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

 

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

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…