Monday, 29 October 2007

Cool Atheist Music 8 - Bad Religion - God Song

Firstly, apologies for the lack of posts over the last couple of weeks. Turns out this PhD thing takes up a lot of your time! We now return you to your normal blogging service, with a slightly delayed cool atheist music.

This week's cool atheist music is again from Bad Religion - it's a great acoustic version of one of their classics. If you want to hear the original, complete with raging guitar, it's here.

If anyone has any ideas for cool atheist music feel free to contribute, and hopefully this series can become a little more regular! For previous posts in this series, see here.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Cool Atheist Music 7 - John Lennon - Imagine

The classic.

If anyone has any ideas for cool atheist music feel free to contribute, and hopefully this series can become a little more regular! For previous posts in this series, see here.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

A Great Quote

Whilst reading Philip K. Dick's somewhat odd, yet fascinating essay How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days, I came across this great quote:

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.
He says it's the best definition he can come up with, and I have to say I can't think of any better. It explains nicely how religion has (in general) moved away from trying to assert its authority by making grand claims about the physical state of the world, and has instead focused on ethical issues such as homosexuality - the world isn't going to go away, it's going to come and bite you in the ass if you believe stupid things about it. However, ethics are simply a human construct, and as such there is no absolute 'reality' that can turn up and show statements to be obviously wrong (You can show the claimed foundations of the ethical structure are wrong, but that's a different story).

Monday, 15 October 2007

New Carnivals Up

The Humanist Symposium #9 and Boneyard #7 are both now up, and feature some of my posts along with a load of other great reading material. Go check them out!

Thursday, 11 October 2007

I thought this type of thing only happened in America?

I'm actually quite shocked by this report from last week's Conservative conference by The Lancashire Secular Humanists:

As John Gummer [Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal] came upon the British Humanist Association’s campaign stand in the exhibitors gallery at the Winter Gardens this afternoon he was clearly heard to say to his companion “Do you know there is nothing I hate more than these Humanists”.

He then launched into a loud abusive rant in which he complained that The British Humanists Association “had no right to be here” and; with spittle-filled passion he pointed his finger at startled BHA members and declared “The Conservative Party is and always has been a Christian Party” (big emphasis on ‘Christian’) before turning on his heels and storming off without giving those volunteers (me included) an opportunity to respond.
So, there you go - John Gummer: complete raving bigot. That's the way to challenge Tory stereotypes alright :| I'm just hoping he's in a minority of one, and that the Conservatives get rid of him quickly - he's an embarrassment.

There's a discussion of this over at the Suffolk Humanists - apparently he denies everything. What a surprise.

Via Feeding the Fish.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

More Hypocrisy from Religious Figures: Who'd've thought it?

I notice one of the most strident voices opposing the new offence against incitement to homophobic hatred in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill is Colin Hart, Director of the conservative evangelical Christian Institute. Here's what he said:

“In a democratic society people must be free to express their beliefs without fear of censure. A homophobic hatred law would be used by those with an axe to grind against Christians to silence them. There has already been high profile cases of the police interfering with free speech and religious liberty regarding sexual ethics. People shouldn’t face prison for expressing their sincerely-held religious beliefs.”
He's really giving the old free speech defence some welly isn't he? Apropos of nothing much, here's Colin Hart back in 2005 on Jerry Springer: The Opera:
"The BBC has a duty to respect the religious beliefs of its viewers... Genuine religious debate and criticism is one thing, but this show is an offensive, spiteful, systematic mockery and wilful denigration of Christian belief."
He then promptly called for a judicial review of its screening. What - use the law to silence something he disagrees with? But he's so keen on free speech! I'll remind you of that quote again: "In a democratic society people must be free to express their beliefs without fear of censure."

That's what makes me so angry about so many religious public figures. They're not actually interested in free speech, or any consistent set of moral principles. What they're interested in is using the law to bully people into not saying anything they don't like, whilst hiding behind the law as soon as anyone says anything nasty about them. "Don't hate us, but it's fine for us to hate you." They're disingenuous, self-interested hypocrites. It's pathetic.

Cool Atheist Music 6 - Nine Inch Nails - Heresy

This week's cool atheist music comes from Nine Inch Nails, and was suggested by esaul17. It should suit those who like their atheism angry, with a shouty chorus.

If anyone has any ideas for cool atheist music feel free to contribute, and hopefully this series can become a little more regular! For previous posts in this series, see here.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Cephalopods, mosasaurs, and Cretaceous parenting

Typical. You go away on holiday, you come back, and it's International Cephalopod Awareness Day. And me with nothing to wear, and shoes that don't match my dress, and a handbag that's so last season... anyway, moving swiftly on, back to the cephalopods.

As any palaeontologist worth his (or her) salt knows, the ultimate cephalopods are ammonoids and nautiloids. Whilst taking my MSci I briefly studied these fantastic beasties, completing a three month research project on predation on ammonoids. During my studies, I came across this fascinating research paper (Kaufmann 2004), detailing a mosasaur attack on a Cretaceous nautiloid. In this paper Kaufmann presents a nautiloid (Argonautilus catarinae) recovered in San Diego county, California (image below).

As you can see the nautiloid has three large puncture marks (indicated AT in the figure), and five smaller ones (indicated JT). From the size and spacing of these puncture marks Kaufmann infers them to be mosasaur bite marks, most likely from Mosasaurus or Platycarpus. The smaller punctures form a separate bite, and precede the larger punctures making up the second bite. This second bite most likely killed the nautiloid and caused it to sink, penetrating the flotation and living chamber. Kaufmann argues that these bites consist of two mosasaurs of the same species, an adult and a juvenile.

Evidence from the pattern of bite marks in ammonites implies a learned mosasaur behavior pattern of blind-side attack of the prey first, followed by positioning bites using both the stabbing and pterygoid teeth, followed by one or more bites across the living chamber of the ammonite designed to rip the prey animal out of the shell to consume it. Combining these two lines of evidence, Kaufmann paints a picture of a mother mosasaur teaching the child the best way to tackle this food source. So from this specimen (and with only minor speculation!) we have inferred not only part of an ecosystem, but part of a mode of life, and maybe part of the parent-child dynamic also.

And that's what's so fascinating about palaeontology. This vignette played itself out millions of years ago - not only are its individual actors long dead, but so are their entire species. And yet from a small fragment of rock we can reconstruct so much of their lives. From that rock, just for a moment, we too can swim in the Cretaceous seas, can envisage a life far removed from our own, infer its dramas and imbibe of its wonder.



KAUFFMAN, ERLE G. Mosasaur Predation on Upper Cretaceous Nautiloids and Ammonites from the United States Pacific Coast Palaios 2004 19: 96-100

Normal blogging service is resumed

I got back from holiday yesterday, and started* my PhD today, so things have been hectic. But I'm back now, and thanks for your patience in putting up with the week's break (And if you didn't, well, you won't be reading this, so, um, hahaha, you smell.). I've got some cool pictures of a snake I nearly stood on, and of what happens when flying ants decide to combine their yearly emergence and search for a new home with high tide whilst living on a beach (It's not pretty). Sadly what I do not currently appear to have is a camera lead to transfer these pictures, but when I do I'll post them up. And with that rambling over, we return you to your normal viewing.

* For a given value** of 'started'.
** The value that means 'The stupid registry claimed they didn't have my references even though they were e-mailed months ago and so I had to go home at lunch to sort it out and so got nothing done.'***
*** Sigh.