In a world dominated by magical thinking, superstition and misinformation, give yourself the benefit of doubt. This is one skeptic's view of the Universe; natural wonders and supernatural blunders.

"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

 

Evolution by QualiaSoup

If you’re going to watch one video about Evolution make it this one.

fossilporn:

Arsinoitherium zitteli skull at the @Canadian Museum of Nature. 
Arsinoitherium is an extinct genus of paenungulate mammal related to elephants, sirenians, hyraxes and the extinct desmostylians, as well as to other extinct embrithopods. These species were elephant-like herbivores that lived during the late Eocene and the early Oligocene of northern Africa from 36 to 30 million years ago, in areas of tropical rainforest and at the margin of mangrove swamps.

fossilporn:

Arsinoitherium zitteli skull at the @Canadian Museum of Nature. 

Arsinoitherium is an extinct genus of paenungulate mammal related to elephants, sirenians, hyraxes and the extinct desmostylians, as well as to other extinct embrithopods. These species were elephant-like herbivores that lived during the late Eocene and the early Oligocene of northern Africa from 36 to 30 million years ago, in areas of tropical rainforest and at the margin of mangrove swamps.

theolduvaigorge:

Digital Reconstructions of Hominids from the set ‘Descendenteí,’ Human Kind Lineage Project

Identification:

Click through for full sequential soft tissue facial reconstruction posters from The Human Kind Lineage Project

(Source: Behance.net)

God, Darwin and My College Biology Class

EVERY year around this time, with the college year starting, I give my students The Talk. It isn’t, as you might expect, about sex, but about evolution and religion, and how they get along. More to the point, how they don’t.

I’m a biologist, in fact an evolutionary biologist, although no biologist, and no biology course, can help being “evolutionary.” My animal behavior class, with 200 undergraduates, is built on a scaffolding of evolutionary biology.

And that’s where The Talk comes in. It’s irresponsible to teach biology without evolution, and yet many students worry about reconciling their beliefs with evolutionary science. Just as many Americans don’t grasp the fact that evolution is not merely a “theory,” but the underpinning of all biological science, a substantial minority of my students are troubled to discover that their beliefs conflict with the course material.

Until recently, I had pretty much ignored such discomfort, assuming that it was their problem, not mine. Teaching biology without evolution would be like teaching chemistry without molecules, or physics without mass and energy. But instead of students’ growing more comfortable with the tension between evolution and religion over time, the opposite seems to have happened. Thus, The Talk….

Newsflash: Birds didn't evolve from dinosaurs in one fell swoop, but over millions of years

Dinosaurs didn’t suddenly give way to birds, a new study finds, but slowly transitioned into fowl though a piecemeal evolutionary process. Scientists have long understood that birds evolved from their more grounded brethren, but research into exactly how the transition took place has largely revolved around the search for the “missing link” that would tie the earliest known bird to his dinosaur ancestors. In the past few decades, however, paleontologists have unearthed a variety of dinosaurs with bird-like qualities, such as feathers, wings and smaller, more aerodynamic bodies, but none have quite been “birdy” enough to constitute the elusive “missing link.”

The study, which was published on Thursday in the journal Current Biology, uses statistics to show that there is no single missing link, but rather a painfully slow development of certain bird characteristics. Steve Brusatte, co-author of the study and paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh, told Live Science that “it’s basically impossible to draw a line on the tree between dinosaurs and birds.” Once the general bird form was in place, however, an evolutionary explosion took place, resulting in a hodgepodge of different bird-like creatures existing at once, “something was unlocked, and [birds] began to evolve at a supercharged rate,” said Brusatte….

jtotheizzoe:

teded:

View the TED-Ed Lesson Where do genes come from?

When life emerged on Earth about 4 billion years ago, the earliest microbes had a set of basic genes that succeeded in keeping them alive. In the age of humans and other large organisms, there are a lot more genes to go around. Where did all of those new genes come from? Carl Zimmer examines the mutation and multiplication of genes.

Seriously, if I could recommend anyone to explain this kind of thing (besides myself), it would be the great Carl Zimmer. 

Great video about where new genes come from and how we went from early organisms with just a few to the mélange of molecular instructions that we see on Earth today.

This is how evolution gets creative.

Once we were blobs in the sea, and then fishes, and then lizards and rats and then monkeys, and hundreds of things in between. This hand was once a fin, this hand once had claws! In my human mouth I have the pointy teeth of a wolf and the chisel teeth of a rabbit and the grinding teeth of a cow! Our blood is as salty as the sea we used to live in! When we’re frightened, the hair on our skin stands up, just like it did when we had fur. We are history! Everything we’ve ever been on the way to becoming us, we still are.

I’m made up of the memories of my parents and my grandparents, all my ancestors. They’re in the way I look, in the colour of my hair. And I’m made up of everyone I’ve ever met who’s changed the way I think.

Terry Pratchett (via we-are-star-stuff)

(Source: whats-out-there)

The fossil record implies trial and error, the inability to anticipate the future - features inconsistent with a Great Designer.

Carl Sagan, Cosmos (via whats-out-there)

Ask an Astrophysicist

Looking through the Ask an Astrophysicist archives this morning, this one was my favorite. A super tactful way of saying, “yeah, we actually understand quite a bit about the origins of the universe and of life. It’s not a tie between religion and science. We have actual methods and theories, with actual observations.”

The Question

(Submitted February 17, 1997)
I am puzzled between my beliefs and religion. I do not know what to tell my child about the creation of the Universe. She seems really interested in knowing how all that we know exists.

I personally believe that no one knows for sure how the Universe was created or how we were created. Why are we here, a place in the Universe, this infinite Universe. Where did we come from?

The Answer

This is a pretty big question! I admire both of you for struggling with it.
Our work — like those of scientists everywhere — is concerned with the ‘whats’ and ‘hows’ of the Universe, rather than whether or not there is a ‘why’. While it is not our role to discuss beliefs or religion, we can help you by telling you what astronomers have learned about the creation of the Universe. The scientific method (based on testing and modifying explanations until they agree with observations - and then making more observations to be explained!) has been astoundingly effective in investigating the history of the Universe and showing how one event followed another in a way understandable and predictable from a small number of physical principles (such as Newton’s Laws of Motion and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity).

We now have a very good picture of how the Universe has evolved since the so-called Big Bang (some 15 billion years or so ago) to the present. Even twenty years ago, Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg was able to write a popular book “The First Three Minutes” which describes in some detail the particle interactions likely to have occurred during the first 180 seconds of the Universe!

Many non-scientific groups in human history have also thought they had a good picture of the Universe, but the crucial difference was that their explanations were either not tested or not testable. The scientific view is tested by many thousands of scientists every day and wrong ideas cannot survive very long. Of course there are still many mysteries remaining, but most of them concern quite fine details of galactic and stellar evolution.

Even the origin and evolution of life are much better understood than is usually realized. The mechanisms causing the simple life forms present on the earth more than 3 billion years ago to diversify into the tremendous biological variety we see today are well known. Many of the chemical steps required to produce the first life forms from simple and abundant molecules have been reproduced in the laboratory. Others have not, but the evidence for life in the oldest rocks we have examined (and the recently discovered similar evidence for ancient life on Mars) suggests that life may begin readily when the right materials and conditions are together for enough time.

To explore the work of our laboratory go to: http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ Note that the StarChild part of our site has been written for children between the ages of 4 and 14.

For other discussions concerning the origin and evolution of the Universe, books by Hawking (“A Brief History of Time” and others), Gribbin (“In the Beginning”), and Abrams (“The Birth of the Universe: The Big Bang and After”) are worth a look.

For discussions of the origin and evolution of life, books by Steven Jay Gould might give you a place to start.

For more on the scientific method, Bronowski’s “The Ascent of Man”, Morrison’s “Nothing is too Wonderful to be True” and Sagan’s “Cosmos” and “The Demon Haunted World” contain interesting discussions of how science works. You might also want to check out the bi-monthly magazine “Skeptical Inquirer”.

I had hoped to be able to recommend a much longer list of sites for you to visit on the World Wide Web, but I was very disappointed when I explored what is currently available. The average quality of information for the areas you are interested in is extremely low — because anyone can make material available on the Web, so the few good sites are lost in the noise. I suggest that you will make much more progress by visiting good libraries and bookstores and reading widely.

I hope that both you and your daughter will continue to enjoy reading about, thinking about, and discussing these important questions.

Paul Butterworth
for Imagine the Universe!

amnhnyc:

New Research: Fossils of New Squirrel-like Species Support Earlier Origin of Mammals

A research team led by paleontologists at the American Museum of Natural History and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have described three new small squirrel-like species that place a poorly understood Mesozoic group of animals firmly in the mammal family tree. The study, published today in the journal Nature, supports the idea that mammals originated at least 208 million years ago in the late Triassic, much earlier than some previous research suggests.

The three new species—Shenshou lui, Xianshou linglong, and Xianshou songae—are described from six nearly complete 160-million-year-old fossils found in China. The animals, which researchers have placed in a new group, or clade, called Euharamiyida, likely looked similar to small squirrels. They weighed between 1 and 10 ounces and had tails and feet that indicate that they were tree dwellers.

Based on the age of the Euharamiyida species and their kin, the divergence of mammals from reptiles had to have happened much earlier than some research has estimated. Instead of originating in the middle Jurassic (between 176 and 161 million years ago), mammals likely first appeared in the late Triassic (between 235 and 201 million years ago).

Read the full story. 

It is surely harmful to souls to make it a heresy to believe what is proved.

Galileo Galilei (via whats-out-there)

jtotheizzoe:

endangereduglythings:

wild-guy:

Achrioptera fallax (x)

That coloration is waaay too cool to not reblog. Those are colors I’d expect in a children’s cartoon, not in real life.

Of course this thing is from Madagascar, the island where evolution took LSD. I mean, more like Rad-agascar, amirite?

In all seriousness, Madagascar is a perfect example of the incredible diversity that results from evolution in isolation thanks to about 90 million years of being separated from the African continent. Find out more about where Madagascar’s species came from here.

See those flower-petal-esque wings? While they’re useless for flight, they do make some pretty cool predator-avoidance noises. Check out the video below to hear ‘em:

Btw, are you following endangereduglythings? Freaky fauna can (and often are) just as endangered or threatened as the cute kind. We should celebrate and protect nature’s oddities just as much as its supermodels!

On the Other Hand

Recently, some of the most interesting findings have come not from studying handedness in humans, but from observing the behaviors and brains of other animals. Once considered to be a uniquely human trait, handedness may exist on the individual level in other species, and may be common in primates.

did-you-kno:

Scientists studying ancient evolutionary changes recently trained a group of fish to walk on land. Over a period of 8 months, the shape of their bodies changed as they adjusted to the terrestrial lifestyle. Source

did-you-kno:

Scientists studying ancient evolutionary changes recently trained a group of fish to walk on land. Over a period of 8 months, the shape of their bodies changed as they adjusted to the terrestrial lifestyle. Source