Coordinated Vigilance

Coordinated Vigilance in the family

Research shows that rabbitfish in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef forage for food in pairs using “coordinated vigilance” to avoid predators. The rabbitfish take turns foraging for algae in reef crevices while the partner is on guard duty in “an upright vigilance position.” Researchers said, “Both behaviors are strongly coordinated, and partners regularly alternate their positions.” The researchers say this reciprocity is “thought to require a suite of complex cognitive abilities.” In other words, how could fish that “lack complex social and cognitive skills” have evolved this system?

Scientists have studied cooperative behavior in some mammals and a few birds. Teamwork in fish is almost nonexistent, but God has placed this unique genetic value in rabbitfish. This is especially interesting when you look at humans. In Genesis 2:18-24, God created a helper for Adam. The Hebrew word “ezer” used in these verses does not indicate that woman is inferior to man or of lesser importance. The idea is that a woman can do what a man cannot do for himself. Like the rabbitfish and other life forms, coordinated vigilance is built into the genetics of various living things to allow them to survive.

The New Testament passages Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 indicate that fathers have a role to play in the family in relationship to children. The concept is that God intends for coordinated vigilance with husband and wife to be the foundation of the family. In human societies, when coordinated vigilance is not practiced, the whole structure of culture falls apart. This does not bode well for societies around the world today.

Our nation’s violence and struggles will only get worse as society distances itself from God and His instructions. We promote the Bible as the word of God because the evidence shows that when people follow biblical instructions, society works. When people fail to follow them, the culture disintegrates.

— John N. Clayton © 2024


We Need Human Touch

We Need Human Touch

What is the benefit of a hug or a handshake? Researchers in Germany and the Netherlands compiled data from 137 studies involving 13,000 people of all ages. Their research showed significant benefits to those who are regularly touched by others. In other words, we need human touch.

This is not a sexual issue, but touch provides physical and, to a greater extent, mental health benefits. The data shows that the benefits apply to newborns, older people, people with dementia, people struggling with stress, and people who have problems controlling their aggression. Women benefit more than men, and those who are sick or in pain benefit more than those who are healthy.

The New Testament encourages the followers of Jesus to engage in a social practice of that day that involved touching. In Luke 7:45, Jesus pointed out that the host, who was a Pharisee, had not given a warm greeting, but He said a woman in need “has not ceased to kiss my feet.” In Romans 16:16, Paul urges Christians to “greet one another with a sacred kiss.” That instruction is repeated in 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26, 1 Peter 5:14, Luke 15:20, and Acts 20:37. The hug we give one another in times of pain, loss, or separation has real value.

We need human touch, but the study showed that the regularity of touching is more important than the duration. Consensual hugs, kisses, or massages have many mental and physical health benefits. Babies do better when touched by their parents, and the positive effects are more noticeable in premature babies. Adults struggling with illness showed more significant mental health benefits from touch than healthy people in this study. 

A hug is a major way of expressing affection and closeness to someone, but even a handshake does wonders for participants. Those who have been abused may not accept a hug well, but a handshake is free of cultural bias or sexual connotation. Our society has gotten so obsessed with sexual abuse and the perception of personal rights that we have thrown the baby out with the bath. We need human touch, and that is a need the Church can help to meet.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: “A systematic review and multivariate meta-analysis of the physical and mental health benefits of touch interventions” in Nature Human Behaviour, April 8, 2024

Animals Can Learn From Their Peers

Animals Can Learn From Their Peers
Bees pushing blue tab to open puzzle box for food.
Credit: Alice Bridges (CC-BY 4.0)

Scientists want to know how much animals can learn from their peers. How much animal behavior is genetic, and how much can they learn by watching other members of their species? 

Many years ago, a friend who raised golden labradors showed me how her favorite lab had learned to recognize the design and shape of an inverted can that covered a treat. She used ten similar cans, but only one had a pattern on it. She had taught her favorite dog to turn over that can to get the treat, which was an odorless biscuit to eliminate the dog using its sense of smell. 

The dog got the right can ten times out of ten, going straight to the can with the treat every time. She then took a puppy and put it with the adult dog and the ten cans. The puppy followed the adult dog one or two times, and then when it was alone, it ran straight to the can with the treat and turned it over. Clearly, animals can learn from their peers since the puppy had learned by watching the adult dog. 

Various experiments show animals learning from others of their species, but what about insects? Researchers at Queen Mary University in London trained bumblebees to do complex behavioral actions. The researchers set up a container with bumblebees and a blue lever that unlocked a door when pushed. There was also a red lever to open another door leading to a container of sugar water. The researchers successfully taught a group of bumblebees how to press the two levers in sequence to access the sugar water. 

When they added new bees to the container, the newcomers “watched the original bees and figured out how to complete the puzzle—showing for the first time that insects can learn multistep processes through social interaction.” We could challenge this experiment since bees have a built-in ability to convey information to other bees. When a bee returns to the hive after finding food, it can do a “dance” that tells its fellow bees where the food is. 

Animals and insects communicate, but language is unique to humans. The Bible story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) shows how essential language is to human interaction. Animals can learn from their peers, but God gave humans alone the ability to communicate using language and symbols. Only humans can convey moral issues, beliefs, and values through grammar and vocabulary.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

References: and

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.

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

Should Only the Fit and Wanted Be Allowed to Survive?

Should Only the Fit and Wanted Be Allowed to Survive?

People in the abortion debate avoid the question of when a baby in the mother’s womb should be called a human. The scientific facts do not support attempts by abortion supporters to say that the baby is just an extension of the mother’s body and, like hair or fingernails, can be removed at the discretion of the mother. Should only the fit and wanted be allowed to survive?

One of the many evidences that the baby is a human and not an extension of the mother’s body is the issue of morning sickness. A new study reveals that the nausea may be caused by a protein called GDF15 produced by the fetus. The mother’s body rejects the protein as coming from a foreign object. Claims that morning sickness is psychological have been disproven and are “widely refuted.”

It is not hard to understand why a woman with an unwanted pregnancy would choose abortion. However, from a scientific standpoint, the fetus is a human. We need to emphasize the alternatives to killing an inconvenient child. Our culture must understand the value of human life. If we accept the idea of destroying anyone who places a burden on others, then killing Alzheimer patients, cancer patients, elderly people with limited life expectancy, and people with severe mental illness will be acceptable.

The Bible makes it clear that we are created in God’s image. All human life is precious, and each person has a purpose for existing. On the other hand, should only the fit and wanted be allowed to survive? Evolution says “yes.” While that may work for raising chickens, it is not what we want for the future of our children and grandchildren.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: “Fetuses make a protein that causes morning sickness in pregnancy” in Science News magazine’s January 27, 2024 issue.

The IVF War is Not Nearing a Solution

The IVF War is Not Nearing a Solution

In-vitro fertilization has become the latest issue in the political battle. In IVF, multiple eggs are harvested from a woman and then are fertilized and implanted to create a pregnancy. The usual method is to freeze the embryo produced for later implantation. The National Embryo Donation Center says that the number of frozen embryos nationwide is around a million, and nearly 100,000 babies are born annually by IVF, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The IVF war has become a problematic political issue.

After Roe v Wade was made law in 1973, frozen embryos were treated by the courts as private property, and donors could implant them, give them away, or have them destroyed. In February 2024, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that embryos created during the IVF process are “extrauterine children” and have the same rights as any other child.

This issue has produced massive legal hassles. Two couples have sued the company that accidentally destroyed their frozen embryos. Vice President Kamala Harris has been giving speeches that she calls “The Reproductive Rights Tour.” The Democratic party has brought back the overturning of Roe v Wade to make this issue a major one for their 2014 campaign. Various Republicans have taken the view that embryos are babies, but the leaders are in favor of IVF. The IVF war is not nearing a solution.

In the IVF procedure, multiple eggs are taken from the woman, fertilized, and then implanted in the woman’s uterus. The medical experts pick the one or two that look the most promising to implant in the womb and often discard the others. If there are ten eggs and eight are discarded, have eight people been murdered? Advancements in IVF technology have reduced the number of errors in this process, but there are still mistakes.

Any time humans try to take over what God has created, the result is complicated. IVF is one of many issues that resulted from advancements in medical technology. Christians need to be aware of the IVF war and try to help find solutions, not just engage in a battle of words with unbelievers.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

References: National Embryo Donation Center, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and USA Today for 2/23/24 and 2/21/24.

Singing In Praise to God

Singing In Praise to God

The dictionary defines “anthropomorphize” as attributing human characteristics or behavior to an animal or object, such as people’s tendency to anthropomorphize their dogs. We can probably blame Disney for much of this. Beginning with Micky Mouse in “Steamboat Willie,” numerous cartoons have presented animals with human actions, including singing. Even scientific articles tell about whales and birds singing. The fact is that only humans have the unique capacity to compose songs and use them in a variety of human experiences, including singing in praise to God.

When a cardinal “sings” his song outside your window, he is really warning other cardinals to stay out of his territory. Whale songs are communication devices to locate food sources and attract mates. When Penny Patterson taught Koko the gorilla to use the sign language of the deaf, he learned that he would receive a reward. One of my favorite stories about Koko was that when Patterson taught him to recognize a yellow streak on a canvas as a banana, he identified yellow hats and yellow ties as bananas. Only humans could compose a song such as “Yes! We Have No Bananas.”

Humans use singing in many ways. The Psalms in the Bible are creative songs useful for memorizing and conveying spiritual values. The Genesis account of creation is actually a song. Being a song doesn’t make it untrue, but it is a uniquely human way to express and memorize history and values. Have you ever wondered why each military service has its own song? Why do we sing songs at weddings, funerals, and when camping? Singing is a way to express love and praise for others or God, and it can create unity. Most of us remember “We Shall Overcome,” and some will recall the protest song “Abraham, Martin and John,” referring to Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and John F. Kennedy.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:15, “I will pray with my spirit, and I will also pray with my understanding. I will sing praise with the spirit, and I will also sing praise with my understanding (CSB).” Only humans can do these things, and no evolutionary explanation is supported by evidence. We are created in the image of God, and singing in praise to God is an expression of that unique creation.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Removal of the Useless Appendix

Removal of the Useless Appendix

When I was a teenager, I had a severe gastrointestinal problem that eventually resulted in the removal of my appendix. Doctors told me the appendix was a vestigial organ left over from my evolutionary past. The narrative was that while my hominid ancestors needed an appendix, I didn’t. In my college class on evolution, the professors told us the appendix was essentially a second stomach that animals needed to process coarse food. As humans evolved, we didn’t eat those foods, so removal of the useless appendix would not cause any problems.

Like many evolutionary arguments, this discussion of the appendix is rooted in ignorance. The appendix is a small worm-like organ that projects from the cecum, which is the first part of the large intestine. Charles Darwin identified the appendix as vestigial because people could live without it. With the information available to him at the time, Darwin’s view seemed reasonable and went unchallenged for a very long time. We now know better.

In contrast to the former call for removal of the useless appendix, we now know that it has at least two beneficial uses. The first is that it helps to support the immune system. The appendix has a high concentration of tissue that fights any bad things that might get into our gut. The second function, brought forward by Duke University researchers in 2007, is what they called a “safe house.” The appendix serves as a safe reservoir for our beneficial gut bacteria. A gastrointestinal problem resulting in diarrhea can flush out all of your good gut bacteria. The appendix repopulates the gut with bacteria after gastrointestinal issues.

People who have had their appendix removed tend to have more nasty bacteria in their gut than people who have not had that surgery. There is much about the human body that we don’t understand. In my lifetime, I have seen tonsils, gallbladders, and the appendix removed because medical science felt they served no purpose. We now know better as we see that God’s design of the human body is incredible. There may be a few things, such as body hair, that are unnecessary, but there are aesthetic reasons to retain even most of those.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: “Your appendix is not, in fact, useless. This anatomy professor explains” in NPR Health News for 2/2/2024.