Fetal Development in the Womb

 Fetal Development in the Womb

One thing that can get lost in the rhetoric about abortion is what happens in the fetal development in the womb. The story begins around the 14th day of a 28-day menstrual cycle when an ovary releases an egg. When the sperm fertilizes the egg, the zygote, as it’s called, contains a mixture of genetic information from both parents. Fertilization usually occurs in the fallopian tube near the ovary that produced the egg.

This already growing zygote must travel to the uterus to implant itself. If the zygote lodges in the wrong place, such as in a fallopian tube, the result is a medical emergency called an ectopic pregnancy. Such a pregnancy can rupture the tube, leading to internal bleeding that can cause the mother’s death.

Once the zygote attaches in the uterus, the mother produces the hormones that nourish and protect it, allowing the growth process to continue. What might be considered a “heartbeat” can be detected long before there are chambers and valves that make up the human heart. Specialized cells create a heart tube that produces a fluttering electrical activity that can be heard with a stethoscope or detected by an ultrasound machine.

When pain signals come from the senses, they must travel to the brain’s cortex which develops at about weeks 24 or 25 of pregnancy. It is amazing that by the end of the first trimester, the developing baby has every organ it will ever have throughout its life. They merely continue to grow and develop.

People used to justify slavery by saying that blacks were humans but not persons. Nobody can support such a distinction from a scientific or moral standpoint. Yet, some have used the same failed logic to justify abortion.

The complexities of reproduction are so massive that there is still much that science doesn’t understand. Nevertheless, it is incredible that an atheist can look at the fetal development in the womb and not be amazed at the beauty and wonder of its design. “For it was you who created my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise you because I have been remarkably and wondrously made” (Psalms 139:13-14a CSB).

— John N. Clayton © 2022

References: Science News for July 16 & 30, 2022, page 6-7; Skeptic Magazine, Volume 27 # 2 2022, page 22.

How Can a Woodpecker’s Brain Survive the Hammering?

How Can a Woodpecker’s Brain Survive the Hammering? - Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker

We live in Michigan with massive numbers of trees all around, allowing us to watch various wildlife. The design that allows our woods to survive involves many animals that plant seeds, prune plants, and control insect populations. One of the leading players in the control of insects is our Michigan woodpeckers. That raises the question, “How can a woodpecker’s brain survive the hammering?”

We have a variety of woodpeckers, but the most interesting to me are the pileated woodpeckers and flickers. These birds not only peck at trees removing insects that could damage the plants, but they also use their pecking to mark territories. One woodpecker hammers on the flashing of the chimney that vents our furnace. The sound is so loud that it wakes me up in the morning. But it also sends a territorial message to all other woodpeckers in the area.

The frequency of the hammering of woodpeckers is around 20 hits a second. Their heads move so fast it is hard to see the motion with the naked eye, and even a photograph at a high shutter speed shows only a blur of the woodpecker’s head. So, the big question is, “How can a woodpecker’s brain survive the hammering?”

The textbooks say that a spongy bone in the woodpecker’s skull acts as a shock absorber to protect the brain. However, recent research has shown that isn’t the case. Not only does a dissection of the woodpecker’s head not show any such bone structure, but high-speed video of three different species of woodpeckers shows that the bird’s brain decelerates at the same rate as the beak. There is no cushion for the bird’s brain.

So that does not answer the question, “How can a woodpecker’s brain survive the hammering?” The answer seems to be in the design of the bird’s brain, not in the area that surrounds the brain. Dr. Sam Van Wassenbergh at the University of Antwerp says that the woodpecker’s brain is so small and of such light-weight construction that the pecking does not generate enough pressure to damage it.

The problem with that explanation is that the woodpecker has the same functions as all other birds and does not show symptoms of a deficient brain. We also know from human studies that brain size is not directly related to intelligence. The design of a woodpecker’s brain to enable it to hammer on trees and other objects (such as chimney flashing) is an example of engineering design. Scientists need to do more research to fully understand the design God put into these birds and perhaps learn what practical applications it might have for us.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: The Week for August 5, 2022, page 21.

World’s Strongest Pinching Force

Coconut Crab with World’s Strongest Pinching Force
Coconut Crab

If you were to guess the animal with the strongest bite, you might say lions or great white sharks. However, probably no one would suggest a crustacean known as the coconut crab (Birgus latro). Charles Darwin called this animal “monstrous,” and people who live in the South Pacific can tell amazing stories about the strength of this crab. However, it’s not the jaws but the claws of the coconut crab that have the world’s strongest pinching force.

The coconut crab is the largest arthropod on Earth. It can weigh more than nine pounds (4.1 kg) and grow to a width of three feet (1 m) from the tip of one leg to the other. Its claws are so powerful that they can exert a greater pinching force compared to its size than any other animal except alligators. The coconut crab is nocturnal and can use its claws to climb trees and even hang in one position for hours. They also use their claws, known as chelae, to defend against predators.

Other animals can’t break open a coconut, but coconut crabs can do that with their powerful chelae, making that food available to them. Although they are called coconut crabs and live on islands in the Indian and Pacific oceans where coconut palms grow, coconuts are not their primary food. Instead, they eat various fruits, nuts, seeds, the pith of fallen palm trees, carrion, and any organic matter they find on the ground. If they find something that interests them, they will grab it and carry it away, earning them the name “robber crabs.”

Some of the most important animals on Earth are those that cleanup waste. They include birds that eat carrion, insects that use dung in various ways, and many other life forms. Coconut crabs use the world’s strongest pinching force to process organic debris, so it will not cover Earth’s surface. 

An area of the planet with trees that produce tough materials like coconuts would eventually become buried in debris without animals that clean up the mess. Coconut crabs are so efficient that they eat their own exoskeleton when they molt, leaving nothing to contaminate the environment. Coconut crabs are one example of the many animals that recycle organic material. 

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia, and PLOS ONE

Greatest Daily Migration on Earth

Greatest Daily Migration on Earth
Zooplankton in the Ocean

One of the amazing facts about life on our planet is the way living things fill every niche of the environment. As science extends our knowledge of Earth’s remote regions, we find massive amounts of life with incredible diversity. We find the largest animal population on the Earth in biomass, the volume of the Earth occupied, and numbers of individuals in water deeper than sunlight can reach. The ocean depths make up 90% of Earth’s living space, and we now understand that living there are more than a million species that science has not named or described. Furthermore, they are part of the greatest daily migration on Earth.

Every day, ten billion tons of animals known as zooplankton move upward from as far as 3,000 feet below the surface. The zooplankton include copepods, salps, krill, and fish larvae. At only 1,000 feet down, the water is 20 degrees Fahrenheit colder than at the surface, and the pressure is 30 times as great. For a tiny fish larva, making a 1000-foot journey in about an hour would be like a human swimmer going 50 miles in that amount of time. These animals begin their ascent at sunset and stay near the surface until sunrise when they descend back to the cold dark below.

The purpose of this greatest daily migration on Earth is to eat and avoid being eaten. These zooplankton animals feed on phytoplankton, the microscopic aquatic plants that live in the top few hundred feet of water. Fish and squid feed on the zooplankton, which find protection at the great ocean depths. The first hint of this massive migration occurred in World War II when ships and submarines used sonar to sweep the ocean for enemy subs. They discovered that the seafloor seemed to be moving up and down, creating a deep “scattering layer” that reflected sonar signals. Now we have research tools to explore this layer, which turns out to be alive.

Science is just now beginning to understand the importance of the greatest daily migration on Earth. This huge mass of animal life, their excrement, and their remains sequester carbon in the very deep waters, making them rich in nutrients. Winds along the shores of continents push the surface water from the continental edges out into the open ocean. Their exit causes water to come up from ocean depths to the surface along the continent’s edges, bringing nutrients with it.

Our understanding of this mass migration is helping us to understand the carbon cycle, climate change, and many ecological issues. This greatest daily migration on Earth is a part of God’s creation. It reminds us of Proverbs 8:28-29, which says that Wisdom was there, “…when He established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when He gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep His command, and when He marked out the foundations of the earth” (NIV).

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Scientific American, August 2022, pages 50 -67.

The Atlantic Puffin and Life’s Adaptability

The Atlantic Puffin and Life’s Adaptability
Atlantic Puffins

Environmentalists express concern that many species will become extinct because of the warming climate. For example, polar bears are having trouble finding food because of the disappearance of the ice islands they use for hunting. A bird species that many are concerned about is the Atlantic puffin. These birds had been hunted to the verge of extinction in the 1800s and are still endangered today.

The main diet of Atlantic puffins consists of hake and herring, which are cold-water fish. However, the change in temperature of the North Atlantic Ocean has caused these fish to no longer inhabit some waters where Atlantic puffins get their food. Because of that, there was concern that Atlantic puffins could become extinct.

The Audubon Society Magazine published an interesting report on a study of the Atlantic puffin’s diet by Will Kennerley. Kennerley discovered that the puffins had shifted the foods they eat and feed their chicks. The study showed that they are now eating 21 different fish species that researchers had never observed them eating before. This nutritional flexibility will help preserve Atlantic puffins, demonstrating that these birds are designed to adapt to a changing environment.

The question of how this principle will apply to other forms of life remains to be seen. A big question is whether this adaptability also applies to animals that eat plants since there are cases where plants are dying out in areas experiencing significant climate changes. However, there is less doom and gloom among people who see examples such as the adaptability of the Atlantic puffin. God’s design for living things makes it possible for life to endure even as the environment changes.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

You can read more in the summer 2022 issue of Audubon Society Magazine (page 21) and online at THIS LINK.

Wasps Are Essential for the Ecosystem

Wasps Are Essential for the Ecosystem

Wasps are essential for the ecosystem, but I have to admit that my experiences with wasps have been mostly negative. I am very allergic to their stings. My only positive experience with a wasp was when I was teaching a homeroom made up of kids who were in trouble with the school or the law — many of whom were wearing ankle bracelets. The night before the first day of school, I was stung over my left eye by a wasp, resulting in my eye being swollen shut and my face badly distorted. When I walked into my homeroom, there was dead silence until one gang leader said in a timid voice, “What does the other guy look like?”

Wasps have been called “nature’s pest controllers” by wasp expert Dr. Seirian Sumner. Wasps are carnivores who lay their eggs in the body of other insects, and the larvae consume the host after hatching. Wasps control aphids, white flies, cabbage loopers, and brown marmorated stink bugs, all of which are a problem for agriculture.

In addition to killing these crop problems, wasps are pollinators. Wasps pollinate 960 plant species, and 164 species depend entirely on wasps. For example, figs could not reproduce without wasps, and more than 1,000 tropical birds and mammals rely on figs for food. In addition, over 100 orchid species depend on wasps as pollinators. So, yes, wasps are essential for the ecosystem.

When you realize all the good that wasps do and understand that only 1.5% of wasp species sting humans, you have to recognize that wasps are a tool of God to enable us to have the food we eat and the flowers we love.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: National Wildlife magazine, August/September 2022, pages 12-13.

If you want to learn more, there is a new book by Seirian Sumner titled Endless Forms: The Secret World of Wasps published by Harper Collins.

Another Virus Is Spreading

Another Virus Is Spreading - Monkeypox

Here we go again! Another virus is spreading and has begun to infect large numbers of people, and the LGBTQ community has borne the brunt of those infections. That data has led to hatred and polarization. This reminds us of the situation with AIDS in 1984 when over 7,700 people became infected with AIDS, and over 3,500 died. There was a great deal of finger pointing and some violence, as vividly displayed in the 2005 movie “Brokeback Mountain.”

On May 7, 2022, British health officials discovered the monkeypox virus and announced it occurred primarily in LGBTQ men. In July of 2022, infections have been found in 42 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. At this time, infections approach 1500, with California and Illinois having more than 100 cases and New York with more than 400. The virus spreads from person to person through direct contact with rash lesions or body fluids. Men having sex with men provide an easy pathway for the virus, so as another virus is spreading, some blame the LGBTQ community.

Those who delight in attacking Christianity have claimed that Christians are fueling hatred against the LGBTQ community, but that claim is simply incorrect. It is true that the Bible teaches us not to engage in sex outside of marriage, but it also tells us not to use alcohol or other substances harmful to the body. Christians are concerned about people doing things that hurt themselves or others. For Christians, the human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:15-20; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Therefore, we urge everyone not to engage in destructive lifestyles, including the use of all recreational drugs and the practice of aberrant sexual activity.

We also oppose any violence against others. Anyone who abuses, brings harm to, or verbally condemns others is not following Christ’s teaching. Instead, he told us to love our enemies, go the second mile, and turn the other cheek. (See Matthew 5:38-48.)The teachings of Christ are unambiguous, but not everyone who claims to be a Christian follows them.

Another virus is spreading as people engage in the activities of the LGBTQ community, putting themselves and others at risk. There is no question about the wisdom of the Bible’s teaching about sexual conduct. But unfortunately, every alternative to God’s way has caused injury to the participants and others, and monkeypox is just one more evidence of that truth.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: USA Today by Boris Q’va for July 18, 2022. SouthBendTribune.com

Flower Crab Spiders and Camouflage

Flower Crab Spiders and Camouflage

An unlimited number of features in the world around us speak of God’s design and wisdom. Consider flower crab spiders with the scientific name Misumena vatia. They earn the “crab” name because they resemble crabs and can walk forward, backward, and even sideways like crabs. Their two front legs are longer and extend out for grabbing prey, which they immobilize by injecting venom. Misumena vatia spiders don’t build webs to catch prey. Instead, they sit on a flower and capture incoming prey with their legs.

Another unique feature of these flower crab spiders is they can change color. The females, which are much larger than the males, have the options of white, yellow, or pale green. White is the baseline color. If they eat colorful prey, they can temporarily take on the prey’s color. For example, their abdomens will turn pink after a meal of red-eyed fruit flies. More commonly, if they sit on a yellow flower, they can secrete a yellow fluid into their outer body cells to give them a yellow color. Unlike chameleons that can change color in seconds, it takes days for Misumena vatia spiders to change their color.

When these spiders sit on yellow flowers, they are difficult for humans to see. However, they become highly visible to humans when they are white and perched for hunting on pink or red flowers. On the other hand, the arthropods that are both predators and prey for flower crab spiders have vision tuned for ultraviolet and blues. To them, the red in the flowers and the white of the spider appear dark to provide camouflage.

Flower crab spiders fill a unique ecological niche. They provide balance for the many life forms that feed on spiders and for the pollinators and plants. God has given us a diverse and beautiful natural world. Unfortunately, we take all this for granted, but when we look carefully, we see design in living things.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: The Spokane, Washington, Spokesman-Review for July 13, 2022, page A01, and Wikipedia.

Flies Provide Useful Functions

 Flies Provide Useful Functions
Green Bottle Fly

We are all familiar with houseflies except those readers in Iceland, where they don’t have any. We may not realize that, like all living things, flies provide useful functions and demonstrate incredible design.

Most of us know that flies can spread diseases such as salmonella, E.coli, chlamydia, typhoid fever, dysentery, cholera, polio, anthrax, leprosy, and tuberculosis. That’s because by using chemical receptors in their foot pads, flies can smell rotting organic waste. They land on garbage or dead animals, vomit digestive enzymes onto them, and lap up the liquified remains with a sponge-like tongue. In this way, they help to decompose and remove organic waste. However, they can pick up bacteria and carry them to humans.

Flies have glandular pads on the soles of their feet that secret a fluid that adheres to any solid surface. That adhesion is greater than the force of gravity, allowing the fly to walk up a wall or upside down on a ceiling. Flies can only fly about 4 miles per hour, so they become food for other life forms.

Flies in their larval stage are called maggots. Because they are sterile, green bottle fly maggots (Lucilia sericata) are used to treat wounds that don’t respond to antibiotics. The fly larvae also promote the healing of diabetic ulcers, gangrene, and burns by stimulating blood flow to the injured areas. In addition, they have been used to treat MRSA (a bacterial infection resistant to antibiotics) because they eat the dead and decaying flesh caused by the bacteria.

There is no question that humans need to restrict fly numbers and avoid contact with them. At the same time, flies provide useful functions and demonstrate incredible design. They are an important food for frogs and other animals and helpful in treating the medical problems of humans. Nothing in nature is evil or malicious because God created all of life with a purpose and function. That is even true of the housefly.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Sheryl Myers, founding director of Heart of the River Coalition in Anderson, Indiana.

Virus-Carrying Animals and Pandemics

Virus-Carrying Animals - Whitetail Deer Fawn
Whitetail Deer Fawn

When you read the hygienic rules for the nation of Israel in the Bible, you might think they are restrictive and unnecessary. However, we now understand that some 60% of known infectious diseases in humans came from animals, and over 250 known diseases have come directly to humans from virus-carrying animals.

We also know that 850,000 viruses exist within the bodies of mammals and birds, and 10% of rodent species host pathogens that can infect people. Seventy-seven known viruses can come from primates to humans, and bats are well-equipped to carry viruses to humans. For example, the SARS-CoV-2 virus in bats probably initiated the COVID virus in humans.

We are seeing significant increases in diseases carried by animals
and spread by mosquitos, ticks, and a variety of parasites. The Lyme disease incidence rate has doubled in the past ten years, and scientists have identified two new tick-carried diseases. Dengue fever has increased 30-fold in recent years. In addition, researchers have identified white-tailed deer as carriers of the Omicron variant of the COVID virus.

God gave ancient Israel restrictions and rules of contact with animals that reduced the probability of transmitting diseases to humans from virus-carrying animals. Likewise, we need to reduce the use of animals as pets and educate hunters and farmers about how to care for animals we use for food. In addition, avoiding extensive contact with animals by leaving them in their natural habitat and not raising animals that may carry harmful viruses can help protect us from diseases.

Massive vaccination is never going to eradicate the agents of pandemics. However, careful understanding of the creation’s design and maintaining separation between humans and virus-carrying animals can make a huge difference.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: The Week for July 1, 2022 page 11.