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.

"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

 

Spark of life: Metabolism appears in lab without cells

Metabolic processes that underpin life on Earth have arisen spontaneously outside of cells. The serendipitous finding that metabolism – the cascade of reactions in all cells that provides them with the raw materials they need to survive – can happen in such simple conditions provides fresh insights into how the first life formed. It also suggests that the complex processes needed for life may have surprisingly humble origins.

"People have said that these pathways look so complex they couldn’t form by environmental chemistry alone," says Markus Ralser at the University of Cambridge who supervised the research.

But his findings suggest that many of these reactions could have occurred spontaneously in Earth’s early oceans, catalysed by metal ions rather than the enzymes that drive them in cells today.

The origin of metabolism is a major gap in our understanding of the emergence of life. “If you look at many different organisms from around the world, this network of reactions always looks very similar, suggesting that it must have come into place very early on in evolution, but no one knew precisely when or how,” says Ralser.

science-junkie:

The Origin of Humans Is Surprisingly Complicated
Human family tree used to be a scraggly thing. With relatively few fossils to work from, scientists’ best guess was that they could all be assigned to just two lineages, one of which went extinct and the other of which ultimately gave rise to us. Discoveries made over the past few decades have revealed a far more luxuriant tree, however—one abounding with branches and twigs that eventually petered out. This newfound diversity paints a much more interesting picture of our origins but makes sorting our ancestors from the evolutionary dead ends all the more challenging.
Source: Scientific American

science-junkie:

The Origin of Humans Is Surprisingly Complicated

Human family tree used to be a scraggly thing. With relatively few fossils to work from, scientists’ best guess was that they could all be assigned to just two lineages, one of which went extinct and the other of which ultimately gave rise to us. Discoveries made over the past few decades have revealed a far more luxuriant tree, however—one abounding with branches and twigs that eventually petered out. This newfound diversity paints a much more interesting picture of our origins but makes sorting our ancestors from the evolutionary dead ends all the more challenging.

Source: Scientific American

academicatheism:

The truth about science vs. religion: 4 reasons why intelligent design falls flat
The devil’s in the details
Of course I believe in evolution. And I believe in God, too. I believe that evolution is how God created life.”
You hear this a lot from progressive and moderate religious believers. They believe in some sort of creator god, but they heartily reject the extreme, fundamentalist, science-rejecting versions of their religions (as well they should). They want their beliefs to reflect reality – including the reality of the confirmed fact of evolution. So they try to reconcile the two by saying that that evolution is real, exactly as the scientists describe it — and that God made it happen. They insist that you don’t have to deny evolution to believe in God.
Continue Reading

academicatheism:

The truth about science vs. religion: 4 reasons why intelligent design falls flat

The devil’s in the details

Of course I believe in evolution. And I believe in God, too. I believe that evolution is how God created life.”

You hear this a lot from progressive and moderate religious believers. They believe in some sort of creator god, but they heartily reject the extreme, fundamentalist, science-rejecting versions of their religions (as well they should). They want their beliefs to reflect reality – including the reality of the confirmed fact of evolution. So they try to reconcile the two by saying that that evolution is real, exactly as the scientists describe it — and that God made it happen. They insist that you don’t have to deny evolution to believe in God.

Continue Reading

wildcat2030:

Why you should stop believing in evolution -You don’t believe in it — you either understand it or you don’t  - When people joyously discover on Ancestry.com that they’re related to, say, a medieval archduke or a notorious Victorian criminal, evolutionary biologists may be permitted to snicker. Because in actuality, we are all related: Humans all share at least one common ancestor if you go far enough back. You are related to every king and criminal who ever lived, to Gandhi and Paris Hilton and Carrot Top. You are even related to me. But buckle up — that’s only the beginning. Humanity, after all, is but one ugly branch on the big tree of life. Go back far enough, and you’ll find an ancestor common to you and to every creature on Earth. You are related to your cat — which may help explain why you get that stare all the time. You are related to a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and to the mosquito you just murdered, and to your houseplants. At any given meal, you may eat all or part of a dozen extremely distant relatives. It’s remarkable how poorly understood evolution is today — how easily “debated” it is — given that its rules have been in place at least since life on Earth began, and that the truth of it is easily demonstrated. In fact, the basic theory has been in a state of continuous reconfirmation since Darwin proposed it in 1859, with geology, biology, anthropology, carbon dating, Pangaea, and every dinosaur bone ever found providing a nonstop barrage of additional proof points.
Here are the rules, in a nutshell:
• Genes, stored in every cell, are the body’s blueprints; they code for traits like eye color, disease susceptibility, and a bazillion other things that make you you.
• Reproduction involves copying and recombining these blueprints, which is complicated, and errors happen.
• Errors are passed along in the code to future generations, the way a smudge on a photocopy will exist on all subsequent copies.
• This modified code can (but doesn’t always) produce new traits in successive generations: an extra finger, sickle-celled blood, increased tolerance for Miley Cyrus shenanigans.
• When these new traits are advantageous (longer legs in gazelles), organisms survive and replicate at a higher rate than average, and when disadvantageous (brittle skulls in woodpeckers), they survive and replicate at a lower rate.
That’s a little oversimplified, but the general idea. As advantageous traits become the norm within a population and disadvantageous traits are weeded out, each type of creature gradually morphs to better fit its environment.
 (via Why you should stop believing in evolution - The Week)

and as populations of organism migrate into new environments and niches or as environments change, they evolve into different species. The process not only builds better gazelles it also turns them into antelope and wildebeests, or did so to their common ancestor anyway…

wildcat2030:

Why you should stop believing in evolution
-
You don’t believe in it — you either understand it or you don’t
-
When people joyously discover on Ancestry.com that they’re related to, say, a medieval archduke or a notorious Victorian criminal, evolutionary biologists may be permitted to snicker. Because in actuality, we are all related: Humans all share at least one common ancestor if you go far enough back. You are related to every king and criminal who ever lived, to Gandhi and Paris Hilton and Carrot Top. You are even related to me. But buckle up — that’s only the beginning. Humanity, after all, is but one ugly branch on the big tree of life. Go back far enough, and you’ll find an ancestor common to you and to every creature on Earth. You are related to your cat — which may help explain why you get that stare all the time. You are related to a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and to the mosquito you just murdered, and to your houseplants. At any given meal, you may eat all or part of a dozen extremely distant relatives. It’s remarkable how poorly understood evolution is today — how easily “debated” it is — given that its rules have been in place at least since life on Earth began, and that the truth of it is easily demonstrated. In fact, the basic theory has been in a state of continuous reconfirmation since Darwin proposed it in 1859, with geology, biology, anthropology, carbon dating, Pangaea, and every dinosaur bone ever found providing a nonstop barrage of additional proof points.

Here are the rules, in a nutshell:

• Genes, stored in every cell, are the body’s blueprints; they code for traits like eye color, disease susceptibility, and a bazillion other things that make you you.

• Reproduction involves copying and recombining these blueprints, which is complicated, and errors happen.

• Errors are passed along in the code to future generations, the way a smudge on a photocopy will exist on all subsequent copies.

• This modified code can (but doesn’t always) produce new traits in successive generations: an extra finger, sickle-celled blood, increased tolerance for Miley Cyrus shenanigans.

• When these new traits are advantageous (longer legs in gazelles), organisms survive and replicate at a higher rate than average, and when disadvantageous (brittle skulls in woodpeckers), they survive and replicate at a lower rate.

That’s a little oversimplified, but the general idea. As advantageous traits become the norm within a population and disadvantageous traits are weeded out, each type of creature gradually morphs to better fit its environment.

 (via Why you should stop believing in evolution - The Week)

and as populations of organism migrate into new environments and niches or as environments change, they evolve into different species. The process not only builds better gazelles it also turns them into antelope and wildebeests, or did so to their common ancestor anyway…

wildcat2030:

Society bloomed with gentler personalities and more feminine faces
-
Modern humans appear in the fossil record about 200,000 years ago, but it was only about 50,000 years ago that making art and advanced tools became widespread. A new study appearing Aug. 1 in the journal Current Anthropology finds that human skulls changed in ways that indicate a lowering of testosterone levels at around the same time that culture was blossoming. “The modern human behaviors of technological innovation, making art and rapid cultural exchange probably came at the same time that we developed a more cooperative temperament,” said lead author Robert Cieri, a biology graduate student at the University of Utah who began this work as a senior at Duke University. The study, which is based on measurements of more than 1,400 ancient and modern skulls, makes the argument that human society advanced when people started being nicer to each other, which entails having a little less testosterone in action. Heavy brows were out, rounder heads were in, and those changes can be traced directly to testosterone levels acting on the skeleton, according to Duke anthropologist Steven Churchill, who supervised Cieri’s work on a senior honors thesis that grew to become this 24-page journal article three years later. What they can’t tell from the bones is whether these humans had less testosterone in circulation, or fewer receptors for the hormone. The research team also included Duke animal cognition researchers Brian Hare and Jingzhi Tan, who say this argument is in line with what has been established in non-human species. In a classic study of Siberian foxes, animals that were less wary and less aggressive toward humans took on a different, more juvenile appearance and behavior after several generations of selective breeding. (via Society bloomed with gentler personalities and more feminine faces | Science Codex)

wildcat2030:

Society bloomed with gentler personalities and more feminine faces
-
Modern humans appear in the fossil record about 200,000 years ago, but it was only about 50,000 years ago that making art and advanced tools became widespread. A new study appearing Aug. 1 in the journal Current Anthropology finds that human skulls changed in ways that indicate a lowering of testosterone levels at around the same time that culture was blossoming. “The modern human behaviors of technological innovation, making art and rapid cultural exchange probably came at the same time that we developed a more cooperative temperament,” said lead author Robert Cieri, a biology graduate student at the University of Utah who began this work as a senior at Duke University. The study, which is based on measurements of more than 1,400 ancient and modern skulls, makes the argument that human society advanced when people started being nicer to each other, which entails having a little less testosterone in action. Heavy brows were out, rounder heads were in, and those changes can be traced directly to testosterone levels acting on the skeleton, according to Duke anthropologist Steven Churchill, who supervised Cieri’s work on a senior honors thesis that grew to become this 24-page journal article three years later. What they can’t tell from the bones is whether these humans had less testosterone in circulation, or fewer receptors for the hormone. The research team also included Duke animal cognition researchers Brian Hare and Jingzhi Tan, who say this argument is in line with what has been established in non-human species. In a classic study of Siberian foxes, animals that were less wary and less aggressive toward humans took on a different, more juvenile appearance and behavior after several generations of selective breeding. (via Society bloomed with gentler personalities and more feminine faces | Science Codex)

Working from his detailed observations of living things, Darwin saw what very few people had ever seen before, even though the process is always staring us right in the face. That is, if creatures vary, and if they have to compete for resources so that most of the variants die, and if the successful variants pass on to their offspring whatever it is that helped them survive, then the offspring must be better adapted to the environment in which all this happened than their parents were. Repeat that cycle of copying, varying and selecting, and design must appear out of nowhere.

Susan Blackmore

(Source: susanblackmore.co.uk)

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.
Continue Reading

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."