Christopher Hitchens about The Axes of Evil

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Christopher Hitchens gave a speech at the Centre for American Studies at the University of Western Ontario on March 8th 2005 about the Axes of Evil.

Hitchens speaks about his time in Iran, North Korea, Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, Romania and details his experience in and thoughts about the totalitarian regimes in The Axes of Evil.

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1.8M year old skull changes how we understand Evolution

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From PBS Newshour: Research based on a 1.8 million-year-old skull shows that human evolution may have followed a straighter line than scientists previously thought. The skull, unearthed in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, is the most complete ever found of a human ancestor and marks the earliest evidence of human ancestors leaving Africa.

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Ida, the missing evolutionary link found

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Hands and wrist of Darwinius masillae, new genus and species.

Hands and wrist of Darwinius masillae

Scientists have uncovered a 47 million year old primate fossil in the Messel Pit, in Germany. Ida (Darwinius masillae), as the fossil was named, is believed to be The Missing Evolutionary link between humans and early primates. Scientists have theorised Ida’s existence for decades but were unable to prove because of the “missing” evidence. Darwin himself mentioned transitional species linking humans to the rest of the tree of life in his book On the Origin of Species, and this discovery adds to the already existing body of evidence gathered by scientists since Darwin’s time. Further research into the specimen is expected to bring more insight into early mammal evolution.

Sir David Attenborough explains why this discovery is of such significance:

This little creature is going to show us our connection with the rest of all the mammals.

People can say: OK, you say we’re primates, like monkeys and apes, and that we came from very simple – generalized – mammals. Show us the link! The link, they would have said, until now, is missing. Well, it is no longer missing.

Learn more about Ida on its website: http://www.revealingthelink.com/

Read the published research article about Ida: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0005723

The Four Horsemen have a chat

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Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, the Four Horsemen representing some of the great voices of reason in this overly-religious world, sat down for a two-hour chat in September 2007. The four atheist writers traded stories of the public reaction from their book tours, and discuss the unexpected success and reviews they had. They discuss the tough questions about religion that face the world today, and propose new strategies for going forward. You may view the video below – it’s a playlist for both videos.

The video is available in HighDefinition on the Youtube website. Just click the “watch in HD” link below the video.

Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DKhc1pcDFM

Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TaeJf-Yia3A

I would like to thank the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science for providing us with a free copy of the video and for posting it on Youtube, on their channel. You can support the RDFSR by buying the video, and they pledge Continue reading

Romanian Government builds 1290 churches, raises clergy pay

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Romanian Orthodox Church Seal

Last week, Parliament approved the Romanian Government’s 2009 budget, but not before adding a few more churches to the already large list that were to be supported with public money. Giving money to the Romanian Orthodox Church and other denominations is no new habit, but this year many think, including christians, that the Government has gone too far, by allocating 0.178% of GDP (135,217,000 lei,about 32 mil. Euros) for the building, repairing and painting of a combined number of 2313 churches this year, the same amount of money as was given to the Ministry of Education for research (which coincidentally was reduced 3 fold).

The Romanian Government also proposed that clergy, church employees and theology university professors get a 50% raise this year on their state-given salaries. The sum designated for these salaries is 280.7 mill. Lei, about 66 mil. Euros and it is 66.6% larger than last year.

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Arkansas may allow atheists to take office, testify

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Arkansas Seal

Rep. Richard Carroll, a member of the Green Party, proposed a resolution to modify Article 19 Section 1 of the 1874 Arkansas Constitution which states that No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any court.”

The Arkansas Constitution is unconstitutional. In a 1961 ruling The U.S. Supreme Court ruled “We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person ‘to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.” in a Maryland case. Richard Carroll is looking to abolish this act of discrimination.

Not allowing atheists to take office is one thing – not that any could get elected in the Bible Belt, but not allowing them to testify in court is just plain silly. That would mean not letting them defend themselves in court. This is a perfect example what religious nut jobs in the US have been up to for more than 130 years. There is no guarantee that the resolution will pass, but it is a sign that at least some members of the Arkansas Legislature are waking up to reality. Meanwhile, in a related story, the Arkansas House passed a bill Wednesday allowing people to bring their guns to church.

Humans are still evolving

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In a recent book entitled The 10,000 Year Explosion: How civilization accelerated human evolution, anthropologists Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending of Utah University explain why they think humans are evolving, and at an accelerated rate. This theory is raising eyebrows as many evolutionary biologists think human kind has reached a plateau from an evolutionary point of view.

The scientists drew upon a database that contains patterns of human genetic variation and also on the Human Genome Project. Cochran and Harpending say that one of the factors that increased evolution’s pace was rapid cultural changes, brought forward by the invention of agriculture and urbanization.

New Scientist Magazine reports on the book:

“They found strong evidence that advantageous alleles in these regions [i.e. Europe and Africa] are sweeping through the human population – evidence of natural selection at work. These sweeps began earlier in Africa than in Europe, perhaps 80,000 and 40,000 years ago, respectively.”

“The evidence the authors present builds an overwhelming case that natural selection has recently acted strongly on us and may be continuing unabated, though the authors’ estimate of a 100-fold increase in the rate of recent evolution seems too high.”

You can read a full review of the book on the New Scientist website here.

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