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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy 150th Anniversary Origins of Species

Today is an Evolution only news day in honor of the publishing of the groundbreaking work, "On the origin of Species" by Charles Darwin. Seen by many as a watershed moment in history that put science and the church in direct conflict. I would like to direct you to the Evolution Page. In particular this item:

* Evolution denies god(s).
Nothing in the Theory of Evolution denies the existence of god (or any other deity). At best, it merely contradicts a literal interpretation of either of the two biblical creation stories (and any of the countless other creation stories from other religions/cultures). All that the theory of evolution does is show how everything came to be the way it is without the need for god(s).

So with that said, on to the news for today.

Origin of Life: Generating RNA Molecules in Water. A key question in the origin of biological molecules like RNA and DNA is how they first came together billions of years ago from simple precursors. Researchers in Italy have reconstructed one of the earliest evolutionary steps yet: generating long chains of RNA from individual subunits using nothing but warm water. Many researchers believe that RNA was one of the first biological molecules present, before DNA and proteins; however, there has been little success in recreating the formation on RNA from simple "prebiotic" molecules that likely were present on primordial earth billions of years ago. BLOG NOTE: Okay, so this is more an abiogenesis article, but most evolution denyers are totally oblivious to the difference...

Using Darwin in Helping to Define the Biological Essentiality of Silicon and Aluminium. In this year, 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, a UK scientist has used Darwin's seminal work on Natural Selection in helping to define the biological essentiality of the second (silicon) and third (aluminium) most abundant elements of the Earth's crust. The lack of any clear or significant biological essentiality for both of these elements is a mystery as all other abundant elements of the Earth's crust are known to be biologically essential.

Evolution of Highly Toxic Box Jellyfish Unraveled. With thousands of stinging cells that can emit deadly venom from tentacles that can reach ten feet in length, the 50 or so species of box jellyfish have long been of interest to scientists and to the public. Yet little has been known about the evolution of this early branch in the animal tree of life. In a paper published November 18 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, NOAA researchers Allen Collins, Bastian Bentlage and Cheryl Lewis Ames of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center's National Systematics Laboratory and colleagues from the University of Kansas, Pacific Biosciences Research Center in Hawaii and the University of Queensland in Australia have unraveled the evolutionary relationships among the various species of box jellyfish, thereby providing insight into the evolution of their toxicity.

'Hobbits' Are a New Human Species, According to Statistical Analysis of Fossils. Researchers from Stony Brook University Medical Center in New York have confirmed that Homo floresiensis is a genuine ancient human species and not a descendant of healthy humans dwarfed by disease. Using statistical analysis on skeletal remains of a well-preserved female specimen, researchers determined the "hobbit" to be a distinct species and not a genetically flawed version of modern humans. Details of the study appear in the December issue of Significance, the magazine of the Royal Statistical Society, published by Wiley-Blackwell.

Paleontologists Find Extinction Rates Higher in Open-Ocean Settings During Mass Extinctions. For many years, paleobiological researchers interested in the history of biodiversity have focused on charting the many ups (evolutionary radiations) and downs (mass extinctions) that punctuate the history of life. Because the preserved record of marine (sea-dwelling) animals is unusually extensive in comparison, say, to that of terrestrial animals such as dinosaurs, it's been easier to accurately calibrate the diversity and extinction records of marine organisms. "Paleontologists now recognize that there were five particularly large, worldwide mass extinction events during the history of life, known among the cognoscenti as 'The Big Five,'" says Miller. "Much ink in research journals has been spilled over the past few decades on papers investigating the causes of these events."

Supervolcano Eruption In Sumatra Deforested India 73,000 Years Ago. A new study provides "incontrovertible evidence" that the volcanic super-eruption of Toba on the island of Sumatra about 73,000 years ago deforested much of central India, some 3,000 miles from the epicenter, researchers report. The volcano ejected an estimated 800 cubic kilometers of ash into the atmosphere, leaving a crater (now the world's largest volcanic lake) that is 100 kilometers long and 35 kilometers wide. Ash from the event has been found in India, the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea.

Before I hit publish, I would also like to leave you all with a few quotes regarding science and the self correcting mechanism involved.

In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. [Carl Sagan, 1987 CSICOP keynote address]

You can't convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it's based on a deep seated need to believe. [Carl Sagan, Contact]

There are many hypotheses in science which are wrong. That's perfectly all right; they're the aperture to finding out what's right. Science is a self-correcting process. To be accepted, new ideas must survive the most rigorous standards of evidence and scrutiny. [Carl Sagan, Cosmos television series]

Think of how many religions attempt to validate themselves with prophecy. Think of how many people rely on these prophecies, however vague, however unfulfilled, to support or prop up their beliefs. Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science? [Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark]

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