Blaming California Wildfires on God

Blaming California Wildfires on God
I am writing this article near Redding, California. We have been involved in lectureships in California during this month of August 2018. The fires that are burning in this state have been a constant source of inconvenience for us. They are a major tragedy for people here who have lost homes, businesses, and health. Smoke makes travel difficult, but for people with respiratory problems, the smoke can be lethal. Over and over we have heard references to “why did God do this to us” or in other cases “thank God for…” While we understand the emotions that go with all that is happening, we need to stop blaming California wildfires on God.

While working in California, we are blessed to be with Keith Crummer. Keith has been an ecosystem manager and forest management expert in California for over 30 years. He has degrees in forest management from the University of California at Berkeley and from Oregon State. As we discussed the incredible damage of this current series of fires, Crummer just shook his head in sadness. He told us that what is happening in California was caused by human ignorance and mismanagement.

One fact that astounded me is that there are more trees in the United States now than have ever existed in the history of this area. Before the white man arrived on the scene, trees grew and died just as they do today. When the biomass accumulated on the forest floor, small fires set by lightning or by spontaneous combustion eliminated it. Those fires wiped out small trees and allowed grasses to flourish which in turn supported deer, elk, and other mammals. That made the forest less dense. While fires existed, they were small fires that ran out of fuel very quickly.

Then humans moved in and stopped the fires and allowed vast amounts of biomass to accumulate on the forest floor. The trees became so dense that grass could not grow. Crummer said that scientists know that managing the forest involves harvesting the material that falls to the forest floor, thinning the trees, and using the energy that is available from them. This would eliminate the potential for uncontrolled burning because massive amounts of fuel would not be available. It would also allow animals like deer and elk to proliferate. The current fire catastrophe is 100% due to the mismanagement of the environment by people who thought they were doing the right thing by eliminating fires and refusing to allow cutting down trees or removing brush.

In the Genesis account, God told the first humans to “…fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of heaven and over every living thing that moves on the earth” ( Genesis 1:28-30). “The Lord God took man and put him in the garden to work it and keep it…” (Genesis 2:15-16).

God did not tell them to merely preserve the creation. The creation is a living, changing, dynamic entity. It is our job to facilitate the changing Earth. Working and keeping the Earth means to control those things that would destroy what God created including the animals that live on it. We need to stop blaming California wildfires on God. After the fires in Yellowstone National Park, the elk and deer populations returned to levels close to what they were before humans arrived. If we had done what God commanded in Genesis and worked the forests of the western states, the fires today would not be spreading as they are.

So God did not “do it” to those who lost homes. We understand the anguish and desperation that our friends have experienced, but instead of blaming California wildfires on God we need to realize that politicians and bureaucrats have mismanaged the wonderful resources God has given us. Environmental extremists need to understand more fully what must be done to preserve and protect the environment for the benefit of future generations. Followers of Jesus Christ need to let those who are suffering know that we want to help them. God is not the cause of their burden, but He wants to send His people to love and support those who are suffering.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Biomass on Earth Measured

Biomass on Earth Mostly Plants
Biomass is the mass of living biological organisms. If you lumped all living things by category, what group of organisms do you think would have the greatest biomass on Earth? We aren’t talking about the number of individuals, but the mass of the different lifeforms.

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on May 21 published a study of the different areas of the world and what form of life dominates in those areas. (Click Here to read the full report.) Plants contribute the primary biomass in the terrestrial environment. Animals are primary in the marine environment. Bacteria and archaea (single-celled microorganisms) dominate the deep subsurface environment.

You may find the results surprising. The total biomass of Earth consists of 80% plants. Bacteria make up the second largest biomass at 15%. After that in descending order are fungi, archaea, protists (unicellular organisms that sometimes form colonies), animals (including humans), and viruses. Soil fungi, protists, soil archaea, arthropods, annelids, and livestock all exceed humans in their biomass. Only wild mammals, nematodes, and wild birds have smaller biomasses than humans. In the marine environment the biomass is much smaller than on land, and after animals, the greatest biomass is in protists, archaea, fungi, and finally bacteria. It is interesting that tiny Antarctic krill contribute about the same biomass as humans.

As you think about the biomass on Earth, it becomes evident that for human life to exist, we need a huge biomass of supporting life-forms. It becomes apparent that we must take care of all of the living things that support us. It is also obvious that before human life could exist on Earth enormous preparation was required.

We have to be reminded of the words of the psalmist in Psalms 8: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon, the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him… You have made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beast of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the sea.”
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Reference: Scientific American, August 2018, page 16.

Liem’s Paradox and God’s Design

Liem's Paradox and God's Design
People who believe in naturalism face some interesting problems. One of them is the fact that what evolution predicts should happen doesn’t always happen. This phenomenon is known as Liem’s paradox. Let me explain it.

I am reminded of a field trip to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago when I was in a teacher-training program sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The leader gave us a demonstration of natural selection that was so easy to understand that it could we could use it in teaching low-level biology students the basics of evolution. Three small fish were introduced into a tank containing a northern pike that had not eaten for several days. One was very healthy, one was slightly impaired with several fins missing, and one was severely impaired with most of its fins missing.

We were asked to predict what the pike would do. We all agreed the pike would eat the impaired fish immediately and then the slightly impaired fish and the healthy fish would probably not be eaten. What happened was that the pike chased the healthy fish around and around the tank as we watched for over an hour. The pike never could catch the healthy fish and never ate the other two. There were all kinds of theoretical explanations for what we observed.

Animals are adapted to eat certain foods. Dr. Karel Liem of Harvard University did a study of a fish in Mexico called Minckley’s cichlid. Those fish have highly specialized pebblelike teeth which are perfect for eating the hard-shell snails that are plentiful in their native environment. What Liem discovered was that these fish would swim right past the snails if they could find softer food. They seemed to avoid the food that their bodies had become adapted to eating.

This evolutionary paradox is called Liem’s paradox, and it is seen over and over in nature. Gorillas will walk miles past copious supplies of stems and leaves which is their typical diet, to get soft sugary fruits that are harder to reach and require long walks. Gorillas in captivity will avoid fibrous foods like celery if they are offered sugary, fleshy fruits, even though those fruits are harder to digest and not good for them.

Liem’s paradox is not hard to understand if we believe that God designed animals to live in specific habitats. The design of animals is always to meet the most austere conditions in their environments. In the case of Minckley’s cichlid the fish will always have the snails to fall back on in hard times, but by being diverse in their diet, they save the snails for times when food is not readily available.

In Uganda’s Kibale National Park there are two different species of monkeys–the mangabey monkeys and the red-tailed guenon monkeys. The mangabey monkeys have flat, thickly enameled molars that allow them to crush hard, brittle foods. The red-tailed guenon monkeys have thinner teeth but have come to share the environment with the mangabey monkeys. Both species of monkeys eat the soft fruits and fleshy young leaves that are around them. In 1997 there was a severe drought, and the soft fruit and leaves were no longer available. The mangabey monkeys survived because they could crack seeds and get at hard foodstuffs which they did not eat until they had to. Animals are designed to get through the hard times but will pass up their special adaptions designed for survival so they can eat preferred foods.

We humans do the same thing. There are times when we eat something we may not like in order to survive, but unlike most animals, our bodies are designed to eat just about anything. We need to remember, “I will praise thee, Lord, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14) when we look at the diversity of stuff to eat in our local supermarket. We are reminded that Liem’s Paradox is only a paradox to those who are committed to naturalism.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Painted Lady Butterflies Out-migrate Monarchs

Painted Lady Butterflies Out-migrate Monarchs
One of the most amazing things we see in the natural world is the ability of some living things to make incredible migrations. In the past, we have described the monarch butterfly’s migrations from wintering areas in Mexico to northern parts of the United States covering a round trip of about 10,000 kilometers. However, we see that painted lady butterflies out-migrate monarchs.

Scientists have studied how the monarchs navigate such incredible distances with formidable obstacles in their way. Biologists have proposed a variety of models as to how these fragile butterflies could acquire such an ability. However, in the case of the monarchs, the journey is not made by a single butterfly but by a succession of generations.

Science News for July 21, 2018 (page 4) told about a study of another butterfly with an amazing migration. It has the scientific name Vanessa cardui and is commonly known as the painted lady butterfly. These butterflies live in Southern Europe and migrate to Africa in the fall–a distance of 12,000 km. That’s 2000 kilometers farther than the monarchs, and the journey involves crossing the Sahara Desert. As with the monarchs, scientists had believed that the migration involved several generations. New techniques allowed researchers to put markers on the painted ladies when they were caterpillars. We now know that at least some of the butterflies make this incredible journey in one lifetime.

When you look at the barriers to this migration including changes in wind direction, mountains, desert, and storms it is difficult not to be impressed with how the painted lady butterflies out-migrate monarchs. Trying to construct a possible model based on chance processes involves so many assumptions that it is hard to accept that this ability can have an evolutionary explanation. Believing that God’s creation included building a DNA set of instructions that allows the painted ladies and monarchs to migrate is not just an assumption, but the weight of the evidence supports it.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Tools and Intelligence

Tools and Intelligence
We tend to equate the use of tools and intelligence, but do they necessarily go together? Many kinds of animals use twigs, stones, or other objects as tools to gather food, to groom or defend themselves, or sometimes just to play. We are very familiar with how dogs can be taught to play with a ball or stick. Intelligent animals such as primates, mammals, and birds use or even create tools from materials around them.

Sometimes animals learn tool-use by watching other animals or humans. At other times tool-use seems to be instinctive. An internet search for “animals using tools” brings up many interesting videos. Ever since animal researcher Jane Goodall discovered chimpanzees using leaves and twigs as tools to obtain food in 1960, some people have suggested that tool-use is proof that humans are not unique from other animals—we have just evolved greater intelligence.

But the question is, “Does it take intelligence to use tools?” The short answer is “No.” Decorator crabs camouflage themselves with objects and plants, and they may pick up a sea anemone and use it to sweep across the sea floor picking up food. The assassin bug takes material from a termite’s nest to camouflage itself while waiting to grab a termite emerging from the nest. It then kills the termite and uses it as bait to coax other termites out of the nest. The larva of the green lacewing camouflages itself with objects such as sand grains to hide from and capture aphids.

Crabs, assassin bugs, and insect larvae have no “thinking” brain. They are not capable of being taught or learning by observation. How can they use objects as tools? In some cases, if the first of their kind could not use these tools, the species would have become extinct. We suggest that the Creator has “programmed” these unintelligent animals with the instincts they need to survive.

So as we consider tools and intelligence, we see unintelligent creatures using tools by instinct, and more intelligent creatures learning to use tools. Obviously, no animals can create and use the highly sophisticated tools that humans have, including computers, robots, and cars. But it’s the spiritual nature of humans that makes us different, and not our tools. Only humans worship God because He created us in His image.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Gorilla Named Koko Dies

Gorilla Named Koko Cartoon
On June 19, 2018, the famous lowland gorilla named Koko passed away. Koko was famous because she learned the sign language of the deaf and could comprehend 2,000 words and “speak” 1000.

Koko was born in captivity and lived in the Gorilla Foundation in California. Her trainer, Francine Patterson, began training the gorilla in the sign language of the deaf when she was about a year old. Koko got major attention from the entertainment industry and the media. Robin Williams and Fred Rogers interacted with Koko and gave her significant publicity. National Geographic ran a documentary on her in 1978.

A line in The Week (July 6/July 13, 2018, page 12) by Molly Roberts summarized Koko’s impact: “Science is still far from establishing how much apes truly resemble humans mentally and emotionally, but in Koko’s case, it may not really matter. What mattered is that we looked at this creature, and somewhere in Koko’s eye, we saw ourselves.”

There is no question that Patterson’s work with this gorilla was a remarkable demonstration of human patience and animal capability. Attempting to prove that the gorilla named Koko is a distant relative of her trainer is quite a stretch. Ms. Patterson became emotionally involved with Koko, and the usefulness of her work with the gorilla scientifically is highly controversial. Skeptics point out that Paterson’s questions were “designed to elicit responses that made it seem as if Koko understood more than she really did, but boy, did we want to believe.”

The commercialization of Koko did much to destroy any scientific value in her ability to communicate. Patterson created a record album in which Koko “picked songs she liked” based on what she listened to. Koko’s capacity to create art was demonstrated by having her copy what Patterson drew. Koko’s ability to select colors for what animal she was supposedly drawing produced some comical results. Koko’s “desire” to have a “pet” kitten was made into a children’s book in 1983. Understanding the concept of a kitten or a pet certainly was not part of Koko’s animal instinct.

We suggest that Koko the gorilla was created in the image of “Penny” Patterson. While this is an amazing achievement and there is much to learn from what Patterson did, the value of Koko to anthropology is very limited. The creation of humans in the image of God has nothing to do with intelligence, language, or the ability to learn and copy. Our spiritual nature is uniquely ours, and humans without training still demonstrate their spiritual nature.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
For more on this subject, see video #10 in our free series at

Lemming Suicide Myth

Lemming Suicide Myth
Lemmings are small rodents with long, soft, colorful fur and short tails that live in the Arctic tundra. They reproduce rapidly, and their population varies dramatically, usually over a four-year cycle. Scientists have studied the variation in lemming populations for many years, but they don’t entirely understand it. However, the lemming suicide myth is not an explanation.

Contrary to popular stories, lemmings do not commit mass suicide by jumping off cliffs into the sea to drown. False lemming legends are not new. In the sixteenth century, because of their rapid population increases, a story was started that they fall out of the sky when it rains. That idea was proven to be false.

The story of the mass suicide has been depicted in songs, movies, video games, stories, and a 1985 Apple TV commercial until most people accept it as true. The worst case of deception was in the 1958 Disney movie “White Wilderness.” The film won an Academy Award for best documentary, but it spread false information with a staged lemming suicide jump. It was later revealed that the lemmings were forced off the cliff by the camera crew.

When their population density becomes too high, lemmings migrate to find food. Since they can swim, they sometimes migrate across bodies of water. Occasionally some may drown in the crossing, but it’s not mass suicide. In 1980, Gary Larson’s “The Far Side” comic showed a group of lemmings jumping into the water. The last lemming in line was wearing a life preserver. Following the principle of natural selection, that lemming would have been the one to survive and reproduce. We would presume that its offspring would inherit the caution and be smart enough not to follow the crowd. Then we would assume that lemmings would evolve into creatures who would no longer take the plunge. It’s a matter of survival of the fittest, or perhaps the smartest.

The lemming suicide myth is persistent, but false, like the myth that we use only ten percent of our brains. The bottom line is, God didn’t create lemmings to be suicidal. He also didn’t create humans to be gullible.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

The Not So Common, Common Pigeon

Common Pigeon
You may think that pigeons are more of a nuisance than anything else. Many of us have had to scrub pigeon droppings off of statues or home decorations. The sheer number of pigeons that we see in our cities can make us take these birds for granted. Discover magazine for August 2018 published a dossier of the unique features of the common pigeon, also known as the rock pigeon or rock dove. These features show it is incredibly well-designed to survive in almost any environment on Earth. Here are some interesting characteristics:

Pigeons are one of only three kinds of birds that have an enlarged crop which is an extension of the esophagus. They use this crop to store food which they eventually give to their young.

Most birds drink by taking in water and then putting their heads back to allow the water to run into their stomach. Pigeons have a unique beak that acts like a straw enabling them to suck up the water.

Wing muscle makes up about 60% of a pigeon’s body weight making pigeons excellent flyers. They can cover 500 miles a day and can reach speeds of 50 mph.

Pigeons can navigate in ways that are still poorly understood by scientists. Experiments have shown they can use sound, magnetic fields, landmarks, the Sun, and even smell. Like the Arctic Tern, the common pigeon seems to possess multiple navigational tools.

Pigeons have a concept of self and can recognize themselves in a reflection. There are only six other animals that can do that.

Pigeons are more capable than babies and toddlers in recognizing the letters of the alphabet.

Pigeons use “fright molt” which is the ability to shed feathers when attacked.

Humans have used pigeons for food, for carrying messages, and for psychological testing. In fact, the famous psychologist B.F. Skinner taught pigeons how to play ping pong. Our most abundant birds like pigeons and crows were designed to do remarkable things. God frequently advises us to learn from His creation–including all life forms. (For example, Proverbs 6:5, “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise.”) We can also learn from the common pigeon which is not so ordinary after all.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Intelligent Alien

Octopus - Intelligent Alien
Science fiction writers and UFO proponents like to propose strange looking aliens that can do incredible feats. The common octopus is a beautifully designed and incredibly intelligent animal that could compare to any intelligent alien of science fiction.

The octopus has no bones in its body, in fact, the only hard part of an octopus is its beak. That means that the octopus can take any shape and fit through almost any opening. One famous example is an octopus that escaped from an aquarium in New Zealand. That animal picked apart the lid on its aquarium, crawled out, went across the room and down through a drain hole that led to the sea and has never been seen again.

Octopus arms are muscular, boneless, and lined with suckers that are covered with chemoreceptors similar to our own taste buds. An octopus can taste everything it touches. They live in oceans around the world from equatorial waters to Antarctica and the Gulf of Alaska and from deep-water trenches to shallow reefs.

The arms are also filled with neurons, so the brain cells of an octopus are in its arms and not its dome. The octopus has sacs of pigments which are controlled by the muscles. It can release this “ink” as a defense mechanism. Its arms also have cells that reflect and scatter light. That means an octopus can control what it looks like. It can resemble a sea snake, a fish, anemones, jellyfish, sand, or seaweed. It’s a master of disguise. In addition to the right color and form some octopus species copy the movements of whatever animal they imitate. The camouflage does not seem to be accidental but is controlled by the octopus itself.

For a soft-bodied animal to survive in the ocean, some unique characteristics must be designed into its DNA. We think the number of features the octopus has is astounding. To have one unique characteristic might be possible–produced by a mutation and supported by natural selection. To have all of the abilities of an octopus would not happen by one mutation. Fossil evidence indicates that octopuses have been around throughout the history of the oceans. They even predate the dinosaurs.

Octopuses resemble an intelligent alien, and they certainly make E.T. look like nothing special. They give evidence of the Designer of life.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Data from Discover Magazine, July/August 2018, page 56-57.

Color Vision Gender Differences

Color Vision Gender Differences
There are many differences between men and women, but you realize that there are color vision gender differences?

Light is electromagnetic radiation that stimulates our eyes. There are only specific frequencies of the electromagnetic frequency spectrum that we can see. Frequencies below the range of visible light are called infrared. We can sometimes feel infrared radiation as heat, but we can’t see it, although some animals can. Frequencies higher than visible light are ultraviolet which we can’t see, but it affects our skin and can cause sunburn. Some animals can see infrared light.

Within the visible spectrum of light that humans can see, different bands of frequencies affect our eyes differently. Most of us have receptors in our eyes for the wavelengths which we call red, green, and blue. When light stimulates those receptors, they send a signal to our brain which combines the signals to allow us to see many variations in colors.

People with colorblindness (mostly men) have one of those color receptor categories missing. The missing color may be either red or green. Why are men colorblind more often than women? The genes that encode the red and green receptors are located in the X-chromosome. Men have one X- and one Y-chromosome. Women have two X chromosomes. That means that if a man has a defective X-chromosome, he is out of luck. A woman would need to have two defective X-chromosomes to be colorblind.

It’s interesting that the chromosome pair that creates the sex differences also explains the color vision gender differences. God said, “It is not good for man to be alone” and He took something out of the man to create a woman. Then He put them together to complete each other. In many ways, men and women really do need each other to be complete.
–Roland Earnst © 2018