Near the end of 2023, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed 21 species from the Endangered Species Act because they have become extinct. What causes the extinction of plant and animal species?
Many factors lead to extinctions. Dr. Hugh Ross says the fossil record indicates that half of the mammal species that existed at the time of Adam and Eve are now extinct. Human activities that can endanger species include habitat destruction, introduction of invasive species, and introduction of diseases. Of course, animals can endanger people in various ways, including introducing diseases.
Humans have endangered plant species by introducing invasive plants. Plants used for decorative purposes can become invasive. Examples are English holly and the tree of heaven. Some plants that have become invasive were introduced to serve a purpose, such as controlling erosion. An example is the kudzu plant.
At other times, humans have caused extinction by killing large numbers of a species such as the passenger pigeon. Because of hunting and habitat destruction, the dodo bird became extinct within less than a century of its discovery. Humans caused the extinction of the great auk by foolish vandalism. Today, poachers are endangering the rhinoceros by killing them for no good reason. By contrast, human efforts rescued the California condor after it became extinct in the wild.
Woolly mammoths existed alongside early humans, and some scientists say they were essential for the survival of humans in some areas. People used them for food and their skins for protection from the elements. Their bones became tools, building materials, and even musical instruments. These large animals also kept plant vegetation under control while spreading their seeds. We can not always determine the cause of the extinction of plant and animal species, and that is the case with woolly mammoths.
The extinction of the dinosaurs occurred before humans were on the scene. That is good because humans and dinosaurs could not coexist on the land or at the same atmospheric oxygen level. God used them to prepare Earth for humans, and He orchestrated their extinction before He placed Adam and Eve in the garden.
As we look at the extinction of plant and animal species, we learn some essential facts. From the beginning, God had a plan for life as He prepared this planet for us to be here. He gave the first humans the responsibility to take care of the Earth, but we have not done a very good job. Finally, God is still giving us a chance to do better, and we have had some successes. Serving God involves serving others and caring for what God has given us for human flourishing. We can only do that when we submit to His plan for our lives.
For many years, various religious sources have claimed that dinosaur tracks and human tracks exist in the same rock strata in Glen Rose, Texas. We have visited the site several times and have published articles on the tracks. Our studies were not just at Dinosaur Valley State Park, operated by the state of Texas, but also at Jake McFall’s ranch, where the original film “Footprints in Stone” was made fifty-plus years ago. The dinosaur tracks are very clear, but the human tracks are what today we would call “fake news.”
The area near Glen Rose, Texas, has been in a drought, and some of the Paluxy River dried up, exposing the new tracks. There are now five dinosaur track sites in the park. The tracks show the depth that the animal’s feet sank into the mud, which was part of a beach area in the dinosaur age. The depth of the tracks and how far they are separated from each other suggest that the animal was bipedal and very large. Researchers say that the dinosaur was an Acrocanthosaurus.
Some have claimed there are dinosaur tracks and human tracks in the same rock layer, attempting to prove that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time. However, the claimed human tracks are impressions in mud that were altered by the river and then painted by those who claim they are valid. They also sink the same depth into the ground, suggesting that the “humans” were the same weight as the dinosaur, which is impossible. Furthermore, researchers have found no human tracks anywhere in the same rock layer as dinosaur tracks.
We have suggested that dinosaurs were part of Genesis 1:1 and God used them to prepare the resources humans would need. Dinosaurs are not described in the Bible because the ancient Hebrews could not have comprehended their existence. People who believe the Bible must be careful not to employ the same fake news techniques frequently used in politics. Claiming that dinosaur tracks and human tracks prove that they lived simultaneously is a dispensational denominational religious view the Bible does not teach.
God’s word is true, but we must rely on valid evidence as we seek to support it as a guide to understanding history and knowing how to live our lives.
We are entering an interesting time of change for living plants and animals on planet Earth. We are in a period of rapid climate change, and for many living things, survival requires change. However, for some life forms, this is not an issue. For example, omnivores, animals that eat a wide variety of foods, can change their diet to whatever is available. For example, bears in Alaska eat salmon, but if that is not available, they eat insects, nuts, plants, rodents, and marine shore life such as clams.
For other animals, the situation is much more complicated. For example, giant pandas rely on bamboo for food. Not only is their digestive system designed to eat only bamboo, but even their hands and fingers are designed to modify the bamboo so they can eat it. Polar bears rely on ice flows to get the seals that make up most of their diet. With much of the ice in polar areas melting, the bears cannot secure food, and starvation threatens many of them.
Survival requires change, and for some animals, that means migrating to a different place where they can find their dietary needs. As the oceans warm, cold-water fish migrate to northern areas. Some corals are establishing new colonies in different places as conditions where they have lived for centuries no longer meet their needs. On the other hand, animals with specialized equipment, such as pandas, will face extinction. Humans can step in with temporary solutions, but eventually, some forms of life will cease to exist. That is not necessarily a bad thing.
The fossil record shows us that survival requires change. A significant change in the climate caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. However, that eventually provided a climate and atmosphere where humans and the animals we depend on could thrive. Asteroid material did not directly destroy the dinosaurs, but the asteroid collision changed the climate. That change produced an environment in which dinosaurs could not survive, but it led to the formation of a climate ideal for humans.
Genesis 1:2 is an interesting passage. A possible translation of the verse is, “And the earth became wasted and emptied, and darkness was upon the face of the deep place.” That would indicate a change in Earth’s condition. God has used such changes to accomplish His will. The flood of Noah was not primarily an environmental act but a response by God to the sinfulness of humans at that time. Climatic change is another tool God has used in the past. In geologic time, there have been periods of hot and cold, and survival requires change. The current change in Earth’s climate is not solely caused by humans. We may contribute to the process, but humans are not the sole cause.
God’s creative processes don’t involve “magic tricks.” Instead, God uses natural methods to shape and mold planet Earth. Some animals, such as dinosaurs, have played essential roles in contributing to the resources that humans would need. When they had completed their mission, a change brought about their extinction. The Bible doesn’t tell us how God did what He did, but the more we study the creation, the more we understand some of His processes. Climate change has been one of them and may be so again.
People are always curious about dinosaurs. These dinosaurs, or “terrible lizards,” are much more than ancient animals that fascinate children. Most adults also find them fascinating and can name some dinosaur genera. (For example, Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, and Megalosaurus.) Dinosaur paleontologists are constantly discovering and naming more dinosaurs until we now have more than 900 known species in more than 300 genera. People want to know when the dinosaurs lived and if there were any people around when those dinosaurs or “terrible lizards” roamed planet Earth. Here are some links to previous discussions on the topic of dinosaurs:
You are an endothermic mammal. That means your body’s metabolic rate controls your internal body temperature. We describe that condition by saying you are “warm-blooded.” Many life forms on our planet are “cold-blooded” (ectothermic) because the environment controls their internal body temperature. The limitation of being cold-blooded is that it requires warm environmental temperatures. Ectothermic life forms can’t survive in polar areas. Endothermic life can survive almost anywhere.
During the time of the dinosaurs, the planet was very hot. That means biological systems, including plants, grew quickly. Those conditions were part of God’s preparation of resources that humans would need, including oil, coal, topsoil, and oxygen. However, the geologic record shows a point in Earth’s history when the climate radically changed.
As the entire planet cooled, areas at or near the poles became too cold for cold-blooded life to exist. Studies of bone growth rates and oxygen isotopes in ancient bones indicate a rapid change. This change would not be a problem for warm-blooded animals but would reduce the number, size, and activity of cold-blooded life forms.
The challenge would be to design living creatures that can translate food into enough internal heat to survive in a cold environment. Science News reported on studies of the inner ears of reptiles and mammals. In warm-blooded animals, the inner ear fluid is less viscous, requiring that the ear canals become smaller. As a result, fossils show a sharp change in inner ear morphology at the time when Earth’s climate became colder.
Many other changes were required for life to go from ectothermic to endothermic. However, the inner ear structure is preserved in the fossils, making it useful for scientists to study the history of life on Earth. The complexity of endothermy reminds us again of the words of Psalms 139:14, “I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are your works.” In our time of changing climate, the design of life continues to show the wisdom involved in life’s creation.
Yesterday, we pointed out that words like “behemoth” in the original language of Genesis 1 would not have included animals like dinosaurs but referred to animals the ancient Israelites knew. So the next logical question would be, “Where do we find dinosaurs mentioned in the Bible?” The answer to that question is “nowhere.”
Why would the Bible mention dinosaurs? Consider how you would explain bacteria to a man with no microscope, or how could a person living in the jungle make sense of an octopus? When an explorer brought a stuffed platypus back to England for the first time, people thought it was a fake. Millions of different plants and animals have lived on Earth, and many of those still exist today. The purpose of the Genesis account is to say that God created everything, not to identify the millions of species that have lived on Earth. Genesis mentions only the animals the Israelites could identify and name.
So from today’s perspective, when did those animals exist? Some fundamentalists have suggested that we don’t find dinosaurs mentioned in the Bible because they didn’t exist. They say that God miraculously created dinosaur fossils to give the appearance that the animals lived when they did not. That explanation makes God a liar trying to fool us into a false conclusion. Others suggest that dinosaurs were there but simply weren’t mentioned in the Bible. There is no evidence that animals like T-rex lived at the time of Adam and Eve. In reality, the atmosphere and temperatures necessary for such an animal to survive would be detrimental to humans.
Since we don’t find dinosaurs mentioned in the Bible, what was God’s reason for creating these huge animals? God knew that humans would need an environment optimized for their survival. In Alaska today, the survival of various life forms depends on salmon bringing nutrients into an environment lacking those essentials to support life. Like the salmon, the dinosaurs were the vehicles that provided resources needed for humans to exist and flourish later. The plant-eating dinosaurs consumed massive amounts of vegetation and excreted processed plant materials and seeds. They spread the vegetation and produced topsoil and critical elements necessary for human life. No animal living today could accomplish that task.
God could have zapped the hydrocarbons into existence, but if He had done it that way, humans could never have located them. God not only created the resources we would need, but He did it in a way that we could find them. He gave us the intelligence to study His methods to find the resources and obtain them for our use.
The wisdom of God in designing Earth to sustain human life is incredible. Every day, science finds new clues about how the planet was designed and how things we might consider insignificant are critical to our existence.
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.
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).
Various data sources show massive evidence of climate change. The melting of the ice sheets, the warming of the Pacific Ocean, and the increase of weather anomalies affect all of us. Some of these changes have to do with flooding and the frequency of storms. Others affect our food supply where there is an overlooked role of birds and mammals.
While the effect on human activity is pretty dramatic, the natural changes in living things in the environment are usually less noticeable. The reason is that the design of life anticipates that climate will change from time to time, even if humans have no role in that change. If a plant species faces environmental change threatening its existence, it will disperse its seeds into a different place where the environment is more suitable.
The often overlooked role of birds and mammals is that they are the primary agents for seed dispersal. The National Science Foundation helped fund a study showing that more than half of all plant species rely on animals to disperse their seeds. The NSF website said, “Plants that rely on seed dispersers can face extinction if there are too few animals to move their seeds far enough to keep pace with changing conditions.” One of the things that plant-eating dinosaurs did was to spread the seeds of the plants they ate. This means that pruning was not the only benefit of plant-eaters, but seed spreading was also significant. As the climate has changed in the past, animals have spread the seeds over a vast geographic area allowing the incredible diversity we see in plants today. This kind of research has a variety of practical uses. It reminds us of the overlooked role of birds and mammals in dispersing seeds in the environment. The study showed a 60% reduction due to the loss of seed-spreading birds and mammals.
We see evidence ofGod’s wisdom in designing birds and mammals with a diet that allows spreading the seeds of the plants they eat. That design helps to moderate the effect of climate change. God told Adam and Eve to take care of the Garden (Genesis 2:15), and we need to understand our responsibility in that. The fact that creation’s design allows life to survive climate changes is a testimony to God’s wisdom.
Oxygen and nitrogen are two of a handful of elemental superstars of life. Without them, life would not be possible. In some ways, these two elements are very similar, but they are also very different.
Oxygen and nitrogen atoms differ in only one proton and one electron. In chemical reactions, the important subatomic particle is the electron, and oxygen has eight while nitrogen has seven. In the last two days, we talked about the difference that one electron makes. Oxygen and nitrogen make up about 99% of our atmosphere, with nitrogen composing nearly three-quarters of our air. So why is nitrogen’s percentage so high compared to oxygen?
As we said previously, the triple bond of a nitrogen molecule requires more than twice as much energy to break as the double bond of an oxygen molecule. The oxygen bond can be broken to allow combustion oxidation and energize our bodies. On the other hand, the nitrogen bond is not easy to break, but plants require nitrogen for photosynthesis and growth. What is the solution?
Lightning breaks the nitrogen bond allowing rain to wash nitrogen to the ground. Plants such as beans, peas, and alfalfa, which we call legumes, have microorganisms on their roots that extract nitrogen from the air. That enriches the soil with nitrogen while providing for the legumes. More than a century ago, scientists found a way to extract nitrogen from the air to produce ammonia. That process enabled fertilizer production, which today allows farmers to produce enough food for the world’s population.
It is not easy to break the nitrogen bond so it can combine with other elements, but with 78% of the atmosphere being nitrogen, there is no shortage. So why is our atmosphere mostly nitrogen? Since it is only about 21% oxygen, wouldn’t it be better to have more oxygen so we could breathe easier? The answer is that nitrogen stability is essential for our safety. Wildfires have been a significant problem in recent years. If the atmosphere consisted of a very high percentage of oxygen, fires would be more common and dangerous. If the atmosphere consisted of 100% oxygen, all it would take is one lightning strike to set the whole planet on fire.
Remarkably, we have the correct percentage of elements in our atmosphere. We have the right amount of oxygen to allow respiration to power our bodies and combustion to power our vehicles and industry and heat our homes. At the same time, we have the right amount of nitrogen to prevent uncontrolled combustion leading to the destruction of life. We have just a small amount of carbon dioxide, which plants need for photosynthesis. Plants use CO2 and generate oxygen to keep the gases in balance. The balance is amazingly precise as long as humans don’t generate enough carbon dioxide to mess it up.
During the dinosaur age, the oxygen level was higher, on the order of around one-third of the atmosphere. That allowed the enormous animals to prepare the Earth for humans. Now we have the precise balance to sustain human life and advanced society. The question is, did the features of oxygen and nitrogen and the balance between them happen by accident, or was it part of an intelligent plan? We think the best explanation is that an intelligent Planner of life created it.
We are amazed by the enormous size of animals in the distant past. From a giant millipede to the Titanoboa and the Titanosaur, the size of ancient animals excites fossil hunters. Since 2017, Patagotitan has held the record for the largest dinosaur at 120 feet (36.5 m) long and weighing over 57 tons. However, paleontologists in Argentina recently found pieces of a larger dinosaur.
The size of this animal has several implications. First, we need to be reminded that, unlike mammals, reptiles never stop growing, so there is virtually no limit to their size. A more significant issue is having environments warm enough for such animals to live and enough plant material to sustain them, plus a high oxygen level.
The environment that allowed a larger dinosaur to survive would not have been hospitable to mammals. Reptiles can not only survive very hot conditions, but they require heat to sustain their bulk. A hot Earth with very wet conditions would also promote rapid plant growth. Accordingly, the plant fossils from the time of those animals indicate huge size and rapid growth.
The Bible makes clear that everything humans would need to live on Earth was produced before humans were created. Therefore, we have maintained that God was not a magician miraculously zapping things into existence. God could do the creation any way He wished, but He wisely chose to make the resources humans would need in such a way that we could find them.
God acted as an engineer, producing the coal, gas, oil, iron, salt, and other resources we would need by processes we can study and understand. The volume of fossil fuels stored up for our use is a staggering number. Present-day processes on Earth could never produce them, but the enormous animals and plants of the past created enough resources to take us into the nuclear/solar age. The Bible tells us that God created planet Earth, not how or how long He took to do it. Genesis 1:1 is not dated or timed. However, as we look at the record of the past, we see God’s wisdom and power and the magnitude of the creative process that allows us to exist.
Rather than trying to fit a larger dinosaur into Noah’s Ark, we need to take Genesis for what it says and not add denominational traditions. We must not use the economy of language in Genesis to justify our human religious theories.