Monday, 15 November 2010

Pterosaurs are not dinosaurs!

Just a quick little rant, as I saw two articles discussing Mark Witton's latest paper on pterosaur flight, referring to them as dinosaurs.

The Sun went with "How dinos soared.." and declared that "WINGED dinosaurs WERE capable of flight". This deplorable article can be seen here.

The Telegraph went for "Dinosaur the size of a giraffe could fly across continents" though oddly enough the article is not too bad as it pretty much just quotes Mark constantly, see here.

So, for the last time, PTEROSAURS ARE NOT DINOSAURS!!!

The artwork featured with the articles.

Not long ago I blogged about how pterosaurs took off, based on the writing of Mark Witton. See here.

Googling "fossil plants" has interesting results...

Some time last week I was busy searching Google, not for fossil plants, but for something else (should I offer a prize for anyone who guesses?). As I typed in "fossil pla..." Google naturally tried to pre-empt me with fossil plants, allowing me to see something which amused me greatly:



Zoom in if you have to, as the first image that comes up is not a fossil plant, but a crinoid. I don't know how many palaeontologists joke about crinoids being flowers, but it is a habit amongst my group of friends, so finding this was hilarious. We have a crinoid loving mate, who naturally was tagged in this image on Facebook. Ah Google, how I love thee....

I also love the irony of the fact that I am one of the main people to mock crinoids by calling them flowers, when I actually do like them and am obsessed with Ediacaran forms, many of which are frond-like and are easily mistaken for plants (my girlfriend, to my dismay, exclaimed that Charnia was a leaf as we were watching First Life).

Dolomite? Pretty?

Whenever I hear the word "dolomite" I want to run away. I don't know any palaeontologist who likes the stuff and I feel like it has been following me around a fair bit. Back home I live on top of the Magnesian Limestone, which is dolomite, and because of that fossils are sparse. Dolomite is limestone which has been altered (to simplify a tad) and the process is not good for any fossils in the rock. Dolomite was also heavily present during my mapping trip in Spain, though it did give quite a dramatic landscape.
The dolomite ridge known as "Las Cuchilleras". 
Even though the dolomite has created some interesting topography, I still couldn't have imagined anyone thinking of it as nice to look at. Until today that is. We were shown images of the results of cathodoluminescence on dolomite:
On the left are the samples before luminescence. 

How nice are they! To me they conjure up images of the classical understanding of Hell, the sort found in Dante's Inferno. Have some more:

Friday, 12 November 2010

Oldest Fossil Terrestrial Vertebrate Embryos Found! (they're dinosaurs too...)

Found in South Africa, the fossilised eggs date back to the Jurassic, 190 million years ago, and are a dinosaur known as Massospondylus, a prosauropod. They were discovered during preparation, which required high powered microscopes to achieve. Their exceptional preservation allowed for full reconstruction, giving incredible insight into dinosaur ontogeny. The almost hatchlings show how much of the skeleton had become bone and show that dinosaurs began life much like we do - with odd proportions. They had disproportionally large heads and walked on all fours, whereas their older form used bipedal locomotion to get around. They also had shorter necks and this data suggests that their necks and hind limbs grew faster than their heads and forelimbs during their life.

They also lacked teeth, which when combined with the awkward body proportions suggests that they received parental care after hatching (unlike pterosaurs which could fly soon after hatching). If so, then this is not only the oldest example of terrestrial vertebrate embryos and of dinosaur embryos, but also the oldest record of parental care. 


For more, see this press release.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Frustration is spelled T-H-R-U-H-Z-D-R-A-Y-S-H-U-N

On Saturday I had to pop upstairs in the student union for a band photo-shoot (shudder) and ended up waiting for a bit in 3rd space, an area for just chilling out, maybe working, things like that. It turned out that it was Dino Day, an event organised mostly for kids in honour of the dinosaur statue which was destroyed a couple of months ago. There were pretty girls painting dinosaurs on faces, activities to take part in, pictures to draw, things to make and whatever else you might expect from such a day. How could it go wrong?

Where I was sitting there were word-searches with dinosaur themed words. I chuckled at the fact that they used the American spelling of palaeontologist (spelled paleontologist) and jokingly corrected it. I then noticed that the artwork of a course-mate was on display, so I wandered over to admire them and peruse the other information. I was horrified. Spelling mistakes were rife and factual errors abounded. If I had a pen on me I would have scribbled all over it. I thankfully don't remember what many of the errors were, though spelling Mesozoic as "Mesozaic" is forgiveable, as long as you don't also add "Palaeozaic" and "Cenozaic" as well, which they did! I also cannot fathom how they ended up calling Gallimimus an oviraptor.....



Such lack of care by the student union is surprising, considering many of the mistakes could easily be corrected with a simple spell checker and the use of children's books on dinosaurs. Or they could have made use of the roughly 50 palaeontologists wandering around the university (1 professor, around 3 lecturers, a couple of post-doc researchers on a good day, a couple of doctoral and masters students, plus  around 40 undergrads). If only one had gotten involved then such mistakes would not have been made. *sigh*

Friday, 5 November 2010

First Thoughts on First Life

Sir David Attenborough's newest documentary, First Life, has just aired on BBC2 and naturally I watched it excitedly. I've not seen the Ediacaran fossils covered properly in a documentary, even though Attenborough has looked at some of them before. The last time I saw them getting a good mention was when the delectable Liz Bonnin looked at them in Bang Goes the Theory, but that did not give them much coverage. The latest series of Sir David made them the main focus, touted as the first examples of complex life and of our own animal kingdom. There is another episode to come next week and accompanying the series is a book which I intend to read and review at some point. Until then I shall provide a very brief review of the episode I just watched.
Sir David Attenborough and Charnia masoni. 

When watching documentaries about a subject I am fond of I have a bad habit of trying to predict what they are about to say, so when I come away having learnt a few things I love it. This is often true of Attenborough documentaries, which he narrates over stunning visuals which keep us gripped. I am pleased to say that I learnt a few things. I have not yet got to grips with how the Ediacaran forms relate to each other temporally, which this documentary did well, introducing the fractal and frondose forms first, ghost-like in appearance and living in the deep sea (they say quite confidently what colour they might have been, which bugged me a little). I didn't even know just how big Charnia could grow, as I was more familiar with the classic Charnwood forest example. It was also mentioned that the fractal form of Fractofusus used only 6 to 8 genetic commands, something I would love to know more about.
Fractofusus from Mistaken Point.
They then moved forward in time, showing the shallow water icons of Ediacara such as Spriggina, Dickinsonia and Kimberella. This is where I started to disagree with them a little. They showed a beautiful Dickinsonia which appears to be at the end of a trail (making it a mortichinia trace) showing that it was mobile, though likely very slow. This is another thing I know little about, so I can't comment right now. Whenever Spriggina was mentioned I was not as impressed, for they kept referring to it as bilateral even though it shows glide symmetry, in which each side is slightly offset and not an exact mirror image. The animations showed it as some sort of proto-arthropod confidently moving around, which is hardly surprising with Jim Gehling as an advisor. I'm not completely against this interpretation as it is a simple shoehorn, but it is not without its difficulties. Kimberella on the other hand is one I don't mind being shoehorned, as its morphology and likely radula marks do make it seem very molluscan.

Before the documentary was shown in full I watched a few clips on Youtube, one of which intrigued me rather a lot and made me quite sceptical. Mary Droser was shown discussing Funisia, a fossil which she claims as the first providing evidence of sexual reproduction. The clip showed that the evidence for this were clusters of traces which varied little in size, showing that they were of the same age. At first I couldn't figure out why this would indicate sexual reproduction, so it was fortunate that the documentary showed why. Corals reproduce in the same way, occasionally asexually, but then sometimes sending out large amounts of sperm and eggs to found new colonies, all of which would be the same age, just like the Funisia found. See here for a little more.
Funisia fossils and a reconstruction.

The next really fascinating bit showed the research of Phil Donoghue from the University of Bristol, using an enormous synchrotron to look at fossil embryos. Using the powerful technology he is able to see the developing organism inside the egg sac, even after half a billion years. The reconstructions show that the worm inside had teeth at the front and a gut running right through the middle. This thing was both complex and predatory. Early embryos are yet another area I really need to look into, perhaps I could pester him in Bristol when I go next week.....

Overall the documentary is well worth watching; as ever the visuals are great, the reconstructions are not amazing but are quite fascinating, the insight is excellent and the fossils are beautifully filmed. Although I disagree with some aspects I know that is inevitable when it comes to Ediacarans and I learnt a lot from this, giving me new areas to research. If you missed it, then BBC iPlayer is your new best friend.

Seeing Dinosaurs in a New Light

A controversial view in dinosaurology is the idea that the king of the tyrant lizards itself, Tyrannosaurus rex, was a scavenger rather than the expert hunter we all think of. If you want to annoy dinosaur palaeontologists, then express this as your own view and watch their blood boil. (For the record I do believe it scavenged, a lot too, but also hunted as it would have been very opportunistic and from time to time likely did not have to fight too much for its food, stealing off of others instead, but I have digressed from the point.) Another interesting view, one which I have only just stumbled upon and which, as far as I am aware, has not been published on, is the idea of those peaceful, grazing ceratopsians (Triceratops and friends) as omnivores, tearing the flesh off of carrion violently every now and again.

I found this idea when I saw an article on the Guardian website about dinosaurs having feathers, where the accompanying artwork by Mark Witton showed a Styracosaurus albertensis depicted scavenging a dead tyrannosaur. Some of the comments show that people found this outrageous, but when he first drew the picture he spent time justifying it, as you can see on his Flickr site.
I must admit that I like the idea, as the line between carnivory and herbivory is blurred in extant animals, with many herbivores occasionally eating meat, especially those which require a lot of calcium - acquiring it by munching on bones now and again. Ceratopsians appear to have had jaws which would have been quite effective at devouring flesh, perhaps even being overkill if used solely on plants. Of course, it is not being suggested that they only ate meat, far from it, but that they might occasionally have tore into some flesh if they happened upon it, giving them a more balanced diet. An implication of this is that they may have been much more aggressive creatures, as opposed to the docile grazers we usually imagine. Most large herbivores, not least the hippo, are quite aggressive creatures, especially when the need calls for it. Imagining a herd of Triceratops fighting over a carcass is quite thrilling compared to the classic plant munching and may even have actually happened.

For some interesting discussion about this, also see the Tet Zoo blog which featured the image and read the ensuing discussion here.

A Luis Rey image with some bone munching going on.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Mystery Solved!

In my previous post I finally talked about my trips to France and Spain, which I really should have finished a long time ago. Whilst there my girlfriend stumbled across something which had me baffled. Whilst walking in the field next to where our tents were pitched, she suddenly asked me if she had found a fossil. At the time I laughed but almost immediately saw what she meant:


I was quite baffled by it. I could tell it was not a body fossil, but there was the thought that it could be a trace fossil, a remnant of animal activity. The near regularity of the ridges were what intrigued me, especially when I found another (sadly not pictured) which matched. I knew of no mineral process which could result in this and wondered if it might be some bizarre sedimentary structure which I had not come across.


It is two months since this was found and the study I have done in that time would have enabled me to say that it is neither a trace fossil nor a sedimentary structure. It is, however, possibly a result of animal activity. I had it looked at and was told that it is most likely the result of stone age man making flint axes, something my girlfriend found more exciting than fossils. In order to confirm it I would need to have it looked at by an archaeologist who knows a thing or two about flint carving. To round off, here is Lizzie posing with the find:

On My Travels: Spirituality and Science

If you take a look at the number of blog posts I have published over the last several months you will notice that the number dips in August and is almost non-existent in September. As I announced, I was taking a break from posting as I was too busy; much of my time was spent abroad. After I got back from the trips abroad I had a few days before my return to Portsmouth, leaving little time for blogging, and upon my return I had no internet access. So what on Earth did I get up to? My first trip was my annual pilgrimage to the Taizé ecumenical community in France, travelling with Bishop Tony of Pontefract and the rest of my friends in the Wakefield group. In contrast to this religious excursion, I then spent two weeks in the Sierra Norte region of Spain doing a spot of geology. Interestingly these contrasting excursions had some overlap. Here's a little bit about what went on (finally posted nearly two months after returning...).

Taizé


The Wakefield group outside the Loup Garou restaurant in Cluny
My trips to Taizé differ every year and I never quite know what to expect. I've been seven times now and although the general goings on are the same, what I gain from it differs every year. The first year I went I had a fair few things on my plate which were really getting to me, not to mention I was soon to go to university for the first time. My time up on the Taizé hill removed my burdens and made me very happy, ensuring I went back for another year. My second trip to Taizé had me in the position where there were no major burdens, so I found myself able to focus on other things, not least the pretty girl who went on to become my girlfriend. Yet again, Taizé brought me happiness. When I went for the third time things had changed quite significantly. The aforementioned girlfriend had split up with me and I was struggling to come to terms with it, especially as she had come to Taizé that year too. To make matters worse she was flirting with someone on the bus and tensions were high, well, for me at least. Having my ex-girlfriend in a neighbouring tent with another guy was a bit much for me, but I did find solace and support from my friends. The third was my worst year in Taizé, but I did feel better for going.
Young Anna in the candle service

My fourth year was a very important one for me at the time. I had previously used Taizé as my time to reflect on personal issues, or to explore the social aspect. On the lead up to Taizé I had started asking myself some big questions about life, the universe and God. Taizé was a great place for me to really explore some of the faith questions and my interactions with both friends and new people fostered this endeavour. I found myself heading to the church at night to read, able to listen to the singing which often goes on until morning. I also bought a book called Seek and You Will Find  which asked many of the questions I had been asking, giving insight into answers. My fifth trip had me doing a bit more of the same, but I balanced it with the social aspect and found it to be fruitful. For my sixth trip to Taizé I used my alone time to ponder theology of nature, which had become my favourite interest, but also found myself keeping up the social aspect and flirting with a particular girl.

So, onto my seventh year. For this year my attention was much like in my second trip; I focussed on a girl. I had met Lizzie during my fourth year in Taizé and during the sixth year she was the person who had my attention at times. This year she near enough had my undivided attention (and even managed to get me up nearly every day for morning prayer). The main thing I think about when I look back to my week in Taizé this year is Lizzie, so it is unsurprising that she is now my girlfriend. But Taizé wasn't just about Lizzie, there were other things too, as there always are. I still engaged in some theological discussion, but not quite to the extent of other years. Most of my theological focus was on another book I bought, I Am the Beginning and the End, by Brother John of Taizé, a look at the creation stories in Scripture. The book has had a huge impact on me, so much of my writing on Genesis will reference it. Much of what I already believed had a more firm context and connection to Scripture thanks to the book, which I found myself taking notes on through the week.
Notice the croque monsieur on the table, mmmmm

On the social side of things, we met some wonderful people. We also played football against the Italians, which we somehow only lost 1-0, and also had a singing competition against the French, who I think we managed to confuse by singing Ilkleh Mooer Bah Tat. I mentioned earlier that there was overlap between the two trips and this came in the form of fossils. Whilst standing around near the tents, Lizzie randomly asked if she had found a fossil, something which I was incredulous about as we were in the middle of a field. She then picked up the rock which showed clear ridges which may have biogenic origins, possibly being a trace fossil. I was baffled by it and intend to have it looked at some time soon (I currently think it is a possible sedimentary structure, but may be wrong). [Since writing this I have had it looked at and intend to write about it soon.] Later in the week I found another, smaller rock with the same pattern, so I am very intrigued. As if to rub it in, I later found Lizzie standing on the pathway between the tents and the main areas (such as the church), a path I had walked every day, with a big grin on her face. She simply pointed downwards and I saw a bivalve fossil (a pectin) in the rock at her feet. This one was definitely a fossil, something which she gloated about (in the adorable way only girlfriends can) for a while.
The first potential fossil find, modelled by Lizzie.

The bivalve fossil. 
Spain

My trip to Spain came just over a day after I had returned from Taizé, leaving me little time to prepare. We had to set off from London-Luton airport, in which we saw Michael Palin setting off on his own travels with his family. Checking in for the flight and getting off in Madrid seemed to take longer than the flight itself. Our arrival in Madrid was followed by a lengthy coach ride to Bersoza del Lozoya, where we were to stay for the first week. In Bersoza is a hostel which the university has been using for several years. Sharing a room with 9 other guys is not as annoying as I had expected, but it does have some frustrating aspects, perhaps having to share the showers between so many people was the worst, and even that was not so bad. All meals were provided and were generally of a decent quality; some of them I want to never eat again, whereas others had me constantly filling up my plate. Each evening meal was accompanied by sangria, which we instantly took a liking to. Packed lunches were provided for the day, along with frozen bottles of water, which were much appreciated.
La Cabrera - ignore the date, my camera wasn't set correctly.

Our first day found us studying something which palaeontologists usually ignore: igneous rocks. Instead it got fascinating at times, getting an insight into the geological history of the Sierra Norte region and being introduced to La Cabrera for the first time (an imposing mountainous ridge which we would see often). Flying high above La Cabrera, as we sketched it in our notebooks, flew several vultures - some of my favourite birds. We also observed an igneous dyke, something I had never seen before. Studying the igneous rocks was a steep learning curve for me, having only ever looked at them very basically. We also observed the contact between the igneous intrusions and the country rock they intruded, giving insight into the sheer age of the rocks. The second day had yet more rocks which we were not used to, this time metamorphics. We started by observing some very beautiful banded gneisses, yet again having a lot to learn rapidly (not too easy in scorching Spanish heat). After studying these high grade metamorphic rocks we moved on to some very jagged looking micaceous schist; beautiful rocks which have characteristic cleavage and a shininess which makes them look like glitter when they break up.
The lovely micaceous schists. 

During one of those first days, possibly the igneous day, we had lunch overlooking an enormous valley with breathtaking views. The rest of the group found their own spot to sit, whereas I ended up on my own, sitting on my own little perch, able to reflect and soak it all in. I was surprised to find myself having quite a spiritual moment, able to marvel at the grandeur and feel both alone yet not at the same time. Before I went to Spain I expected that my time in Taizé would be the most spiritual and my time in Spain would be purely scientific; having that moment overlooking the valleys was eye-opening. I have long held the view that a Christian in science should not divorce their science and spirituality at the same time, but often wondered how this could be put into practice. This is something I intend to write on very soon, which my experience will surely influence. [Check Kale Ktisis for what I went on to write.]
A view from my spot.

Our third day had us looking at sedimentary rocks, starting first by sketching a view to get a feel for judging things at a distance, then moving on to looking at a conglomerate. We then went on to examine an unconformity, before doing some sedimentary logging in what later turned out to be the mapping area. The logging started out at a fair pace, but then got a bit random, especially when Dave Martill decided he wanted to catch a basking adder. The fourth day continued the sedimentary rocks, though first we went looking through slates to see if we could find some metamorphic fossils. I've not researched metamorphic fossils yet, but intend to as I find the idea rather fascinating. We moved on to do some "speed logging" which did not seem very different to the original logging really, though I did catch a frog, seemingly miles from any moisture. That day ended with us collecting fossils in order to reconstruct the ancient marine environment (at some point I will scan in my drawing to show off). Echinoids were the most abundant, being the only fossils I found at first. I also stomped right through a wasps nest, causing three angry wasps to sting me and ending my 24 year streak of being sting free. On the way back to the coach I manage to find two different types of ammonite (oxycone and cadicone) and spent the evening reconstructing the environment. Others had found gastropods, brachiopods and bivalve remains.

The next day for us saw us splitting from the geologists as they went to visit a dam. We got to go on the bus to Madrid to visit the museum and potentially look around the city. We made our way through the bustling city only to find that the museum, along with all the other museums, was closed on Mondays. We only got to peer at the Carnotaurus skeleton through the doors. So instead we had a day off to wander Madrid, oddly enough managing to achieve very little at all. We had a look in a few shops, then spent most of the time in a restaurant with very expensive drinks, only to then go and eat in McDonald's. I also bought a postcard to send to my girlfriend, which arrived at her house long after I returned from Spain.

The second week was spent in a village called El Berrueco where I had an en suite room to myself, complete with its own kitchen. I took the opportunity to walk around naked and undisturbed, able to shower whenever I liked; I even had a bath on one night, which I have not done for a long time. Cooking for myself was interesting as there were only hobs and a microwave to use, plus I am a rubbish cook. I also spent a lot of time watching Spanish soaps, which I found amusing. The days mapping were often difficult as there was little cloud cover, the sun was scorching and we were out from around 8:30am to around 5:00pm, spending the majority of the time walking. We spent the first few days with a tutor who helped us to figure out where to look, also showing us some of the bed contacts. We gave our formations some daft names such as "Thunder Fm." and "Predator Fm." so we often got excited when we came across a new one (sad I know). The terrain was tough, often steep and covered in harsh vegetation, so there was nobody who came back without horrendous scratches on their legs.
Las Cuchilleras - right in the middle of the mapping area.

Our first day mapping alone was particularly interesting; we were in groups of two and my mapping partner (Matt) and I set off up the west road. We identified the marls as being the youngest formation (Dante's) and followed them along, finding another formation of sandstones on top of them. We had already seen sandstones, but these could not be the same ones as a huge dolomite section (Thunder) should be in between them and the marls. We thought this was fantastic! We had a new formation, which we called "Jabba" and Matt started trying to work out the geomorphology, which seemed to fit very well with our observations, allowing us to then work out the history of the area. We had a new formation, the geomorphology sussed and the history of the rocks, all before lunch and on our first day alone! We checked the whole section and found metamorphic rocks, which we new meant an unconformity was nearby. As we headed back round to our start point, pleased that this mapping malarkey was easy, we bumped into another pair, Matt H. and James, and decided to compare notes, that's where things begin to fall apart...

The other two had interpreted the marls as an older formation, giving them reason to think that the sandstones were the older sands and that we did not have a new formation. This also changed the geomorphology, indicating huge folding across the map; our hypotheses were being challenged by theirs and the marls were important. Against their hypothesis was the fact that between the older and younger marls was the huge dolomite section, which seemed to vanish under their model. Yet theirs made sense of the unconformity, which did seem very out of place with our hypothesis. We went our separate ways and eventually got to discuss with a tutor, only to find that we were both wrong. It turns out that we were right about the marls, they were indeed the younger ones, however, the sandstones were not even sandstone at all. They were actually the dolomites we had spent several days getting sick of! They appeared to be on top of the marls as they were folded round on themselves - something we had observed evidence for in the east but had not made sense of. For me this was a great experience: forming hypotheses; testing them; trying to disprove other hypotheses; having to drop comfortable ideas and embrace new ones. Even though it won't get to be in the final report it will still be one of the most memorable parts of this trip for me.

By the last day our maps were near complete and laziness kicked in, so much procrastination ensued. We also had to be up early the next day in order to return to the airport, though we did get to spend a couple of hours in an interesting little village with castle walls and a nice little church. Returning home felt good, though it did mean I had just a few days to prepare for my return to Portsmouth.

My apologies for the lateness of this post, as I started it a few weeks ago and never got round to finishing it. I could actually add a lot more, such as the 4x4 needing a push, dead dog corner, some of the cool geological stuff I found. Another time maybe, as this is a long post already.


Wednesday, 3 November 2010

When in need of something to say, why not critique a creationist?

In a previous blog I decided to critique some creationist blogs, one of which was by a feller called Daniel Mann. To see my first critique of his blog, see here. I occasionally see his other posts and wonder if I should respond to them, though I then decide that it is better not to. I've discussed with him before, he tends not to pay much attention. Earlier today I noticed that he has posted twice in the last couple of days  on evolution, one blog attacking the theory, the other attacking theistic evolution. Naturally I struggled to resist, so here I am.


The Wonders of Evolution

Mann's blog criticising evolution, The Wonders of Evolution, explores the principle of optimisation, where nature contains systems which are as functionally optimal as possible - they just could not get any better. He quotes from an article in the New York Times which mentions photoreceptor cells as an example, along with many other excellent examples. This single aspect of the eye does seem to be functionally optimal, but this does not mean that eyes as a whole are functionally optimal. His reasons for discussing these are encapsulated in this statement:


Obviously, these findings do not point to the expected messiness of a mindless evolutionary process.

Personally I do not see why messiness must be expected in evolution, it is just that evolution can account for it occurring due to its often co-optive nature - it must use what is available and that sometimes involves cobbling something together, as long as fitness is increased. When the variation is available then co-option might not occur, allowing for the possibility of optimal function. So what we should expect from evolution is a mix, where some functions are examples of co-option and exaptation (the now eponymous panda's thumb for example) and some have achieved functional optimality. If something can be altered quantitatively rather than qualitatively, in other words tweaked bit by bit a degree at a time, then resulting in the optimum is not difficult. Mann continues:

In fact, evolutionists have always been ready to capitalize on any findings that might demonstrate the sloppiness of an evolutionary process: “You see, here’s evidence for evolution. Just look at the vestigial organs (useless organs left-over from prior stages in our evolutionary past)!”

A sloppily constructed adaptation becomes evidence for evolution when the alternative is design by an omnipotent and omnibenevolent Creator. If a human designer could do better, why should we think that the omnipotent Designer would do the same? A vestigial organ, contrary to what Mann thinks, is one which does not serve its proper function, as opposed to one which is completely functional. Mann then goes from vestigial organs to that other creationist favourite, junk DNA:

Then you heard about “junk DNA,” our useless sets genetic baggage bequeathed to us by our former relatives! Well, now they don’t look so junky after all. Science has found that they do have a function. However, finding leftovers and junk is just the thing that the blindness and messiness of evolution would expect to find.

Mann is not completely wrong, but misses the mark significantly. Many areas of junk DNA do have functions which have recently been discovered, but what Mann is doing is selective reading. Junk DNA does not necessarily serve no function, it does not code for proteins, which is how we recognise it. Further to this, there are many areas of junk DNA which are both functionally useless and provide great evidence for evolution, such as pseudogenes and retroelements. Mann has lumped all junk DNA together and ignored the differences within. He then goes on to do the same with the eye, taking the optimally functioning photoreceptors and ignoring the whole.

Overall, his argument was sorely disappointing.

How Does Evolution Give Glory to God?

In the second blog I am looking at, How Does Evolution Gives [sic] the Glory to God? Mann looks at a blog on the Biologos website After watching the video he decided to write a message to them:

“While I agree with you that science reveals to us the glory of God (Romans 1; Psalm 19), the same doesn’t hold true for the theory of evolution. Evolution instead says, ‘Mindless, purposeless processes have created what you see around you.’ As such, it deprives God of His glory!! Please don’t confuse the two things—science and evolution!”

Ironically it is Mann embracing confusion by conflating atheistic interpretations of evolution with the theory itself. Evolution does not say 'mindless, purposeless processes' as that is a metaphysical claim, beyond what science can say. It is a valid understanding, but of equal validity with a Christ centred view, such as that which Kathryn Applegate (from the video he is responding to) espouses in response to Mann:

I don’t see evolution as mindless and purposeless at all - rather God is intimately involved in the process by His providential upholding of creation, just as He is in our lives... A thoroughly God-centered view of evolution is elegant, beautiful, and intellectually satisfying. We are fearfully and wonderfully made!

In his response to Applegate, Mann continues to misunderstand evolution and how God acts. He sees the randomness of mutation, along with natural selection, as incompatible with God. The randomness of mutation is observable and there are numerous possible theological responses formulated centuries ago to answer this. When taken with natural selection we get evolution, so as selection is not random neither is evolution as a whole. Having an issue with natural selection baffles me, for why can the acts of nature not also be the acts of God? Or why can nature not have autonomy? 

Mann's criticisms of theistic evolution lack any theological vigour, they are based on utter misunderstandings of both the theory of evolution and theistic evolution.

The Southsea Ultrasauros Sculpture is Back!

Well, not exactly. For those of you who don't remember this, there was an enormous, arty sculpture of an Ultrasauros erected on Southsea Common in Portsmouth over summer, which was then tragically razed to the ground in September. I blogged about it at the time, see here. Many in Portsmouth wanted it to become a permanent resident of the common and have banded together to keep its memory alive. A calendar of the model has been made and has gone on sale. See the press release for more details.