In a world dominated by magical thinking, superstition and religion, give yourself the benefit of doubt. This is one skeptic's view of the Universe.

"Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."

-George Carlin

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”.

-Albert Einstein

“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”

-Carl Sagan

The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted.

-Christopher Hitchens

 

Within each species some individuals leave more offspring than others, so that the inheritable traits (genes) of the reproductively successful become more numerous in the next generation. This is natural selection: the non-random differential reproduction of genes. Natural selection has built us, and it is natural selection we must understand if we are to comprehend our own identities.

Robert L. Trivers. 1976.

(TitleThe Selfish Gene; Foreword to the First Edition)

Memetics

Meme: an information pattern, held in an individual’s memory, which is capable of being copied to another individual’s memory.

Memetics: the theoretical and empirical science that studies the replication, spread and evolution of memes

academicatheism:

Evolution of life’s operating system revealed in detail
The evolution of the ribosome, a large molecular structure found in the cells of all species, has been revealed in unprecedented detail in a new study.
Around 4 billion years ago, the first molecules of life came together on the early Earth and formed precursors of modern proteins and RNA. Scientists studying the origin of life have been searching for clues about how these reactions happened. Some of those clues have been found in the ribosome.
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academicatheism:

Evolution of life’s operating system revealed in detail

The evolution of the ribosome, a large molecular structure found in the cells of all species, has been revealed in unprecedented detail in a new study.

Around 4 billion years ago, the first molecules of life came together on the early Earth and formed precursors of modern proteins and RNA. Scientists studying the origin of life have been searching for clues about how these reactions happened. Some of those clues have been found in the ribosome.

Continue Reading

Atlanta biology teacher: Evolution from Satan and the cause of racism, divorce, gay people

Students in a freshman biology class in Atlanta’s Grady High School were shown a PowerPoint presentation that linked evolution to Satan, abortion, divorce, racism, and homosexuality.

The Grady High student newspaper, the Southerner, reported that Anquinette Jones used the PowerPoint presentation to teach the theory of evolution to her students during a freshman biology class last spring.

One slide in the 52-slide presentation included an illustration that shows creationism and evolution as two sides in a war between good and evil. Creationism is shown to be from Christ, while evolution is from Satan. The illustration suggests evolution is the driving force behind euthanasia, homosexuality, pornography, abortion, divorce, and racism — social ills that are all defeated by creationism and Christianity.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted the PowerPoint presentation also includes “grammatical errors and odd illustrations including a photo of Octomom,” along with the creationism picture.

Jones told the Southerner that the PowerPoint presentation originated with the Atlanta Public Schools system. But students told the paper that Jones had brought up creationism and criticized evolution in her biology class before.

“She always had random comments about [creationism],” student Lily Soto told the Southerner. “If someone would ask if we were going to learn evolution, she was like, ‘No, I don’t teach that.’”…

fossilporn:

Paleobirding: What Birds Looked Like 125 Million Years Ago
"The birds that lived during the age of the dinosaurs were very different from the birds that live today," said Los Angeles County Natural History Museum curator and dino-bird expert Luis Chiappe. "And it would have been a completely different experience to go out birding in the Mesozoic Era."

fossilporn:

Paleobirding: What Birds Looked Like 125 Million Years Ago

"The birds that lived during the age of the dinosaurs were very different from the birds that live today," said Los Angeles County Natural History Museum curator and dino-bird expert Luis Chiappe. "And it would have been a completely different experience to go out birding in the Mesozoic Era."

science-junkie:

Smithsonian Scientist and Collaborators Revise Timeline of Human Origins

Many traits unique to humans were long thought to have originated in the genus Homo between 2.4 and 1.8 million years ago in Africa. Although scientists have recognized these characteristics for decades, they are reconsidering the true evolutionary factors that drove them. […]

[Smithsonian paleoanthropologist] Richard Potts developed a new climate framework for East African human evolution that depicts most of the era from 2.5 million to 1.5 million years ago as a time of strong climate instability and shifting intensity of annual wet and dry seasons. This framework, which is based on Earth’s astronomical cycles, provides the basis for some of the paper’s key findings, and it suggests that multiple coexisting species of Homo that overlapped geographically emerged in highly changing environments.

“Unstable climate conditions favored the evolution of the roots of human flexibility in our ancestors,” said Potts, curator of anthropology and director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. “The narrative of human evolution that arises from our analyses stresses the importance of adaptability to changing environments, rather than adaptation to any one environment, in the early success of the genus Homo.”

Read the article

Map: Publicly Funded Schools That Are Allowed to Teach Creationism.
Thousands of schools in states across the country can use taxpayer money to cast doubt on basic science in the name of a particular religion.
Map: Publicly Funded Schools That Are Allowed to Teach Creationism.

Thousands of schools in states across the country can use taxpayer money to cast doubt on basic science in the name of a particular religion.

A Fascinating Study of How Creationists Understand Early Human Fossils

Young-earth creationists don’t ignore science. Instead, they reinterpret it to fit their belief system. One paleontologist was curious to find out what they teach about human ancestry, and how they interpret early human fossils. Here’s what he found out.

skeptv:

Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Cute Bonobos

Bonobos are the only ape that doesn’t kill. And unlike any other ape, bonobos help each other out (a lot like humans do). Through the use of “bonobo TV,” researchers found that bonobos’ yawns are contagious (also like humans). But while they have humanlike traits, their biggest threat comes from humans.

Learn what bonobo research reveals about human kindness: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/06/140610-bonobos-great-apes-animals-science-evolution/

via National Geographic.


New Creationist Documentary – Same Old Nonsense

Creation.com, the authors of “15 questions for ‘evolutiontionists’ that that they have already answered but we are going to continue to ignore those answers,” has recently release a trailer for their new movie where they apparently found 15 PhDs who are willing to embarrass themselves by documenting their scientific illiteracy. The film is “Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels,” and if the trailer is any indication, it is just a repackaging of the same creationist lies that have been exposed for decades.

The trailer starts out with the claim, “Most evolutionists have never critically examined their own position.” That is, if you don’t count the last 150 years of scientific examination, thousands of published peer-reviewed papers, and dozens of popular books carefully (what’s that word?) examining the evidence for evolution. We can add to that now the countless websites and blog posts critically examining every question creationists endlessly raise. Seriously, such a claim is either a bald-faced lie, or evidence of profound intellectual laziness.

The next series of “Achilles’ Heel” shockers is based on a misunderstanding of biology, genetics, and evolution. The voice on the trailer claims that mutation and natural selection “work in the wrong direction,” and so “how does evolution work?”

You can see where they are going with this. In their 15 questions propaganda, #3 states that mutations cannot add specific information, because mutations “degrade” information. Then #4 repeats the canard that natural selection only removes unfit genetics from the population, and does not add anything.

It states:

Mutations are known for their destructive effects, including over 1,000 human diseases such as hemophilia. Rarely are they even helpful. But how can scrambling existing DNA information create a new biochemical pathway or nano-machines with many components, to make ‘goo-to-you’ evolution possible?

These statements represent a fundamental misunderstanding of biology and genetics. The notion that mutations degrade the information in DNA, are inherently harmful, or that they “scramble” DNA is all nonsense. It assumes that one configuration of DNA is inherently better than another, or that there is a “correct” sequence for any gene – mutations can only “degrade” this information.

The truth is that the DNA sequence of any organism is already a complicated mess, because it evolved from the bottom up, and was not designed from the top down. Everything is a mutation – mutations are just change, they don’t inherently “degrade.” Most mutations have little or no effect – they don’t change the amino acid sequence, or they change one amino acid to another similar amino acid that has little or no effect on the protein structure or function. When mutations do change the function of a protein, it can be neutral, harmful, beneficial, or have mixed results with some benefits and some detriments. Benefit and harm, however, often need to be viewed in the context of the organism and their current environment and survival strategies.

They actually use the word “devolving” – there’s no such thing. All such change over time is evolution. The concept of “devolving” implies that there is a preferred direction to evolutionary change. Their isn’t. Again – all the creationists document is their own ignorance of the science they presume to criticize….

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Evolutionists use dinosaurs to reach children more than anything to promote their worldview. Our museum uses dinosaurs to help tell their true history according to the Bible.

Irony overload from Ken Ham, Dir of the Creation Museum

(Source: The Huffington Post)

skeptv:

The Scopes Monkey Trial Explained in 5 Minutes

A super fast overview of this historic trial in 1925 that began to redefine how we teach science in our public school system.

via Keith Hughes.


Misrepresenting Evolution

academicatheism:

thoughtfulatheism:

Former television and radio evangelist turned social-media-evangelist, Joshua Feuerstein, misrepresents evolution by channeling every refuted and defeated Creationist and Intelligent Design argument into one four and a half minute video titled “Dear Mr. Atheist … allow me to destroy evolution in 3 minutes!

If you’re going to debate or stand against something, at least understand what it is your debating or standing against.

To start, the “atheist” he refers to in his video is no doubt a Straw Man. For those of you who don’t know, a Straw Man, is a common type of argument and is a fallacy that exaggerates, misrepresents, or just completely fabricates someone’s argument. It’s much easier to present your own position as being reasonable, but this kind of dishonesty serves to undermine honest rational debate.

Now, in this video he makes a number of very huge misconceptions about the theory of Evolution.

First,
he states that evolution has never been observed. Biologists define evolution as a change in the gene pool of a population over time. One example is insects developing a resistance to pesticides over the period of a few years. Most people recognize that evolution at this level is a fact. What they don’t appreciate is that this rate of evolution is all that is required to produce the diversity of all living things from a common ancestor.

The origin of new species by evolution has also been observed, both in the laboratory and in the wild. See, for example, (Weinberg, J.R., V.R. Starczak, and D. Jorg, 1992, “Evidence for rapid speciation following a founder event in the laboratory.” Evolution 46: 1214-1220). The “Observed Instances of Speciation” FAQ in the talk.origins archives gives several additional examples. For more information, please visit talkorigins,org

Even without these direct observations, it would be wrong to say that evolution hasn’t been observed. Evidence isn’t limited to seeing something happen before your eyes. Evolution makes predictions about what we would expect to see in the fossil record, comparative anatomy, genetic sequences, geographical distribution of species, etc., and these predictions have been verified many times over. The number of observations supporting evolution is overwhelming.

What hasn’t been observed is one animal abruptly changing into a radically different one, such as a frog changing into a cow. This is not a problem for evolution because evolution doesn’t propose occurrences even remotely like that. In fact, if we ever observed a frog turn into a cow, it would be very strong evidence against evolution.

Second,
he points out that it’s “just a theory”. This a common argument against evolution. We should clarify what “evolution” means. Like so many other words, it has more than one meaning. Its strict biological definition is “a change in allele frequencies over time.” By that definition, evolution is an indisputable fact. Most people seem to associate the word “evolution” mainly with common descent, the theory that all life arose from one common ancestor. Many people believe that there is enough evidence to call this a fact, too. However, common descent is still not the theory of evolution, but just a fraction of it (and a part of several quite different theories as well). The theory of evolution not only says that life evolved, it also includes mechanisms, like mutations, natural selection, and genetic drift, which go a long way towards explaining how life evolved.

Calling the theory of evolution “only a theory” is, strictly speaking, true, but the idea it tries to convey is completely wrong. The argument rests on a confusion between what “theory” means in informal usage and in a scientific context. A theory, in the scientific sense, is “a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena” [Random House American College Dictionary]. The term does not imply tentativeness or lack of certainty. Generally speaking, scientific theories differ from scientific laws only in that laws can be expressed more tersely. Being a theory implies self-consistency, agreement with observations, and usefulness. (Creationism fails to be a theory mainly because of the last point; it makes few or no specific claims about what we would expect to find, so it can’t be used for anything. When it does make falsifiable predictions, they prove to be false.)

Lack of proof isn’t a weakness, either. On the contrary, claiming infallibility for one’s conclusions is a sign of hubris. Nothing in the real world has ever been rigorously proved, or ever will be. Proof, in the mathematical sense, is possible only if you have the luxury of defining the universe you’re operating in. In the real world, we must deal with levels of certainty based on observed evidence. The more and better evidence we have for something, the more certainty we assign to it; when there is enough evidence, we label the something a fact, even though it still isn’t 100% certain.

What evolution has is what any good scientific claim has—evidence, and lots of it. Evolution is supported by a wide range of observations throughout the fields of genetics, anatomy, ecology, animal behavior, paleontology, and others. If you wish to challenge the theory of evolution, you must address that evidence. You must show that the evidence is either wrong or irrelevant or that it fits another theory better. Of course, to do this, you must know both the theory and the evidence.

Third,
he clearly does not understand evolution if he thinks evolution occurred randomly. Chance certainly plays a large part in evolution, but this argument completely ignores the fundamental role of natural selection, and selection is the very opposite of chance. Chance, in the form of mutations, provides genetic variation, which is the raw material that natural selection has to work with. From there, natural selection sorts out certain variations. Those variations which give greater reproductive success to their possessors (and chance ensures that such beneficial mutations will be inevitable) are retained, and less successful variations are weeded out. When the environment changes, or when organisms move to a different environment, different variations are selected, leading eventually to different species. Harmful mutations usually die out quickly, so they don’t interfere with the process of beneficial mutations accumulating.

Nor is abiogenesis (the origin of the first life) due purely to chance. Atoms and molecules arrange themselves not purely randomly, but according to their chemical properties. In the case of carbon atoms especially, this means complex molecules are sure to form spontaneously, and these complex molecules can influence each other to create even more complex molecules. Once a molecule forms that is approximately self-replicating, natural selection will guide the formation of ever more efficient replicators. The first self-replicating object didn’t need to be as complex as a modern cell or even a strand of DNA. Some self-replicating molecules are not really all that complex (as organic molecules go).

Some people still argue that it is wildly improbable for a given self-replicating molecule to form at a given point (although they usually don’t state the “givens,” but leave them implicit in their calculations). This is true, but there were oceans of molecules working on the problem, and no one knows how many possible self-replicating molecules could have served as the first one. A calculation of the odds of abiogenesis is worthless unless it recognizes the immense range of starting materials that the first replicator might have formed from, the probably innumerable different forms that the first replicator might have taken, and the fact that much of the construction of the replicating molecule would have been non-random to start with.

(One should also note that the theory of evolution doesn’t depend on how the first life began. The truth or falsity of any theory of abiogenesis wouldn’t affect evolution in the least.)

Fourth,
he misrepresents the Law of Thermodynamics. This shows more a misconception about thermodynamics than about evolution. The second law of thermodynamics says, “No process is possible in which the sole result is the transfer of energy from a cooler to a hotter body.” [Atkins, 1984, The Second Law, pg. 25] Now you may be scratching your head wondering what this has to do with evolution. The confusion arises when the 2nd law is phrased in another equivalent way, “The entropy of a closed system cannot decrease.” Entropy is an indication of unusable energy and often (but not always!) corresponds to intuitive notions of disorder or randomness. Creationists thus misinterpret the 2nd law to say that things invariably progress from order to disorder.

However, they neglect the fact that life is not a closed system. The sun provides more than enough energy to drive things. If a mature tomato plant can have more usable energy than the seed it grew from, why should anyone expect that the next generation of tomatoes can’t have more usable energy still? Creationists sometimes try to get around this by claiming that the information carried by living things lets them create order. However, not only is life irrelevant to the 2nd law, but order from disorder is common in nonliving systems, too. Snowflakes, sand dunes, tornadoes, stalactites, graded river beds, and lightning are just a few examples of order coming from disorder in nature; none require an intelligent program to achieve that order. In any nontrivial system with lots of energy flowing through it, you are almost certain to find order arising somewhere in the system. If order from disorder is supposed to violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics, why is it ubiquitous in nature?

The thermodynamics argument against evolution displays a misconception about evolution as well as about thermodynamics, since a clear understanding of how evolution works should reveal major flaws in the argument. Evolution says that organisms reproduce with only small changes between generations (after their own kind, so to speak). For example, animals might have appendages which are longer or shorter, thicker or flatter, lighter or darker than their parents. Occasionally, a change might be on the order of having four or six fingers instead of five. Once the differences appear, the theory of evolution calls for differential reproductive success. For example, maybe the animals with longer appendages survive to have more offspring than short-appendaged ones. All of these processes can be observed today. They obviously don’t violate any physical laws.

Fifth,
He uses Hoyle’s fallacy to try to make evolution sound ridiculous. Hoyle’s fallacy, also known as the Junkyard tornado, describes a hypothetical tornado that passes through a hypothetical junkyard resulting in chaos. Proponents of Intelligent Design erroneously assume that because the ensuing chaos does not produce some sort of complex, man-made device (for example, a Boeing 747), that various processes of evolution, abiogenesis or other origins theory are equally unlikely.
The “Tornado in a Junkyard” analogy is an example of an argument by false analogy, a logical fallacy. It is also an example of denying the consequent: when confronted with the claim that adding energy to a system can give rise to complexity, simply presenting an example of a situation where adding energy to a system does not give rise to complexity.

It may very well be possible for a tornado in a junkyard to, by chance, create some complex instrument (probably not a Boeing 747). Since it has not yet been demonstrated by all the tornadoes that have passed through junkyards, it can be estimated the probability of it occurring is unfathomably small. However, if over the course of billions of years trillions of tornadoes went through endless fields of junk, a functional device that accomplishes something would probably get slapped together… if only to be destroyed by another tornado moments later.
At the molecular scale, however, the probability of an accidental precursor to life rises dramatically when bombarded with solar radiation and a constantly changing environment. While proteins are incredibly complex (like a Boeing 747), amino acids, carbohydrates and lipids are relatively simple and exist in incredible abundance and similarly simple chemicals are bound to occur. Simple chemicals can eventually combine into more complex ones, and so on.

Sixth,
he continues to equate evolution and abiogenesis.

Seventh,
the reason evolution is taught in schools is because it is has mountains of evidence to support it. There is no debate anymore. 99% of the scientific community accept evolution as a fact. It has no rival or alternate theory to stand against it.

Intelligent design has no evidence in it’s favor. It has no peer reviewed works. It has no explanatory or predictive power. Also, it is purely religiously based. Christians can say their God is the intelligent designer, Muslims can say it’s theirs. Or the Hindus, or Aboriginals, or literally any of the thousands of religions in the world.

The rest of his argument is purely sentimental and of no interest or concern. And really, it’s just talk. He hasn’t destroyed anything. I bet he hasn’t even read The Origin of Species.

Not only does he straw man, but he engages in a form of shotgun argumentation named after creationist Duane Gish—namely Gish Gallop. Gish Gallop is directly related to plurium interrogationum (the fallacy of many questions) and proof by verbosity. Anyone would “lose” a formal debate to that loud-mouthed idiot because he leaves way too much to correct and address given time constraints. I really hate that people are posting this on FB and acting like this is groundbreaking material; it’s the same, tired nonsense. It’s very likely he hasn’t read On the Origin of Species or any other book on evolution. It terms of evolution, he’s an illiterate fool.