Mollusk Designs

Mollusk Designs
Many of the invertebrate creatures known as mollusks build interesting shells. An article titled “How Seashells Take Shape” describing a study of mollusk designs appeared in the April 2018 edition of Scientific American (page 70). The article begins with this paragraph:

“Mollusks are fabulous architects. They build houses that protect their soft bodies from predators and the elements–shells of uncommon strength, durability and beauty. Many of these shells have spectacularly complex shapes–logarithmic spirals bedecked with fractal spines or other ongoing elements, all executed with near-perfect mathematical regularity. Yet mollusks, of course, know nothing of math. How, researchers have wondered, do these humble creatures produce such intricate patterns so precisely?”

The article goes into the mathematics of the shells and how the animals use complex processes that scientists are still studying. It isn’t just the shapes that are an issue here, but also the physical properties of the shell material including elasticity, ductility, tensile strength, and the use of oscillatory systems. Scientists are trying to understand the fractal-like spine pattern in some mollusk designs. Also, the researchers are curious about why 90 percent of mollusk shells are right-handed and only 10 percent are left-handed. Other “exquisite ornamentations” create a mystery for scientists to study.

Romans 1:18-22 tells us that “we can know there is a God through the things He has made.” The complexity of something as basic as a seashell can speak to us about the design God has used in everything He does. It is only with the advent of mathematics and engineering that we can duplicate what we see in nature. Seashells are an intricate example of the design of living creatures.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Life Needs Phosphorus

Life Needs Phosphorus
The element phosphorus is used to make matches. Molecular phosphorus has two common forms. There is white phosphorus which is dangerously combustible and is used to make fireworks and weapons. The more stable red phosphorus is used on the side of any box of safety matches. When you strike the match against the red phosphorus, a small amount of it is changed to white phosphorus to ignite the match. But phosphorus has more important uses than starting fires. Life needs phosphorus. The average human body contains about 26.5 ounces (750 grams) of phosphorus. Most of it is in our bones.

Phosphate is a compound of phosphorus and oxygen. It combines with sugars in living tissue to form the backbone of DNA, which is the blueprint for life found in every living cell. Phosphate is also part of a complex organic chemical called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) found in every living organism. ATP releases energy so that cells can function. Life needs phosphorus and could not exist without it in an abundant supply.

Recent research presented at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science on April 5, 2018, indicates that phosphorus may not be widely available in the Milky Way. The research indicates that it is more random than scientists had previously thought. That means even if one of the recently discovered exoplanets had all of the conditions required to support life, it still might be lifeless without phosphorus.

We have often referred to the many conditions required to make a habitable planet. Here is one more to add to the list. Life needs phosphorus, and apparently phosphorus is less widely distributed than we thought. Phil Cigan, one of the astronomers involved in the study, said, “It’s not a guaranteed thing to have phosphorus abundant everywhere, ripe for the picking. It seems to look like luck plays a bigger role in this.”

Is it just one more chance coincidence that planet Earth has the phosphorus needed for life? We don’t think it is a matter of luck. We think this is another evidence of God’s design for life.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Donkeys and Horses

Donkey and Horse
There are many obvious physical similarities between donkeys and horses. In their actions, they are very different.

Horses were first domesticated about 4,000 B.C. A horse can carry a rider into or out of a battle with speed and grace. A horse and its rider form a partnership of mutual trust. With a trusted rider on its back, a horse will charge ahead into the danger of a rugged course or a heated battle. Horses have been used in warfare for thousands of years.

Donkeys were domesticated around 3,000 B.C. While a horse can be fearless, a donkey has a much stronger sense of self-preservation. The unwillingness of donkeys to go into dangerous situations has given them a probably undeserved reputation for being stubborn. Donkeys don’t connect with their human riders in the way that horses do. That lack of mutual connection is a major factor in the reason why warriors have never ridden into battle on donkeys. Riding into confrontation on a donkey would indicate surrender.The use of donkeys in warfare has been limited to carrying supplies and carrying the wounded away from the battle.

So donkeys and horses are physically similar, and studies have not indicated a strong difference in intelligence between these animals. The difference between them seems to be in the way they are programmed in their DNA. The Creator understood that and chose a donkey to ride into Jerusalem as Jesus became the sacrificial fulfillment of the Passover Lamb in Matthew 21:1-5. In the final battle when the power of evil is destroyed forever, Revelation 19:11-16 describes Him riding on a horse. It’s easy to see that the donkey is used by the Suffering Servant and the horse is used by the Conquering King.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Bird Migration Data

Bird Migration Data
A fascinating area of study is bird migration. With new technologies, scientists are gathering more bird migration data than ever before.

Arctic terns spend their summers in Alaska and migrate thousands of miles to wintering grounds in South America. Years ago researchers demonstrated that the tern didn’t get the migration information from its parents because terns raised in isolation having no contact with other terns could still make the journey. Terns deprived of visual acuity could still make the journey, so the migration was not by landmarks. The Earth’s magnetic field was not the method because terns equipped with a magnetic scrambler could still make the journey. Similar tests showed it was not by smell or by sound. The researchers concluded that the tern used several navigation tools. If one was lost, the bird would switch to another. We suggested that such a complex system was not a product of chance. It is designed into the tern’s DNA suggesting that God had something to do with the design.

In the March 2018 issue of National Geographic, there is an excellent article titled “Epic Migrations.” Scientists use new tools to collect bird migration data that enables a much more precise understanding of both short and long migrations. Nearly half of all bird species are migratory, so there are a large number of species to study, and scientists are gathering new data continuously.

The long-distance winner of migration is the bar-tailed godwit. One specimen flew 7,150 miles non-stop in eight days from its summering grounds in Alaska to its wintering grounds in New Zealand. In the weeks before migration, godwits build up enormous layers of fat adding more than half their body weight. When they arrive in New Zealand, they have lost all of the fat reserves. Because they do not glide or soar in the journey, their wings are beating all the time. On the way back to Alaska, the birds travel 6,000 miles to China near the Yellow Sea where they spend six weeks. Then they fly 4000 miles back to Alaska. Their departure time for these trips is the same from year to year, influenced only by local weather and winds. They seem to be guided by a precise clock.

Researchers have found an assortment of interesting bird migration data. Studies of frigatebirds in the Pacific show that they sleep while soaring, but only for about 12 seconds at a time for a total of 42 minutes a day. Research shows that half of the bird’s brain is asleep and the other half is awake. Other studies have shown that European starlings use the Sun as a compass and that indigo buntings use stars as a compass. European robins use an internal magnetic compass. When researchers artificially rotated the magnetic compasses by 90 degrees, the birds flew the wrong direction until the Sun came up. Then they reset their magnetic compasses using the Sun for orientation.

Each species of migratory birds seems to have their own built-in devices to make their journeys. The programming of their DNA is incredibly complex and seems to be a designed characteristic built into each species. We can learn a great deal about God by observing the world around us, and truly “we can know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:20).
–John N. Clayton © 2018

God’s Natural Cloning

Natural Cloning of Crayfish
When scientists reach a new accomplishment, they sometimes discover that God has already done it. The marbled crayfish (Procambarus virginalis) has been reproducing by cloning for more than 20 years. Natural cloning, or parthenogenesis, is one of the tools of God for species reproduction.

Someone caught a female slough crayfish (Procambarus fallax) in the Florida Everglades in 1995. A hobbyist bought it for a pet. For an unknown reason, it became a new species called the marbled crayfish and started cloning itself. The hobbyist could not take care of the increasing numbers of crayfish, so he took them to a pet shop where others bought them for their aquariums. A German aquarium owner bought a bag of these mutant crayfish from an American pet trader and found his tank overrun with female crayfish. The marbled crayfish are all female clones from the one female crayfish. The number has gone from one to billions around the world today.

Crayfish are at the bottom of the food chain for freshwater ecosystems, and with this new method of reproduction, the supply of crayfish can be good even with heavy predation. These crayfish can adapt to so many kinds of environments that scientists are concerned about them becoming an invasive species in various areas. Researchers have recently sequenced the genome of the marbled crayfish to learn more about this creature. They are suggesting that study of marveled crayfish reproduction may give clues to how tumors develop and grow.

We still have a lot to learn about these cloned crayfish. There are other organisms in which natural cloning occurs without male participation. Study of this design feature may lead to more advances in the areas of food production and health.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
For more on marbeled crayfish click here. For more on how cloning might be used to protect an endangered species click here.

What Makes Humans Special?

What Makes Humans Special?
As we look at the many creatures that inhabit planet Earth, we see that humans are unique. What makes humans special?

Unlike most animals, we walk on two legs. Even primates that can stand upright, spend much of their time on all-fours. Standing upright frees our hands for making and using tools. It also allows us to use our hands for creating art and writing stories and books. Our hands enable us to write instructions explaining how to use the tools we create. Writing makes it possible for us to record the things we learn about the world around us.

Our hands allow us to do things that no animal can because of our opposable thumbs. Most apes and monkeys have opposible thumbs, but only humans can bring their thumbs in opposition to any of our four fingers.

Most animals are covered with a thick layer of hair to protect them from the harsh environment. We protect ourselves by clothing that we design using our creativity and that we make using our hands.

Humans are special in our ability to speak. The design and position of our larynx, tongue, and mouth make it physically possible to create sounds that form words. Beyond our physical traits, the ability to understand symbolism is essential for advanced communication. Your ability to understand the meaning of words, even the meaning of the words formed by the letters you are reading is unique to humans.

Human children are dependent on their parents for a much longer time than any animal, and our family relationships are important throughout life. We are capable of an “agape” type of love that emphasizes the needs of others rather than ourselves. We learn to love in our families as our parents model a godly love for us.

Most animals live as long as they can reproduce and they die soon after that. Their purpose is to procreate and maintain a balanced natural environment. Humans live far beyond the time when we produce offspring because we have a purpose beyond reproduction. God has given us the responsibility take care of the creation and to serve others and to serve Him.

Our brain makes us unique, not necessarily because of its size but because of what it can do. There are animals with larger brains. The sperm whale has the largest. When you compare brain weight to body size, many birds have brains that make up 8 percent of their body weight. The human brain is only about 2.5 percent of our body weight, but it far exceeds the brain of any animal in intelligence.

The greatest difference–and the biggest mystery to science–is what is often referred to as “mind.” How can mere atoms and molecules form cells and neural connections to create the human sense of self-consciousness and purpose? How can they form themselves into a mind that can contemplate the universe and our purpose in life? We believe this most unique feature of humans is more than the physical action of neurons. We prefer to call it our soul.

As we seek to know what makes humans special and unique, we have to look beyond the physical realm. Our creativity, our search for beauty, our desire for loving relationships, our seeking after justice, and our need to worship, all indicate that we know there is something beyond what this world offers. We believe those desires are in our souls because we were created in the image of our Creator and we were created to have a relationship with Him. That is truly what makes humans special.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Dinosaur Train and Reality

Dinosaur Train and Reality
I have been blessed over the past year with a two-year-old who calls me “Booh” which is Thai for “Grandpa.” It has been a wonderful experience for me in several ways. One of the things I have learned as he has grown older and watches children’s television is how much bad good and bad information children are exposed to in their preschool years. My adopted grandson’s favorite television program is a PBS Kids series called Dinosaur Train.

The program opens with a small pair of creatures that look like pterodactyls standing by a nest containing four eggs. The eggs hatch and the first three hatchlings look like their parents, complete with the ability to fly. The fourth egg hatches a few seconds later with a baby who looks nothing like the parents and who says, “What am I doing in a flying reptile nest?” The mother dinosaur picks up the baby, and the whole family flies to a train station called the Dinosaur Train.

On the train, a conductor takes the family on a trip to different geologic time periods–Mesozoic, Cenozoic, Paleozoic, Triassic, etc. There the family meets dinosaurs from the various time periods who explain what they eat and how they find their food. The train has a cattle car with large dinosaurs in it, and the family goes to a coach containing smaller dinosaurs.

Occasionally a scientist identified as a paleontologist presents a mini-lecture. The lecture may be on the meaning of words, the current evolutionary beliefs about the animals, or the geological processes that shaped the history of the Earth. His presentations are generally accurate, and he attempts to give the viewers a vocabulary that would be the envy of most college freshmen. Sound effects are very entertaining, and the program stays away from blood and gore and tends to focus on herbivores.

There are lots of concerns that parents may have about the current geologic and evolutionary beliefs that are presented as facts. I am concerned about the anthropomorphism of the dinosaurs. The train is a mid-twentieth century coal-burning steam engine and the train station is from the same time period. The conductor is a dinosaur wearing an outfit that looks like a circus barker. He not only calls the “All aboard,” but he gives Powerpoint-style explanations. The dinosaurs all speak perfect English and behave as humans. Everyone is friendly, T-Rex speaks kindly with everyone, and groups of dinosaurs sing Broadway-style tunes. Dinosaur Train is quite frankly very entertaining.

The problem I have is that the dinosaurs are essentially humans, engaging in human contests, doing human things, and having human relationships. Mom and dad have human roles and enjoy human activities like picnics and visits to different climates and places of recreational value. It is no wonder that those who tell children that humans and dinosaurs lived together find a ready audience of young people. I have hunter friends who dislike the story of Bambi because it vilifies hunters and fails to present children with the importance of balance in nature and the role that carnivores like ourselves serve. The same difficulty is present when people don’t understand the role that dinosaurs had in preparing the Earth for humans by supporting the ecology that produced the resources we need to survive on this planet.

Dinosaur Train is interesting and creative, but parents need to take time to give more accurate and realistic teaching to their toddlers as they get old enough to understand. There is no problem in explaining the role of dinosaurs if we understand how God designed and planned for humans from before time began.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Cloned Monkeys — Humans Next?

Cloned Monkeys — Humans Next?
Reuters.com reports that the Chinese Academy of Sciences has solved the technical problems of cloning higher life forms. Mu-ming Poo announced that two long-tailed macaques named Hua Hua and Zhong Zhong were produced using somatic cell nuclear transfer in which transferred DNA was taken from fetal monkey cells and put into cells from which they had removed the DNA. By stimulating these eggs, they developed into embryos which were implanted in female surrogates and two live births of cloned monkeys resulted.

The question of cloning has many dimensions to it. Cloning can be used to solve many problems. An article in The Week (February 16, 2018) says that this process could “revolutionize research on diseases including cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.” The potential to address food shortages could lie within cloning of unusually large plants and animals or food stocks with special characteristics such as protein content, resistance to pests, etc. Cloning could also be used destructively to produce diseases or science fiction products like human androids.

The question remains whether scientists will clone humans. Since scientists at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland cloned “Dolly” the sheep in 1996, others have cloned 22 mammal species including cows, dogs, horses, and rabbits. Now the Chinese researchers have broken the primate barrier with cloned monkeys.

In cloning the macaques, 127 eggs resulted in 79 embryos which led to only six pregnancies and two live births. The ethics of such an inefficient process with humans raises a whole new set of abortion questions and Frankenstein type scientific, moral issues. Scientists will address the physical issues with future improvements in techniques, but someone must address the moral issues before they attempt human cloning.

The Bible defines a human as a being created in the image of God. A cloned human would be as human as one produced by artificial insemination or surrogacy or by the old-fashioned method. What we CAN DO and what we SHOULD DO are not necessarily the same. We need people with Christian moral values making the decisions on what we should do.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Romeo Seeking Juliet

Romeo Seeking Juliet
It’s a case of Romeo seeking Juliet. He has been called “the loneliest frog in the world.” His name is Romeo, and he’s a Sehuencas water frog (Telmatobius yuracare). He may be the only one left.

Sehuencas water frogs lived in the subtropical and tropical areas of Bolivia. Romeo has lived in the Cochabamba Natural History Museum in Bolivia for the past ten years. No Sehuencas water frogs have been seen in the wild since 2008. Their life expectancy is up to 15 years, and that means Romeo’s time for finding a mate is limited. Unless he can find a mate, the species will probably become extinct.

Because of this emergency situation, Global Wildlife Conservation and the Bolivian Amphibian Initiative have taken matters into their own hands. They have teamed up with the dating site Match.com to find a mate for this lonely frog. Actually, it is doubtful that any female Sehuencas water frogs–if there are any–will see Romeo’s posting on Match. However, the groups are hoping to raise awareness and to raise $15,000 by Valentine’s Day to launch expeditions into the areas where these frogs formerly lived in the hope of finding a mate for Romeo.

The story of Romeo seeking Juliet has gone on for years. When Romeo was a young frog, he sent out mating calls with no response. Those calls have slowed down in recent years. In Romeo’s Match listing he says, “I’m a pretty simple guy. I tend to keep to myself and love spending nights at home.” His status is shown as, “Never married.” He concludes with the statement, “So, if you believe in love and want to help an old frog out, please donate to my cause.”

Is there any hope for this species to continue? If all else fails, researchers are considering the possibility of cloning. Many species that are part of the natural balance God created have been threatened by human actions. Habitat loss and the introduction of alien predatory species are two of the major causes. We must learn to be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Oak Tree Rodent Control

Oak Tree Rodent Control
There have been times in Earth’s history when rodents threatened to overrun areas of the planet. Sometimes humans upset the ecological balance leading to an overabundance of rodents. Then people have to find a way to keep them under control. But what if you are an oak tree with a mouse problem? Is there such a thing as oak tree rodent control?

Among other things, rodents eat acorns which are the seeds of oak trees. How can new oak trees be produced if the mice eat the seeds? Dr. Jerry Wolff of Oregon State University made a study of oak trees and white-footed mice in the Appalachian Mountains several years ago. Dr. Wolff found that oak trees in the Appalachian area synchronize their erratic production of acorns. In that way, they control the rodent population.

When the mouse population is low, the oak trees produce a massive number of acorns which swamps the mice with more acorns than they can eat. These well-fed rodents produce high numbers of offspring. Over the next three or four years acorns will be a scarce commodity, and so the rodent population crashes. At that point, the trees again synchronize and switch back to high volume acorn production. There are fewer rodents around to eat them resulting in a greater production of tree seedlings.

Trying to explain this by some chance process stretches credibility. The simpler view is that the DNA of the trees and the mice were designed to continue providing a constant growth of new trees and the production of acorns for the mice. There are many symbiotic relationships in nature where two species are dependent on each other. This oak tree rodent control is a design to guarantee that both species survive. Design indicates a Designer.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: This study first appeared in Discover magazine in 1992.