November 11, 2010

Beetles shaped as a bee

Posted in creationism, Curioso, darwinism, evolution, intelligent design, Zoology at 10:07 am by Bram Janssen

This is a bunch of beetle larva trying to look like a bee. Why? Because they want to attract a real bee, hitch a ride to the hyve so they can gorge themselves on all the riches that are present there.

Don’t believe me?

check for yourself: Parasite of the Day: November 9 – Meloe franciscanus.

November 25, 2008

Thomson Lectures On The Science Of Religion

Posted in atheism, christianity, creationism, darwinism, evolution, intelligent design, Philosophy & Politics, Sociology tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , at 6:54 pm by Bram Janssen

J. Andersen Thomson gives a good scientific and psychological lecture on the human, biological side of religion. It puts religion into a testable, scientific perspective, which is a nice relief from the usual sociological and historical arguments. It compares religion with audiovisual tricks of the brain, group mind as well as human cognition. Recommended material.

Found at

November 20, 2008

How To Start Life Without Miracles Or Huge Improbabilities

Posted in creationism, darwinism, evolution, intelligent design, Personal Ramblings tagged , , , , , , , at 12:04 pm by Bram Janssen

I’ve been wondering about the origin of life on Earth for a while now. We all know that there are many theories, including some that are pretty far-fetched if you ask me (things like panspermia or creationism.)

Early Earth

Early Earth

One of the things that always bothered me about creationist arguments is that they always need to point out how improbable life is. They like to say things like: “you can put all the ingredients for a living cell in a jar, but no matter how long you shake the jar you will never get a living cell.” (An example from a popular youtube video) Well, that would indeed be pretty improbable! But the first lifeforms weren’t single-celled organisms. They couldn’t have been, because even the most basic simple-celled organisms found on Earth today are still amazingly complex, as creationists correctly point out. In fact, I’d like to take this one step further and say that even the simplest DNA-strand is still too complex to have come about by chance- let alone the amazingly intricate mechanisms that surround the strand.

So what’s my idea on how life started? Since I am a materialist, in my opinion there can’t have been any form of “miracle” like a deity or aliens involved. I don’t think we need that to explain the origin of life. I don’t  think the first form of life came about in an event of staggering improbability (though calling it “commonplace” would be an exaggeration too, I think.)

All that was needed were the correct ingredients in the right place and time, plus an external factor inserting a healthy dose of energy to get things kick started.

… Ok, I think this needs some further explanation, doesn’t it?

Here’s how I think it might have went:

Phase 1: Grandma’s Organic Soup.

pea soup

Dutch Pea Soup

It’s one of the oldest takes on the origin of life, and I think it still holds merit. Simple and complex organic molecules are found everywhere mankind looks, whether it’s on Earth (duh!), deep space or planets in our solar system- especially planets (and moons) that are geologically and/or atmospherically active. Titan, one of the many moons of Saturn, got big headlines in 2005 when the Huygens probe landed on it and detected enormous quantities of organic molecules. It was amazing that so far out from the Sun there could be a heavenly body with an active atmosphere, let alone contain such a rich amount of organic chemicals as well.

Now to clarify: ‘organic’ in this context doesn’t mean strands of DNA or RNA, or haemoglobin, or insulin. It means many kinds of carbohydrates, proteins and lipids, including forms of sugars, alcohol and fats. These are still pretty complex, however, and it was somewhat of a surprise to scientists at first to find them outside of the Earth’s biosphere, let alone in so many different places in such quantities.

In this context, it is only logical for them to have been on the early Earth too. If they are found everywhere else, it only makes sense they were here too. However, the main difference between Earth and the rest of the solar system was that here there was water in liquid form, which is perfect for dissolving all manner of substances, including organic ones- and what would not dissolve would still be moving around with the flow of water. Downpour, rivers and glaciers would supply a steady dose of organic substances to the oceans which were formerly stuck on dry land or in the atmosphere, et voilà, one big bowl of organic soup pour Vous.

Phase 2: Grandma’s Pressure Cooker

Sargasso Sea

Sargasso Sea

The  next step was to get the soup stirred up so that the ingredients for future life could interact and end up concentrated at what I will conveniently call ‘hotspots.’  Ocean flows are essential for shaping these ‘hotspots.’ A modern parable for this might be the Sargasso Sea, which is a patch of ocean in the middle of the Atlantic with almost no flow of water but which houses a huge concentration of biomass. Columbus encountered the Sargasso which slowed down his journey so much as to almost inspire mutiny. I am not saying life came to be in a Sargasso Sea-like environment per se, rather I am saying that you can have concentrations of biomatter in a larger body of water, including on the ocean floor, which I think is a better environment for the start of life than the ocean’s surface.

The next ingredient would be applying a high concentration of energy to the ‘soup.’ The popular image here is a jolt of lightning, however I think this can be safely dismissed. There are many more reasonable ways to apply energy. One of them might be a big asteroid impact. This is somewhat more reasonable, but it’s still quite improbable. Remember that I don’t like too many “improbabilities” in the theory of the origin of life.

Likelier sources of energy might actually have been pressure, whether on the bottom of the deep sea, in the fissures underneath an underwater volcano or perhaps deep in the Earth’s crust close to the upper reaches of the Earth’s molten magma mantle. An added advantage is that with pressure usually comes heat, which keeps the ‘soup’ warm and the substances dissolved in it reacting. This is where I have to claim some ignorance though, and I’d like people to correct me if I am talking jibberish, but it seems to me that simply applying heat to a container of biological molecules (like pea soup actually, or when cooking whatever), these molecules will immediately start reacting and forming new bonds. Now, normally, when you’re cooking the amount of heat you apply is very great, but I am proposing a situation where the heat is well below the boiling point of water, but still fairly warm.

Actually, I think I need to digress a little more at this point and explain why I think energy from pressure is important in the formation of life. The first lifeform would have been a reasonably complex molecule formed from a combining of less complicated molecules. The manner in which combining of elements and molecules usually happens in the natural world, apart from applying heat, is by applying pressure. A good parable of this might be the ways in which helium and nitrogen –  simple molecules – are forced to fuse into more complex molecules in the depths underneath the surfaces of stars. Not only is there a lot of pressure from the sheer weight of a star’s mantles, there is also immense heat from the chain reaction of nuclear fusion that occurs in the interior of stars. Furthermore, when a star goes into supernova, the pressure and heat from the explosion are so immense even more complex molecules form. This accounts for a lot of elements on the periodic table, even though the really heavy ones cannot be explained by supernovae. Eek, geeky tangent alert!

The point I try to make is that in order to fuse simpler molecules into complexer ones, it would be a safe bet to argue that pressure and heat had some role to play in it. That’s why I propose water-filled fissures in the deep ocean floor, slowly filling up with organic substances trickling down from the surface, close to the heat of the inner Earth, might be a good candidate for generating the first life form.

Anyway, whether it was a sudden event or a long, gradual process (more likely in my opinion), something caused the brine of organic and inorganic molecules to collapse in on itself, forcing them to fuse into increasingly more complex combinations. And out of all the many trillions of molecules that interacted and fused, all it took was one of them to behave like a self-replicator.

Phase 3: A bug in grandma’s soup

Now, if you are skeptical, you should think at this point: “ok… now that last sentence was kind of off-hand, but I think you just described a chance event to forget all other chance events.”

Well, you would be almost right, but I think we are are playing a game of large numbers here. Remember that ‘grandma’s pressure cooker’ contained an insanely huge amount of molecules, and that it had the luxury of ‘cooking’ for possibly many hundreds of millions of years on end without worrying about running out of water or ingredients. I think if you look at the problem at that scale, chances for forming a self-replicating molecule increase dramatically.

And this is what I think the first life-form looked like: compared to DNA or even RNA, this molecule was extremely simple and small. All it did was stick to molecules it happened to bounce into, until it got too big for its own good, lost structural integrity, and broke into two or more pieces. Said pieces then would combine again with suitable molecules they would chance into, at which point they broke into pieces again, etc. This must have been an extremely sloppy process in my opinion, and I’d say that there must have been many kinds of molecules suitable for attraction available to these first forms of life, including ones that would pollute and damage their ability to replicate after a certain number of these divisions.Since I am talking about a place where the first lifeform might have been formed, and that this might have been a gradual process, I think it’s fair to assume that their habitat contained all manner of molecules, from the simplest naturally occurring, all the way through the intermediary stages to the first self-replicator. A veritable jungle of different kinds of organic molecules.

I don’t think it’s wrong to assume that in their sloppy ways, maybe more than 99% – a number I have no way of verifying, of course, but please play along and theorize with me – of these self-replicators would have died off within several generations. But even after, say, 50 successful replications, there would still have been an impressive amount of self-replicators in the ‘soup.’ So much, I’d argue, that even that 1% of survivors would constitute a very large numbers of creatures. Remember that we’re still playing a game of large numbers.

Phase 4: the pot boils over!

This would have been the start of natural selection and evolution. As simple as the self-replicators would have been compared to today’s lifeforms, due to their untidy game of attracting and dividing, the first differences in form would have came to be almost immediately- which as said for the majority of them meant certain death, but a few of them might have chanced upon patches in the ‘soup’ with particularly suitable molecules to attract.

The next step might have been direct competition amongst themselves, as some of the lesser polluted self-replicators might have had a better chance at getting at ‘food’ than the more polluted ones. Then again, a more polluted self-replicator might have had the luck of being polluted in such a way that it could actually grow larger than the competition before breaking up into pieces, which meant it could ‘eat’ more molecules than the competition, thereby effectively out competing them.

Again, it’s all relative to the game of large numbers we’re playing. At this stage in the history of life, there would be chance and numbers, and that only. Since we’re talking molecules, there was still no conscious behavior to them. The only thing to even identify them as ‘life’ was their crude form of heredity. They had no senses of any kind, no means of moving around other than external forces (water flow, for example) and no ways of communicating. Yet already they would have started competing amongst themselves for resources, something which would have intensified when many millions of years later, the soup began to run thinner.

By this time, chance and big numbers might have transformed the lucky few (compared to the 99% of individuals that ever lived and that never made it) into something comparable to simple RNA today. They would still be naked molecules, but they would have been shaped by the slow process of evolution into ever more complex little ‘eating’ and dividing machines. They would have become less and less sloppy in their ‘diet,’ becoming increasingly efficient in choosing what was good for their long-term survival and what was detriment.

Perhaps they began to form crude colonies, thereby shutting out competition from outside, but which further concentrated competition from within: now they had to compete against close cousins for resources. The arms race had started in earnest, which would result in an ever increasing complexity in form.

In this way, after an incredible long time and a number of generations for which there is no word in the human language, the first true DNA strands might have formed, and then the first protective fatty outer layers, then the first membranes… all the way to the first true, yet primitive cells. And all this through the ruthless, unthinking force of the law of large numbers combined with a steady supply of nutrients from their habitat.

A long story, with maybe many logical or factual errors. Anyway, this is my idea of how life might have started. I really encourage some feedback on this, so if you spotted mistakes or patches of general ignorance, please point them out to me. I hope I managed to convince you that there’s no need to imagine either huge improbabilities or miracles to theorize about the generation of life here on Earth.

That, or you will never look at your soup the same way ever again.

January 30, 2008

Arguments Against God #01: There Are Transitional Fossils

Posted in Archaeology, atheism, christianity, creationism, darwinism, evolution, Paleontology at 1:01 pm by Bram Janssen

“There are no transitional fossils”

“Darwin himself admitted there were no transitional fossils”

This is one of the main arguments an evolutionist gets from non-evolutionists. It’s always something like this: “If land animals evolved from fish, then where are the transitional forms- the fish with feet? Or where are the half-human apes?”

Of course Darwin was one of the first biological evolutionists living at a time when the field was yet newborn and he made mistakes because of that. But Darwin did not know about punctuated equilibrium. This was only “discovered” and developed in the 1970s:

“Evolution is characterized by geologically long periods of stability during which little speciation occurs, punctuated by short periods of rapid change, species undergoing most of their morphological changes shortly after breaking from their parent species.”

This was a major advance in evolutionary science that was spun by its opponents as being proof Darwinists were clinging to straws. Darwin himself thought of speciation as pretty much of a gradual process – like a child growing into an adult is gradual – but what 150 years of fossil-digging has shown us is that speciation is more like driving a car with a faulty gearbox. Darwin could not know this, nor could any of his contemporaries. What has happened here is called: “gaining knowledge about a subject through test and theory.” You cannot quote Darwin or his colleagues in the context of disproving transitional forms, much in the same way as not quoting Galileo Galilei on the nature of comets.

But what are the implications of punctuated equilibrium in the search for transitional fossils? Well, mainly: expect them to be hard to find. If life on earth evolved in (relatively) short spurts, chances are you will be finding a lot of fossils from the much, much longer periods of gradual evolution.

That is not to say there are no transitional forms found, museums are filled with them. In a broad sense every creature that has ever lived and every organism that is alive today is transitional species. But if you want fish with feet: here is one:

tiktaaliktiktaalik impression

This is tiktaalik, read up on it here and here. Here is an interview (video) with the co-discoverer of tiktaalik: “Neil Shubin.” (Note that he doesn’t like the term “missing link”)

Of course the anti-evolutionists follow suit with denying it’s transitional:

“However, the claim of a transition from water to land is no more than a dream, because the physiological gulfs between terrestrial animals and fish cannot be overcome by any of the fictitious mechanisms of the theory of evolution. The latest attempt to make Tiktaalik roseae fit this scenario, which is supported out of blind devotion to the theory of evolution and rests on no scientific evidence whatsoever, is based on preconceptions and intentional misinterpretation.”

I don’t have a mind to go debunk the entire article, suffice to say it shows a shocking lack of what is actually out there. The depth of ignorance is staggering.

Here’s an apeman:


To be precise: here is Australopithecus Anamensis

Here’s a dinosaur bird:


All of these (and there are many, many more, musea filled with them) aren’t convincing to the anti-evolutionists. They might say the fossil isn’t transitional but either one or the other. They might also claim it’s a sick animal or human, deforming by say: “arthritis” (the first ever found Neanderthal Man had arthritis, which was spun by some as meaning: all Neanderthal specimens ever discovered were normal modern humans with arthritis. Which makes me wonder why my arthritic neighbor doesn’t look like a Neanderthal Man.)

In the end, what it boils down to is misinformation and ignorance. Groups and individuals claiming there are no transitional fossils always show a lack of knowledge of what has actually been discovered and how these discoveries were actually interpreted. To remedy this I can only recommend two things: teach every child from any cultural background evolutionary science and fact and – if it’s too late for that – read up on the scientists’ side of the issue.

December 20, 2007

New I.D. film: “Playground For The Expelled” aka “Playground For The Crybabies”

Posted in atheism, conspiracy theory, creationism, darwinism, evolution, intelligent design, Philosophy & Politics, Sociology at 10:44 pm by Bram Janssen

Intelligent Design… [insert huge sigh here]

Now you have got to credit these folks: they never give up. Their fanaticism seems to have no bound!

In theatres 2008: “The Playground For The Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”

Watch the trailer.

Now I’d like to start off my criticism with this message: all pretense gone! They seem to have come out of the closet when it comes to the role Creationism plays in their ideas. Not that there was any doubt about it since the Dover trial. With a film endorsed by the Intelligent Design movement and with interviews with prominent I.D. front-men, the case seems clear.

With that out of the way… well, honestly, I can feel nothing but contempt for the message and tone of this trailer. It’s all: “boo-hoo-hoo, the Neo-Darwinists are oppressing us for no other reason than us righteously questioning their theory.” This awesome lie is bound to fail of course.expain

First of all, it is common knowledge now that Intelligent Design is a farce. No playing martyr is going to change that. The only thing that could only ever change the pitiful status of Intelligent Design as a scientific theory is evidence. Rock-hard, ice-cold evidence. And don’t think of bringing on the vertebrate eye or the bacterial flagellum once more, like you did in Dover. In fact, don’t bring any examples at all- bring testable, structurally sound theories. And stop this conniving and scheming.

This trailer is a new low in outrageous Creationist propaganda, second only, maybe, to The Way Of The Master. Check that out for some gruesome twists in the fabric of reality.

Arguments Against God

Posted in atheism, christianity, conspiracy theory, creationism, darwinism, evolution, intelligent design, Paleoanthropology, Personal Ramblings, Sociology, Zoology at 10:36 am by Bram Janssen

Of all the foolish things people believe, God is one of the most extraordinary. I think it’s alright to have the personal belief that your life is being guided by a divine being, but it’s not alright to fight about it to the death – or at least utter tediousness – without having sufficient proof for it.

And there is no proof for God, folks, it’s time to face up to that fact. The time when the world was an almost wondrous affair are all but gone, thanks to science. What came in place of God is the beauty of the real world. Isn’t the natural world amazing and breathtaking enough, do you really even need to throw a supernatural being in the mix to be awed by reality? Isn’t life on Earth incredible enough- just look at all the incredible shapes of life! What about quantum mechanics? Astronomy? Psychology? All that science uncovers in these fields inspires in me the same awe that miracles would- all without need of a God. In fact: don’t you agree the “revelation” that all of this came about without a maker is even more inspiring than explaining it away by means of a mysterious Creator?

That said, there are millions of people around the world who claim to have evidence of said Creator. One of the themes of this weblog will be presenting these various forms of evidence and dismantling them. Yes: dismantling. As yet, there is no evidence for the existence of God or even the suggestion of the existence of God, as I will show you. Until I get down to penning about this, I’d like to present one of the strongest arguments against God I’ve heard so far, by the great George Carlin.

December 3, 2007

Intelligent Design, when will you blow over?

Posted in conspiracy theory, creationism, darwinism, evolution, intelligent design, Sociology at 8:56 pm by Bram Janssen

You’d think Intelligent Design would be utterly dead by now, as for years and with increasing accuracy it has been exposed for what it really always was: an unscientific and politically scheming practice. However, there will always be people who’ll stick to a belief no matter what counter-evidence ends up thrown in their faces.

Take this chap, John H. Calvert, who published this excellently deluded article (pdf) on the Intelligent Design Network. It’s effectively a cry for justice in the world of science teaching. That is: allow theories of origins of life other than Darwinism into the science classrooms. And Intelligent Design is the best suited alternative of course.

I am not going to mention that whatever Intelligent Design is, it can not be science, because it advocates explaining every unknown factor away to miracles – hence you will never learn anything new, which happens to be the reason science exists. Just as I am not going to say the Dover Trial revealed without a shadow of doubt that I.D. is deeply rooted in Christian Creationism, which has been tried and banned indefinitely from the classrooms before. I am not going to mention these things because it would take the fun out of debunking this article, which would seriously spoil my evening.

any origins story unavoidably affects religion, ethics, morality and even government. Materialistic theories support religious views such as atheism, humanism, scientism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc

Darwinian Evolution is – according to Mr. Calvert – inherently biased towards the religions of “atheism, humanism and scientism.” It doesn’t matter that none of these are actually religions, I gather. Just as it doesn’t matter that the core epistles I.D.-theory rests on, turned out to be Creationist literature with “God” crossed out and replaced with “Intelligent Designer.”

What’s more: Calvert argues the existence of a Darwinistic, materialistic “dogma” he calls the Rule, which is deliberately limiting the scope of science in order to exclude rival scientific theories. He claims this Rule is permeated through the whole of society.

“Its advocates use rhetoric and deception rather than candid scientific analysis to make their case for an origins story that has an enormous impact on Religion, ethics, morals and government.The key to the deception is the lack of awareness among the public of the use and effect of the Rule. Because of the non-disclosed use of the Rule the public is led to believe that the scientific alternative to evolutionary theory fails because of a lack of evidence, when the failure is actually due to the use of an unsubstantiated Rule. Since “mainstream science” is not regulated by an SEC, a major focus of my work has been to expose the use and effect of the Rule.”

Congratulations, Calvert: you’ve just exposed yourself for what you really are: a conspiracy theorist. Sometimes I hope all conspiracy theorists would gather themselves into one huge meatball  of pseudo-scientific discipline. Then Calvert and other I.D. followers could come along and explain all of them using their Intelligent Design theory! “Of course the Giza pyramids were built by Gods, the sciences haven’t explained how the Egyptians hauled all that limestone on top of each other, so there’s no other option!”

Here’s to all I.D. followers: if you want your theories taught in science class it means you have to present strong evidence for your claims. You have no such theories as yet, they have all been refuted. Furthermore, and this is to Calvert and anyone who might believe him, take a good critical look at yourself and your own movement before you go about accusing others of using deception and political rhetoric to further their goals.