Rhino Horns and Poachers

Rhino Horns and Poachers

There’s an amazing balance in the design of living things in this world. Many times humans throw the system out of balance. The rhinoceros is endangered not because of natural predators, but because of humans. Rhino horns can sell for thousands of dollars for their collectible value and their use in traditional Asian medicine, so poachers take advantage of that.

People are willing to pay a high price for the rhino horns for decorative or medicinal purposes. Killing these animals to use their horns for decorative trophies is shameful. Killing them for medicine is useless. Their horns consist of only keratin, which is the same as human hair or fingernails. In reality, the rhino horn is one really tough bundle of nose hairs glued together by material extruded from sebaceous glands in the animal’s nose. Superstitious beliefs have caused people to grind the rhino horns into powder and drink the powder in water or inhale it for supposed health benefits.

Wild rhinos numbered over half-a-million at the beginning of the twentieth century. Today there are fewer than 30,000. The International Rhino Foundation reports that three rhinos are killed each day by poachers just to obtain their horns. Trying to catch the poachers and stop them in the act is nearly impossible. Sawing off the rhino’s horn to make it unattractive to poachers is not a good solution. Science is looking for a better way.

Researchers from the University of Oxford have designed fake rhino horns that look and feel like the real thing. More than that, they have similar material properties to the real horns. They used hairs from the tails of horses (close relatives of rhinos) and cemented them together with a silk-protein based organic filler. Molding the structure into the shape of a rhino horn, you get a realistic imitation. Even examining the internal structure on cross-section reveals identical characteristics. It also handles grinding and high temperatures like the real deal.

These fake rhino horns can be manufactured rather economically, so the rhinoceros horn market could be flooded with them to disrupt the black market. Furthermore, when the horns are ground into powder for medicinal purposes, they will be just as effective real horns, meaning not effective at all.

Education doesn’t work as long as people have superstitious religious beliefs about the power of rhino horns. Perhaps the fake horns will help. The best answer to the problem of human abuse of this well-designed world is to realize that the Creator has given us the job of being caretakers of the creation. (Genesis 2:15) If we believe there is a Creator who holds us responsible, we have good reason to handle the Earth and the life on it with care.

— Roland Earnst © 2019

Blessing of Turkeys

Blessing of Turkeys

Turkeys are native to North America and live in the wild in every state except Alaska. They got the name “turkey” when Turkish merchants brought them into Europe. Since they were very abundant and easy to kill, indigenous North Americans domesticated them by around 800 BC. Many native American tribes considered turkeys to be a gift from deity. Ben Franklin thought that the turkey instead of the bald eagle should be the national bird of the United States. The blessing of turkeys is that they seem to be designed uniquely to meet the needs of humans.

Biologically, turkeys are of the order called Galliformes, which are ground-feeding birds that include chickens, grouse, guinea fowl, quail, and pheasants. Turkeys have large breasts, are poor fliers, and can adapt to almost any environment. They are omnivores that will eat just about anything they find on the ground.

From an evolutionary standpoint, it is hard to imagine how turkeys have survived. The only defensive weapon they have is the spurs on the feet of the males. Those of us living in areas where there are large numbers of wild turkeys have learned to be careful when around them. A turkey will attack anything it sees as subordinate. Recently in the spring mating season, a turkey flew through the open window of a pickup truck and attacked the driver, who required more than a dozen stitches. But a turkey is no match for a wolf, bear, or eagle.

When God blessed Noah and his family in Genesis chapter nine, He told them that all living things were delivered into their hands. He said that “every moving thing that lives shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.” The ease of domesticating chickens and turkeys comes from the planning and wisdom of God. The blessing of turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner is a special reminder of God’s creative wisdom. It also reminds us that we are responsible to care for the wonderful blessings of food God has provided.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from Heifer.org and World Ark, Holiday 2019, pages 5-7.

Design of Symbiosis

Design of Symbiosis

One of the most interesting examples of design is the massive number of symbiotic relationships that exist in the natural world. These are arrangements two or more plants or animals benefit each other. Sometimes the design of symbiosis is essential for their survival.

Living by a river in Michigan, we see many animals that couldn’t exist without symbiotic relationships. Such common animals as squirrels need a designed symbiotic relationship that allows them gives them a growing abundance of food. We have a wealth of oak trees. In the fall, there are so many acorns on the ground that you can’t go barefoot. I counted 14 squirrels in my yard this morning, gathering acorns. They not only eat the acorns, but they bury them so that they will have a reserve of food for the rest of the year. They hide so many in so many different places that they eat only a small fraction of the acorns. The rest sprout and produce more oak trees. The oak forest spreads, and that means that the squirrel population can increase. The trees feed the squirrels, and the squirrels plant the trees in the design of symbiosis.

I grew up in the upper peninsula of Michigan. The bedrock there is mostly granite. Granite is hard, and water cannot penetrate it. That means that growing crops is difficult in the “U.P.” Animals would have it tough except that God has provided an animal with a symbiotic relationship to the soil and rocks of the area. To retain enough water to take the entire ecosystem through periods of drought, beavers construct dams in the streams. The multiple dams create small ponds that supply the water needs of plants and animals. What would otherwise be a sterile wasteland is a temperate paradise of woods with a wealth of birds and animals all dependent on the beavers. As beavers reproduce, their kits build their own system of dams and ponds, expanding the availability of water for all northern life.

What is the most expensive meal you can order when you go out to eat? Ask for the “diamonds of the kitchen” and you will be served a fungus called a truffle. A three-pound truffle recently sold for $300,000, and yet it is just a fungus. Truffles grow underground on the roots of trees. The truffle keeps bacteria and corrosive elements away from the tree roots, and the roots provide a protected place for the truffle to grow. This is another design of symbiosis. The way most people search for truffles is to have pigs root around trees until they uncover a truffle. Truffles are said to be the most expensive food in the world, but to locate them requires the use of animals that most of us don’t care to be around.

There are countless symbiotic relationships. The question of interest is, how does such a relationship develop? Is it merely by accident? We suggest God has looked at the nutritional needs of all of His creatures. In His wisdom, He has created living things in a way that links their food supply to other living things in their environment. The design of symbiosis is a marvelous creation of God.

— John N. Clayton © 2019

Milk Production and Greenhouse Gases

Milk Production and Greenhouse GasesHow do you feed millions of humans and meet their nutritional needs without destroying the planet with greenhouse gases? The World Wildlife Federation has released data on one of the primary sources of food for more than six billion people worldwide – milk. The average person in the United States consumed 643 pounds (292 kg) of dairy products in 2017, including milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. Those foods came from 9.3 million dairy cows, but there are 278 million in the world. Milk production has grown by 30% from 2005 to 2015, and that comes to 909 million tons. India is the leading producer with 20% of the world’s supply. The U.S. has 12%.

The design of cattle that can produce that much milk was recognized in prehistoric times, and cattle were worshiped because they provided so much food for humans. Skeptics would respond that the environmental impact of cattle is so huge that it is a bad design. It does take 144 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk in the U.S., with over 93% of it involved in growing feed for the cattle. The average dairy cow will eat 100 pounds of feed, and 9% of American cropland is used to grow feed crops for dairy cows. A cow will produce 17 gallons of urine and manure, which can pollute rivers and lakes, and they generate greenhouse gases.

The fact is that only 2% of the total U.S. emission of greenhouse gases comes from milk production. The Northern Great Plains cover 180 million acres in Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. The land became rich in resources and healthy when grazing animals such as bison aerated and fertilized the soil. With the past numbers of those animals gone, scientists now say that something else must fill that niche or erosion will increase, and invasive plants will take over. Studies by the World Wildlife Federation show that cattle production areas in the Northern Great Plains have lower per acre emissions than row crop agriculture such as corn, soybeans, and wheat. The most recent study shows “done right, ranching can help conserve biodiversity while minimizing its own environmental footprint.”

Like everything else that God has given us, milk production must be managed carefully and with a concern about “taking care of the garden, dressing and keeping it” (Genesis 2:15). Milk is one of God’s great blessings, and a land “flowing with milk and honey” is held out as the most favorable place to live.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: World Wildlife Federation Winter Quarter Report 2019-20. .

Wolf Spiders are One of God’s Dandy Designs

Wolf Spiders are One of God's Dandy DesignsThose of us who live in the United States Midwest are familiar with a very large spider species that we see frequently see in our sheds and outdoor equipment. These spiders have a creamy or golden cast with stripes on their heads and brown, gray, and black markings. Wolf Spiders are One of God’s Dandy Designs.

Wolf spiders have stout bodies covered with sensory hairs. They can run very quickly, and they don’t spin webs. Wolf spiders have eight eyes arranged in three rows. The bottom row has four small eyes, the second row has two large forward-facing eyes, and the top eyes are toward the back and side of the head.

After mating, female wolf spiders place their eggs in a silken sac. They attach the pouch to their bodies and carry them around until they are ready to hatch. When they hatch, the mother assists them by carrying them on her back. She can carry up to 100 spiderlings until they are prepared to function on their own. Sometimes the females will step into a water source and allow the babies to crawl down and get a drink and then crawl back up for safety.

Wolf spiders are agents designed to keep a balance in nature. Their diet consists of ants, grasshoppers, crickets, and other insects that pose a threat to humans and our crops. They can bite a human, but while the bite is uncomfortable, it is never lethal. Wolf spiders are one of God’s Dandy Designs to keep things in balance and prevent our crops from being ruined by insects. Eradicating spiders is not a good idea, and wolf spiders are one of the best friends we have.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from the Herald Bulletin by Sheryl Myers October 29, 2019.

Care and Maintenance of Pets

Care and Maintenance of PetsI am totally in awe of how much pets mean to people and how much they do for their owners. As people become more and more aware of the need to take care of planet Earth, they realize the environmental impact of the care and maintenance of pets.

When God created life on this planet, He built balance into all life. There were natural limits to the population of animals. There was a healthy relationship between prey and predator. Then humans killed off certain predators and transported animals to new areas where they had no predators. They sometimes adopted wild animals as pets and later released them or allowed them to escape into the wild. Those actions upset the balance, and today we are paying the price for that disturbance.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service tells us that cats, many of them feral, kill billions of birds every year. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature reports that wild and free-roaming dogs are a threat to the survival of almost 200 species around the world. Sometimes people obtain a cute baby crocodilian for a pet, and when it grows too large, they release it into the wild where it can become a danger to other animals or people. The Florida Everglades has a problem with Burmese pythons, which people released when they became too large for pets.

We have a great responsibility for control of the animals that God has given us to oversee. God said, “Have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the face of the earth” (Genesis 1:28). That doesn’t mean to destroy them. It means to take care of them and work to produce proper management of their lives. The selfishness and greed of humans harm the planet on several levels, including puppy mills and the neglect of animals in our control. The care and maintenance of pets is an area where we need to do better.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Learn from Trilobite Eyes

Learn from Trilobite EyesOne of the more interesting fossils you will ever find is a trilobite. This three-lobed ocean-going creature was an arthropod related to insects and crabs. Its closest living relative is probably the horseshoe crab, although behaviorally, it may have been more like a lobster or crayfish. Today we find beautifully preserved trilobite specimens in rocks dating back to the beginning of life on Earth. What can we learn from trilobite eyes?

We can study and learn from trilobite eyes because they were made of the mineral calcite. Calcite is the same mineral that makes up limestone, so it is quite hard and efficiently preserved. In its purest form, it is perfectly clear. Calcite possesses what scientists call a double index of refraction. Because of the arrangement of atoms in calcite, light arriving at one angle passes undisturbed while light at another angle will be split into two beams.

In addition to being made of calcite, the trilobite eye was made up of a honeycomb of hexagons. There could be several thousand hexagons in the eye arranged so that light from any angle would be refracted into the animal’s eye. If it came perpendicularly, the light would go straight to the back of the eye. If it came at an angle, the double index of refraction would still bring the light to the back of the eye. There was a small wall between the hexagons so that light from the hexagons did not overlap each other. When arthropods grow, they molt their outside layer, and the new larger layer hardens. The eye material would add hexagons as the animal got larger.

This kind of eye is similar to the eye of a housefly. Like flies, trilobites would have been especially good at detecting motion. They also would not have a problem with near-sightedness or far-sightedness. Something an inch away or a mile away would both be in focus at the same time.

There is one vision problem the trilobite would have. It’s called spherical aberration. The thickness of the materials in each hexagonal lens would not be the same, and that difference could distort the image. In the trilobite eye, this problem was solved by magnesium atoms added to the calcite in a way that corrects the aberration. Modern opticians do this with what they call a doublet lens.

Scientists have observed other special features in various species of trilobites. They have found some eyeless trilobites that probably lived in areas with no light, such as very deep in the ocean. Other eyes were mounted in ball-like structures that could move. Still others were positioned so that the animals could bury themselves in the sand like a stingray while their eyes could still look out for food or enemies.

There are many lessons we can learn from trilobite eyes. The incredible complexity is a tribute to God’s wisdom and design. In this case, the complexity is of particular interest because trilobites were some of the first animals to live on this planet. That fact presents a problem for those who say complexity is a result of evolutionary forces over a very long time. Trilobites already had a sophisticated visual system when they first appeared in the fossil record in the Cambrian period 500 million years ago. Darwinistic models cannot explain the trilobite eye, but the God of the Bible can.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Dinosaurs and the Bible

Dinosaurs and the BibleThe largest and best-funded apologetics organization in the world today is the Institute for Creation Research. They are strongly supported by fundamentalist Christian groups that have dispensational theologies. While they promote several denominational doctrines that aren’t supported by the Bible, and some of their science is not accurate, they do have a great deal of useful scientific data that supports the existence of God. However, they ran into a problem concerning “dinosaurs and the Bible.”

The most fundamental problem with the position of ICR is stated in these words from the November 2019 issue of their magazine Acts and Facts (page 4):

“Instead of attempting to harmonize the inerrant Word of God with a flimsy scientific model, Christians would do far better to simply take God’s Word at face value.”

The fact is that not all science is flimsy. Also, taking the Bible at face value when “face value” means a questionable interpretation of an inferior English translation. We have often dealt with dinosaurs and the Bible before. You can find some of our previous posts HERE and HERE.

There is no question but that those of us who believe in God and the Bible as His Word share common problems. In that same issue of Acts and Facts, Jayme Durant, the editor of the magazine, tells of trying to put up billboards in the Dallas area. They wanted to advertise the Discovery Center, a new multi-million dollar museum they have opened in the Dallas area. The billboards had their logo with the simple message “Dinosaurs and the Bible?” Two of the billboard companies would not allow ICR to display their message as long as they used the words “Bible” and “Dinosaur” together.

Here is the complete message of the sign owners:

“It’s controversial to have a statement that may challenge local beliefs. Saying ‘Dinosaurs and the Bible?’ may stir the pot in that area and cause problems for the sign in that area.”

Durant points out that “…making people think about something that might be outside their paradigm is apparently unacceptable by much of the American public.” Our society continues to show its bias and antagonism toward God and the Bible. Durant concludes her essay by writing, “You might be accused of stirring the pot. But that’s okay–your life is your billboard. And every day, you can choose the message you display.” We may not agree with ICR on dinosaurs and the Bible, but we certainly agree on that.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Tool Use Is Not What Makes Humans Unique

Tool Use Is Not What Makes Humans UniqueWhen I took my first anthropology course at Indiana University in 1958, the professors said that humans are the only animals that fashion and use tools. Later, scientists discovered that chimpanzees could smash rocks until they get one that has a sharp edge. Then they use that sharp edge as a tool to cut open fruit or dig for ants. Louis Leakey, the anthropology guru of that time, stated, “We are either going to have to change our definition of man, or invite the chimps to send a representative to the United Nations.” Tool use is not what makes humans unique.

Since that time, other animals have been observed using tools and some even manufacturing tools. Nuthatches can find a stick that they can slide under the bark of a tree to get at a bug. Crows can fashion a stick and use it to get into a milk bottle. The picture shows a macaque using a stone to smash a crab shell for food. Science now says that less than one percent of all animals use tools, but that number keeps growing. Discover Magazine for November 2019 (page 22), contained an article about skunks picking up a rock and pounding on the ice in a pond to make a hole for drinking.

The Bible does not identify humans according to tool use or any technological accomplishment. Mentally challenged humans might not make tools or use them, but they are still humans, no matter what their abilities. What defines humans is our spiritual makeup, which the Bible describes as being in the image of God. This image gives us the capacity to express ourselves in worship, in artistic expression, and in the ability to feel guilt and be sympathetic. Tool use is just one of many designed characteristics built into the DNA of many forms of life. But tool use is not what makes humans unique.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Beauty of Earth’s Diversity

Beauty of Earths DiversityThe plant in the picture is called the “bird of paradise.” It is neither a bird, nor is it found in paradise. However, it is indeed a beautiful example of the beauty of Earth’s diversity in the plant world. One of the primary reasons many of us enjoy travel and visiting museums, zoos, and arboretums is that we are enthralled with the incredible diversity of living things.

We want to suggest that this diversity is more than a device to entertain us humans. From a scientific standpoint, it is the diversity of life on Earth that has led to the high standard of living available to us on this planet. As geneticists unravel the genome of living things, it becomes more and more apparent why agricultural breeding practices of the past have been successful. The production of super chickens, super cows, low-fat pork, and all the other unique breeds has been possible because of all the different genetic options God built into life. If, for example, there had been only one set of genes for all bovines on this planet, such cattle as the Charolais would not have been possible. It is only because we have an infinite number of genetic possibilities to draw from that we can select those that will serve our particular needs.

In plants, this is equally obvious. We have only begun to appreciate all that plants can do. Scientists have studied only a small percentage of all plants on this planet to see how we can use them. Cures for cancer, AIDS, the common cold, and a variety of other ailments may well be in a plant we have not yet investigated. It is self-evident in today’s world that solving the problem of hunger lies in the fuller use of plants. The diversity of plants holds the key to better nutrition, more and better fabrics to protect and shelter us, and even the improvement of air quality.

In God’s creative wisdom, He gave us a wide diversity of life of all kinds and told us to “take care of the Garden, dress it, and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). The future has vast potential for good if we will use in a constructive way all that God has given us. To arbitrarily destroy any of this diversity and thus end its potential usefulness is not only poor management of the “Garden,” but also the worst kind of foolishness.

We also suggest that the beauty of Earth’s diversity of humans offers the potential for vast good. Each of us has a gift designed into our makeup that uniquely qualifies us to bring great blessings to others. Paul said it best:

“According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts: If prophecy, use it according to the proportion of one’s faith; if service, use it in service, if teaching, in teaching; if exhorting, in exhortation; giving, with generosity; leading, with diligence; showing mercy, with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:6-8). See also 1 Corinthians 12:8-27.
— John N. Clayton © 2019