Friday, 29 October 2010

Anti-Evolutionist Parody

This is a great parody of the sort of 'logic' that is parroted by advocates of Intelligent Design and Creationism. One of the biggest of these is the Discovery Institute. There are still many people who think that evolution means that humans came from slime, or that a cat gave birth to a dog. Once again this video's best asset is it's comedy value.  Enjoy :)

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Perspectives from an ignorant minority

This quite a popular video of 3 guys acting out quotes made by fundamentalist christians on forums. Although there is a clear take home message, that most of the opposition to science and atheism is based purely on ignorance of almost everything, the video is far more appealing purely due to its comedy value. In fact, you can see that one of the guys has a hard time trying to keep a straight face. People often say to me that these type of people are in a minority, and I agree. However, I believe that people forget just how many fundamentalist christians there are, so a minority in their case can still be quite a considerable number. Some of them even get slots on prime time television! Just imagine if they replaced the word 'atheists' with 'homosexuals', 'mixed race couples', 'people who read the times' or 'people who ate meat'. You'd be mad not to get angry.

There is an entire website devoted to examples of crazy  quotes called Fundies Say the Darndest Things. They also have quotes from paranoid conspiracy theorist and bigoted racists, some of which are frightening in their stupidity.

Time traveller caught on film?

Irish filmmaker, George Clarke, noticed a peculiar scene on a clip from the DVD extras of Charlie Chaplin's movie, The Circus. The clip in question features what appears to be a large woman talking into a device in her hand that  many people think is a mobile phone or a walkie talkie. Since the video is originally from 1928 it as caused quite a stir and has gone viral over the Internet.

Take a look for yourself and see what you think.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Atavisms: A blast from the past

The evidence for evolution comes in a variety of forms, many of which can only be understood with a good grasp of  modern concepts in  biology, genetics, ecology, molecular biology, developmental biology or geology. However, there are examples which can be seen with the naked eye and can be understood by anyone. For me, this is one of the best examples around...

In the natural world, traits which have been lost through evolution can reappear naturally. These are known as atavisms, and they are one of the most visually compelling evidences for evolution.

Here are a few examples:

 Human Tails
Most primates have long tails which can be used for balance or even serve as a fifth limb, which suits their arboreal lifestyle. However, all apes have lost their long tails through evolution, yet we still have the genes for a tail- they just aren't expressed anymore. This is because other genes override the expression of a tail during development. However, every so often a mutation may occur which permits the development of a tail.
Over the years, there been over 100 reports of human tail atavisms. These are not just stumps or extra bits of tissue; instead they have vertebrae, and some people can even move them!

Hind limbs in dolphins and whales
Dolphins and whales are both mammals. Since mammals evolved on land, the ancestors of dolphins and whales must have also lived on the land. During their transition to a marine lifestyle, they have lost their hair and their hind legs and develop a more streamlined shape. Occasionally these features reappear in the wild. In October 2006, this four finned dolphin was donated to the Taiji Whaling Museum after being captured off the west coast of Japan by fishermen.

Horses with extra toes
 Horses are actually standing on their hooves with the same bones as a human would if they were standing on tip toes. This is because although they evolved from a multi-toed creature,  these extra toes have shrank in size over millions of years. Now all that remains of them are a few vestigial bones. There are a  few recorded examples of extra toes in horses, such as "Clique, the horse with six feet", which was donated to Yale after it's death in 1891. Complete ulnas and fibulas have also been found in Welsh and Shetland ponies as well as miniature horses.

Chickens with teeth
This atavism has been induced by scientists by using viruses that mimic a known mutation which has the potential to cause chicken embryos to grow teeth. Birds evolved from dinosaurs, and we know that dinosaurs had teeth. In fact, even early birds such as Archeopteryx had teeth. Scientists can induce  this atavism because the chickens still retain the ability to grow teeth, but it is overridden by a complex set of developmental pathways. Unfortunately, the pathways are so complex that tinkering with them can often be lethal for the embryo. This tells us that (a) changes in natural populations are far more subtle than those in the lab, and (b) we are only skimming the surface of a science that has great deal of practical potential.

Can we bring the Dinosaurs back?

This weekend I spotted some Dinosaurs by the Blackpool lights. Unfortunately they're not real since the only living descendants of Dinosaurs today are Birds. But the worlds most famous Dino-hunter, Jack Horner, is helping the man who he thinks has the potential to change all this. His name is Hans Larsson. His work involves merging paleontology and molecular biology in order to understand major evolutionary changes. One of his goals it to 'switch on' dormant genes or change the regulation of currently active genes so that ancient traits, lost through evolution, will be expressed. Hans Larsson believes that although birds have lost many dinosaurian traits, it may be possible have them expressed once again.

So far, Larsson and his postdoctoral assistant have began working on chicken embryos. Traits such as a long tail have been lost in birds, and we can see the gradual reduction in tail length in the fossil record. Larsson found that although the tail grows very well in early development, "at a particular stage in development everything comes crashing to a halt". They found that retinoic acid, which stimulates the release of an protein called sonic hedgehog, “pushed tail growth to the upper range of normal development. It had some effect, but it didn’t break it out of the cycle.” This gave an Larsson an idea of how complex the growth of the tail is. Unfortunately there isn't much research on how to sustain growth in a tail, so Larsson and his assistant have had to do everything from scratch.

“The experiment I’m envisioning is that you have a single embryo developing in the egg with multiple injection sites and multiple kinds of molecules to be really fine-tuning the regulation of genes,” says Larsson. “We’ll be able to inject different parts of the embryo at different times of development with different things. If we do that, if the timing and position are correct, we should be able to manipulate lots of different kinds of morphologies—feathers, wings, teeth, tails.

“It would take just a little bit of time to work out each one of those systems in very great detail, which we’re now doing for the tail. Other people are doing it for the limbs for clinical work. And teeth are being worked out by other people for mammals and such, and then we can just sit down and play with all these in concert, which has never been done before.”

This'Chickenosaur' may resemble something from the coelurosaurs, a clade of theropod dinosaurs which resemble birds more than carnosaurs.“Birds are dinosaurs, so technically we're making a dinosaur out of a dinosaur. The only reason we're using chickens, instead of some other bird, is that the chicken genome has been mapped, and chickens have already been exhaustively studied. A number of people in a number of different places are moving forward with the project slowly and carefully,” says Horner.

Below is a video by Hans Larsson about the work he does.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Creationism lives on in US public schools - science-in-society - 20 October 2010 - New Scientist

Creationism lives on in US public schools - science-in-society - 20 October 2010 - New Scientist

I know it's frightening isn't it? Get 'em while their young is the prefered method of persuasuion for the desperate.


Have you ever been asked to be more open minded because you don't believe in something? Then this video is for you.

Formula for Denial: Creationisim, Holocaust Denial and Climate Change Skepticism.

Opposition to current scientific and historical knowledge in not a new phenomenon. There have always been independent thinkers who have voiced their objections. However in recent years the opposition has received more publicity and more support as a result. Yet what we see is not a flood of independent thinkers, but a wave of parrots. They all spout the same drivel in order to support their views despite the fact that this drivel has been contested and dismissed publicly and professionally over and over again using up to date and well reasoned arguments. Here are some of those arguments that are still used today:

"It's only a theory!"
"If we evolved from apes, then why are there still apes around today?"
"The temperature from satellites shows a cooling trend."
"The Gas chambers were only used for delousing clothing and blankets"

However this constant repetition of misinformation is not the only thing they share in common. I've made a list of 11 other criteria which most of these are founded upon:

  1.  They concentrate on their opponents' weak points, yet rarely say much about their own position.
  2. Errors in scholarship/science are argued to imply that conclusions made by scholars and scientists are wrong.
  3. When these errors are corrected, the denier's argument does not change and correction is usually overlooked or deemed irrelevant. Majority of denial movement does not even hear about the correction.
  4. Deniers often ask for evidence that they claim is missing. When this is presented to them they raise the bar and ask the more or change the definition of what they are asking for.
  5. Deniers imply that there is a conspiracy behind the opposition e.g. corporate, atheist, political. They claim this conspiracy is preventing them from spreading the 'truth'.
  6. Deniers imply evidence used by opposition is fraudulent. Even when found to be authentic, fraudulence is still implied.
  7. Majority of 'evidence' used by deniers is out of date, has been proven false, is unreliable (e.g. the author or time period is unknown) or is based on gaps in current knowledge.
  8. Well known figureheads of opposition to denial movement are deliberately misquoted or quoted out of context to imply that they are supporting deniers claims.
  9. Deniers either misrepresent or fabricate debate between scholars and scientists to imply that opposition is in crisis.
  10. Spokespersons/leaders of denial movements aren't scientists or scholars and don't have any affiliations with that field at all. Instead they are scientists from an irrelevant field, businessmen/women, lawyers, religious figures, actors etc. Some even have fake or purchased credentials.
  11. Majority of Support for denial movements is swayed by reasons which have nothing to do with evidence such as: religious and cultural reasons, emotional explotation, convenience, vested interests.

Monday, 25 October 2010

3 Atheist Myths

Atheists have had to deal with some pretty bad PR over the years. Sure, at least they're not being sentenced to death or incarceration anymore; but all the negativity still surrounding atheism today is based almost entirely on  misinformation and misunderstanding. Here are 3 brief examples of Myths about the godless:

1. Atheists are just rebellious people who hate/are angry at God.
First of all, since atheism is just a lack of belief in God, it is probably incorrect to label the entire atheist community as anything other than a group of people who lack belief in god. Different Atheists believe in all sorts of things including the afterlife and bad luck. I don't know any who actually hate God, there may be some; but since they are so few, it would be like basing your definition of christianity entirely on the Westboro Baptist Church.
Secondly, how can you hate something you don't believe exist.

2. Atheists are closed minded.
It is possible to be open minded without believing everything you see or hear simply by being skeptical. This is done by rejecting ideas unless they are currently supported by good evidence.  The  problem is that none of the "evidence" given for the existence of god is good enough. It is about the same standard of evidence as that used to support UFO abductions stories and Loch Ness Monster sightings. However if better evidence were to arise that supported these phenomenon, a true skeptic would have to reevaluate their stance. In doing so they remain constantly open to new ideas.

3. Atheists can't have morals without believing in God.
We know that many social animals have some simple yet fundamental moral principles. Still, we do need some more complex morals to build a society upon; but does this require a belief in god? Unfortunately belief in god has become almost synonymous with organised religion and good look at most texts that these religions are based upon suggests that they shouldn't the basis for anybody's morals  Much of their argument seems to based around the reward and punishment system enforced by a celestial law maker, a concept that is prevalent in many religions. But is it moraly superior to do something good purely for personal gain or fear of punishment? Furthermore, are these the only reasons people need to commit moral acts?
I would have thought that the actions of atheists today make a pretty convincing case against the idea that morality oly comes from a belief in God. The worst thing those atheists labelled as 'fundamentalist' or 'militant' have done is discuss their ideas in public, regardless of how strong their views are. Yet you can think of many examples of violence, child abuse and persecution caused by religion. Although it is only a small fraction of the whole religious community it should make anyone think twice before claiming moral superiority. Perhaps these people think that offending someone by expressing your views is more immoral.

Why blog?

I am a zoology graduate from Bangor university, currently taking an MRes in Ecology. During my studies I have learned a great deal and my interest for Science and the natural world has continued to grow. However I have also encountered great ignorance of science and reason among many people, sometimes I even feel embarassed to belong to the 21st century.

Using my blog I hope to contribute to the cause of freethinking by sharing my passion for science and reason; and dismissing some of the nonsense that has somehow become mainstream in modern society despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.