a liar by a creationist for saying there were no scientifically valid examples of 14C dating of dinosaur fossils, and then, despite his claim that there were 'lots' of them, being treated to him prevaricating and deflecting for several days before failing to provide any such examples even after numerous requests, I decided I would look closer at this claim.

First a brief background. For more detail see this Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory article.

Carbon-14 (14C) dating is, when done correctly on carefully decontaminated specimens, an accurate method of dating an organic specimen within well-known limits of confidence and within a well-defined date range. The date obtained will always be expressed as x years BP ± y years.

Doing it correctly not only means careful decontamination but also understanding its limitations, the major one being the date range over which it is reliable, why this limit exists and, importantly, exactly what carbon you are measuring in the sample and how it got there.

Not all carbon is organic in origin and not all carbon in archaeological samples is derived from the original organic carbon. For example, although carbonates may be present in the mineralised bones of which fossils are made, this does not mean it came from the original bone. After all, fossils will contain large amounts of silicates but bone does not normally contain silicon. The minerals in fossils are replacements for the original material, not necessarily the products of it.

Another Gap Closes. No God Found!

Asiatic Yellow-striped Caecilian (Ichthyophis kohtaoensis)
Photo credit: cowyeow (via Flickr)
Stem caecilian from the Triassic of Colorado sheds light on the origins of Lissamphibia

Scientists working for the Department of Integrative Anatomical Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC have closed another one of those gaps in science that creationists scrabble around desperately searching for as somewhere to fit their god into.

Although no serious biologist these days sets out to confirm evolution or to refute creationism, papers such as this one do that quite incidentally because they report on the reality of the natural world and objectively assess the evidence. Quite naturally, this refutes any notions such as creationism which are not based on real-world evidence.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Mapping Human Evolution Out of Africa

Neanderthal
Out of Africa; new research explores drive behind early humanity's travels across the world - Royal Holloway, University of London

Interesting news came a few days ago from Royal Holloway, University of London, that a new research project is to start next month, aimed at mapping the spread of humans out of Africa and across the globe, to occupy all major landmasses other than Antarctica. The research is financed by a £450,000 grant from Leverhulme Trust.

As the Royal Holloway press release says:

Creationism's Nightmare - Abiogenesis!

Haematite tubes
Haematite tubes from the NSB hydrothermal vent deposits that represent the oldest microfossils and evidence for life on Earth. The remains are at least 3,770 million years old.
Photo by Matthew Dodd
Evidence for early life in Earth’s oldest hydrothermal vent precipitates : Nature : Nature Research

Science is moving closer to an explanation of a process whereby the earliest proto-cells could have developed naturally on Earth. It's looking increasingly as though the best explanation of where suitable conditions could be found - in the rock precipitates around hydrothermal vents on ocean floors - is the right one.

It's also looking as though the process got going even earlier than we thought - when Earth was just few million years old, if the interpretation of the evidence presented in this paper is correct. It is strongly suggestive that the process may have got going at least 3.77 billion and maybe even 4.28 billion years ago.

The evidence was found in rocks from the Nuvvuagittuq belt in Quebec, Canada, which are believed to have been formed by precipitation around seafloor-hydrothermal vents.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Holy Smoke! Birds Use Cigarette Butts As Medication!

Urban house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) nest.
Credit: JerryFriedman/CC BY-SA 4.0
An experimental demonstration that house finches add cigarette butts in response to ectoparasites - Suárez-Rodr-guez - 2017 - Journal of Avian Biology - Wiley Online Library

Here is yet another fascinating example of the ingenuity of biological adaptability - and an example that should make any self-respecting intelligent design advocate cringe with embarrassment.

Constantino Macías Garcia at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and his colleagues have been studying a curious phenomenon observed in the Mexican urban house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) in which they collect cigarette butts and place then in their nests. There was inconclusive evidence that the effect was to deter parasitic ticks and other nest parasites so they designed a simple experiment to settle the matter. It was strongly suspected that nicotine and other chemicals in the butts acts as a deterrent to parasites. House sparrows (Paser domesticus) have also been observed to use the same strategy.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Anglican Church Colluded in Abuse Cover-up.

Peter Ball
Groomed and abused 18 vulnerable boys and young men.
Church 'colluded' with sex abuse bishop Peter Ball - BBC News

It's ironic really! Just when I go on holiday to Italy, the centre of the organised global Catholic paedophile ring that we discovered existed some ten to fifteen years ago, a similar, though smaller, scandal breaks in England and it's not even involving the Catholic Church!

This one involves a form Anglican bishop, Peter Ball, and a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord George Carey. Peter Ball had been Bishop of Lewes and then Bishop of Gloucester during which time he groomed, exploited and sexually abused eighteen young men and boys who went to him seeking spiritual guidance. He was jailed for thirty-two months in October 2015 for these offences but was released last February after just sixteen months.

Now a report into the church's handling of the affair, ordered by the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and chaired by the former chief executive of Camden Council, Dame Moira Gibb, makes harrowing reading, according to Welby. Carey as Archbishop of Canterbury, a cabinet minister and a high court judge all conspired to protect Ball and wrote letters to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service in his defence.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Cretaceous Bird Mocks Creationists

Bird caught in amber 100 million years ago is best ever found | New Scientist.

It's not often we get to look at creatures from 100 million years ago, displayed in such detail. Normally we have to make do with distorted stone fossils which been subjected to all sorts of pressures and stresses, leaching by water and slow replacement by minerals over centuries. It's sometimes surprising that very much detail has been retained at all.

Preservation in amber is quite another matter, however. The specimen is trapped and coated in resin in a matter of minutes and sealed quickly away from any bacteria other than those trapped with it, and isolated from oxygen, other than the minuscule quantities that can slowly diffuse through the amber. It's almost as though the specimen has been sealed in a time capsule.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Yet Another Of Those 'Missing' Transitional Species

Map of the main Middle to early Upper Triassic outcrops in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, southern Brazil, highlighting the occurrence of Aleodon (A) and its skeletal reconstruction with available bones (in yellow) based on all known specimens (made by VDPN).
The African cynodont Aleodon (Cynodontia, Probainognathia) in the Triassic of southern Brazil and its biostratigraphic significance

At one time it became quite tedious writing yet another article about yet another of the transitional fossils that creationists dogma says aren't there. Who wants to read more or less the same thing several times a week with only the details changed? The problem of course is that every fossil is transitional because each represents a snapshot in time of a species that is evolving and changing over time.

But this latest one is interesting in that it is clearly transitional not between one genus and another or even between one family and another but between two or three major taxons. It is transitional between the reptiles and the mammals and comes close to the stem amniote that had earlier split from the amphibians to give rise to the land-based egg-laying tetrapods. This group went on to give rise to reptiles, mammals, dinosaurs and birds. The current consensus in palaeontology is that the amniotes probably radiated from a single ancestral species that had evolved an egg able to be laid out of water, so breaking the dependence of the amphibians on water.

Monday, 12 June 2017

More Nastiness From The 'Intelligent Designer'

Zombie soldier beetles: Epizootics in the goldenrod soldier beetle, Chauliognathus pensylvanicus (Coleoptera: Cantharidae) caused by Eryniopsis lampyridarum (Entomophthoromycotina: Entomophthoraceae):

The 'Intelligent (sic) Designer' is ever inventive in its sheer malevolent nastiness, continually coming up with ideas that would have been a credit to a Medieval torturer for the Spanish Inquisition or the organisers of 'entertainments' for a bloodthirsty Roman amphitheatre audience.

This one in particular is the epitome of casual malevolence and indifference to suffering. Its design turns a beetle into a zombie just before killing it, and then grotesquely reanimates its corpse so it can do it all over again to more victims.

Sadly, the copyright holders, Elsevier, want to charge me £22.43 to save you the trouble of clicking on this link, to read in the Journal of Invertebrate Pathology how the team from the University of Arkansas and Cornell University, led by Donald C. Steinkraus, discovered how it works.

The victim is the goldenrod soldier beetles, Chauliognathus pensylvanicus which survives by eating the flowers of frost aster, Symphyotrichum pilosum, common boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum, and Canada goldenrod, Solidago canadensisnormally. They normally mate on top of a flower. It seems, if you subscribe to the notion of intelligent design, that the intelligent designer (who isn't God by the way, so it isn't religion it's biology and should be taught in schools, but he just happens to be identical in every way to the god of a literal interpretation of the Bible) spotted the opportunity for a bit of fun, so He it designed a fungus, Eryniopsis lampyridarum, to infect these beetles.

When the fungus, which has been living in and consuming the female beetle, is ready it first turns its host into a zombie and makes it clamp itself onto a flower stem with its jaws, immediately before killing it. Then it makes lots of spores inside the dead female's body before reanimating it! 15-22 hours after death the female spreads her wings out wide so the spores can escape through the spiracles she used to breathe through, then her body swells, making her more attractive to males who try to mate with her, so getting infected in the process.

They they find a living female to mate with and infect her with the fungus and the cycle repeats itself.

Neat, eh?

Now, although intelligent (sic) design is 'definitely-biology-not-religion', cDesign proponentsists (sic) will normally resort to 'The Fall' to explain parasites such as this. 'The Fall' is of course a purely religious construction found in the Bible and forming the basis of Christianity, but at least this enables them to dismiss these hideous examples of, if it were the intention of a real conscious being, malevolent intent, as not their god's the intelligent designer's fault. It doesn't explain how turning beetles into zombies and then reanimating them just to spread a fungus infection to the next generation of beetles relates to some mythical event in the Bible (which of course it doesn't because it's definitely-science-not-religion, except it does) but at least it nearly gets God the intelligent designer off the hook - if you don't think too much about it.

Using real science of course, this is exactly the sort of thing evolution predicts because there is no plan, no morality and no concept of punishing anything for 'sin', simply the allele frequency changing over time to maximise the number of reproducing offspring.

'via Blog this'

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Dogs and Wolves Have a Sense of Justice Too

Vetmeduni Vienna : Sensitivity to inequity is in wolves’ and dogs’ blood

To listen to religious apologists you would think there is something special about humans that sets them apart from the rest of nature.

More often than not, in addition to babbling about a 'soul' (although they don't seem to agree whether that's unique to humans or not) they will quote morality, ethics, love, compassion, and a sense of fair-play or justice as setting us about the mere beasts.

This view has repeatedly been refuted by naturalists who can show that, for example, elephants grieve over lost friends and relatives, that several animals including the other apes show compassion and empathy. Now a paper by a team from the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Austria believe they have shown that not only domestic dogs but wolves have a sense of fairness and equity.

Highlights
  • Pack-living dogs and wolves show both reward and quality inequity
  • More dominant individuals were more inequity averse for both dogs and wolves
  • Inequity conditions influenced social behaviors in subsequent interactions
  • Inequity aversion is probably linked to the evolution of cooperation in dogs and wolves

Summary
Sensitivity to inequity is thought to be an important mechanism for recognizing undesirable cooperative partners and thus crucial for the evolution of human cooperation [ 1 ]. This link may not be unique to humans, as cooperative non-human primates also react to unequal outcomes [ 2 ], whereas non-cooperative species do not [ 3 ]. Although this hypothesis has not been tested in non-primate species, studies revealed that pet dogs show a limited form of inequity aversion, responding to reward, but not quality inequity [ 4–6 ]. It has been proposed that this primitive form of inequity aversion was selected for during domestication and thus absent in their ancestors, wolves. Alternatively, wolves, which hunt, raise pups, and defend their territory cooperatively, are similarly inequity averse as non-human primates, or at least to the same degree as pet dogs. Testing similarly raised and kept pack-living dogs and wolves, we found both to be inequity averse when their partner was being rewarded but they were not for performing the same action. Additionally, both wolves and dogs reacted to receiving a lower-quality reward than their partner. These results suggest that the inequity response found in pack-living dogs and wolves is comparable to that observed in non-human primates; results from studies on pet dogs may be confounded by the dogs’ relationship with humans. Consequently, our results suggest that inequity aversion was present already in the common—probably cooperative—ancestor of wolves and dogs and thus support the hypothesis of a close link of cooperation and inequity aversion.


This basic instinct in humans is of course the basis of many legal systems including English Common Law - from which the laws of most American states are derived (the exception being that of Louisiana which is derived from French Law). The Law assumes an entitlement to equal and fair treatment in a trial, including the idea that what was good in an earlier case should be good in this one - hence the Law is the body of cases. As we say in English Law, the Law if the cases; the cases are the Law.

Religious apologists have long argued that this this is what makes us 'civilised' and that the moral basis of this is God-given morals (conveniently ignoring the amoral, even immoral nature of their own god according to their holy books).

What the researchers found was that, in experiments where of a pair of dogs completed a task but only one was given a reward, or one was given a lower value reward than the other, the dog treated less fairly refused to co-operate in future experiments. The same phenomenon was demonstrated in a captive wolf pack where the response was also affected by the individual wolf's ranking in the pack heirarchy, with high-ranking dogs reacting more quickly to inequity, presumably because they were less used to being treated unfavourably.

Because a sense of equity is common to wolves and domestic dogs, it is strongly indicative that it was present in their common ancestor.

So, where does this leave the notion that somehow human's are above the animals because they are conscious, have empathy and enjoy civilising morals handed down by an invisible law-giver? It leaves it in tatters, of course. There never was any basis for this anthropocentric arrogance. Morals and ethics are evolved characteristics in social animals where teamwork and cooperation are essential for success.

'via Blog this'

Morocco Mystery Man

A composite reconstruction of what its discovers believe is the the earliest known Homo sapien fossil (from Jebel Irhoud), based on scans of multiple specimens. The virtual imprint of the braincase (blue) indicates that brain shape, and possibly brain function, evolved within the Homo sapien lineage, the scientists say.

Credit: Philipp Gunz, MPI EVA Leipzig
The age of the hominin fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, and the origins of the Middle Stone Age : Nature : Nature Research

The press are having one of those, "The textbooks are going to have to be rewritten" days.

Apparently, the textbooks are not just updated with the most recent findings and understanding when a new edition is published; they have to be rewritten because everything we thought we knew was wrong. You sometimes wonder if the science news is written by creationists - except of course that the news media don't then make the absurdly childish leap of concluding that because one little bit of science has been revised this proves the entire body of science is wrong - about everything, so God did it!

But, in this case, the entire evolutionary story of humans now needs to be rewritten, so we are told. You might now be wondering what is this amazing discovery? Humans are not apes? Not African apes, maybe? We've evolved from guinea pigs or spontaneously generated? The truth is slightly more prosaic of course, in fact it barely rates as startling at all - interesting and thought-provoking, naturally, but startling? The 'startling' fact is some archaic human fossil remains including skulls, flint tools and animal remains found in Morocco have been dated to about 300,000 years old and may be the oldest fossil Homo sapiens so far discovered.

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