Natural Selection Not The Only Process That Drives Evolution?

January 29, 2009

Is Technology Harming Critical Thinking? -

Why have some of our genes evolved rapidly? It is widely believed that Darwinian natural selection is responsible, but research led by a group at Uppsala University, suggests that a separate neutral (nonadaptive) process has made a significant contribution to human evolution.

Researchers found fast evolving human genes by comparing our genome with those of other primates and found patterns that suggested processes other than natural selection.

Instead, their evidence suggests that a separate process known as BGC (biased gene conversion) has speeded up the rate of evolution in certain genes. This process increases the rate at which certain mutations spread through a population, regardless of whether they are beneficial or harmful.

“The research not only increases our understanding of human evolution, but also suggests that many techniques used by evolutionary biologists to detect selection may be flawed,” says Matthew Webster of the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology at Uppsala University.

BGC is thought to be strongest in regions of high recombination, and can cause harmful mutations can spread through populations.

The results lead to the provocative hypothesis that, rather than being the result of Darwinian selection for new adaptations, many of the genetic changes leading to human-specific characters may be the result of the fixation of harmful mutations. This contrasts the traditional Darwinistic view that they are the result of natural selection in favour of adaptive mutations.

Of course creationists are no doubt already spinning this story to suggest this in some way vindicates their evolution denial when clearly it doesn’t.

Is Technology Harming Critical Thinking?

January 29, 2009

Is Technology Harming Critical Thinking? -

As technology has played a bigger role in our lives, our skills in critical thinking and analysis have declined, while our visual skills have improved, according to research by Patricia Greenfield, UCLA distinguished professor of psychology and director of the Children’s Digital Media Center, Los Angeles.

My thinking is that it would be the opposite for obvious reasons. With more technology, people have more access to information than they used to, and I’d expect that that would translate into stronger critical thinking skills for many. I definitely found that the internet made me more of a critical thinker, but I guess that might just be me. Still, I’m skeptical of this study.

Christian Bookstore Puts Warning Labels on Certain Christian Books

January 29, 2009

LifeWay Christian Stores sells Christian books among their many products. Those books range from liberal Christian to batshit insane Christian books. So to clear up any confusion, LifeWay now has a label on certain books stating “Read With Discernment“:

While we recognize that almost every title requires some measure of discernment, certain titles should clearly be read with extra discernment.

We want you to know that the authors of books marked Read with Discernment may have espoused thoughts, ideas, or concepts that could be considered inconsistent with historical evangelical theology.

Apparently some of the books that have been flagged are books by Christian authors that don’t seem to care about the whole gay thing.

Unfortunately there’s no “Read with Discernment” label on The Bible. No, no, the last thing any Christian authority wants is for people to apply critical thinking to that book.

At the risk of barrowing too much content from Friendly Atheist’s blog where I got this story from, here’s what 2 Christian bloggers had to say about this bizarre blacklisting of books:

Julie Clawson, a Christian, says it well:

… I’m disturbed by the unspoken implication that the other books sold at their website don’t need as much discernment while reading. Apparently, if something agrees with historical evangelical theology then it gets a pass on reading with a critical eye. We only need to be discerning about those that are discerning about historical evangelical theology since such opinions are only valuable to those those who engage them “strictly for critical study and research.”…

Another Christian blogger also points out:

The irony is that [LifeWay] will take your money while they sell you — what they consider to be — theological trash.

Athvertising in South Carolina but still not in Australia

January 29, 2009

Another piece of athvertising is going up in South Carolina – It’s my favorite of the atheist billboard campaigns, this one:

It says all the right things.

Also, the local NBC affiliate in Charleston, South Carolina interviewed Secular Coalition for America president Herb Silverman yesterday (though not about SCA). Here’s the clip.

And in related news, the Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA–not to be confused with our AFA, the Christian hate group, the American Family Association) is on the lookout for religious adverts; particularly on buses, billboards, or other media managed by APN because the AFA was planning on conducting an Atheist Bus Campaign similar to the ones in the UK, USA and Spain until APN refused to carry the adverts.

If the AFA find any evidence of APN carrying religious advertising then this can be used as evidence in the case.

Trapped In A Mormon Gulag

January 28, 2009

Here’s something you don’t hear about the Mormons too often. I wonder why they never mention The Utah Boys Camp, a concentration camp for boys:

This story is about my personal experiences at a place called The Utah Boys Ranch, which models itself as a “tough-love” prep-school, but while I was there, I witnessed some unbelievable atrocities. It is a Mormon-funded and staffed facility, and religious indoctrination is a fundamental aspect of the school. There was sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, suicide, staff corruption, and escape. A major Utah political figure, Senator Chris Buttars was the executive director while I was there. This is my true story. Warning: Story contains adult content.

Hmm, they never seem to tell you about this when they show up at your door.

Vatican–friends to Holocaust Deniers, enemies to feminists

January 28, 2009

female-submissionJust last week the Pope un-excommunicated a Holocaust Denier. And yet now I come across this story from last month about them excommunicating a man, Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois, for. . .

. . .refusing to disavow his belief that God calls women to the priesthood.

THAT MONSTER! So what else does this demonic beast believe?

“Women have such gifts, such compassion, such wisdom, which we need if the church is to be vibrant,” Bourgeois said. He believes it’s unconscionable for the hierarchy to reject their call, especially when churches are being closed and the number of priests is constantly shrinking.

Now that’s going too far! As every Catholic knows, the only good woman is a woman being burned at the stake. . .and Mary Magdeline because she put out for god.

Parade Magazine–shills for alternative medicine

January 28, 2009

complementary-medicine-for-dummiesParade Magazine’s medical “expert” wants you to know that some alternative therapies really work. Okay, this is the third time since I started this blog in July that Parade Magazine has actually promoted sCAM medicine. To get a real sense of how shoddy “Dr”. Mark Liponis’ arguments for sCAM medicine are, here are his opening 2 paragraphs:

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as many as 62 percent of Americans use some form of alternative medicine. But few of these treatments are covered by the average medical-insurance plan. The NIH estimates that Americans spend between $36 billion and $47 billion out of pocket each year on alternative therapies such as acupuncture or meditation.

So, do they really work? With government funding, science is expanding its study of alternative and complementary treatments. Some, but not all, are showing positive results. And many of the most successful methods involve “mind-body therapies”—techniques that use the power of the mind to help heal the body.

He starts off light with a little ad populum fallacy. It doesn’t seem to occur to him that millions of dollars are spent each year on the same water that you can get for free from your tap. And hey, millions of Americans buy cigarettes, so that MUST mean it’s good for you! Give me a break! In that case, Doc, I’ve got some magic beans I’d like to sell you.

Then he’s flat-out dishonest about the results of the research. Every carefully designed study has shown that even sham acupuncture (as in acupuncture where the needles aren’t put in the right places) worked better than the real thing, while only poorly designed studies have suggested acupuncture is in any way beneficial. It seems that the better the study, the smaller the perceived benefit. Why might that be? Simple. Acupuncture doesn’t work.

For instance, take this study from just a few days ago. Or this study from last month. Or this summary of the history of acupuncture research.

Voice of Bart Simpson Robo-Calls for $cientology

January 28, 2009

I’ve known that Nancy Cartwright was a high-level OT in $cientology for some time now but apparently she actually robocalls people in the Hollywood area about Scientology events, where she evidently performs the “audits”. She does these calls in the voice of Bart Simpson.

Because the video on the site linked above is no longer active due to a copyright violation, I’ll just present this video, which also addresses how Cartwright is an even bigger $cientologist than Tom Cruise:

She’s given $10 million to $cientology, more than Tom Cruise, Kristie Alley, John Travolta and Kelly Preston combined. I rather like this quote:

“It’s gonna be a blast, man! (Bart laugh)” before asking us to call and confirm our attendance. It’s as if we’d heard Bugs Bunny making a speech for Hamas (“Poisonally, Doc, I prefer jihad”).

The life cycle of grand conspiracy theories

January 28, 2009

I blogged about grand conspiracy theories before here. These New World Order conspiracy theorists are no better than any religious nut that ignores overwhelming evidence in favor their implausible view on history. And over time, these beliefs grow to a point where they deny much of history.

These days it usually starts with just being convinced by a bunch of random, impressive-sounding claims that there are holes in “the official story” of 9/11. Next, you become convinced that “9/11 was an inside job.” Then you find yourself inexplicably drawn to Ron Paul even know Ron Paul is against most of your far-left political beliefs and has never publicly supported any 9/11 conspiracies. Then you’re introduced to Alex Jones’ radio show.

By this point your critical thinking skills have almost entirely atrophied, and you are now willing to believe anything the charismatic leader, Jones, and a handful of lone “whistle-blowers” tell you unquestionably without evidence while inconsistently demanding an impossible amount of evidence from the over 99% of other experts that disagree with your lone experts. By this point, you’ve been primed to view all critics who have a public voice and get news attention as part of the conspiracy and all critics that don’t have a public voice as “sheep” or “sheeple” who just believe everything “the media” tells them. This keeps you from even hearing out the criticisms, let alone legitimately consider the refutations.

Instead, you’ll use bravado to launch into ad hominem attacks, calling your critics the most horrible things you can think of while insisting that because they don’t agree with you that makes them a sheep who just listens to what they’re told and never questions anything and who wouldn’t even be convinced if real evidence was right in front of them. It’s at this point they quite reasonably laugh at you for projecting your own dogmatism onto them. By this point you’ve no doubt accepted that 9/11 wasn’t an isolated conspiracy but part of the great big conspiracy that’s been going on for centuries involving the Illuminati, The Rothchilds, the Rockefellers, and of course the Merovingians because you read the fictional novel The Da Vinci Code.

You’ve now saturated your Myspace page with iconography from The Matrix, V For Vendetta, and the Freemasons while peppering your ever sentence with a reference to 1984 or Alice in Wonderland. So now everything the government says is viewed as Newspeak for something far more sinister. You now believe FEMA has 500,000 upright, plastic coffins laying out in a field somewhere for everyone to see that are supposed to be for their secret plan to gas us all for no good reason and FEMA has secret prison camps that only Alex Jones and his listeners know about that’s for when the secret police start hauling off random American citizens into concentration camps for no good reason. You also believe that the government is using fluoride they openly admit to adding to tap water as a means of poisoning us all very, very, very, very slowly…even though few Americans even drink tap water, and that the government is poisoning the air with “chemtrails” as another absurdly slow means of killing people, and that the government is responsible for causing AIDS and is poisoning vaccines with “toxins” to make kids autistic because apparently they ran out of dingos to eat your baby.

You also believe that Pearl Harbor, like what you think with 9/11, was a false flag operation, that the U.S. was in cahoots with Hitler during the Holocaust while at same time Zionists are at the center of it all, and that all of this is because, as David Icke explains, all the major world leaders are secretly shape-shifting reptiles from another planet with sinister V-like evil plans for the Earth. You also believe this ties in somehow with Biblical prophecies of the Anti-Christ and 2012 doomsday prophecies. All the while, you don’t find it at all odd that despite “exposing” the evil conspiracy through open channels on the internet that no secret police has shown up during the night to abduct you or your family, bribe you, or silence you in anyway despite the belief that they do such things on a regular basis.

You also, despite believing that your own government is perfectly willing to kill 3 thousand people just for shits and giggles, have not seriously considered moving to another country or made any real attempt to go off the grid where the government couldn’t find you if they really wanted to. Nor have you made any attempt to plan a strategic military operation against those you are certain are secretly committing the worst crimes in history, no attempts to kill or kidnap David Rockefeller or one of the Rothchilds, etc. Instead, you’re perfectly satisfied just trying to spread the “Truth” to those who no longer find your craziness cute and don’t have any interest in even hearing you out anymore.

Then after none of this impending doom actually happens, eventually a new president with an entirely different goals and values is freely elected and then finally inaugurated into office. Now that the old administration is obviously gone you finally accept that you were completely and utterly wrong about everything.

LOL. Just kidding.

Of course not. No matter how different the 2 administrations are you know that that election was a sham and that both the former president and the current president are part of the same secret society and they just go through all this trouble to fabricate an election to further perpetuate the illusion that you’re in control when really they’re still running the show no matter what. All that time the 2 figures spent slamming each other during the campaign–that’s just to keep up the illusion. Duh! So even though after years of FEMA not poisoning 500,000 people during the Bush Administration, it’s still just around the corner, even if just around the corner means long after you’re alive to have your beliefs vindicated.

Were you born to be popular?

January 27, 2009

A new study from Harvard University and the University of California, San Diego suggests that our place in a social network is influenced in part by our genes. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers found that popularity, or the number of times an individual was named as a friend, and the likelihood that those friends know one another, were both strongly heritable. Additionally, location within the network, or the tendency to be at the center or on the edges of the group, was also genetically linked. However, the researchers were surprised to learn that the number of people named as a friend by an individual did not appear to be inherited.

The study included national data (from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health) for the social networks of 1,110 adolescent twins, both fraternal and identical. The researchers compared the social networks of the identical twins to those of the fraternal twins, and found greater similarity between the identical twins’ social network structure than the fraternal twins’ networks.

There may be an evolutionary explanation for this genetic influence and the tendency for some people to be at the center while others are at the edges of the group, according to the researchers. If a deadly germ is spreading through a community, individuals at the edges are least likely to be exposed. However, to gain access to important information about a food source, being in the center of the group has a distinct benefit.


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