Thursday, February 19, 2015

Flying animals - divine evolution?

"Pink-wing flying fish" by
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Idealists speak of Spirit and materialists project Spirit into matter giving it divine properties.

So to speak.

But his pattern in world views does seem to hold at least in modern Evolutionary Biology with rather shockingly jaw dropping baseless statements hidden in the parlance. A case study of this is a recent interesting and educational BBC Earth report on earliest flying living things presented by Colin Barras describes the work on early flight by Guang Hui Xu and his team at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. I quote (emphasis added):
Some animals get all the glory. That's doubly true when it comes to one of nature's most spectacular feats: flying.

We're all familiar with the birds and the bees – and other insects. Bats are also well-known for their aerobatics. And lovers of spectacular prehistoric beasts will know about the pterosaurs - extinct flying reptiles, some of which had the 10m wingspan of a light aircraft.

But the annals of flight carry the tales of plenty more pioneering species. From prehistoric flying fish and jet-propelled squid to flying trees and truly weird gliding reptiles, these are the aeronauts you never knew existed.
Insects were the first group to achieve the feat: they developed wings at least 320 million years ago. Pterosaurs were the first vertebrates - animals, like us, with a backbone - to evolve powered flight, about 230 million years ago. Even more recently, bats were the first mammals to truly fly, beginning about 50 million years ago.

But this famous four are far from being the only flight pioneers. At least two groups of backboned animals beat the pterosaurs into the air by millions of years.

All of today's flying fish are closely related to one another, and belong to a family called the exocoetids. They aren't much older than bats, having evolved perhaps 65 million years ago, and we don't know much about how they did so, says Guang-Hui Xu at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

But an earlier, now extinct group of fish called the thoracopterids turned their fins into wings at least 240 million years ago. In January 2015, Xu and his colleagues explained how they did so, with the help of some new primitive thoracopterid fossils from China.

"Over-water gliding adaptations were gradual in nature," says Xu. The process began in the skull. The new fossils, called Wushaichthys, had a broad and flat skull roof typical of thoracopterid fossils. This possibly helped the fish swim and feed just below the ocean's surface.

The second step was the crucial one. Some thoracopterid fossils from around the same time added a specialised tail fin, with a lower fork much longer than the upper fork. It's this asymmetrical fin that helped thoracopterids gain enough power when swimming to jump out of the water, making it the key characteristic for identifying flying fish, says Xu.

Only later did the thoracopterids evolve the wing-like fins that allowed them to make best use of their jumps, by gliding.

Finally, the thoracopterids lost their body scales, perhaps because doing so made it easier to wiggle during glides to improve flight efficiency.

The ancient thoracopterid fossils give us a good idea how today's flying fish evolved. Modern exocoetid flying fish also have broad skulls, asymmetric tail fins and long wing-like fins, and probably evolved in a similar way, says Xu.

It might seem odd that fish evolved the same flying ability twice, but perhaps the bigger surprise is that they didn't do it more often. After all, a host of land animals have evolved the ability to glide. Xu says it's because gliding over land is very energy-efficient, whereas gliding over the ocean isn't. "The gliding of flying fishes is energetically very expensive," he says.

Read the entire article from BBC Earth
Divine evolution
Isn't it amazing how thoracopterids evolved for themselves first a broad and flat skull roof, then added a specialised tail fin and then wing-like fins for better gliding. It was a bit uncomfortable so they lost their body scales to wiggle more easily.

I mean, well, that fish is swimming near the surface and there is plenty of air up there above the water, so it thinks how the heck do I get in the air and glide without the resistance of water - wow, I might even make ten meters fast glides and escape predators, if the wind is good! But how to do it with this body given to me? Oh well, I better modify my head, tail fin and front fins and get rid of body scale - that should do it!

Scholar projecting divine genius into spontaneous evolution as if he was speaking of something self-evident and prove, a process presumably guided by natural test and try through selection - survival of the best glider!

Creationist and ID problem
Now the idealist notices that there is nothing that would support the materialistic atheist view of a thoracopterids attempting to turn themselves into flying animal and succeeding in it with significant body modifications.

So the Intelligent Design person introduces the Spirit saying that the evolution of thoracopterids is in fact divine intervention in the life cycle of an animal. The genius is not in the natural process which is  a stupid unproven claim but rather in the invisible hidden Spirit creating living things and giving them amazing abilities.

The problem in the idealistic view is that it does not explain anything and does not add anything to the mystery of how these amazing fossil fish came into being. It is simply a statement that may well be true that God has created all things but it is not a scientific or any kind of explanation.

What to do?
If materialistic divine evolution is nonsense and if religious idealistic Spirit does not add to our knowledge what should we do?

I think we should admit just that.

Instead of carelessly throwing sentences of how a living creature evolves itself Professor Guang Hui Xu and science reporter Colin Barras could say that despite many fine theories modern science is unable to explain why a fish starts to fly.

Instead of dogmatically throwing sentences of how Spirit wisely and purposely creates a flying fish from a swimming fish ID people could say "praise the Lord for His wisdom that can be seen in this. But we need proper scientific theories if we want to understand what happened."

It is not a shame to confess our lack of knowledge and it is exactly that attitude that might encourage new young scholars to come forward with new ideas about evolution in Nature without being ridiculed by a die-hard Darwinist or believing Creationist.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Richard Dawkins love letters and hellish memes

Hearing Richard Dawkins reading some of the hate mail he has received during the years is both hilarious and sobering experience. Start with Part I. Can this be true? What inspires such dreadful language and behavior besides fear?

The deep religious hatred towards another human being he has experienced must be exposed again and again. The verbatim quoting of original messages is a powerful way to do just so as it leaves nothing unclear - these Christians say in expressis verbis what they think about him as a person and about his views.

Hell as Devil's paradise
Many of the messages threaten Dawkins with sudden death, misfortune and eternal tortures in Hell planned by the Devil - or in some or the more twisted messages by God himself.

The deep rooted misunderstanding that Hell is Devil's paradise where he is allowed to do what he likes most, eternally torture condemned humans, is reflected in many of the hate messages. What could be a better place for the fallen angel, Satan, then a huge torture cell where nothing limits the pain he can inflict on the victims who never die whatever is done to them?

This mistaken view of Hell is not Biblical but rather reflects the times during which western society used torture and painful execution methods against serious criminals. Since this goes way back to the Byzantine and Roman periods and continue way until Enlightenment began to change perceptions of criminal punishments in 18th century, the reality of judge, condemnation and punishment must be deeply rooted in human psyche, in the common memes to use terminology of cultural heritage developed by Dawkins.

Lake of burning sulfur
In contrast to the medieval torture chamber where Devil enjoys all sadistic games he can invent the Book of Revelation simply says that at the end he is thrown into a fiery lake and that's it, second death rather than place for his SM games.
When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Rev 20:7-10 NIS
This is no paradise for Devil but his place of eternal punishment with the beast and the false prophet.

Unfortunately the Book of Revelation sees also human beings in that fiery lake
Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.
Rev 21:7-8 NIS
You say "Revelation is such a difficult book to understand".

It is.

But still not a laughing matter, however stupid email messages Christians send to others.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Moscow's stray dogs - evolving patterns of behaviour

Stray dog commuting in metro
image DogFiles
Kenn Bell writes in DogFiles
Each morning, like clockwork, they board the subway, off to begin their daily routine amidst the hustle and bustle of the city.

But these aren’t just any daily commuters. These are stray dogs who live in the outskirts of Moscow Russia and commute on the underground trains to and from the city centre in search of food scraps.

Then after a hard day scavenging and begging on the streets, they hop back on the train and return to the suburbs where they spend the night.

Experts studying the dogs, who usually choose the quietest carriages at the front and back of the train, say they even work together to make sure they get off at the right stop – after learning to judge the length of time they need to spend on the train.

Scientists believe this phenomenon began after the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, and Russia’s new capitalists moved industrial complexes from the city centre to the suburbs.

Dr Andrei Poiarkov, of the Moscow Ecology and Evolution Institute, said: “These complexes were used by homeless dogs as shelters, so the dogs had to move together with their houses. Because the best scavenging for food is in the city centre, the dogs had to learn how to travel on the subway – to get to the centre in the morning, then back home in the evening, just like people.”

Dr Poiarkov told how the dogs like to play during their daily commute. He said: “They jump on the train seconds before the doors shut, risking their tails getting jammed. They do it for fun. And sometimes they fall asleep and get off at the wrong stop.”

The dogs have also amazingly learned to use traffic lights to cross the road safely, said Dr Poiarkov. And they use cunning tactics to obtain tasty morsels of shawarma, a kebab-like snack popular in Moscow.

With children the dogs “play cute” by putting their heads on youngsters’ knees and staring pleadingly into their eyes to win sympathy – and scraps.

Dr Poiarkov added: “Dogs are surprisingly good psychologists.”

By Elaine Furst For Dog Files

Ken Bell, creator of DogFiles with Max
image DogFiles
Text and images copyright © 2015 DogFiles

Evolution and adaptation
The story is a striking example of the ability of dogs, our trusted friends since prehistoric times, to adapt to changes in human society. 

Of course, by selective breeding humans have caused significant changes in the species of dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) both in their physical features (from Chinese Pekingese to Danish dog) and in their functions in cooperation with humans (from shepherds to rescue, from gentle pets to scary military attack dogs). 

In contrast to human intervention the Moscow stray dogs described above are themselves adapting to changes in human community in what can only be described as an amazing path to survival. 

The fundamental aspect even in the original Darwinian theory of the survival of the fittest and natural selection concentrated exactly on this - the ability of an organism to adapt to changing environment.

Time is way too short to detect physiological changes in Moscow's dogs but one can easily imagine that commuting in trains could also have a selective role in making puppies and in the characteristics they inherit from their parents through genetics. Definitely so the reconsigning of what color of traffic light gives safe passage across the road. 

BTW DogFiles site has also a heartwarming report on the decision in Moscow not to implement the plan to deport the stray dogs outside the city. Animal lovers were able to stop this intervention in such a drastic manner in this rather unique society of dogs!