Neil deGrasse Tyson on Stupid Design

As Neil so eloquently implies, it’s tough to believe that the Universe was created for our benefit when the vvvast majority of its environments would kill us instantly. Not to mention the fact that the size of the earth compared to the size of the Universe is far less than the size of a subatomic particle compared to the earth.

Happy Valentine’s Day

HT: APOD

Weird Evolution: Mammalian Quill Communication

Believe it or not, those white quills are for communication. The streaked tenrecs of Madagascar are the only known species of mammal to communicate by stridulation, or rubbing body parts together, something typically observed in insects. A BBC film crew recently filmed this behavior for the first time and it’s a weird one.

Tenrecs inhabited Madagascar with no competition from other mammals and thus evolved to fill a variety of niches in a process known as adaptive radiation, which produced around 30 distinct species. The most famous example of this are the finches of the Galapagos Islands that first inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Quotables: Napoleon Bonaparte

Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet.

It’s tough to argue the point with someone who was so great at keeping down the proletariat. The meek, after all, have nothing to worry about since they’ll be inheriting the earth.

Political leaders have a storied history of using religion to maintain social order. For instance, a majority of the key Founding Fathers were deists, and Jefferson was arguably an atheist, but all maintained their Christianity to the public.

High Ranking Catholic Finally Charged in Sex Abuse Scandal

Finally! For the first time since the wave of sex abuse scandals surrounding the Catholic church began almost ten years ago, a high-ranking church official faces criminal charges in the US. Monsignor William Lynn, former secretary of the clergy for the Philadelphia Archdiocese, is being accused of child endangerment. From The Associated Press release:

The three priests and the teacher were charged with raping boys. Lynn, 60, was accused not of molesting children but of endangering them. A damning grand jury report said at least two boys were sexually assaulted because he put two known pedophiles in posts where they had contact with youngsters.

It’s telling that the primary significance of this is that a top official is being charged, rather than simply the fact that three priests raped young boys–a scenario that is now all too routine. So why is it that church officials, likely decent people (read: not pedophiles), are compelled keep child molesters among their ranks and plead ignorance when it all comes out?

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Evidence for Devolution in Marine Worms, Humans Next?

Research published in the online edition of Nature last Wednesday (Feb. 9th) has found evidence for the “devolution” of marine worms. That is to say that the worms descended from a more complex ancestor. It was once thought that these two species, Xenoturbellida and Acoelomorpha, were an evolutionary link between simple creatures like jellyfish and the rest of the animal kingdom, but this work suggests otherwise. The joint University College London and Université de Montréal team compared hundreds of genes and concluded:

The results show that the two groups constitute a newly classified phylum (a major division of life), which the authors name the ‘Xenacoelomorpha’. The xenacoelomorph phylum joins the three known phyla of deuterostomes: vertebrates (including humans), echinoderms (e.g. starfish) and hemichordates (acorn worms).

HT: Science Daily

This is a major discovery because it opens a gap in our evolutionary understanding and provides evidence for an unexpected decrease in complexity. David Ringland of the Boston Examiner asks the question, “Could humans be moving in the same direction?

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Quotables: Buddha

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.

Now I don’t know too much about Buddha but this sounds alright. At least with his religion you get another shot at life if you don’t buy the wacky ideas like reincarnation, rather than say, an eternity in Hell.

HT: YouTube user TheHigherVoltage for ending his recent video on this quote.