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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Born believers: How your brain creates God

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In a recent article in New Scientist, issue 2694, Michael Brooks examines new evidence provided by studies on children to see whether we are “born believers”. The article is entitled Born believers: How your brain creates God and can be found at http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126941.700.

Synopsis

An anomaly was documented during the ’70s relating to the Great Depression, when authoritarian churches saw a rise in attendance. The phenomenon is only now beginning to be understood, as new research is taking place. They discovered that the human brain has a natural tendency to believe in religion, especially during hard times. The more insecure you feel, the less you can pull away from the supernatural world. Until recently, science has largely shied away from asking why. “It’s not that religion is not important,” says Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale University, “it’s that the taboo nature of the topic has meant there has been little progress.”

Anthropologist Scott Atran of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and others suggest that religion emerges as a natural by-product of the way the human mind works. Paul Bloom says “There’s now a lot of evidence that some of the foundations for our religious beliefs are hard-wired,”. Research done on children suggests there is a “default state” of the mind, which persists into adulthood in a modified form. “Children the world over have a strong natural receptivity to believing in gods because of the way their minds work, and this early developing receptivity continues to anchor our intuitive thinking throughout life,” says anthropologist Justin Barrett of the University of Oxford.
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BBC: Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life by David Attenborough

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In BBC’s Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life David Attenborough asks three key questions: “how and why did Darwin come up with his theory of evolution? Why do we think he was right? And why is it more important now than ever before?”

1. BBC iPlayer – it only streams to UK-based users.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00hd5mf/Charles_Darwin_and_the_Tree_of_Life/

Here’s an animation of the Evolutionary road extracted from the end of the documentary with commentary by Sir David.



The BBC had this to say about the program:

David starts his journey in Darwin‘s home at Down House in Kent, where Darwin worried and puzzled over the origins of life. David goes back to his roots in Leicestershire, where he hunted for fossils as a child, and where another schoolboy unearthed a significant find in the 1950s. And he revisits Cambridge University, where both he and Darwin studied, and where many years later the DNA double helix was discovered, providing the foundations for genetics.

At the end of his journey in the Natural History Museum in London, David concludes that Darwin’s great insight revolutionised the way in which we see the world. We now understand why there are so many different species, and why they are distributed in the way they are. But above all, Darwin has shown us that we are not set apart from the natural world, and do not have dominion over it. We are subject to its laws and processes, as are all other animals on earth to which, indeed, we are related.

Broadcast on: BBC One, 9:00pm Sunday 1st February
Duration: 60 minutes
Available until: 9:59pm Sunday 8th February
Key talent: David Attenborough
Categories: Factual, Science,Nature & Environment

THE JESUS PROJECT: Was Christ real?

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Reposted from: http://www.thestar.com/article/557548
For scholars, a combustible question: Was Christ real?

New effort aims to avoid circus of ‘Jesus Seminar’ while probing deeper than past attempts

Dec 27, 2008 04:30 AM SPECIAL TO THE STAR

Earlier this month, just before most Christians would mark the birth of their saviour, a group of scholars gathered in Amherst, N.Y. to begin pondering a simple yet combustible question: Did Jesus Christ exist?

It’s an issue heavy with theological baggage and poised to offend more than a few Christians: Polls by University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby in his latest book The Boomer Factor show two out of three Canadians believe Jesus is the divine son of God.

By now, the whole question might seem tired, almost banal. Former Toronto Star religion writer Tom Harpur certainly won recognition, and notoriety, for arguing in his explosive 2004 book The Pagan Christ, that Jesus was a legend rooted in Egyptian myths thousands of years before the Gospels were written (though that was not a new position).

But over the past 150 years of efforts to find the historical Jesus, the vast majority of scholars have settled on the baseline belief that a Jewish teacher from Galilee named Yeshua did indeed live some 2,000 years ago, and spoke about the Kingdom of God.

Even so, the Jesus Project is proceeding from point zero, billing itself as “the first methodologically agnostic approach” to the question of Jesus’s historical existence. It promises “the most rigorous methods, data, and open debate.”

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Earth’s Original Ancestor Was LUCA, Not Adam Nor Eve

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ScienceDaily (Dec. 17, 2008) — Here’s another argument against intelligent design. An evolutionary geneticist from the Université de Montréal, together with researchers from the French cities of Lyon and Montpellier, have published a ground-breaking study that characterizes the common ancestor of all life on earth, LUCA (Last Universal Common Ancestor). Their findings, presented in a recent issue of Nature, show that the 3.8-billion-year-old organism was not the creature usually imagined.

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‘Jesus was born in June’, astronomers claim

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Jesus was born in June, "Adoration of the Shepherds" by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

Jesus was born in June

‘Jesus was born in June’, astronomers claim
5:08 PM GMT 09 Dec 2008
Reposted from Telegraph.co.uk:

Astronomers have calculated that Christmas should be in June, by charting the appearance of the ‘Christmas star’ which the Bible says led the three Wise Men to Jesus.

They found that a bright star which appeared over Bethlehem 2000 years ago pinpointed the date of Christ’s birth as June 17 rather than December 25.

The researchers claim the ‘Christmas star’ was most likely a magnificent conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter, which were so close together they would have shone unusually brightly as a single “beacon of light” which appeared suddenly.

If the team is correct, it would mean Jesus was a Gemini, not a Capricorn as previously believed.

Australian astronomer Dave Reneke used complex computer software to chart the exact positions of all celestial bodies and map the night sky as it would have appeared over the Holy Land more than 2,000 years ago.

It revealed a spectacular astronomical event around the time of Jesus’s birth.
Mr Reneke says the wise men probably interpreted it as the sign they had been waiting for, and they followed the ‘star’ to Christ’s birthplace in a stable in Bethlehem, as described in the Bible.

Generally accepted research has placed the nativity to somewhere between 1AD and 3BC.
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Why Science is not as popular as it used to be.

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The answer to this question is quite simple: science today is too complex for the average Joe to understand, and scientists are not doing much to change that, so they just stop trying and ignore it.

Science today influences our lives less than it did 50-100 years ago. Of course there are new gadgets and technology but nothing life-changing like the TV, radio or electricity just to name a few. Most of the developments now are being built upon pre-existing technology/devices like flat-screen TVs instead of black & white and it’s gone from analog to digital. Sure we get more channels now, but nothing has fundamentally changed. Our habits change and adapt to advances.

Quantum physics and string theory are not as attractive as relativity or splitting atoms. The average Joe can understand what splitting an atom means – he thinks it’s like cutting a fruit in half – but multiple universes with different constants is something more difficult to grasp and thus less attractive. Like Richard Feynman, winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, once said ‘if you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics’. Because it’s less attractive the media chooses not to emphasize on new scientific discoveries but bring to press things like sports, weather, gossip and the zodiac. That information sell, science does not.

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