Beautiful Tulips in History and Culture

Beautiful Tulips in History and CultureTheir vibrantly colored blossoms are symbolic of spring. Tulips are part of the lily family (Liliaceae) and exist in many different species. They flower in the spring and die back in summer when the life is stored in an underground bulb until the next spring. Beautiful tulips are an excellent example of the beauty designed into this planet.

Tulips are known for their bold colors and attractive shape. Most varieties are almost perfectly symmetrical. The blooms have three petals and three sepals, but the tulip appears to have six petals because the sepals are large and generally the same color as the petals. You can find tulips in almost any color from white to black, but the bright and sunny colors are the most popular.

Without a doubt, beautiful tulips have a rich and interesting history. They originally grew wild in temperate areas from southern Europe to central Asia. They were first cultivated in Asia around the tenth century. Diplomats who visited the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth century brought them back to Europe where they became hugely popular.

The tulip obsession began with Flemish botanist Carolus Clusius in 1594. He was the first person to identify “broken tulips,” which is a virus infection that causes impressive streaks in the petals. He would go on to create many different color variations of the flower. His amazing tulips led to a period from 1634 to 1637 called “tulip mania” when enthusiasm for the flower created an economic frenzy. Tulips quickly became the most expensive flowers in the world. At the peak of tulip mania, some bulbs were selling for ten times more than the annual income of a skilled worker. People even used tulip bulbs as currency. Artists of the Dutch Golden Age, including Rembrandt, depicted tulips in their paintings.

Today, the tulip is the national flower of Turkey and Afghanistan, but the most prolific producer of tulips is the Netherlands. There are annual tulip festivals around the world including the Netherlands, England, Switzerland, Canada, and even Australia, where the spring bloom occurs in September and October. Several locations in the United States have tulip festivals, including Holland, Michigan, which is near where we live.

It’s interesting how tulips could have such an impact on economics, culture, and history. God gave us beautiful tulips, and human intelligence has modified them to develop a variety of colors and patterns. If human intelligence could do that, think how much more intelligence was required to create the living plant with the genetic code that made it all possible.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Amazing Human Body Works

Amazing Human BodyThe cover story of the June (2019) issue of Reader’s Digest lists 50 features of your amazing human body. The article gives some evolutionary guesses as to how some of those features could have developed. We thought it was especially interesting that science has not explained nine of the 50:

1-The uvula at the back of your throat.
2-Hypnic jerks that 70% of people feel right before they go to sleep.
3-The “Old Person Smell” – an odor that comes from older people that young and middle-aged people don’t have.
4-Blood types.
5-Eyelid twitching.
6-Yawning.
7-Handedness and why 90% of us are right-handed.
8-Fingerprints.
9-Mesentery – a recently discovered membrane that is two feet long and spreads out like a fan in our digestive system.

David said it best: “I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are your works…” (Psalms 139:14). In spite of all of our medical advances, we still are trying to understand how the amazing human body works. Understanding how our bodies work allows us to take better care of them. It also helps us to treat what goes wrong, which is often caused by our own abuse.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

How Far Away Is the Sun?

How Far Away Is the Sun?Does it matter how far away the Sun is? Absolutely yes. The picture shows the order of the planets in our solar system, but not their distance from the Sun. So how far away is the Sun from Earth?

Any star that has planets orbiting it may potentially create a “habitable zone” where the light and heat are just right for the possibility of life to exist. Earth resides in the middle of the Sun’s habitable zone with Venus and Mars near the edge of the zone. Of course, there are many other factors required to support any kind of life, and it appears that Earth is the only planet in our solar system that has all of those factors. Earth has everything needed to support not just primitive life, but advanced life.

So what is the range of the habitable zone? That depends on the star. The size and brightness of the star are critical. Another essential factor is the type of radiation emitted by the star. Our Sun has the just-right radiation. Other stars may emit x-rays, gamma rays, or other deadly radiation in amounts that would destroy all life and prevent a habitable zone from existing.

Back in the eighteenth century, scientists determined the distance to the Sun by watching a transit of Venus across the Sun. Venus passes between the Earth and the Sun twice every hundred years or so. By measuring the time of the transit of Venus from two locations on Earth, scientists were able to use triangulation and simple math to calculate the distance to the Sun.

But the question was, how far away is the Sun? The Sun is about 93,000,000 miles (150,000,000 km) away from us. Since the speed of light is 186,000 miles (300,000 km) per second, it takes about eight and one-third minutes for the light from the Sun to reach the surface of the Earth. The energy the Sun delivers to our planet is just right to make life possible.

If someone asks you “how far away is the Sun,” you can say it is the “just right” distance. There are so many “just right” features of our planet that we can genuinely say we are in the “Goldilocks Zone.” Some think it was all just an accident, but we believe it was God’s plan and design.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Unique Spiders with Amazing Speed

Unique Spiders with Amazing SpeedOne of the evidences for God is the specialized design features built into living organisms. There are indications of design and intelligence that are difficult, if not impossible, to explain by chance. There are about 35,000 named species of spiders, but scientists are still discovering more unique spiders.

Spiders have many features that allow them to provide balance in the natural world by eating insects which would otherwise pose a threat to all life on Earth. Spiders capture their prey in various ways. We usually think of spiders making webs. Most of them do, but not all. Many unique spiders use other tactics to grab insects, while the ones that make webs use a variety of shapes and patterns in a variety of locations. Even the way they use their webs varies.

One family of spiders called ray spiders (Theridiosomatidae) make cone-shaped webs. But even ray spiders don’t all use their cone-shaped webs in the same way. In the Peruvian Amazon, there is a ray spider that weaves a cone and attaches a single strand of silk to its tip. The spider reels in the strand to put tension on the web. Instead of waiting for an insect to fly into the web, this spider takes a more proactive approach. When an insect flies in front of the cone, the spider releases the single strand. With the tension released, the web shoots out with the spider riding the tip of it like a slingshot. The helpless insect gets nabbed in mid-air. For obvious reasons, this spider is called the slingshot spider.

The tip of the cone with the spider attached reaches the target with amazing speed before the insect can escape. Scientists have measured the acceleration of the spider riding the slingshot at 100 times the acceleration of a cheetah, the fastest land animal on the planet. As far as unique spiders, we believe that the slingshot spider holds the title of world’s fastest spider.

This spider creates a very complex and well-designed food-collecting tool. The spider must make the cone in exactly the right shape, and with the right chemical make up of the strands for elasticity. Who taught the slingshot spider this amazing trick and gave it the physiology needed to carry it out? We see God’s design and chemistry in everything from the atom to the universe to every living thing on Earth, including unique spiders.
— John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst

Reference: Science News, April 13, 2019, page 5.

Science and Technology vs. Greed and Stupidity

Science and Technology vs. Greed and StupidityIf you believe everything you read about science and technology in magazines and newspapers, you might want to question how much of it is factual. The way the media presents the stories, you might get the idea that science and technology are making such rapid advancements that in a few decades, we will solve all of the problems of humanity. There is no question that incredible advances have been made in medicine and agriculture. However, what many people don’t realize is that while some critical areas are advancing, others seem to be losing ground.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us: “An American mom today is 50% more likely to die in childbirth than her own mother was.” The primary cause seems to be that health professionals have biases causing them to overlook symptoms. Food shortages are also creating an increase in disease and death due to malnutrition. The primary cause is that there has been a 20% drop in the abundance of food production in countries that depend on their domestic food supply. Humans have reduced the population of pollinators, including wild bees, endangering crop production. Over-fishing is beginning to threaten the primary source of protein for billions of people. The human destruction of mangrove forests and coastal coral reefs has placed 300 million people at increased risk of flooding.

God has given us not only the resources to feed every human on the planet today, but also the way to live with each other to allow the maximum potential for the food and medicine to reach the people who need it. The Genesis account tells us that God gave Adam everything he needed and that by the sweat of his brow, he would be able to eat. Humans have allowed power and control to rule what we do. We have made money and possessions the focus of our activity instead of focusing on God and serving others. In the process, food has become a weapon. Instead of “taking care of the garden, dressing and keeping it” (Genesis 2:15), we have exploited and abused the good things God gave us.

The world continues to reject the teachings of Jesus, replacing them with selfishness, greed, and a moral code that teaches “survival of the fittest.” The result is that we all reap the consequences of what we have sown. Bringing people to believe in God and Jesus Christ not only has meaning in terms of what lies beyond this life, but it also is at the root of the quality of life we and our descendants will have in the future. Science and technology can’t solve all of our problems as long as greed and stupidity get in the way.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Half-Slumber Design in Animals

Half-Slumber Design in AnimalsWe have a clock in our brain that is based on circadian rhythms. The clock is connected to Earth’s rotation, and it provides daily periods of rest and recovery called sleep. Animals have it too, and for many animals, sleep is a dangerous time if there are predators around. Scientists have discovered that many animals, especially marine mammals, have a half-slumber system designed to keep them safe and yet allow them to sleep.

The half-slumber system allows half of the brain to sleep while the other half is awake and able to respond to danger or navigational needs. Studies in dolphins have shown that there are different regions of the brain that work together to allow one side of the brain to function while the other side sleeps. The hypothalamus contains ventrolateral preoptic nuclei that exchange messages between the left and the right sides of the brain. They determine which side sleeps and which side remains alert to danger. This also allows movement of the dolphin’s fins and tails to generate body heat in the coolness of the marine environment. It also allows the animal to surface, to breath, and to swim with its companions.

Northern fur seals have a similar system but highly modified. The fur seals come out on land and assume a posture that allows them to put one flipper in the water which they paddle with while keeping the other three flippers in the air to avoid heat loss. Their nostrils are out of the water, allowing breathing and one eye is open and looking for predators. The part of the seal’s brain that provides vision is not connected to the other functions of breathing or movement.

Birds also use the half-slumber design. Mallard ducks have a unique system where the ducks form a group. Ducks on the outside of the group have one eye open, and their brains function differently than ducks at the center of the group. Migrating birds that fly for very long times also use the half-slumber design with one eye and one side of the brain watching where the bird is going while the other side of the brain slumbers. Great frigate birds fly for ten days at a time using this system. Swainson’s thrush gets its sleep by taking micro naps when it is perched.

It seems that every creature using the half-slumber design to get its required sleep uses it differently. The changes are not small and are highly complex involving many organs. Intricate design differences in the brain primarily direct them. Studies of animal sleep are in an early stage, but the complexity of the system is undeniable. The Bible tells us that we can “know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:18-20). It is a very difficult challenge to understand just how complicated God’s design is. Even in our sleep, we demonstrate God’s plans and engineering.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Periodic Table of Elements

Periodic Table of ElementsOne of the great accomplishments of science has been the organizing of the elements into a form that allows us to use chemistry in amazing ways. In 1789 Antoine Lavoisier published a list of 33 elements grouping them into gases, metals, nonmetals, and earths. For the next 100 years, chemists searched for a better classification system. As the understanding of the design of atoms improved, scientists developed the periodic table of elements.

In 1869 Dmitri Mendeleev published the first table designed to show periodic changes in the properties of the elements. He was even able to predict the discovery of elements unknown at the time that would fill out his chart. As scientists further refined the periodic table of elements, it became even more useful. The horizontal rows are called periods, with metals on the left and nonmetals on the right. As you move from left to right in a period, the elements become less metallic. As you move from top to bottom, the columns, called groups, have similar properties. All of the elements in the last group on the right side of the chart are called noble gases, and they are chemically inactive. The next vertical column to the left of noble gases is called the halogens. They have similar chemical properties, such as the ability to support combustion.

We now know that the reason the periodic table of elements works is because of the electron configurations of the atoms. Chlorine, for example, has an electron configuration that leaves it one electron short of a stable chemical structure. It will exert tremendous force to get a single electron to make its electron configuration stable. Sodium has an extra electron that it would really like to get rid of to gain stability. Those two elements react so that sodium transfers its electron to chlorine and the compound that results is salt – NaCl. Every element in the vertical group with sodium will also react with chlorine in the same way, making lithium chloride, potassium chloride, rubidium chloride, etc.

We now have 118 confirmed elements in existence with 94 occurring naturally. Scientists have produced the remaining 24 elements in laboratories with nihonium, moscovium, tennessine, and oganesson being the most recent. It is difficult to think about atoms and understand how their electrons control their uses and not be impressed by the mind that created this incredibly complex system.

This is a very brief over simplification explanation of the periodic table of elements. It just begins to suggest how the electrons are organized into shells and subshells. The system allows different methods of bonding elements together, creating a diverse population of new compounds that make our lives not only comfortable but possible. For a better understanding, enroll in a basic chemistry class at your local community college or university. “The LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:23 NIV).
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Why Such a Large Universe? – Viewing Cosmological History

? - Viewing Cosmological HistoryWe have received some questions from readers who are perplexed by the fact that we frequently refer to a discovery or an event in outer space, millions of light-years from Earth. We have also mentioned NASA’s daily blog (apod.nasa.gov) showing gorgeous views of deep space objects many light-years away. Why such a large universe, and what does that mean to us?

It all comes down to viewing cosmological history. When we look through a telescope, we are looking at the past. If the next closest star exploded, it would be over four years before we would see it. You can see the light from the nearest major galaxy called the Andromeda, with your naked eye. It is two-million light years away, which means the light from that galaxy left there two million years ago. When we look at the sky, we are viewing cosmological history. Even the light from the Sun left there eight minutes ago. The question boils down to, Why such a large universe? Why did God create so much? It may seem presumptuous even to discuss that question. We would not attempt to speak for God who obviously can do whatever He wants to do. Nevertheless, there are some observations we can make.

First, it would be foolish to question whether the cosmos really is that large. There are a dozen different methods of measuring the distance to an object in space, and they all agree even though they are based on very different assumptions. The Doppler shift is very different from interstellar reddening which is different from cepheid variable measurements, but they all give the same answer for distances in space.

Some creationists suggest that God created the light that appears to be from a distant galaxy or star, already reaching Earth some 6000 years ago. In other words, what we see today when we look at the stars is essentially a video of something that never happened. We think we are viewing cosmological history, but we are being fooled. First of all, this explanation was invented to defend a denominational teaching that is not biblical. The Bible does not give the age of the cosmos or the Earth. No human calculation based on interpreting the Hebrew words in the Bible can stand up under examination.

However, the main problem with saying that God is trying to fool us is that such an explanation degrades God. From Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22 the Bible repeats over and over that God is Truth. God does not lie, He does not mislead, and He does not misrepresent. James 1:13 says it well: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God, for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither does He tempt any man.” Faking an event in space that never happened so that humans could be fooled by it, would certainly be a deliberate effort to tempt honest, seeking humans into believing something that is wrong.

So why such a large universe? Why are we able to view the cosmological history of stars forming and dying? Why do we see billions of other galaxies beyond our Milky Way Galaxy? There may be multiple reasons known only to God. The ancient psalmist stated it well: “The Heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalms 19:1). The writer of Proverbs in chapter 8 has wisdom saying: “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before the Earth ever was…” (verse22-23). These statements and many more like them are not just expressions of ancient people. Here we are more than 2,000 years after Christ, and we are still trying to understand what electric charge is and what causes gravity. Moses couldn’t even see most of what modern science is investigating.

I would suggest that God structured the massive size of the cosmos and gave us the ability to watch matter being altered to produce stars and new planets so we could see His power and wisdom. Romans 1:20 rings true as we admire the work of scientists who help us understand that “the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made….” Asking why such a large universe leads us to say, “I will praise you, Lord, for I (and the cosmos) am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are your works” (Psalms 139:14).
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Fine-tuning of the Cosmos

Fine-tuning of the Cosmos in Introduction to Intelligent Design
Scientific articles mention the fine-tuning of the cosmos with increasing frequency. The basic concept is that the conditions of the universe are precisely set for human life.

The variables that affect the presence and sustainability of life are so precise that even slight variations would result in an inhospitable world. In his new book, Introduction to Intelligent Design, Dr. Timothy Gordon explains the concept very well by giving three examples of the fine-tuning of the cosmos.

“1. If the force of gravity were slightly larger, stars would be too hot and burn too rapidly making conditions for life inhospitable. If too small, no heavy elements would be produced.
2. The initial expansion of the Big Bang had to be fine-tuned to a precision of 1 in 10^55 to form planets, stars, solar systems, and galaxies.
3. There are 19 universal constants that must be perfectly tuned to make the universe habitable.
Assigning a probability to the fine-tuning of these constants would be larger than the number of elementary particles in the universe.” (page 43).

You will see many secular writers talking about the fine-tuning of the cosmos without explaining how this fine-tuning would come about without intelligence to do the tuning. This is another powerful argument for the existence of God as the creator.

We recommend Dr. Gordon’s book Introduction to Intelligent Design (ISBN: 9781095462645). It is formatted for Sunday-school and small group study and is available in paperback and Kindle editions.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Cat Tongues and Papillae

Cat Tongues and PapillaeAlexis Noel and David Hu have been researching cat tongues as reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (December 2018). Using 3-D scanning with micro-computed tomography, they have discovered some interesting things.

The backward facing barbs (papillae) on cat tongues are not cones as had been previously thought. They are actually hollow structures similar to scoops for dipping ice cream. They have a U-shaped cavity that holds fluids extremely well. This shape enables cats to use the force of surface tension to pull up water as they lap it. It also allows them to wick saliva deep into their fur. When cats lick themselves, saliva is distributed all the way down to the roots of the hairs. Cats don’t have sweat glands except on their paws, so the distribution of saliva removes heat from their skin.

The papillae also allow cats to lick up oils and other contaminants on their fur. This not only keeps the cat clean, but it avoids odors. Applying this discovery may open the door to a whole new line of materials for use in home and industry. Dr. Noel gives one word of warning. Don’t let your cat lick a microfiber blanket, because the cat’s tongue will stick to the blanket!

Cat tongues are not like sandpaper but rather like Velcro. Velcro was discovered by scientists watching other examples in the natural world. Humans have copied the design of materials found in living organisms to create many of the substances we take for granted. We see God’s creative genius everywhere we look. “We can know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:19-20).
— John N. Clayton © 2019