Saturday, 28 February 2015

Vatican At War As Pell Lives it Up in Rome

Cardinal George Pell arrives for a morning session at the Vatican.
Photo: Alessandra Tarantino
Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican's financial watchdog, slammed for lavish spending

In a leaked document, Cardinal Pell, the former Archbishop of Melbourne who was put into the Vatican by Pope Francis to sort out its finances and root out the endemic corruption, has been accused of living a lavish lifestyle and handing out money to a chum in the form of an inflated salary.

But the real story here is the leak itself and what it shows is going on behind the scenes, as the Pope accuses the Curia of of suffering from fifteen 'spiritual diseases' including 'spiritual Alzheimers' and 'theological schizophrenia and Pell himself reveals that heads of departments in the vast Vatican bureaucracy had been salting away tens of millions in secret bank accounts, made possible because of shoddy bookkeeping and an almost complete lack of financial accountability with no records of where the money came from nor what it's to be spent on. The discovery of these large secret bank accounts potentially transformed the Vatican's financial position from precarious to very healthy.

Pell was put in soon after Pope Francis replaced the odious Pope Benedict who had done nothing to put a stop to the corruption revealed by his 'butler' in the 'Vatileaks' affair.

How Science Works - European History

Bouldnor Cliff submerged pre-historic site
DNA recovered from underwater British site may rewrite history of farming in Europe | Science/AAAS | News

An interesting example of how science works appeared in Science a couple of days ago. It concerns DNA evidence that domestic wheat, normally associated with farming, was being used by hunter-gatherers living in what is now southern England 8000 years ago, 2000 years before agriculture is believed to have reached north-west Europe.

Rather annoyingly, the article quotes archaeobotanist Dorian Fuller, of University College London, who was not involved in the research, as saying "[The work confronts archaeologists] with the challenge of fitting this into our worldview". Now, I'm not entirely sure what a 'worldview' is exactly but I suspect it's some sort of post-modernist nonsensical construction implying that all sorts of views of the world are possible and even equally valid, but reading the article it's very clear that what might need to be adjusted is this 'worldview' itself because this particular 'worldview' is a conclusion based on evidence. There is no fitting of new facts into a pre-existing conclusion; just the opposite in fact. The conclusion is adjusted to allow for the new information, just as the title of the article itself implies.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Britons Now Find Atheists More Moral Than Theists

I must be slipping as my attention was only drawn to this survey today in my copy of BHA News.

An opinion poll carried out for Huffington Post by Survation last November confirmed the astonishing rejection of religion in favour of non-belief in the UK in recent years and a consequent shift in the perception of the relative morality of Atheists and religious people.

Despite the 2011 census in which 55.3% of people in England and Wales described themselves as Christian and only 25.1% described themselves as having no religion, this survey revealed this to be

Sunday, 22 February 2015

More of Those 'Missing' Transitional Forms

Mammalian and non-mammalian jaws. In the mammal configuration, the quadrate and articular bones are much smaller and form part of the middle ear. Note that in mammals the lower jaw consists of only the dentary bone.
Evolutionary development in basal mammaliaforms as revealed by a docodontan

An arboreal docodont from the Jurassic and mammaliaform ecological diversification

Two papers published in last week's Science by the same team of researchers, describe two more of those 'non-existent' transitional fossils on which so much creationism depends.

They both deal with fossils of two members of an early and now extinct order of vertebrates which seems to sit somewhere between pre-mammalian reptiles and true mammals in that they have a transitional jaw joint closer to the 'squamous' joint typical of reptiles, where the mandible articulates with the squamous bone, and the mammalian jaw joint in which some bones have become reduced and now form the ossicles of the mammalian inner ear, allowing a new jaw joint to form between the quadrate bone and the mandible.

In all other respects these early proto-mammals have a mammalian skeleton and dentition. Because of this difference in jaw joint, the order is not universally accepted as a true mammal but are normally referred to an 'mammaliaforms', i.e., mammal-like - exactly the sort of taxonomic problem we would expect of something which is part-way between two others.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Collapsing Catholic Church in USA

St. Agnes Catholic Church, Chicago.
It seems it's not just in Europe where Christianity is declining at an accelerating rate, Catholicism no less so than the other Christian denominations.

Catholicism is also rapidly approaching the point of no return in the USA, as its congregations dwindle, churches close, parishes have to be amalgamated to reduce costs as donations dwindle accordingly, and recruitment to the priesthood of people of the right personal qualities, who are not going to embarrass the church later, becomes increasingly difficult.

Everywhere from Boston to Minneapolis, Catholic churches have closed or been consolidated into regional clusters. The chief reason is declining Mass attendance.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Pope Francis No Longer Mr. Nice Guy

Pope Francis compares trans people to nuclear weapons - Gay Star News

In a new book published in January, Pope Francis appears to have abandoned his attempt to make the Catholic Church look a little more civilised, even slightly humanitarian, by not being quite so hateful towards gays and transgender people.

He has now reverted to the tradition name-calling and threats, playing on people's ignorant superstitions, phobias and anthropocentric arrogance to enforce the Church's historical dogmas and policies of hate, demonisation, dehumanisation and division.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Even Crows Can Put Two And Two Together

Crows Spontaneously Exhibit Analogical Reasoning

One of the major difficulties creationists seem to suffer from, at least in the way they deny evidence and logical argument, is a seeming inability to do basic joined up thinking. I appreciate that many creationist merely feign this inability in the same way they feign ignorance and even difficulty with basic comprehension when presented with unarguable facts.

For example, lead a creationist carefully through the three steps needed for evolution to be inevitable and you can get them to agree every single stage -

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Idiot Designer. Beautiful Evolution

Luna moth, Actias luna (female)
Source: Wikipedia - Actias luna.
Uploaded by Kugamazog
Luna Moths’ Gorgeous Wings Throw Off Bat Attacks | Science | Smithsonian

Here's a beautiful moth that teaches us a great deal about evolution, how it works and how it can end up producing things that look decidedly maladaptive, even sometimes a little ridiculous and unnecessarily ostentatious. But perhaps the most important lesson here is how it has nothing to do with us and our perception of what looks intuitively to us to be maladaptive and unnecessary. In fact, in this case, what it has to do with is bat perception.

I'm referring to those long streamers on the ends of the hind wings which twirl around more or less randomly as the moth flies. They surely make flight more difficult, don't they?

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

How Muslim Clerics Lie To Us - Dr Ahmed Al-Muzain


Hamas TV Scientist Dr. Ahmad Al-Muzain: Bayer Invented Its Cure for AIDS on the Basis of a Hadith by Prophet Muhammad about the Wings of Flies

I don't know about you but if I really believed something was true and wanted to convince you, I would present the evidence for it and tell you where you could check the facts for yourself, confident that the facts supported my belief, and if they didn't, then I'd be wrong, not the facts.

If you check any blog I have published you'll see I almost invariably provide links to supporting evidence, especially on scientific matters. This is because, as a rationalist, my beliefs are based on evidence and so I believe this evidence will also convince you. I don't ask you to just take my word for it but I have confidence that the evidence can speak for itself. I have no interest in

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Even Other Apes Laugh At Creationists

Watch this video. It illustrates the work of Marina Davila Ross of the Psychology Department, Portsmouth University, UK, and her colleagues.

Be honest now, what was your reaction when you saw the bonobo laughing? I'll bet a fiver to Oxfam that you smiled at least, or even laughed.

What you were doing was responding just the way you would if you saw a human laugh. You did this because we share laughter with all the living Great Apes, even our most distant relative, the Orangutan, and the

Was Jesus a Fundamentalist Extremist?

Expulsion of the Moneychangers from the Temple,
Luca Giordano (1632–1705)
Reading all three so-called 'Synoptic Gospels', Matthew, Mark and Luke, they all agree that Jesus' arrest, trial and crucifixion followed closely after the 'cleansing of the temple' when Jesus allegedly drove the moneychangers out of the temple. Was this in fact the violent terrorist act of an extremist leading a bunch of dissidents in an attack on the Jewish authorities who ran Judea under Roman suzerainty and who were de facto the local government of the day?

There is no hard evidence that Jesus ever existed at all, and certainly no contemporaneous eye-witness accounts of anything associated with his life and death exist and even the two historians living and writing at the time (Philo-Judeus and Justus of Tiberius) are entirely silent on the matter, so it's hard to make a case for the stories of Jesus being based on

Saturday, 14 February 2015

How Religions Evolved By Mistake

The evolution of superstitious and superstition-like behaviour

Ever wondered what the biological basis for irrational superstition and religions is?

It turns out to have a perfectly rational explanation in terms of biological evolution in a sentient species. Darwinian evolution can even explain why people are religious in the absence of any evidence for a god or any rational reason to suppose that gods ever do anything.

Human beings are superb at pattern recognition and see patterns in the natural world, often where there aren't any - Jesus on toast, a face in a cloud, etc. The only reason Muhammad never appears on toast is because no one knows what he

Friday, 13 February 2015

Confused Pope Abuses Childless Couples

Pope Francis. Confused.
Pope Francis: 'The choice not to have children is selfish' - People - News - The Independent

In another astonishingly insensitive outburst, just a few weeks after telling Catholics who had been obeying official Catholic teaching prohibiting contraception and effective family planning that they are wrong for "breeding like rabbits", he has now told childless couples that they are selfish for choosing not to have children.

There is no recognition of the fact that some couples

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Darwin's Finches - Another Triumph For Science

Evolution of Darwin/'s finches and their beaks revealed by genome sequencing : Nature : Nature Publishing Group

On Darwin Day, it's good to see yet more scientific evidence showing just how robust and unassailable Darwinian evolution is as a scientific theory. This is confirmed paradoxically by a paper which showed he was ever so slightly wrong about the Galapagos Finches. He thought there were only 14 different species, now genetics has shown there are 17.

However, it confirms what Darwin said - they all radiated from a single founder population and the cause of diversity was natural selection. We now have the genetic evidence.

God Needs Darwin To Help Him Create Evil?

Few people can be unaware of the hysteria Stephen Fry caused recently in Christian circles, and not just with the fundamentalist with obvious mental issues. Even supposed 'moderate' Christians waded in to tell us childhood cancer was all our fault and their creator god can't be held responsible for the evil it creates. How it's all to show us how much it loves us and just to remind us all just how disgusting and unworthy we are of its love and lucky that it loves us so much in spite of our loathsome unworthiness.

Of course their hysterical over-reaction to Fry's simple little point is understandable, given their sensitivity to the point made by Epicurus in about 300 BCE:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.

Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Looking At Elms

The Cornfield.
John Constable 1826 showing typical English elms in the landscape
We went to church today.

No, not that church, silly; to the real one where something worthy of praise and adoration lives. We went to the countryside; to the fields, hedgerows and woods where nature lives aloof and indifferent to us; offering no rewards for praise or threats for ignoring it, but deserving love and wonder and protection none-the-less.

We went for a walk in the English countryside on a glorious bright sunny February day with an azure blue Mediterranean sky and birds already staking out their territories and attracting mates with songs and displays. And we saw how natures budges over, accommodates change and carries on. We saw English elm trees in their new guise and role as hedge plants and small thickets for windbreaks and wildlife.

Forgive me if I get a little sentimental here - elm trees were big in my life as a child.

Anyone born after about 1970 in Britain will not remember the giant elm trees that seemed to line every

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Maths For Christian Students

Inspired by the introduction to the two-volume Biology for Christian Students, I thought I would produce a little maths primer for Christian students based on the same principle. Creationist homeschoolers will find it especially useful.

The introduction to the Christian biology book, written by creationist Stephen S. Pinkston and publish by Bob Jones University, states on page 1:

  1. 'Whatever the Bible says is so; whatever man says may or may not be so,' is the only [position] a Christian can take..."
  2. If [scientific] conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong, no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them.
  3. Christians must disregard [scientific hypotheses or theories] that contradict the Bible.

Friday, 6 February 2015

This Could Be Good News For Creationists!

Credit: The University of New Brunswick
Seafloor grooves record the beat of the ice ages

Scientists have discovered an amazingly accurate natural clock, more accurate even than the magnetic reversal clock found in mid-ocean ridges which makes an indelible record of every magnetic reversal Earth has gone through since the continents split and the oceans opened up. This new discovery should be great news for creationists because, if their beliefs are correct, this natural clock should prove once and for all that Earth was created just a few thousand years ago.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Twitter CEO Costolo "Ashamed" of Abuse

Dick Costolo, CEO Twitter.
In a leaked memo, revealed in The Verge, Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter (@dickc) has admitted he is ashamed of the way Twitter deals with abusive trolls and fails to protect it customers.

But he needs to do more than just control the trolls if he wishes Twitter to remain a platform for free speech and for exchanging ideas, no matter how they might upset vested interests, people who simply don't like people disagreeing with them and think it shouldn't be allowed, or people exposed for lies, deceptions and scamming gullible and vulnerable people who currently infest the Internet.

I'm frankly ashamed of how poorly we've dealt with this issue during my tenure as CEO. It's absurd. There's no excuse for it. I take full responsibility for not being more aggressive on this front. It's nobody else's fault but mine, and it's embarrassing...

It’s no secret and the rest of the world talks about it every day. We lose core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.

Dick Costolo

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Unintelligently Designed Mitochondrial Disease

MPs vote in favour of 'three-person embryo' law | Science | The Guardian:

With todays new's that the UK House of Commons has passed a bill by a majority of more than 3:1 to allow a form of in vitro fertilization to include mitochondrial replacement in cases where the woman is a carrier of mitochondrial disease, I thought it might be worthwhile looking at the cell organelles called mitochondria and how they and the diseases they can cause fit into biological evolution, and how poorly they fit into intelligent design, especially intelligent design by a benevolent and omniscient designer.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Silly Bible - Even Language Refutes Creationism

European and Asian languages traced back to single mother tongue | Science | The Guardian

I've written a couple of time about how the Bible story of the Tower of Babel is, probably next to Noah's Ark, the least plausible story in the Bible. The problem was probably that even the Bible's authors didn't really understand or believe it but felt compelled to include it because it had gained the status of a sacred and holy text.

Later apologists such as Flavius Josephus even claimed that Yahweh dictated it to Moses, though that claim is never made in the Bible and a moments thought should tell you that the scribe doesn't normally write about his own death and burial in a secret place. Josephus was obviously reporting widely-believed myths rather than what he had actual evidence for.

Anyway, just to recap: according to this myth, Yahweh got spooked when it looked like his creation were going to get up to Heaven (which was directly over the Middle East and just above the sky, apparently). He hadn't seen that one coming and even had to go down to Earth to take a look. He then made everyone speak different languages so they couldn't work together any more, and that's how all the world's languages arose.

Don't laugh! These were simple people with no science to speak of and they lived in a world which they thought ran on magic.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Take Comfort in Moral Bankruptcy

If you want an example of the moral bankruptcy and the abdication of moral responsibility of fundamentalist Christianity you'd be hard pressed to find a better one than millionaire Ray Comfort's bloodcurdlingly inhumane celebration of the malevolent and vindictive personality of the god he worships, in his astonishingly brutal response to Stephen Fry.

Stephen Fry, TV personality, actor, author and Atheist Humanist, and one of the most respected and trusted people in Britain, was replying to a question from RTE chat-show host, Gay Byrne on Irish television. Byrne had asked, should Fry ever find himself standing in front of the Christian God, what he would say to him.
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