Then It Would Be Alive!

Then It Would Be Alive!

Origin of life research has occupied scientists for years. The media often exaggerates claims that science is getting close to creating life. “Creating RNA life in a lab” is a headline in a recent issue of The Week magazine. The story is about the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, developing a molecule of ribonucleic acid (RNA) “that could generate accurate copies of another type of RNA.” The article went on to say, “This brings the researchers one step closer to their ultimate goal of creating an RNA molecule that can make accurate copies of itself.” The study’s co-author Gerald Joyce said, “Then it would be alive.”

Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is a polymeric molecule essential for most biological functions. It has a structure similar to deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which carries the genetic information in every living cell. The scientists have created the macromolecule RNA in the laboratory by combining smaller molecules. To say that if an RNA molecule could reproduce itself, “then it would be alive” is an exaggeration.

As an analogy, let’s suppose I want to make a new car, which I would call a Claytonmobile. I get an engine out of a Ford, a transmission out of a Honda, a chassis out of a Chevy, and an interior out of a Royals Royce. I put these together and announce to the world that I have created a car. In reality, what did I do? I took things already created and assembled them, but I didn’t create anything. Some of you old timers may remember the Tucker automobile, which was very much like what I just described.

This same process is happening in the scientific community attempting to create life. The goal of the group at La Jolla is to form an RNA molecule that can make copies of itself. The researchers say, “Then it would be alive.” That means they are changing the definition of life that most of us learned in biology classes from high school through graduate school. That definition says life is that which can move, breathe, respond to outside stimuli, and reproduce. When researchers can get RNA to reproduce, they will have satisfied one of the parameters, but they certainly will not have created life.

The more we know of the creation, the more we understand the wisdom and power of the Creator. In Proverbs 8:17-23, Wisdom, personified as a woman, says that those who seek her will find her and that her fruit is better than gold or silver. In verse 22, she says, “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 was.” The complexity of RNA and DNA and of life itself is a great apologetic for the existence of God. We need to listen to the words of Wisdom.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: The Week for March 29, 2024, page 21, reporting on a Washington Post story.

Paddlefish Have a Third Eye

Paddlefish Have a Third Eye

North American waters are home to a most interesting fish known as the spoonbill or paddlefish (Polydon spathula). These fish have an enormous bill, which is actually an antenna studded with thousands of sensory cells to detect electrical signals produced by the plankton on which they feed. The 12—to 15-inch long bill gets so much attention that people overlook another oddity: these paddlefish have a third eye.

Paddlefish have an opening between the bones of the skull called a foramen. It is located at the base of the bill between the eyes and covered by a thin skin and cartilage layer. The foramen allows light to pass through onto a nerve that goes directly to the paddlefish’s brain. It serves as a third eye, allowing the paddlefish to experience changes in light direction and seasonal changes. The third eye cannot form detailed images, but it influences biological changes in body temperature and hormone production in the fish.

As biologists study various life forms, they find common threads that run through all living things. Researchers have found barely visible vestiges of similar structures in frogs, lizards, and some sharks. Since paddlefish have a third eye, they must have a use for it, but the last detailed study of it was in 1896.

There are many things that science does not yet know about living things, but diverse features allow animals to live in Earth’s wide-ranging environments. Evolutionists assume that all life originated from a single cell in the distant past through an unguided chance process. The paddlefish bill with its sensory cells and third eye is difficult to explain by that process. God used the best plan in creating life, and part of that is the capacity to change as the environment changes. Romans 1:20 tells us that “we can know there is a God through the things He has made.”

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: “Third Eye of a Spoonbill” in In-Fisherman magazine for May 2024, pages 8-9.

Unique Pollination System of the Jack-in-the-Pulpit 

Unique Pollination System of the Jack-in-the-Pulpit 

Most plants must be pollinated to reproduce, but their methods vary enormously, sometimes involving wind, birds, animals, or insects. However, the unique pollination system of the jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum ) depends on fungus gnats. 

The jack-in-the-pulpit’s hood resembles pitcher plants that capture and digest insects. Unlike its carnivorous counterparts, this plant uses insects, particularly fungus gnats, for pollination. It lures and ensnares these gnats by emitting a mushroom-like fragrance they find irresistible. The male flowers, blooming first, attract the gnats, which then become dusted with pollen. They manage to escape through a small hole, perfectly sized for a gnat but too small for larger insects. 

The female flowers bloom next, and the gnats carry the pollen to the flower of another jack-in-the-pulpit. This cross-pollination prevents in-breeding for healthier plants. The female flowers don’t have an escape hole, so after the gnats pollinate the flowers, they are trapped and die. But, before the gnats die, they lay their eggs inside the jack-in-the-pulpit. The larvae that hatch from the eggs eat the jack-in-the-pulpit’s blossom as it decays. When the hood of the plant withers, the adult fungus gnats fly away so they can pollinate more jack-in-the-pulpits. 

This unique pollination system of the jack-in-the-pulpit assures the continued survival of the plant and the gnats while controlling the gnat population. The complexity of this system shows design rather than random chance. The more we know of the creation, the more we can see the design skill and wisdom of the Creator. 

— John N. Clayton © 2024

References: ScienceNews and Wikipedia

Hummingbird Navigation System

Hummingbird Navigation System

The flying ability of hummingbirds is an exciting example of design in living things. Hummingbirds can move with remarkable speed, hover, fly in all directions, including backward and upside down, and even do flips. Scientists have exhaustively studied their wing shape, attempting to copy it for possible aircraft design. Not only is the design of their wings and muscles amazing, but recent studies show that scientists don’t fully understand the hummingbird navigation system.

Many animals use “pattern velocity,” which depends on visual cues, to adjust their speed and position while in motion. Researchers tried to confuse the hummingbird navigation system by giving them false visual cues. They projected moving patterns onto the walls of a tunnel the birds were flying through to reach a bird feeder. The birds based their flight commands on the projected patterns when hovering or moving up or down. However, when flying forward, they seemed to have an internal speedometer that did not depend on the visual cues.

If you have watched them fly in a storm, through a tree, or through other obstacles, you have seen the amazing hummingbird navigation in operation. A hummingbird’s complex brain design enables it to switch rapidly from visual clues to its own motor responses. This research on hummingbird navigation can help improve drone flight technology. Scientists have discovered much in the design of living things to enhance human technology. To believe that these apparent designs are merely blind mechanistic chance requires a leap of faith that has little evidential support.

In Job 38-39, God challenges Job with a list of mysteries of creation. That list includes questions about birds, including ostriches, hawks, and eagles (Job 39:13, 26-27). Today, we look at birds all over this planet and find that the hummingbird navigation system challenges our understanding, but we can wonder at its design and learn from it.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: Scientific American, April 2024, page 11.

Studying Fish Sounds

Studying Fish Sounds
Clownfish in Tropical Reef

Science News magazine reported that virtually all fish produce sounds that can be received and interpreted by other fish of their species. While researchers have cataloged over 1,000 fish sounds, the largest group of bony fish contains more than 34,000 species. There is much more work to do in studying fish sounds.

Fish generate sounds differently from humans. They can click bony structures together, contract specific muscles to drum a gas-filled swim bladder, vibrate stretched tendons in fins like a guitar, or even expel gas from their rear ends. Audrey Looby of the University of Florida Nature Coast Biological Station in Cedar Key describes fish as having “probably the greatest diversity of sound-producing mechanisms across the tree of life.”

Fish hear through tiny stones in their heads that move in response to sound vibrations, triggering signals to the brain. They also have special cells running down their bodies that detect motion and sound waves in the water. The uses of sound among fish are still being sorted out. Fish use sound to attract mates and to tell males where the eggs are and when they need to be fertilized. Fish also indicate distress, warning other fish of danger or scare a predator away. Fish use sound to mark territories and to warn other fish who would invade their territory.

There are many practical reasons for studying fish sounds. Knowing how fish use sounds is essential to understanding how they are affected by human sounds in the water. This knowledge also helps us study fish migrations and determine fish populations.

For those who believe God has built into all life the things needed for survival, it should be no surprise that fish use sounds. It may be that Jesus used fish sounds when He summoned fish for Peter to catch in John 21:5-6. Jesus created all things, including fish. (See John 1:1-2 and 14.) There were several instances in the life of Jesus when fish responded to His bidding, even for the payment of taxes (Matthew 17:27).

When studying fish sounds or any aspect of creation, we see God’s wisdom and design. Romans 1:20 tells us we can know God by the things He has made, but each discovery increases our understanding of how awesome God is.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: “What Does the Fish Say?” in the March 9, 2024 issue of Science News, pages 18 -23

Ant Antibiotic Treatment

Ant Antibiotic Treatment
Megaponera analis with a termite meal

Researchers at the University of Wurzburg in Germany have discovered that a species of African ants make antibiotics and treat the infections of their wounded comrades. The species studied is Matabele ants (Megaponera analis)in sub-Saharan Africa. Their diet consists of termites. The ants raid termite nests to get their food, but the termite soldiers fight back with their powerful mandibles. Many ants are wounded, and some wounds become infected and require an ant antibiotic treatment.

Healthy ants pick up their wounded comrades and carry them back to the nest to treat their infected wounds. The ants create an antibiotic substance in a gland on the side of their thorax. Researchers found that the wound treatment reduced mortality rate by 90%. Can humans learn from this ant antibiotic treatment?

Proverbs 6:6 says, “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise.” The writer of Proverbs was primarily concerned with food gathering, but God programmed a set of survival instructions into the ant’s DNA. Researchers say that the primary pathogen in the ant’s wounds is a leading cause of infections in humans, so this study may lead to the development of improved antibiotics.

Humans have much to learn about maintaining our existence on Earth, and every form of life has secrets to teach us. Learning what God has built into life is essential to answer major questions of medical science.

— John N. Clayton © 2024


The Origin of Life on Planet Earth

The Origin of Life on Planet Earth

When I was in college in the late 1950s, our biology professor at Indiana University gave us a nicely packaged explanation of the origin of life on planet Earth. In 1952, scientists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey built a test tube environment containing water vapor, methane, ammonia, and hydrogen, the gases Alexander Oparin and J.B.S. Haldane said would be needed for life to begin.

Miller and Urey used an electrical discharge to simulate lightning in the primitive Earth and placed a trap to collect any residue produced. After a time, they found the trap contained some amino acids, the building blocks of life. The media and our textbooks wrongly suggested that science had created life.

An old adage says, “Science education is the process of taking data from the professor’s notes and transferring it to the student’s test paper with as little interference as possible in between.” As a young atheist, I loudly proclaimed that it was impossible for an educated person to believe that God created life.

Nobody thought to question the assertion that the Miller-Urey experiment explained the origin of life on planet Earth. In fact, amino acids are not life, and life contains only specific amino acids. The Miller-Urey apparatus destroyed amino acids faster than it produced them, so the trap was necessary to prevent them from all being destroyed. The apparatus contained no oxygen, but in my geology class, we learned that there was much evidence for oxygen in the Precambrian rocks of the ancient Earth.

The quest to understand the origin of life (OOL) remains a topic of intense debate and exploration. In a recent publication in the esteemed journal Nature, researchers Nick Lane and Joana Xavier candidly acknowledged the persistent challenges in OOL research:

“The origins-of-life field faces the same problems with culture and incentives that afflict all of science—overselling ideas towards publication and funding, too little common ground between competing groups, and perhaps too much pride: too strong an attachment to favored scenarios and too little willingness to be proven wrong.”

Dr. James Tour of Rice University has called this area of research “clueless,” but the media continues to make unsupported claims. Perhaps the most crucial point of this research into the origin of life on planet Earth is that if science ever does discover the OOL, all it will show is that it took intelligence for it to happen in the first place.

We need Christian young people to go into science so they can explain false claims about OOL to those of us who may not have the inclination or the training to understand it solely by ourselves. However, we still need to educate ourselves enough to fulfill the admonition of 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”

— John N. Clayton © 2024

References: “To unravel the origin of life, treat findings as pieces of a bigger puzzle” in the journal Nature for February 26, 2024, referenced in February 28, 2024

Seeing God or Seeking God

Seeing God or Seeking God

We have often referred to Romans 1:19-20 which tells us that God can be plainly seen in the things He has made. However, skeptics frequently challenge us by saying, “If God is real, why doesn’t He reveal Himself?” They want to see God “in the flesh.” But God is not flesh and blood. John 4:24 says, “God is spirit…” Seeing God is just not possible.

God’s desire for us is to seek Him. As Paul shared with the pagans in Athens, God created us with a desire to “seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27 NKJV). The journey of seeking God is not only a path to finding Him but also a source of profound joy as we discover Him in the intricate details of His creation.

Suppose God appeared to us in all His glory. The Bible tells us that in our physical state, we could not stand to see His glory. Moses had to be hidden in the cleft of the rock to protect him from seeing God’s glory. We can’t understand how that sight could have been too much for Moses’ feeble eyes to behold. However, Moses could see God’s work, just as we can.

God loves us and wants us to love Him. If we could see God, would we be terrified? Would we obey God’s commands out of fear rather than love? Fear is a powerful motivating factor, but God wants our love. God showed His love in the form of a physical person, Jesus Christ. Jesus was God, but He was also human. He was Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). He said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Jesus was not hidden, but many people refused to see who He really was despite His miracles. (See John 19:16.)

Seeing God in His full glory is not something we will experience in this life. However, we can find immense joy in seeing His handiwork. If God were to fully reveal Himself before our eyes, our physical beings would not be able to withstand His glory (Exodus 33:20). If we somehow managed to survive, our service to Him would be driven by fear and terror, not love. We would lose the joy of discovering Him in His works. The experience of physically seeing God, even if possible, might be overwhelming. On the other hand, finding God in the things He has made is a delightful experience, akin to a child’s delight in finding the one they seek in a game of hide-and-seek. May we all discover that kind of joy as we earnestly seek and find God.

— Roland Earnst © 2024

Mutualism Shows Life Design

Mutualism Shows Life Design - Nitrogen-fixing nodules on legume roots
Nitrogen-fixing nodules on legume roots

We call it mutualism when various complex relationships occur between two species, producing codependency and benefits to both. There are two kinds of mutualisms. In obligate mutualism, both species depend on each other for survival. Facultative mutualism refers to relationships that benefit the species, but they could survive without it. Looking at life on Earth, we see many examples of how mutualism shows life design.

In Borneo, a carnivorous pitcher plant and wooly bats have a relationship of obligate mutualism. The plant lures bats in with an echo reflector, but the plant doesn’t eat the bat. The pitcher plant grows in soils with low nutrients and needs additional fertilizer. The droppings of the bats provide that fertilizer, enabling the plant to survive. The woolly bats are easy victims of predatory animals, but during the daytime, when the bat isn’t hunting insects, it finds refuge and protection inside the pitcher plant. The plant and the bat depend on this relationship, but no one would suggest they are related.

Legumes such as beans, peas, and clover form a mutualism with bacteria. The bacteria can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, turning it into ammonia. The plants use the nitrogen from the ammonia to synthesize proteins needed for growth. The plants serve the bacteria by housing them in root nodules and providing them with sugars and oxygen so they can grow. Once again, mutualism shows life design.

There are a vast number of smaller organisms that depend upon obligate mutualism. An example is a green-brown spongy sludge that grows on the marshes of the Florida Everglades. It may look like a toxic algal bloom drawing oxygen from the water. But instead of being destructive, it is a mutual design of algae, fungi, microbes, and bacteria. This perfectly matched relationship is called a periphyton. It is a system of life that provides the basis for the entire food chain of the Everglades and another example of how mutualism shows life design.

Trying to explain how mutualism became part of Earth’s living systems by a chance process takes a huge imagination and a great deal of faith. It seems far more likely that mutualism is not an accident but part of God’s design for life. The more we know of the creation, the closer we get to the Creator.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

References: BBC News for February 14, 2024, and Wikipedia

The Beautiful Ugly Opossum

The Beautiful, Ugly Opossum

Perhaps you have seen this animal prowling your neighborhood and looked at the ugly opossum with disdain. When Captain John Smith of the Jamestown Colony in Virginia first saw an opossum in 1611, he described it as a cross between a pig, a rat, and a cat. Although people often consider them unattractive, we appreciate the beautiful, ugly opossum design as they serve a unique purpose in America.

Opossums are the only marsupials in North America. Like kangaroos and other Australian marsupials, opossums birth their young shortly after conception. The newborn must find its way into the pouch, where it will nurse for up to four months before emerging.

Opossums have 50 teeth, allowing them to eat just about anything. Their omnivorous diet includes rodents, frogs, birds, eggs, insects, fruit, and grain. They will eat dead animals, including the bones, and they remove pests from our gardens. They don’t burrow, and unlike raccoons, they are not dexterous enough to get into trash bins or your house or garage by digging into a wall or roof. Although people often describe opossums as ugly, they are among our best animal friends.

Opossums are nocturnal
, so we rarely see them except when they get hit by a car. They are not aggressive, and when frightened, they often play dead. Their low body temperature of 94 degrees (F) prevents them from getting rabies and other viruses, and they are not affected by snake venom.

The beautiful, ugly opossum is part of God’s design for life on this planet. All animals serve a purpose in the natural world, but we often vilify opossums because of their appearance, not realizing the ways they benefit us.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

References: Wikipedia and Saturday Evening Post for March/April 2024, page 21.