Life Adapts to a Sealed, Poison Cave

Life Adapts
In southeastern Romania in Constanta county near the Black Sea scientists discovered a cave that had been cut off from the outside world throughout history. Yet, even in a sealed, poison cave, life adapts.

Scientists estimate that the cave was sealed off 5.5 million years ago, and its air is low in oxygen (10%) and high in carbon dioxide (3%). That is almost one-third the amount of oxygen and 100 times more carbon dioxide as the air we breathe. The air and water in the cave also contain high levels of hydrogen sulfide and ammonia. The cave is named Movile Cave, and it is full of life. Biologists have identified 48 species, and 33 of them are found nowhere else.

The food chain in the cave is based on chemosynthesis using sulfur instead of photosynthesis which requires sunlight. Bacteria which oxidize sulfur and methane release nutrients used by other bacteria and fungi. They, in turn, create microbial mats on the cave wall. Those mats are grazed by herbivorous creatures which are consumed by carnivorous creatures such as spiders, leeches, and water scorpions. Contrary to what the media has reported, life didn’t start in the cave. Instead, life has adapted to the cave environment.

Scientists have found life around thermal vents deep in the ocean and under the Arctic ice. We find it amazing that life adapts to hostile environments. We also believe this is a demonstration of the wisdom involved in life’s design. And in spite of what the media have reported, this is not necessarily an argument in favor of life under the crust oceans of Europa and Ganymede, the moons of Jupiter.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018
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Star-nosed Mole: Star of the Mole World

Star-nosed Mole
If you mention the word “mole” in my neighborhood, you will see my neighbors reflect all kinds of negative emotions. This tunneling varmint that tears up the manicured lawns of America is not on the “most loved animal” list of anyone I know. There is a unique member of the mole family that has scientists scratching their heads at the complexity and remarkable design of a mole known as the star-nosed mole. This mole is so unique that it has its own genus identification Condylura.

This six-inch long animal lives in wet lowland areas of the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada. A star-nosed mole possesses 22 fleshy appendages called rays that surround its snout. In addition to using thick claws to dig like all moles, the star-nosed mole can swim which other moles cannot. This species of mole can blow between five and ten air bubbles per second, and these bubbles are aimed at fish or crustaceans. After the bubbles contact a possible target, the moles suck them back into their snouts to test the scent in the bubbles for possible prey. This is the first time scientists have observed a mammal capable of using olfactory skills under water.

The complexity of this animal has caused scientists to call it “a neurological wonder.” The 22 appendages of the snout have 100,000 nerve endings crammed into an area roughly the size of a human fingertip. By comparison, your entire hand contains about 17,000 nerve endings. The rays can touch as many as ten different objects in a single second. The animal can identify individual prey in less than two-tenths of a second and in eight milliseconds determine whether or not it is edible. Researchers say the star-nosed mole eats faster than any other mammal on Earth.

When we find an animal with such highly specialized equipment, we are left with some hard choices in trying to explain its origin. Evolutionary scenarios stretch credibility to the limit. Dr. Ken Catania who has been studying star moles for some 30 years says that the star-nosed mole is a poster child for extreme evolutionary adaptations. We suggest that an intelligence was involved in the creation of this incredible animal. The star-nosed mole speaks loudly to the biblical statement that “we can know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:20).
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: National Wildlife, February/March 2018.

Fox Squirrels and My Wife

Fox Squirrels and My Wife
My wife likes to organize things. Items in our pantry are grouped together based on what is in the box or can. All of the spaghetti is stacked together on the same shelf as the spaghetti sauce. All of the soups are together on their own shelf. All the cereal is together on its own shelf. Etc. etc. etc. When I put something in the wrong place, I am chastised, and she expresses amazement at my male inability to understand the importance of organization. I recently learned that fox squirrels do the same thing.

I have often wondered why the large female squirrel I see outside my office window is chattering at the smaller male squirrel who is dashing around seemingly looking for something. It is the dead of winter here, so thoughts of baby squirrels don’t seem to be a reasonable explanation.

A recent experiment done at the University of California-Berkeley may give an answer. Squirrels sort their nuts by a process called “chunking.” Researchers at the university used GPS devices to track 45 male and female fox squirrels for two years. They gave the squirrels different kinds of nuts–almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, and walnuts. The squirrels buried the nuts in unique spots with each nut having its own location.

The researchers made the nuts available one at a time, at different times of the year, and in different locations. The pattern of distribution caused the researchers to conclude that “the squirrels use a surprisingly flexible and sophisticated memorizing strategy to cache their nuts.” I have noticed that our grey squirrels here in Michigan do the same thing. I recently found a cache of sunflower seeds that came from my bird feeders, and later found a cache of acorns. There were no sunflower seeds with the acorns and no acorns with the sunflower seeds.

Fox squirrels gather between 3,000 and 10,000 nuts a year. By using the chunking method, they know where to find each nut type. That simplifies locating food sources. Like my wife, the squirrels know where to find each unique meal item.

We need to re-examine the old idea that squirrels bury nuts at random in scattered places. There is a design feature built into the squirrels’ DNA that assures the squirrel of a more efficient way to find its stored food. Programming requires intelligence, and DNA has to be programmed to work. God has programmed all kinds of instructions into the DNA of His creatures, and this seems to be one more example of how well the process works.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: The original study was by Dr. Mikel Delgado and was contained in the journal Royal Society Open Science. It was referenced and summarized in National Wildlife, February/March 2018.

Electrogenic Fish

Electrogenic Fish
To keep a balance among living things in the natural world, there have to be many ways for animals to get food. In lakes, oceans, and rivers this is especially difficult because of the amount of cover that exists in which small fish can hide. If small fish over-populate, they exceed their food supply and the whole ecosystem collapses. One way to keep balance is with a predator that is an electrogenic fish.

One of the agents designed into the ecological system is the existence of living things that send out electrical charges. Very little is understood about how this works, but new data is enabling us to understand how cleverly electrogenic fish are designed to enable them to find and eat forage fish.

The January/February 2018 issue of Popular Science (page 75) has an interesting article by Ken Catania, a professor of neurobiology at Vanderbilt University on his studies of electric eels. What he found is that when an electric eel discharges a high-voltage pulse, the nerve fibers in nearby animals are affected. If a small fish is swimming near the eel, it becomes frozen like a statue long enough for the eel to catch it. Even more interesting is the fact that the eel can make any creature that is nearby twitch when the eel fires off a blip of current. The eel can swim up to a clump of seaweed and fire off a pulse. Anything hiding in the seaweed, like a small fish, will reveal its presence by twitching.

Electrogenic fish are just one of many different systems in the ocean that allow predators to keep a balance in the sea. Everywhere we look in the creation we see the wisdom of God revealed “through the things He has made” (Romans 1:19-20).
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Dark Energy and Creation

Dark Energy and Creation
One of the great mysteries of cosmology is the fact that the cosmos is speeding up as it expands. Scientists explain this acceleration by an invisible pressure called dark energy which makes up about 70% of the energy in the cosmos.

This explanation is based on an assumption called the Friedmann-Lemaitre-Robertson-Walker metric which took Einstein’s equations and applied them to a universe they assumed to be homogeneous and isotropic. In other words, it assumes a smooth universe. Science has determined that the universe is not smooth. It is made up of great voids separating networks of dense galaxy clusters and filaments.

Emily Conover writing in Science News for November 25, 2017, (page 22) said, “If the universe were soup, it would be more of a chunky minestrone than a silky smooth tomato bisque.” When the equations are applied to a universe that is not isotropic and homogeneous, the acceleration of the cosmos seems to be explained without the need for dark energy. By the very nature of the lumpy design of the cosmos, its collapse is avoided.

It is interesting to note that the cosmos was created in such a way that its very existence contains the fingerprint of a design that allows great stability over an infinite amount of time. The more we know of the creation, the closer we get to the Creator.

Many aspects of the creation we may never understand, but as our instruments get better and data accumulates, we understand that we have, in the words of Issac Newton, “found a pebble of knowledge while an ocean of truth lays before us.”

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” is really all we need to know. Seeing His power, wisdom and design bolsters our faith in the fact that “The Lord possessed wisdom at the beginning of his work, before his deeds of old: wisdom was appointed from eternity from the beginning. Before the world began…” Proverbs 8:22-23.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Life on Other Planets Doubtful

Life on Other Planets?
We have repeatedly pointed out that finding life on other planets has no bearing on the question of God’s creation of life on Earth. The Bible does not say that this is the only place where God created life.

Astronomers have observed over 3500 planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. Many writers have suggested that life in space is natural and likely because of the number of planets that exist. That assumption has a problem. There are an enormous number of variables that must be precisely controlled to allow life to exist.

Scientists have recently discovered that while it takes 243 days for Venus to rotate once, its atmosphere requires only four days in what is called “superrotation.” How can a planet’s atmosphere rotate 60 times faster than the planet itself? What effect does this have on the conditions at the surface of the planet where life could exist?

Another recent discovery concerns Proxima Centauri b, a planet orbiting in the habitable zone of the closest star to us other than the Sun. The star it orbits, Proxima Centauri, is continuously flaring and driving away any atmosphere that an orbiting planet might have. Astronomers working on the study of this star and the planets around it released a statement saying “any chance for life on Proxima Centauri b may be toast.”

We continue to find that the conditions needed for life on other planets are numerous. Having water is important, but many other factors must be carefully controlled for a planet to support even the most simple forms of life.

God’s creation of the Earth and the conditions that allow life to exist here becomes more and more amazing as we learn more about the cosmos.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
Data from Astronomy magazine, December 2017, pages 12 and 17.

Fire Ant Towers

Fire Ant Towers
Those who live in areas where fire ants are active can tell you about fire ant towers. The ants will encircle a rod, stick, or tree to build a tower that is wide at the base and narrows as it goes up. You can watch this behavior on a video posted here.

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology were interested in how the ants do this without crushing the ants at the bottom. What they found was that the ants form rings around the structure at the center using their sticky feet to cling to each other. The rings are all concentric, but they get smaller as the tower grows. Ants near the bottom only stay there for a short time, backing off to take a break and then climbing up to the top to rejoin the structure to keep the tower standing. These towers are temporary, but they shield the colony from outside forces.

This behavior of fire ants cannot be learned. It is certainly not the product of trial and error but is clearly programmed into the ant’s DNA. Many insect behaviors are characteristic and peculiar to a certain species of insect. These built-in skills strongly suggest that the programming was done by an intelligent Creator to enhance the survival of the insects.

Proverbs 6:6 tells us, “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise.” While the passage is about being active in providing for the future and avoiding poverty, the message also comes to us today to see the handiwork of God in even His smallest creatures. Scientists are studying these ants to learn how they work together and build fire ant towers so that science can apply that intelligence to program robots.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Incredible Color

Incredible Color
Our ability to see the incredible color in the world around us is amazingly complex. We don’t actually see color with our eyes. We see color with our brains.

Most humans have trichromatic vision. Our eyes only detect red, green and blue. If our eyes detect a lot of red and green but not much blue, our brains decide that we are seeing yellow. When our eyes register equal amounts of red, green, and blue, our brain decides that we are seeing gray. If red and blue are present, but not much green, our brain decides we are seeing purple.

Some of us do not have red or green receptors in our eyes, especially people with XY chromosomes (males). We call it color blindness, but in reality, our eyes just don’t see one particular set of wavelengths. Some of us with XX chromosomes (females) may have tetrachromacy which means we see more than the three primary colors.

In the animal world, color is produced by many different techniques. The wings of the Morpho butterfly appear to be blue or violet depending on how the light strikes them. This is due to light-scattering scales that cover the insect’s wings. Dragonfly wings look similar to the Morpho wings, but the dragonfly’s color comes from waxy crystals that cover layers of the pigment melanin. We call the method of color production in these insects “structural color” because it is produced by the structure of the material rather than by pigments. Cameleons also use structural color using nanocrystals in their skin. They can tune the nanocrystals to reflect different colors. In this way, they can match the color of their environment or their mood.

We use color in many different ways such as camouflage, disguising foods to avoid their natural look, and to identify things. Much of the color that we see in the world has no practical value. For the most part, beauty is not a survival attribute. Evolutionary models attempt to explain some of the coloration we see around us, but in many cases, color is not a survival factor. Incredible color may be simply an expression of God’s desire for us to see the beauty and the majesty of His creation.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Most Sophisticated Visual System

Most Sophisticated Visual System
You might be surprised to know what animal has the most sophisticated visual system. Its eyes have at least twice as many types of color receptors compared to human eyes. They have three focal points while human eyes have only one. This animal can see both ultraviolet and infrared light, which our eyes cannot do. It has six polarization channels in each eye with high polarization sensitivity and hyperspectral imaging. What is the animal with this incredible visual system? It’s the mantis shrimp–a marine crustacean of the order Stomatopoda.

Researchers studying this animal’s eye say that it not only surpasses the sensitivity of our own visual system, but also captures more visual information, uses less power, and takes up less space than the most sophisticated state-of-the-art cameras. Scientists at the University of Illinois have developed a color-polarization camera based on the mantis shrimp’s visual system. The camera can aid in the early detection of cancer.

Mantis shrimps communicate using polarized light which cannot be detected by predators. They polarize the light by sending it across a reflector rather than the conventional method of sending the light through a lens. Researchers are copying this method of the mantis shrimp to develop a single chip, low-power, high-resolution color-polarization camera. The National Science Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research are sponsoring the project. The mantis-copied camera concept has great potential for a variety of applications.

Romans 1:19-20 tells us we can know there is a God through the things He has made. Again and again, scientists discover design’s like the most sophisticated visual system of the mantis shrimp. These amazing discoveries happen in every discipline of science. It is an exciting time to be alive, as we see more and more examples of God’s creative wisdom and design. Go to Photonics Online for more on this.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Origin of Life Complexity

Origin of Life Complexity
The origin of life complexity continues to baffle science. There are two competing scientific theories on the origin of life. One is called the “Darwin school of thought” which posits that meteorites brought elements to Earth that led to the formation of compounds which led to RNA and then to DNA. The second theory says that life originated in mineral-rich hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor.

The problem with both of these theories is that they are not explaining the origin of life complexity. They are only explaining some of the compounds that would be necessary to form life. Many scientists question the possibility of either of these theories and whether organic compounds could survive in the conditions of the early Earth. The bigger issue is how you could move from those compounds–no matter how they were formed–to a living cell.

You not only must have the ingredients to make life, but you also need a protected environment in which those compounds can be combined. Life could not begin in a toxic atmosphere or if there were agents on Earth’s surface that would destroy the ingredients. RNA and DNA involve long strands of nucleotides. Scientists in the laboratory can only produce such chains in a carefully controlled environment. The time element involved in producing increasingly complex molecules is also an issue.

When we enter probabilities into this process, the odds of each step happening by chance are very unlikely. Then to put all the steps together in the right order makes the probability of it happening by chance outside the scientific limits of what is possible.

Research into the origin of life complexity strongly points to an intelligent Creator. The more we learn, the more complexity we see. The famous atheist Antony Flew saw the complexity of a living cell, and that was a major factor in his coming to believe in God. His statement of faith was, “You have to go where the evidence leads.” Certainly, this area of study gives evidence of God’s wisdom and creative design. References: The Week, October 20, 2017, page 19, and Newsweek.com.
–John N. Clayton © 2017