The ability of plants and animals to achieve maximum survival success in changing seasons is quite interesting. Here in Michigan, our winters can arrive suddenly and forcefully. It may be 75 degrees one day and below freezing the next. It was quite warm in early September, but many trees were already preparing for winter. The leaves of our sumac trees became brilliant red and started falling off the branches. As we approach the end of September, some species of maple trees are changing colors and dropping their leaves.
Several species of birds have left Michigan, heading south for the winter. We live on a river where we see a massive increase in fish activity. There is also a significant increase in the activity of insects, with some butterflies, such as monarchs, heading south in groups. The number of cocoons in our bushes and in our house has accelerated, and some species of bees and wasps have become more aggressive.
The big question is how living things seem to know it’s time to start preparing for winter, even when there is no significant temperature change. There have also been no clues from other weather factors like humidity, rainfall, wind velocity, and direction. The scientific evidence shows that living things pick up on less obvious signals that say, “Winter is coming, and you need to prepare.”
Some living things sense the length of daylight, telling them to prepare for winter. Another factor is the angle of the Sun’s rays, which controls what kind of light reaches Earth’s surface. The Sun’s light contains a variety of wavelengths. The higher energy wavelengths are refracted and scattered more than the longer, lower energy forms. The sky is blue because blue light has higher energy than the rest of the visible spectrum and thus is scattered and refracted more. The next highest energy wavelength is green. Plants are green because they reflect that color, protecting them from the next highest energy of light that reaches Earth’s surface.
As the Sun gets lower in the sky, wavelengths we can’t even see, such as ultraviolet, are refracted and scattered away from the surface. Living things detect that change and start preparation for winter. Explaining how this system of life came into existence is a real challenge for those who deny God’s creation of our planet and the life on it. It’s a joy to see the things God has made testifying about His intelligence and design as they start preparing for winter (Romans 1:20).
The more we learn about bird and insect migrations, the more we are astounded by how they do what they do. Chance explanations fail when the migrations become complex. The honey buzzard migration is another example of an incredible migration that defies chance explanation.
Researchers using a satellite tracking system in Finland released data on a bird known as the European honey buzzard. This bird actually does eat honey and will search out the nest of bees and hornets to find its food. Scientists knew that this bird spends its austral summer around the town of Reitz in Free State, South Africa, where bee nests are abundant. They tracked the honey buzzard migration as it left Africa on April 20th and arrived in Finland on June 2nd at the time when, once again, its favorite food was available. This bird enjoys summer twice by its migration, securing food and avoiding winter, but its route is very complicated.
You might think the honey buzzard would just head north, but that would involve going over dangerous landforms and climate irregularities. Instead, the bird makes a 90-degree turn at the source of the Nile River and follows it. When the bird reaches the end of the Nile, it returns to the same longitude line where it started, avoiding the Mediterranean and the Sudan to eventually reach its destination in Finland.
Honey buzzards cover 10,000 kilometers in 42 days, averaging 230 kilometers daily. If you want to see honey buzzards attacking a bee nest, do a word search on the web, but don’t expect an explanation of its migratory route. The honey buzzard migration is programmed into the bird’s DNA, and how the program got there is another example of design by intelligence. Instinctive drives defy chance explanations because they involve a changing Earth with landforms and climate factors that happen too fast for gradual accommodation. We suggest that honey buzzard migration is another evidence of God’s design for all life forms in the creation.
One of the great tragedies of the evolution/creation war has been the failure of people on all sides to define what they mean by “evolution.” We see a classic example in North American Curly Horses, sometimes called the American Bashkir Curly. This breed of horses has a heavily curled coat in the winter, and a much thinner coat in summer, when the mane and tail molt.
The curly coat is an advantage during very cold weather. In addition to the unusual coat, North American Curly Horses are well known for various other characteristics. They are much quieter in disposition than other horses and have thicker bones, rounded hooves, and exceptional memory. Curly horses are the only hypoallergenic horse breed – good news for people allergic to horses.
Horses can be traced back to the time when their ancestor was a small creature about the size of a dog. The best-known fossil horse is eohippus, sometimes called the “dawn horse,” but other forms of horses based on fossilized remains are merychippus, mesohippus, and miohippus. North American Curly Horses are hypoallergenic because a protein that most horse-allergic people react to is absent from their hair. Horse ranchers are cross-breeding curly horses with other breeds to establish some of their characteristics in other breeds.
North American Curly Horses are another example of how humans have benefited from evolutionary change. This evolution is not part of a theory to deny God as the creator. The design of life that allows change in this way is an excellent testimony to the wisdom and intelligence of God’s creation. When God created the first horse, He built into its DNA the genes that would allow change. We can say the same of the many other plants and animals humans need to survive on this planet.
Evolution of species is an excellent proof of the existence of God, but don’t confuse it with creation. They deal with two different things. Creation produced the first horse-like animals, and God’s design of life allowed them to change into the North American Curly Horses and other breeds we have today.
One of the more interesting creatures in the ocean is a small octopus called the pearl octopus (Muusoctopus robustus). They get their name because they look like pearls on the dark ocean floor. Because of their small size, they are easy victims of predation. They have no defense mechanisms and are an easy meal for various predatory ocean creatures. How do they continue to thrive in their Pacific Ocean habitat? The answer lies in an octopus garden.
Researchers discovered the octopus garden 80 miles from the central California coast at a place called the Davidson Seamount. A seamount is an ancient volcano that has either sunk into the ocean floor or has been covered by rising ocean water. The Monterey National Marine Sanctuary and Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute have studied deep-sea corals on this seamount for 20 years. They recently discovered an octopus garden – home to at least 6,000 nesting pearl octopuses and perhaps as many as 20,000.
The design of this “garden” offers successful reproduction of this vulnerable species. By being 10,500 feet down, they avoid many octopus predators simply because they don’t feed that deep. Like many other forms of life, synchronized birthing floods the area with offspring so a predator can’t wipe out a whole population. Hydrothermal springs at the base of Davidson Seamount warm the water, allowing the pearl octopus eggs to hatch much faster.
We see many remarkable designs in the biological world, allowing animals to survive. Every nook and cranny of the planet is home to some form of life, and this is just one more example. As Romans 1:20 says, “We can know there is a God through the things He has made.”
The more science learns about the biological world, the more unique things we see. Most of us know about jellyfish, corals, and anemones. These ocean animals are members of the phylum Cnidaria. In that phylum, a strange order named Siphonophorae has 175 species. The Portuguese man o’ war is a member of the order of siphonophores.
Siphonophores may look like one organism, but they are actually colonies consisting of thousands of clones that function in different ways. Siphonophores start with a single “bud” called a zooid. The zooid replicates itself asexually, producing thousands of clones. Each clone has a specific job, such as eating, moving, or reproducing.
The colony of clones functions together as if they were one animal. For example, the Portuguese man o’ war has gas-filled zooids, allowing it to float on the ocean’s surface. Other zooids capture prey, while others digest the food. The individual zooids rely on each other for survival as one large functioning colony we call the Portuguese man o’ war.
In 2020, scientists found a siphonophore that was 150 feet long, probably the world’s longest animal. Most siphonophores live in the darkness of the deep oceans and are bioluminescent, using chemicals to produce light that attracts prey. The Portuguese man o’ war is an exception as a siphonophore that lives on the ocean’s surface.
The deep sea diving expeditions of the Schmidt Ocean Institute and the EV Nautilus have taught us much about the designs built into living things that allow life to exist in places totally alien to humans. Siphonophores make us realize that planet Earth is a wonderfully designed and unique place in the universe, full of amazing living creatures. We must treasure God’s gift and take care of it instead of abusing and polluting it.
Can life arise spontaneously from non-living chemicals? Scientists have spent many hours and vast amounts of research money attempting to prove it can. One of the many challenges they must solve is the problem of homochirality.
All the large molecules required to make a living cell are composed of building blocks that have mirror images. When you look in a mirror, you see a reversed image of yourself. The right hand appears to be on the left and vice versa. The right- and left-hand analogy is used when referring to the building blocks of life. Those building blocks come in either right or left-handed forms. We call that handedness “chirality” from the Greek word for hand. Homochirality means having the same handedness.
Life almost exclusively uses only one chirality. The amino acids that make up proteins are left-handed. Scientists are uncertain why, but they have to accept the fact that to build the proteins that RNA and DNA molecules require for life, you must have only left-handed amino acids.
In nature, amino acids are not homochiral. They come in a distribution of about 50/50 left and right, creating the problem of homochirality. For amino acids to form the building blocks of life, they would have to be homochiral. Scientists have yet to find a way to make that happen, even in the laboratory. They aren’t even sure why life requires it since the chemical properties of mirror-imaged compounds are the same for all practical purposes.
The problem of homochirality is one of the many obstacles that prevent non-living chemicals from coming together to form life without intervention by an intelligent force. Even the intelligence of our best scientists has not overcome those obstacles. I saved an Associated Press news release from 2007 titled, “Scientists Believe Artificial Life Will Be Possible in 3 to 10 Years.” We are well past that goal, and I suspect they are not much closer today.
Evolutionists such as Richard Dawkins tell us that life has no purpose and results from mindless, unguided evolution. That is the accepted doctrine of evolutionary biology. However, Dr. Gunter Bechly writing in the Evolution News website, reports on a review by Dr. Richard Buggs, giving some hope of at least one scientist finding purpose in the evolutionary process.
British plant biologist Richard Buggs wrote in Ecology & Evolution about a BBC science series called “Earth” in which the host, Dr. Chris Packham, made some very “non-Darwinian” statements suggesting purpose in the evolutionary process. Instead of viewing evolution as a natural process without purpose, Packham expresses it as an intentional process with direction.
Packham anthropomorphizes plants suggesting that they “have agency and intention.” He says they don’t “give up easily”; they “developed a new trick” and “were ready to start conquering the world.” He also points out something we have discussed on this site, that plants communicate with one another.
Packham finds purpose in the evolutionary process of plants. He suggests the greening of plants was not a purposeless, unintended process, but early photosynthesis was “something miraculous.” He describes the world as a “bountiful, blooming miracle” and the symbiosis between plants and fungi as “a match made in heaven.” The BBC promotes the series Packham hosts by saying, “Chris Packham tells the miraculous story of how plants turned Earth from a barren rock into a vibrant green world.”
In my graduate work at Notre Dame, an atheist taught our class on the historical development of planet Earth. He repeatedly pointed out that it takes enormous faith to believe that the complexities we see in Earth’s biological history leading to humans resulted from mindless chance processes. However, he justified his atheist faith by maintaining that given enough time, it could be possible.
Dr. Bechly concludes his article by saying he hopes this is “a new trend that would feel like a breath of fresh air amidst all the materialist and atheist propaganda in popular science media.” The current theories of how life developed on Earth by chance are so complicated and unlikely that evolution has become a faith for many. Finding purpose in the evolutionary process is a step toward recognizing that life is not an accident.
For over 50 years, we have said that evolution is a tool of God, designed to allow life to exist on a changing planet. God has indeed built into living things the capacity to change, so we have many varieties of dogs, cattle, grains, and fruit trees. Without this capacity for species to evolve and adapt, humans would have long ago run out of food.
With the verified climate changes in Earth’s history, many global mass extinctions would have occurred. There is a vast difference between the fact of evolution and the neo-Darwinian theories of naturalism and macro-evolution. Many conflicts would be eliminated if both sides could admit to that fact.
In Alaska, female moose have their calves at about the same time, so carnivores can’t eat them all, allowing enough survivors to maintain a healthy population. Many other animal species reproduce at the same time to overwhelm their predators. We see this survival method in the design of mass spawning of defenseless marine animals.
Palolo worms are an example of mass spawning. They live in tropical areas of the Pacific Ocean, including Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Indonesia, Vanuatu, and some islands of the Philippines. These worms spend their lives hiding in the crevices and cavities of coral reefs. An interesting event takes place in Samoa seven days after the first full moon in October. The heads of the palolo worms remain in the coral reef, but their tails break off and swim to the surface by the millions. Those tails are filled with sperm and egg cells that are released into the ocean.
Because there are literally millions of palolo tails, and the release of sperm and eggs happens so quickly, the survival rate is very high. Other marine animals feast on them, and Samoans gather them using nets and buckets. Considering them a delicacy, the Samoans eat them raw or cooked in various dishes. Despite the consumption by humans and natural predators, there are so many palolos at once that their population survives. Their only real threat is loss of the coral reefs.
Another example of the design of mass spawning is the grunions off the coast of California and Mexico. Millions of female grunions ride a wave along the coast and lay their eggs on the beach. The next big wave brings the males who fertilize the eggs. The fertilized eggs remain in the tidal zone where sea birds and some other fish eat them, but the sheer numbers ensure the species continues.
The design of mass spawning indicates planning and coordination. Evolutionary chance models involve too many assumptions to be the best explanation. God has provided many systems that allow life to survive, and it is up to humans to protect the living system for future generations.
We take many things for granted without realizing the complexity of their design. That is undoubtedly true of bird feathers. American biologist Thor Hanson correctly wrote that feathers are “complex structures of ingenuity that defy the most advanced human technologies.”
Feathers are made of keratin, which is a protein. They are connected to blood vessels like our hair is connected to our vascular system. Once a feather reaches its final stage, it is disconnected from the blood vessel that has nourished it, reducing the weight of the feather. When molting occurs, and old feathers are discarded, the vascular system is re-connected by tiny muscles surrounding the feather follicles to grow a new feather.
These same muscles allow a bird to move its feathers for various purposes. Feathers serve the bird by providing insulation, waterproofing, color, display, and flight. Birds accomplish each of these functions in remarkable ways. Peacocks can present colorful displays, but so can parrots, pheasants, and various tropical birds.
Feathers provide insulation by trapping air, which is a poor conductor of heat. Down feathers trap air efficiently while adding very little weight to the bird. This same feature gives waterfowl their buoyancy while giving them insulation. Birds preen their feathers by treating them with oil from a gland just above the bird’s tail. The tight interlocking barbules in a bird’s outer feathers make them impenetrable to water. Birds use down to produce an environment that allows eggs to hatch and to keep chicks safe. Modern technology can’t match the heat-to-weight ratio of feathers.
Flight is possible because each wing feather has the shape of an airfoil to provide lift and minimize drag. Since the feathers are flexible, they can move to reduce drag, and their tips are designed to minimize turbulence making smooth flight possible. They really are complex structures of ingenuity.
Color in bird feathers is accomplished in several ways. For some feathers, melanin gives color to the feather’s keratin, and the structure of keratin is such that the bird’s diet can control its color. A flamingo’s pink color comes from eating algae that have carotenoids in it. Rather than using pigments, many brightly-colored bird feathers use structural color produced by manipulating light waves to create blues, greens, and iridescent colors.
Considering the complex structures of ingenuity we know as bird feathers brings to mind Psalms 9:1, “I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart; I will show forth all your marvelous works.” Feathers are among those marvelous works.
We sometimes get letters from people who have been traumatized by seeing a television program where a carnivore slaughters an innocent animal. We have been conditioned by Disney-type movies such as Bambi or Nemo, showing cute and cuddly animals. The idea of them being eaten by other animals is not on our radar and certainly not what we want small children to see. But, in the real world, predators are essential.
The reality is that the design built into the living system involves population control and that design is far more humane than what happens without it. Predators are essential because when animals become so numerous they cannot find enough to eat, the result is cruel and painful.
There are countless examples of what happens when predators are removed from an area. Years ago, the deer population was in serious trouble in Indiana’s Brown County State Park. The state finally decided to allow a hunt because the deer were eating all of the park’s vegetation. When scientists studied the deer that hunters culled from the population, some 12-year-old deer weighed less than 50 pounds. Their immune system had been compromised because they were emaciated due to a lack of food. The wolves and other predators that had kept the deer population in balance with the food supply had been removed from the park, and the deer suffered as a result.
Animals are not humans in costumes. They do not have a concept of self, and death is not cruel. Starvation, pain, and disease are rare in populations controlled by predators. To vilify God based on animal predation is an unfortunate choice based on ignorance since predators are essential for a balanced system.
It is interesting that most large predators have their numbers limited by low birth rates and small numbers of offspring. Also, many predators’ numbers are limited because larger predators prey on them. Hammerhead sharks limit dangerous shark populations in the ocean. Seventy-one percent of the hammerhead’s diet consists of other sharks.
Designing a world that balances the environment and the animals it supports is incredibly difficult. Humans often upset the balance in nature, and some cases require replacing a predator they have removed from an ecosystem. Caring for all of God’s creatures is essential for our own health and survival.