Great Auk and Human Stewardship Failure

Great Auk and Human Stewardship FailureIt was a flightless North Atlantic bird that stood upright 30-33 inches (75-85 cm) tall and weighed 11 pounds (5 kg). Its small wings were less than 6 inches (15 cm) long. It’s also the story of the great auk and human stewardship failure.

The fact that the great auk couldn’t fly and that it was large enough to provide a meal for hungry sailors is a major reason why it became extinct. People also killed them for their feathers. As the great auk was nearing extinction, people killed the last ones to stuff their skins and display them as trophies in museums and private collections.

Though the great auk couldn’t fly in the air, it did fly underwater. Some might say this bird was poorly designed with its large body and small wings. But underwater, those wings became fins to pursue and catch fish. Larger wings would have been a hindrance underwater. The large size of this bird gave evidence that it found abundant food and had no need to fly in the air.

Great auks had few predators, but since they couldn’t fly and were slow on land, they became easy prey for humans. When it was evident that they were becoming extinct, great auks became more valuable. Collectors wanted a stuffed bird for a trophy, and museums wanted one for display. At last, there was only one breeding pair and one egg left on Eldey Island off the coast of Iceland. On July 3, 1844, three men climbed up on Eldey Island, killed the last two birds, and smashed the egg. The great auk was no more.

The picture shows a monument to the great auk in Iceland facing toward Eldey, the rocky island where the birds made their last stand. It tells the sad story of the great auk and human stewardship failure. God gave humans the duty to care for His creation. He commanded Adam and Eve to “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). Jesus told us that God cares for the birds. (See Matthew 6:26 and Luke 12:6.) The Apostle Paul in Romans 13:4 talks about human rulers. He wrote that they are “God’s servants for your good.” I think we can apply that concept of rulers to our duty toward the living creatures God created. We are stewards entrusted with caring for the world God gave us, including the living creatures.

Today there is a lack of regard even for human life. For the sake of convenience, people kill babies before they are born. Others set out to kill as many people as possible using guns or vehicles. The great auk and human stewardship failure is a reminder of how many times humans have failed to keep God’s commands. “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by Grace!” (Ephesians 2:4-5 CSV).
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Ghostly Seadevil Finds a Mate in the Dark

Ghostly Seadevil Finds a Mate in the DarkMore than a mile (2250 meters) below the ocean, there is a world of darkness. Finding a mate in that dark place could be a challenge, but a species of anglerfish with the scientific name Haplophryne mollis has the problem solved. The solution is to keep your mate permanently attached. The so-called ghostly seadevil finds a mate in the dark and doesn’t let go.

The female sends out pheromones, chemicals which attract the males. The males, which are much smaller than the females, have a keen sense of smell to detect the pheromones in the water. Ghostly seadevils are called anglerfish because they have a “fishing lure” in front of their face to attract other fish which they eat. In the case of the ghostly seadevil, only the female has the lure, and it’s bioluminescent, meaning that it glows in the dark.

Once the male has detected the pheromone, he looks for the glowing lure. He examines the shape, color pattern, and flash pattern of the lure to tell if this is a female of his same species. If it is, he clamps onto her with his teeth and doesn’t let go. Eventually, their skin grows together, and their blood vessels join. She provides his nourishment, and he fertilizes the eggs which she lays. The eggs float upward to the ocean’s surface where they hatch, and the larvae feed on plankton. As they mature, the seadevils migrate back down into the ocean depths and repeat the cycle of life.

This is a drawing because pictures are hard to get in the dark ocean. In this case, you can see that two males have attached themselves. You can also see the bioluminescent lure on the front of the female fish’s head, and that’s how the ghostly seadevil finds a mate in the dark. They have a “ghostly” appearance because their bodies are translucent like many creatures living in darkness. This cycle of life seems strange, but it has too many coincidences to be accidental. We think it shows the creativity of the God who designed life to survive everywhere on Earth.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Animal Sizes and Human Benefits

Animal Sizes and Human BenefitsThere have always been large animals living on planet Earth, and there are also massive numbers of small animals. The question is whether there is a reason for each of these to exist. What is the reason for animal sizes?

Large animals require not only a lot of room but also significant amounts of food to provide energy for their massive bodies. In ancient times, dinosaurs became enormous. Their capacity to eat large quantities of plant material and spread the seeds was also huge. Today, our large animals such as rhinos and elephants are nowhere near the size of many of the dinosaurs. Still, they are large, and they consume enormous amounts of plant material. A whole ecosystem is built around these large animals, but the space available to house them is becoming smaller and smaller. Most scientific studies indicate the likely extinction of the large animal forms.

Researchers at England’s University of Southampton have been studying 15,500 mammal and bird species to ask what the future holds for large animals. Their studies show that in the next 100 years, the average body mass of mammals will shrink by 25%. As the larger animals become extinct, smaller, fertile animals will replace them.

The design of this system is amazing. In the primitive Earth, there was a need to provide resources in massive quantities over a large geographic area, and the larger animals could do that. As we dig into the fossil records of Earth, we see evidence of how successful this system was. Massive coal beds speak of conditions very different from those of today. Providing these resources required enormous animals.

Environmental change has made the production of these kinds of resources unnecessary. God designed the system in such a way that size fits the needs of the ecosystem. While we are reluctant to allow large animals to become extinct, their survival is no longer critical to the continuance of the ecosystem in which they live. Human influence has also been a factor in the reduction of animal sizes.

We find an example of the importance of small animal sizes in the oceans. Coral reefs are critical to the survival of ecosystems along the shorelines of the world. The United States Geological Survey reports that in U.S. Waters, coral reefs provide more than 1.8 billion dollars in flood protection benefits every year. The reefs are vast collections of tiny organisms which break waves, drain energy from ocean storms, and protect the land along the shoreline. In 2017 tropical storms caused more than $265 billion in damage in the United States. Much of that damage was due to the destruction of coral reefs.

God has designed animal sizes to allow them to benefit humans. He has left it to us to understand how these systems work and protect and nurture them. We live in an amazing world that has been created with wisdom and purpose. Understanding how animals benefit us will lead to protecting and caring for the world in which we live.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from National Wildlife, October/November 2019, page 8.

Spring-loaded Movement in Living Things

Spring-loaded Movement in Living ThingsAn interesting study of living things in the world around us involves how things move from one place to another. There are many creatures with muscles that move their legs or wings to travel from place-to-place. Other forms of life use spring-loaded movement with power greater than muscles can provide.

The larvae of the gall midge Asphondylia flip with power by using a built-in latch that acts as a spring. Gall midges lay their eggs on silverrod or goldenrod plants (Solidago). The midges grow from an egg to a larva inside a gall that grows on the plant. The larva’s body forms into an ellipse by meshing together the back and front using a velcro-like surface on each end. As the midge larva grows, the tension on the surfaces increases until it finally breaks free, shooting the midge as far as 36 times its body length. We previously reported on the so-called “Dracula ant” (Mystrium camillae) which has the world’s fastest jaws that operate on a mechanism which gives them spring-loaded movement.

Some plants like the Chinese Witch Hazel (Hamamelis mollis) have a similar structure in their fruit. As the fruit grows, it builds up stress until the edges of the fruit break, shooting the seed great distances. That spring-loaded launch method spreads the seeds over a wider area. Also, we previously reported on the sandbox tree (Hura crepitans) nicknamed “the dynamite tree.” Its seedpods open explosively by a spring-loaded movement that scatters the seeds.

These are all design features built into the very structure of the organisms to allow locomotion. Even the smallest creatures such as ants and midge flies and plants that are rooted in place use spring-loaded movement. Everywhere we look in the creation, we see God’s designs at work. His wonder-working hand has created a great diversity in all of life.

As Paul wrote in Romans 1:20, “For the invisible things of Him (His wisdom, power, and design) from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made even His eternal power and deity; so that mankind is without excuse…”
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: Science News, August 31, 2019, page 10.

Elephant Ecology or Extinction

Elephant Ecology or ExtinctionThere are those who like to change things, even if they have not investigated all the ramifications of that change. When God’s creation is involved, there are especially drastic proposals that are sometimes a product of ignorance. There is an ongoing battle between those who want to preserve elephants as a species and those who say that elephants are an ecological disaster. Instead of elephant ecology, they believe that elephants need to travel the road to extinction.

Those who want to allow elephants to go the way of the dinosaurs say that the volume of plants they need to survive makes them too destructive to justify their existence. To support such claims, they show pictures of areas decimated by elephants and tell stories about the invasion of elephants into agricultural regions. Elephants, they say, have threatened the survival of whole communities of subsistence farmers by eating the plants humans depend on.

On the other side of the fence is the “Save the Elephant” campaign in Kenya. They maintain that there is interconnectivity in the natural world between all organisms. They argue that elephants provide a variety of connections to various African ecologies. Elephants are ecosystem engineers. Scientists tell us that elephants knock over trees, trample brush, prune branches, and disperse seeds, which increases the biodiversity of the areas in which they live. Elephant ecology helps to maintain the savannas and forests.

A recent discovery connects the largest animals in the African ecology with the smallest. Herpetologist Dr. Stephen Platt has been studying the Nay Ya Inn wetland in Myanmar (Burma). He found that frogs depend on elephants in a very surprising way. As elephants travel in wetland areas, they leave Jacuzzi-size pools in the ground that stay full of water during the dry season. Frogs depend on these pools to lay eggs and develop tadpoles to maintain their populations in a fragile environment. Platt says there other small organisms that also depend on these pools for their survival. In Platt’s words: “Such microcosms of life are probably commonplace, but almost no one has bothered to look before.”

Earth’s history has been full of examples where large animals supported an ecosystem that produced not only life, but also resources for humans. Dinosaurs were huge for a reason, and it was not to make movies. Like the elephant, dinosaurs provided for humans by being the ecosystem engineers of their day. Without them, we would not have the coal, gas, iron, and many other resources that make our modern world possible.

God has provided for us in some incredible ways, and elephant ecology has opened our minds to a whole new way of seeing that.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: Scientific American, September 2019, page 16.

Dinosaur Blood Pressure

Dinosaur Blood Pressure in BarosaurusIt’s an animal that does not exist on Earth today and which poses some serious challenges to a chance explanations. It’s a dinosaur called the barosaurus. Skeletal remains of this animal show that its head would have towered fifty feet (more than 15 m) above the ground. We have seen drawings of these huge herbivorous dinosaurs. Many of us have seen the reconstructions based on the bones such as the one shown in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. No one denies the size of the animal. The problems come when we start looking at its anatomy. The problem of dinosaur blood pressure raises some serious questions.

The animal with the longest neck today is the giraffe. To get blood to its brain, a giraffe has a systolic blood pressure as high as 350. Systolic pressure is the pressure produced when the heart contracts. For humans, anything over 140 is considered high. To create that much pressure, the weight of the giraffe’s heart weighs is about 25 pounds (11.3 kg). A human heart weighs about 11 ounces (310 grams). For a barosaurus, the heart would have to weigh tons. Also, the blood vessels would have to be extraordinarily thick. It is difficult, if not impossible, to believe that such conditions could exist.

Years ago, two scientists working at the investigative Cardiology Laboratory at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York developed a proposal that barosaurus had eight hearts. They suggested a heart like ours pumped blood from the body to the lungs and back. They then suggested a complicated series of seven other hearts. Their idea was that there would be a single-chamber secondary heart above the primary one. It would have one-way valves to boost the blood into the neck. Above the second heart, the artery would divide into two branches sending blood to the brain. Three hearts along each branching artery would pump the blood to the next heart until it reached the brain. This arrangement would reduce the dinosaur blood pressure so that the systolic pressure would max out at about 180.

This is a theory which in all probability will always remain as just another imaginative proposal. It is doubtful that there will ever be any way to test it. The point is that the anatomical complexity and the number of critical parameters required would make this dinosaur blood pressure system virtually impossible to happen by chance. Each heart’s pressure would have to be critically adjusted to just enough to move the blood to the next level. If the dinosaur blood pressure were too high, it would damage the delicate valves of the next heart. What would happen when the animal ran? Each heart would have to speed up, but not at the same rate.

We suggest that proposals like this defy any possible accidental cause. If a person wants to accept chance as a faith proposition in spite of its inadequacies, they are certainly free to do so. But the more variables that must be controlled to achieve the desired effect, the less likely it is that the result can be a product of chance. They can better be explained by design.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Are Humans Animals?

Are humans animals like bears?People have sometimes called me to task for referring to humans as animals. The point is well taken that humans are unique, but humans are not plants, and they are not minerals. According to all basic elementary science books, there are three kingdoms – plants, animals, and minerals. Are humans animals? Yes, we are animals.

The problem we seem to have is that we don’t understand what makes humans different from bears, for example. In our correspondence courses, we have questions about what distinguishes a human from other forms of animal life. I find it interesting that the answers my students give are so poorly considered. Some will say that we think, but all animals think. Some say we have emotions, but all animals have emotions. Others will say we stand erect, but kangaroos, birds, and bears all stand erect. Still others say it’s our brain size, but whales have bigger brains than we do, and bears have very large brains.

I recently watched a National Geographic program on bears. The program emphasized that female bears in the wild that give birth to unhealthy or significantly deformed cubs will kill and eat them. AOL News on the web (August 18, 2019) carried a story about two Russian fishermen who rescued two bear cubs from drowning. The mother bear was swimming across a lake with two cubs on her back when she became tired and chilled. Her solution was to shake the two cubs off of her back, leaving them to drown while she continued her journey to the other side of the lake. These are behaviors that would be unlikely in a human mother. What is it that makes humans different? Why do human mothers continue to care for children with deformities or severe health issues? Why do human mothers usually show incredible resilience when their child is threatened?

When someone asks, “Are humans animals?” I reply, “Yes, but not JUST animals. Humans are not driven by “survival of the fittest.” There are characteristics of humans that cause us to care for those who are not “fit.” These human qualities also provide for an innate sense of the love of beauty in art or music or in a natural setting. What is it in humans that causes us to worship, to feel guilt, and to be sympathetic. What causes us to be driven by an “agape” type of love – self-sacrificing, nonsexual, and unrelated to our survival?

It isn’t any physical characteristic that makes humans special. Our spiritual makeup is the source of all those things that set humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. We are created in the image of God. That isn’t just an empty cliché. It is an observable difference between humans and the animal world around us. We can behave like bears if we choose, but bears cannot behave as humans.

Are humans animals? Yes, but not JUST animals. The word the Bible uses to describe the distinctive characteristic of humans is “soul.” It’s the part of us that never dies, and it separates us from all other forms of life.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Keeping Balance in Nature

Keeping Balance in Nature with BearsAmong the design features built into the creation is that of avoiding over-eating of plants by herbivores or over predation of herbivores by carnivores. Sometimes there are surprising ways of keeping balance in nature.

Did you know, for example, that bears help control the production of caterpillars? A January 29, 2019, posting by Yellowstone National Park staff reports that Yellowstone bears in August eat an astonishing 40,000 moths a day. The moths are migrating from grasslands over the mountains in Yellowstone, and they are actually above timberline. This allows the bears to climb up and get easy nutrition as they prepare for hibernation in the coming winter. From an ecological standpoint, it limits how many caterpillars are produced, preserving plants for many animals in nearby grasslands.

One of the things science continues to learn about is how many factors are involved in keeping the balance of any ecosystem. The design of all ecosystems is so complex that knowing how many checks and balances are required is almost impossible.

Frequently humans have upset the balance God built into the creation with catastrophic results. The problem of controlling insect swarms is as old as recorded human history. Who would have thought that bears above the timberline in Yellowstone National Park would make a massive contribution to the ecology of nearby grasslands? Keeping balance in Nature requires intelligent planning and design.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

World’s Fastest Jaws

Worlds Fastest Jaws - Mystrium camillae Insects are the most prolific of all animal groups on the planet. History records instances in which scourges of insects have caused massive destruction when they are not held in check. One of the most effective controllers of insect populations is other insects. An example of that is a species of ants with the world’s fastest jaws.

Recent studies by entomologists using high-speed cameras have shown that the ant Mystrium camillae can snap its mandibles at speeds that are 5,000 times faster than the blink of an eye. Their jaws close with so much force that even if they don’t touch their prey, they can stun them. This high-speed, spring-action  jaw closing is part of a designed system that helps maintain balance between predator and prey in the natural world. Sometimes humans cause nature to become out of balance. In the natural world without human mismanagement, there are animals and plants that keep nature in balance.

Designing life systems that can exist over the long haul is incredibly difficult. One of the problems in space travel is developing systems that will provide food for astronauts over a period of many years. Several experiments have been tried, but none have been successful. God’s design of life systems on Earth is amazing. We frequently see species with special equipment like the world’s fastest jaws of the Mystrium camillae. They were designed to maintain a balanced world where humans can thrive.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: National Wildlife, June/July 2019, page 8.

Natural Selection as Creative Agent

Natural Selection as Creative Agent - Polar BearsYesterday we pointed out that both evolutionary naturalists and many creationists believe that, given enough time, anything can happen. They assume that once the first life-form came into being (which cannot be explained by natural selection) that time and natural selection would create all the vastly different forms of life. There are many reasons why natural selection as creative agent will not work no matter how much time you give it. We presented three reasons yesterday. Here are three more:

1-Natural selection tends to produce over-specialization. One of the fundamental laws of biology and evolution is Dollo’s Law. The French biologist Louis Dollo proposed that law in 1890. It says that once evolutionary characteristics have evolved, they cannot revert to the form from which they came. We now know why that is true by our advances in genetics. What it tells us is that as natural selection lets an animal become more and more specialized, it can not revert back to what it was before. Polar bears that have evolved by natural selection to their present state cannot return back to the black bear genetics of their ancestors. That may mean that they will become extinct if global climate change continues. Natural selection as creative agent won’t work because it is pretty much a one-way process.

2-Natural selection deals only with survival. The development of beauty does not always involve survival. Some coloration in birds, for example, does not aid their survival but results in incredible beauty. Jesus talked about the lilies of the field and birds of the air as blessed with beauty and function. While this has significant meaning for us aesthetically, sometimes the beauty of plants and animals may actually threaten their physical survival. We have discussed this point many times in our “Dandy Designs” column and elsewhere.

3-Natural selection stands at odds with the concept of entropy. The second law of thermodynamics tells us that in any closed system, things tend to move from a condition of order to a state of disorder. One can argue that the Earth is not a closed system because the Sun is adding energy. When living things eat, they add energy in the form of the chemicals in the food they consume.

The fact is, however, that in all biological systems, there is a tendency for life to become disordered. We call it aging. My body continues to produce a higher and higher level of entropy (disorder) as the years go by. All biological systems do this. To suggest that biological systems become more and more specialized by natural processes violates the very basic laws of physics and chemistry. The cosmos itself is moving towards disorder. Unless intelligence can add organizing energy and reverse the natural tendency to age, everything is doomed from our bodies to our planet.

God built the cosmos with laws that function to allow life to exist. He created life itself and built into it certain characteristics that caused Paul to write: “We can know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:20). Natural selection is one of the things God has made, and it allows nature to function. Natural selection as creative agent cannot explain the beautiful, complex world around us. It only applies to those changes which improve the chances for life to survive. Time is not a friend to aging or complexity. The older my car gets, the more likely it is to break down. That is true of my body and the natural world around me as well.
— John N. Clayton © 2019