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Pathways to sex

Pharyngula - March 11, 2014 - 2:06pm

I was talking about sex and nothing but sex all last week in genetics, which is far less titillating than it sounds. My focus was entirely on operational genetics, that is, how autosomal inheritance vs inheritance of factors on sex chromosomes differ, and I only hinted at how sex is not inherited as a simple mendelian trait, as we’re always tempted to assume, but is actually the product of a whole elaborate chain of epistatic interactions. I’m always tempted in this class to go full-blown rabid developmental geneticist on them and do nothing but talk about interactions between genes, but I manage to restrain myself every time — we have a curriculum and a focus for this course, and it’s basic transmission genetics, and I struggle to get general concepts across before indulgence in my specific interests. Stick to the lesson plan! Try not to break everyone’s brain yet!

But a fellow can dream, right?

Anyway, before paring everything down to the reasonable content I can give in a third year course, I brush up on the literature and take notes and track down background and details that I won’t actually dump on the students (fellow professors know this phenomenon: you have to work to keep well ahead of the students, because they really don’t need to start thinking they’re smarter than you are). But I can dump my notes on you. You don’t have to take a test on it and get a good grade, and you won’t pester me about whether this will actually be on the test, and you won’t start crying if I overwhelm you with really cool stuff. (If any of my students run across this, no, the content of this article will not be on any test. Don’t panic. Go to grad school where this will all be much more relevant.)

Onward. Here’s my abbreviated summary of the epistatic interactions in making boys and girls.

The earliest step in gonad development is the formation of the urogenital ridge from intermediate mesoderm, a thickening on the outside of the mesonephros (early kidney), under the influence of transcription factors Emx2, Wt1 (Wilms tumor 1), Lhx9, and Sf1 (steroidogenic factor 1). Even in the earliest stages, multiple genes interact to generate the tissue! The urogenital ridge is going to form only the somatic tissue of the gonad; the actual germ cells (the cells that will form the gametes, sperm and ova) arise much, much earlier, in the epiblast of the embryo at a primitive streak stage, and then migrate through the mesenteries of the gut to populate the urogenital ridge independently, shortly after it forms.

At this point, this organ is called the bipotential gonad — it is identical in males and females. Two genes, Fgf9 and Wnt4, teeter in a balanced antagonistic relationship — Wnt4 suppresses Fgf9, and Fgf9 suppresses Wnt4 — in the bipotential gonad, and anything that might tip the balance between them will trigger development of one sex or the other. A mutation that breaks Fgf9, for instance, gives Wnt4 an edge, and the gonad will develop into an ovary; a mutation that breaks Wnt4 will let Fgf9 dominate the relationship, and the gonad will develop into a testis (with a note of caution: the changes will initiate differentiation into one gonad or the other, but there are other steps downstream that can also vary). These two molecules may be the universal regulators of the sex of the gonad in animals: fruit flies also use Fgf and Wnt genes to regulate development of their gonads.

But the key to the genetic symmetry-breaking of selecting Fgf9 and Wnt4 varies greatly in animals. Some use incubation temperature to bias expression one way or the other; birds have a poorly understood set of factors that may require heterodimerization between two different proteins produced on the Z and W chromosomes to induce ovaries; mammals have a unique gene, Sry, not found in other vertebrates, that is located on the Y chromosome and tilts the balance towards testis differentiation.

Sry may be unique to mammals, but it didn’t come out of nowhere. Sry contains a motif called the HMG (high mobility group) box, which is a conserved DNA binding domain. There are approximately 20 proteins related to Sry in humans, all given the name SOX, for SRY-related HMG box (I know, molecular biologists seem to be really reaching for acronyms nowadays). SOX genes are found in all eukaryotes, and seem to play important roles in cell and organ differentiation in insects, nematodes, and vertebrates. Sry is simply the member of the family that has been tagged to regulate gonad development in mammals.

If a copy of Sry is present in the organism, which is usually only the case in XY or male mammals, expression of the gene produces a DNA binding protein that has one primary target: a gene called SOX9 (they’re cousins!). In mice, Sry is switched on only transiently, long enough to activate SOX9, which then acts as a transcription factor for itself, maintaining expression of SOX9 for the life of the gonad. Humans keep Sry turned on permanently as well, but there’s no evidence yet that it actually does anything important after activating SOX9; it may be that human males neglect to hit the off switch.

SOX9 binds to a number of genes, among them, Fgf9. Remember Fgf9? The masculinizing factor in antagonism to the feminizing factor Wnt4? This tips the teeter-totter to favor expression of Fgf9 over Wnt4, leading to the differentiation of a testis from the bipotential gonad.

So far, then, we’ve got a nice little Rube Goldberg machine and an epistatic pathway. Sf1/Wt1 and other early genes induce the formation of a urogenital ridge and an ambiguous gonad; Sry upregulates Sox9 which upregulates Fgf9 which suppresses Wnt4, turning off the ovarian pathway and turning on the testis pathway.

But wait, we’re not done! Sry/SOX9 are expressed specifically in a subset of cells of the male gonad, the prospective Sertoli cells. If you recall your reproductive physiology, Sertoli cells are a kind of ‘nurse’ cell of the testis; they’re responsible for nourishing developing sperm cells. They also have signaling functions. The Sertoli cells produce AMH, or anti-Müllerian Hormone, which is responsible for causing the female ducts of the reproductive system to degenerate in males (if you don’t remember the difference between Müllerian and Wolffian and that array of tubes that get selected for survival in the different sexes, here’s a refresher). Defects in the AMH system lead to persistent female ducts: you get males with partial ovaries and undescended testicles. So just having the Sry chain is not enough, there are downstream genes that have to dismantle incipient female structures and promote mature properties of the gonad.

As the gonad differentiates, it also induces another set of cells, the embryonic Leydig cells. We have to distinguish embryonic Leydig cells, because they represent another transient population that will do their job in the embryo, then gradually die off to be replaced by a new population of adult Leydig cells at puberty. The primary function of Leydig cells is the production of testosterone and other androgens. The embryo gets a brief dose of testosterone early that initiates masculinization of various tissues, which then fades (fortunately; no beards and pubic hair for baby boys) to resurge in adolescence, triggering development of secondary sexual characteristics. Embryonic testosterone is the signal that maintains the Wolffian duct system. No testosterone, and the Wolffian ducts degenerate.

Just to complicate matters, while testosterone is the signal that regulates the male ducts, testosterone must be converted to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the signal that regulates development of the external genitalia. Defects in the enzyme responsible for this conversion can lead to individuals with male internal plumbing, including testes, but female external genitalia. Sex isn’t all or nothing, but a whole series of switches!

By now, if you’re paying attention, you may have noticed a decidedly male bias in this description. I’ve been talking about a bipotential gonad that is flipped into a male mode by the presence of a single switch, and sometimes, especially in the older literature, you’ll find that development of the female gonad is treated as the default: ovaries are what you get if you lack the special magical trigger of the Y chromosome. This is not correct. The ovaries are also the product of an elaborate series of molecular decisions; I think it’s just that they Y chromosome and the Sry gene just provided a convenient genetic handle to break into the system, and really, scientists usually favor the easy tool to get in.

One key difference between the testis and ovary is the inclusion of germ cells. The testis simply doesn’t care; if the germ line, the precursors to sperm, is not present, the male gonad goes ahead and builds cords of Sertoli cells with Leydig cells differentiating in the interstitial space, makes the whole dang structure of the testicle, pumping out testosterone as if all is well, but contains no cells to make sperm — so it’s reproductively useless, but hormonally and physiologically active. The ovary is different. If no germ line populates it, the ovarian follicle cells (the homolog to the Sertoli cells) do not differentiate. If germ cells are lost from the tissue only later, the follicles degenerate.

Ovaries require a signal from the germ line to develop normally. One element of that signal seems to be factors associated with cells in meiosis. The female germ line cells are on a very strict meiotic clock, beginning the divisions to produce haploid egg cells in the embryo, even as they populate the gonad. These oocytes produce a signal, Figα (factor in germ line a) that recruits ovarian cells to produce follicles. The male gonad has to actively repress meiosis in the embryonic germ line to inhibit this signaling; male germ cells are restricted to only mitotic divisions until puberty.

Even before Figα signaling becomes important, there are other factors uniquely expressed in the prospective ovary that shape its development. In particular, Wnt4 induces the expression of another gene, Foxl2, that is critical for formation of the ovarian follicle. The pathways involved in ovarian development are not as well understood as those in testis development, but it’s quite clear that there is a chain of specific genetic/molecular interactions involved in the generation of both organs.

Wait, you say, you need a diagram! You can’t grasp all this without an illustration! Here’s a nice one: I particularly like that cauliflower-shaped explosion of looping arrows early in the testis pathway.

The molecular and genetic events in mammalian sex determination. The bipotential genital ridge is established by genes including Sf1 and Wt1, the early expression of which might also initiate that of Sox9 in both sexes. b-catenin can begin to accumulate as a response to Rspo1–Wnt4 signaling at this stage. In XX supporting cell precursors, b-catenin levels could accumulate sufficiently to repress SOX9 activity, either through direct protein interactions leading to mutual destruction, as seen during cartilage development, or by a direct effect on Sox9 transcription. However, in XY supporting cell precursors, increasing levels of SF1 activate Sry expression and then SRY, together with SF1, boosts Sox9 expression. Once SOX9 levels reach a critical threshold, several positive regulatory loops are initiated, including autoregulation of its own expression and formation of feed-forward loops via FGF9 or PGD2 signaling. If SRY activity is weak, low or late, it fails to boost Sox9 expression before b-catenin levels accumulate sufficiently to shut it down. At later stages, FOXL2 increases, which might help, perhaps in concert with ERs, to maintain granulosa (follicle) cell differentiation by repressing Sox9 expression. In the testis, SOX9 promotes the testis pathway, including Amh activation, and it also probably represses ovarian genes, including Wnt4 and Foxl2. However, any mechanism that increases Sox9 expression sufficiently will trigger Sertoli cell development, even in the absence of SRY.

So that’s what I didn’t tell my genetics students this time around. Maybe I’ll work it into my developmental biology course, instead.

Kim Y, Kobayashi A, Sekido R, DiNapoli L, Brennan J, Chaboissier MC, Poulat F, Behringer RR, Lovell-Badge R, Capel B. (2006) Fgf9 and Wnt4 act as antagonistic signals to regulate mammalian sex determination. PLoS Biol 4(6):e187

Ross AJ, Capel B. (2005) Signaling at the crossroads of gonad development. Trends Endocrinol Metab. 16(1):19-25.

Sekido R, Lovell-Badge R (2009) Sex determination and SRY: down to a wink and a nudge? Trends Genet. 25(1):19-29.

Sim H, Argentaro A, Harley VR (2008) Boys, girls and shuttling of SRY and SOX9. Trends Endocrinol Metab. 19(6):213-22.

Yao H H-C (2005) The pathway to femaleness: current knowledge on embryonic
development of the ovary. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology 230:87–93.

Categories: Our friends

The Christian answer to National Geographic?

The Panda's Thumb - March 11, 2014 - 12:12pm
I occasionally receive a request to print or post a photograph that has appeared on Panda’s Thumb, but this one takes the cake: A magazine called Creation Illustrated, which bills itself as “The Christian answer to National Geographic,” requested permission to publish this photograph in its magazine. Fat chance! Their e-mail was datelined, “URGENT - Matt Young’s photo of Table Mountain needed.” Needed, eh? I am afraid I was not very kind to them: Thank... Matt Young

So you missed Cosmos?

Pharyngula - March 11, 2014 - 7:38am

No problem. Full episodes of COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey are available online. This may be a better way to watch it than the commercial-laden version on broadcast TV.

Categories: Our friends

[Lounge #454]

Pharyngula - March 11, 2014 - 7:31am

This is the lounge. You can discuss anything you want, but you will do it kindly.

Status: Heavily Moderated; Previous thread

Categories: Our friends

Mary’s Monday Metazoan: the worthy sponge

Pharyngula - March 10, 2014 - 11:32pm


The image shows approximately 16 choanocyte chambers, each about 30 micrometers in diameter—about the size of a pollen grain. The green color marks the flagella—hair-like structures that pump the water. The red color marks the cytoskeleton, which includes a structure called the collar (not visible here) that captures the prey. The light-blue regions mark the nuclei of individual choanocytes.

Categories: Our friends

Which atheists get exemption from criticism?

Pharyngula - March 10, 2014 - 11:28pm

Some people are really unhappy that some of us disagree strongly with David Silverman’s CPAC strategy. JT Eberhard has invented a series of rationales for why people had the temerity to question the president of American Atheists (and he didn’t call me up to ask if any of them were valid!).

1. People took this to mean that David Silverman was anti-choice.

Interesting. Could you name some? I didn’t see anyone accuse Silverman of being personally anti-choice, although admittedly I could well have missed some. For myself, I simply took it for granted that Silverman himself was pro-choice, and that he was simply trying to acknowledge some arguments that are floating around out there…bad arguments. It would have mitigated a lot of the criticisms if he’d come right out and said that, but he didn’t.

2. People were upset that he was trying to make inroads with conservatives.

Take that sentence apart, JT. “Make inroads”…how? When I heard that American Atheists was going to be represented at CPAC, I was baffled — I didn’t understand the purpose. I assumed that he was going to be a bit confrontational, as he’s so good at doing — that it would be analogous to his appearances on Bill O’Reilly’s show, where he’d be forthright in presenting the atheist position. I’m all for that kind of honest confrontation.

I was even more confused by the statements he made to the press, though. Instead of confrontation, I saw an attempt to empathize with far right radicals. That was troubling. Silverman’s specialty is not subtlety, and there he was trying to balance between provocation and conciliation. He failed.

3. While not saying or believing that anti-choice arguments are sound, what he still did was a “tip of the hat” to the anti-choice crowd.

That’s more like it, and I think that’s a more accurate representation of what Silverman’s critics are thinking. As I already pointed out, a fairly solid majority of the atheist membership have a strong opinion on abortion, and actually, those “secular arguments against abortion” are abysmally bad.

It is simply not enough for an argument to be atheist or secular — it also has to be sound. We don’t simply accept bad arguments if they have the consequence of reinforcing atheist perceptions, we’re supposed to be better than that.

4. People think making the statement in the context of CPAC made it easy to misinterpret.

That’s a good point. When you’re representing a politically liberal organization (you may think the charter has no political leaning, but the membership most definitely does), you had better be acutely conscious of perils of attempting to recruit within the ranks of one of the more rabidly conservative conferences out there. Why is anyone surprised that many of us fail to see the point of this exercise, when Silverman failed to make the case to us?

He still hasn’t made the case, either. I still don’t understand what he hoped to accomplish at this meeting.

JT then makes a set of accusations that I’ve typically heard from the misogynist side of the atheist community, including, on twitter, a claim that David Silverman was a victim of a “witch hunt”. Good god. I like David Silverman personally, I support American Atheists, but that doesn’t mean I can’t disagree with tactics, and openly say so. This is simply ridiculous:

Holy crap, can we stop trying to make it out like people who have fought for causes we love for years are suddenly betraying them?  Can we stop shoving words into allies’ mouths they never said to support that narrative?  We’re the atheist movement, we should at least be able to deal with what each other actually say.  That is the minimum standard to which we should live up.

As was done. No one shoved words into his mouth; we quoted literally what he was reported to have said, and took issue with that. Apparently, we’re supposed to have an imaginary David Silverman in our head who only says things we agree with, and interpret those words in that light.

So many atheists are sick and fucking tired of the in-fighting and the inability to resolve things without just talking to one another (and questioning their loyalty).  

You know what I’m sick and fucking tired of? Atheists who value unity so much that they won’t tolerate dissent from the leadership. Our strength is our willingness to object and argue, that we don’t bow down before dogma, that no one is above criticism. People are disagreeing with Silverman; I haven’t heard a one question his “loyalty” (which is a really weird statement in the first place — when did loyalty to the movement become a criterion for membership?).

If this is the way atheism is supposed to be, how about if we get a list of all the people we are not allowed to question? That would be helpful, since there is some ambiguity in who the infallible ones are. I know I’m not one of them, since other atheists are quite comfortable with savaging me in terms that make David Silverman’s treatment look quite cuddly. Are we really going to go down the road of setting up authority figures and condemning dissent as disloyalty now?

How many people do you think actually said to themselves “Dave Silverman is anti-abortion?  That doesn’t sound right given everything I know about him.  Maybe I’ll ask him before making a big deal out of this.”  The answer: not many, and that’s a damn shame.  There are plenty of real enemies to atheism out there, we really don’t need to fabricate more out of the people who are on our side.

This is stupid.

Again, where are these people who said Silverman was anti-abortion? I know I wasn’t one of them. Ophelia Benson wasn’t, either. Neither was Jason Thibeault. Who called David Silverman an enemy to atheism? I think he’s usually a good advocate; I also think this case was a misstep. That doesn’t in any way imply that I suddenly have changed my tune and think he’s an enemy who must be deposed.

And here’s another thing I find naive and annoying: did I call up Dave and ask him if he was anti-abortion? No, because for one thing, I assumed that he was pro-choice, like almost all atheists, and for a second, who the hell does that? I notice that no one called me and asked whether I thought Silverman was anti-choice. Never in my entire blogging career has anyone called me or written to me and asked me to expand on something I said before they started publicly criticizing me for it, whatever it was.

What was criticized was a set of published statements that we disagreed with. It was that set of comments that we thought important enough to address; a personal communication that said he didn’t really mean it doesn’t make the public record disappear.

I want people leaving religion to see an atheist movement that is patient and eager to understand, not a group of people chomping at the bit to question the motives/character of people who have been doing the legwork in our interest for years.

There you go again, JT. You’re taking vocal disagreement with policy and tactics as character assassination. It wasn’t. I think the CPAC mess was a mistake, and poorly handled. That doesn’t mean I’ve been calling for anyone to be burnt at the stake. And I’m not going to abstain from saying so out loud out of deference to some abstract notion of “loyalty” to a movement, an attitude that I find detrimental to freethought.

I want people leaving religion to see an atheist movement with the integrity and honesty to question its own. Not another dogmatic institution with authority figures that will accuse you of disloyalty if you disagree with them.

Categories: Our friends

Atheists can be homophobic and sexist, too - Religion News Service

"Atheist" in google news - March 10, 2014 - 4:36pm

Rocky Mountain Collegian

Atheists can be homophobic and sexist, too
Religion News Service
This week, the rights of women and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) people have been a big topic of discussion in the atheist blogosphere—with some asking whether or not homophobic or sexist atheists actually exist.
Atheism does not mean a lack of moralityRocky Mountain Collegian
Atheism has to do better than thisBDlive

all 3 news articles »
Categories: Atheist News

Noah travels through time, uses crane to build Ark

The Panda's Thumb - March 10, 2014 - 4:07pm Matt Young

Gaillardia aestivalis

The Panda's Thumb - March 10, 2014 - 2:00pm
Photograph by Lynn Wilhelm. Photography contest, Honorable Mention. Gaillardia aestivalis var. winkleri ‘Grape Sensation’ – Winkler’s White Firewheel-Purple selection, JC Raulston Arboretum Raleigh, North Carolina. Ms. Wilhelm adds, “This cultivar (cultivated variety) is a selection by the Stephen F. Austin State University Mast Arboretum in Nacogdoches, Texas, in honor of the school color. The natural variety is white with a yellow center and is found only in one county in Texas. Gaillardia aestivalis depends on... Matt Young

Kent Hovind challenges me

Pharyngula - March 10, 2014 - 12:53pm

I’ve been issued a challenge from Kent Hovind.

Open Letter to self proclaimed “atheist” PZ Myers of U of Minnesota – Morris,

Dear PZ,

1. Someone sent me the post you have about me concerning my new lawsuit against “Rational” Wiki Foundation. I don’t know the web address your comments are posted on but maybe someone who posts this can add it <here>?

2. In your post you made several errors and false accusations so I thought I’d set the record straight. I am NOT looking for a fight but you wrote first and started this.

3. If you are going to write things about me please add me to your mailing list so I can refute things that are in error (or just dumb). I get email at: [email protected]. TO ALL- In the likely case he does not add me – would one of you reading this blog send me anything he says or writes about me please? PZ qualifies for the Titus 1:11 prize!

4. In your post you said I go home from prison in August, 2015. This is incorrect. I go to Pensacola Feb. 2015 at the LATEST. There are several suits in the various federal courts I could win and bills in congress that could make it much sooner. I also have a lawsuit in the NH fed court to make the BOP obey the 2nd chance law and give me 6 months half way house as well which puts me in Pensacola THIS August when I win.

5. The lawsuit against “Rational”* Wiki is NOT “planned.” It is filed in the Federal Court for the Northern District of Florida Case #3:14cv94/RV/CJK and is on their web site and The filing fee was paid last week and two of the authors have been located. *It is NOT “rational” to believe you came from a rock 4.6 billion years ago! It’s STUPID!

6. I don’t “plan” to sue anyone now or when I get out unless they break the law. I didn’t start ANY of these fights including the one that put me here. Anyone who obeys the law will have no trouble from me. Accusing someone of a crime (like “Rational” Wiki did) IS a crime of libel unless they can prove their accusations. The courts will handle that now. If you accuse me of a crime that you cannot prove (libel) I will use the law (I Tim. 1:8) to correct the record and protect myself.

7. I am NOT in prison for “tax fraud.” In the unlikely even you actually are interested in the truth I suggest you go to in the legal section and read the complaint I filed with the Committee on Conduct in the federal court in Denver against the Assistant US Attorney in my case-Michelle M. Heldmyer. Filed Dec. 19 , 2013- Case #14-CC-1. It has the 3 items I was charged with spelled out clearly for all to see. I did NOT break any laws but the government probably did. She has not responded yet but her reply to my complaint should be very interesting! Please show me from the 3 charges in my case where I was charged with “fraud” as you allege or apologize for lying about me.

8. I do not lie to children or anyone else as you falsely allege but you do. In your classes at the U of Minnesota you use “evidences” for evolution that have long been proven to be lies. See my DVD #4 “Lies in the Textbooks” for a few examples. Also please show me ONE specific case where you can prove I lied to children.

9. For those who would like to see you admit you are a fish and a relative of a banana (and several other dumb “confessions” you made on camera) I would highly recommend that you get the 35 min. DVD “Evolution vs. God” from or There the world can see you reveal yourself for a complete fool (Psalm 14:1).
Anyone can (and SHOULD) make copies of this DVD and give it to every one of your students. I may even fund the drive to give a copy to every student on the entire campus with the damages I get paid from the “rational” wiki suit. Hmmm? THAT would be poetic justice!

10. Marianne-please see how many students there are at the U of M Morris campus and check with Ray Comfort to get a cost on that many DVDs. I know people who will gladly distribute them. As a matter of fact-if any of you wish to pass them out at any university campus, Marianne can add you to a list and when I win the $ and if God leads I will seriously consider paying for them.

11. CHALLENGE- PZ, When I get out and can travel I will come to your university at my expense and debate you on the evolution topic. Since you are using tax dollars to promote your religion and the burden of proof is on you I would like you to supply the 5 or 10 best evidences for evolution above the level of minor changes within kinds as the basis for the debate.

12. You can have as many “assistants” on your side as you wish but I get 50% of the total time and we only discuss one topic at a time. I will also pay only you $150/hr up to a max of 3 hrs actual debate time.

13. I will also pay all expenses to have the debate professionally video taped and give you a master copy. The only edits allowed will be adding better graphics and PowerPoint slides in post-production and typical trailers for other materials or web sites you or I wish to promote. You and I will each retain rights to sell copies of the DVD ONLY IF they are unaltered.

14. As a teacher there you should be able to get a hall for 2-3 hrs for free. I suggest one that seats 1500 minimum! Watch any of my other 20 debates on you tube or to see why. UC Irvine turned away nearly 3000.

15. You seem to love to promote your religion of evolutionism in class where you have an obvious psychological and academic advantage. You cannot fire me, fail me, intimidate me or bamboozle me. Marianne at [email protected] is keeping a list of any churches wishing to schedule me to speak and any evolutionists willing to debate me. Please contact her to get on the list.

16. If you DO NOT contact her within a reasonable time of say-30 days (April 9) – to tell her you are willing to debate (once a time can be worked out) I will presume (as will any REAL “rational” people) that you are a coward and do not intend to take me up on my offer.

17. You are NOT the enemy PZ. Your father (John 8:44) hates my Father (I Jn. 3) and his attitude has rubbed off on you. I suggest you repent and accept Jesus Christ while you are above room temp. That will not always be the case!

18. The God that you claim not to believe in loves you and told me I’m supposed to try.

Kent Hovind 3-9-14

A few comments from me.

Why the scare quotes around “atheist”? I am one. Are you a “Christian”?

1 & 3. I’m at I don’t push my views on others; if you want to subscribe to the newsfeed, that’s at, and apparently when you’ve registered as a reader here, you can subscribe and have links sent to you as email. You have to do it; I’m not going to make you read it.

4. You’re a convicted felon. Sorry if I don’t pay as much attention to the details of your release as you do.

5 & 6. You’re a litigious twit. I’m also not concerned with the details of your petty legal harassments.

7. You are a convicted fraud. That you now claim that the government was wrong suggests that you haven’t learned a thing from your conviction. Good luck with getting early parole! Your lack of remorse suggests you’re going to get out and commit the same crimes all over again.

8. “Evidence” is already plural, you twit. I’ve seen your “lies” video, and it’s full of lies itself.

9 & 10. Ray Comfort lies and quotemines about as much as you do. Feel free to sink money into spreading that noise at UMM; we have about 1900 students.

11-14. Woo hoo! $450! Sure, we can do that. We can’t do a 1500 seat auditorium, though; we aren’t that big. It’s good that you insist we only discuss one topic at a time; I know from your recorded talks that you usually insist on superficial and wrong discussions, so a little depth would completely founder your claims.

I will insist on a couple of restrictions, however.

  • We will define together a small number of specific issues to be discussed — no grand fuzzy declarations that give you room to Gish Gallup your way through the debate.

  • I insist on choosing the moderator, who will be someone from the science community, given specific instructions to keep the discussion on topic without editorial intrusion of their own. I have had bad experiences with your co-religionists — they have not been trustworthy.

  • Any and all profits from the debate, such as from the distribution of the “professionally video taped” DVD, will be shared equally between us, in addition to the $150/hour fee you’ll pay me. I will be donating my part of the revenue to a pro-science organization.

15. There is no religion of evolution. In the classroom, my colleagues and I teach the evidence.

16. Oh, please. What are you, twelve years old?

17. Calling my father the devil is not the way to win me over, asshole.

18. I don’t believe that the voices in your head are the voice of a god, so your attempt to usurp divine authority leaves me unimpressed.

I suspect that my demands that diminish the potential for profit to creationism and Kent’s own pockets will completely squelch Hovind’s interest in this debate, but I’ll let you know if he perseveres.

Hmm. Actually, he’s a convicted con artist. I might need to bring in a lawyer to make any agreement between us official and enforceable.

Categories: Our friends

'This cross screams Christianity': Atheists launch lawsuit over Ground Zero cross - National Post

"Atheist" in google news - March 10, 2014 - 12:36pm

National Post

'This cross screams Christianity': Atheists launch lawsuit over Ground Zero cross
National Post
American Atheists is demanding that if the 17-foot high cross is not removed as a religious symbol from the state-owned property, the display should be altered to add an atheist monument of similar proportions. The group brought the appeal under the US ...

Categories: Atheist News

Egregious idiocy

Pharyngula - March 10, 2014 - 12:07pm

The IDiots are crowing: they found a scientist who doesn’t understand evolution. One catch that they don’t think is very important: he’s a synthetic chemist. I think it’s fair to say that he’s as clueless about the issues in evolutionary biology as I am of those in synthetic chemistry, but at least I have the humility to recognize that my understanding of one discipline does not imply understanding of a completely different one. So the Uncommon Descent crowd is ridiculously enthusiastic about a scientist, James Tour, who doesn’t understand something, and they’ve got excerpts from a talk he gave, on “Jesus and Nanotechnology” (the title kind of clues you in, doesn’t it?) in which he professes his ignorance, as if that’s some sort of indictment of evolution.

… I will tell you as a scientist and a synthetic chemist: if anybody should be able to understand evolution, it is me, because I make molecules for a living, and I don’t just buy a kit, and mix this and mix this, and get that. I mean, ab initio, I make molecules. I understand how hard it is to make molecules. I understand that if I take Nature’s tool kit, it could be much easier, because all the tools are already there, and I just mix it in the proportions, and I do it under these conditions, but ab initio is very, very hard.

When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Why would you think that knowledge of synthetic chemistry should make you able to understand evolution? I agree that building molecules to a spec, as Tour does, is very very hard — but that’s not what evolution does, so that skill is not relevant. What’s clearly happening here is that Tour is totally incapable of recognizing a process that lacks a guiding hand, because his work involves acting as the guiding hand.

Evolutionary biology is not the same as synthetic chemistry, OK? That I understand evolutionary biology better than Tour does does not make me capable of building nanocars.

I don’t understand evolution, and I will confess that to you. Is that OK, for me to say, “I don’t understand this”? Is that all right? I know that there’s a lot of people out there that don’t understand anything about organic synthesis, but they understand evolution. I understand a lot about making molecules; I don’t understand evolution. And you would just say that, wow, I must be really unusual.

Of course it’s OK to say you don’t understand evolution — I encourage all ignorant people to first confess their ignorance as a step towards understanding. However, what’s not OK is to use your ignorance, combined with authority in other domains of science, to suggest that evolution is false. Learn some humility, guy; I don’t profess greater knowledge of a discipline outside my own, but instead defer to the experts in those fields.

Let me tell you what goes on in the back rooms of science – with National Academy members, with Nobel Prize winners. I have sat with them, and when I get them alone, not in public – because it’s a scary thing, if you say what I just said – I say, “Do you understand all of this, where all of this came from, and how this happens?” Every time that I have sat with people who are synthetic chemists, who understand this, they go “Uh-uh. Nope.” These people are just so far off, on how to believe this stuff came together. I’ve sat with National Academy members, with Nobel Prize winners. Sometimes I will say, “Do you understand this?”And if they’re afraid to say “Yes,” they say nothing. They just stare at me, because they can’t sincerely do it.

Right. He sat down with other prestigious synthetic chemists, and they don’t understand evolution, either. Therefore, there’s something wrong with evolution.

Next time you’re playing poker with your buddies, ask around the table if they understand synthetic chemistry. When they shrug, or look at you blankly, or admit they know nothing about the subject, you have ammunition to go public and condemn those phonies who make molecules. It’s all a lie because some people don’t know how it works!

I must also point out that if you sit down with any intelligent scientist, and ask them if they have all the answers to the big questions in their discipline, they’ll say no, and even better, they’ll bring up a whole series of difficult questions that you probably never even thought of. That’s the nature of science; every answer inspires a dozen new questions, and inquiry leads you ever deeper into harder problems. Only a dishonest hack would think that somehow brings the science into disrepute.

Macroevolution happens. It’s documented. We know it happens. We know some of the mechanisms, but there are legitimate questions about the relative importance of various mechanisms, about the details of specific lineages, about possible novel mechanisms—but not about the reality of the process. It is sleazy to imply otherwise.

Oh, and just a hint: when you confront a Nobel Prize winner with a stupid question, and they just stare at you, it’s not because they’re afraid to say the truth: it’s probably because they’re wondering why they’re having this conversation with this idiot.

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The chupacabra beat must be a valuable and difficult one

Pharyngula - March 10, 2014 - 11:42am

At Karen Stollznow’s request, I’m once again hiding this post.

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CPAC on the move? Atheists and potheads attend, attract the ears of few - Al Jazeera America

"Atheist" in google news - March 10, 2014 - 10:46am

Al Jazeera America

CPAC on the move? Atheists and potheads attend, attract the ears of few
Al Jazeera America
His group, the American Atheists, had purchased one and then had it revoked by organizers after he told CNN that “the Christian right should feel threatened by us.” Silverman, a self-described conservative, holds that the political right would be well ...
Let's Learn about CPAC!PQ Monthly

all 630 news articles »
Categories: Atheist News

Around FtB

Pharyngula - March 10, 2014 - 9:50am

I’ve been sluggishly recovering, so let’s see what other people are doing around here, OK?

  • Deacon Duncan examines the Christian persecution complex.

  • Stephanie Zvan reveals that her harasser, Sara Mayhew, traces. Oooh, burn.

  • Avicenna points out that there other ways of doing great harm to people than shooting them.

  • Aron Ra has been engaging in interfaith dialogue.

  • Ashley Miller…WHAT? I don’t even…seriously, people are that racist? Some rocks cover some really ugly slimy stuff, but you’ve got to flip them over anyway.

  • The Atheist Experience explains that miracles aren’t.

  • Brianne Bilyeu is raising money for a pro-choice cause.

  • Sikivu Hutchinson is supporting a pastor — one who is facing a tribunal for being an advocate for the LGBTQ community.

  • Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner gingerly deals with the fraught situation of having friends with different political views. Are you a bad person if some of your friends are assholes?

  • Ophelia Benson is also mystified by American Atheists’ recent tactics.

  • Richard Carrier dismantles a defense of the historicity of Jesus.

  • The Digital Cuttlefish thinks poorly of an educator who wants to bring in more religion to cover his shortcomings.

  • Dana Hunter talks about how gender stereotypes harm boys, too. Be sure to watch the excellent video at the end!

  • Alex Gabriel grows and shrinks.

  • Greta Christina is bustin’ out all over.

  • Kate Donovan talks about adoption. It’s complicated!

  • Ally Fogg looks at the people behind legislation to regulate sex work. “a bunch of homophobic bigots” is perhaps the kindest phrase used.

  • Tauriq Moosa is quite right that if we’re going to support marriage equality, we have to recognize that even Scientologists can get married as they choose.

  • Jason Thibeault gets an email explaining why we keep fighting for equality.

  • Kaveh Mousavi talks about a minority so tiny I didn’t know anything about them. Do you think they’re tolerated, since they stress tolerance? Hah.

  • Maryam Namazie has been protesting in Paris

  • Nirmukta talks about the movement to equate Indian nationalism with Hinduism. From my perspective as a citizen of a country that considers patriotism and Christianity synonymous, I can concur — it’s always a bad idea.

  • Comrade Physioproffe is having dinner. I’ve seen the guy, he’s not fat at all, and I don’t know how he does it.

  • Mano Singham highlights the peculiarity of all these “first” women in various positions. Isn’t announcing a “first” woman mean you’ve been a sexist douche for many years?

  • Taslima Nasrin thinks Women’s Day ought to be superfluous.

  • Yemisi Ilesanmi celebrates International Women’s Day.

  • Stephen ‘Darksyde’ Andrew has been reading anti-vaccination crankery.

  • Heather McNamara addresses the “don’t tell Grandpa” trope that LGBTQ people often encounter.

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Leading secularist not tempted to join the atheist church - ChristianToday

"Atheist" in google news - March 10, 2014 - 7:07am


Leading secularist not tempted to join the atheist church
The President of the Secular Society expressed to Justin Brierley his opinions of the North London Atheist Church which was formed in January last year. The church of non-believers, which was set up by comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, strives ...

Categories: Atheist News

Atheists want iconic 17-foot cross removed from 9/11 museum - Fox News

"Atheist" in google news - March 9, 2014 - 10:24pm

Atheists want iconic 17-foot cross removed from 9/11 museum
Fox News
Atheists are trying to oust the “Miracle Cross” from the 9/11 museum, arguing that its inclusion would violate the Constitution's separation of church and state. But Eric Baxster of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty told MyFoxNY that the cross is ...
'World Trade Center cross' fight continues as atheist group appeals
US atheists' group sues over inclusion of 'Ground Zero Cross' in new 9/11
American Atheists President Attends CPAC After They Banned His BoothHuffington Post
Daily Mail (blog) -News Hounds
all 73 news articles »
Categories: Atheist News

Cosmos: Thumbs up!

Pharyngula - March 9, 2014 - 10:16pm

It’s off to a good start, and I quite enjoyed the first episode. It was maybe a bit heavy on the simplifications and the eye-popping graphics, but I’m seeing it as a tool to inspire a younger generation to get excited about science again, so I think that actually is a good thing.

It’s also impressive that a strongly pro-science program (and one that took a few shots at Catholic dogmatism) was on broadcast television, and even on Fox. I was getting exasperated with the too-frequent commercial breaks, but I think that’s the price we pay for getting wider dissemination to the public, rather than to just us privileged few who can afford cable and/or buying the DVDs.

Categories: Our friends

Democracy! Transparency! Diversity!

Pharyngula - March 9, 2014 - 8:51pm

Janet Stemwedel has written up a summary of #scioSafe from ScienceOnline, outlining some good strategies for building a better organization and conference. It’s good reading for anyone who wants to make any group better.

Categories: Our friends

Who is Dave Silverman representing?

Pharyngula - March 9, 2014 - 8:13pm

In the wake of David Silverman’s claim that the case for abortion rights is “maybe not as clean cut as school prayer, right to die, and gay marriage,” the American Secular Census asked atheists what their views on those subjects were. Now of course, these numbers don’t say which answer is right, but only what the majority of atheists, those people American Atheists are supposed to represent, think is right. We have a decidedly liberal bias.

Which of these statements best describes your opinion about abortion?

  • 55.4% Abortion should be legal without any restrictions beyond those applied to any other medical procedure.

  • 43.0% Abortion should be legal but with reasonable restrictions on gestational stage.

  • 00.9% Abortion should be legal only in cases of rape, incest, or to save the woman’s life.

  • 00.2% Abortion should be legal only to save the woman’s life.

  • 00.0% Abortion should be illegal.

  • 00.5% Undecided / other

Which of these statements best describes your opinion of school-sponsored prayer in public education?

  • 76.6% School-sponsored prayer has no place in public education.

  • 22.8% School-sponsored prayer should not occur, but official minutes of silence when students can pray/meditate privately are fine.

  • 00.2% School-sponsored prayer should be accommodated but only at special events such as graduation.

  • 00.2% Parents and/or student bodies should be able to vote whether to have school-sponsored prayer.

  • 00.1% School-sponsored prayer is fine.

  • 00.2% Undecided / other

Which of these statements best describes your opinion about gay couples marrying?

  • 97.3% Gay couples should be able to marry in all states.

  • 01.0% States should be able to decide whether to perform gay marriages and whether to recognize marriages performed in other states.

  • 00.6% Gay marriage should not be recognized in any state but all states should allow gay couples to enter into civil unions.

  • 00.2% States should be able to decide whether to formalize civil unions and whether to recognize civil unions from out of state.

  • 00.0% Gay couples should not be able to marry or enter into civil unions in any state.

  • 00.9% Undecided / other

So what’s going on here? Is David Silverman trying to appease the 0.0% of atheists who think abortion should be illegal, or the 0.1% who think school prayer is fine, or the 0.0% who oppose gay marriage? Because that’s kind of like the Sierra Club pandering to the vanishingly small fraction of their membership that think California condors ought to be poisoned. I don’t quite see the point. Or is he trying to encourage more anti-choice misogynistic praying homophobes to sign up? Because that sounds like a stupid idea that would only alienate 99.9% of the existing membership.

I’m going to pretend it’s a stupid PR stunt. It’s definitely getting American Atheists some media attention, but it’s all man-bites-dog counter-intuitive sensationalism, and I don’t think it’s going to pay off in the long run.

The abortion story is getting all the press, but I also have to object to something else Silverman said.

He describes himself as a “fiscally conservative” voter who “owns several guns. I’m a strong supporter of the military. I think fiscal responsibility is very important. I see that as pretty conservative. And I have my serious suspicions about Obama. I don’t like that he’s spying on us. I don’t like we’ve got drones killing people…” In the final analysis, “the Democrats are too liberal for me,” he says.

You know, I’m getting really tired of the schtick of so many people that they are “socially liberal, but fiscally conservative”. In a country where the primary social challenge of our time is the obscene wealth of the privileged few and the growing economic inequity, you don’t get to separate those two so neatly anymore: you are not socially liberal, you are not in favor of equality and opportunity, if you’re associating yourself with the poisonous economic policies of the rabid right.

I can agree with him on the issues of privacy and drones, but to call the Democrats, a centrist conservative organization that rolls over for the Right every time they bark, “too liberal” is simply insane.

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