Category Archives: Evolution

Happy Birthday, Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins

On this date in 1941, evolutionary biologist and freethought champion Richard Dawkins was born in Nairobi. His father had moved to Kenya from England during the Second World War to join the Allied Forces and the family returned to England in 1949.

Dawkins graduated from Oxford in 1962, earned his doctorate, became assistant professor of zoology at the University of California at Berkeley 1967-1969 and a fellow of New College in 1970.

The Selfish Gene, his first book, published in 1976, became an international bestseller. It and the award-winning Blind Watchmaker were translated into all major languages.

His other books include The Extended Phenotype (1982), River Out of Eden (1995), Climbing Mount Improbable (1996), Unweaving the Rainbow (1998) and A Devil’s Chaplain (2003). His 2006 iconoclastic book, The God Delusion, which he wrote with the public hope of turning believing readers into atheists, became a bestseller in both the UK and the U.S.

Dawkins has held the Charles Simonyi Chair of Public Understanding of Science since 1995, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1997. He is married to actress and artist Lalla Ward, who has illustrated several of his books and other works.

Dawkins has advanced the concept of cultural inheritance or “memes,” also described as “viruses of the mind,” a category into which he places religious belief. He has also advanced the “replicator concept” of evolution.

A passionate atheist, Dawkins has coined the memorable term “faith-heads” to describe certain religionists. Since his remarks in The Guardian (Feb, 6, 1999): “I’m like a pit bull terrier being released into the ring, as a spectator sport, to attack religious people . . .,” Dawkins is now affectionately known as “Darwin’s pit bull.”

Dawkins, a vice president of the British Humanist Association, was named Humanist of the Year in 1999. He is the 1997 winner of the International Cosmos Prize, and received an Emperor Has No Clothes Award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation in 2001. His column for The Observer (“Children Must Choose Their own Beliefs,” Dec. 30, 2001) pointed out: “We deliberately set up, and massively subsidise, segregated faith schools (Note: In the UK, where he lives). As if it were not enough that we fasten belief-labels on babies at birth, those badges of mental apartheid are now reinforced and refreshed. In their separate schools, children are separately taught mutually incompatible beliefs.”

Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he eloquently warned in a Guardian column, “Religion’s Misguided Missiles” (Sept. 15, 2001): “To fill a world with religion, or religions of the Abrahamic kind, is like littering the streets with loaded guns. Do not be surprised if they are used.”

Photo by David Shinbone under CC 3.0

“My respect for the Abrahamic religions went up in the smoke and choking dust of September 11th. The last vestige of respect for the taboo disappeared as I watched the ‘Day of Prayer’ in Washington Cathedral, where people of mutually incompatible faiths united in homage to the very force that caused the problem in the first place: religion. It is time for people of intellect, as opposed to people of faith, to stand up and say ‘Enough!’ Let our tribute to the dead be a new resolve: to respect people for what they individually think, rather than respect groups for what they were collectively brought up to believe.

—-“Time to Stand Up,” written for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Sept. 2001. See Dawkins’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

– See more at:

Be wary of this man.

blame I think this may be the guy I wrote about yesterday. Remember? The one who said, “God is watching over us” while eleven people died? Be wary of this man.

I just found this guy’s picture on Facebook and thought I ought to post it here, because you probably know him. If not, you almost certainly know somebody like him.

He’s conservative; he probably votes Republican, though he’ll tell you he’s politically independent; and he thinks the United States is a Christian nation, even though our Constitution never mentions Christ. He loves sinners–well, except maybe faggots and godless, atheistic secular humanists–and wants to save them from themselves and the world from them. He honors the presidency of the United States, but despises our President; and he loves our country so much he wants to tear up the Constitution and establish a theocracy. By force, if necessary.

He’ll tell you climate change is “the biggest fraud ever perpetrated against the American people,” even as we complete the hottest year in the history of climate studies. He’ll lie to your face and claim it’s not true that 13 of the 14 hottest years on record have been since the turn of this century and the other one was 1998. He’ll laugh about the possibility that sea level could rise enough to notice, even while small island nations prepare to be swallowed up by the waves.

He’ll say that “if you tell your kids they came from animals, they’ll act like animals.” Then he’ll claim we were all made out of dirt.

This man is a Fundamentalist. What makes him dangerous is not just that he’s so wrong about so many things, but that he’s absolutely certain he is right about them. Ask him what could potentially shake his faith in his beliefs and he’ll probably answer truthfully, “Absolutely nothing.” He is so certain, in fact, that he wants you to live your life according to the dictates of his conscience.

Saudi Arabia is ruled by men just as certain of their wrong ideas. Iran is ruled by men just as certain of their wrong ideas. North Korea is ruled by a man just as certain of his wrong ideas. America needs leaders who get their ideas and ideals from science and reason and compassion, and who understand they might be wrong about anything they believe and willing to learn better.

Be wary of this man. Be very wary of this man



Genetics and Evolution Classes Online

What Is Evolution? with Mohamed Noor, Earl D. McLean Professor and Chair of the Biology Department of Duke University.

Professor Noor is an avid researcher into complex areas of evolution, hybridization, and genetics. He is known for (among other things) helping develop “a model wherein regions of restricted recombination, as by chromosomal inversions, facilitate the persistence of hybridizing species.” In 2008, he was awarded the Darwin-Wallace Medal from the Linnean Society of London.

He has served as editor for the international journal Evolution and associate editor for several other journals, as well as authoring over 100 publications. He has served as president of the American Genetic Association and Society for the Study of Evolution and as a board member for the Genetics Society of America.

Genetics and Evolution Classes

Noor and his group have also developed laboratory activities for high schools and colleges and a commercial kit for observing natural selection in Drosophila.He  has been active in education and outreach, receiving numerous teaching and mentoring awards from his institution, and more recently teaching online genetics and evolution classes.

This is the first lesson of that course, and it leads directly to the whole series of classes. For people with a desire to understand basic genetics and evolution, watching these videos is an excellent way to learn.


What Controversy?

No Controversy

The cartoonist notes:

With the heightened political coverage, the ridiculous anti-science popping up in my newsfeed is reaching frustrating levels. Yes, I’m talking about you, Texas.

Do your part in the fight for science literacy and buy a copy of Sounds Sciencey for a friend!

Anyway, keep calm and science on!

Texas is my state. Most of the time, I’m proud  to be a Texan. But I know that Dallas Independent School District and many others are teaching creationism and Intelligent Design in biology classes, I have to hang my head.

No controversy!

There is no controversy among scientists. The controversy is all among politicians and certain religious people. Evolution is real and should be taught in public school biology classes. Creationism and intelligent design are phony and should not be taught. It’s as simple as that?

97% of all scientists accept evolution as the way we and other living things got here, and far more than 99% of scientists working in biological fields. There is no controversy among them!

Women’s rights, too

When I read how our state legislature has restricted women’s reproductive rights in the last couple of years, my head hangs even further. In some ways, we haven’t progressed in the last and 65 years.

Science and women’s rights don’t necessarily go together, but they’re both important. Extremely important! Fellow Texans, we need to build a fire under our governor and our legislature and force them into the 21st-century.

In varying degrees, the same is true of the other states in our country and of our federal government. America can be great again, but not this way.


Kimbetopsalis simmonsae: Newly discovered mammal species survived dinosaur extinction

reconstruction of Kimbetopsalis simmonsae

Kimbetopsalis simmonsae discovered

Paleontologists recently found a species of mammal that survived the extinction of the dinosaurs and named it Kimbetopsalis simmonsae, meaning “Simmon’s cutting shears of Kimbeto Wash,” in honor of the scientist who found the fossils, the place where they were found, and the snipping front teeth of the beast.

The deadly asteroid almost six miles across struck the earth at several tens of thousands of miles per hour, producing a greater explosive force than a billion Hiroshima bombs and creating worldwide earthquakes and tsunamis. About the same time, huge lava flows in and around India (maybe also caused by the impact) filled the atmosphere with suffocating and poison gasses. Fires started by the impact and its ejecta and by the lava spread around the planet, filling the air with particulates and more gasses. Particles blocked the sun, cooling the world and cutting off photosynthesis for years. Over half of all life on Earth was wiped out.

Plants that were not destroyed in the initial cataclysm died from cold and lack of sunshine. Animal herbivores starved without plants to feed upon. Carnivores starved without herbivores to feed upon. Within probably a year, most life on earth had died. Before it was over, all non-avian dinosaurs and three quarters of earth’s other species were extinct.

It was not a good time to be alive, and most species made a swift exit from the global stage: Vegetation withered. Ocean life gasped for air and energy, then collapsed. Gone were the fearsome Tyrannosaurus, the winged Pterosaurs, the massive Triceratops with its three horns and bony neck frill. The dinosaurs’ 100 million-year reign had ended. And when the smoke cleared, a new hero had taken over.

Washington Post

That new “hero” was the mammal.

Kimbetopsalis simmonsae, the newly discovered species, was a plant-eating mammal that resembled a beaver. More specifically, it was a multituberculate, a superficially rodent-like order of extinct mammals named for the numerous cusps, or tubercles, found on their teeth. They lived another 30 million years after the extinction.

Those teeth may have been their secret of success in the wake of the mass-extinction. The anatomy of their jaws gave them “a grinding-focused chewing stroke,” according to the report. Together with their snipping incisor teeth, these allowed them to eat a large variety of whatever vegetation was available.

This particular species lived about 64.5 million years ago in what is now the San Juan Basin of northern New Mexico. Estimated at around three feet long and over 22 pounds. That’s quite large when one considers that most mammals living in the age of dinosaurs were about the size of a mouse.

The world had been wrecked. An asteroid impact in Mexico compounded by colossal volcanism in India 66 million years ago had killed about three-quarters of Earth’s species including the dinosaurs.

But relatively soon afterward, a plucky critter that looked like a beaver was thriving, exemplifying the resilience of the mammals that would arise from the margins of the animal kingdom to become Earth’s dominant land creatures.

Scientists on Monday announced the discovery in northwestern New Mexico’s badlands of the fossil remains of Kimbetopsalis simmonsae, a plant-eating, rodent-like mammal boasting buck-toothed incisors like a beaver that lived just a few hundred thousand years after the mass extinction, a blink of the eye in geological time.

Kimbetopsalis, estimated at 1 metre, would have been covered in fur and possessed large molar teeth with rows of cusps used to grind down plants.

Asked what someone’s impression of Kimbetopsalis might be, New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science curator of paleontology Thomas Williamson said, “They would probably think something like, ‘Hey, look at that little beaver! Why doesn’t it have a flat tail?”

Dr Stephen Brusatte from the University of Edinburgh told how Carissa Raymond, a student on his team, found the fossils of Kimbetopsalis simmonsae while prospecting at a site in New Mexico. The Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society published it.

While Earth’s ecosystems struggled to recover from the catastrophe, New Mexico became a lush area of forests, rivers, streams and lakes. Kimbetopsalis grew from the size of a mouse to the size of a very large beaver over the course of just 500,000 years — a mere blink of an eye in evolutionary terms. It had a beaver’s broad face and chunky frame, but probably no paddle-like tail. It is known from a partial skull and parts of the upper jaws, including teeth still in their sockets.

Mammals originated from early dinosaurs.

 jaws of Kimbetopsalis simmonsae

Mammals had originated about the same time as the dinosaurs got their start; but nearly all of them remained very small until the dinosaurs were superseded by rodents. With the “terrible lizard” predators gone, they were finally free to grow larger without being eaten.

Multituberculates were one of evolution’s greatest success stories. That may seem odd to say now, being that they’ve been extinct for over 30 million years, but that’s why a Deep Time perspective is essential to comprehending Life. As New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science paleontologist Thomas Williamson and colleagues write at the top of their latest paper on the beasts, multituberculates originated and thrived while the dinosaurs still gripped the world in their claws, survived the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous, and again proliferated during the “Age of Mammals” for tens of millions of years before finally expiring. And thanks to some pieces of skull found in northern New Mexico, Williamson and colleagues have identified one of the pioneering “multis” that evolved soon after the dinosaurs had global dominance wrested from them.

National Geographic (Phenomena:Laelaps)

The mass extinction not only killed all the dinosaurs except for the specific lineage that was already evolving into birds; it also devastated the world’s biodiversity. But it gave mammals an opportunity to quickly fill the niches left by the reptiles, and for a particular group of them to evolve into you and me.


Dawkins Debunked? Guess Again!

Professor Richard Dawkins is highly respected worldwide as a scientist, an outspoken atheist, and author of The Selfish Gene, The God Delusion, and a dozen or so other best-selling books about biology, biography, and atheism. On February 13, 2009, he was part of a team of scientists invited to take part in the dissection of a giraffe’s neck to study its recurrent laryngeal nerve. Such a dissection had been done on a giraffe only once before that we have record of, in 1838. So it was good to be able to do it again on a giraffe that had died in a  zoo.

As expected, this nerve — two nerves actually; one on each side — was found to go from the animal’s brain all the way down its long neck to the area of its its heart, just missing the larynx by about an inch. Then it wrapped around a major artery (a different on one each side), and ran back up to control the larynx at the top of the neck. Altogether, the nerve is about 15 feet longer than necessary, which exposes it to a variety of unnecessary dangers.

Dawkins says we expect imperfections from evolution.

Dawkins points out that this is exactly the kind of thing we expect from evolution, and he explains why. The giraffe inherited its incredibly long nerves from its fish ancestors, where the arrangement was practical because fish have no necks.  As fish morphed into amphibians, then reptiles, and finally birds and mammals, the arrangement became less and less practical. But evolution can’t change something like that just because it’s no longer the best arrangement; evolution has to work with what it has. When a problem is serious enough, it can lead to the extinction of a species. This is one reason why an estimated 99% (at least) of all species that ever lived live no more.

Dawkins points out several reasons why no intelligent designer would have created the giraffe that way. It’s the kind of thing one would only expect to find if evolution were true, as it is.

In the video below, Rick Gerhardt, who is both a conservation biologist and a Christian apologist, discusses Dawkins’ video and tries pitifully to debunk it. He specializes in avian ecology and has special interests also in beetles and snakes. The kinds of of arguments he makes here don’t sound like a scientist of any kind, but they sound exactly like the kinds of arguments I read from ignorant creationists all the time.

You be the judge. I say, “Shame on Rick Gerhardt for trying to debunk good science.”



Nick Lane: Why is Life the Way it Is?

Earth teems with life, but why is it the way it is? Nick Lane unravels the tangled history of life.

Like the video of Matthew Cobb a couple of days ago, this is another brand new one, uploaded to Youtube on Jul 28, 2015.

Nick Lane is an evolutionary biochemist at the University College London, and he speaks very well. I’ve seldom learned as much in as short a time as I have in the 72 minutes it took me to watch the two videos.

Check them out. You’ll be glad you did. I enjoyed them so much that I’ve watch them both several times.




Matthew Cobb: Race to Crack the Genetic Code

How was the genetic code cracked? How did it confirm the theory of evolution? And why did life evolve the way it did?

Matthew Cobb, Professor of Zoology at the University of Cardiff, unravels the tangled story.

This is a brand new video, uploaded to Youtube Jul 28, 2015. It’s a 38-minute video of Matthew Cobb discussing how Watson and Crick discovered the structure of the DNA molecule and how Nirenberg and Matthaei cracked the genetic code in the 1950s and early 1960s. Genetics was tough back then!

He reveals that a mutation in the DUNCE gene in flies inhibits their learning ability and that we have a similar gene that seems to do something similar. This discovery in 1976 made him want to “use flies to understand the links between genes and behavior.”

In a couple of days, I’ll post a similar video by Nick Lane on the subject of “Why Is Life the Way It Is?” These men are both great speakers, and the short videos are so interesting and informative that I felt compelled to post them here. If you’re interested in the subjects, check them out.



60-million-year-old Fish Fossils Excavated

Five nearly perfect 60-million-year-old fish fossils found in a block of sandstone in Evanston, Calgary

60-million-year-old Fish Fossil

For Edgar Nernberg, it was just another day on the job site. Little did he know that once his excavator began to rip through the ground below, a snapshot from the past would soon be revealed.

Nernberg, who works for a local excavation company, was busy digging a basement for a new home in the northwest community of Evanston when he noticed something.

“The something I noticed was quite extraordinary, I knew right away that this was different from the other fossils I have uncovered in my many years of excavating and collecting fossils,” says Nernberg, who also happens to have a keen interest in fossils dating back to his childhood growing up on a farm in Manitoba.

“The first seashell  fossils I saw were shown to me by my father in the rocks we had to pick off of our farmland in Manitoba, and I’ve been watching for and collecting fossils ever since.”

UToday – University of Calgary

Ironically, Edgar Nernberg, a young-earth creationist who believes the world is about six thousand years old, had found five separate 60-million-year-old fish in very good condition. Nernberg and three friends had built the first “creation museum” in Canada in Big Valley, Alberta. He was not somebody who just kind of assumed that what he had heard about God creating “heaven and earth” about six thousand years ago might be true. He evidently believed it fervently.

Here’s the Dinosaurs and Humans display from his “creation science museum.” I haven’t been there, and can’t read the text in the picture; but I assume it probably tries to prove that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time during the past 6,000 years. This is a common, but incorrect, belief among such “young earth creationists.”

Dinosaurs actually lived for well over a hundred million years and then mostly went extinct about 66 million years ago. Humans appeared on the planet around 195,000 years ago, or almost 66 million years later.

Big Valley Creation Science Museum, Canada Dinos and Humans Display

“I better call a paleontologist.”

He wanted to add these fish to his fossil collection, but Alberta law requires turning them over to a university or a museum. A real museum. (I don’t blame him. I’d want them, too.)

The unearthing of the fossils was a complete surprise. Five nearly perfect fish were concealed in a block of sandstone in the Paskapoo Formation, a 60-million-year-old rock formation that underlies Calgary.

Since moving to Calgary 12 years ago, Nernberg has had the opportunity to excavate hundreds of basements there and in surrounding communities. “In that process I’ve occasionally come across clams, snails, leaf impressions and wood remains embedded in the sandstone. When the five fish fossils presented themselves to me in the excavator bucket, the first thing I said was you’re coming home with me. The second thing was I better call a paleontologist.”

The creationist TV show Genesis Week, which is hosted by a friend of Nernberg, refers to it as “the find of the century.” Well, that’s probably an exaggeration; but it was a pretty important group of fossils. Then they go on and comment correctly that carbon dating cannot show how old it is. They poke fun at the Young Turks, who evidently referred mistakenly to carbon dating in a video about these fish.

There are at least two reasons why carbon dating would not have been appropriate for these 60-million-year-old fish fossils:

  1. Carbon dating is not suitable for anything more than about 60 thousand years old. A 50-million-year-old rock must be dated by uranium decomposition or any of several other methods.
  2. Sandstone contains little or no carbon, anyway.

Strangely, after making their correct comment about carbon dating, they describe how carbon dating shows all their supposedly millions-of-years-old fossils to have formed between 5,000 and 50,000 years ago and claims this shows they were all laid down about the same time. It does not, of course.

Hello, Genesis Week. Get them dated using the proper methods by scientists who know what they’re doing. Then tell us how old they are and what it means.

Nernberg contacted Darla Zelenitsky, paleontologist and assistant professor at the University of Calgary.

“Because complete fossils are relatively rare from this time period in Alberta, any such discoveries are significant as they shed light on the nature and diversity of animals that lived not long after the extinction of the dinosaurs,” says Zelenitsky. “These fossil fish are important because they are very primitive representatives of a large group of bony fish known today.”

60-million-year-old Fish Fossil in Sandstone Slab

“Bony fish” includes most common fish like trout, perch, goldfish, catfish, and tuna. The group does not include sharks, rays, and their relatives, which have only cartilage for skeletons. Their lineage split from bony fish early, and are surprisingly more closely related to humans and other mammals than they are to the bony fish.

Shedding light on a period of mass extinction

This find will allow researchers to learn more about a time period following a major mass extinction that occurred around 66 million years ago that killed off 75 per cent of all species, including the non-avian dinosaurs.

“It’s really important that fossil findings be brought to the attention of a paleontologist at a major university or museum so they can be assessed, cleaned and properly cared for,” says Zelenitsky. “Although sometimes fossils can be difficult to recognize while embedded in rock, significant finds can be made by anyone virtually anywhere in the province.”

All fossils in Alberta are property of the province, not of the landowners or the individuals who find them.

“Picking fossils up from the ground surface, or surface collection, is allowed in Alberta only with landowner permission,” says Zelenitsky. “However, removing or excavation of fossils from the ground can only be done by a professional paleontologist with a permit.”

60-million-year-old Fish Fossil Excavated

The 60-million-year-old fish fossils will now go to the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, where they will be cleaned, studied by scientists, and probably go on display.

Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis made his usual snarky type of remark, “But here is a creationist who did real observational science (probably better than what many evolutionists would do) by recognizing the fossil he discovered—and a world-class one at that.”

Ken, this creationist was NOT doing science. He was making his living by digging a basement for a  house! He only gets credit for obeying the law of the land.