Thursday, 26 June 2008

Betty Bowers - America's Best Christian

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Major evolution observed in a lab.

This article appeared 09 June 2008: NewScientist.com news service: Bob Holmes

A major evolutionary innovation has unfurled right in front of researchers' eyes. It's the first time evolution has been caught in the act of making such a rare and complex new trait.

And because the species in question is a bacterium, scientists have been able to replay history to show how this evolutionary novelty grew from the accumulation of unpredictable, chance events.

Twenty years ago, evolutionary biologist Richard Lenski of Michigan State University in East Lansing, US, took a single Escherichia coli bacterium and used its descendants to found 12 laboratory populations.

The 12 have been growing ever since, gradually accumulating mutations and evolving for more than 44,000 generations, while Lenski watches what happens.

Profound change
Mostly, the patterns Lenski saw were similar in each separate population. All 12 evolved larger cells, for example, as well as faster growth rates on the glucose they were fed, and lower peak population densities.

But sometime around the 31,500th generation, something dramatic happened in just one of the populations – the bacteria suddenly acquired the ability to metabolise citrate, a second nutrient in their culture medium that E. coli normally cannot use.

Indeed, the inability to use citrate is one of the traits by which bacteriologists distinguish E. coli from other species. The citrate-using mutants increased in population size and diversity.

"It's the most profound change we have seen during the experiment. This was clearly something quite different for them, and it's outside what was normally considered the bounds of E. coli as a species, which makes it especially interesting," says Lenski.

Rare mutation?
By this time, Lenski calculated, enough bacterial cells had lived and died that all simple mutations must already have occurred several times over.

That meant the "citrate-plus" trait must have been something special – either it was a single mutation of an unusually improbable sort, a rare chromosome inversion, say, or else gaining the ability to use citrate required the accumulation of several mutations in sequence.

To find out which, Lenski turned to his freezer, where he had saved samples of each population every 500 generations. These allowed him to replay history from any starting point he chose, by reviving the bacteria and letting evolution "replay" again.

Would the same population evolve Cit+ again, he wondered, or would any of the 12 be equally likely to hit the jackpot?

Evidence of evolution
The replays showed that even when he looked at trillions of cells, only the original population re-evolved Cit+ – and only when he started the replay from generation 20,000 or greater. Something, he concluded, must have happened around generation 20,000 that laid the groundwork for Cit+ to later evolve.

Lenski and his colleagues are now working to identify just what that earlier change was, and how it made the Cit+ mutation possible more than 10,000 generations later.

In the meantime, the experiment stands as proof that evolution does not always lead to the best possible outcome. Instead, a chance event can sometimes open evolutionary doors for one population that remain forever closed to other populations with different histories.

Lenski's experiment is also yet another poke in the eye for anti-evolutionists, notes Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago. "The thing I like most is it says you can get these complex traits evolving by a combination of unlikely events," he says. "That's just what creationists say can't happen."

Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0803151105)

Evolution: 24 myths and misconceptions


If you think you understand it, you don't know nearly enough about it

It will soon be 200 years since the birth of Charles Darwin and 150 years since the publication of On the Origin of Species, arguably the most important book ever written. In it, Darwin outlined an idea that many still find shocking – that all life on Earth, including human life, evolved through natural selection.

Darwin presented compelling evidence for evolution in On the Origin and, since his time, the case has become overwhelming. Countless fossil discoveries allow us to trace the evolution of today's organisms from earlier forms. DNA sequencing has confirmed beyond any doubt that all living creatures share a common origin. Innumerable examples of evolution in action can be seen all around us, from the pollution-matching peppered moth to fast-changing viruses such as HIV and H5N1 bird flu. Evolution is as firmly established a scientific fact as the roundness of the Earth.

And yet despite an ever-growing mountain of evidence, most people around the world are not taught the truth about evolution, if they are taught about it at all. Even in the UK, the birthplace of Darwin with an educated and increasingly secular population, one recent poll suggests less than half the population accepts evolution.

For those who have never had the opportunity to find out about biology or science, claims made by those who believe in supernatural alternatives to evolutionary theory can appear convincing. Meanwhile, even among those who accept evolution, misconceptions abound.

Most of us are happy to admit that we do not understand, say, string theory in physics, yet we are all convinced we understand evolution. In fact, as biologists are discovering, its consequences can be stranger than we ever imagined. Evolution must be the best-known yet worst-understood of all scientific theories.

So here is New Scientist's guide to some of the most common myths and misconceptions about evolution.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Meaning and Nothingness: A personal journey by James A. Haught

The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 22, Number 1.

Young seekers of truth go through a phase of wondering whether life has any discernible meaning. Why are we here? Why is the universe here? Is there a purpose to it all? This is the ultimate question, overarching all others.

The seekers usually plunge into philosophy, and spend years sweating over “being” and “essence” and quibbling over how the mind obtains knowledge, how we determine reality, and how language shapes our comprehension. In the end, most emerge (as I did) with no better answer than when they began—and a feeling that they wasted a lot of time and effort. Omar Khayyam felt the same way nine hundred years ago:

Myself when young did eagerly frequent Doctor and saint, and heard great argument About it and about, but evermore Came out by the same door as in I went.

However, despite this futility, I think intelligent people can address the meaning-of-life question sensibly without bogging down in philosophical stewing and hair-splitting. That’s what I’d like to do now: just spell out what’s knowable, as I see it. The following is my personal, amateur view.

First, 90 percent of humanity—the religious believers— don’t need to ask the meaning of life. Their church tells them the answer. Priests and scriptures say a magical, invisible god created the universe and put people here to be tested, set rules of behavior for us to follow, and created a heaven to reward the rule-followers after they die and a hell to torture the rule-breakers after they die. Some supernatural explanation like this one is accepted by the vast preponderance of human beings.

But some of us can’t swallow it, because there’s no evidence. Nobody can prove that people continue living after death. Nobody can prove that people are tortured or rewarded in an afterlife—much less that any invisible spirits exist to do the torturing and rewarding.

Therefore, we uncertain people are doomed to be seekers, always searching for a meaning to life but never quite finding one. I’ve been going through it for half a century. Now, I think I can declare that there are two clear answers: (1) Life has no meaning. (2) Life has a thousand meanings.

Read the whole article HERE

Thursday, 12 June 2008

RELIGULOUS - The Movie

Trailer of the new movie starring Bill Maher and directed by Larry Charles(BORAT)



In Cinemas 3rd October 2008

Suit-and-Tie Atheism: And the “Church-ification” of the Godless

Extract from an article by Joe E. Holman written for Debunking Christianity

One atheist may have nothing in common with another except for one thing: both don’t believe in a deity. That is all—end of story. There need be no other similarities between them. An atheist may be educated or uneducated, smart or stupid, kind or mean-spirited, a law-abiding citizen or an outlaw. He may be charitable or stingy, morally straight-laced or downright perverted. She may be a republican, a libertarian, or a flat-out Marxist. I keep thinking the point has been made already. It isn’t that complicated, and yet I see so little understanding of this in relations between believers and atheists.

We vocal atheists have dealt with our share of email exchanges explaining to clueless inquisitors that agnosticism is not a halfway house between atheism and theism, but only a degree of atheism; an agnostic or weak atheist is less convicted and perhaps less vocal than a positive or strong atheist. And that is what atheism is—a conviction and not a philosophy, though it is sometimes classified as a philosophy or a discipline for reference purposes in the field of philosophy. But this simple misunderstanding has done leagues to impede the progress of our debates for who knows how long.

You see this royal misinformation at work every time some Simple Simon makes reference to “the church of atheism” or “the religion of the godless.” Since atheism is strictly a negative conviction, it cannot have a church or any institution built on it with creedal beliefs or affirmative regulations that affect belief, identity, conduct, or character (which is what churches and religions have and do). And yet, even amongst my atheist comrades, these same misunderstandings are being unknowingly propagated with what I have come to call “suit-and-tie atheism.”

Suit-and-tie atheism is the vain attempt on the part of some atheists to “churchify” their godless convictions under differing militant and evangelistic banners. They show frantic worry about “making de-converts” to join us in our “fight for unbelief.” The suit-and-tie atheist is concerned especially with “coming off” right (which usually means putting on a smiley face and displaying pretentiously Christian-like behavior). The suit-and-tie atheist’s goal: they want believers to be impressed with them in hopes of winning over an on-the-fence Christian who just might say, “These cats aren’t so bad. Maybe my Christian stereotypes of atheists are wrong? I think I’ll join them in their quest for reason.” But it doesn’t happen that way, regardless of how little profanity an atheist uses or how kind and inviting an atheist is in a written or oral debate, or if an atheist chooses the term “non-theist” instead of atheist to ward off any nasty preconceptions of them.

It is very important to the suit-and-tie atheist that no atheist in their company comes off like a “village atheist”—an unsophisticated, homegrown, “I’ll believe it when I see it” type who does not continually pay lip-service to the glories of Aristotelian logic, and who doesn’t have a big interest in arguing atheism with anyone and everyone he knows. But even worse to the suit-and-tie atheist is the “angry atheist” because the angry atheist makes all other atheists look depressed and grumpy—a cardinal sin in the eyes of so many happy-go-lucky, pro-marijuana, planet-loving, Toyota Echo-driving naturalists.

Since the suit-and-tie atheist is concerned mainly with appearance and getting people to agree with him/her – always careful to be pleasant to a fault – they naturally shy away from atheists like myself who are too edgy, too rambunctious, and just too brutally honest for their taste. The suit-and-tie atheist is more like a politician, distancing himself from bad imagery, shaking hands with a big smile on his face, while patting kids on the head as he works the crowd on the campaign trail. But as noble as it sounds to try and line up atheists as charming and inviting, it’s a bad idea because it creates yet another of what should be forthrightly shunned—an unfounded stereotype.

Atheists far and wide seem to be contributing to this suit-and-tie silliness, like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett (among others), who have voiced their desire for all atheists to identify themselves as “Brights.” “The New Atheists” is another description that is catching on and becoming increasingly popular. I was always amazed as a preacher at the tendency of churches to wear denominational names and the names of religious leaders, but I am just as amazed as an atheist at how quickly and easily atheists are guilty of the very same thing. The put-your-best-foot-forward mentality, the desire to label and re-label things to reflect excellence and great personal achievement appears to be universal.

As much as I hate to burst the bloated bubbles of these highly publicized and widely adored atheists, this label-wearing malarkey has got to stop. There are no “Brights” or “New Atheists” anymore than there are “New Deists.” The term “atheist” covers everything that needs to be covered. To go further than that only feeds the already fat market of misinformation on the identity of unbelievers and what we are all about. Add to that, the term “Brights” has a mighty arrogant come-off to it, regardless of whether it was intended to have or not. Those who go around saying (by implication or otherwise), “I am bright and you are not!” to them I proudly extend a middle finger, and rightly so! And why do we need “new” atheism anyway? What was wrong with the old? In addition to being a virtual spit in the face to us behind-the-times “old” atheists, gimmicky and trendy names like these wreak of being little more than pathetic sales-pitches for a new age.

Well, how about we get back to the four basic food groups of atheism: 1) Atheism, 2) is a, 3) conviction, 4) only! And being a conviction only, it does not and cannot lead to moral excellence or decay. It is not an idealistic construct. It offers me nothing. It offers you nothing. Like me, it may be the only position you can come to and honestly profess belief in, or it may not be. If you find atheism sound, then great; maybe you already fight at my side to break the rusting and corroding shackles of superstition, but if not, I won’t lose any sleep over the matter. If you believe in God, I have better things to do than to try and get you off that drug.

The truth is, I don’t care whether you believe in a ghost with a capital “G” or not. It doesn’t matter to me at all. I only want to make my experiences available to those who happen to be in a position to benefit from learning about them, and I will only fight against religious beliefs when they happen to be thrown in my face or when some Jeebus-ite starts to wax too missionary in his/her beliefs. But that’s it. Beyond that, I have no interest in “making atheists” out of anyone or putting new and cute labels on those who already identify themselves as infidels. Worship and pray to whomever or whatever you want, or don’t worship and pray at all. See if I care.

As far as the remaining theists are concerned, evolution will take care of them as God-belief ever-gradually continues to fade from the planet. Every time a Sunday school girl makes her teacher mad because she demands to know where Cain got his wife, religion is fading. Every time a young man begins to doubt the veracity of the great flood and the story of Noah’s ark, religion is fading. Every time another college student becomes emboldened enough to throw off his parent’s religion because of what he learned in geology class, we see that the age-old, male-glorifying, monotheistic blood-gods who for so long have vilified reason and promised damnation to those who think for themselves are at last losing the war. They are running for the hills as your eyes finish this sentence.

Atheism is the logical result of knowledge acquired by the sound use of reason. It does not come from pandering to Christians and straightening that proverbial tie to look good for the “camera” of public perception. Instead of worrying about who’s “hurting the cause of atheism,” we should instead see to it that atheism is understood; understanding that will eliminate the illusionary damage that has led to the public’s vilification of the position. The advancement of atheism is not about upholding an image, and it’s not about receiving a message. It’s about mankind being ready and able to accept the truth of her humble origins, her inevitable and hopeless demise, and her limited place in the cosmos. And when she is ready, she will! As the world becomes more enlightened, the atheists are going to be here. I have no doubt about it—unless, of course, a meteor hits the earth and the only ones who survive are the Sean Hannity types, but hey, we’re talking about more realistic possibilities!

Gentlemen, lose the jackets. Get rid of the ties. Ladies, let down your hair. And it’s okay to put your feet on the coffee table.

To read the complete article go to http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2008/05/suit-and-tie-atheism-and-church.html

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Joke: The Atheist and the Bear

An atheist was walking through the woods.
'What majestic trees'!
'What powerful rivers'!
'What beautiful animals'!
He said to himself.

As he was walking alongside the river, he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. He turned to look. He saw a 7-foot grizzly bear charge towards him.
He ran as fast as he could up the path. He looked over his shoulder & saw that the bear was closing in on him.

He looked over his shoulder again, & the bear was even closer. He tripped & fell on the ground. He rolled over to pick himself up but saw that the bear was right on top of him, reaching for him with his left paw & raising his right paw to strike him.

At that instant the Atheist cried out, 'Oh my God!'

Time Stopped.

The bear froze.

The forest was silent.

As a bright light shone upon the man, a voice came out of the sky. 'You deny my existence for all these years, teach others I don't exist and even credit creation to cosmic accident.' 'Do you expect me to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer'?

The atheist looked directly into the light, 'It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask you to treat me as a Christian now, but perhaps you could make the BEAR a Christian'?

'Very Well,' said the voice.

The light went out. The sounds of the forest resumed. And the bear dropped his right paw, brought both paws together, bowed his head & spoke:
.
.
.
.
.
.
'Lord bless this food, which I am about to receive from thy bounty through Christ our Lord, Amen.'

Saturday, 7 June 2008

An Allegorical Tale

This morning there was a knock at my door. When I answered the door I found a well groomed, nicely dressed couple. The man spoke first:

John: "Hi! I'm John, and this is Mary."

Mary: "Hi! We're here to invite you to come kiss Hank's butt with us."

Me: "Pardon me?! What are you talking about? Who's Hank, and why would I want to kiss His butt?"

John: "If you kiss Hank's butt, He'll give you a million dollars; and if you don't, He'll kick the snot out of you."

Me: "What? Is this some sort of bizarre mob shake-down?"

John: "Hank is a billionaire philanthropist. Hank built this town. Hank owns this town. He can do whatever He wants, and what He wants is to give you a million dollars, but He can't until you kiss His butt."

Me: "That doesn't make any sense. Why..."

Mary: "Who are you to question Hank's gift? Don't you want a million dollars? Isn't it worth a little kiss on the butt?"

Me: "Well maybe, if it's legit, but..."

John: "Then come kiss Hank's butt with us."

Me: "Do you kiss Hank's butt often?"

Mary: "Oh yes, all the time..."

Me: "And has He given you a million dollars?"

John: "Well no. You don't actually get the money until you leave town."

Me: "So why don't you just leave town now?"

Mary: "You can't leave until Hank tells you to, or you don't get the money, and He kicks the snot out of you."

Me: "Do you know anyone who kissed Hank's butt, left town, and got the million dollars?"

John: "My mother kissed Hank's butt for years. She left town last year, and I'm sure she got the money."

Me: "Haven't you talked to her since then?"

John: "Of course not, Hank doesn't allow it."

Me: "So what makes you think He'll actually give you the money if you've never talked to anyone who got the money?"

Mary: "Well, He gives you a little bit before you leave. Maybe you'll get a raise, maybe you'll win a small lotto, maybe you'll just find a twenty-dollar bill on the street."

Me: "What's that got to do with Hank?"

John: "Hank has certain 'connections.'"

Me: "I'm sorry, but this sounds like some sort of bizarre con game."

John: "But it's a million dollars, can you really take the chance? And remember, if you don't kiss Hank's butt He'll kick the snot out of you."

Me: "Maybe if I could see Hank, talk to Him, get the details straight from Him..."

Mary: "No one sees Hank, no one talks to Hank."

Me: "Then how do you kiss His butt?"

John: "Sometimes we just blow Him a kiss, and think of His butt. Other times we kiss Karl's butt, and he passes it on."

Me: "Who's Karl?"

Mary: "A friend of ours. He's the one who taught us all about kissing Hank's butt. All we had to do was take him out to dinner a few times."

Me: "And you just took his word for it when he said there was a Hank, that Hank wanted you to kiss His butt, and that Hank would reward you?"

John: "Oh no! Karl has a letter he got from Hank years ago explaining the whole thing. Here's a copy; see for yourself."

From the Desk of Karl

Kiss Hank's butt and He'll give you a million dollars when you leave town.
Use alcohol in moderation.
Kick the snot out of people who aren't like you.
Eat right.
Hank dictated this list Himself.
The moon is made of green cheese.
Everything Hank says is right.
Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.
Don't use alcohol.
Eat your wieners on buns, no condiments.
Kiss Hank's butt or He'll kick the snot out of you.

Me: "This appears to be written on Karl's letterhead."

Mary: "Hank didn't have any paper."

Me: "I have a hunch that if we checked we'd find this is Karl's handwriting."

John: "Of course, Hank dictated it."

Me: "I thought you said no one gets to see Hank?"

Mary: "Not now, but years ago He would talk to some people."

Me: "I thought you said He was a philanthropist. What sort of philanthropist kicks the snot out of people just because they're different?"

Mary: "It's what Hank wants, and Hank's always right."

Me: "How do you figure that?"

Mary: "Item 7 says 'Everything Hank says is right.' That's good enough for me!"

Me: "Maybe your friend Karl just made the whole thing up."

John: "No way! Item 5 says 'Hank dictated this list himself.' Besides, item 2 says 'Use alcohol in moderation,' Item 4 says 'Eat right,' and item 8 says 'Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.' Everyone knows those things are right, so the rest must be true, too."

Me: "But 9 says 'Don't use alcohol.' which doesn't quite go with item 2, and 6 says 'The moon is made of green cheese,' which is just plain wrong."

John: "There's no contradiction between 9 and 2, 9 just clarifies 2. As far as 6 goes, you've never been to the moon, so you can't say for sure."

Me: "Scientists have pretty firmly established that the moon is made of rock..."

Mary: "But they don't know if the rock came from the Earth, or from out of space, so it could just as easily be green cheese."

Me: "I'm not really an expert, but I think the theory that the Moon was somehow 'captured' by the Earth has been discounted*. Besides, not knowing where the rock came from doesn't make it cheese."

John: "Ha! You just admitted that scientists make mistakes, but we know Hank is always right!"

Me: "We do?"

Mary: "Of course we do, Item 7 says so."

Me: "You're saying Hank's always right because the list says so, the list is right because Hank dictated it, and we know that Hank dictated it because the list says so. That's circular logic, no different than saying 'Hank's right because He says He's right.'"

John: "Now you're getting it! It's so rewarding to see someone come around to Hank's way of thinking."

Me: "But...oh, never mind. What's the deal with wieners?"

Mary: She blushes.

John: "Wieners, in buns, no condiments. It's Hank's way. Anything else is wrong."

Me: "What if I don't have a bun?"

John: "No bun, no wiener. A wiener without a bun is wrong."

Me: "No relish? No Mustard?"

Mary: She looks positively stricken.

John: He's shouting. "There's no need for such language! Condiments of any kind are wrong!"

Me: "So a big pile of sauerkraut with some wieners chopped up in it would be out of the question?"

Mary: Sticks her fingers in her ears."I am not listening to this. La la la, la la, la la la."

John: "That's disgusting. Only some sort of evil deviant would eat that..."

Me: "It's good! I eat it all the time."

Mary: She faints.

John: He catches Mary. "Well, if I'd known you were one of those I wouldn't have wasted my time. When Hank kicks the snot out of you I'll be there, counting my money and laughing. I'll kiss Hank's butt for you, you bunless cut-wienered kraut-eater."

With this, John dragged Mary to their waiting car, and sped off.

Friday, 6 June 2008

A Failure of Ethics

Any culture that raises men and boys to kill unlucky girls, rather than comfort them, is a culture that has managed to retard the growth of love. Such societies of course, regularly fail to teach their inhabitants many other things - like how to read. Not learning how to read is not another style of literacy, and not learning to see others as ends in themselves is not another style of ethics. It is a failure of ethics.

How can we encourage other human beings to extend their moral sympathies beyond a narrow locus? How can we learn to be mere human beings, shorn of any compelling national, ethnic, or religious identity? We can be reasonable. It is in the very nature of reason to fuse cognitive and moral horizons. Reason is nothing less than the guardian of love.

The Golden Rule really does capture many of our intuitions here. We treat those we love more or less the way we would like to be treated oureselves. Honour killers do not seem to be in the habit of asking others to drench them in gasoline and immolate them in turn.

Sam Harris: The End of Faith