Paleontologists who study the earliest fossils of life on Earth refer to an event they call the “Cambrian Explosion.” The fossils from that event are unique because they have advanced body plans and no previous ancestors. A vast range of marine species that lived in an ancient sea suddenly appeared in the fossil record. A new discovery of fossils from the Cambrian Explosion is known as the Quingiang biota. Scientists are calling it one of the most significant fossil discoveries in the last 100 years.
Scientists made the find near the Danshui River in the Hubei province of China. It appears to be an ancient mudslide that buried a vast range of fossils. The site contains at least 20,000 individual specimens. At last report, 4,351 fossils have been examined, and they represent 101 different species. Fifty-three of those are new to science meaning that fossils of those species have not been found before. Because they were buried so quickly, not just shells, but even some soft parts have been preserved including muscles, guts, etc.
Imagine an animal that can survive without water, can withstand 300-degree temperatures, can live without oxygen, can survive the vacuum of space, can survive almost any amount and kind of radiation, and can hibernate for decades. This is not science fiction; it is an animal phylum known as tardigrades, often called “water bears.” There are as many as 1,200 species of tardigrades, and they live all over the Earth.
In 2007 scientists put two species of tardigrades in containers and launched them into orbit and opened them up to cold, airless space with no protection from the punishing radiation of the Sun and stars. When they returned the tardigrades to Earth, they were alive, and they are still producing offspring that are also alive and reproducing.
These animals are microscopic, about half a millimeter long when fully grown. Under a microscope, they look like a combination of a chubby bear and a single-eyed alien. They have legs but no circulatory system or skeleton. In extreme environmental conditions, they curl up and enter a survival mode called cryptobiosis. When conditions improve, they revive and resume their normal life processes. They eat algae and aquatic plants.
Scientists have studied the tardigrade genome and found ways to improve crop survival in bad weather. The United States government has allotted five million dollars to scientists attempting to find ways to protect vaccines and human blood using what they learn from the genome of tardigrades. Other uses include preserving organs for transplant and producing a sunscreen that protects against ultraviolet rays as well as reducing radiation damage in cancer treatment methods.
The development of life on Earth has not been a hit-or-miss process. As science looks at smaller and smaller things that our technology allows us to see, we realize that there is a whole world of carefully designed microscopic plants and animals that form the base of the animals we CAN see. Every time we look into the world around us, we see that a wonder-working hand guided by an intelligence far beyond our own has gone before and provided for our well-being. Thanks to technology, we realize that now more than ever before.
In Genesis 8 we read about a plague against Pharaoh that involved frogs. The frogs came upon the land of Egypt in such numbers that they got into everything, including beds and food preparation areas. Verse 5 indicates that this abundance of fogs came from the rivers, ponds and streams. Is a plague of frogs possible?
Skeptics have suggested that such an event is not possible. They have even suggested that this is just an attempt at humor by the biblical writers. Preachers have generally just shrugged their shoulders and said, “Well, God can do anything.”
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, recently experienced a mini-plague. In March of 2019, people awoke to an infestation of thousands of baby bufo toads covering the city. There were so many that one resident described it as a plague of frogs “covering every square inch. You couldn’t walk through grass without stepping on one.”
A singe female frog can produce a vast number of eggs. It isn’t hard to visualize how this plague could happen. Like all of the plagues directed at the Pharaoh, the message is more important than trying to figure out how the plague was accomplished. But, of course, “God can do anything that is according to His will and nature.”
Law enforcement officers use tasers to incapacitate offenders. A taser delivers an electric shock causing the victim’s muscles to freeze, but there is rarely any permanent damage. In the natural world, there are electric eels that use what we might call God’s taser.
Police tasers shoot two darts charged with opposite polarity producing an electric shock to stun the suspect. Electric eels emit pulses of electricity which disable the prey. The eel’s head has a positive charge, and the tail has a negative charge. The eel curls its tail around the victim and generates an electric field. The closer the tail gets to the head of the eel, the stronger the field becomes. The prey’s muscles are frozen so it cannot escape.
Electric eels also use their charge capacity to find prey. If the eel swims close to a weed bed or something else where prey is hiding, its electric field will create an effect that reveals the hiding place. The eel’s electric field will not stun the prey, but it will cause the prey’s nervous system to fire making it twitch and reveal itself.
The eel can also use its electric capacity as a defense mechanism. When an intruder approaches, the eel will rise out of the water clamping onto the intruder with its mouth. The eel’s positive head will be clamped on to the intruder, and the electricity will go through the intruder and back to the water where the negative tail is. This delivers a nasty shock of nearly one ampere – far higher than the shock of the man-made taser.
Researchers believe these eels use electric fields to track and navigate both their paths and the paths of their prey. How this works is not well understood. Science still has much to learn about electric eels.
One important point to keep in mind as we study the natural world is that maintaining balance in any ecosystem is critical. If plant eaters get too numerous, they will eat all the plants and the plant eaters all die. Predators keep the number of plant eaters in check. Animals like the electric eel are critical to maintaining the balance needed for long-term survival of all life on Earth. God has built some very sophisticated animals, and the complexity of electric eels and their use of electricity speaks of wisdom and design, not blind chance.
Please read this before you write an angry letter. We publish a printed journal which we mail to those who requests it. In our first quarter edition, we had an article titled “Branded.” One of the points we made in that article is that evolution is not a dirty word.
In the article, we pointed out that one of the things turn people away from the Church is labeling people based on misinformation. We cited some examples such as racial prejudice. That is an area that I had to deal with when I was a child, and the Ku Klux Klan threatened our home and especially my father.
A current example of labeling or branding I have experienced involves the use of the term “evolution.” Those of us who believe in science experience animosity from some Christians who view science as an alternative to belief in God. The whole foundation of this ministry is that science supports the Bible and faith in God. We regularly get hate mail from people who claim to be Christians and accuse us of replacing God with science. That is just the opposite of what we are doing. First Peter 3:15 tells us to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks us of the reason for the hope that is in us.” Passages like Romans 1:18-21, Proverbs 8, Psalms 139:6-16, and Psalms 19:1-3 all tell us to observe God’s incredible wisdom and creative capacity by studying the world around us.
In the article titled “Branded” we had headings titled “Science Is Not a Not Dirty Word” and “Evolution Is Not a Dirty Word.” To make sure there were no misunderstandings, we explained what evolution means. When I say “I believe in evolution” I am not talking about a particular theory of evolution, I am talking about the fact of evolution. The fact of evolution refers to an unfolding change over time.
F. LaGard Smith in his wonderful criticism of Darwin’s theory of evolution titled Darwin’s Secret Sex Problem uses small e and capital E to separate the theory from the fact. (See our review of Smith’s book in our third quarter 2018 journal.) The 142 varieties of chickens that exist today were produced by unfolding change (evolution). That is a fact. It is a fact that there were no cockapoos, peekapoos, Charolais cattle, or Nancy Reagan roses on Noah’s Ark. It is a fact that Jacob by evolution took Laban’s flocks and secured his own superior flocks. (See Genesis 30:31-43.) When young people take a biology class, they learn about how agriculture uses this kind of change which is called “evolution.” To put this at odds with the belief that the Bible is the Word of God is a tragic mistake.
We explained that in the article, but we have had some hate mail from people who saw “Evolution is not a dirty word” as a heading and apparently didn’t read the article. Instead, they sent off an angry letter announcing that I was an evolutionist and an enemy of Christ. What they did, was to show how truthful our article was. This kind of attitude has been going on for a very long time with books written and articles printed branding me and this ministry rather than recognizing that the mean-spirited attitude displayed in their writing is more of an issue than any theory of evolution.
You can read the original article online by clicking HERE, and see for yourself that evolution is not a dirty word. (Neither is science.)
When humans throw the world of plants and animals out of balance, the result is extinctions. We can destroy God’s designed balance when we introduce a non-native species into an environment. The introduced species without natural predators uses up local resources leaving native species without food. There are many examples.
One example is the brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis) which was accidentally introduced to Guam aboard a military cargo ship after World War II. Those snakes are native to Australia and Indonesia where natural predators control them. On Guam, they have decimated 50 percent of the native bird and lizard species and two of the three bat species on the island. The brown tree snakes considered those native species to be tasty treats, and the snakes had no predators to control them. The result was the extinction of many species, some of which existed nowhere else on Earth. Alien invasions of brown tree snakes forever changed the ecosystem of Guam.
In other cases, humans throw nature out of balance by their direct actions. An example of that is the over-hunting of sea otters. Sea otters kept the purple sea urchins in check. Steller’s sea cows (Hydrodamalis gigas)were giant relatives of manatees, and they lived on kelp. Without control by sea otters, the purple sea urchins ate so much of the kelp that Steller’s sea cows had no food, and they became extinct. However, the research project indicated that direct interference by humans in cases like this has less impact on extinctions than the alien invasions have.
Sometimes humans make the mistake of bringing in another non-native species to control the first one. That technique often makes the problems worse. Usually, by the time people discover the problem of alien invasions, it’s too late to fix it.
The research concludes that 25 percent of plant extinctions and 33 percent of animal extinctions were caused by alien invasions – the introduction of non-native species. The bottom line is that humans have not been good stewards of the planet God has given us to enjoy and protect. God gave humans the responsibility to have dominion over creation and “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28). Romans 13:1-4 indicates that those who rule over people have the responsibility to protect. We might say the same of us who rule over the creatures.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines anthropomorphism as “the attribution of human traits, emotions or intentions to non-human entities.” We are all guilty of anthropomorphism when we attribute the behavior of our pets to human emotions. The Oxford dictionary goes on to say that anthropomorphism “is considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology.”
When a dog is jumping around and barking and licking us, we assume that the behavior of the dog is because of joy. In reality, this is an instinctive behavior in animals when establishing dominance within the pack. When the same dog tucks its tail between its legs and slinks away, we assume it is feeling guilty when it is an act of submission for fear of being attacked.
Some scientists attempt to prove that humans are just animals acting out animal responses to various environments. They conduct experiments to show that animals do the things we think are unique to humans. An example is attempting to explain the human smile. For us humans, a smile is an expression of happiness, warmth, and friendliness. When an animal grins, it shows its teeth expressing terror or aggression. When you see a monkey or ape grin on a commercial, sitcom, or movie, there is a trainer behind the camera threatening it.
Human traits which are not seen in animals include worship, guilt, sympathy, and creativity in art and music. It is essential to look at other explanations when considering the behavior of animals. Recently people witnessed a female whale carrying her dead calf for nearly a week. Several newspaper articles were guilty of anthropomorphism by saying that the whale was expressing grief. Many times animals in the wild avoid the scavenging of a dead sibling or offspring by maintaining a vigil over the corpse. That instinctive action assures that the offspring is, in fact, dead, and avoids spreading the disease that killed the dead animal.
I remember a field trip I had in my NSF graduate workshop for science teachers. At an aquarium in Chicago, we watched a demonstration of natural selection. A hungry northern pike was placed in an aquarium with three small fish. One was a wounded and incapacitated minnow. Another was a slightly wounded but otherwise relatively healthy fish of the same species. The third was a healthy well-fed fish. The lesson plan said that the students should predict which of the three fish the pike would eat. Our group of teachers all agreed it would be the incapacitated minnow. For the next 30 minutes, we watched the pike tear up the aquarium trying to get the healthy minnow and avoiding the two wounded fish. We teachers debated as to why that happened, but the aquarium workers said it was frequently the case.
Humans are unique because we are created in the image of God. That allows us to do things that reflect that unique makeup. When we interpret animal behavior in human terms, we are guilty of anthropomorphism.
One of the indicators that scientists use to measure evolutionary development is a test that determines whether an animal has an awareness of itself. The test involves placing a mirror in front of the organism and then observing the animal to see if it gives evidence that it recognizes that what it sees in the mirror is an image of itself. A recent report says that a fish can pass this self-awareness test.
Self-awareness has been used to categorize animals as having higher intelligence than others. Scientists have considered the mirror test to be the “gold standard.” Applying that test they have determined that great apes, bottlenose dolphins, killer whales, Eurasian magpies, and Asian elephants are all very intelligent and therefore highly evolved. Now a fish known as the cleaner wrasse passes the self-awareness test and must be added to the list.
Researchers in Germany placed a mark on the four-inch fish in a location that could only be seen in a mirror. The cleaner wrasses checked their reflection multiple times and then tried to remove the mark by rubbing their bodies on hard surfaces. With no mirrors, the fish didn’t try to remove the mark. When the mark was placed on the mirror, the fish ignored it.
We should note that the cleaner wrasse survives by inspecting larger fish for parasites and dead tissue. The larger fish waits patiently while the wrasse cleans it by eating what it finds. This mutual relationship protects the health of the larger fish while providing food for the wrasse. Symbiotic relationships like that can be more easily explained by design than by evolutionary theory. Since the wrasse is designed to look for unwanted detritus on the bodies of other fish, perhaps that is why it is keen to notice marks on its own body.
If self-awareness shows high intelligence, we must now add a fish to the list of intelligent mammals and birds. Dr. Alex Jordan reported that the fish “behaviorally fulfills all criteria of the mirror test.” Dr. Jordan says that either the species is self-aware or the gold standard test needs updating.
I can remember that even as a child I wondered about zebras. They look like horses in just about every way except the stripes. Why do zebras have stripes?
When I raised that question in my high school biology class, I was told it was for camouflage. That explanation satisfied me until I was in the army where I was taught how to camouflage myself in combat. Our combat uniforms were striped. The leaders told us that the stripes would only work if there were movement around us, and if there wasn’t, we should stand perfectly still. Watching zebras in the wild, to me the stripes seemed like a flag saying “here I am.” I realized that a striped deer in the Michigan woods wouldn’t last very long during hunting season.
A good friend sent me a clipping of an AP report published in the February 23, 2019 issue of The Herald Bulletin in Anderson, Indiana. It finally answered my question of why do zebras have stripes? The article told about research by scientists at the University of Bristol and the University of California at Davis. They dressed horses in white striped coats. The striped horses had significantly fewer horseflies landing on them than the ordinary horses. The striped coats apparently disrupted the visual system of the horseflies. The leader of the research team said that when flies get close to the stripes, they tend to fly past them or bump into them.
In much of Africa, there is a fly that carries a parasite that causes “sleeping sickness” or Trypanosomiasis. The parasite is transmitted to humans and animals by a blood-sucking insect, the tsetse fly. For a zebra, the tsetse fly is the number-one enemy. A healthy zebra can outrun a lion, and most other threats to their survival are of minimal efficiency. Getting away from flies is virtually impossible.
The stripes are a design feature of zebras. In northern areas tsetse flies don’t exist, so deer and horses don’t have stripes. An animal’s external appearance is a genetically determined feature. Why do Zebras have stripes? They are a classic example of how a change in appearance can protect against various kinds of enemies.
This new area of research shows one more example of God’s design in producing a genome that allows animals and plants to survive in a world of constant change.
We have had the great pleasure of presenting our lectureships in Australia. One of the common questions from college groups has been, “What good are termites?” The termite mounds in some places we saw were over 10 feet (3 m) tall. People frequently complained that they couldn’t build structures out of wood. There were so many termites that the wood didn’t last long enough to make it cost effective. Science News (February 16, 2019, page 4) carried an interesting article about termites. Kate Parr is a tropical ecologist from the University of Liverpool in England conducting research for the university and the Natural History Museum in London. She has been examining how ants and termites affect the decomposition and consumption of organic material in rainforests.
As they conducted their study, the research area went through a drought. During the drought, termite numbers doubled, and decomposition rates increased dramatically. They found that during the drought in areas where termites were not disturbed, and their numbers increased there was a greater amount of soil moisture, more nutrient mixing, and better seedling survival rates. Areas where the termites had been eliminated had massive die-offs of plants which affected the animal population. In times of normal moisture with no drought conditions, there was no difference in all these variables. What good are termites? It seems apparent that the termites allowed life to prosper during droughts. In places like the Australian outback, the presence of termites is apparently vital for the avoidance of drought die-offs.
One aspect of design in the cosmos is the fact that there always seem to be animals that serve a unique roll in an area when destructive agents threaten the balance of the ecology. The role of insects and small life-forms in the existence of life on Earth is an area that is very understudied. But new discoveries are coming fast and furious as we see the designs of God allowing life to exist even under the most severe environmental conditions.