Sunday, August 31, 2008

Cosmic crash unmasks dark matter

By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News

MACS J0025    Image: Nasa, Esa, CXC, M. Bradac (University of California, Santa Barbara), and S. Allen (Stanford University)
Dark matter is shown in blue, ordinary matter is coloured pink

Striking evidence has been found for the enigmatic "stuff" called dark matter which makes up 23% of the Universe, yet is invisible to our eyes.

The results come from astronomical observations of a titanic collision between two clusters of galaxies 5.7 billion light-years away.

Astronomers detected the dark matter because it separated from the normal matter during the cosmic smash-up.

The research team are to publish their findings in the Astrophysical Journal.

They used the Hubble and Chandra space telescopes to study the object MACSJ0025.4-1222 - formed after an incredibly energetic collision between two large galaxy clusters.

Each of these large clusters contains about a quadrillion times the mass of our Sun.

It puts to rest all the worries that the Bullet Cluster was an anomalous case. We have gone out and found another one
Richard Massey, Royal Observatory Edinburgh

A technique known as gravitational lensing was used to map the dark matter with Hubble.

If an observer looks at a distant galaxy and some dark matter lies in between, the light from that galaxy gets distorted.

It looks as if it is being seen through lots of little lenses. And each of these lenses represents a piece of dark matter.

Astronomers used the Chandra X-ray telescope to map ordinary matter in the merging clusters, mostly in the form of hot gas, which glows brightly in X-rays.

As the two clusters that formed MACSJ0025 merged at speeds of millions of kilometres per hour, hot gas in the two clusters collided and slowed down.

However, the dark matter kept on going, passing right through the smash-up.

Speeding bullet

This phenomenon has been seen before, in a structure called the Bullet Cluster - which also formed after the collision of two large galaxy clusters. The Bullet Cluster lies closer to Earth, at a distance of 3.4 billion light-years.

"It puts to rest all the worries that the Bullet Cluster was an anomalous case. We have gone out and found another one,"

co-author Richard Massey, from the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, told BBC News.

The study sheds light on the properties of dark matter.

The fact that dark matter does not slow down in the collision supports a view that dark matter particles interact with each other only very weakly or not at all (when one excludes their gravitational interaction).

"Dark matter makes up five times more matter in the Universe than ordinary matter," said co-author Marusa Bradac, from the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB).

"This study confirms that we are dealing with a very different kind of matter, unlike the matter that we are made of. And we're able to study it in a very powerful collision of two clusters of galaxies."

Larger sample

The latest astronomical observations suggest that dark matter makes up some 23% of the Universe. Ordinary matter - such as the galaxies, gas, stars and planets - makes up just 4%.

The remaining 73% is made up of another mysterious quantity; dark energy, which is responsible for speeding up the expansion of the cosmos.

CMS at Cern (M. Brice/Cern)
The Large Hadron Collider may shed further light on dark matter
According to one model, dark matter may be comprised of exotic sub-atomic "stuff" known as Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPS).

Others hold that the dark substance consists of everyday matter, rather than some elusive sub-atomic particle. However, this ordinary matter, referred to as Massive Astrophysical Compact Halo Objects (MACHOS), happens to radiate little or no light.

A powerful physics experiment, the Large Hadron Collider, which is currently under construction on the French-Swiss border, could shed further light on this question after it begins operating later this year.

Dr Massey said his team had found other candidates for colliding clusters.

"Ideally, we don't want just one or two, we want lots of these things to really study them statistically," he explained.

"Then we either use the whole lot, or pick out one 'golden bullet' which will provide the best constraints on what dark matter is."

The Hubble Space Telescope failed just after the team had taken their image of MACSJ0025, so they have not yet been able to study these other candidates.

Dr Massey said the astronomers hope to do this after the next Hubble servicing mission with the space shuttle, which is due to launch in October 2008.

Physicist Patricia Burchat sheds light on two basic ingredients of our universe: dark matter and dark energy.

Comprising 96% of the universe between them, they can't be directly measured, but their influence is immense.

16 minutes, TED Seminar. Includes a practical experiment (with a wine glass!) to demonstrate Gravitational Lensing (an effect predicted by Einstein).

government reform faith schools to ensure they cannot discriminate against pupils and teachers on religious grounds

I also heard this on PM, Radio 4. I've signed.

A message from Enlightened Observer to all members of Atheists of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on Atheist Nexus!

A new interfaith and rationalist coalition is suggesting that the government reform faith schools to ensure they cannot discriminate against pupils and teachers on religious grounds. They want a clear commitment to inclusive, community-wide education for all Britain's pupils.

The coalition includes a teaching union, religious groups, humanists, clergy, rabbis, academics and leading public figures is calling for fairer admissions policies in faith schools and equal employment rights for staff, regardless of their beliefs. It also wants to see a balanced curriculum, a consistent inspection regime and assemblies which reflect the true diversity of belief and culture.
As a fairly hard line Atheist, with no respect for anything supernatural, my inclination is to be skeptical about any group which includes people with "faith". However, as a pragmatist and realist, I must agree that this body is making reasonable demands and is likely to get wide support.

If you agree, go to:

and sign up.

Visit Atheists of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland at:

In a pluralist, multi-cultural society, the state should promote tolerance and recognition of different values and beliefs. Given the dangers of segregation and the importance of community cohesion we need schools that welcome all and are committed to non-discrimination. Schools should promote a culture of questioning, of knowledge, of respect and of exploration of values, where students develop their own identities and sense of place in the world. We believe all state-funded schools should:

1. Operate admissions policies that take no account of pupils’ – or their parents’ – religion or beliefs.

2. Operate recruitment and employment policies that do not discriminate on the grounds of religion or belief.

3. Follow an objective, fair and balanced syllabus for education about religious and non-religious beliefs – whether determined by their local authority or by any future national syllabus or curriculum for RE.

4. Be made accountable under a single inspection regime for RE, Personal, Social & Health Education (PSHE) and Citizenship.

5. Provide their pupils with inclusive, inspiring and stimulating assemblies in place of compulsory acts of worship.

And we commit to work with each other locally and nationally to turn public support for inclusive education into a campaign for reform that the government cannot ignore.

Fossil Sheds Light on Great Ape Ancestry

November 19, 2004, Sciam

By Don Monroe

Researchers in Barcelona, Spain, say they have uncovered a relatively complete fossil of one of the earliest great apes, the category that includes human beings. A report published today in the journal Science describes the new species, Pierolapithecus catalaunicas, which lived between 12.5 million and 13 million years ago.

Apes diverged from monkeys near the beginning of the Miocene epoch about 25 million years ago.
As long ago as
19 million years ago, the great apes then parted ways with the lesser apes, a group that includes modern gibbons. Dozens of species of great apes lived during the Miocene, but only humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans remain.

The fossil includes parts of a skull that has a rather vertical face as well as other bones that show features characteristic of great apes. For example, the highly curved rib bones indicate that Pierolapithecus had a broad flat chest and its shoulder blades were on its back rather than on the sides of its chest, as in monkeys. These features, together with a flexible wrist joint, are thought to help in swinging from branches. Although the specimen has short fingers similar to those of monkeys, its discoverer, Salvador Moy-Sol of the M. Crusafont Institute of Paleontology, and his colleagues propose that long fingers like those of great apes may have evolved later. Like modern great apes, Pierolapithecus's lower back was short and stiff, which is suggestive of an upright posture.

The remains date from about the time when the Asian great apes, represented today by orangutans, diverged from the African branch of great apes that later produced gorillas, chimpanzees and humans. The authors suggest that their specimen is close to the common ancestor of both branches.
David Begun of the University of Toronto, a paleoanthropologist not affiliated with the new find, suspects that Pierolapithecus may actually be partway along the African branch. But he emphasizes that because this fossil came from a time so close to the divergence, the differences between the branches would be slight. Says Begun: "Either way, we still get a glimpse, through Pierolapithecus, of what the common ancestor of all great apes looked like, even if it's actually a little way along one of those two major pathways."

Other Sources: Graphical Timeline of Human Evolution

Friday, August 29, 2008

Safe in our cages

Proposals to monitor all our communications are an intolerable assault on liberty in the name of security

In the Queen's speech this autumn Gordon Brown's government will announce a scheme to institute a database of every telephone call, email, and act of online usage by every resident of the UK. It will propose that this information will be gathered, stored, and "made accessible" to the security and law enforcement agencies, local councils, and "other public bodies".

This fact should be in equal parts incredible and nauseating. It is certainly enraging and despicable. Not even George Orwell in his most febrile moments could have envisaged a world in which every citizen could be so thoroughly monitored every moment of the day, spied upon, eavesdropped, watched, tracked, followed by CCTV cameras, recorded and scrutinised. Our words and web searches, our messages and intimacies, are to be stored and made available to the police, the spooks, the local council – the local council! – and "other public bodies".

This Orwellian nightmare, additionally, is proposed for a world in which leading soi-disant liberal democracies run, and/or permit rendition flights to, Guantanamo Bay. How many steps separate an innocent British citizen from some misinterpretation or interference or error in the collected and 'made accessible' data of text messages and emails, and a forthcoming home-grown version of Guantanamo Bay for people whose pattern of phone calls does not fit the police definition of acceptable?

Two things have made this ghastly development possible: the technology, and politicians. The technology is way ahead of the game: Siemens of Germany are already supplying 60 countries with a device that monitors and integrates data from phone, email and internet activity; its software establishes patterns of uses and alerts monitoring staff to deviations from the patterns. As New Scientist reports, the system is already known to throw up huge numbers of false positives; that could have been predicted by a rudimentary acquaintance with human nature and human life. But it is a fact that has to be added to the brilliance and reliability of government and law enforcement agencies in keeping data secure, unhackable and unlosable.

The second point concerns the quality of our politicians. They say they are putting us all under suspicion for our own good. They wish to protect us against terrorists and criminals, and to make bureaucracy more efficient. The efficiency of bureaucracy has one of its finest moments in the neat and sorted piles of false teeth, hair and spectacles at the gas chamber doors. Oh no: better the milling crowd than the police-disciplined queues of bureaucratic efficiency; better the irritation of dealing with human fallibility than the fear of dealing with jack-booted gendarmes whose grip on one's arms follows stepping out of the queue.

But as to the first matter: protecting us – by making us all suspects, all potential criminals and terrorists – from terrorism and criminality. Well: the first duty of our politicians should be to protect our liberties, and to encourage us to see that liberty carries risks, which we should be trusted to understand and accept so that we can make our own lives our own way. But no:

these politicians – Brown and Labour, once the party of the people – are going to keep us safe by not keeping our liberties safe; they are going to keep us safe by making us unfree.
Yet the putative benefit of protecting us from terrorism and crime is unattainable. They themselves say 'there is no 100% guarantee of safety': but they are going to spy on us all anyway! In fact they are going to create crime: a huge new criminal industry awaits for stealing, copying, falsely creating and manipulating that newly-created precious commodity, "identity". A huge new impetus awaits for techno-crime to disrupt the monitoring and data storage systems on which the government intends to spend billions of our tax money, creating its unblinking eye in our bedrooms. As surely as night follows day, the new surveillance society will do more harm than good.

The potential for profoundly negative uses of technology has escaped us. It is with despair that I conclude that we have to start all over again with the demos and resistance, the campaigns and arguments, to roll back this huge and ultimately destructive assault on our civil liberties. Once upon a time the authorities worked at frightening everyone into thinking that the unblinking eye of a deity exercised surveillance and data-gathering over them. Now we have Gordon Brown and Siemens, the real thing, not a myth: the unblinking eye of the security services, the local council, "other public bodies", in our bedrooms, our text messages, our emails, our internet searches. Torquemada and Stalin would have given their right arms for what Gordon Brown will tell us in this autumn's Queen's speech he is intending to introduce. Brown has not even thought of that comparison, shame and double shame upon him. Might it help to read the glutinous websites of the Home Office on surveillance and protection of our liberties? Enjoy, if you can: or weep.

Is this adequate to today, before the new universal surveillance comes on stream? Is it adequate to future developments in surveillance technology, to future even less benign governments, to increased "security" powers in actual or alleged future states of emergency? What new crimes, new criminals, new threats to society, will need to be plucked from the watched masses? Smokers? Readers of unauthorised books? Will old crimes return - homosexuality, Catholicism, Jewishness, atheism, adultery, pre-marital sex?

Will every individual have to be a tight-lipped, right-thinking, timid, dutiful, obedient, queue-forming clone to escape the censure of the unblinking eye now being opened by the state upon us?

We need to stop this assault on civil liberies going further, we need to roll back the attritions they have already suffered, and we need a rock solid written consitution to protect us from those who aim to make us all suspects in the gaze of the unblinking universal eye.

Atheism could be science's contribution to religion

by Matthew Cobb, Jerry Conye

Reposted from:

A letter to Nature.

Nature 454, 1049. 28 Aug 2008

SIR — We were perplexed by your Editorial on the work of the Templeton Foundation ('Templeton's legacy' Nature 454, 253–254; 2008). Surely science is about finding material explanations of the world — explanations that can inspire those spooky feelings of awe, wonder and reverence in the hyper-evolved human brain. Religion, on the other hand, is about humans thinking that awe, wonder and reverence are the clue to understanding a God-built Universe. (The same is true of religion's poor cousin, 'spirituality', which you slip into your Editorial rather as a creationist uses 'intelligent design'.) There is a fundamental conflict here, one that can never be reconciled until all religions cease making claims about the nature of reality. The scientific study of religion is indeed full of big questions that need to be addressed, such as why belief in religion is negatively correlated with an acceptance of evolution. One could consider psychological studies of why humans are superstitious and believe impossible things, and comparative sociological studies of religion using materialist explanations of the rise and fall of the world's belief systems. Perhaps the Templeton Foundation is thinking of funding such research. The outcome of such work, we predict, will not bring science and religion (or 'spirituality') any closer to one another. You suggest that science may bring about "advances in theological thinking". In reality, the only contribution that science can make to the ideas of religion is atheism.

Matthew Cobb Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK e-mail:

Jerry Coyne Department of Ecology and Evolution, The University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA

4. Comment #238293 by SteveN on August 28, 2008 at 12:16 am

For those of you without access to Nature, here is the original editorial to which the letter above is replying:

When a wealthy individual seeks to leave a legacy through scientific philanthropy, researchers usually greet such generosity enthusiastically. But the death of investment mogul John Templeton marks an unusual, and notable, exception. At the time of his passing last week, Templeton had poured some US$1.5 billion into the John Templeton Foundation, which funds research at the intersection of science and spirituality. Critics have maintained that the foundation needlessly conflates science and faith, with some calling for an outright boycott of Templeton funding.

Templeton was a deeply spiritual, albeit unorthodox, individual (see page 290). He lived a life firmly rooted in the Christian traditions of modesty and charity. Yet he was also a great admirer of science, the undogmatic practice of which he believed led to intellectual humility. His love of science and his God led him to form his foundation in 1987 on the basis that a mutual dialogue might enrich the understanding of both.

This publication would turn away from religion in seeking explanations for how the world works, and believes that science is likely to go further in explaining human moral impulses than some religious people will welcome. Thus it shares a degree of suspicion with many in the scientific community at any attempt by religiously driven organizations to fund science. A chief concern is that the influential Templeton Foundation might be seeking to inject religion into the scientific world. And it is easy to understand that concern given the political activism of many American fundamentalists and their efforts to promote ideas such as intelligent design, which posits a divine hand in evolution. The foundation's most vigorous critics accuse it of attempting to lace science with spiritualism.

That claim is somewhat ironic, as Templeton himself seemed to have just the opposite in mind. He believed institutional religion to be antiquated, and hoped a dialogue with researchers might bring about advances in theological thinking. The foundation's substantial funding of science and religion departments around the world is directed towards those ends. Theologians have also used foundation money to develop and promote arguments that reconcile some of the apparent contradictions between science and religion. For those many scientists with a faith, promoting the compatibility of science with faith is a prudent and even necessary goal. Strict atheists may deplore such activities, but they can happily ignore them too.

The foundation's scientific agenda addresses 'big questions', which has sometimes resulted in work that many researchers regard as scientifically marginal. One field popular with the foundation is positive psychology, which seeks to gauge the effects of positive thinking on patients, and which critics argue has yielded little. Also heavily supported are cosmological studies into the existence of multiple universes -- a notion frequently criticized for lying at the edge of falsifiability. The concern is that such research has been unduly elevated by the foundation's backing. But whatever one thinks of positive psychology and the like, the foundation's support has not taken anything away from conventional funding. And in the field of cosmology at least, it has arguably yielded some new and interesting ideas.

The foundation's management now falls chiefly to Templeton's son, John M. Templeton Jr, whose Christian beliefs are reportedly much more conventional than his father's. A critical scrutiny of the foundation's scientific influence continues to be warranted, and no scientific organization should accept sums of money so large that its mission could be perceived as being swayed by religious or spiritual considerations. But critics' total opposition to the Templeton Foundation's unusual mix of science and spirituality is unwarranted.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Science Has No Place in Politics

by Live Science

Thanks to SPS for the link.

Science Has No Place in Politics
Benjamin Radford

Recently, the two men who want to be next president of the United States appeared in a televised two-hour forum on faith, hosted by megachurch minister Rick Warren.

Religion has been problematic for both candidates in their campaigns. Barack Obama's pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, made controversial, conspiracy-laden statements about AIDS and racism, while John McCain's spiritual advisor Rod Parsley claimed that America's "divine purpose" is to destroy Islam, which he considers a "false religion."

Still, it's not hard to see why the pair participated: The so-called Faith Forum had important political implications, as both candidates court conservative Christian voters.

Yet the bigger story is another, lesser-known debate — one that transcends faith or politics. The debate, slated for April 18 in Philadelphia, was arranged by ScienceDebate 2008, a bipartisan group of Nobel laureates and other scholars who want to bring science to the fore of public discussion. The idea of a science debate is supported by virtually every scientific organization in the country, including the National Academy of Sciences.

The reason you probably haven't heard about the Science Debate is that it didn't happen. None of the candidates accepted. They found time for other public forums, including the Faith Forum, and a "Compassion Forum," but when it came to science — the very engine that drives America's technology — the candidates were conspicuously silent.

Discussions of faith and compassion are fine, but solutions to the serious problems facing our nation and indeed the planet can only be found in science. It's not clear why the candidates didn't participate. Perhaps they felt that they weren't well-versed enough in science to really discuss it, lest the forum turn into an embarrassing, gaffe-riddled version of "Jeopardy!" Perhaps they think science isn't sexy, and assumed that they should focus on more fundamental issues like the Iraq war, energy shortages, and the economy.

What they don't seem to understand is that science underlies all those issues, and many more. America needs a science-literate president now more than ever. Both Obama and McCain are intelligent people, but neither seems to recognize the importance of science to the future of our country. The point is not to ask the candidates to explain Faraday's law of induction, or know the difference between mitosis and meiosis, but a basic understanding of what science is, and how it works, is essential to creating good laws and public policy.

It's not too late; Obama and McCain can still have a Science Debate before the election if they realize how important science is. After all, our energy and environmental problems can't be solved with hot air.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Darwin and Darwinism by Richard Dawkins

Explanation of why Darwin was important and the theory of Evolution by Natural Selection..

Source: Atheist Movies file: Darwin and Darwinism.rtf

Darwin and Darwinism
by Richard Dawkins

To most people through history it has always seemed obvious that the teeming diversity of life, the uncanny perfection with which living organisms are equipped to survive and multiply, and the bewildering complexity of living machinery, can only have come about through divine creation. Yet repeatedly it has occurred to isolated thinkers that there might be an alternative to supernatural creation. the notion of species changing into other species was in the air, like so many other good ideas, in ancient Greece. It went into eclipse until the 18th century, when it resurfaced in the minds of such advanced thinkers as Pierre de Maupertuis, Erasmus Darwin and the man who styled himself the Chevalier de Lamarck. In the first half of the 19th century the idea became not uncommon in intellectual circles, especially geological ones, but always in a rather vague form and without any clear picture of the mechanism by which change might come about. It was Charles Darwin (Erasmus's grandson) who, spurred into print by Alfred Russel Wallace's independent discovery of his principle of natural selection, finally established the theory of evolution by the publication, in 1859, of the famous book whose title is usually abbreviated to the Origin of Species.

We should distinguish two quite distinct parts of Darwin's contribution. He amassed an overwhelming quantity of evidence for the fact that evolution has occurred, and, together with Wallace (independently) he thought up the only known workable theory of the reason why it leads to adaptive improvement - natural selection.

Some fossil evidence was known to Darwin but he made more use of other evidence, less direct but in many ways more convincing, for the fact that evolution had taken place. the rapid alteration of animals and plants under domestication was persuasive evidence both for the fact that evolutionary change was possible and for the effectiveness of the artificial equivalent of natural selection. Darwin was particularly persuaded by the evidence from the geographical dispersion of animals. the presence of local island races, for example, is easily explicable by the evolution theory: the creation theory could explain them only by unparsimoniously assuming numerous 'foci of creation' dotted around the earth's surface. the hierarchical classification into which animals and plants fall so naturally is strongly suggestive of a family tree: the creation theory had to make contrived and elaborate assumptions about the creator's mind running along themes and variations. Darwin also used as evidence for his theory the fact that some organs seen in adults and embryos appear to be vestigial. According to the evolution theory such organs as the tiny buried hind-limb bones of whales are remnants of the walking legs of their terrestrial ancestors. In general the evidence for the fact that evolution has occurred consists of an enormous number of detailed observations which all make sense if we assume the theory of evolution, but which can be explained by the creation theory only if we assume that the creator elaborately set out to deceive us. Modern molecular evidence has boosted the evidence for evolution beyond Darwin's wildest dreams, and the fact of evolution is now as securely attested as any in science.

Turning from the fact of evolution to the less secure theory of its mechanism, natural selection, the mechanism that Darwin and Wallace suggested, amounts to the nonrandom survival of randomly varying hereditary characteristics. Other British Victorians, such as Patrick Matthew and Edward Blyth, had suggested something like it before, but they apparently saw it as a negative force only. Darwin and Wallace seem to have been the first to realise its full potential as a positive force guiding the evolution of all life in adaptive directions. Most previous evolutionists, such as Darwin's grandfather Erasmus, had inclined towards an alternative theory of the mechanism of evolution, now usually associated with Lamarck's name. This was the theory that improvements acquired during an organism's lifetime, such as the growth of organs during use and their shrinkage during disuse, were inherited. This theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics has emotional appeal (for example to George Bernard Shaw in his Preface to Back to Methuselah) but the evidence does not support it. Nor is it theoretically plausible. In Darwin's time the matter was more in doubt, and Darwin himself flirted with a personalised version of Lamarckism when his natural selection theory ran into a difficulty.

That difficulty arose from current views of the nature of heredity. In the 19th century it was almost universally assumed that heredity was a blending process. On this blending inheritance theory, not only are offspring intermediate between their two parents in character and appearance, but the hereditary factors that they pass on to their own children are themselves inextricably merged. It can be shown that, if heredity is of this blending type, it is almost impossible for Darwinian natural selection to work because the available variation is halved in every generation. Darwin knew this, and it worried him enough to drive him in the direction of Lamarckism. It may also have contributed to the odd fact that Darwinism suffered a temporary spell of unfashionableness in the early part of the 20th century. the solution to the problem which so worried Darwin lay in Gregor Mendel's theory of particular inheritance, published in 1865 but unfortunately unread by Darwin, or practically anyone else until after Darwin's death.

Mendel's research, rediscovered at the turn of the century, demonstrated, what Darwin himself had at one time dimly glimpsed, that heredity is particulate, not blending. Whether or not offspring are bodily intermediate between their two parents, they inherit, and pass on, discrete hereditary particles - nowadays we call them genes. An individual either definitely inherits a particular gene from a particular parent or it definitely does not. Since the same can be said of its parents, it follows that an individual either inherits a particular gene from a particular grandparent or it does not. Every one of your genes comes from a particular one of your grandparents and, before that, from a particular one of your great grandparents. This argument can be applied repeatedly for an indefinite number of generations. Discrete single genes are shuffled independently through the generations like cards in a pack, rather than being mixed like the ingredients of a pudding.

This makes all the difference to the mathematical plausibility of the theory of natural selection. If heredity is particulate, natural selection really can work. As was first realised by the British mathematician G H Hardy and the German scientist W Weinberg, there is no inherent tendency for genes to disappear from the gene pool. If they do disappear, it will be because of bad luck, or because of natural selection - because something about those genes influences the probability that individuals possessing them will survive and reproduce. the modern version of Darwinism, often called Neodarwinism, is based upon this insight. It was worked out in the 1920s and 1930s by the population geneticists R A Fisher, J B S Haldane and Sewall Wright, and later consolidated into the synthesis of the 1940s known as Neodarwinism. the recent revolution in molecular biology, beginning in the 1950s, has reinforced and confirmed, rather than changed, the synthetic theory of the 1930s and 40s.

the modern genetic theory of natural selection can be summarised as follows. the genes of a population of sexually interbreeding animals or plants constitute a gene pool. the genes compete in the gene pool in something like the same way as the early replicating molecules competed in the primeval soup. In practice genes in the gene pool spend their time either sitting in individual bodies which they helped to build, or travelling from body to body via sperm or egg in the process of sexual reproduction. Sexual reproduction keeps the genes shuffled, and it is in this sense that the long-term habitat of a gene is the gene pool. Any given gene originates in the gene pool as a result of a mutation, a random error in the gene-copying process. Once a new mutation has been formed, it can spread through the gene pool by means of sexual mixing. Mutation is the ultimate origin of genetic variation. Sexual reproduction, and genetic recombination due to crossing over see to it that genetic variation is rapidly distributed and recombined in the gene pool.

Any given gene in a gene pool is likely to exist in the form of several duplicate copies, either all descended from the same original mutant, or descended from independent parallel mutants. therefore each gene can be said to have a frequency in the gene pool. Some genes, such as the albino gene, are rare in the gene pool, others are common. At the genetic level, evolution may be defined as the process by which gene-frequencies change in gene pools.

there are various reasons why gene-frequencies might change: immigration, emigration, random drift, and natural selection. Immigration, emigration, and random drift are not of much interest from the point of view of adaptation, although they may be quite important in practice. It is natural selection which accounts for the perfection of adaptation, for the complex functional organisation of life, and for such progressive qualities as evolution may (controversially) exhibit. Genes in bodies exert an influence on the development of those bodies. Some bodies are better at surviving and reproducing than others. Good bodies, i.e. bodies that are good at surviving and reproducing, will tend to contribute more genes to the gene pools of the future than bodies that are bad at surviving and reproducing: genes that tend to make good bodies will come to predominate in gene pools. Natural selection is the differential survival and differential reproductive success of bodies: it is important because of its consequences for the differential survival of genes in gene pools.

Not all selective deaths lead to evolutionary change. On the contrary, much natural selection is so-called stabilising selection, removing genes from the gene pool that tend to cause deviation from an already optimal form. But when environmental conditions change, either through natural catastrophe or through evolutionary improvement of other creatures (predators, prey, parasites, and so on), selection may lead to evolutionary change.

Evolution under the influence of natural selection leads to adaptive improvement. Evolution, whether under the influence of natural selection or not, leads to divergence and diversity. From a single ultimate ancestor, many hundreds of millions of separate species have, at one time or another, evolved. the process whereby one species splits into two is called speciation. Subsequent divergence leads to ever wider separation of taxonomic units - genera, families, orders, classes, etc. Even creatures as different as, say, snails and monkeys, are derived from ancestors who originally diverged from a single species in a speciation event.

Since the 1940s it has been widely accepted that the first step in the origin of species is normally geographical separation. A species is accidentally divided into two geographically separated populations. Often there may be sub-populations isolated on islands, where the word is generalised to include islands of water in land (lakes), islands of vegetation in deserts (oases) etc. Even trees in a meadow may be effective islands to some of their small inhabitants. Geographical isolation means no gene flow, no sexual contamination of each gene pool by the other. Under these conditions the average gene frequencies in the two gene pools can change, either because of different selection pressures or because of random statistical changes in the two areas, After sufficient genetic divergence while in geographical isolation, the two sub-populations are no longer capable of interbreeding even if later circumstances chance to re-unite them. When they can no longer interbreed, speciation is said to have occurred and a new species (or two) is said to have come into being. It is controversial whether geographical separation is always necessarily implicated in speciation.

Darwin made a distinction between natural selection, which favours organs and devices for survival, and sexual selection which favours competitive success in gaining mates, either by direct combat with members of the same sex, or by being attractive to the opposite sex (these are sometimes called intrasexual selection and intersexual selection, respectively, but the usage is misleading). Darwin was impressed by the fact that qualities of sexual attractiveness were often the reverse of qualities leading to individual survival. the gaudy and cumbersome tails of birds of paradise are a notorious example. they must hamper their possessors in flight, and certainly they are conspicuous to predators, but Darwin realised that this could be 'worth it' if the tails also attractive females. A male who manages to persuade a female to mate with him rather than with a rival is likely to contribute his genes to future gene pools. Genes for sexually attractive tails willy-nilly have an advantage that compensates for their admitted disadvantages.

the philosopher Daniel Dennett has written: "Let me lay my cards on the table. If I were to give an award for the single best idea anyone has ever had, I'd give it to Darwin, ahead of Newton and Einstein and everyone else." Comparative judgments like that are hard to make. But on one criterion Darwin's contribution surely heads the field. the sheer power of the idea, measured as the amount of explanatory work that it does, divided by the extreme simplicity of the idea itself, leaves one astonished that humanity had to wait till the mid nineteenth century before one of us thought of it.

A longer version of this article, authored by Richard Dawkins, first appeared in the British Edition of Microsoft(r) Encarta(r) Encyclopedia 98.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

IntenseDebate commenting

I've implemented IntenseDebate commenting system which allows, inter alia, threaded comments.

Why Dawkins is right and his critics are wrong

NSS Editorial

Why Dawkins is right and his critics are wrong
As the Channel 4 series The Genius of Charles Darwin drew to an end on Monday, the usual chorus of insults reined down on the head of its star, Richard Dawkins. Despite the fact that Dawkins went out of his way to avoid bad-tempered arguments or overt proselytising on atheism, his critics saw only what they wanted to see – and often that was not what appeared on the screen.

In one section of the film, Dawkins met a class of schoolchildren and asked them what they knew about evolution. Most said they had the rudiments, but also stated that they preferred to stick with their religion’s explanation. Dawkins took them to a beach in Dorset to hunt for fossils. He gave them a quick lesson on how these ancient relics illustrated clearly that life on earth was tens, if not hundreds, of millions of years old. Not six thousand, which is what their religion told them.

Some of the children, though, were impervious to this knowledge, and Dawkins was disappointed. But he did not challenge them or demand that they change their mind. The Radio Times, however, still published a letter from someone criticising the programme, saying Dawkins “tried to promulgate his atheist doctrine amongst schoolchildren.”

AA Gill in The Sunday Times wrote: “His anger and bombast stand in stark contrast to Darwin’s quiet, inquisitive humility.”

Michael Deacon, the Telegraph’s critic, too, couldn’t resist a pop: “I, too, am an atheist”, he wrote, “yet Dawkins is so fanatical that I find myself playing devil’s advocate, or in this case God’s.”

It was sad to see Libby Purves, once a half-decent journalist, now obsessed with religion. She has a “Faith” column on the Times website of such unutterable stupidity it leaves one wondering how this once-great newspaper fell into the hands of such nincompoops. She wrote of schoolchildren’s fossil-hunt: “The moment one of them found an ammonite on the beach, Professor Dawkins demanded instant atheism.”

What programme were these people watching? I saw none of this. It is quite clear that Richard Dawkins has learned his lesson from previous programmes and tries to subdue his personal annoyance at the wilful ignorance he encounters. I thought he was the model of restraint when confronted with John Mackay, a leading creationist who insisted that “before the flood, people lived to be one thousand years old” and the “science teacher” at a state-funded grammar school who insisted that the earth as no more than 6,000 years old.

And that is before we came to the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose famous silver-tongue seemed to become tied as he foundered to find a way out of the logical mess he created when trying to square his beliefs with reality. I thought Dawkins let him off rather lightly when he put the embarrassing evasions down to the use of “poetic language”.

Richard Dawkins wasn’t prepared to say it on air, but I’ll say it for him here – if the Archbishop truly believes what he said on Monday’s programme, then he is a deluded fool. He’s often advertised as an intellectual giant. Intellect giant? I’ve said before and I’ll say it again now – it’s all flim-flam. Rowan Williams is an emperor with no clothes, and in this film we glimpsed his nakedness.

I don’t know what it is that makes sensible people want to throw in their lot with the creationists and intelligent design merchants as soon as Dawkins’ name is mentioned. Maybe it is some kind of residual feeling that they must be respectful of religion, even when it propounds absurdities. They think it shouldn’t be attacked because nice people believe in it as well as murderous wackoes.

But as Dawkins pointed out – the nice people who subscribe to ridiculous things simply open the door to the nasties who want to blow us up or impose their fantasies on us by law.

Creationism is stupid and that’s all there is to it. There is no equivalence with science, and we must resist the claim that there is. Creationism belongs with the other fairy tales and horror stories that make up religious education; and religious education belongs in church, not in school.

22 August 2008

The Genius of Darwin by Richard Dawkins, Part 3 (1-5)

The Genius of Darwin by Richard Dawkins: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Richard Dawkins Part 3 (1-5)

Richard Dawkins' Genius Of Darwin - Part 3 (1 of 5)

Richard Dawkins' Genius Of Darwin - Part 3 (2 of 5)

Richard Dawkins' Genius Of Darwin - Part 3 (3 of 5)

Richard Dawkins' Genius Of Darwin - Part 3 (4 of 5)

Richard Dawkins' Genius Of Darwin - Part 3 (5 of 5)

The Genius of Darwin by Richard Dawkins, Part 2 (1 to 5)

The Genius of Darwin by Richard Dawkins: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Richard Dawkins' Genius Of Darwin - Part 2 (1 of 5)

Richard Dawkins' Genius Of Darwin - Part 2 (2 of 5)

Richard Dawkins' Genius Of Darwin - Part 2 (3 of 5)

Richard Dawkins' Genius Of Darwin - Part 2 (4 of 5)

Richard Dawkins' Genius Of Darwin - Part 2 (5 of 5)

The Genius of Darwin by Richard Dawkins, Part 1 (1 to 5)

The Genius of Darwin by Richard Dawkins: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Richard Dawkins' Genius Of Darwin - Part 1 (1 of 5)

Richard Dawkins' Genius Of Darwin - Part 1 (2 of 5)

Richard Dawkins' Genius Of Darwin - Part 1 (3 of 5)

Richard Dawkins' Genius Of Darwin - Part 1 (4 of 5)

Richard Dawkins' Genius Of Darwin - Part 1 (5 of 5)

Humanism is more part of an enlightened, liberal tradition than mere atheism

Face to faith

Humanism is more part of an enlightened, liberal tradition than mere atheism, says Mark Vernon

For many people today, perhaps most, humanism is tantamount to atheism. The leading humanist organisations, which are atheistic, appear to have sealed the impression. They have lobbied for humanism to be taught as an alternative to faith in schools, and have won. Little wonder, then, that in religious circles, the H-word is almost a dirty word.

But if humanism makes believers feel uncomfortable, might it be because their institutions need to recover a human face?

Consider, say, religious institutions' attitude towards women and gay people - which is to say, the majority of human beings. It is characterised by equivocation at best, and very often outright denunciation. Or think of the concept of liberalism, another great humanist cause. It finds a religious articulation with Elizabeth I and her refusal to make "windows into men's souls". Her desire was to keep faith with human individuals, as God did when he made a covenant with the ancient people of Israel. In short, it's Biblical. So why do so many contemporary religious leaders seem wary of being thought a liberal?

In fact, perhaps contemporary humanism is actually a friend, only in the guise of a foe. What is it calling believers to remember and revive? Well, consider the history. Humanism was originally a religious movement that emerged in the late medieval period. There was Averroes, the great scholar of Islamic humanism, who wrote such a masterful commentary on Aristotle that for centuries in Europe he was known simply as "The Commentator". Or there is Maimonides, the Jewish philosopher. In his book, The Guide for the Perplexed, he argued that scientific and religious knowledge are intimately related, with advances in the former directly shaping the latter.

Moving into the Renaissance, the golden age for humanism, we encounter the Italian, Ficino. An enormously influential translator of Plato, he followed the ancient Athenian in describing how human love moves from the physical to the spiritual and so towards the divine.
(Moreover, Ficino was not bothered by the fact that Plato thought of human love mostly in the guise of homosexual love.) Or again: perhaps the greatest humanist scholar of the period was the devout Christian, Erasmus. His book, Praise of Folly, pricked ecclesiastic pretensions with abandon. He might also be called the father of Biblical criticism: he posed brave questions about the authorship of books in the New Testament as early as 1516.

In the 20th century, humanism found new champions. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed by the Nazis, argued that Christianity should reject supernaturalism and otherworldliness to become non-religious and secular. He thought the modern world had come of age because it could be accountable to itself. Alternatively, the Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner, championed humanist approaches to doctrine at the second Vatican council. He wrote that when human beings are human in the fullest sense, they are "God's existence in the world".

It is hard to define humanism. Throughout the 20th century there have really been humanisms - Marxist, pragmatist and existentialist varieties, alongside the atheistic and religious. What they have in common is their anthropocentrism: the celebration of human science, human scholarship, human sentiments. Surely, people of faith should not shy from them today but continue to embrace them?

Philip Pullman has called on atheists to "not distort or misrepresent" religion. They should look to the best in the tradition, as they look to the best in science and philosophy. Well, people of faith need to respond to that challenge too, and keep their eyes focused on the best. The word "humanism" captures much of that.

Mark Vernon is the author of Teach Yourself Humanism (Hodder Education), with a foreword by Philip Pullman, published this month. Available from HASSERS Amazon Bookstore.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The rise of Miliband brings at last the prospect of an atheist prime minister

In this climate of quarrels between religionists and secularists, there are very many reasons to hope for a non-believer at No 10

When Labour cabinet members were asked about their religious allegiances last December, following Tony Blair's official conversion to Roman Catholicism, it turned out that more than half of them are not believers. The least equivocal about their atheism were the health secretary, Alan Johnson, and foreign secretary David Miliband.

The fact that Miliband is an atheist is a matter of special interest given the likelihood that he may one day, and perhaps soon, occupy No 10. In our present uncomfortable climate of quarrels between pushy religionists and resisting secularists - or attack-dog secularists and defensive religionists: which side you are on determines how you see it - there are many reasons why it would be a great advantage to everyone to have an atheist prime minister.

Atheist leaders are not going to think they are getting messages from Beyond telling them to go to war. They will not cloak themselves in supernaturalistic justifications, as Blair came perilously close to doing when interviewed about the decision to invade Iraq.

Atheist leaders will be sceptical about the claims of religious groups to be more important than other civil society organisations in doing good, getting public funds, meriting special privileges and exemptions from laws, and having seats in the legislature and legal protection from criticism, satire and challenge.

Atheist leaders are going to be more sceptical about inculcating sectarian beliefs into small children ghettoised into publicly funded faith-based schools, risking social divisiveness and possible future conflict. They will be readier to learn Northern Ireland's bleak lesson in this regard.

Atheist leaders will, by definition, be neutral between the different religious pressure groups in society, and will have no temptation not to be even-handed because of an allegiance to the outlook of just one of those groups.

Atheist leaders are more likely to take a literally down-to-earth view of the needs, interests and circumstances of people in the here and now, and will not be influenced by the belief that present sufferings and inequalities will be compensated in some posthumous dispensation. This is not a trivial point: for most of history those lower down the social ladder have been promised a perch at the top when dead, and kept quiet thereby. The claim that in an imperfect world one's hopes are better fixed on the afterlife than on hopes of earthly paradises is official church doctrine.

Atheist leaders will not be tempted to think they are the messenger of any good news from above, or the agent of any higher purpose on earth. Or at very least, they will not think this literally.

Best of all, if David Miliband becomes prime minister, the prospect of disestablishment of the Church of England will have come closer. This is a matter of importance, for two chief reasons. The first is that the CofE's privileged position gives other religious groups too much incentive to try sharp-elbowing their way into getting similar privileges, such as the ear of ministers, tax exemptions, public funding for their own sect's faith schools, and the big prize of seats in the legislature.

Secondly, the CofE has far too big a footprint in the public domain, out of all proportion to the actual numbers it represents: just 2% of the population go weekly to its churches. Yet it controls the primary school system - 80% of it - and a substantial proportion of the secondary school system, with dozens more academy schools soon due to fall under its control. It is entitled to have 26 bishops sitting in the House of Lords, plus a number more who have been made life peers on retiring;
and it has the automatic ear of government - do not suppose that if Rowan Williams phones No 10 he is told no one is at home.

Having a statedly atheist British prime minister makes it more likely that the functional secularity of British life and politics, the foregoing exceptions noted, will become actual secularity. Secularism means that matters of public policy and government are not under the influence, still less control, of sectarian religious interests. The phrase "separation of church and state" does not quite capture the sense in which a genuinely secular arrangement keeps religious voices on a par with all other non-governmental voices in the public square, and all the non-governmental players in the public square separate from the government itself. It means that churches and religious movements have to see themselves as civil society organisations like trades unions, political parties, the Scouts, and so on: with every right to exist, and to have their say, but as self-constituted interest groups no more entitled to a bigger share of the public pie of influence, privilege, tax handouts, and legal exemptions than any other self-appointed interest group.

As things stand, religious groups in our society get a slice of the pie vastly larger than their numbers or merits truly justify. The big advantage of an atheist prime minister would be that he or she would see that fact, and act accordingly. An atheist is not going to have the lingering sense that because someone has chosen to believe one or another ancient dogma, he is to be respected and honoured, listened to, given the public's money to bring up his children in the same beliefs and exempted from some of the laws of the land.

Note that none of the foregoing represents either a desire or a prediction that an atheist prime minister will actively militate against religion, certainly not by outlawing it or passing laws that make religious observance more difficult. Instead, one result of the removal of privileges and public money might be that the artificial amplification of religious voices and points of view in our society, and the hold that religion can exert on children and the psychologically needy, might become less. Religion flourishes in conditions of active support and active persecution; in a socially and politically liberal climate it diminishes through natural causes.

Religion is a matter of choice in that, unlike race, age, gender or disability, you can change it, or not have it at all. True, most people's faith was driven into them when they were small children, and belief can be hard to shake off if your community will reject or hurt you for your apostasy. But it is still fundamentally voluntary. As such it should pay its own way and take its place in the queue along with everyone else. That is something that an atheist prime minister might say, and we might all breathe a great deal more easily as a result.

Despite appearances, the world is not seeing a resurgence of religion, only a big turning-up of the volume of religious voices. This is itself a response to increasing secularism among people tired of the disruptions, obstructions and conflicts religion so often causes. Public acknowledgement of atheism by a senior politician who might soon lead his country is just one indicator of the fact that the tide is actually running in the opposite direction: and that is a welcome and hopeful sign.

· AC Grayling is professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Evolutionary Tree of Life reviewed by crabsallover

In 1866 (just seven years after publication by Charles Darwins' "The Origin of the Species" in 1859) Haeckel's published his 'Tree of Life' showing the relationship between Plantae, Protista and Animalae.

In 1977 Carl Woese (wikipedia & homepage & A New Biology for a New Century (2004)) hypothesis was that organisms are subdivided into three domains (Archaea, eukaryote, bacteria) not just two domains (eukaryote and prokaryote) .

"Having defined Archaea as a new domain, Woese redrew the taxonomic tree. His three-domain system, based upon genetic relationships rather than obvious morphological similarities, divided life into 23 main divisions, all incorporated within three domains: Bacteria, Archaea, and Eucarya. Archaea are neither Bacteria nor Eukaryotes. Looked at another way, they are Prokaryotes that are not Bacteria. "(source: Carl Woese - wikipedia)
The Universal Tree of Life is understood by differences in ribosomal RNA. (source: fig 1, PNAS).

19th August 2008: In a Press Release, which was picked up by DailyTech, then Richard new research published in PNAS next week confirms that Archaea (extreme thermophiles (high temperature loving) or halophiles (high salt loving)) are more closely related to Eucarya (animals, plants, fungi) than Bacteria. (see diagram).

Woese was the first to look for signs of evolution in the ribosome, where genetic information is translated into proteins. In the mid-1970s, he and his colleagues found consistent differences in the sequence of nucleotides that spell out the RNA of the ribosome in bacteria and archaea.

These "molecular signatures" were so pronounced that Woese concluded that the archaea comprised a separate domain of life, distinct from bacteria and eukarya (animals, plants, fungi and protists). His classification system is now widely accepted.

The original work by Carl Woese was reported in Microbiological Reviews (1987).

Carl Woess (fig 4 above) indicates the relationship between the Archaea, Eucarya and Bacteria was not well established.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Critical thinking

Mark Edon's rules to stop you being fooled in life: Falsifiability or Contingency, Logic, Comprehensiveness, Honesty, Replicability, Sufficiency.


Librarything books by psiloiordinary.

The Discovery Institute vs Darwins Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection

The Discovery Institute has a blog Intelligent Design The Future with contributors Michael Behe, William Dembski et al.

Is ID Creationism? William Dembski Answers Top Three Objections to ID
- listen (16 minutes). WD talks about an unlikely event coupled with a pattern can be evidence of ID; design that is not perfect; blood clotting cascade is designed; ID is not repackaged Creationism.

crabsallover says "WD believes that some biochemical pathways including the blood clotting cascade are evidence for an Intelligent Designer. Hoewever like the eye, I'm sure a case could be made (I don't have any references right now) showing how the blood clotting mechanisms has evolved by natural selection."

Dissent from has a list of scientists who question Darwinism's central tenet of natural selection as a means of fully explaining the complexity of living things:-

The Discovery Institute A SCIENTIFIC DISSENT FROM DARWINISM (April 2008)
“We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”
includes 26 UK Ph.D
and 6 Professors (2 Emeritus) from UK Universities:

Alan Linton Emeritus Professor of Bacteriology University of Bristol (UK)
Stuart C. Burgess Professor of Design & Nature, Dept. of Mechanical Engineering
University of Bristol (UK)
John C. Walton Professor of Reactive Chemistry (Ph.D. & D.Sc.) University of St. An
drews (UK)
Derek Linkens Senior Research Fellow and Emeritus Professor (Biomedical Eng.) University of Sheffield (UK)
Colin R. Reeves Professor of Operational Research (Ph.D. Evolutionary Algorithms) Coventry University (UK)
Andy McIntosh Full Professor of Thermodynamics and Combustion Theory University of Leeds (UK)

Signers of the Scientific Dissent From Darwinism must either hold a Ph.D. in a scientific field such as biology, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, computer science, or one of the other natural sciences; or they must hold an M.D. and serve as a professor of medicine.

crabsallover says "Only FOUR UK Professors that are still in work support this document! There must be 100s of UK Professors that object to it!! (I don't have the evidence for this assertion, right now)."

Debating Creationists

Over fifty comments on whether or not to debate Creationists on a radio programme at UK Brights. Oeditor (Brian) refers to TalkOrigins - Index to Creationist Claims. If one debated a creationist these are the arguments and counter arguments. TalkOrigins (huge) archive was last updated in 2006.

TalkOrigins (bottom of page) recommends The
Panda's Thumb which is a blog ('defenders of the integrity of science') with current news on Creationism and an active (most users ever online was 1043 on Aug. 12 2008) forum which is part of The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

The Counter-Creationism Handbook
Examples from TalkOrigins edited by Mark Isaak (I've selected the first few lines of each topic heading):-


CA: Philosophy and Theology

CB: Biology

CC: Paleontology

CD: Geology

CE: Astronomy and Cosmology

CF: Physics and Mathematics

CG: Miscellaneous Anti-Evolution

CH: Biblical Creationism

CI: Intelligent Design

CJ: Other Creationism

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Freedom of speech by Edward Baker

source: Edward Baker - In Defense of Reason blog - who said:-

Freedom of speech is an important concept. It means that I am free to write pretty much what I want to on here. But it also means that people can write and speak about ideas that I personally find abhorrent. These two views then enable us, and others to discuss what we have said. This is the principal of debate.

If you live in the UK I assume you have already connected this ramble with a certain event at the Oxford Union recently, where Nick Baker of the BNP and holocaust denier David Irving were invited to speak.

I have never been to the Oxford Union, but I imagine that it is a place where the views of these two men, whose thoughts and agendas I don’t agree with, can be challenged in a rigorous and intellectual way. I have no issue with the open discussion of whatever these people believe.

What is abhorrent to me is the protest against these people being allowed to speak. Would they not protest against religious, sexual, racial or any other form of discrimination in a country where this discrimination is the norm? Just because someone has a different view, however much you personally dislike it, does not mean that they do not have the same right to say it as anyone else.

By letting them speak we can find out what they have to say, and then we can make up our own minds. We may agree, or we may decide they are cretins. Freedom of speech then gives us the freedom to say, if we want to, that we totally disagree and give our reasons.

Let’s not be afraid of these people, let’s give them the rope by which they can hang themselves.