Friday, 28 April 2017

Core Blimey! A Glacier Older Than Creation!


Panoramic view of an ice cliff inside the Scărișoara Ice Cave, where the research was done.

Credit: Gigi Fratila & Claudiu Szabo
Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past | NSF - National Science Foundation

Quietly and without fuss, and quite unintentionally, science again refutes creationism.

As it often does, in fact as it almost invariably does, another piece of scientific research based on observations of the real world, incidentally refutes the primitive superstition that the Universe and Earth were created by magic just a few thousand years ago. It also refutes the myth that there was a global flood even more recently, within the written history of civilisations such as those of Ancient Egypt, China and Northern India - who all seem to have forgotten to record it or even notice that there was anything amiss.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Another Ape-Man Makes a Fool of Creationists

Credit: Chris Stringer, Natural History Museum, United Kingdom
Source: Wikipedia. (CC-BY 4.0)
Homo naledi is only 250,000 years old – here’s why that matters | New Scientist

Creationists now have another problem and it's not just 250,000 year-old fossils in a 6000 year-old Universe. It's even more fundamental than that.

First, a little background:

Homo naledi is from South Africa and, like another South African hominin, Australopithecus sediba, has a mixture of very human physical characteristics and some very primitive ones. With A. sediba, the primitive characteristics are enough to place it in the Australopithecus genus and so either an ancestor of the Homo genus or a cousin of one of our ancestors.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Little 'Hobbit' is a Big Problem for Creationists

An artist's impression of Homo floresiensis based on recent research. Dubbed a human "hobbit", the species of humanoid was about a metre tall and died out about 54,000 years ago.
Photo credit: ANU
© 2017 Katrina Kenny (CC-BY 4.0)
Origins of Indonesian hobbits finally revealed:

In its slow, methodical way, science shed a little more light on one of the mysteries of the evolution of the hominid family tree - the origin of the so-called hobbit, Homo floresiensis. The remains of H. floresiensis were found in a cave in Liang Bua in the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003. Initially, they were thought to be about 12,000 years old but later analysis has pushed this back to about 50,000 years.

The mystery isn't so much now how they came to be still living in isolation up to 12,000 years ago or why they are so small, being only about 1 metre tall, but where they fit in the hominid evolutionary tree and how they got to Flores Island.

Now a team from The Australian National University (ANU) has carried out a detailed statistical analysis and

Friday, 21 April 2017

New Book With A Difference

Cover photo:
Some of the children of Fawler about to be given a ride by Fred Able, "The Donkey Man." About 1955-56.
Part of the reason I haven't been blogging quite so much in recent weeks is because I have been writing another books.

No, not another book about my usual subjects - general science, biology, atheism, religion and it's fallacies - but a much more personal book; a book about my childhood in rural Oxfordshire in the 1950s and 60s.

Of course, I cover my realisation that I was an Atheist and how my love of nature and science developed but I also cover life in general in a small agricultural hamlet. I talk about how important the countryside was to us as a playground and in particular how important the River Evenlode was to us children.

We spent the summer swimming, diving or lying half asleep with noses buried in fresh clover on the river bank and generally showing off to the local girls whose bodies were taking on strangely fascinating shapes. Some of the girls even began to wrap themselves in towels when they got changed. It was all very strange!

I describe the social structure of a small rural community, how it was maintained by social convention and the English class system - and an how this shaped my political views.

I also write about how we discovered sex and how our relationships grew from childhood friendships in what was virtually an extended family, to become intimate lovers, discovering sex together as our bodies grew and developed.

The village green, the centre of our lives, where we grew up together, fell out, made friends again and later kissed and cuddled and touched and explored one another’s bodies as we discovered our sexuality, and where we later said our departing goodbyes, is now lifeless.

And I describe how this all came to an end as technology transformed country life and ended an ancient way of life for ever.

Probably the one saving grace for me in the morning assembly was that we would occasionally sing a hymn that had the words “will obey” in it. I could shut my eyes and picture this Willow Bay, with its sky–blue sea gently lapping on golden sands and fringed with weeping willow trees. Wherever in the world Willow Bay was, probably on a tropical island, I determined to go there one day. Hopefully, there would not be cannibals.

The book also incorporates passages from a previously unpublished personal memoir of childhood written by my sister, Patricia Broome.

It is available direct from the publishers as a paperback ($10.95), or as a paperback or ebook for Kindle from Amazon USA ($10.95 paperback, $8.75 Kindle) or Amazon UK (£8.75 paperback, £6.95 Kindle).


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Thursday, 13 April 2017

Give The Designer The Clap it Deserves!

Neisseria gonorrhoeae infection in the human endocervical tissue is visualized by immunofluorescence microscopy. Bacterial (red) colonization causes columnar endocervical epithelial cells to shed and lose the barrier function, which allows bacteria to enter the endocervical tissue. Frozen tissue sections were stained for immunofluorescence with specific antibodies to the apical junctional protein ZO1 (green) and N. gonorrhoeae (red) and the nuclear dye DAPI (blue).

Credit: Liang-Chun Wang,
Department of Cell biology and Molecular Genetics,
University of Maryland, USA
Neisseria gonorrhoeae infects the human endocervix by activating non-muscle myosin II-mediated epithelial exfoliation

The Intelligent (sic) Designer really does deserve a big clap! It has come up with a brilliant solution to the problem it caused by its lack of a plan!

You see, the Intelligent (sic) Designer, that imaginary being so beloved of creationists but definitely not God because that would make it religion, not science, wants to make life unpleasant for humans (for strictly scientific reasons, obviously, and nothing to do with The Fall because that's religion) so it designed nasty little organisms like Neisseria gonorrhoeae to infect them when they had sex because it doesn't like them having sex the way it designed them to.

The trouble was, in a forgetful moment, it had designed humans so they could cope with nasty little organisms like N. gonorrhoeae and not be made sick by them. Now though, it has briiantly redesigned N. gonorrhoeae so it gets around the protection if gave humans.

In an open access paper published in PLOS Pathogens today, a team of scientists led by Liang-Chun Wang of the University of Maryland, College Park, have worked out how it got around the problem it had created. It does it by exploiting the very defence mechanism the Intelligent (sic) designer designed in the first place.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Layers of Evidence Against Creationism


Stratification in Tibet sediment. Climate variations are reflected in color variations with the red sediment typically indicating a wetter climate and the white indicating a drier climate.
Photo credit: Qingquan Meng
Tibet sediments reveal climate patterns from late Miocene, six million years ago

There is science; and there is creationism. They have nothing in common.

Science looks at evidence and bases its opinions on it. When the evidence changes, science changes its mind. How could it be otherwise when the evidence is in charge? Creationism, on the other hand, starts with opinions as dictated by a holy book and then tried to force-fit the evidence around those opinions. When that fails even for the gullible credulity of creationists, the fact are simply ignored and the main problem for creationists becomes how to get away with dismissing what can be plainly seen without looking too dishonest and deluded.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Parasites Bug Creationists

Several specimens such as this Cimex latipennis female found in the Paisley Caves in Oregon date nearly 11,000 years ago.
Photo credit: Martin E. Adams
Cimicid Remains Found in Oregon Caves are Oldest Ever Found – Entomology Today

Newly discovered bat-bugs from the floor of a cave in Oregon are the earliest so far found - and it's bad news for creationists, again.

Parasites are a problem for creationists for number of reasons and not just that so many creationists are susceptible to parasitic frauds who sell them spurious confirmation of their superstition for large amounts of money. It's no accident that so many creationist charlatans are multi-millionaires while the people they live off are amongst the poorest of people.

Monday, 3 April 2017

How Evolution Works - Squirrels and Pine Martens

Europen red squirrel, Sciurus vulgaris
Population crash in an invasive species following the recovery of a native predator: the case of the American grey squirrel and the European pine marten in Ireland | SpringerLink

Sometimes, evolution can produce intriguing and unexpected results. At first glance it may be hard to see why introducing a predator can result in an increase in the population of a species. This is especially pleasing when the species benefiting is a charming and endangered species, the European red squirrel and the predator is an almost equally beautiful member of the stoat family, the pine marten.

So, having been away from blogging for a couple of weeks with other distractions, it gives me considerable pleasure to write about this open access paper, albeit from 2014, which reports just that from Ireland.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Observable Evolution Over Nine Generations!

Plants pollinated by bumblebees become more fragrant.
Picture: UZH
Real-time divergent evolution in plants driven by pollinators | Nature Communications.

Until a few years ago, almost all creationists had no doubt at all; evolution simply didn't happen. All living things were created in a couple of days exactly as they are today. There was no debate; evolution didn't happen because it wasn't mentioned in the Bible and that was that.

This is still the position maintained by a large number of creationists who believe the world was created just a few thousand years ago, as we see it today, and nothing has changed since.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Noses Run Counter To Creationism


Image: © iStock Photo kowalska-art
Investigating the case of human nose shape and climate adaptation | PLOS Genetics

Scientists believe they have uncovered evidence that the different human nose types are at least partly or even mostly adaptations to different climates as humans spread out from our ancestral homeland in Africa.

An important function of the nasal cavity and the nasopharynx is to humidify the sir before it reaches the lower respirator tract and the lungs.

Using 3D facial imaging, the team measured the width of the nostrils, the distance between nostrils, the height of the nose, nose ridge length, nose protrusion, external area of the nose and the area of the nostrils. They found the two measures: the width of the nostrils and of the base of the nose differed between different human populations by more than would be expected from genetic drift alone. They found a positive correlation between the width of the nose and the warmth and humidity of the climate in which the populations lived.

Unintelligently Designed Epigenenetics

Creationists, especially those who try to disguise their religious cult as 'Intelligent (sic) Design' and pretend it's science, seem to be getting themselves over-excited by the relatively new science of epigenetics.

It's easy to see why, given the abysmal ignorance which characterises creationism, because it superficially seems to challenge some of the basic principles of Darwinian evolution because it appears to open up the possibility that changes acquired after conception can be passed on. This is, of course Lamarckian, not Darwinian inheritance.

Given the creationist assumption that if they can show any science to be ever so slightly wrong in any way, the entire body of science if proven false and their primitive, evidence-free superstition wins by default, they grasp desperately at epigenetics like a drowning man grasps at straws and wave it in triumph.

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.

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!

Something Fishy About Retroviruses

Un-rooted phylogenies, estimated from a reverse transcriptase protein alignment.
Marine origin of retroviruses in the early Palaeozoic Era | Nature Communications.

Retroviruses are enough to induce extreme denialism in creationists because they can't be explained in terms of intelligent (sic) design, or design of any sort, but they can easily be explained by standard genetic evolutionary theory. In fact, they can only be explained by evolution.

Retroviruses are a class of related RNA viruses which, on gaining entry to a host cell, insert the DNA counterpart of their RNA into the genome, making themselves practically invisible to the normal antibody defences of the host. They can lay dormant for many years before being activated and, if they infect the germ-line cells, can be passed on to the next generation.

Bacterial Evolution Recorded in Byzantium

The skeleton of a woman who died 800 years ago on the outskirts of the ancient city of Troy in modern Turkey
Photo: Gebhard Bieg
Byzantine skeleton yields 800-year-old genomes from a fatal infection | University of Wisconsin-Madison News.

A 30 year-old woman who died 800 years ago in what was Troy has unwittingly left us a snapshot of evolving bacteria and a serious infection in humans as it was 800 years ago.

The bacteria were recovered from calcified nodules found just below the ribs of a skeleton of the woman who died during pregnancy and who showed skeletal evidence of a hard, agrarian existence which may have made her vulnerable to infection. The recovered genome of two species of bacteria are of such high quality that they can be used to compare changes in one of the bacteria, Staphylococcus saprophyticus, in the intervening 800 years. The other bacteria, Gardnerella vaginalis, showed little change.

Abstract
Pregnancy complications are poorly represented in the archeological record, despite their importance in contemporary and ancient societies. While excavating a Byzantine cemetery in Troy, we discovered calcified abscesses among a woman’s remains. Scanning electron microscopy of the tissue revealed ‘ghost cells’, resulting from dystrophic calcification, which preserved ancient maternal, fetal and bacterial DNA of a severe infection, likely chorioamnionitis. Gardnerella vaginalis and Staphylococcus saprophyticus dominated the abscesses.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Early Neanderthals Had Religion Before Modern Humans?

Early Neanderthal constructions deep in Bruniquel Cave in southwestern France | Nature Letters.

This paper passed beneath my radar last August but it illustrates something rather nice about science - the way it continually challenges our assumptions and, if we are honest, causes us to change our minds and revise our understanding. It also shows that Neanderthals may have had religion before modern humans had left Africa.

The paper deals with the discovery in a French cave of artefacts which could only have been made by Neanderthals and a very long time ago.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Ask And It Shall Be Given

Arkansas State Rep. Micah Neal, Republican.
Asked for and was given $38,000 in bribes.
Evangelical Christian Arkansas Republican pleads guilty in $600K Bible college bribery scheme

A couple of Good Christian principles seem to have motivated evangelical Arkansas Republican State representative, Micah Neal. He appears to subscribe fully to the idea that:

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20)

Friday, 6 January 2017

Malevolent Design or Evolution?

Carla Cerami, M.D., PhD., is the lead scientist on the study and said its results reveal the relationship between anemia, iron supplementation and malaria risk.
Anemia Offers Stronger Protection Than Sickle Cell Trait Against the Erythrocytic Stage of Falciparum Malaria and This Protection Is Reversed by Iron Supplementation - EBioMedicine

I've yet to find an intelligent (sic) design advocate who doesn't believe their putative designer is anything other than the god they purport to believe in, whether they call it God, Allah, Dios, Gott, Yahweh or any other of the names for the god of the Bible and Qur'an.

It's fair to assume therefore that this putative intelligent designer, in the minds of its advocates, has all the characteristics they assign to their particular version of this god. This includes having made humans as it's special creation with everything else there merely to serve the needs of these special human creations. So this open-access paper presents intelligent (sic) design advocates with a special problem. If it was intelligently designed, there is no way these findings can be presented as anything more than a work of extreme malevolence and mendacious sadism.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Signals From Space - Keep Calm and Carry On!

Source of mysterious deep space radio wave discovered for the first time | Science | The Guardian

Scientists have identified the source of a pulse of radio signals first detected in 2016 of a type only known about since 2007.

The so-called fast radio bursts (FRBs) most probably came from a dwarf galaxy some 3 billion light years from Earth, so the pulse only began its journey when Earth was just a few million years old, maybe when life was just getting going.

But it's nothing for alien conspiracists to get excited over; nor is it anything for creationists to start to panic over. It almost certainly isn't a signal from some other intelligence in a distant galaxy. However, exactly what it is is still a bit of a mystery.

Christian Crime Wave

Pastor John Thomas Lindsey, armed robber
Church Pastor Arrested For Nine Armed Robberies in Charlotte | WSOCTV.com

"When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised the Lord doesn't work that way so I stole one and asked him to forgive me." - Emo Philips

It seems that John Thomas Lindsey, 47, a pastor at True Love Church of Refuge, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA also understood that basic Christian principle and the great benefit to be had from having a faith that means a few magic words can conveniently re-set your sin counter to zero without needing to make reparation to those you have wronged. He has been arrested and charged with nine counts of armed robbery!

After enquiries from a local tv station, Chanel 9, the True Love Church of Refuge issued the following statement:

We, the leadership and membership of True Love Church of Refuge, are deeply saddened and disappointed that our leader and brother, John Thomas Lindsey, is facing charges associated with criminal activity. Though we denounce any involvement he may have had, we love him and will continue to pray for him. The ministry will continue to stand strong despite the latest allegations and will continue to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Religious Persecution - Spain and Portugal Making Amends

Expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal following the Alhambra Decree, 1492.

Brexit vote sparks rush of British Jews seeking Portuguese passports | World news | The Guardian

News that large numbers of British Sephardic Jews are applying for Portuguese and Spanish citizenship in order to retain their citizenship of the European Union when Britain leaves has prompted me to look a little deeper into the historic background to this story.

Study of Spanish history is well worthwhile if you want to see how religion brutalises people and poisons communal relations. It's not the only example, of course, as examples can be found in the history of just about every European country but, outside the Balkans, Islam was not normally involved; inter-communal strife and bloodshed normally being confined to anti-Semitic Christians or different warring Christian sects. Spain managed all the blood-letting, persecution and hate perfectly well without Protestantism to provide an excuse.

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