Growing up you believe the world is meant to be the way it is. The older I get the more I realise that this is not the case. The world is full of injustices and atrocities that governments and the voice of faith expect us to accept, though with each passing year they grow fewer and fewer, at least one would hope. I have created this blog as a space for me to rant about all things science, politics, philosophy and religion, before it’s too late and the vessel of new atheism propelled by a growing surge in secularism solves all of the world’s problems for good.

Monday, 15 August 2011




Friday, 12 August 2011

Is incest immoral?

When incest is brought up in conversation it is normally met with utter revulsion. What are the main reasons for this and are they connected with morality at all? Is incest immoral?

From an evolutionary point of view the avoidance of incest as well as communal condemnation makes a great deal of sense. If you have children with a close relative then there’s a higher chance of the children dying at birth or suffering from some form of congenital disease that may have previously lain dormant within a family’s genes. The chance of this occurring decreases as relatedness decreases, though it never reaches 0 (I will comment on this later).

For instance, if one’s father was heterozygote (had two different alleles) for a gene that when homozygote (having two same alleles) gave its owner a congenital heart disease that was terminal. That is to say that he had one normal allele (dominant) that prevented the expression of that disease, as well as one deleterious mutant allele (recessive) that when in duplicate (homozygosis) gave its owner the disease. If he has two children, there is a 50% chance that either child receives the recessive allele. If both children end up heterozygote for this gene like their father and decide to have children together there is a 25% chance that their child will receive 2 of the recessive alleles (homozygosis) from its parents, and the will then suffer from the disease.

It’s almost a certainty that everyone has a recessive allele in his or her genes that would express a disease if it were in duplicate, homozygosis. This is one of the main reasons it has become culturally unacceptable in almost every corner of the globe to commit incest.

But is this a moral issue? Incest doesn’t necessarily entail the production of children. Incest is the act in and of itself and not the result. So if two consenting adults for whatever reason decide to delve into an incestuous relationship without the wanting of children, taking adequate steps to actively avoid this. Is this still immoral?

You may argue most incestuous relationships aren’t consensual. You may be right, but such relationships aren’t immoral because they are incestuous. They are immoral because one person is taking advantage of the other. Such relationships are immoral because of the abuse incurred on one of the persons involved, physical and/or psychological. Whether they are related or not isn't what defines it as immoral, it's the abuse of power used to hurt another.

Thus I don’t believe it is immoral for consenting adults to enter into and incestuous relationship, assuming the absence of abuse and if they avoid having children. However, that raises another question. Is it immoral to have children even if there is a higher than average chance that the children will receive a debilitating disease or could die at birth?

There are many people out there who have acquired homozygosis for certain congenital diseases. There are also many people who know they may carry one allele for a specific disease that has run through their family, some may know that they carry it. There are women out there who have trouble finishing pregnancy, where their children die early on, though they continue to try to have children. There are also plenty of women who cause their children to suffer disease and addiction when they use drugs irresponsibly while pregnant. Nonetheless, in most of the aforementioned cases it's not regarded as immoral to keep trying to have children, let alone illegal for them to do so. Yet it is illegal and judged immoral for close relations to attempt a similar act, where the fetus or child is at the same amount of risk.

Who would dream of denying a couple the ability to have children even if there's a large chance their children will be disabled or have a disease? Especially if the parents are willing to care for the child anyway. Who would tell these people that it's immoral for them to have children knowing that there’s a risk of disease or disability? If it’s not okay for close relatives to produce children because there’s a higher risk of disease or disability, then why is it okay for people to do the exact same thing with non-relations? If we were to follow the same line of logic, wanting to prevent children being born with disease or disability, then it would be as illegal for non-related couples carrying bad genes as it would for closely related couples. 

I just find it a little bizarre that two couples could carry exactly the same allele for a disease in each one of their genetics. Both couples, should they have children, would have the same 25% chance of having a child with the disease. However, if one couple is brother and sister it is a jail-able offence, whereas for the other couple it is perfectly legal.

It would then be reasonable to conclude that the resulting act of an incestuous relationship by consenting adults, even if they choose to have children, is not in and of itself immoral. Especially when you consider that a non-related couple with the same chances of passing on the disease are considered far from immoral if they choose to have children. Incest may not be immoral, however, it is much more likely that circumstances surrounding incidences of incest make the relationships immoral when compared with non-incestuous relationships.

What are your opinions?

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Business of Religion

Here's a really interesting article I was sent today examining some of the richest religions and their relationships with wealth.

Geeeeez I hate scientology...

Humans, Neanderthals and now Denisovans!

So the lonely two has now potentially scored a third cousin on the hominin evolutionary tree. Give a warm round of applause to the Denisovans... at least, we hope? Recent findings give strength to the hypothesis that there was a third major group of hominins inhabiting Eurasia at the same time as early humans and our cousins the Neanderthals. It may even show that all three groups were interbreeding.

Fossilized remains have been found in western Siberia in the Stone Age Denisova Cave. Most recently a toe bone was found that is between 30 000-50 000 years old. Studies of the toe, alongside a previously found finger and tooth fossil, indicate a more primitive morphology and suggest that Denisovans split from the Neanderthals around 300 000 years ago. The scientists involved believe that they came to occupy a vast area of Asia while Europe and western Asia were being dominated by Neanderthals. We know that at about 40,000 years ago Homo sapiens were also inhabiting the same regions. However, the Denisovans remain somewhat of an enigma while we only have a few fragmented bones to analyse. More information is definitely required before giving them the status of their own species.

There's a bit of controversy over the findings and the subsequent conclusions drawn, especially when it comes to making conclusions from morphological analysis. For me to be fully convinced of this being a distinct third species of hominins I'd want it to be backed up with some solid DNA evidence. Some DNA was extracted and examined from a finger bone last year supporting their hypothesis. So here's hoping that the same can be done with the toe bone that becomes further support for the third hominin. Would be nice for two to become three!

Meanwhile, it's nice to note there's still so much out there that we don't know and is waiting to be discovered.

Mosquitos that shoot blanks, I think it'll miss the target of curing Malaria

A recent study has been published where a group of scientists bred a sterile strain of the mosquito that caries Malaria.

In short, they bred 100 of these male mosquitos up and found that when females bred with them they ended up laying infertile eggs. Females only mate once in their lifetime, and thus will produce no offspring if they make the mistake of pairing up with a dud male. The males are expected to also potentially have a benefit over other male mosquitos who do produce sperm. The sterile mosquitos may invest their energy into other areas of their survival if they aren't able to invest it into sperm production.

The trouble is that one needs to breed up effectively millions and millions of these males and then release them into the wild in the hopes of outcompeting fertile males. Assuming this could be done, the numbers bred up and then released into every area where Malaria exists, there would still be at least a small portion of fertile males mating with females. The sterile males would die and not pass on their sterile genetics (because they can't produce sperm to pass on their genes...). So all you'd need is just one fertile male mating with a female and Malaria could still be spread, however the million or so annual death toll from Malaria would definitely be substantially reduced.

Treating any pest problem with genetically infertile individuals is very difficult as they can't pass on this trait.

I think they need to focus on breeding a mosquito that has a genetic mutation that disallows transmission of Malaria. In other words, they can't carry the parasite. If you could their introduce this strain, after having decimated wild mosquito numbers, hopefully it would become the dominant strain of mosquito. That or work on a vaccine like treatment.

Plasmodium flaciparum

I might add just as an FYI, that Malaria is a unique disease because it is caused by a protozoan parasite that gets into your blood named Plasmodium flaciparum. At our university one is able to study the species through the botany department.

Obesity threatens to lower life expectancy, so what?

FYI this is going to be a bit of a pessimistic rant, but it's been frustrating me recently. I'm going to be honest, I have no sympathy for overweight or obese people at all. Yes some people have less control over their weight than others, I do concede this fact. However, it all comes down to self control. The more garbage you shovel into your mouth, coupled with very little or no exercise, then the fatter you'll get. It is a life choice and it's time those who choose to be fat take some responsibility for it. If you want to thin down then eat less and do more exercise fatties! You just simply can't stay fat if you eat healthily and get off your arse for 30 minutes a day and exercise.

I can't stand people blaming advertisement, the cheapness and availability of junk food, and our more sedentary lifestyle today, among other things. We all have the ability to eat well and eat less, to exercise daily and stay at a reasonable and healthy weight. If you want to be fat, that's fine. I don't have a problem with it other than how visually offensive it can be when coupled with inappropriate attire, it's your choice though. Just like smokers, if they want to get lung cancer, emphysema and any of the other numerous and terrible diseases linked to the habit, be my guest. But don't complain when a life long bad habit leads to illness, especially when it's so well known and advertised. If you want to base-jump, and eventually end up a paraplegic or worse (as a huge portion do), go for it! But don't complain when and if it happens, and don't blame everything else but yourselves. You who choose this lifestyle, being more than sufficiently educated about the risks, must deal with the consequences should they arise.

The main reason for my posting this is that I am so sick of hearing about the obesity epidemic and how for the first time in 1000+ years the life expectancy of western people is expected to decline. Good! Why give a monkey's? It means more air, more food and most importantly MORE ROOM ON THE TRAIN for me and the rest of us who live healthy lifestyles to enjoy (train anecdotes below)!

Why do the rest of us have to worry about how long others live? Since when was it high priority to make everyone live as long as physically possible, whether their personal choice of lifestyle allows it or not? If people want to reduce the length of their life expectancy, that's their choice. We shouldn't be worried about this, nor should we be trying to avoid it or force them to live longer. To the contrary, we should be facilitating this obesity movement. Let all the fatties have as much food as they want. Let's give them housing next door to Maccas and KFC. Screw it, we'll put down those flat escalator things, moving walkways I think they're called? Let's give them all the food in the world, let's keep them from exercising, and get them to lower their life expectancy as much as possible and as soon as possible.
Historical U.S. Obesity Rate, 1960-2004

It's a good thing if they shorten their life expectancy. Most of us in the west probably haven't really noticed, but food is actually becoming more scarce, let alone more expensive, as our population increases. We're well on the way to running out of fossil fuels that we so heavily rely on for generating and transporting the world's food, that the sooner our population growth slows, reaches equilibrium or even declines, the better! So we should be happy that such a large portion of our western world's population is willing to take it upon themselves to die earlier. It would be more fortunate if it didn't require using up our food resources, but you hey we can't have our cake and eat it too, the fatties need it. On top of that the obese are less able to have sex, less attractive and less fertile anyway... three more helpful attributes for curbing population growth.

With estimations above 50-60% for obesity rates in adults from the US, Canada and Australia, we should be positive about things. The average life expectancy will decrease as the majority of people are obese and their life will loser between 6-20 years. This however is misleadingly scary for the average person, who sees "decrease in average life expectancy" and thinks it applies to EVERYONE. No! It applies to the population as a whole, only the fat people are losing years of their life. If you're healthy and eat well, your life expectancy won't decrease at all. In fact it is likely to increase with time as medical science breakthroughs continue.

People will complain about all of the health costs, and beds taken up in hospitals, etc. However, the obese pay their taxes, have health insurance and medicare as well, so they have as much right to health care as the rest of us. And when it comes down to it, they're really just going through these medical issues sooner in life. They'd be in the hospital later on if they weren't fat as a result of something else towards the ends of their life anyway. The sooner these people end up in hospital with obesity related diseases and subsequently die from them, the faster we free up beds in hospitals to other people.

So bring on obesity, fill the streets with them. It'll suck hard for the rest of us in the short-term, losing seats on the train, having to wait hours in queues at Hungry Jack's, and having to watch these people blob around in public. But in the long-term it will be of great benefit to the healthy portion of the population. Living in a fat world will be a temporary inconvenience that will be better of us and the planet itself in the long run! So do your part and buy a fat friend a cheese burger and make this world a better one!

Anecdote 1: I have a not so fond memory of waiting for the train to Geelong one afternoon with a very obese woman on the platform next to me. The train pulled up and she pushed in front of everyone to make sure she'd get a seat (or perhaps two as she would require). She had to step through the train door sideways, without realising the next door was even thinner (these carriages were reminiscent of those in the Harry Potter movies when they head to school. Old and quaint. Anyway, in her haste she pulled the second door open, stepped through and it closed on her wedging her in the door. The three adult men who she'd pushed in front of, including myself, had to open the door and push her through it in order for us to board the train.

Anecdote 2: I was on the same train to Geelong one day when another more than portly woman was waddling sideways down the isle bumping into everyone. I was asleep until her right breast struck the side of my head. I woke up suddenly and she asked if I was able to move elsewhere to another seat. The offensive thing to me, was the fact that I was sitting beside an empty seat, however she clearly required both of the seats and thus wanted ME to move somewhere else.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Embiggen Books in Melbourne!

Some of Embiggen Books' rationally expansive literature

A few days ago saw the opening of a brilliant new bookstore in Melbourne! That's right guys, a new safe-haven for all you skeptical, rational, secular, humanist, scientifically inclined, atheistic ninjas. Embiggen Books has arrived!

I popped down today to make my first purchase and had a grand old chat with none other than Mr Warren Bonnett himself, editor of The Australian Book of Atheism and owner of the store. He and the family are still getting settled in and the store's coming together beautifully. So I thoroughly recommend you all head down at some point, have a browse and say hey!

Embiggen books also has guest speakers and book signings from time to time, and post blogs and videos of these events online. For more information go check out their website (linked above).