Design of an Elephant’s Trunk

Design of an Elephant’s Trunk

Some of the exciting things about the natural world are the cases where the design is so advanced that any evolutionary explanation is difficult to believe. An excellent example of that is the design of an elephant’s trunk.

Recent ultrasound studies of elephant trunks have shown they are incredibly complex examples of design. The elephant is the only living land animal to have a long boneless appendage. A septum stretching the length of the trunk separates the trunk’s two nostrils. The elephant can expand each nostril’s volume up to 64%. The flow rate of water through the trunk averages about 3.7 liters per second, which would be the same as 24 shower heads operating all at once.

An elephant’s trunk is not just a drinking straw. When the elephant uses the trunk for something other than water, such as food, the nostrils don’t expand, but the elephant uses its lungs to suck up the food. The nostrils can bring air in at more than 150 meters per second, 30 times as fast as in a human’s sneeze.

Research is continuing on the muscular design of an elephant’s trunk. The intricate muscular structure and lack of joints give the elephant a highly complex trunk movement. Engineers have built robotic devices based on the design of an elephant’s trunk,

One researcher commented, “You never know where bio-inspiration will lead.” Designs from Velcro to airplane wings have come about by studying what God has created in living things. Everywhere we look, we see that a wonder-working hand has gone before.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: Science News July 3 & 17, 2021 page 11.

Birds are Better Than Pesticides

Birds are Better Than Pesticides

One of the major scourges that farmers face is crop damage from insects. Farmers spend massive amounts of money on pesticides to get rid of the pests that invade almost every crop they grow. There is also a significant problem with rodents in some crops, and again chemical elimination of rodents is expensive and does a great deal of collateral damage. The solution to all of this is birds. Birds are better than pesticides.

God has always built into the natural environment a way to keep insects and rodents in check. Predators prevent the overpopulation of these pest challenges to human farmers. When humans kill off the predators, the only recourse is using chemicals. New studies have shown how vital birds are to the control of insects and rodents. Birds are better than pesticides. Here are some examples:

FLOOD CONTROL DAMS AND LEVEES – Ground squirrels and gophers burrow under dams and levees, causing the collapse of these structures. Chemical use of anticoagulant rodenticides cost Ventura County, California, $7500 a year and also killed coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions. So instead, the county installed raptor perches to attract owls, hawks, and falcons. Studies showed that those birds were 67% more effective in controlling rodent burrows and saved $7500.

INDONESIAN CACAO PLANTATIONS – Yields of cacao, used for making chocolate, have increased by 290 pounds per acre after adding bird boxes to the fields.

EUROPEAN APPLE GROWERS – Growers have reduced caterpillar damage by 50% by adding nest boxes that attract insectivorous birds known as great tits.

COFFEE BEANS – Farmers in Jamaica added bird boxes and reduced the number of coffee berry borers, increasing profits by $126 per acre.

CALIFORNIA VINEYARDS – Pocket gophers and voles were damaging crops up to $58 per acre. A single family of barn owls placed in a nest box killed 3,000 rodents in a single year. Armyworms are a problem for U.S. Vineyards as well as for beet growers. In California, nest boxes have attracted bluebirds that eat 2.4 times the number of armyworms as areas without bird boxes.

WALNUT GROVES – Moth Larvae are a problem for walnut growers. Placing bird boxes eliminated four times as many of the larvae as other methods.

Humans have created many problems by not using God’s methods of controlling pests. Research shows that chemicals which cause cancer and other issues are not nearly as effective as birds in eliminating the scourges farmers face. Birds are better than pesticides.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: Living Bird, Summer 2021, Volume 40 # 3, pages 33 – 42. Available from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Lesson from a Butterfly

Lesson from a Butterfly

We recently saw an article by Julie Marcussen that brings a great lesson to us concerning the life struggles we all have. This lesson from a butterfly has to do with God’s design in living things. Also, it says something we all need to consider. The story goes like this:

A man found the cocoon of a butterfly and watched it hoping to see a beautiful butterfly come from the cocoon. One day a small opening appeared in the cocoon. He watched the butterfly try to force its body through that small opening, but its progress was painfully slow, and it finally seemed to stop and not make any more progress. It appeared that the butterfly had gotten as far as it could, and it could go no further.

So, the man decided to help the butterfly. He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon allowing the butterfly to emerge. But when it came out of the cocoon, the butterfly had a swollen body and shriveled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly expecting that at any moment, the wings would expand to support the body, which would contract.

It never happened.
The butterfly spent the rest of its short life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings, unable to fly. The man, in his kindness, didn’t understand that the restricting cocoon and the struggle for the butterfly to get through the small opening were a designed system to force the fluid from the body into its wings. Only then could it be ready for flight once it was free of the cocoon. That is the lesson from a butterfly.

Sometimes we need life’s struggles to prepare us to deal with the world in which we live. If God allowed us to go through our lives without any obstacles, it could cripple us. Expecting God to remove every problem, temptation, and consequence of bad choices would not allow us to be strong enough to have any value or purpose in our lives. We, too, would never fly.

This life and its struggles mold and prepare us for an existence with God free of problems and struggles. We can learn this lesson from a butterfly. Having struggled through the small opening of our existence we call “life” will make our heavenly existence just that more beautiful.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

What I Learned in Paleontology Class

What I Learned in Paleontology Class - Trilobite Fossils
Trilobite Fossils

We want to share with you this article by Phillip Eichman about a class in paleontology, the study of the history of life on Earth based on fossils.

Back in the 70s, I was majoring in biology at Wright State University and needed some elective hours to graduate, so I signed up for a course in invertebrate paleontology. I had already taken a year of geology, and this was an upper-level course. However, what I learned in paleontology class when I was a young Christian made the course worthwhile.

I had been interested in rocks since I was a small child. So I began collecting them and found my first fossil before starting school. By the time I was in the fifth or sixth grade, my closet was stuffed with boxes of rocks and fossils, and I had practically worn out my Golden Guide book of Rocks and Minerals.

As a young Christian, I was a little concerned that this course in paleontology might somehow cause me to question my religious faith. But, as it turned out, this was one of my all-time favorite courses.

In the class, we went phylum by phylum, looking at the hard parts, noticing the main characteristics of the group, and learning how to identify the fossils. It was easy to see that the various groups developed, or evolved, over time, but they were still part of that major group. For example, the gastropods were still gastropods, and the brachiopods were still brachiopods. The same was true for the cephalopods, corals, trilobites, and others. There was no confusion caused by a huge number of “intermediate forms” that you hear about so often in the popular media.

This lack of intermediate forms is not consistent with the “amoeba to man” theory of evolution. It is, however, consistent with the biblical account of God creating various “kinds” of living things with the ability to change over time, or evolve, within those groups.

As has been pointed out many times in the Does God Exist? program, science and the Bible are not enemies if we understand both in the proper way. Instead of causing harm to my faith, what I learned in paleontology class and my study of fossils only strengthened my belief in God as the Creator.

— Phillip Eichman © 2021

Designing an Elephant Trunk

Designing an Elephant Trunk

We all know that elephants have useful trunks. As we learn more about what an elephant’s trunk can do, the more impressive it becomes. Designing an elephant trunk is not a project of chance.

The trunk is not just a snorkel. It is a highly complex device with 40,000 muscles and 150,000 separate muscle fascicles, bundles of muscle fibers. There is no bone or fat in the trunk. The Week magazine published a list of some of the characteristics of a captive elephant at Zoo Atlanta. They include:

1) Inhale water at speeds over 490 feet per second. (That’s 30 times faster than a human sneeze).

2) Issue a 110-decibel trumpet-like blast. (120 dB is considered the human limit without pain.)

3) Suck up food. (A skill thought to belong only to some fish.)

4) Rip up trees and lift 770 pounds. (350 kg)

5) Reach up to 23 feet. (7 m)

6) Hold 2.2 gallons in the trunk. (8.3 l)

7) Detect smells four times better than a bloodhound.

8) Lift a tortilla chip without breaking it.

The more complex a device is, the less likely it is to be the result of an accident or a series of accidents. The difference between the human nose and the elephant trunk is so striking that we should abandon attempts to relate the two. Lead researcher Andrew Schulz from Georgia Tech says that their research “pushes all of the extremes of what we understood animals to be able to do.”

The challenges of designing an elephant trunk strongly suggest that intelligence was involved. This is one more example of the credibility of the statement in Romans 1:20, “We can know there is a God through the things He has made.” 

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: The Week magazine for June 18, 2021. page 21

Donkeys Digging Wells in the Desert

Donkeys Digging Wells in the Desert

We don’t ordinarily think of donkeys as diggers, especially not as vital to the desert environment. A researcher from Aarhus University in Denmark has made a discovery that shows a special provision God made to use donkeys to provide water for other life forms. Erick Lundgren has documented donkeys digging wells in the desert. In 2014 Lundgren studied feral horses and donkeys and noticed them digging holes deep enough to reach groundwater.

From 2014 to 2018, Lundgren mapped groundwater in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert and found that holes dug by donkeys provided 74% of available water for all forms of life in the area. The donkeys seemed to know where to find water, and 57 vertebrate species from migratory songbirds to mountain lions and even a bear came to the donkey wells to drink.

It is fascinating that this is not a local anomaly. Researchers have documented donkeys digging wells in Central Asia, so this action is built into the donkey’s genome. Attempting to make a case for accidental donkey well-digging fails when isolated populations have the same instinctive drive. They use it not only to survive themselves but to benefit an entire ecosystem.

Research into donkeys digging wells shows that the donkeys know where to dig because the digging is not random. The wells dug by donkeys decreased the distance between water sources to an average of 843 meters, making essential water available to more animals with less tension. We suggest this is a beautiful example of God’s design allowing animals to live in environments that would seem unlikely to support life.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: Science News, June 5, 2021, page 14.

Fossil Apes and Human Evolution

Fossil Apes and Human Evolution

Most of the media versions of human evolution are fictitious and inconsistent with the evidence. That is the finding of a study conducted by scholars from the American Museum of Natural History released in the journal Science for May 7, 2021, titled “Fossil Apes and Human Evolution.”

“When you look at the narrative for hominin origins [referring to bipedal apes and modern humans], it’s just a big mess – there’s no consensus whatsoever.” That’s a quote from Sergio Almecija, the lead author and a senior research scientist at the American Museum of Natural History’s Division of Anthropology. He went on to say, “People are working under completely different paradigms, and that’s something that I don’t see happening in other fields of science.” 

According to the study of fossil apes and human evolution, science has a wealth of fossils, but “many of these fossils show … combinations of features that do not match expectations for ancient representatives of the modern ape and human lineages.” We hasten to add that the museum’s article does not deny human evolution but clearly shows that the story given to the general public is a false impression that our history is a cut and dried factual record on which all scientists agree.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s book The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. There will be many articles and a few TV specials on fossil apes and human evolution in which certain well-known anthropologists will sell their view of human physical history. Careful students who know how much evidence is available will see the contradictions, but the general public will not. 

The biblical explanation of human creation is not a detailed physical explanation of how humans were created. Genesis 2:7 tells us, “God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” The Bible does not detail what processes God used to do that creating or what the finished product looked like (skin color, etc.). 

The Bible does tell us the essential factor that human beings were created in the image of God. “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He them, male and female created He them” (Genesis 1:27). Whether you view God as merely commanding and man miraculously appearing, or if you think of Him as a potter molding and shaping man’s body, that does not diminish the unique nature of humans. The Bible has an economy of language. We would like to have the details, but that is not the purpose of God’s Word. 

It’s a destructive message to tell humans they are just animals with no unique qualities and no real purpose in existing. Letting people know that they are special, created with a unique spiritual makeup means that all humans are equal in God’s sight and have a spiritual purpose for existing. Like Job, we are key players in the war between good and evil. Relegating humans to someone’s guess as to how we evolved and cherry-picking fossils to do that is not only unfortunate but has the potential to destroy our culture.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

References: Here is a link to the study in the journal Science.

This is the American Museum of Natural History’s report on the study.

This is Breakpoint’s summary of the study’s findings.

Animals Seem to Demonstrate Altruism

Animals Seem to Demonstrate Altruism

Are animals willing to sacrifice their well-being to benefit another animal? Altruism is a human characteristic thought to be missing in animals. As scientists study animal behavior more deeply, they see many cases where animals seem to demonstrate altruism. Those include jumping into a fight to save another animal when there is no direct benefit to the intervening animal. In one case, killer whales were hunting a sea lion. Suddenly two humpback whales charged in and pushed the killer whales away, allowing the sea lion to escape. People observed that happening three times in the same area.

There are also situations where animals seem to demonstrate altruism by giving food away. Vampire bats need a constant supply of blood because they can’t survive more than 70 hours without it. Researchers have seen vampire bats regurgitate blood when an individual misses a meal. In one case, a vampire bat gave away so much blood that it starved to death. Studies of meerkats, a species of mongoose in southern Africa, have shown that one couple will breed the offspring and other adults raise the babies. Studies of bonobo primates have demonstrated that they share food both in captivity and in the wild.

Are those the behaviors we thought that only humans exhibited? One constant danger in studying animals is our tendency to anthropomorphize animal behavior. In other words, we interpret animal behavior in light of human behavior rather than looking at the possible reasons for the animal’s actions. You can see this by looking at how people treat and talk to their dogs. The reality is that the dog has learned where it gets its food, its sensual pleasure, and its security. No matter how much support the dog receives, it will still chase the cat, eat the feces of another dog, and bark at a time that displeases the owner. Dog owners tend to overlook those animal instincts and behaviors, and they may even put clothing on the dog.

Researchers can see that all animal behavior in the wild has some kind of survival benefit. In the cases above, the whales don’t have sympathy for the seal. Killer whales attack humpback whale babies, and the best defense the humpbacks have is to drive the killer whales out of the area. Vampire bats are not successful in getting blood every time they go out, so sharing benefits all of the bats because the next night might be their time to be unsuccessful. A similar scenario is present with monkeys sharing.

These animals seem to demonstrate altruism but still resort to survival behavior when under stress.
Chimps raised in human homes do not become humans. When a human invades their territory, they resort to violent behavior. At the same time, pure altruism is a trait available to humans, but not all humans demonstrate it at all times. There is a saying that humans can act like animals, but animals cannot act like humans. The death of Christ on the cross is the classic example of sacrificing one’s self to benefit even those who reject you.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: National Wildlife, June-July 2021 pages 30-35.

A Rock’s Not Alive

A Rock's Not Alive

The following came to us from our friend Dr. Phillip Eichman, who has a Ph.D. in biology.

For many years I began the courses that I taught in Fundamentals of Biology and General Biology by bringing two things to class: a rock and something living, usually a plant from the greenhouse. Most of the students had never seen me before and must have wondered why I brought those things to class. One day I surprised the students even more with a turtle that I rescued from the middle of the road. The point that I wanted to make is that there is a vast difference between a nonliving thing and a living thing. The expression “a rock’s not alive” comes from an old Sesame Street song and makes the same point.

A rock’s not alive. It is made up of the same chemical elements as the plant or the turtle, but that is where the similarity ends. Anyone who has taken a biology course will realize that even the simplest living thing has a complex organization. It is capable of taking in and using energy, growing and reproducing, and responding to the environment.

Obviously, something happened to make living things so different from nonliving matter. Either it is a big coincidence, or some higher intelligence planned and directed the formation of life on Earth. More than forty years of studying and teaching biology have convinced me that the latter of these is true. The world in which we live is not an accident, but rather the handiwork of a creator that we call God (Psalm 19:1).

— Phillip Eichman © 2021

Human-Macaque Chimera Created

Human-Macaque Chimera and Ancient Greek Mythology

A chimera is a living organism made up of parts from different organisms. You have heard myths about a half-woman, half-fish mermaid, and a human torso and head on a horse’s body and legs. Those would be chimeras if they actually existed. Now scientists have created a human-macaque chimera.

Scientists at the Salk Institute in California injected human stem cells into macaque embryos. They allowed the embryos to grow for only 20 days before destroying them. The stated purpose for creating a human-macaque chimera is to find a way to grow human organs for transplant and to develop new drugs.

This reminds us of a science fiction story of chimeras turning into monsters that threaten human beings. The term “chimera” (kye-MER-uh) comes from an animal in Greek mythology with a lion’s head and body, a goat’s head protruding from its back, and a tail with the head of a snake. Imagine what a human-macaque chimera might be like.

This experiment raises bioethical questions. Just because researchers can do this, should they do it, and what kind of research should they carry on? Insoo Hyun, a bioethicist involved in this research, says that chimeras have “the potential to radically humanize the biology of laboratory animals.”

The morals and beliefs of the scientists doing the research become a significant issue in situations like this. We need people with Christian values involved in making these decisions to ensure that everything is done to relieve human pain and suffering, not to create half-human creatures. God has provided the blueprint in DNA, but it is up to humans to decide how to use it. Whether it is for good or evil is an old biblical question.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: Phys.org/news