Moral Implications of Sex Change

Moral Implications of Sex Change

A moral issue facing teenagers in America today is whether to change their birth sex. Some young people claim that their gender is misapplied. In other words, some girls claim they are actually boys, and some boys claim they are girls. In addition to legal and relational issues, there are also moral implications of sex change.

Medical procedures are now available using drugs and surgery to implement the sex change some feel they should have. The cause of these feelings is highly complex and may involve environmental factors, social pressure, identity issues, the breakdown of the nuclear family, or just a social fad.

The trend has become very complicated on many levels. One area affected is sports competition which began with sex-changed Russian athletes who seemed to have an advantage in certain sports. In the legal area, parents of girls have brought court cases claiming they have been denied scholarships and awards because a transgender athlete had the body of a male. There are also cases where the sex of a child was changed without the parents’ permission or knowledge.

The Bible clearly spells out God’s design of male and female. To change the sex of a child with surgery, puberty blockers, and hormones means they will need a constant regimen of drugs for the remainder of their life. While court cases are swirling, many in the medical profession are concerned because the long-term effect is unknown. For that reason, Alabama and Arkansas have passed laws making it a crime to administer or prescribe these procedures and drugs to a child under the age of 19.

We have laws to protect people, such as requiring the use of seat belts, but the question of where human rights begin and end is often not very clear. We sympathize with parents and children who are struggling with this issue. Unfortunately, the implications are often not spelled out in advance, and the moral implications of sex change are large.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Wire Reports for May 10, 2022, in the South Bend Tribune on that date (page 8A).

Animals Are Not Helpless Creatures

Animals Are Not Helpless Creatures
Chimpanzee with Injured Lip

Sometimes people suggest that animals are at the mercy of the elements and therefore plagued with disease, pain, and suffering. The fact is that animals are not helpless creatures suffering from massive illnesses and infections that make their lives a painful misery. Instead, the Creator has given animals immune systems to resist disease and an awareness of ways to treat injuries.

By watching animals, humans have learned that certain plants can fight infections and help to heal wounds. For example, we use aloe to relieve sunburn pain, but animals have been using it for various skin conditions for many years. Various plants bring comfort to animals when they are sick or injured, and humans have copied plant use by animals for treating a variety of ailments.

Researchers recently discovered that not only can plants offer relief to animals, but insects are also medically beneficial. More surprising is that animals know about these remedies and can use them. For example, scientists have observed chimpanzees catching a tiny flying insect and placing it on a wound or sore to provide relief. Researchers have not yet identified that insect, but they have seen primates use other arthropods and certain leaves to help heal wounds and provide relief from pain.

When humans don’t upset the system, animals are not helpless creatures. They have a minimum of suffering, and they even know ways to treat wounds and infections. Death in the undisturbed animal world is rapid and purposeful. Human interference with the natural balance often results in prolonged suffering for animals.

Too often, we prolong the suffering of other humans with expensive treatments that don’t produce a quality of life. However, we have much to learn from the world God created, and perhaps a tiny flying insect can be one more aid to healing or pain relief if the researchers can just find out what it is.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Current Biology Volume 32, Issue 3

How Do Plants Communicate?

How Do Plants Communicate?
Mycorrhizal Network allows Plants to Communicate

People communicate with each other through spoken and written words and actions. We also know that animals communicate by using sounds and movements. However, we may not be aware that plants talk to each other. They don’t do it by speech, writing, sounds, or movements. Since they are stationary and silent, how do plants communicate?

Plants are continuously engaging with other plants in their environment, mostly underground. For example, the roots of most plants host fungi, and working together, the plant roots and the fungi create underground structures called mycorrhizae. These mycorrhizae resemble a web system surrounding the plant’s roots, helping the plant absorb nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus in a symbiotic relationship. As the mycorrhizae help the roots absorb essential nutrients and water, the plant uses photosynthesis to produce sugars which it shares with the fungi.

But how do plants communicate? The mycorrhizae can connect multiple plants into a network through which they can share energy and information. This web creates a fine-tuned community-wide sharing system. Through this communication channel, plants can pass defensive chemicals to protect against insects. When pests such as aphids attack a plant, it can send a message to its neighbors so they can preemptively activate defense responses. In this way, mycorrhizae enable a system of cooperation between plants.

However, when resources such as light or nutrients are scarce, a plant can limit its mycorrhizae connections and avoid making new ones. Then when resources are good, they can restore their sharing network and even make new connections. When the plants connected in the mycorrhizae network are closely related, they share more than if their neighbors are not close relatives. Trees use these fungal networks to communicate and share but also sometimes to sabotage their rivals. Plants determine when to share and when to maintain their independence.

As we investigate the question, “How do plants communicate?” we realize that they behave as humans often do, putting their own interests first. Yet, sharing and working together is part of God’s design for life, and humans should always follow the example set by Jesus in His life and teaching. (See Matthew 5:38-48 and 25:31-46.)

— Roland Earnst © 2022

Reference: The Conversation

Diversity of Life on Earth

Diversity of Life on Earth

We read reports of scientific research from all over the globe. Scientists are discovering how various forms of life exist on this planet. There is a diversity of life on Earth, even in environments where you wouldn’t expect life to survive.

One such environment is in the deepest part of the ocean, where animals must live in total darkness. The design that enables them to survive with no light from the Sun or Moon is bioluminescence. These animals generate their own light so they can find each other and locate prey. There is a whole chain of life in the darkness of the deep ocean, and we are learning that this ecosystem absorbs greenhouse gases that affect the atmosphere for land creatures.

We see this kind of balance in oceans of the past. Long ago, sea animals were large enough to maintain balance in the sea by eating tremendous quantities of food. For example, a marine reptile carnivore known as ichthyosaur was up to 66 feet (20 meters) long. When the asteroid strike wiped out the giant creatures, including the dinosaurs and ichthyosaurs, the smaller life forms survived and established a new food chain.

Scientists are discovering unique designs that enable animals to survive what would appear to be impossible conditions. For example, how can a boa constrictor breathe as it squeezes the life out of prey and ingests it? Why doesn’t the act of compression force the air out of the snake, suffocating it? The answer is that boas have 200 pairs of ribs and some of the ribs squeeze the prey while others are designed to allow the snake to breathe.

The diversity of life on Earth allows specialized equipment designed for living in any environment. Even humans are diverse. Modern pygmies are well-designed to live in a jungle environment. Fossils of a hominin named Homo naledi tell us that ancient small humans existed in environments with fewer resources. Most of what we know about them comes from a burial chamber found in a cave in South Africa.

We see the diversity of life on Earth today, even in humans able to survive in challenging environments. Racial characteristics in humans offer survival benefits in the diverse habitats of our planet, and they are not a basis for discrimination. We need to understand that diversity in animals and humans is an expression of God’s wisdom and design for life everywhere on Earth.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

References: Saturday Evening Post May/June 2022 (pages 36-39); The Week March 18 (page 21) and April 15, 2022 (page 21); USA Today and South Bend Tribune for May 2, 2022; and Archaeology for May/June 2022 (pages 9-10).

New Research into Bird Songs

New Research into Bird Songs

One of the adverse effects of evolutionary theory is that it closes off research that might offer important insights into animal behavior. Classic evolutionary theory says that males do what they do to secure mates. For example, a male has more color to attract females and improve the chances of securing a mate. Evolutionary theorists claim that male birds sing to secure a mate and more elaborate songs are more likely to attract females. New research into bird songs has given new insights.

Recent studies show that more than 64% of female birds in North America sing for the same reasons that male birds sing. A bird doesn’t sing only to attract a mate. Evolutionary theorists comparing bird singing to animals wearing antlers make an invalid comparison.

Territory is a significant concern for birds, and birds sing to mark territory. We have a woodpecker that drums on the flashing around our chimney, making a very loud sound. That drumming warns others of his species to stay out of the area he dominates. As I write this, a male cardinal is singing in a tree across the street, warning all other male cardinals to stay out of this region. We may think the song is purely to attract a female cardinal, but it is part of the cardinal defense mechanism.

Females also need to establish a territory. Females sing to communicate with their mates and later with their offspring. Assuming that bird singing is merely to attract a mate limits the design built into animal behavior. New research into bird songs has told us more about the singing behavior of female birds. Female bird songs have been neglected until recently, perhaps because male ornithologists were doing the research. As women became more involved in bird research and researchers paid less attention to forcing bird behavior into evolutionary theory, scientific literature has revealed new discoveries.

Since God created birds
, it is logical that He would have built into males and females the ability to communicate and secure their territory’s boundaries. As scientists conduct new research into bird songs, it reminds us of how much we have to learn about living things. We wonder what other things scientists will discover about animal behavior if they can overcome misunderstandings based on the evolutionary assumption of “survival of the fittest.”

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Scientific American May 2022, page 10.

Newly Discovered Human Body Parts

Newly Discovered Human Body Parts

It would be an understatement to say that medical science has learned many things about the human body. But, at the same time, it would be correct to say that we have much more to learn. Recently, scientists have reported two newly discovered human body parts.

One of the recent discoveries is located inside the passageways of the lungs and plays a vital role in the proper functioning of the respiratory system. Researchers found some unique cells they named respiratory airway secretory cells (RAS). They discovered the RAS cells in the lung’s delicate, branching passageways known as bronchioles. Tiny air sacs called alveoli located at the tips of the bronchioles remove carbon dioxide and replace it with oxygen in the blood vessels. The RAS cells are designed to transform into new alveoli cells to replace ones that become damaged. When pollution causes damage, the RAS cells stand ready to come to the rescue. But, of course, humans sometimes abuse their lungs by smoking or vaping, which can cause more damage than the RAS cells can correct.

The other recently discovered body part is critical for chewing our food. The masseter muscle raises the lower jaw as we chew. Medical scientists knew that there were two muscle layers inside the masseter. However, researchers have found a third muscle layer deep inside the masseter. They said that the newly discovered layer helps stabilize the lower jaw and is the only part of the masseter that can pull the jawbone backward. The researchers propose to name this muscle layer the “Musculus masseter pars coronidea.” Perhaps we can abbreviate that to MMPC.

When science assumed that anatomical research had discovered every part of the human body, they found something new. Both of these discoveries can benefit medical treatments. The RAS cells may lead to new therapies for lung damage. Knowing the existence of the MMPC may help doctors when performing surgery on the jaw region. Finding these newly discovered human body parts indicates that we still have more to learn about our “fearfully and wonderfully made” bodies (Psalms 139:14).

— Roland Earnst © 2022

References: Nature.com and ScienceDirect.com

Keystone Plants and Caterpillars

Keystone Plants and Caterpillars
Oak Trees are Keystone Superstars

As we think of the design of life in our world, we tend to focus on animals, birds, and fish. As scientists study the things that support these life forms, it becomes apparent that all land life on this planet depends on keystone plants and caterpillars. Plants capture solar energy during photosynthesis, but how that energy gets into a bird or other animal is primarily through caterpillars.

Caterpillars transfer more energy from plants than any other form of life. Ninety-six percent of terrestrial birds depend on the protein-packed bodies of caterpillars for food. Most of us are familiar with monarch butterflies that deposit their eggs on milkweeds because they are the only plants their caterpillars can eat. North America has 17,000 native plant species, and having a caterpillar that can eat plants from only the milkweed genus is very rare. Some plants are called “keystone” plants because they support many different caterpillars and other species.

The superstars of the keystone plants are the oak trees that provide food for 952 species of butterfly/moth (Lepidopteran) caterpillars. In addition to that, nesting birds, woodpeckers, squirrels, and other animals survive because of oak trees. A single oak tree will support tens of thousands of individual species of life in its lifetime. Goldenrod is another keystone plant, and it blooms from late summer to fall when other plants can’t support caterpillars. There are more than 100 goldenrod species in America, and they support both caterpillars and bees.

North American ecosystems are designed so that caterpillars are available to support birds and other caterpillar eaters. God’s intricate design of life is evident in keystone plants and caterpillars that eat them, transferring energy from the Sun to many birds and other animals.

As we learn about the creation we live in, we see more and more examples of God’s wisdom in design that sustains all life and speaks of the complexity of what may appear to be simple things.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: National Wildlife, April-May 2022, pages 29-35.

Diatoms Are Essential for Life on Earth

Diatoms Are Essential for Life on Earth
Electron Microscope View of New Diatom Species Epithemia pelagica

We seldom think about the importance of microscopic organisms. Diatoms are essential for life on Earth because they generate 20-30% of the oxygen we breathe. They are single-celled algae with a cell wall made of silica. In March 2022, the National Science Foundation announced the discovery of two unique diatom species in the waters around Hawaii.

Diatoms live in the oceans and waterways. You may be familiar with diatomaceous earth, which has many commercial uses, including pest control in organic gardening. It consists of the empty silica shells that diatoms leave behind. In addition to generating oxygen, diatoms are essential for life as part of the food chain in the oceans.

Like green plants, diatoms need nitrogen to grow. Marine diatoms thrive in nutrient-rich ocean areas such as the Gulf of Mexico. However, the open ocean waters around Hawaii lack significant nitrogen nutrients. Ocean waters contain dissolved nitrogen gas, but the diatoms can’t use it. These two species of diatoms solve that problem by having a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria. These bacteria do not contain chlorophyll for photosynthesis, but they can extract nitrogen from ocean water and convert it to ammonia. In turn, the diatoms can use the nitrogen from the ammonia. In a symbiotic relationship, the newly discovered diatom species take the nitrogen-fixing bacteria into their shells to nurture their own personal nitrogen generators.

We have mentioned many symbiotic relationships before, but here is a microscopic one. Diatoms are essential for life because they provide much of the oxygen we breathe. This symbiotic relationship between diatoms and bacteria is another example of God’s wisdom and design for life. Everywhere we look, we see that God has designed and implemented systems that sustain life in all kinds of environments.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: National Science Foundation

The Incredible Journeys of Birds

The Incredible Journeys of Birds - Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird

One of the great examples of design that we see in the natural world is the ability of birds to migrate thousands of miles from one area of the world to another. In the past, we have reviewed several of these incredible journeys of birds.

Bar-tailed godwits hold the record, with some individuals traveling over 8100 miles without food or rest and covering 7000 miles one way in nine days. We are also amazed by Hudsonian godwits, arctic terns, and many other birds. Even the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is amazing, flying 600 miles across the Gulf of Mexico non-stop with wings beating 50 times per second.

Our knowledge of bird migration has improved with the advent of microchips and new technology to track movements and analysis of bird DNA. Even so, there are still unanswered questions. For example, how do birds prepare their bodies for flight? How do birds know when to migrate? How do migrating birds find their way? How do birds sleep on long migratory flights? These are just a few of many questions researchers are looking to answer about the incredible journeys of birds.

The National Audubon Society published a special issue of their excellent magazine for spring 2022. This issue is the best we have seen on the design and behavior of birds. It is impossible to read through this magazine and not be impressed with the wisdom and design built into the world of birds. It also challenges us to realize the importance of caring for God’s creatures as human encroachment threatens many birds’ survival.

In Job 39:13-18 and 26 – 30, God challenges Job to understand His creation, including birds. Scientists are still feeling that challenge today. We are just beginning to know how much design is built into the incredible journeys of birds.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

For more on this go to audubon.org or read their article on bird migration.

Learning About Lepidopterans

Learning About Lepidopterans - Monarch

One of the joys of life is the ability we all have to learn beyond school or college. Learning often happens when we contact someone who knows a lot about a subject we have never studied. For example, we recently visited the Marine Discovery Center in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, where we met specialists in butterflies and moths. So naturally, we were interested in learning about lepidopterans.

The order Lepidoptera includes butterflies and moths, and we learned that there are 2932 species of these insects in Florida. Studies have revealed incredible details about these creatures’ surprising complexity and design. The word “lepidoptera” means “scale wings,” and these creatures have microscopic scales on their wings. They have four wings – a pair in front and a pair in the back. Their bodies have three parts, a head, a thorax, and an abdomen with three pairs of jointed legs attached to the thorax.

Butterflies and moths taste with their feet, which means when they land on something, they immediately know whether it is food or not. These creatures breathe through tiny valves on the sides of their abdomen called spiracles, and they eat through a long tube called a proboscis. Butterflies are active during the day, and moths are active at night, with very few exceptions. Coming out of their heads between their eyes are antennae. In butterflies, the antennae are club-shaped, and in moths, they taper to a point. When a moth attaches to a surface, sensitive cells detect moisture, temperature, and exposure to the wind and rain.

Butterfly antennae have cells sensitive to the pollen of whatever plant its caterpillars need to survive. Each butterfly has a particular sensitivity to a specific plant or group of plants. For example, monarch butterflies are sensitive to milkweed. Farmers know which butterflies produce caterpillars that eat certain crops. In the natural world, the caterpillars of moths and butterflies are food for many larger creatures. When humans eradicate those predators, we upset the balance, causing problems for humans. Learning about lepidopterans and the environment is essential for understanding how to maintain balance. God did not design butterflies and moths to be destructive, but when we mismanage the environment, the result is a problem for humans raising crops.

The complexity of butterflies and moths is impressive. They have their larval ability to eat plants and produce silk to make a cocoon and morph into adults with the beautiful colors and designs of wing scales. Learning to control the destructive nature of caterpillars requires an understanding of the complexity of these remarkable creatures. Without the help of mature insects as pollinators, many other plants would suffer. Learning about lepidopterans shows us God’s excellent design of life.

— John N. Clayton © 2022