October 31, 2007

Happy Pagan Mythology Day

.. or Halloween as it is usually called.

An interesting point was raised on the no god blog by Dave, That Halloween is the only American holiday that has no relationship to christianity. So i guess even though it's still a holiday based on mythology we should be grateful that it is a) nothing to do with christianity and b) it's pretty much occult.

Anyway, Have a good one and if you see any christians about be sure to put on your devil mask and scare the shit out of them.

Stopped In The Street By Christians

yesterday i had the misfortune to be stopped in the street by two people training to be pastors. They wondered if they could "take some of my time" and "have a little chat". being in the mood for an argument i gladly agreed.

They started off by introducing themselves. I forget their names so we will call the tall one Tom and the short one Steve.

"so, Have you ever thought about religion, And specifically the Bible?" Tom started. "I have" i said, Which was greeted by a smile from Steve, the smile soon disappeared when i said "but i try not to because i feel it's a pointless use of my time". "why is that?" asked Tom, "Do you feel as though religion and Christ are out dated now?". How could i resist this one? "they have been outdated for 2000 years. The idea of god is a primitive notion used as a crutch by people who had no other way to explain the world around them, We don't need this crutch any more". They paused. "There are a lot of answers in Christ". "what?" i replied, "there are no answers, there are only reasons to stop thinking about things". When i was asked for an example i said "Ok, So your loving god creates a planet where if you are born at a certain location there is a high chance that you will die before you reach 4 years old from either AIDS, malnutrition or drinking poison water", "yes, but....", "but god works in mysterious ways? Right? See that isn't an answer, it's just a far fetched rationalisation that allows you to believe that god is loving while at the same time accepting that he gives people a terrible life for no other reason than they were born on a certain continent".

By this point Tom had given up and it was Steve's turn. "God has a plan for all of us". "well if god has a plan why do christians typically try to do good?", I think this stumped Steve "How do you mean?" he said. "well, You agree that the christian thing to do is to help the homeless right?", "Of course", "well, Why are you so intent on undoing gods plan? Why, if god has a plan, Should you bother to help anyone? isn't that going against gods plan?", "ah, but god wor....", "yes god works in mysterious ways, You already said that, So how about giving some answers and stop parroting the canned rhetoric".

By this time they had realised that they were wasting their time and i could see the happiness on their face when i said "this is my bus, I'll catch you next time". I have a feeling i wont be stopped again, though i may go looking for them, I had fun even if they didn't.

October 25, 2007

Questions By RichardDawkins.Net

There were a series of interesting questions posed on the Richard Dawkins blog over the last couple of days. These are some of the more philosophical questions asked by the religious in an attempt to prove their god, Or at least prove that not all things are provable.

While i think these kinds of questions are facile in nature it's a good idea to have an answer ready, Because they will be asked and as you know, Any question that doesn't have an answer is seen as "evidence" of god by religious folks.

Anyway, I'll post some of the questions here along with my answers and i would be interested in hearing what answers you guys would give to these questions.

Q: You can't prove you love someone, So don't expect proof of god!
A: No i can't prove that i love someone because love is a feeling, A feeling is a neurological impulse that exists only in my brain. Is god unprovable because it's nothing more than a neurological impulse that exists only in your brain? If so, I would agree with you completely.

Q: Atheism is self-refuting because it asserts that everything in the universe, Including the atheist's own reasoning, came about as a result of non-rational forces. If that is indeed the case, Every argument employed by the atheist is, According to his own assertions, Incoherent and meaningless.
A: The universe came about by an inanimate force. Neither rational nor non-rational. Evolution however dictated that rationality, Logic and reason be beneficial to a species and as such is something we now, Through natural selection, Posses (well, some of us).

Q: Religionists like caricature non-believers as being unhappy, Depressed, Loveless, Indifferent, etc. If you don't believe in God, Then you must hate music, Art, Poetry, etc.
A: This has to be the biggest non sequitur argument I have ever heard, Though this very assertion was made to me only a few days ago. I pointed out an enormous list of composers who were atheists and moved on.

Q: Science can't tell us why we're here or what is the meaning of our lives.
A: This question assumes that we have a purpose or that we are here for a reason, Until this assertion can be proven true it's unreasonable to ask for a scientific answer regarding that purpose. But i would say were are here for the same "reason" as any other animal, Try to stay alive and have some babies.

Q: Why is there something rather than nothing? What about the fine-tuning of the fundamental constants of the universe?
A: Someone on the Richard Dawkins blog gave a good answer: Have you ever noticed that most cities are built near a river or permanent water supply? it's almost as if the river was put there for the city. Of course, We know that the river wasn't put there for the city, The city is there because there is a river. The universe is the same, If it wasn't a place where we could exist, We wouldn't exist. There may be other universes where physics doesn't allow life, Even matter to exist, But nobody will know that because it's impossible to exist there. We happen to be in this one.

Q: Atheism is a religion and you're as bad as the fundamentalists.
A: Saying Atheism is a religion is like saying bald is a hair colour and health is a sickness.

These are my responses to some of the more common questions. If you would like to give your own responses to these questions or any of the other questions please feel free to post them in a reply. It's a good idea to arm yourself with answers no matter how facile the question be. I would advise against giving a too detailed answer or defining yourself into a corner, The more you say the more opportunities they have to refute it.

October 23, 2007

Sweden To Ban Religion In Schools

The government of Sweden has announced it will be banning any religious activities in schools except for those directly related to religion classes. It is also directing that in religious education, religious ideas must not be taught as though they are objectively true. A columnist in the UK’s far-left Guardian newspaper has urged Britain to follow suit, implying that Britain’s Catholic and Jewish schools are a terror threat.

Swedish Education Minister Jan Bjoerklund told reporters that religious activity “can take place ... but only outside of coursework”. He said that teaching should “not be influenced” by religious beliefs.

The move by the government is being defended as a reaction to the rise of violent Islamic extremism that police have identified with many Muslim schools in Britain and Europe. As such the move is supported by the Swedish Christian Democratic party.

“Pupils must be protected from every sort of fundamentalism,” said Björklund.

Björklund used the example of the origins of human life, which, he said, must be taught from a “scientific” point of view, not a religious one.

“This is naturally brought about by the fact that different viewpoints are being discussed, for instance about the creation of the world - one based on science and one on religious views,” Björklund told a news conference.

Björklund told reporters that the Intelligent Design theory would be banned from Swedish biology classes even as a proposed theory. The rules will make it illegal even for faith-based schools to teach that religious doctrines are objectively true on the grounds that this would be “prosetylising”. Prayer, including religious services or assemblies, will remain legal, as long as no teacher in a classroom teaches that there is any reality behind it.

“Teaching in school must have a scientific basis,” he said at a news conference.

The Dragon In My Garage - By Carl Sagan

The late Carl Sagan wrote a nice comparison between a belief in god and any other supernatural entity which is unprovable.

"A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage"

Suppose (I'm following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard Franklin) I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you'd want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!

"Show me," you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle--but no dragon.

"Where's the dragon?" you ask.

"Oh, she's right here," I reply, waving vaguely. "I neglected to mention that she's an invisible dragon."

You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon's footprints.

"Good idea," I say, "but this dragon floats in the air."

Then you'll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.

"Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless."

You'll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.

"Good idea, but she's an incorporeal dragon and the paint won't stick."

And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won't work.

Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there's no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I'm asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.

The only thing you've really learned from my insistence that there's a dragon in my garage is that something funny is going on inside my head. You'd wonder, if no physical tests apply, what convinced me. The possibility that it was a dream or a hallucination would certainly enter your mind. But then, why am I taking it so seriously? Maybe I need help. At the least, maybe I've seriously underestimated human fallibility.

Imagine that, despite none of the tests being successful, you wish to be scrupulously open-minded. So you don't outright reject the notion that there's a fire-breathing dragon in my garage. You merely put it on hold. Present evidence is strongly against it, but if a new body of data emerge you're prepared to examine it and see if it convinces you. Surely it's unfair of me to be offended at not being believed; or to criticize you for being stodgy and unimaginative-- merely because you rendered the Scottish verdict of "not proved."

Imagine that things had gone otherwise. The dragon is invisible, all right, but footprints are being made in the flour as you watch. Your infrared detector reads off-scale. The spray paint reveals a jagged crest bobbing in the air before you. No matter how skeptical you might have been about the existence of dragons--to say nothing about invisible ones--you must now acknowledge that there's something here, and that in a preliminary way it's consistent with an invisible, fire-breathing dragon.

Now another scenario: Suppose it's not just me. Suppose that several people of your acquaintance, including people who you're pretty sure don't know each other, all tell you that they have dragons in their garages--but in every case the evidence is maddeningly elusive. All of us admit we're disturbed at being gripped by so odd a conviction so ill-supported by the physical evidence. None of us is a lunatic. We speculate about what it would mean if invisible dragons were really hiding out in garages all over the world, with us humans just catching on. I'd rather it not be true, I tell you. But maybe all those ancient European and Chinese myths about dragons weren't myths at all.

Gratifyingly, some dragon-size footprints in the flour are now reported. But they're never made when a skeptic is looking. An alternative explanation presents itself. On close examination it seems clear that the footprints could have been faked. Another dragon enthusiast shows up with a burnt finger and attributes it to a rare physical manifestation of the dragon's fiery breath. But again, other possibilities exist. We understand that there are other ways to burn fingers besides the breath of invisible dragons. Such "evidence"--no matter how important the dragon advocates consider it--is far from compelling. Once again, the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion.

October 21, 2007

What Is A Belief?

The dictionary defines a belief as: any cognitive content held as true. That is to say, A thought, opinion or idea which you believe to be factual. I am fairly happy with this definition and it seems to work well.

What i want to do today is discuss the difference between the word belief and what is known as a religious belief. The two couldn't be further apart. While a regular everyday belief like the earth goes round the sun, The moon isn't made of cheese and fire burns are perfectly reasonable things to believe, When it comes to religion, belief takes on a whole new sinister twist. In religion a belief give the holder of incorrect opinions a licence to construct elaborate rationalisations in order to carry on believing this belief even in the presence of overwhelming evidence against it. Simply because it's a "belief".

My definition of a religious belief is: The ability to construct illogical and elaborate rationalisations that justify continued belief in something in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary

In these cases the religious person may not entirely reject your evidence, They will simply construct a far fetched rationalisation to explain how your evidence fits in with their belief in a god (you know you have them backed in to a corner when they do this).

I'll give you some examples of situations where far fetched rationalisations may be used by the religious when they are presented with evidence or an argument;

Evidence: The bible says god created the earth in a day, Science says it took millions of years.
Rationalisation When the bible is talking about "days" it isn't talking about the same day as us. A god day may be millions of years in length.

Evidence: The bible speaks about creation, Evolution is a fact.
Rationalisation: The biblical account is a metaphor. God actually created evolution.

Evidence: Why would a loving god help movie stars win awards or you get a raise, But not help millions of starving children in Africa?
Rationalisation: God works in mysterious ways.

What they are doing is basically saying: "Your evidence does contradict what i believe, But i am unable to admit it, So i will construct a rationalisation that allows me to acknowledge that what you are saying is true but at the same time continue to believe in what it contradicts".

To any bystander their rationalisation makes no sense at all, but for the believer looking like an idiot is a lot better than having to admit that you are wrong about god, Even if in thier heart they know how wrong they are.

October 20, 2007

Addressing The Rant By Doug Giles

The Atheists days are numbered, According to Doug Giles (Yeah, I've never heard of him either). But why, You ask. Is it because organised religion has found some testable evidence to support the idea of god? Is it because they have found the keystone holding up Darwinian evolution and pulled it out? or is it because they have found a prediction in the bible that could only have been made by a supreme being? it's much worse than that! A couple of christians have written two books regurgitating every argument ever used by religion. yes, The same arguments we have kicked to death over and over.

According to Doug, these two books are going to provide answers that christians can use to "shut Atheists up", Though skimming through Dougs post it seems the books are more of a collection of facile points that have already been proven incorrect.

And if that wasn't enough to get you shaking in your little Atheist boots, One of the books is written by Dinesh D’Souza - A quick look through some of his blog posts at AOL will show you what kind of opponent he is going to be against the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. D’Souza's arguments seem to exclusively hide behind the fact that Atheists can't disprove god.

Although Doug Giles' tone and approach to reasonable discussion leads me to suspect he is a bit of a plastic christian, You know the type, Only wear their religion as a badge when they are looking for justification to rant mindlessly, It's only fair that i address some of the fallacious arguments regurgitated by him.

When the pissy God haters tell you the Bible condones slavery, you can remind them that slavery was abolished only when devout Christians, inspired by the Bible, launched a campaign in the early 1800s to abolish the slave trade.
In true christian style Doug is fast out of the blocks with a plain faced lie. If he had done even the slightest amount of research on the subject (i.e. Paid attention in school) he would know that slavery was abolished in the US largely due to it's opposition by the Free Soil Party and in the UK by William Wilberforce. He is right on one thing, The inspiration for the abolition of slavery did come from a book. Unfortunately for Doug that book happens to be "The rights of man" written by Thomas Paine, A staunch opponent of christian doctrine.

So not only has Doug decided to ignore the fact that the bible (his god) explicitly condones slavery, He has gone so far as to accredit it's abolition to the very book which at the time gave complete justification for slavery.

When the screechin’ teachers tell you the Bible has been proven false by archaeology, hark back and show them that each year a new archaeological discovery substantiates the existence of people, places and events we once knew solely from biblical sources, including the discovery of the Moabite stone in 1868, which mentions numerous places in the Bible, and the discovery of an inscription in 1961 that proves the existence of the biblical figure Pontius Pilate, just to name a few.
Don't you just love this logic? According to Doug if a book contains a few truths, it all must be true! The bible mentions real places, ergo, Jesus is the son of god. It amazes me that these claims can be made with a straight face. You are joking Doug, Right? Do the religious have logical thought surgically removed shortly after indoctrination?

When they tell you that Christianity and the Bible justify war and genocide, unsympathetically remind them that societies which rejected biblical morality in favor of a more “rational” and “scientific” approach to politics murdered millions upon millions more than the Crusades or the Inquisition ever did. ...... “The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Galileo affair, and witch hunts together make up less than 1% of the murders that have occurred during modern atheist regimes like Stalin, Hitler, and Mao.”
This is my favorite. Not because it's the point that has been most kicked to death by Atheists, Not because it tries to brush the murder and torture done by christianity under the carpet by comparing it to oppressive, Fascist regimes, But because Doug, Like every other christian, Has made the false claim that Hitler was an Atheist! What planet are you on Doug? Hitler was a devout catholic who, On many occasions, Justified his attempted eradication of the Jews by comparing his plight to Jesus' battle against "Jewish poison", He met the pope on many occasions and even had "God with us" on the belt buckle of every Nazi soldier. I had previously written a whole blog post on Hitlers christian belief, So i will move on.

You mention Stalin and Mao as well. I will grant that they were atheists, And they killed a lot of people. but their killing wasn't done in the name of Atheism. They killed because they ran oppressive regimes and they were dictatorial fascists. And if there is one thing a dictatorial fascist doesn't want it is people believing there is a god which is higher than he is. They want absolute control.

No bout the same facile arguments will continue to be presented by the religious and no doubt us Atheists will be obliged to kick each and every argument to death ad nauseam like we have done for the last 100 years. But i just wish they would come up with something new. It's bad enough when they are reduced to regurgitating scripted questions, But i feel cheapened every time i am forced to regurgitate scripted answers.

October 19, 2007

How Endogenous Retroviruses Prove Evolution

A lot of evidence out there proves evolution beyond all reasonable doubt. It ranges from the similarity between our own DNA and that of the chimpanzee all the way up to chimp chromosome #13.

Today I'd like to talk about Endogenous Retroviruses, How they prove evolution and how they prove that we and the chimpanzee, At some point in the past, Shared a common ancestor.

For those who don't know Endogenous Retroviruses are molecular remnants of a past parasitic viral infection. Occasionally, copies of a retrovirus genome are found in its host’s genome, and these retroviral gene copies are called endogenous retroviral sequences. Retroviruses make a DNA copy of their own viral genome and insert it into their host’s genome. If this happens to a germ line cell (i.e. the sperm or egg cells) the retroviral DNA will be inherited by descendants of the host.

So what does this mean and how does it prove evolution? Well, When a Retrovirus infects the host it will leave behind a tell tale sign, Like a calling card, In the hosts genome. This calling card is then passed on to the hosts offspring in cases where the genome change was made in a Germ cell.

So if evolution is correct we should find that we share Retrovirus DNA with chimpanzees, And we do, At numerous locations in our genome. Could this be a coincidence? Well it could, But it is highly unlikely. For it to be a coincidence humans and chimpanzees would have had to get infected by the same viruses and have the viruses insert the DNA change in exactly the same place. So as humans have around 3 billion base pairs and retroviruses generally insert their DNA randomly it's impossible that ourselves and chimpanzees would have the same instances of retrovirus DNA at the same locations unless we inherited it from a common ancestor.

This evidence is even more compelling when we learn that we share multiple instances of retrovirus DNA with chimpanzees, All of which occur in the same locations in our genome. The odds against this happening by chance in a genome with 3 billion base pairs is astronomical.

October 16, 2007

Progress Halted Because Of Hindu God And Army Of Monkeys

The Indian government has withdrawn a controversial report submitted in court earlier this week which questioned the existence of the Hindu god Ram. The report was withdrawn after huge protests by opposition parties.

The report was presented to the Supreme Court on Wednesday in connection with a case against a proposed shipping canal project between India and Sri Lanka.

Hindu hardliners say the project will destroy what they say is a bridge built by Ram and his army of monkeys.

Scientists and archaeologists say the Ram Setu (Lord Ram's bridge) - or Adam's Bridge as it is sometimes called - is a natural formation of sand and stones.

In their report submitted to the court, the government and the Archaeological Survey of India questioned the belief, saying it was solely based on the Hindu mythological epic Ramayana. They said there was no scientific evidence to prove that the events described in Ramayana ever took place or that the characters depicted in the epic were real.

Hindu activists say the bridge was built by Lord Ram's monkey army to travel to Sri Lanka and has religious significance.

In the last two days, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has launched a scathing attack on the government for questioning the "faith of the million".

October 13, 2007

Christians Oppose Anti-Hate Law

Jack Straw this week outlined plans to introduce new laws protecting people from "hate" based on their sexuality or perceived sexuality.

Under the proposal it would be considered a crime to incite hatred against homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and heterosexual people. Mr Straw said: “It is a measure of how far we have come as a society in the past ten years that we are now appalled by hatred and invective directed at people on the basis of their sexuality. It is time for the law to recognise this.”

So naturally the only people in modern England to oppose these new anti-hate laws are the Christians. Christians believe these new anti-hate laws could be used against them. Which is a bit like a Nazi saying anti-racism laws could be used against them. Yeah, That's kind of the point, The laws are to stop you using someones sexuality as a tool of hate.

Colin Hart, director of the conservative evangelical Christian Institute, said: “In a democratic society people must be free to express their beliefs without fear of censure. A homophobic hatred law would be used by those with an axe to grind against Christians to silence them. There have already been high-profile cases of the police interfering with free speech and religious liberty regarding sexual ethics. People shouldn’t face prison for expressing their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

No, Colin. What people have to realise is that just because they believe something, No matter how sincerely, it doesn't give them a right to say it. So stop hiding behind your "belief" as an excuse or reason for spouting venomous hate towards anybody you disagree with.

And let's be honest, Christians are usually the first ones to hide behind censorship as a way of stopping the rest of us doing, Seeing, saying or reading something that they disagree with. Remember their attempt to ban Harry Potter on the grounds of satanic messages?

October 07, 2007

God Tells Oral Roberts Son To "Deny Lurid Allegations"

Twenty years ago, televangelist Oral Roberts said he was reading a spy novel when God appeared to him and told him to raise $8 million for Roberts' university, or else he would be "called home."

Now, his son, Oral Roberts University President Richard Roberts, says God is speaking again, telling him to deny lurid allegations in a lawsuit that threatens to engulf this 44-year-old Bible Belt college in scandal.

Richard Roberts is accused of illegal involvement in a local political campaign and lavish spending at donors' expense, including numerous home remodeling projects, use of the university jet for his daughter's senior trip to the Bahamas, and a red Mercedes convertible and a Lexus SUV for his wife, Lindsay.

She is accused of dropping tens of thousands of dollars on clothes, awarding nonacademic scholarships to friends of her children and sending scores of text messages on university-issued cell phones to people described in the lawsuit as "underage males."

At a chapel service this week on the 5,300-student campus known for its 60-foot-tall bronze sculpture of praying hands, Roberts said God told him: "We live in a litigious society. Anyone can get mad and file a lawsuit against another person whether they have a legitimate case or not. This lawsuit ... is about intimidation, blackmail and extortion."

When a student was asked to repair Roberts laptop he discovered a document that detailed many instances of alleged misconduct Among them:

• A longtime maintenance employee was fired so that an underage male friend of Mrs. Roberts could have his position.

• Mrs. Roberts — who is a member of the board of regents and is referred to as ORU's "first lady" on the university's Web site — frequently had cell-phone bills of more than $800 per month, with hundreds of text messages sent between 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. to "underage males who had been provided phones at university expense."

• The university jet was used to take one daughter and several friends on a senior trip to Orlando, Fla., and the Bahamas. The $29,411 trip was billed to the ministry as an "evangelistic function of the president."

• Mrs. Roberts spent more than $39,000 at one Chico's clothing store alone in less than a year, and had other accounts in Texas and California. She also repeatedly said, "As long as I wear it once on TV, we can charge it off." The document cites inconsistencies in clothing purchases and actual usage on TV.

• Mrs. Roberts was given a white Lexus SUV and a red Mercedes convertible by ministry donors.

• University and ministry employees are regularly summoned to the Roberts' home to do the daughters' homework.

• The university and ministry maintain a stable of horses for exclusive use by the Roberts' children.

• The Roberts' home has been remodeled 11 times in the past 14 years.

Tim Brooker, one of the professors who sued, said he fears for the university's survival if certain changes aren't made.

"All over that campus, there are signs up that say, `And God said, build me a university, build it on my authority, and build it on the Holy Spirit,'" Brooker said. "Unfortunately, ownership has shifted."

Top 10 Banned Books In America

It seems the religious right are still stamping their feet, But this time they aren't telling us what we can do or say, They are telling us what we can read.

Here is a list of the ten most banned books in America (By most banned we mean banned in most states). Thanks to the American Library Association who compile this list for giving us an insight in to what really pisses the religious off.

"And Tango Makes Three" - for homosexuality, anti-family, and unsuited to age group;

"Gossip Girls" - for homosexuality, sexual content, drugs, unsuited to age group, and offensive language;

"Alice" - for sexual content and offensive language;

"The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things" - for sexual content, anti-family, offensive language, and unsuited to age group;

"The Bluest Eye" - for sexual content, offensive language, and unsuited to age group;

"Scary Stories" - for occult/Satanism, unsuited to age group, violence, and insensitivity;

"Athletic Shorts" - for homosexuality and offensive language;

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" - for homosexuality, sexually explicit, offensive language, and unsuited to age group;

"Beloved" - for offensive language, sexual content, and unsuited to age group;

"The Chocolate War" - for sexual content, offensive language, and violence.

They sure don't like homosexuality those Christians. Makes one wonder why their god would have created them in the first place.

If i had my way the christian bible would be on this list for genocide, infanticide, murder, incest, Telling people to "rip open pregnant women" and various other horrific acts.

If you can get your hands on any of these book do society a favour. Buy a few copies and leave them in place of the bible in various Churches.

October 06, 2007

Artificial Life In The Lab, Coming Soon

Craig Venter, the controversial DNA researcher involved in the race to decipher the human genetic code, has built a synthetic chromosome out of laboratory chemicals and is poised to announce the creation of the first new artificial life form on Earth.

The announcement, which is expected within weeks and could come as early as Monday at the annual meeting of his scientific institute in San Diego, California, will herald a giant leap forward in the development of designer genomes. It is certain to provoke heated debate about the ethics of creating new species and could unlock the door to new energy sources and techniques to combat global warming.

Mr Venter told the Guardian he thought this landmark would be "a very important philosophical step in the history of our species. We are going from reading our genetic code to the ability to write it. That gives us the hypothetical ability to do things never contemplated before".

The Guardian can reveal that a team of 20 top scientists assembled by Mr Venter, led by the Nobel laureate Hamilton Smith, has already constructed a synthetic chromosome, a feat of virtuoso bio-engineering never previously achieved. Using lab-made chemicals, they have painstakingly stitched together a chromosome that is 381 genes long and contains 580,000 base pairs of genetic code.

The DNA sequence is based on the bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium which the team pared down to the bare essentials needed to support life, removing a fifth of its genetic make-up. The wholly synthetically reconstructed chromosome, which the team have christened Mycoplasma laboratorium, has been watermarked with inks for easy recognition.

It is then transplanted into a living bacterial cell and in the final stage of the process it is expected to take control of the cell and in effect become a new life form. The team of scientists has already successfully transplanted the genome of one type of bacterium into the cell of another, effectively changing the cell's species. Mr Venter said he was "100% confident" the same technique would work for the artificially created chromosome.

October 05, 2007

Evolution Saving Elephants From Poachers

Evolution is saving elephants in Africa by producing herds with tiny tusks or none at all, which provides no profit for poachers and thus ensures the survival of the species. Natural selection at work, Right before our eyes.

The phenomenon has been noticed in all parts of Africa where hunting has been going on longest, with both trophy hunters and poachers always shooting the elephants with the biggest tusks.

A survey in the Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda in the 1930s showed that only 1 percent of adult elephants were without tusks. Then it was regarded as a rare mutation.

This year Eve Abe, of the Ugandan wildlife authority, found that 30 percent of adult elephants in the same area were without tusks. Richard Barnwell, World Wide Fund for Nature conservation officer for Africa, said the trend towards elephants having smaller tusks or none had been noticed all over the Savannah area of West Africa, where elephants had been hunted longest.

All the elephants with genes that produce big tusks have been taken out of the population. Those that remain either have small tusks or none at all.