Science and COVID-19

Science and COVID-19

There are many lessons to be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the most tragic of these lessons has been the vilification of science. Many politicians and preachers have acted as if science is something to be opposed and feared. Many of our national leaders view science as an enemy of the economic welfare of the United States. Some preachers have portrayed science as an attempt of Satan to shut down the Church and prevent Christians from meeting together. What is the truth about science and COVID-19?

The first problem here is a failure to understand what science is and how it works. Webster’s Dictionary defines science as “systematic knowledge.” Knowledge is simply an understanding of facts. God gave Israel into the hand of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. One of the first things Nebuchadnezzar did was to separate the best of the children who were “well-favored, and skillful in all wisdom and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science” and take them to Babylon (Daniel 1:3-4). This led to Daniel becoming a huge asset to Israel.

The Psalmist repeated over and over that scientific information builds faith.
Psalms 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech and night unto night shows knowledge.” Psalms 119:66, and 139:6 praise knowledge. Proverbs 1:22 and 1:29 talk about people who hate knowledge. Colossians 2:3 tells us that God has within Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Peter admonished Christians to escape corruption and add to their faith virtue and knowledge (2 Peter 1:5-6).

In 1 Timothy 6:20, Paul tells Timothy to “keep that which is committed to your trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings and oppositions of science falsely so-called.” There is a vast difference between knowledge and babblings or oppositions. Science deals with the facts of the COVID-19 virus. How we respond to what we know of the facts is up to each of us.

Science tells us to practice social distancing or wear a mask. The motivation behind rejecting those health practices are worldly pleasures and greed. Trying to test God by expecting Him to void the logical consequences of our actions is like handling snakes or drinking poison.

God never promised Christians immunity from all the problems in the world. If that were the case, people would become Christians to avoid problems, not because they love God. We need to use our God-given intelligence to make good decisions with the knowledge we have about science and COVID-19.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Danger of Curiosity – It Killed the Cat

Danger of Curiosity – It Killed the Cat

I am sure you have heard the old saying, “Curiosity killed the cat.” Perhaps someone used it to give you a warning about the danger of curiosity. In other words, they wanted you to stay just as you are and not ask questions.

However, asking questions is part of being human. The truth is that cats are not particularly curious. If you observe them, you may notice that they are extremely cautious. They may watch from a distance or test something cautiously with one paw. Humans, however, are not so cautious in their approach to things.

Humans are born into the world with a lot to learn, and they have to do it in a short time. Perceptual curiosity is the tool babies use to learn about the world. Adults who know the dangers of the world are always putting up barriers because the infant hasn’t learned the danger of curiosity.

However, perceptual curiosity is not restricted to humans. Animals such as dogs and crows (and even cats) display curiosity as they randomly explore unfamiliar objects. They may be thinking, “Does it move?” or “Can I eat it?” That is not much different from an infant’s investigation of the surroundings.

There is another level of curiosity only seen in humans. Psychologists call it epistemic curiosity. Jordan A. Litman of the psychology department at the University of South Florida wrote a paper on epistemic curiosity in the Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. He defined epistemic curiosity as “the desire to obtain new knowledge (e.g., concepts, ideas, and facts) expected to stimulate intellectual interest…or eliminate conditions of informational deprivation.” Epistemic curiosity requires an understanding of complex language and the ability to think and reason. It goes beyond infant or animal curiosity. Humans display epistemic curiosity after their perceptual curiosity has given them the necessary tools.

Epistemic curiosity leads humans to go beyond creating simple tools, which some animals can do, to imagining and inventing new creative possibilities. It has paved the way for creativity in music, art, and science. Humans have an intellectual interest in things beyond what is required for mere survival. We want to eliminate “informational deprivation.” We wonder what would happen if…, and what will happen when…” We want to know if there is a God. We want to know if this life is all there is. This ministry seeks to encourage that curiosity and encourage people to follow the evidence where it leads.

The problem comes when people choose to stay at the perceptual curiosity level
. “If our senses can’t detect it, then it doesn’t exist.” “The cosmos is all there is or was or ever will be.” “Curiosity killed the cat, so, therefore, don’t be curious.” “Don’t ask too many questions.”

If someone wants you to stay just as you are and avoid the danger of curiosity–beware! Don’t be afraid to ask the crucial questions. Sadly, it is not always unbelievers who avoid the danger of curiosity. God is not afraid of our questions. Let us, like Job, not be afraid to ask the questions–and accept the answers.

— Roland Earnst © 2020

Social Distancing in Animals

Social Distancing in Animals

It is interesting how difficult it seems to be for humans to practice social distancing to control disease. Scientific American published an article about social distancing in animals. Disease control is a basic need for all animals, but only humans create vaccines. So how do animals in the wild prevent the spread of disease?

Research on spiny lobsters shows that lobsters infected with a virus called Panulirus argus give off a smell in their urine that causes other lobsters to leave the area. Because of the economic value of lobster populations, much research has gone into understanding how this social distancing works.

A particular fungus spreads its spores by physical contact between ants. Other ants keep infected ants away from the colony and especially away from the queen and the nurse ants that take care of the brood to protect the ant population from the threat. Researchers have discovered social distancing in animals such as finches, guppies, mandrills, and mongooses. They all have procedures to isolate infected individuals and prevent the spread of disease.

Interestingly, God’s design for life includes social distancing in animals to stop viruses and fungi from spreading among their populations. Humans should not only be concerned about distancing from infected humans, but also from those animals that can spread diseases that affect humans. Trying to have animal pets that can carry diseases that threaten humans seems to be something we should all reconsider.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from the August 2020 issue of Scientific American (page 37).

Suicide is the Other Pandemic

Suicide is the Other Pandemic

We hear all the talk about “flattening the curve” concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. There is another pandemic without a direct viral cause, and the curve of that pandemic keeps getting steeper. Suicide is the other pandemic.

Since 1999 the suicide rate in the United States has risen over 33%. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death in the U. S. among people ages 10 to 34. Males have a higher suicide rate than females, and both show a rate increase of over 2% a year. The Center for Disease Control tells us that among young people between the ages of 10 and 19, suicide attempts increased 8% every year between 2006 and 2015.

The experts are giving all kinds of explanations for why this is happening. Some blame the use of digital devices, with cyberbullying being a significant factor. Research shows that there is a one-to-one connection between unemployment and suicide rates, and the collapse of the economy in the COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive unemployment.

We would suggest that the growth of atheism and the rejection of God is a major factor of why suicide is the other pandemic. Christianity teaches that the body is the dwelling place of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and the description of the judgment in Matthew 25:34-39 make it clear that Jesus expects his followers to use our lives in a productive way. In Philippians 1:21-26, Paul made it clear that he wanted to leave this life and go and be with Christ, but he knew God wanted him to help address the problems of the Church and humanity.

If I base my life’s decisions on being the most fit and realize that I have no hope of ever being the fittest, ending this life seems like the logical thing to do. Atheism and agnosticism offer no motivation to continue living. If I know I cannot find pleasure as I once did and the future looks bleak, why would I want to continue to live? Life has no ultimate purpose without God, and suicide is a way out.

Job’s wife told him to curse God and die (Job 2:9). If you do not have a purpose in life, that option can look very attractive. When you read Job 42:1-6, you see Job coming to a full understanding. He realized that he is part of something so grand and powerful that he can only vaguely understand it. We, too, may not fully understand what God is doing through our lives, but destroying ourselves so that God can’t use us is a huge mistake with catastrophic results. (See 1 Corinthians 3:11-23.)

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from Scientific American, August 2020, page 23.

Anemones and Clownfish Symbiosis

Anemones and Clownfish Symbiosis
Common Clownfish and Red Sea Anemone

There is an interesting relationship between anemones and clownfish. If you have had the joy of snorkeling in undeveloped areas, you may have had the unpleasant experience of bumping into one of some 800 species of anemones. Their tentacles contain toxin-filled capsules called nematocysts that fire stingers at anything that touches them. I can tell you from personal experience that it is extremely painful.

I finally learned to stay away from the anemones and just look at them. I saw that some fish died when they touched the tentacles. Interestingly, other fish, shrimp, and crabs lived among the tentacles and seemed unaffected by their stings. The very colorful clownfish lives right in the middle of the tentacles and appears to be immune to the anemone’s poison. Spider crabs and shrimp live at the base of the anemones. Crabs carry around baby anemones using them as defensive weapons. Even a baby anemone could deliver a nasty sting to my finger.

The clownfish seem to have the greatest skill for avoiding the anemone stings. When the clownfish is threatened, it will dive into the anemone tentacles for protection. The anemones eat algae remains that float in the water, and also small fish, sea urchins, shrimp, and some crabs. The clownfish benefit the anemones by removing parasites from them while the anemones provide the clownfish protection from predators.

So how do the clownfish avoid being stung by the anemones? They secrete a very thick mucus that does not trigger a response from the nematocysts. The clownfish can be all over the anemones and not get stung. Scientists are studying the mucus of the clownfish because it has potential uses for humans. The mucus is an anticoagulant and disrupts the gill function in sharks, making it an excellent shark repellent. Some researchers believe that the clownfish gets the mucus from the anemones, but other research studies show that the clownfish has a gene that produces the mucus. Research continues in the study of anemones and clownfish.

Science has a lot of data without a clear answer to how anemones and clownfish live in such a well-orchestrated symbiotic relationship. It would appear that the design of this symbiosis, like many others, is a product of God’s design and is not naturally acquired.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from National Wildlife magazine April/May 2020 and their websites.

Remaking God in Our Image

Remaking God in Our Image

Someone asked me, “Why did God do it that way? My only reply was, “I don’t know. I would not have done it that way. I guess you’ll have to ask God.” Why is it that we want God to do things the way we would do them? Are we remaking God in our image?

One of the objections that people have to God’s existence is that they think a loving and omnipotent God would do things differently. Why does God allow suffering? Why did God create viruses? Why didn’t God do a better job of designing (insert anything here)? Like Job in the Old Testament, we think we are smarter than God, and we want to tell Him how to do things. God set Job straight by giving him some challenges such as: “Do you know how to make (insert item here)?” – “Where were you when I did (this thing)?” – “Do you know how (this works)?” Job suddenly realized that he didn’t know everything. He was not as smart as the thought he was.

I could list several things right now that I think God should have done differently. But, before I do that, I have to look at my own failures and weaknesses. I have to look at times when things didn’t work out the way I planned, and I am thankful they didn’t. Small changes in my life’s circumstances would have led me in a completely different direction. God knew what was going to happen. He knew what was best. I can only be thankful that God has not allowed me to remake Him in my image.

We are created in the image of God, but sometimes we become guilty of remaking God in our image. Can we fully understand God and why He does things the way He does? Absolutely not! Can we trust Him to do things right? Absolutely yes! J. I. Packer, the late Bible scholar and author of Knowing God, was interviewed at age 89 after losing sight from macular degeneration. When asked how he felt about no longer being able to read, write, and teach, he replied, “God knows what He’s doing,…this comes as a clear indication from headquarters. And I take it from Him.”

We need to stop remaking God in our image and simply trust God to be God. He knows what He’s doing.

— Roland Earnst © 2020

Phalaropes Spinning for Food

Phalaropes Spinning for Food
Red-necked Philarope

Many times we see animal behavior that seems impossible to explain. We see an interesting example of that in wading shorebirds called phalaropes. These birds can get food that is too deep in the water for them to reach.

Instead of the typical methods used by shorebirds to capture their food, phalaropes take a different approach. They spin around and around in one place at the breakneck speed of one complete rotation a second. They kick seven to eight times on each spin and move their heads to where they can quickly snap up food. Researchers have found that these birds can detect prey, thrust and seize with their bills, transport and swallow the prey, and do it all in half-a-second.

Using high-speed photography, researchers found that the phalarope creates a vortex that is over three feet deep. The vortex acts as a miniature tornado bringing food up to where the bird can reach it. You could understand how one bird might learn this skill, but it seems to be genetically implanted as baby birds do the spinning even when they have had no contact with adult birds.

We see in phalaropes, as in most animals, that God has given them a genetically-based technique for acquiring food so they can survive.

For a video of the process, click HERE.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Real Men and the Tough-Guy Image

Real Men and the Tough-Guy Image

“Real men don’t play it safe” so many males, including world leaders, don’t accept wearing a mask and social distancing. That is the basic idea of an article by Peter Glick in the August issue of Scientific American. He says that many male leaders are more concerned about projecting a tough-guy image than protecting the common good. He mentions Brazilain leader Jair Bolsonaro, U.K. leader Boris Johnson, and Donald Trump and Mike Pence. When Captain Brett Cozier of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt didn’t radiate the tough-guy image, he was relieved of his command. Meanwhile, female leaders in Germany and New Zealand have had better success in the pandemic than their male counterparts.

This is one more example of how “survival of the fittest” produces competition, promotion of self, and struggles for dominance rather than compassion, empathy, and promoting the common good. It is also why women appear to tend to be more capable promoters of Christianity. As women start competing with males, they tend to demonstrate a great many of the same weaknesses.

Any weakling can turn their back on the needs of the “weak and unfit.” Our experience as the parents of a multiply-handicapped child is dominated by compassionate women who had great empathy and a servant mentality. The number of males who were able to give of themselves to promote disabled adults was pathetically small. As society has rejected the teachings of Christ and embraced a value system based on evolutionary theory, our cliches show our values: “show no weakness,” “I can fix it,” “dog eat dog,” “watch your back.”

It takes incredible strength to be a committed, active Christian. When you read Matthew 25:34-40, you see Jesus commending people not because they were the strongest or the most attractive or successful. He commended them for doing things that an evolutionist would reject, such as giving food and drink rather than using it as a control device. Christ commends them for taking in a stranger, visiting the sick, and clothing the naked. The whole notion of turning the other cheek, going the second mile, and loving your enemies (Matthew 5:38-48) opposes “survival of the fittest” mentality. Are we strong enough to be Christians, or are we trying to earn the title of “real men?”

— John N. Clayton © 2020

The article “Masks and Emasculation” is on page 10 of the August 2020 issue of Scientific American or you can read it online HERE.

Deforestation and Disease Pandemics

Deforestation and Disease Pandemics
Burning a Rainforest to Plant a Palm Oil Plantation

One of the interesting aspects of the story of Adam and Eve is the environment in which God placed them. Genesis 2:8 tells us that God planted a garden, and verse 9 tells us that He planted every tree that was pleasant and good for food. The Bible doesn’t say how long God took to plant the garden and what was involved in the garden’s growth. Verse 15 tells us that “God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” After establishing the man’s environment, the Genesis account turns to man’s spiritual nature. But the planted garden with every tree is our focus here as we think about deforestation and disease.

The Bible describes the first humans as what anthropologists call gatherers. Agriculture was a long way off. The eating of animals isn’t even suggested until chapter 4 when Abel brings “the firstlings of his flock” as an offering to God. An article in Scientific American (June 2020, page 8) points out how modern agricultural methods have led to the three major highly infectious viruses since 2002 – SARS, EBOLA, and COVID-19.

Slashing and burning to create land for crops, such as palm oil, reduces biodiversity and puts humans in contact with wildlife that carry microbes able to kill us. Species that survive the clearing are more likely to host illnesses that can be transferred to humans. In addition to the three main viruses of our time, the Scientific American article mentions some other diseases have come from rain forest inhabitants – Zika, Nipah, malaria, cholera, and HIV.

Humans have brought on most of our major disease issues by allowing greed and “survival of the fittest” mentality to govern our decisions about how we use the environment. We waste between 30 and 40% of the food we produce. Poor agricultural techniques and mismanagement of water prevent efficient use of what God has given us. Deforestation and disease go together. Now we are contaminating our atmosphere and filling our lakes, rivers, and oceans with waste.

The title of the Scientific American article is “To Stop Pandemics, Stop Deforestation.” God gave us the “garden” and the tools to manage it. We can’t continue to mismanage it and not see more consequences such as pandemics, global warming, and diseases produced by our failure to do what God called us to do in the beginning.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Lessons from Prince Rupert’s Drop

Lessons from Prince Rupert's Drop
Prince Rupert’s Drops

As an old physics teacher, I always had a few “tricks” up my sleeve to throw at my students when they looked like they might be dozing off. Here is one that was usually a part of our studies of kinetics and the laws of solids, liquids, and gases. Prince Rupert’s drops are glass tear-drop shaped beads with a tail. In Hawaii, these drops occur naturally and are called Pele’s tears in honor of the volcano goddess Pele. My students learned lessons from Prince Rupert’s drop, and perhaps you can too.

In 1660 Prince Rupert of the Rhine introduced the drops to English scientists. The drops are made by quickly dripping very hot glass into water. As the glass cools, it becomes hard and clear. The bead part can withstand 3400 pounds (15,000 Newtons) of force. You can hit it with a hammer and it won’t break. The tail of the drop is very thin, and you can easily break it. The result is that the entire bead violently explodes into millions of dust-sized fragments.

If a student were dozing off, I would do my old “A or F” trick. I would tell the student if they could break the tail off the glass bead they would get an A, but if they broke the bead or scratched it in any way they would get an F. With the class watching, the student would carefully break off the tip, and to their surprise, the tear-drop would explode. Then the rest of the students would want to try it, leading to lessons from Prince Rupert’s drop.

The physics behind this is fascinating. The glass behaves as a liquid according to Pascal’s Law, which says, “Pressure exerted on a fluid is distributed uniformly throughout the fluid.” Because the tail has a very small diameter, the pressure exerted on the tail is beyond the tensile strength of the glass. The modulus graph for this material is very strange, with the glass not bending or stretching and thus having no elastic limit. We can see glass behaving as a liquid in other cases. Windows in old houses tend to flow so that the windowpane is thicker at the bottom than at the top. Scientists have learned lessons from Prince Rupert’s drop that gave us toughened glass for the screens in today’s phones and tablets.

We can also learn some lessons from Prince Rupert’s drop. One is that things are not always what they appear to be. The drops are beautiful. Shining a laser into them produces interesting light patterns. The bulb of the drop seems to be indestructible, but a small change in the tail produces wholesale destruction in the entire thing. What was once a beautiful tear-shaped drop of glass is now a pile of powder.

The moral challenges that we all face are very much the same. Things are not always what they appear to be. Something beautiful can become an ugly pile of dust if it has even a single break in any part of it. Sex is beautiful and used as it was designed to be, it can bring great joy and love. One misuse of it can turn a life into an ugly thing that can’t be put back together by any physical process. Only the healing that Christ brings can restore the beauty of a broken sexual relationship.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

You can see a video demonstration of Prince Rupert’s drops by clicking HERE.