Michael Ruse update: “Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction…

. . . And any deeper meaning is illusory.” Reader Ken Francis, author with Theodore Dalrymple of The Terror of Existence: From Ecclesiastes to Theatre of the Absurd, read our piece on Darwinian philosopher Michael Ruse explaining why he is not a new atheist. He thought other readers might be interested to know of something […]

Reviewer: Human Zoos film prompts some hard questions

A reviewer of the new documentary Human Zoos: America’s Forgotten History of Scientific Racism poses some questions he hopes will be broadly discussed: – How was it that people who considered themselves Christians could troop through exhibitions, such as at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, and gawk at other groups of people exhibited like […]



Is Darwin’s “abominable mystery” of flowers partly solved by a recent discovery?

The beautifully-preserved fossil found in amber from 99 million years ago belongs to the large, diverse Pentepetalae clade: Together with contemporaneous flowers and fruits, the researchers say, Lijinganthus indicates that core eudicots flourished on Earth about 100 million years ago, although did not dominate vegetation until about 20 million years later, the mid-Cretaceous. “Various molecular […]

Wouldn’t you know, jumping “junk DNA” can be lethal too

Researchers Nigel Goldenfeld and Thomas Kuhlman noticed that “half of the human genome is made up of retrotransposons [jumping genes, “junk DNA”], but bacteria hardly have them at all” and wondered what would happen if they just inserted some: “We thought a really simple thing to try was to just take one (retrotransposon) out of […]

Complex stone tools from 160,000 to 170,000 years ago found in China

The Levallois method of making stone tools was used in India 172,000 years ago: Rather than chipping flakes off a stone to create a tool, Levallois techniques work on the stone so it is the flakes themselves that become the tools. This enables several tools to be made from a single stone. Until recently, it […]

Bird, tested and released, turned out to be a hybrid of three species

From ScienceDaily: Scientists have shown that a bird found in Pennsylvania is the offspring of a hybrid warbler mother and a warbler father from an entirely different genus — a combination never recorded before now and which resulted in a three-species hybrid bird. This finding has just been published in the journal Biology Letters. “It’s […]

Researcher: Human impact is a “reshaping of the tree of life”

Sarah Otto, a University of British Columbia researcher, tells media  about her research, Her paper is replete with examples from bird species slowly forgetting to migrate to mosquito breeds adapted specifically to underground subway tunnels. Backyard bird feeders are behind changes in the beak shape and strength of house finches. Different mammals are becoming nocturnal as […]

Why Darwinian philosopher Michael Ruse is not a new atheist

This one missed the religion news stream yesterday; just saw it today: Partly it is aesthetic. They are so vulgar. Dawkins in The God Delusion would fail any introductory philosophy or religion course. To take one example, the Ontological Argument for God was first devised by Anselm and refurbished by Descartes. Roughly, it runs thus: God […]

Yes, the placebo effect is real, and it may be getting stronger

At Mind Matters: The fact that you may start to get better if you believe you are receiving treatment is one of the best-attested facts in medicine.  A drug licensed for use must demonstrate greater effectiveness than a placebo (a capsule of sugar or an inert substance, perhaps) in clinical trials. That standard does not […]

Convergent evolution: Psychology Association says killer whales share personality traits with humans, chimps

Using a five-factor test. Convergent evolution is cited: Researchers found that the personality traits of killer whales were similar to those of both humans and chimpanzees but more similar to chimpanzees. Killer whales were similar to chimpanzees and humans for the extraversion factor (e.g., playful, gregarious and sociable). Killer whales and chimpanzees also shared a […]

Whatta headline! Early man was “total mean girl”

William von Hippel, an evolutionary psychologist promoting a book, explains how we got here: Social connection and its middle-school messiness assured our survival — more than harnessing fire or developing opposable thumbs. Von Hippel writes that a series of “social leaps” — or movements forward in the way we connect with our fellow man — […]

Is human evolution happening faster than ever?

Killer quote: “Realising evolution doesn’t only happen by natural selection makes it clear the process isn’t likely to ever stop.” So says an evolutionary geneticist: We measure the speed of gene evolution by comparing human DNA with that of other species, which also allows us to determine which genes are fast-evolving in humans alone. One […]

Does time exist and do we experience it?

That’s a perhaps surprisingly contentious topic among theoretical physicists: You see, whether time flows forward, or doesn’t flow at all, or moves back and forth, our resulting subjective experience would be identical in all cases: we would always find ourselves in an experiential snapshot extending smoothly backwards in memory and forwards in expectation, just like […]

Jonathan McLatchie and Gunter Bechly on conflicting evidence re common ancestry

See also: Paleontologist Gunter Bechly live tonight on what the fossil record really tells us about common ancestry

The term “mechanome” is catching on, but slowly

At her blog, Suzan Mazur interviews neuroscientist Medha Pathak on the recent Mechanome in Action symposium she chaired at UC-Irvine. Pathak “is currently a professor of physiology and biophysics at UCI and heads the Pathak Lab’s investigation there into “how mechanical forces modulate neural stem cell fate in development and repair.” Suzan Mazur: If you […]

Devolution: African elephants survive by shedding their tusks

A classic in devolution, actually. In Mozambique, it is estimated that 90% of the elephants have been slaughtered for ivory to finance a civil war that ended in 1992. But tuskless elephants seem more likely to survive: Hunting gave elephants that didn’t grow tusks a biological advantage in Gorongosa. Recent figures suggest that about a […]

Researchers: Ribosome translational system dates back to earliest Earth

From ScienceDaily: So audacious was Marcus Bray’s experiment that even he feared it would fail. In the system inside cells that translates genetic code into life, he replaced about 1,000 essential linchpins with primitive substitutes to see if the translational system would survive and function. It seemed impossible, yet it worked swimmingly, and Bray had […]

PBS’s American Experience: The Eugenics Crusade

A friend writes to recommend it: American Experience: The Eugenics Crusade is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen and I have watched many hundreds of them. As the movie documents, it started with Darwin, then moved on to Galton who spent his life developing the science of eugenics, then the American eugenics […]

John Sanford on claims about brand new nylonase genes

Recently, we noted that John Sanford was speaking at NIH on human health and mutations. Philip Cunningham writes to mention a 2017 paper by Sanford and S. T. Cordova, Nylonase Genes and Proteins – Distribution, Conservation, and Possible Origins on whether the ba cteria that digest nylon evolved new genes: We began this work hoping […]

Darwinian biologist Jerry Coyne denounces Michael Behe’s forthcoming book unread

Of course, just now, one suspects that it is mainly the editors in Frisco who have pored over it. But now, Darwinian evolutionary biologist Jerry “Why Evolution Is True” Coyne  tells us,l Michael Behe, author of the intelligent-design (ID) creationist books Darwin’s Black Box and The Edge of Evolution, has a new book coming out next […]

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