Unusual Giraffe Features

Unusual Giraffe Features

In an American Scientist magazine article titled “Watchdogs of the Savanna,” Charlotte Ricker described unusual giraffe features. Here are some of those features:

HEIGHT: A giraffe can be almost 19 feet (5.8 meters) tall. For that reason, the circulatory system has to be specially designed to provide enough pressure to supply blood to the brain. That requires special features of the blood vessels, heart, and kidneys. In addition, the long neck allows giraffes to obtain food that other herbivores can’t reach and to see predators from a distance. Because of that, other animals rely on giraffes to alert them of danger.

EYES: Giraffes have the largest eyes of any land animal, allowing them to see those predators. Their long and sensitive eyelashes keep insects away and sense thorns on the acacia tree branches they eat. 

PATTERN: The irregular brown markings on the giraffe are not just for appearance. They act as thermal windows with a complex circulatory system around each splotch to radiate or absorb heat.

SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP: Birds called the oxpeckers have feet designed to cling to the giraffe as they eat ticks and other insects from its skin. This provides food for the oxpeckers and protection for the giraffes. Oxpeckers even clean the giraffe’s teeth. 

LEGS: The giraffe’s thin legs have a “suspensory ligament,” which allows them to support their weight of up to a fourth of a ton (1270 kgs). This unusual giraffe feature gives them the ability to run up to 37 miles per hour (60 km/hr) and a kick strong enough to kill a lion. 

NECK: The neck contains seven cervical vertebrae, the same as a human, but each vertebra can be nearly a foot long. Ball and socket joints connect them for a 360-degree motion range. In addition, a special ligament from the skull to the base of the tail counteracts the weight of the neck and head to relieve muscle strain. 

When you see these unusual giraffe features, you have to ask how they originated. Are they the product of evolutionary processes, or were they designed by an intelligence to fulfill a specific purpose in a given environment? The more unique characteristics we see, the less likely that chance processes could have produced them. These are simplified explanations of a few of the design features of a very complex animal.

Looking at the complexity of all living things is an excellent testimony to the wisdom and planning of God. “We can know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:20). 

For more information, read Charlott Ricker’s article “Watchdogs of the Savanna” in American Scientist magazine November/December 2021, page 330. 

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Understanding Insect Brains

Understanding Insect Brains -Apple Fly
Apple Fly

One of the mysteries that concern farmers, medical researchers, and biologists alike is how bugs do what they do. How does the apple fly find the apple where it mates and lays its eggs that grow into apple maggots? How does a fly know when I lift a fly swatter that it needs to take off? How does that same fly find some food I left on the table? Scientists find a challenge in understanding insect brains.

The ordinary fly has 1/200,000 as many neurons as a human. But when robotics experts try to build a robot that can do what a fly can do using computer algorithms and bio-based solutions, they are spectacularly unsuccessful. Flying through three-dimensional space is especially difficult when ten meters is the farthest distance you can perceive visual information.

Research has shown that the common insect with wings, six legs, and several hundred lenses can solve problems in flight. They can locate objects of interest by combining sensory clues. Visual senses prevent them from running into things as they fly. Touch clues allow them to sense the wind. They have a sense of smell a million times more sensitive than what humans have. They use polarization patterns to help identify targets and temperatures ahead of them. According to leading entomologist Thomas Eisner of Cornell University, understanding insect brains requires us to “think like a fly.”

Remember that not running into things is only one concern an insect has. Avoiding enemies, mating, and recognizing an approaching object are also necessary skills. For example, apple maggots happen because the insect can identify color, shape, size, and odor to distinguish between an apple and a pear.

There are many reasons understanding insect brains is essential. For example, to avoid infestations of apple maggots without using harsh chemicals, we must understand the mechanisms of the apple fly and know how to defeat the process.

The skeptic will ask, “Why do these insects exist? Why did God allow apple maggots or the common housefly?” We must remember that insects are a staple in the food chain affecting many birds and mammals. Also, we must have living things that can process waste materials. Flies lay eggs that produce larvae called maggots that break down animal carcasses. Imagine a world where there were no processors of dead animals.

Thousands of years ago, God instructed the Israelites how to avoid most insect-carried diseases, such as by burying sewage instead of throwing it on the ground. Insects are a vital part of our world, and we could not exist without them. Managing resources intelligently is an essential part of human survival, and that requires understanding insect brains and how they work.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from: “Insect Decision Making” by Shannon Olson and Pavan Kumar Kaushik, American Scientist, Volume 109, November/December 2021, pages 368-375.

Desert Life at Wupatki National Monument

Desert Life at Wupatki National Monument
Wupatki Ballcourt

Wupatki National Monument is a protected site in Northern Arizona once inhabited by ancient pueblo people. The area’s first inhabitants arrived in about 500 A.D. After the eruption of the nearby Sunset Crater volcano, which enriched the soil with volcanic ash, the population grew to around 2,000. In 1225 the site was permanently abandoned. Desert life at Wupatki was difficult.

We visited the site in late July 2021, just after an unusual summer monsoon rain. As we walked the trail through the ruins, a park ranger was sweeping water off the path. He remarked that it had been over five years since they had rain, and he had never seen anything like that downpour.

One of the unusual features of this ancient settlement was a ballcourt surrounded by a short wall. The wall retained the water in the circular ballcourt forming a pool 105 feet (32 m) across. The ranger said it was the first time he had seen that ballcourt filled with water. Then something unusual happened. Small creatures began swimming in the “pool.”

Tourists, who thought the creatures were large tadpoles, alerted the staff who came to look. Lauren Carter, the lead interpretation ranger, examined them and did some research. She found that they were small crustaceans called triops. “Triops” is Greek for “three eyes.” These three-eyed creatures looked like miniature horseshoe crabs.

Even though the pueblo people abandoned the site centuries ago, desert life at Wupatki still exists. Triops eggs can survive in the desert soil for decades until the rain arrives to create a pool of water so the eggs can hatch. After that, they begin filter-feeding and molting until they mature in about a week. Then they lay eggs to produce a future generation.

There is also aerial desert life at Wupatki. Ravens and common nighthawks flying overhead quickly spotted the rare creatures swimming in the pool. They swooped down to gobble up some nourishment. The pool dried up in 3-4 weeks, the triops were gone, and the desert returned to its normal dry state. Thus, desert life at Wupatki was hidden away until the next significant rainfall in five or ten years, or perhaps decades.

I am amazed by God’s design for life on this planet, even in places where you can’t see it. Desert life in Wupatki has a purpose. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Faher feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26)

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Ultimate Meaning, Purpose, and Morality

Ultimate Meaning, Purpose, and Morality in God's Creation

I enjoy watching BBC’s video programs “Planet Earth” and “The Blue Planet” written and narrated by David Attenborough. Those programs display the fantastic beauty and design of this planet and its many living creatures. Seeing the way planet Earth’s systems work together like a well-designed machine fills me with awe. However, I find it amazing that Attenborough believes that this incredible beauty and structure came about by mere chance and natural selection without any design, purpose, or meaning. How can he not realize that ultimate meaning, purpose, and morality come from the God who created these wonders?

In his book Miracles, Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis refers to unbelievers as “naturalists.” He wrote, “A moment after they have admitted that good and evil are illusions, you will find them exhorting us to work for posterity, to educate, revolutionise, liquidate, live and die for the good of the human race.” Lewis called that “very odd.” Attenborough teaches us about the beautiful design of our planet without a Designer. He advocates for the environment, even though that environment may have no ultimate purpose or meaning. A BBC interviewer once asked Attenborough if he ever had any religious faith, and he replied “no.” He said, “It never really occurred to me to believe in God.”

When asked why he does not believe in a creator, Attenborough will point out what he considers an evil creature, such as the parasitic worm Onchocerca volvulus that infects children’s eyes in tropical climates. He said creationists believe that God created each individual species, so why would “an all-merciful God who cares for each of us individually” make a creature like that. However, as John Clayton has pointed out many times, the Bible says God created “kinds” of animals, not each individual species. (See Genesis 1:11, 12, 21, 24, and 25.) But then He specially created the first humans in His image (Genesis 1:27).

Attenborough strongly advocates for various environmentalist causes telling us what we ought or ought not to do. C.S. Lewis said that those who don’t believe in God often tell us what we ought to do, but their natural impulses can say nothing about objective right or wrong. Lewis wrote, “Do they remember while they are writing thus that when they tell us we ‘ought to make a better world’ the words ‘ought’ and ‘better’ must, on their own showing, refer to an irrationally conditioned impulse which cannot be true or false any more than a vomit or a yawn?”

Lewis goes on to say that if we make moral judgments, “then we must believe that the conscience of man is not a product of Nature.” He writes that it “can be valid only if it is an offshoot of some absolute moral wisdom…” In other words, ultimate meaning, purpose, and morality come from God, not evolution.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

References: Miracles by C.S. Lewis, and “David Attenborough” on Wikipedia

Flocking Behavior or Murmuration

Flocking Behavior or Murmuration
Murmuration of Common Starlings

One of the most incredible sights we frequently see in the fall of the year is the flocking behavior of birds. Starlings are one of the most visible examples, with tens of thousands forming a massive cloud of flapping wings. The term “murmuration” comes from the fact that thousands of wings flapping at once give a murmur-like sound.

National Geographic magazine (October 2021, pages 26-28) published great pictures of a starling murmuration. The magazine estimates that in their photographs, there are “tens of thousands of starlings … a quarter-mile wide, and several hundred feet tall.” The article asks the question, “What is the purpose of murmurings?” They conclude that it’s a way to avoid predators or gain a feeding advantage. Since starlings don’t eat while migrating, the magazine speculates that starling murmurations offer an advantage over the falcons that feed on starlings.

A bigger question for anyone who observes the flocking behavior of thousands of birds is how they avoid hitting each other. It seems that built into every bird is a genetically imprinted instinctive drive to synchronize their wing beat, reducing the chance of a collision. How do they navigate? I have seen a whole flock make a quick 90-degree turn in which every bird seems to have instructions of when to turn and how far.

Besides the murmuration of birds, we see flocking behavior in many forms of life. Geese fly in flocks, and salmon move upstream in groups. Insects swarm around a hive or nest to protect the hive. Wolves form a pack to bring down a large animal. There are negative swarms such as insect swarms that eat themselves out of food reserves and a bison herd running off a cliff.

Our understanding of the genetic drives designed into living things is very primitive. However, it is clear that, at least in some situations, the grouping of animals presents advantages. Watching starlings move like a giant cloud and hearing their synchronized wing beats, one has to be amazed at the design and complexity God put into all of His creatures. We are continually reminded in Romans 1:20 that “the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made … so the (unbeliever) is without excuse.”

John N. Clayton © 2021

An Asteroid and Snakes

An Asteroid and Snakes

There is an interesting connection between an asteroid and snakes. Evolutionists have often believed in uniformitarianism–the idea that no process has shaped planet Earth in the past that is not going on today. The problem with uniformitarianism is that a great deal of evidence shows that it’s not true. The most accepted example is that when dinosaurs ruled the planet, an asteroid strike caused a mass extinction of 76% of all plant and animal life.

A research study by the University of Bath in England has shown that one form of life did well through and after the asteroid collision. That life-form was snakes. There were small snakes before the asteroid strike, but large snakes were easy prey for dinosaurs and simply did not survive. After the asteroid collision, small snakes hid underground and survived for a time without food.

When the snakes emerged, they didn’t face competition from other animals. With their newfound freedom, they spread throughout the world. Today, snakes live on every continent on Earth except Antarctica. Catherine Klein, the lead researcher in examining the snake fossil record, has shown that large snakes did not appear again until all the dinosaurs were gone. She told the BBC, “It’s likely that without this asteroid impact, snakes wouldn’t be where they are today.”

The evidence for the asteroid collision grows every year, and it comes from many different disciplines. Uniformitarianism is not true, and yet a gradual evolution of all life depends on it. Evolution would have to start over after events like the asteroid strike that wiped out massive amounts of life on the planet.

You have probably never thought of a connection between an asteroid and snakes. Current theories of evolution have significant problems with a lack of positive evidence and a growing amount of counter-evidence. God works in mysterious ways, and sometimes He has used catastrophes to shape the Earth for human existence.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: The Week, October 1, 2021, page 21.

The Missing Link in Human Evolution?

The Missing Link in Human Evolution?
Taung child – Facial forensic reconstruction by Arc-Team, Antrocon NPO,
Cicero Moraes, University of Padua – CC-BY-SA 4.0

In his 1871 book The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin hypothesized that the evolutionary ancestors of modern humans originated in Africa. He pointed out that African apes most resemble humans, but he lacked fossil evidence to support his conjecture. The missing link, as it was called, showed up more than 50 years later.

In 1924, some miners working in a limestone quarry in Taung, South Africa, found a fossil of a child. Anatomists determined that this 3-to-4-year-old child had some humanlike and some apelike features. They called this “Taung Child” the missing link between apes and humans. Scientists gave it the name Australopithecus africanus, which means southern African ape.

Critics pointed out that young apes have similarities to young humans, but the resemblance goes away as they mature. However, racist attitudes were strong at the time, and eugenics was accepted as real science. Meanwhile, anthropologists were busy categorizing people into races. Western researchers wanted to justify their claim that Africans were more primitive and less evolved than other people, thus justifying slavery and racism.

One of the challenges to people who believe the Bible is making sense of the fossils and interpretations we read about or see in a museum or video documentary. The basic proposal of the “Does God Exist?” ministry is that science and faith are friends. We are interested in understanding–not conflict or debate. As science makes discoveries in various fields, our understanding may grow. We are seeing more evidence for God’s existence in the design of the universe and life.

The history of paleoanthropology has shown that people have used scientific discoveries in political battles and as justification for slavery, eugenics, and racism. The Bible simply says God created man of the dust of the earth. It does not tell us how long ago or give any other details. The most important thing is that He created humans in His own image (Genesis 1:27). That spiritual creation makes ALL humans equal and of infinite value. Christians recognize that fact (Galatians 3:26-29). Even scientists studying mitochondrial DNA have determined that every human alive today can be traced back to one woman they have called “Mitochondrial Eve.”

As science continues to look for the missing link, paleoanthropologist Bernard Wood said that from a scientific perspective, “Our origin story is a work in progress.” In other words, even scientists have trouble making sense of the fossils. Scientific discoveries in various fields may tell us more about how God did what He did, but science cannot tell us how to live successfully. Only the teachings of Jesus Christ that we find in the Bible can do that.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: “Tracing the Origins of Humans” by Erin Wayman in Science News September 25, 2021, (pages 20 -28)

Three-Way Symbiosis Is Hard to Explain

Three-Way Symbiosis Is Hard to Explain

Symbiosis is one evidence of design in nature that we have discussed before. In the following excerpt from his book The Source, John Clayton told about a three-way symbiosis:

One area that strongly resists a natural explanation is the area of symbiotic relationships. A symbiotic relationship is one in which two organisms live in such a close relationship that one cannot live without the other and vice versa. For example, certain plants cannot live without certain insects that pollinate them or clean them or store up certain nutrients for them. At the same time, the plant provides nourishment and/or protection for the insect.

Sometimes such relationships exist between two plants or two animals
, like the venomous jellyfish known as the Portuguese man o’ war and the tiny fish living among its tentacles yet never getting stung. These types of two-way symbiotic relationships are difficult to explain by natural causes because the question automatically arises, which came first?

Suppose you agree that there are problems answering this question with two codependent life forms. How much more difficult would it be to explain the simultaneous evolution of a three-way symbiosis? Yet this is what we find with a leaf-cutting ant species in South America. These ants live in colonies of up to eight million. That is a number that surprisingly represents the collective biomass of an adult cow.

These ants cultivate mushrooms as a farmer grows crops, using leaf cuttings instead of soil. However, the ants are not able to eat the leaves because the leaves contain a natural insecticide. Neither can the mushrooms live on the leaves because they are coated with a prohibitive wax.
To make the three-way symbiosis work, the ants must carefully avoid the poison as they scrape the wax off the leaves. Without the wax, the leaves decay into a mulch in which the mushrooms can grow. The mushrooms, in turn, harmlessly absorb the insecticide, converting it into edible food for the ants. Neither creature could live without the other.

But there is more. Recent studies have revealed another partner necessary to sustain the ant/mushroom relationship. The mushrooms have a parasite enemy that would destroy them. However, they can be protected with an antibiotic produced by a specific bacterium that, coincidentally, lives on the ants’ bodies. So the bacterium depends on the host ant’s body for life. The ant depends on the food produced by the mushrooms for life. Finally, the mushrooms depend on the ants’ farming practices and the ants’ pet bacterium for life.

This three-way symbiosis is irreducibly complex. If anyone of the partners is missing, the entire group dies. The only way such a codependent society could be produced is by intelligent design. Any other attempted explanation quickly becomes a quest for the impossible dream.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data came from articles in the journal Nature. You can find them HERE and HERE.

This article was adapted from The Source: Eternal Design or Infinite Accident? (page 47) by John N. Clayton. This book is available for purchase HERE.

God’s Design of Fall

God’s Design of Fall

In the Northern Hemisphere, we have just entered the period we call autumn or fall. Summer has ended. Earth’s axis tilt and its path around the Sun cause the Sun to be directly overhead at the equator. We refer to this as the equinox, which is Latin for “equal nights.” Thus, at this time, we have approximately 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night. As a new season begins, we see God’s design of fall.

For those living in the northern hemisphere, this time brings amazing things to see among the plants and animals around us. Tree leaves turn from green to a cascade of colors. They don’t all turn at the same time because of their system design. Some measure the length of the day and start turning colors when the equinox occurs. Others depend on temperature to change colors. In addition, we see fruits and nuts come to full maturity at this time, providing food for animals and ensuring the future growth of new plants.

We see God’s design of fall as animals prepare for winter. With the temperature change, some animals migrate to warmer areas. This movement coincides with the abundance of fruits and nuts, allowing nutrition for the journey. Some animals, such as hummingbirds, leave well ahead of freezing temperatures. Other animals change their color in preparation for winter camouflage in the snow. Still others retreat into a place underground where the temperatures will not drop below freezing.

The question is, how do all these plants and animals know when to do that? It cannot be a conscious, planned adjustment by the animals to the local situation. Many of the changes happen even before the cold weather arrives. Certainly, plants don’t think about cold weather coming and their need to prepare for freezing conditions. Some of the changes seem to be designed to provide humans with a sensation of beauty. A sea of green becomes a splendor of color as the plants eliminate chlorophyll “A” (which gives them their green color) to reveal various colored chemicals in the leaves.

Fall is not just about beauty, but it also brings amazing and beneficial changes. Plants that survive the winter are able to free themselves of insects and bacteria that can damage them. Some animals prepare for winter by fattening up to go into hibernation. Bears give birth during this period. God’s design of fall is a functional system that speaks of God’s wisdom.

We can see God’s wisdom and design in a unique way at this time of year. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.” To those of us who listen, fall speaks of the purposes of God in His living things.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

The Bearded Vulture – A Bone Eater

The Bearded Vulture – A Bone Eater

The bearded vulture is a large bird found in mountainous areas of southern Europe, Africa, and Tibet. It is known in some areas as the lammergeier or ossifrage. However, it is also known for the fact that it deliberately uses mineral-rich dust and mud to dye its feathers red for reasons still unknown.

Our interest in this bird is centered around its diet. This bird eats bones. When it finds a dead animal, the bearded vulture will drag out a large bone and carry it several hundred feet in the air and drop it on some rocks, smashing the bone into smaller pieces. The bird will then pick up the pieces, one at a time, and swallow them. The bearded vulture apparently has the strongest stomach acid in the animal kingdom. The bones they digest supply all the minerals and vitamins the bird needs to survive.

A program called “Snow Wolf” on the BBC included a section on bearded vultures because they follow wolves in the mountains. When the wolves make a kill, the bearded vulture will wait until the wolves have eaten all of the meat. Then they will start picking up the remaining bones to eat them.

The BBC broadcasts various programs on the unique living things that exist on planet Earth. While the BBC is not sympathetic to any kind of religious concept, many of the stories they present show evidence of design in the creation. One fact about the world in which we live is that in the natural world, nothing goes to waste. Even hard materials like bones are disposed of in some way. The bearded vulture provides one way bones are recycled. We need to learn how to return human-created waste materials to the environment from which they came without polluting it. Ultimately our survival will depend on doing that.

John N. Clayton © 2021

You can see a short BBC video showing bearded vultures at work HERE.