Baobab Trees – Tree of Life

Baobab Trees - Tree of Life

Fossil evidence of ancient trees known as baobabs found in Madagascar shows that they are among Earth’s oldest life forms. This genus, known as Adansonia, has eight species in Madagascar, Africa, and northwest Australia. People call them the “upside down trees” because of their shape. The nickname “tree of life” comes from the fact that they can live for thousands of years and grow to huge sizes.

The fruits of baobab trees are a superfood, and people use their trunks to make fibers for rope or clothing. The baobab’s large white flowers open at dusk, attracting bats as pollinators. The branches of the trees are nesting sites for birds. These trees look very different from modern trees. They have a pyramid shape with a large trunk that stores huge amounts of water and no limbs or leaves except at the top. They might remind you of a giant toadstool, but the shape is ideal for storing water and the safety of bats and birds.

DNA studies show a starting point for baobab trees in Madagascar, tracking their journey on ocean currents to Australia and Africa, where local conditions shaped them into what we see today. Scientific data shows no connection between baobabs and gymnosperms like pine trees and modern trees like oaks and palms.

Attention has been drawn to the fact that baobab trees are so useful that they are being overharvested. Genesis 2:9 tells us that “God made all kinds of trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” The diversity we see in creation speaks of an intelligent purpose for plants, and everywhere we look, we see the benefits plants provide. Baobabs remind us that we live in a very special place, and we must not let greed, ignorance, and selfishness destroy what God has given us.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: BBC News for May 15, 2024, and the journal Nature.

Trout Fins Are Designed for Efficient Swimming

Trout Fins Are Designed for Efficient Swimming
Rainbow Trout

Technology has allowed us to see the design of things in the natural world. Dr. Haibo Dong at the University of Virginia has used 3D computer models to study the turbulence created with each fin of a trout. American Scientist magazine states, “Interactions between swirling eddies created by a swimming trout show how its body is optimally laid out for energy-efficient movement.” Trout fins are designed for efficient swimming.

A trout’s body is shaped to swim through the water with less drag than any other shape. However, the role of various fins is not easy to see. Virtually all fish have a dorsal fin on the back and a caudal fin on the tail. Trout have other fins, including pectoral fins near their heads and pelvic fins near the center of their bellies. Toward the back of the trout’s body is a small adipose fin on top and an anal fin on the underside. The researchers have shown that the fin locations increase the thrust the tail produces. The anal fin produces 8.6% more thrust reducing the drag by 18.6%. Trout fins are designed for efficient swimming, or as the researchers conclude, “the whole trout is optimized for efficient swimming.”

Other fish have different fin arrangements to match their survival needs. A tuna living in the open ocean has a different layout of fins because it is designed for speed rather than efficiency. Fish that confine their existence to the bottom of a lake or river will not have the same fin layout as the tuna or the trout. For example, catfish have a fin arrangement designed for protection. Those of us who have grabbed a catfish incorrectly may have suffered a painful jab from its fins. Trout fins are designed for efficient swimming since they make long migrations, swimming upstream and sometimes over waterfalls.

Our technology allows us to understand the various designs seen in living things. Trout fishermen know that catching a trout differs from catching any other fish because of their mobility and muscular nature. Research has shown that the trout’s design shows wisdom right down to the shape and location of its fins. We suggest that this design is the product of a Designer, not just blind opportunistic chance. Genesis 1:21 tells us, “God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems..” Thanks to technology, we understand how over-simplified that statement is.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: “Fins Working Together” in American Scientist magazine for July-August 2024, pages 204-206.

Genetics Dictate Biological Gender

Genetics Dictate Biological Gender

A significant issue in America today is what to do with young people who have decided to change their gender. Without getting into the theological issues, the scientific fact is that a person’s genetics dictate biological gender. Men and women are biologically different.

One of several demonstrations I used in my physics class was to have a boy and a girl stand with their heels against the wall and lean over to pick up something. Another demonstration is to have a man and woman of equal height kneel with their head in their hands and then put their hands behind their backs. Women can do that easily, while a man will fall on his face. This is due to the anatomical makeup of women compared to men. A woman’s pelvis is typically larger than a man’s pelvis. Thus, women tend to have a lower center of gravity. The position of the center of gravity in women is 55% of the total height, while in men it is 57%. Women’s center of gravity is vertically lower than men’s because their bodies are larger in the pelvis, but their shoulders are narrower.

The point of this is that genetics dictate biological gender. Changing your gender does not change the anatomical makeup given to you at birth. In practical terms, what does that mean for young people today?

1) In athletics, the birth gender will dictate the competence in certain sports. You won’t see trans males playing in the NBA. In swimming and track, there will be striking differences in performance with trans females who have a male body.
2) The long-term effect of hormones used to maintain a gender change is unknown, but most medical experts say it will not last for more than a decade, if that. The probability that a trans person will have a shortened life expectancy is very high.
3) Surgical procedures to accommodate trans changes cannot be reversed.
4) Some will use the whole trans agenda to take advantage of others. Allowing a transgender student to use bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice is going to lead to abuse by typical non-trans teenage students. Boys who want to go into a girl’s restroom and ogle females can do so by simply declaring they are trans.
5) Private colleges will not be able to have dormitories that are only for one sex. This is a massive problem with conservative Christian colleges who, for religious reasons, wish to remain able to offer boys’ dorms and girls’ dorms free of the opposing gender.

A U.S. appeals court rejected the Biden administration’s effort to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms and join sports teams that align with their chosen gender. The Biden administration was trying to protect the rights of LGBTQ students, but the question is whether they were violating the rights of non-LGBTQ students.

Genetics dictate biological gender. We suggest that from a Christian apologetics standpoint, the result will be catastrophic whenever humans try to change God’s plan and design for anything. This is just one more example of that.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: “Biden administration loses bid to revive legal protections for LGBTQ students” by Daniel Wiessner on Reuters news service (June 14, 2024).

Negatives of Marijuana Use

Negatives of Marijuana Use

We live in Buchanan, Michigan, which some have called “The Marijuana Capitol of the Midwest.” Others have dubbed the town “Bucannabis.” I have lost count of how many marijuana outlets there are between Buchanan and Niles, Michigan, but there must be at least a dozen. It has been interesting to see the proponents pushing the supposed benefits while ignoring the negatives of marijuana use.

It is true that the number of drug arrests in our area hasn’t changed much since the legalization was instituted. However, we see a high percentage of out-of-state license plates on cars at these establishments, so our local data may not be meaningful. Commercial sales of marijuana have exceeded 48 million users in the United States, while medical issues are the most disturbing aspect of the negatives of marijuana use.

Medical information is now available in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the British Medical Journal, and from studies done at Columbia University. We know that cannabis has a very negative influence on the outcomes of pregnancy. Recent studies have linked marijuana to bad health outcomes involving the lungs, hearts, brains, and gonads of users. Smoking weed increases the risk of clogged arteries and heart failure. It has also been linked to chronic bronchitis, and cannabis plants bring metal pollutants such as lead into the user’s bloodstream.

The biblical teaching that our bodies are the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 3:16) tells us the importance of caring for our bodies. That includes not engaging in the use of recreational drugs as we learn the harm they can cause to our bodies. As the negatives of marijuana use become apparent, we see the wisdom of God’s instructions.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: Scientific American for March 2024, pages 20-21.

Corn Growing in America

Corn Growing in America

God has blessed us with many different plants for food. In Genesis 3:17-19 we read, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil, you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow, you will eat your food until you return to the ground since from it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you will return.” If you have ever had a large garden or a farm, you know how true these words are. Plants provide food and essential materials for people worldwide, and corn growing is dominant in the United States.

One bushel of corn requires 50 to 60 plants, yielding 91 ears. That boils down to 80,000 kernels, which will produce corn syrup for 400 cans of soda or 2.8 gallons of ethanol. In the United States, farmers use 90 million acres to grow corn, and 40% of it is used to make ethanol. Corn is also used to make sweeteners, starches, oils, medicines, cosmetics, bioplastics, crayons, toothpaste, and salad dressings.

Corn growing is a major farming activity in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, and neighboring states. The history of corn cultivation is fascinating. A wild grass called teosinte produced small ears of a material called maize. Through selective breeding, Mexican farmers produced some 250 kinds of corn. Modern agricultural science has continued to produce larger ears with greater nutritional content. Corn, as we know it, was not available to the ancient Hebrews, but other grains were.

Today, many are rightfully concerned about the increasing conversion of grasslands into cornfields. Corn cultivation, with its substantial water requirements and potential impact on climate and water pollution, raises important environmental issues. As stewards of God’s creation, we are entrusted with the responsibility to ‘take care of the garden’ (Genesis 2:15). We possess the tools and resources to fulfill this duty and must use them wisely, ensuring that we are good stewards of God’s gifts.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: worldwildlife.org

Firefly Frequencies at Work

Firefly Frequencies at Work

There are 56 species of flying lightning bugs, or fireflies, and each emits light of a different frequency. The different firefly frequencies cause different colors, such as green, yellow, or red, but science has found that the frequencies are far more precise than the color. The fact that each species has a particular wavelength allows fireflies to find mates, even in an area where other life forms use bioluminescence.

Fireflies have four stages. They begin as eggs but spend most of their 61-day existence as larvae, eating snails, slugs, and worms. They have a pupa stage just before becoming adults. Bioluminescence serves mainly as a way for males and females to find each other, and having the right frequency is essential in that process. Research is continuing on how the frequencies are specified, but 56 species means that the frequency variation has to be carefully created and controlled.

Most living things have methods of communication that serve multiple purposes. Communication allowing males and females to find each other is always risky because it exposes them to predators. Because fireflies’ flashing is sporadic and not a steady glow, they are less likely to be eaten. If you have tried to catch these flying lightning bugs, you know how hard it is because they flash and run, making them hard to locate.

We can learn many things by studying the natrual world, including the chemistry that allows various firefly frequencies of bioluminescence. In the firefly we see another demonstration of God’s wisdom and intelligence.

Reference: PBS “Nature” program on May 16, 2024.

Animal Memory Capacity

Animal Memory Capacity in Clark's nutcracker
Clark’s Nutcracker

One of the most interesting areas of study in living things is animal memory capacity. Memory is designed into animals to benefit both them and other forms of life in their ecosystem. We see a good example of partial memory in squirrels who bury massive numbers of seeds, such as acorns, but only remember where they put a fraction of them. What that means is that the squirrels have enough to eat, but they plant trees over a huge geographic area. There are many forms of life where partial memory serves a similar purpose.

On the other hand, some life forms remember virtually 100%. A good example of this is Clark’s Nutcrackers. They survive on pinion seeds, and a single bird may hide as many as 30,000 seeds, placing 4 or 5 seeds in each spot. Throughout the winter, the Nutcracker, when hungry, will return to each hiding place to get food. By the time spring arrives, this bird will have consumed almost all of the seeds hidden in thousands of different places.

It is interesting that different forms of life have different memory capacities that benefit not only themselves but also their environment. You could compare it to thumb drives for your computer, having different memory capacities depending on the thumb drive’s design. God has placed different storage in the memory of the brain of each creature He created. In humans, that storage capacity is huge and can be accessed in many ways. In the animal world, there is an interaction with the environment that is beneficial to the animals and the environment.

Trying to explain this animal memory capacity by evolutionary reasoning is incredibly difficult and is full of assumptions. Those of us who believe in God as the creator understand why this kind of thing occurs over and over. It speaks of God and His wisdom and design in the world around us.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: Our Fascinating Earth: Strange, True Stories of Nature’s Oddities, Bizarre Phenomena, and Scientific Curiosities by Dr. Philip Seff, Ph.D.

One of the Natural World’s Most Amazing Things

One of the Natural Worlds Most Amazing Things

The hummingbird is one of the natural world’s most amazing things. Researchers have compiled new hummingbird data using modern methods, including high-speed photography. An adult hummingbird weighs roughly 4 grams, and to get a handle on that, a penny weighs about 2.5 grams. There are 21 species of hummingbirds in North America, and one species, called the bee hummingbird, weighs less than a penny.

Hummingbirds don’t beat their wings as most birds do; instead, they rotate them in a figure-eight pattern. That allows them to hover and fly backward or even upside down. The rate of wing motion is up to 80 cycles per second. That is within the range of human hearing and explains the humming sound that gives these birds their name. The metabolic rates of hummingbirds are amazing, as their heart rate is around 1,260 beats, and their breathing rate is 250 breaths per minute. These rapid rates mean hummingbirds may find a place to rest as often as every 15 minutes.

One of the natural world’s most amazing things is that hummingbirds can travel non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico in spring and autumn. Before embarking on that trip, they double their body weight with nectar and insects. When the temperature is low, they go into hypothermic torpor to survive.

The hummingbird’s eyes have a dense concentration of cones in their retinas containing pigments that act as filters to heighten color sensitivity to red while muting blue. Pollination is a major purpose of hummingbirds. Ruby-throated hummingbirds deposit ten times as much pollen as bumblebees, and their life expectancy is 3 to 6 years.

It is with great joy that I watch hummingbirds come to the feeder outside my office window. Their various characteristics speak of the wonder of God’s creation, defying chance explanation. Once again, we “can know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:20). The hummingbird is one of the natural world’s most amazing things.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: “Fascinating Hummingbird Facts” by Tom Warren on Almanac.com

Brown Bats and Tiger Beetles

Brown Bats and Tiger Beetles
Tiger Beetle Cicindela oregona in Arizona desert

One of the challenges in the natural world is keeping a balance between predators and victims. If predators have a foolproof method of locating their prey, they will eventually wipe out their food population, and the predators will die. That means victims must have some method of avoiding predation. Harlan Gough, a conservation entomologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has done some amazing experiments with brown bats and tiger beetles.

When Gough placed brown bats and tiger beetles into a cage together, the bats ate all of the tiger beetles. In the wild, this doesn’t happen because tiger beetles have a way of mimicking an insect known as a tiger moth. Tiger moths live in the same areas as tiger beetles, but bats don’t eat them because they have a foul taste. Dr. Gough found that tiger beetles can emit the same clicks as tiger moths when they sense predatory bats. They pull their forewings into the path of their beating hind wings, creating a high-pitched click similar to the tiger moth’s sound.

In the natural world, all living things have one or more methods to avoid predators. It may be smell or sight, but this may be the first case of using sound to deter predation. Realize that all of this happens at night when ultrasonics are more useful than sight and smell. No prey survival methods are 100% sure, so predators can still survive, especially when the food source is injured or sick.

We suggest that this case of brown bats and tiger beetles is another instance where there are too many variables to assign to chance. Having tiger moths with bad taste living in the same Arizona desert with tiger beetles seems more likely to be a planned and designed system than a series of accidents. The statement in Romans 1:20 that “we can know there is a God through the things He has made” seems to be supported again as we learn more about the functioning of the natural world.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: Science News, June 15, 2024, page 11.

Surviving the Heat

Surviving the Heat

We are bracing for the hottest summer on record globally. Humans have interesting ways of surviving the heat, although people do die from it. In the wild, we see ways that animals are designed to withstand heat, drought, and water issues. Here are a few examples:

SAUDI ARABIAN GAZELLES. When the temperature increases, the heart and liver of these animals shrink, and breathing slows, reducing the water lost with each breath.

STORKS and some other birds cool down through urohidrosis. The stork urinates on its scaly legs, and evaporation enables it to lower its body temperature in high heat conditions.

NAMIB LIZARDS AND BEETLES climb a dune to get high enough to be in the early morning fog. The beetle will do a handstand, sending moisture down its back and into its mouth. The lizards simply open their mouths and gulp in the mist. In both cases, they cool their bodies while obtaining water.

JESUS LIZARDS get their name because they walk on water. To accomplish this, they have long toes on their rear feet with fringes of skin that unfurl in the water, increasing their surface area. They slap their splayed feet hard against the water as they rapidly move their legs, creating tiny air pockets to keep them from sinking. This not only lets them escape predation, but it also cools the lizard as the water evaporates from their legs and feet.

We are all familiar with dogs and other animals panting to cool themselves. The point is that animals, and even plants, have methods for surviving the heat. Humans sweat to cool our bodies by evaporation. Humans are also the only ones with the ability to change our environment. We need to learn from the animal life God created and adjust how we live and what we do to protect our climate.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: Natural History magazine November 2007.