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Turek vs. Hitchens Debate: Does God Exist? May 31, 2009

Posted by rationalskeptic in Debate.
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Darwinius masillae: The Missing Link!/Greatest Find in History or Every Day Science May 25, 2009

Posted by rationalskeptic in Fossils.
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Darwinius masillae, the recently published 47 million year old primate fossil, aka Ida, has been all over the news in recent days, but is the media hype justified?

Ida

Ida

Well, Ida is a 95% intact fossil (which is nearly ideal, obviously), and she is 47 million years old. The skin and fur has left a dark outline around her body, and this has given researchers a look into the primates muscle structure. Also, the contents of her last meal have been preserved, which is another extremely cool aspect of this fossil, her last meal were leaves and fruit.

The media has jumped on this opportunity, and there are already a few documentaries on the discovery. The headlines have been over the top, “The Missing Link in Human Evolution!”, “The Great Scientific Discovery”, “Evolution proved right!”, and so on. This kind of hype is completely unjustified because of one major point; transitional forms are discovered among different species every day! So, reporting about a missing link skews the public understanding of evolution, and will inevitably cause the intelligent design proponents to capitalize on it.

Hubble and Atlantis’ silhouettes in front of our star May 17, 2009

Posted by rationalskeptic in Uncategorized.
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 In the lower left of these pictures is Space Shuttle Atlantis and the Hubble space telescope silhouetted against the Sun.  Science and technology produces the goods! Once again.

Atlantis and Hubble

Atlantis and Hubble

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enlarged Atlantis and Hubble

Enlarged Atlantis and Hubble

How RNA formed on the early earth (Nature and SciAm report) May 17, 2009

Posted by rationalskeptic in Chemistry.
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(First paragraph is Scientific American’s report on the subject)

Cytosine

Cytosine

This week’s issue of Nature features a welcome discovery for those of us enthralled, mystified and frustrated by the study of the origins of life. John Sutherland, a chemist at the University of Manchester, and his colleagues claim to have figured out how ribose, phosphate and the nitrogenous (nitrogen-bearing) molecules known as nucleobases first came together to form nucleotides—the building blocks of the RNA world from which life is thought to have emerged. 

(The following is the free portion of the study provided by Nature)

Synthesis of activated pyrimidine ribonucleotides in prebiotically plausible conditions

Matthew W. Powner1, Béatrice Gerland1 & John D. Sutherland1

  1. School of Chemistry, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK

Correspondence to: John D. Sutherland1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to J.D.S. (Email: john.sutherland@manchester.ac.uk).

 

At some stage in the origin of life, an informational polymer must have arisen by purely chemical means. According to one version of the ‘RNA world’ hypothesis1, 2, 3 this polymer was RNA, but attempts to provide experimental support for this have failed4, 5. In particular, although there has been some success demonstrating that ‘activated’ ribonucleotides can polymerize to form RNA6, 7, it is far from obvious how such ribonucleotides could have formed from their constituent parts (ribose and nucleobases). Ribose is difficult to form selectively8, 9, and the addition of nucleobases to ribose is inefficient in the case of purines10 and does not occur at all in the case of the canonical pyrimidines11. Here we show that activated pyrimidine ribonucleotides can be formed in a short sequence that bypasses free ribose and the nucleobases, and instead proceeds through arabinose amino-oxazoline and anhydronucleoside intermediates. The starting materials for the synthesis—cyanamide, cyanoacetylene, glycolaldehyde, glyceraldehyde and inorganic phosphate—are plausible prebiotic feedstock molecules12, 13, 14, 15, and the conditions of the synthesis are consistent with potential early-Earth geochemical models. Although inorganic phosphate is only incorporated into the nucleotides at a late stage of the sequence, its presence from the start is essential as it controls three reactions in the earlier stages by acting as a general acid/base catalyst, a nucleophilic catalyst, a pH buffer and a chemical buffer. For prebiotic reaction sequences, our results highlight the importance of working with mixed chemical systems in which reactants for a particular reaction step can also control other steps.

Fossil discovery: key missing link in human evolution? May 10, 2009

Posted by rationalskeptic in Fossils.
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A complete skeleton of an extinct primate called, adapid, has been discovered in Germany’s Messel Shale Pit. The discovery was made by the Public Library of Science, a leading academic journal with offices in Cambridge and San Francisco.

The co-author Philip Gingerich commented on the reason for delaying publication: We have kept it under wraps because you can’t blither about something until you understand it. We now understand it. It is going to advance our knowledge of evolution.’

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 There is much speculation over this new discovery, because it could lead researchers to a missing link in primate evolution, and specifically human evolution. Regardless, science notoriously brings the goods. So, if this fossil shows us nothing in relation to human evolution we can be quite sure that sooner or later science will come up with discoveries that answer this and countless other profound questions.

Invisibility Cloak, science that seems fiction May 3, 2009

Posted by rationalskeptic in Physics.
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blurringthel

 

 

 

 

There has been news about invisibility cloaks becoming a reality over the last few years, but this is the closest i have seen yet and the most exciting news about such a cloak.

Source: images

“A team led by Xiang Zhang, a principal investigator with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and director of UC Berkeley’s Nano-scale Science and Engineering Center, has created a “carpet cloak” from nanostructured silicon that conceals the presence of objects placed under it from optical detection. While the carpet itself can still be seen, the bulge of the object underneath it disappears from view. Shining a beam of on the bulge shows a reflection identical to that of a beam reflected from a flat surface, meaning the object itself has essentially been rendered invisible.”

Study shows that black holes may litter the Milky Way May 1, 2009

Posted by rationalskeptic in Astronomy.
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lores Source Scientific American 60-Second Science Blog

Ryan O’Leary, a graduate student at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), and CfA professor Avi Loeb conducted the research, set to be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Intelligent Design=Creationism (from Pharyngula) May 1, 2009

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This is a post from PZ Myers over at the wonderful Pharyngula blog:

Intelligent Design is warmed-over creationism

Category: Creationism

elanie Phillips is irate. Why? Because Ken Miller says Intelligent Design is nothing but creationism relabeled. Miller is right, Phillips is once again ravingin ignorance.

In an item on the growing popularity of Intelligent Design, John Humphrys interviewed Professor Ken Miller of Brown University in the US who spoke on the subject last evening at the Faraday Institute, Cambridge. Humphrys suggested that Intelligent Design might be considered a kind of middle ground between Darwinism and Creationism. Miller agreed but went further, saying that Intelligent Design was

nothing more than an attempt to repackage good old-fashioned Creationism and make it more palatable.

But this is totally untrue. Miller referred to a landmark US court case in 2005, Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District, which did indeed uphold the argument that Intelligent Design was a form of Creationism in its ruling that teaching Intelligent Design violated the constitutional ban against teaching religion in public schools. But the court was simply wrong, doubtless because it had heard muddled testimony from the likes of Prof Miller.

No, the court testimony was crystal clear, and it wasn’t just Miller who demonstrated the fact that Intelligent Design was a false front laid over old-school creationism. The lawyers demonstrated, among other things, that a) the textbook in question had been crudely revamped from a creationist text by simply substituting “design” for “creation” (with revealing errors — anyone remember “cdesign proponentsists“?); b) that the books were bought with money collected by a conservative church, and that the defendants lied about the source; c) that the people who tried to introduce ID into the Dover schools were motivated entirely by their religious goals (Bill Buckingham to the school board: “Nearly 2,000 years ago someone died on a cross for us; shouldn’t we have the courage to stand up for him?”); and d), that the instigators didn’t have the slightest clue what ID was. We can also go directly to the words of the big names in ID, like Bill Dembski (“Intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory“) or Phillip Johnson:

I have built an intellectual movement in the universities and churches that we call The Wedge, which is devoted to scholarship and writing that furthers this program of questioning the materialistic basis of science…Now, the way that I see the logic of our movement going is like this. The first thing you understand is that the Darwinian theory isn’t true. It’s falsified by all of the evidence and the logic is terrible. When you realize that, the next question that occurs to you is, well, where might you get the truth?…I start with John 1:1. In the beginning was the Word. In the beginning was intelligence, purpose, and wisdom. The Bible had that right. And the materialist scientists are deluding themselves…

In summary, we have to educate our young people; we have to give them the armor they need. We have to think about how we’re going on the offensive rather than staying on the defensive. And above all, we have to come out to the culture with the view that we are the ones who really stand for freedom of thought. You see, we don’t have to fear freedom of thought because good thinking done in the right way will eventually lead back to the Church, to the truth-the truth that sets people free, even if it goes through a couple of detours on the way. And so we’re the ones that stand for good science, objective reasoning, assumptions on the table, a high level of education, and freedom of conscience to think as we are capable of thinking. That’s what America stands for, and that’s something we stand for, and that’s something the Christian Church and the Christian Gospel stand for-the truth that makes you free. Let’s recapture that, while we’re recapturing America.

Or how about this from Johnson?

My colleagues and I speak of “theistic realism” — or sometimes, “mere creation” –as the defining concept of our movement. This means that we affirm that God is objectively real as Creator, and that the reality of God is tangibly recorded in evidence accessible to science, particularly in biology. We avoid the tangled arguments about how or whether to reconcile the Biblical account with the present state of scientific knowledge, because we think these issues can be much more constructively engaged when we have a scientific picture that is not distorted by naturalistic prejudice. If life is not simply matter evolving by natural selection, but is something that had to be designed by a creator who is real, then the nature of that creator, and the possibility of revelation, will become a matter of widespread interest among thoughtful people who are currently being taught that evolutionary science has show God to be a product of the human imagination.

Intelligent Design creationism is all about hiding Jesus under a blanket of pseudoscience and smuggling him into the public schools. Nothing more, nothing less.

Melanie Phillips clearly knows nothing about the case. So what possible reason could she have for claiming ID is distinct from creationism?

Whatever the ramifications of the specific school textbooks under scrutiny in the Kitzmiller/Dover case, the fact is that Intelligent Design not only does not come out of Creationism but stands against it. This is because Creationism comes out of religion while Intelligent Design comes out of science. Creationism, whose proponents are Bible literalists, is a specific doctrine which holds that the earth was literally created in six days. Intelligent Design, whose proponents are mainly scientists, holds that the complexity of science suggests that there must have been a governing intelligence behind the origin of matter, which could not have developed spontaneously from nothing.

Intelligent Design creationism does not come out of science. The initial founders of the Discovery Institute were lawyers, philosophers, venture capitalists, businessmen, and theologians, with a scarce few recruits who were once scientists, like Michael Behe. Science emerges from evidence, not ideology, and these gomers had none, and still have none. They have a claim that there is a “governing intelligence”, but have shown no evidence for such a being, nor have they even speculated openly about the nature of that intelligence…because when they do, they have to admit that they believe it was the Christian god. Again, without supporting evidence.

This is why Miller is completely correct to say Intelligent Design creationism is “an attempt to repackage good old-fashioned Creationism and make it more palatable”. Overt admission that their ideas are based on religion means they are non-scientific, and gets them excluded from science classes. By lying and concealing their motives, they hope to sneak it in past people who are too stupid to recognize the obvious, or who share similar underhanded motives for denying the truth. I wonder which of those two alternatives best fit Melanie Phillips?