Zoonotic Diseases and Pandemics

Zoonotic Diseases and Pandemics

The ancient Israelites’ diet consisted of very little meat, and most of that came from animals they raised. That was not true in the rest of the world. For many people in China and Africa, survival meant hunting animals and using them for food. We now know that many of the animals people ate were intermediate hosts for viruses. A virus can exist for many generations in a wild animal and mutate until it can jump to human populations, creating zoonotic diseases. The list of viral and bacterial diseases that have originated in wildlife grows constantly. A partial list includes SARS, MERS, Ebola, AIDS, Zika, Lyme Disease, rabies, swine flu, and COVID-19.

Wet markets, common in parts of Asia and Africa, are a significant source of zoonotic diseases. There animals, including rats, snakes, birds, bats, and monkeys, are kept in cages and killed when people purchase them for food. The filthy environment allows saliva, urine, and feces to become mixed with the blood of animals slaughtered on the spot. Experts say 376 wildlife species are known hosts to zoonotic pathogens, and at least 700,000 different viruses have the potential to jump to human populations. Christian Walzer, executive director of health for the Wildlife Conservation Society, calls wet markets “cauldrons of contagion.”

In Old Testament times, the Jews had very strict rules about what meat they could and how to prepare it. One of the priest’s jobs was to inspect the meat that people consumed to make sure it conformed to specific rules preventing zoonotic diseases. That was the world in which Christianity began, and early Christians benefitted from the rules they inherited. The instruction of the apostles was not to eat blood or animals that had been strangled. (See Acts 15:20,29 and Acts 21:25.)

In Acts 10:11-16, we read the account of God telling Peter, “What God has cleansed you should not call common.” The message was that all people are precious to God, but it also implied that there was no longer religious significance to eating the meat of various animals. The dietary laws that God gave Israel centuries before were “nailed to the cross” of Christ (Colossians 2:13-17). However, what is religiously acceptable is not always biologically advisable.

It seems that the battle of the 21st century may be zoonotic diseases caused by eating animals that carry viruses to which humans are not immune. There were good hygienic reasons for the instructions God gave to ancient Israel.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from National Wildlife magazine, February-March, 2021 pages 22–29.

Native Plants Are Best for Birds

Native Plants Are Best for Birds

One of the ecological issues of recent years has been the role of invasive species and how they affect local birds and mammals. Recent studies show that berries produced by native plants are best for birds. Besides that, the birds prefer local varieties over the fruits of introduced species.

Studies of native bayberries have shown that they contain more fats, carbohydrates, and nutrients that birds need to survive. Amanda Gallinat of Utah State University said that invasive fruits are usually nutrient-poor. For people who enjoy watching birds, that is something to keep in mind when choosing plants for their yards.

Viburnums such as arrow-wood viburnum produce berries that are high in fats and carbohydrates, which help birds prepare for making long migration flights. For birds that stay around in the cold weather, another factor that favors native plants is how long they hang on to their berries. Winterberry is a native holly that can hold its berries well into the cold months.

When you talk about the design built into the migrations and lives of birds, it is not just the birds’ design but also the design of the nutritional system that supports them. Native plants are best for birds because they often give the birds better nutritional support than species brought in from other areas of the world.

God’s design for life is best, but humans often introduce non-native plants and animals that sometimes become invasive species. People may introduce non-native species with good intentions, or perhaps invasive species arrive by accident with foreign cargo. Either way, we must learn to be better stewards of the planet over which God gave us dominion. (See Genesis 1:28.)

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from National Wildlife, February-March 2021, page 12.

Subnivium Ecosystem Harbors Life

Subnivium Ecosystem Harbors Life

We humans don’t always like the winter snow for its inconvenience and sometimes safety threat. For many animals, the snow-cover makes winter the best time of year. Scientists who study life in this seasonal microenvironment under the snow call it the subnivium ecosystem. It allows many species of plants and animals to exist that could not survive without snow.

The first scientific writings about the subnivium world were circulated by a lepidopterist (a scientist who studies butterflies) named Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov was investigating butterflies whose caterpillars eat plants known as blue lupines. These butterflies lay their eggs on the stems of the lupines a few inches above the ground. When snow covers the area, the eggs are protected from the very low temperatures of the mountains where the butterflies live. Scientists conducted a study of those same butterflies in 2019 when there was a significant decrease in the snow cover. They found a 43% decrease in the number of butterflies produced.

This is just one example of life in the subnivium ecosystem. Ruffed grouse burrow into the snow at night and stay in an igloo-like area that can be 50 degrees warmer than the outside air. In wintertime, a surprising number of animals live in the warmer subnivium ecosystem. Wolverines, martens, voles, mice, shrews, red squirrels, and even bears take advantage of heavy snow cover. The protection of snow allows abundant life at high elevations and in polar areas.

Every part of Earth is home to living things because of the design of the animals and plants and the design of water that gives snow thermodynamic properties. It is easy to overlook the statement God made to Job about “the treasures of the snow” (Job 38:22). The simplicity of those words describes a whole world of life in the subnivium ecosystem and the treasure of water stored on snow-covered mountains. The treasure house of snow speaks of the intelligence built into every corner of creation.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from National Wildlife magazine, February-March 2021.

Massive Amounts of Water in the Cosmos

Massive Amounts of Water in the Cosmos

One of the things that has entered the debate about life in space has been the presence of water. Astronomers have found methane, ethane, and other compounds in oceans on other planets and moons in our solar system. Unlike water, they are not polar molecules. The polar structure of water makes it an apparent necessity for life. Scientists have debated about whether water has existed or does now exist on Mars, our Moon, or one of the many moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Now there is evidence of massive amounts of water in our solar system.

We have posted before about NASA’s “Astronomy Picture of the Day” website (apod.nasa.gov). On January 15, 2021, the page showed this picture taken by the New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015, as it flew by Pluto. The photograph shows areas of frozen nitrogen and carbon monoxide. It also shows massive amounts of water ice frozen into mountains reaching up to 11,000 feet (3,353 m), which is comparable to mountains on Earth.

There is more and more evidence that, at least in our solar system, water is quite common. Because of the temperatures in the outer planets, that water is in a frozen state. Liquid water has a very narrow range of temperatures, and that means the zone in which a planet can have liquid water is very small. Because of that, life on another planet is improbable, but the potential for humans establishing or supporting life elsewhere is relatively high.

Verse two of Genesis 1 tells us that the early Earth had water in the liquid state: “And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Massive amounts of water apparently dominated the planet. Verse six tells us that there was “a firmament in the midst of the waters” that divided the waters. It isn’t until verse nine that dry land appears. The keyword in these verses is the word translated firmament in English. The Hebrew word used here is “raqia.” It is used nine times in Genesis 1 and eight times elsewhere in the Old Testament. Four of those eight are in the visions of Ezekiel 1:22-26.

The Bible’s economy of language leaves us to understand the “firmament” from its context. The most accurate understanding is what, in modern terms, we would call an “interface,” a zone of change. In many cases, that zone is the atmosphere, so in verse 20 of Genesis chapter one, we have birds flying in the firmament. Genesis 1:14-15 tells us that the Sun and the Moon became visible as the darkness (Genesis 1:2) of the cloud cover (Job 38:8-9) in the firmament cleared. Ezekiel saw his chariots in the firmament.

The discovery of mountains of frozen water elsewhere in the solar system indicates that the original cosmos had massive amounts of water, as Genesis 1:6 implies. It also tells us that when the Earth’s temperatures settled to between zero and 100 degrees Celsius, the water became seas covering the planet. This is one more evidence for the integrity of the Genesis account as it describes the creative design of God, simplified so that all humans can understand it.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Bloodletting – Life Is In the Blood

Bloodletting – Life Is In the Blood

For almost 2000 years, from ancient Greece to the nineteenth-century, the most common procedure performed by surgeons was bloodletting. The doctors would cut the patient to allow blood to drain because they thought this would drain disease from the body. In truth, if it didn’t kill the patients, bloodletting at least left them weaker. The medical establishment didn’t realize that life is in the blood.

Even though William Harvey disproved the effectiveness of bloodletting in 1628, doctors (and barbers) still practiced it for another 200 years. It can take a long time for false ideas to be abandoned, even by doctors and scientists. In some areas such as China and the Middle East, people still practice a form of bloodletting today known as hijama or cupping.

While they were still practicing bloodletting, doctors began to experiment with blood transfusions. Early experiments in the seventeenth-century involved transfusions of animal blood into humans, usually with disastrous results. Doctors didn’t realize that there are different blood types among humans and even among animals. Different blood types have a different molecular structure in the red blood cells. If a patient is given blood of the wrong type, it can cause a reaction that can be fatal, because the patient’s immune system attacks the foreign blood cells as invaders.

In 1901 Karl Landsteiner found that mixing blood from different patients sometimes caused clotting. This led him to classify blood into three types—A, B, and O. Scientists have discovered more blood groups since then, making transfusions much safer today.

If those who practiced bloodletting had paid more attention to the Bible, they might have realized much sooner that it was a bad idea. “The life of every creature is in the blood” is stated twice in Leviticus 17 verses 11 and 14. With that admonition, God commanded the ancient Israelites to refrain from eating blood and to sacrifice the blood of animals to cover their sins. But the final redemption for sins came when “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood” (Romans 3:25). Life is in the blood, and eternal life is in the blood of Christ.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Quasar Brighter Than 100 Billion Stars

Brighter Than 100 Billion Stars

It’s 2.5 billion light-years away, and brighter than the over 100 billion stars in our Milky Way Galaxy combined. If it were even as close as 30 light-years from us, it would appear as bright as the Sun, which is only eight light minutes away. Before anyone ever saw it, scientists detected it by the radio waves that it sends out.

In 1963, astronomer Allan Sandage was the first to observe quasar 3C 273 with a telescope. Quasars are the brightest objects in the known universe. They’re massive discs of particles that surround a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy. They emit intensely powerful energy as the black hole sucks the life out of matter and pulls it into its abyss. The energy is brighter than 100 billion stars.

The cloudy streak in the picture from NASA’s Hubble Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 is a jet of energy that was fired off by the quasar at some time in the past. That streak is 200,000 light-years long! It would be impossible to survive in a galaxy with a quasar in its center. The intense energy from the quasar would destroy life while the black hole devoured the matter. We can be thankful that this quasar is so far away, even though it is one of the nearest.

Life on Earth is possible because we have no black holes or quasars near us. We think the universe reveals the work of an amazing Master Designer. We agree with Dr. Allan Sandage, the first person to observe a quasar, when he said, “Science makes explicit the quite incredible natural order, the interconnections at many levels between the laws of physics…Why is the design that we see everywhere so truly miraculous?… As I said before, the world is too complicated in all its parts and interconnections to be due to chance alone.”

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Hate Groups and Anti-Hate Groups

Hate Groups and Anti-Hate Groups

In recent years, several hate groups have grown up in the United States. Most of us know the Ku Klux Klan history, but today there are neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups gaining publicity. There are “anti-hate” groups to oppose the hate groups. That may sound like a good thing, but some anti-hate groups paint anyone who stands for anything as part of a hate group. Sometimes hate groups and anti-hate groups are hard to distinguish.

A good example is the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). This organization claims to track and expose 940 active hate groups operating in the United States. They define a hate group as having “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people typically for their immutable characteristics.” What they mean is that any group opposing same-sex marriage, radical Islam, or abortion they classify as a hate group. Their list of hate groups includes Christian organizations. Comparing a Church that opposes abortion to the Ku Klux Klan is absurd, but that is the case with the SPLC.

We face a crisis of free speech in America today. Anyone who presents negative facts about someone else’s beliefs or practices is likely to be threatened with lawsuits or arrest. In our periodical and on our websites, we have pointed out statements in the Koran that promote violence and abuse of women. We have called attention to the problems of abortion and how it fosters infanticide. We have given data showing that there are destructive and hurtful consequences to things the LGBTQ movement promotes.

Because we have printed those things, we receive threats of lawsuits and violence. In the past, we have had some violence and vandalism directed towards our ministry. We urge anyone who donates to hate groups and anti-hate groups to be sure you know what causes you are helping. For the anti-hate groups, find out who they are labeling haters. Both the hate groups and anti-hate groups oppose some of the teachings of Jesus Christ. In the words of Joshua to the Israelites, “Choose you this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). Practice love and follow the teachings of Christ, even if it leads to persecution.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Bacteria Working Together

Bacteria Working Together

Bacteria are single-cell microorganisms that we do not think of as having social behavior. However, scientists are studying Myxococcus xanthus bacteria working together. They are rod-shaped bacteria that live in the soil and organize into structures of thousands of cells to hunt food or to survive when food is not available.

Myxococcus xanthus bacteria are predators that eat other microbes. When they organize into 3-D structures, they can be visible to the naked eye. In this complex form, they swarm toward their prey in a single mass of bacteria working together in “ripples.” You can see them on the left side of the picture.

To capture their food, the swarms of Myxococcus xanthus microbes secrete enzymes that kill and digest the prey and then take in their nutrients. These predator bacteria hunt together because individually they can’t produce enough of the antibiotics to kill the prey, but together they are deadly to other microbes.

When there is a food shortage, scientists still find these bacteria working together to survive. They form a structure called “fruiting bodies” as pictured on the right. In that form, they can survive for years if necessary. As single cells, they would not survive.

Studying how these microbes work can help scientists design new antibiotics or pest-resistant seeds for agriculture. Myxococcus xanthus rods are alive and can crawl, so their movement applies the laws of physics and the biological laws that govern living things. Studying these bacteria may help materials scientists gain new ideas for constructing liquid crystal display screens in electronic devices.

We learn much by looking at what is functional in the natural world. A wonder-working hand has moved before us and gives us tools for developing new materials to improve our lives. Also, bacteria working together can serve as a lesson to remind us that humans can accomplish more when we work together.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from the National Science Foundation which is funding the research.

Planetary Atmospheric Pressure

Planetary Atmospheric Pressure

The media often overlook how many things have to be “right” for life to exist on a planet. Planetary atmospheric pressure is one factor.

By “life,” we mean the standard textbook definition of organisms that can move, breathe, respond to outside stimuli, and reproduce. The problem is that many conditions make other terrestrial planets (planets with hard surfaces) unlikely to harbor life. Life is even less likely on Jovian planets that are primarily gaseous. You can postulate balloon-like living organisms in Jupiter or Saturn’s atmosphere, but radiation and electrical problems make that unlikely as well.

Planetary atmospheric pressure depends on the weight of the gases above a planet’s surface. The air pressure on Earth’s surface is 14.696 pounds per square inch a sea level. That pressure allows water to exist as a liquid, and it will enable various gases to dissolve in the water. We all know what happens when you shake a bottle of carbonated beverage and then quickly remove the cap. The sudden drop in pressure causes an explosion as the dissolved carbon dioxide escapes from the liquid. For organisms to absorb oxygen dissolved in water, which fish do, the atmospheric pressure must be high enough for the oxygen to dissolve. The atmospheric pressure on the surface of Mars is .01 of the pressure on Earth. That means water on Mars would contain no oxygen or dissolved gases.

There has been discussion about finding water on the Moon or Mercury, but those atmospheric pressures are considerably lower than those on Mars. That means water would not be in a liquid state. On the other end of the pressure spectrum is Venus, where atmospheric pressure 92 times greater than on Earth. At that pressure, toxic gases would be dissolved in any water that existed on the planet.

Planetary atmospheric pressure is just one more variable that must be carefully and precisely chosen when constructing an environment that will support and sustain life. The creation is far more complicated than most of us realize. As we learn more, we must stand in awe of the God who created our planet.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from Astronomy magazine, February 2021, page 10.

Outer Space Is Not Dark

Outer Space Is Not Dark
Crab Nebula

Every time we get a better view of outer space, a new mystery steps forward. In 2015 a spacecraft called New Horizons went past Pluto and raced into outer space. The computers onboard the spacecraft were programmed to block out all light from known objects in the Milky Way galaxy. You would expect that if no light from stars or galaxies could get into the light measuring devices on New Horizons, it would measure only total and complete darkness. Instead, what New Horizons told us is that outer space is not dark but incredibly brilliant.

Outer space has an amount of light equivalent to the light from all the known galaxies in space! Tod Lauer, a spokesperson for the National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory in Tucson, says, “There’s something out there unknown.” The most likely scenario for this unexplained light is that there are still more galaxies and stars or clusters of stars beyond the reach of our telescopes, illuminating the distant clouds of matter.

Astronomers have said that the size of the cosmos is not only larger than we can describe with our known science and mathematics, but it is also larger than we can imagine. David wrote in Psalms 139:7-12, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I make my bed in the depths, you are there. … If I say ‘Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you, the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you…”

There is so much about outer space that we don’t know, like why outer space is not dark. But everything we discover points to the work of the Creator. It shows that He is a being outside of time and space who has created the cosmos with power and wisdom beyond our feeble ability to understand.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: The Week, December 25, 2020. page 20.