Those of us who have grown sweet corn have almost always had to fight smut. That black and gray growth on corn looks disgusting. It is actually a fungus known scientifically as Ustilago maydis, and it has been around for a long time. Even though we dislike it, in some ways smut is a beneficial fungus.
Archaeologists studying ancient Puebloan people have found significant amounts of corn smut spores in their feces. That indicates that maize (corn) made up as much as 80% of the diet of ancestral Puebloan people and it included a great deal of the fungus.
One of the mysteries of ancient peoples in America is why they didn’t have nutritional diseases that were common in the world at that time. The most serious of those was the skin disease pellagra which is caused by a lack of niacin (vitamin B3) in the diet. The amino acid that prevents pellagra is missing from the maize but is present in high concentrations in the smut.
We generally have a negative attitude toward fungi, but there are many examples of beneficial fungus. Remember that penicillin was derived from a fungus. Now we find corn smut also offers a benefit. God has a use for everything He created, but sometimes it takes us a while to figure out what that use is.
“It’s hard for me to believe that we are alone in this vast collection of stars in our universe. This could be the expression of consciousness itself or perhaps a communication from intelligent life letting us know we are not alone.” That was a statement made by someone concerning crop circles as reported by National Geographic.
Crop circles are patterns, generally circles, that appear mysteriously overnight in farmer’s fields. The photograph shows one in Switzerland. They are made by pressing down the crops, usually wheat or another grain, to form a geometric design that can be seen from the air. Some people believe that aliens from some other planet must have made them. They do seem to defy the ability of someone on the ground to create the intricate patterns without being able to see the whole thing.
Other people believe that mystical forces beyond our understanding created them. “The expression of consciousness itself” as the person quoted above expressed. Still, others know how they were made because they made them. The same National Geographic article showed a picture of a team of self-confessed crop circle artists in Dorchester, England.
Crop circle artists accomplish their work with surveyor’s measuring tape, ropes, and sometimes lasers. They smash the crops flat with boards. Many times the artists want to keep their work secret because they are trespassing on private property and injuring a farmer’s crop.
In some areas such as Wiltshire, England, crop circles have become a tourist attraction. Wiltshire is the home of Stonehenge and the Avebury Stone Circles, and you can buy crop circle postcards in the Henge Shop in Avebury. It isn’t just the stone circles that attract tourists, and money, to Wiltshire. Thousands come to see the crop circles. Farmers are not always happy to have people wandering in their fields, but others are making money, including documentary filmmakers and travel agencies.
The point is that everyone recognizes that an intelligence of some kind has created the crop circles. They may think that it was intelligent space aliens or some mystic consciousness, or they may know the human artists who actually made them. When we see obvious design, we know that it could not have happened by accident. Crop circles give evidence of design and therefore intelligence.
The versatility of the human body is truly amazing. Think of all the things that humans can do. We can walk, jump, climb, and run. We can lift, throw, catch, and push. Our fingers, hands, arms, and legs can do many wonderful things. They can even do multiple different kinds of things, sometimes at the same time. Consider all of the things your mouth can do. You use your mouth to talk, sing, eat, drink, blow, kiss, and smile. Robot designers have not been able to create a robot that can do everything the human body can do. Perhaps taking a cue from the “Transformers” movies, some engineers want to develop a multi-purpose robot design.
The job is not easy. Some are experimenting with the idea of creating heat-activated origami suits that serve as exoskeletons for a robot to allow it to do different tasks. The robot would change costumes to “transform” itself. Just as crawling caterpillars morph into flying butterflies, the goal is to create a robot that transforms itself by taking on a different form as it applies a different suit. The director of the project at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory said, “With this metamorphosis-inspired approach, we can extend the capabilities of a single robot by giving it different accessories to use in different situations.”
It sounds like a very challenging task to create a self-morphing robot. However, changing an outer shell to give the robot different functions is not the same as the metamorphosis of a caterpillar. In a way that is beyond robot engineering, the caterpillar dissolves into mush then reorganizes into something completely different. It doesn’t merely take on a new shell. This worm with no real brain does something that the brightest engineering designers can’t accomplish.
Getting back to the versatility of the human body, that has to be the most significant engineering accomplishment ever. We can do a countless number of different things. Then using the brain that God gave us, we can create tools (even robots) to accomplish the tasks we don’t have the strength or stamina to do. Multi-purpose robot design is a worthy challenge requiring the versatile abilities that only God could give us.
The state of Colorado refuses to stop harassing Jack Phillips for his Christian faith. A few months ago we reported on how the Colorado Civil Rights Commission is targeting Jack Phillips. Mr. Phillips owns a business called Masterpiece Cakeshop. Jack is an artist, and he expresses his art in finely-crafted cakes for special occasions. Jack and his wife are also deeply committed Christians, and the “Master” in the cakeshop’s name reflects his master, Jesus Christ. He wants every piece of art he designs to reflect his faith as he serves others.
Six years ago a same-sex couple asked him to create a cake for their wedding. He respectfully declined because doing so would violate his deeply-held religious conviction that marriage is between a man and a woman. He would create a cake for those customers for another occasion, but not for their wedding. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission punished him severely and accused him of acting like the Nazi’s or the segregationists of the past. You can read our report on that HERE.
After years of litigation, in June 2018 the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jack Phillips by a vote of 7 to 2. (We reported on that HERE.) Phillips was freed from years of legal troubles. But not for long. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission is targeting Jack Phillips again.
On the day the Supreme Court took up his case in June of 2017, an attorney called the Masterpiece Cakeshop. He requested Jack to create a cake for him that was blue on the outside and pink on the inside to celebrate his gender transition from male to female. Jack’s Christian faith told him that he could not do that, and he politely declined. The lawyer filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The commission did not act on that complaint until after they had lost the first case before the Supreme Court.
After losing the first legal battle, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission is targeting Jack Phillips again. Obviously, the lawyer who requested the blue and pink cake was setting him up. (The lawyer later called requesting a cake celebrating Satan.) It is just as apparent that the state of Colorado is out to destroy Jack’s business and attack his faith. The Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a lawsuit against the state officials and filed a preliminary injunction with a federal court to stop the harassment by the state.
One of the great necessities that a planet must have to support life is an ultimate food source that everything can eat. It must be highly nutritious, exist over a long time, and have very little waste. Modern oceanography has uncovered such a food source in an unlikely place. They found it in the frigid Antarctic ocean waters. The form of life is a small shrimp-like creature called Antarctic krill (Euphasia superba).
The amazing thing about these creatures is their abundance. Scientists found one swarm that covered several square miles and ranged in depth from 60 to 600 feet (12 to 180 m). They estimated the total weight of this one swarm is 10 million metric tons. That is equivalent to one-seventh of the entire planet’s weight of fish and shellfish caught in a whole year. It would amount to 98 pounds for every person in the United States.
Krill are rich in protein and have negligible bone and shell material. They consume microscopic animal and plant organisms as their primary food. Krill are near the bottom of the ocean food chain providing food directly or indirectly to everything in the ocean, including whales.
We live in a part of the world where there are many trees. We also experience heavy winds that frequently blow down human-made structures. It is interesting that healthy trees are almost never blown down. When you stop to think about it, you would expect trees to be major victims of high winds. That is not the case, and it is due to leaf designs to preserve trees.
To survive strong winds, trees need two things. The most obvious is structural support–strong, flexible branches, sturdy trunks, broad bases, and good root anchorage. A more subtle requirement is leaf designs to preserve trees. Leaves must have minimal wind drag. A fluid, such as air, flowing around an object generates drag. To minimize drag requires some streamlining to reduce the amount of friction between the fluid and the object. A highly streamlined object will usually be gently rounded upstream and elongated and pointed downstream.
For healthy trees, the leaves offer the most surface area and thus the most drag. Trees most commonly blow over when in full leaf, so leaf design is critical to the survival of the tree. Different trees have different design features, but all of them are designed to avoid destruction in a wind storm. American holly leaves have a method that involves the leaves being able to flatten themselves against each other. When the wind becomes strong, the leaves turn and lie flat significantly reducing the drag.
Tulip tree leaf design allows the leaves to roll up when the wind gets strong. The blade of the leaf points away from the stem. As the wind blows against the leaf, it forms a cone pointing upwind at the stem. The blade forms the broad area of the cone away from the wind direction. The higher the wind, the tighter the cone and the less the wind resistance. Black locust leaves similarly roll together to produce a cylinder.
Each of these designs depends on the properties of the leaf. If the leaves were too stiff, they could not assume the right geometry. The flexibility of their stems has to be high, and the surface of the leaf must be carefully designed and restricted. You can argue that natural selection does all designing and that given enough time it will select the proper shape. But remember that changes in climate mean you don’t have infinite time to apply the process.
There has been a lot of hype about red meat and its potential damage to our health. The FDA held its first public hearing about growing meat in the laboratory instead of using cattle–or for that matter fish or birds. The challenge is to produce hamburgers without beef.
One process that scientists are experimenting with involves growing “cultured meat” in the laboratory from real animal cells. The other idea is to create “meat” from plants with the protein and taste of real beef hamburgers without beef. Beef production is the top emitter of greenhouse gases, and growing beef from cows emits over 100 times more greenhouse gases than plant material would emit to produce the same amount of meat. Patrick Brown of Impossible Foods in Redwood City, California says “Animals happened to be the technology that was available 10,000 years ago for making meat. We stuck with that technology, and it’s incredibly inefficient by any measure–and destructive”.
When Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot introduced the first combustion steam-powered vehicle in 1771, it offered significant advantages over the horse. In 1898 urban planners in New York were concerned about the 50,000 tons of horse excrement that 175,000 horses in New York City were producing every month. Ten years later Henry Ford introduced the Model T which eventually eliminated the problem. How long will it take for plant-produced beef to solve the environmental and health problems caused by the use of cows to produce food? The beef industry is huge in America, hamburgers without beef are likely to be available in Europe and Asia before they are accepted here.
Some people believe that Christians cannot eat manufactured meat on religious grounds. Even those who go back to the meat prohibitions of the Old Testament will find no support for forbidding plant-produced hamburgers. In Genesis 9:3, God told Noah that he could eat of any “green plant,” but the law placed massive restrictions on eating animal-based protein. In 1 Corinthians 8:8-13 and in Romans 14:1-5 Paul expressed concern over the influence of Christians who because of their freedom to eat anything, might pose a problem for those who don’t understand that food is not a religious issue. Romans 14:17 summarizes this by saying, “The kingdom of God is not about meat and drink; but righteousness and peace…” In 1 Corinthians 10:25-27 Paul tells Christian to eat whatever is set before them “asking no questions.”
The silly aspect of religious concerns about eating manufactured foods is that we already do it. Think of the list of manufactured foods that we eat now. They include artificially produced fruits and vegetables such as tangelos, and hybrid apples, corn, and tomatoes. Other food substances include margarine, soy milk, artificial sweeteners, butter spray, etc. We copy God’s design of the foods we eat to enlarge the food supply of the planet and avoid waste.
Sometimes skeptics of the Bible tell us that the Bible teaches child abuse and therefore is not relevant to the 21st century. In this day of concern about violence and child abuse, they say the Bible is just an abusive, male-dominated book. The passage usually cited is Proverbs 23:13-14. In the KJV it says, “Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.” Proverbs 29:15 adds, “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.” There is no question that these passages have been used by angry parents to justify whipping or even beating a child–sometimes brutally. Is that what the Bible tells parents to do?
The answer to that question is definitely “no.” The first point is that Solomon wrote the passage in Proverbs to the people of his day. It was a society in which a man had many wives and many children. In Solomon’s case the number was in the hundreds, but virtually all Old Testament characters had a multiplicity of children. The basis of the society both religiously and politically was the father and his rule.
When Jesus came, he changed things. Jesus said that what God had allowed was “because of the hardness of your hearts” (Matthew 19:8). He reinstituted God’s original plan which was: “A man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” The structure of the family changed under the teachings of Jesus, and the basis of raising children was love, not control. Ephesians 6:4 told fathers, “Provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Colossians 3:21 added, “Fathers, don’t provoke your children to anger lest they become discouraged.”
Does the passage in Proverbs tell fathers to beat a child into submission? Again, beating a child is not what the passage says, and we need to do a word study to see that. There are two different Hebrew words translated as “rod.” One is the Hebrew “matteh” which refers to a piece of wood used as a club, a staff, or a weapon. An example is Exodus 4:2-4 where Moses threw down his rod which became a serpent.
The word for rod that is used in Proverbs is “shebet” which is never used destructively. Isaiah 11:1 is an example: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” Rod is used this way many times in Isaiah such as “the rod of his mouth” in 11:4, and “tool of freedom” in 10:15. Jeremiah 48:17 translates “shebet” as “beautiful rod.” Job 9:34 uses “shebet” as “discipline” in modern translations but as “rod” in the King James.
When God put the first man upon the Earth, He told him to take care of the garden–to dress it and keep it (Genesis 2:15). We have not done a very good job of keeping the Earth, and the result has been disastrous in a variety of ways. When Noah left the Ark, God told him, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. As I gave you green plants, I give you everything.” (Genesis 9:3). Did God give us enough? Does Earth have enough food to feed our growing population?
The first point we need to make is that we waste most of the food we grow. Various research groups give different estimates of what percentage of our food is either discarded, spoiled, or not harvested properly. All studies of this topic have shown numbers indicating that we waste more than 75% of the food that is available.
One area where we do not use food efficiently involves plants and animals that grow at astronomical rates. Some fish and water invertebrates can produce many thousands of eggs from a single female. The Ocean Conservancy has called attention to the growth rates of mahi-mahi, an ocean fish found in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. That species offers a vast supply of meat for harvesting. In one year of growth, the mahi-mahi can attain a length of over four feet, and the fish can reproduce as early as four months of age.
When you look at something or hear it make a sound, have you thought about how you can tell where it is? How do you determine its direction and how far away it is? Studies of human sight and hearing tell us that two different systems are involved. One system works for sight, and another for sound.
Hold up a finger at arm’s length from your face. Close one eye and look at the finger and what is beyond your finger. Now switch eyes, and you will see that objects beyond your finger appear to move. When you look at a distant object, the brain receives two signals–one from each eye. Based upon how much the background seems to vary, your brain then computes how far away the object is. That’s how you can tell where it is because your brain combines both images to give you a distance perspective.
To locate a sound’s source, the brain gets a signal from each ear. The two signals arrive at slightly different times depending on the width of the skull and the direction of the sound. We cock our heads to take into account the angular location of the source, and the brain creates an auditory spatial map that pinpoints the sound. Your senses handle sound differently from sight because of the difference in speed of the two signals. Light travels at 186,000 miles (300,000 m) per second and sound travels at 1087 feet (331 m) per second. Your brain combines the object’s sound signals received by both ears, and that is how you can tell where it is.
All of this is amazing enough, but researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tubingen, Germany, and Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario wanted to learn more. By using visual tests on a barn owl while monitoring its brain activity, they found that different nerve cells respond to “specific angular differences.” The barn owl used auditory methods with its vision to give it a three-dimensional map of the area. In that way, the owl has an instant picture of where to fly to get the most unobstructed path to its target. The director of the institute said, “We speculate that the brain uses similar algorithms to solve similar problems” such as matching problems.