World of Life Beneath the Soil

World of Life Beneath the Soil - Earthworm
World of Life Beneath the Soil - Naked Mole-Rat
Naked Mole-Rat

An unknown world of life lurks beneath our feet, and we should be thankful that it does. A research report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) says that approximately 59% of all living species on Earth live in the soil. Because there are so many organisms living there and they are generally out of sight, scientists don’t know how many species exist in the world of life beneath the soil.

According to the report by Diana Wall of Colorado State University, Fort Collins, soil organisms support life above the soil in many ways. They make it possible for us to grow food, and they break down organic waste. We often think of earthworms, but there are also many smaller worm species. We seldom see various insects that spend their lives in the soil. However, we do see insects that live much of their lives under the ground as well as above. Those include ants, springtails, woodlice, and millipedes. We often think of some animals that live in the soil as pests, such as termites and nematodes. However, they serve the purpose of breaking down organic materials, helping to keep the world from filling up with waste.

Plants also live in the world of life beneath the soil. For example, fungi do not use photosynthesis like green plants, so they can survive in the darkness. Subterranean life forms include the least familiar amphibians, the caecilians, whose name means “blind ones.” Naked mole-rats live underground, and many other mammals spend at least part of their lives in subterranean darkness.

According to the report in PNAS, “soil is the most biodiverse singular habitat.” We don’t often think of the world of life beneath the soil, but we should thank God that He thought of it. Subterranean life makes it possible for life above ground to thrive and prosper. We see this incredible web of life as evidence of design.

— Roland Earnst © 2023


James Tour Challenge

James Tour Challenge
Photo portrait of James Tour taken by Photographer Jeff Fitlow in 2018

How did non-living chemicals become living plants and animals? Origin of life research has been the focus of countless hours and vast expenditures by expert scientists for the last 70-plus years. The results have been, well, unremarkable. Chemist Dr. James Tour of Rice University issued a 60-day challenge. The James Tour challenge to the leading origin-of-life researchers called for them to show what progress they have made in 70 years.

Dr. Tour points out that there are five major hurdles that the origin-of-life scientists must clear. They are the fundamental problems that stand in the way of life originating from non-life (abiogenesis). In simplified form, they are:

Linking amino acids into chains
Linking nucleotides into RNA molecules
Linking simple sugars into chains
The origin of biological information
The assembly of all components into a cell

YouTubers are claiming that scientists have completely solved these obstacles to abiogenesis. If that is true, Tour challenged the leading origin-of-life researchers to verify and explain it. The James Tour challenge gave them 60 days to put up their evidence. Dr. Tour said if they could show that they have solved even one of those problems, he would shut up about the issue.

The James Tour 60-day challenge expired at the end of October 2023. Not one scientist could meet his challenge. In other words, in 70 years of research, no progress has been made on any of the major roadblocks to non-living matter becoming a primitive living cell.

If brilliant scientists with the best equipment and modern laboratories ever manage to produce life from basic elements, what will they prove? They will not show that life can originate by unguided accidents. They will have demonstrated that an intelligent being can create life from non-living matter. That is what the Bible has said for thousands of years.

— Roland Earnst © 2023


Evolution News report on the James Tour challenge.

James Tour’s Put Up and I’ll Shut Up challenge.

James Tour debates a YouTuber who claims science has solved all origin-of-life problems.

James Tour mentioned in “Scientists and God” in our quarterly publication.

Creating life in the laboratory.

Witch Hazel Howitzer

Witch Hazel Howitzer
Witch Hazel Flowers

Plants use an incredible variety of methods to distribute their seeds. Witch hazel shrubs use one of the most impressive methods. Rather than relying on birds, animals, wind, or flowing water, witch hazels shoot their seeds. The system is so well-designed that in half a millisecond, the seeds shoot out of their pod at speeds up to 30 feet per second. This method had been described as a witch hazel howitzer.

The U.S. National Science Foundation supported researchers at Duke University in a study of the incredible method witch hazels use to scatter their seeds. The researchers studied various species of witch hazels, including those that have seeds lighter than a grain of rice and others ten times that weight. Their research shows that all species they studied sent seeds flying at the same velocities regardless of the seed’s mass.

The way this system works is that the woody seed pod dries out and deforms in a way that squeezes the seeds. The pressure builds until it pops, sending the seed flying. The director of the study, Justin Jorge, says it is like squeezing a watermelon seed between your fingers until it shoots out. The force built up by the witch hazel is enough to send seeds over large distances, allowing this plant to reproduce in a forest without the help of wind, birds, or running water.

We see design in the witch hazel’s seed dispersion method, and it reminds us of Romans 1:20, which says we can know there is a God by looking at the things He has made. We see that evidence in the vast variety of ways plants reproduce. We see plant seeds transported by wind. Some plants produce a fruit that birds or land animals eat, but the seeds pass unharmed through the animal’s digestive system. Some plants have seeds that stick to the fur of animals, and some animals intentionally bury seeds. Others attach a small nugget of nourishment for ants. The ants eat the food and discard the seeds far from where they found them. When none of these options are available, God has built plants that propel their seeds over a wide area, like a witch hazel howitzer.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

References: The National Science Foundation Research News for October 10, 2023, and Journal of the Royal Society Interface August 23, 2023.

Incredible Color in Birds and Trees

Incredible Color in Birds and Trees

One of the great mysteries of living things is the presence of beauty. If your faith is “survival of the fittest,” you have no explanation for beauty. Things in the natural world often radiate incredible beauty that has no survival benefit or even threatens survival. The incredible color in birds and trees provides a classic example. Some birds have gorgeous colors that can make them vulnerable to predators.

Here in Michigan, we are witnessing another example of beauty with no survival value but seems designed for humans to enjoy. The green color we see in plants is due to chlorophyll, which allows plants to use photosynthesis. There are two kinds of chlorophyll molecules called chlorophyll A and chlorophyll B. Chlorophyll A absorbs blue light, and chlorophyll B absorbs red light. Green light is the highest energy of sunlight reaching Earth’s surface. Plants are green because the green light radiation is reflected away to protect the plants. In the fall of the year, the chlorophyll in the leaves is removed, and we see the remaining colors.

These facts explain why trees are green and the wisdom in the green color of chlorophyll. But why do the leaves have different colors when the chlorophyll is removed? In our area, the first fall colors that appear are the reds of sumac and poison ivy. Depending on the variety, maple trees have various colors of red, orange, and yellow. We also have multiple birch tree varieties, each with different fall colors.

Why should there be different colors we can’t see until the chlorophyll is gone? The chemistry that creates these colors is very complex. From an evolutionary view, all trees would have the one pigment that advances survival, but that is not the case. The picture gets even more complicated when we consider plants that never see sunlight, such as ferns and various grasses.

As we enjoy the incredible color in birds and trees, we can see beauty for the spiritual value it offers and the joy it brings. That is because we are created in the image of God, the creator of beauty.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

For a detailed discussion of chlorophyll, see Wikipedia.

Preparing for Winter – How Do They Know?

Preparing for Winter – How Do Living Things Know?

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).

— John N. Clayton © 2023

The Problem of Homochirality

The Problem of Homochirality

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. 

— Roland Earnst © 2023

Purpose in the Evolutionary Process

Purpose in the Evolutionary Process

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.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

Reference: “On the BBC, a New Openness to Teleology in Biology?” by Dr. Gunter Bechly In Evolution News and Science Today for August 2, 2023.

Predators Are Essential for Balance

Predators Are Essential for a Balanced System - Hammerhead Shark
Hammerhead Shark

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.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

Data on Hammerheads from “Sharkfest” PBS television special 7/25/23.

Non-Native Species Invasion

Non-native Species Invasion - Tree of Heaven and Spotted Lanternfly
Tree of Heaven and Spotted Lanternfly

As we look at the flora and fauna of our world, we see a beautifully designed system. Plants and animals sustain each other in a balanced network of life, but problems arise when humans do things that upset that balance. One way we do that is by accidentally or intentionally causing a non-native species invasion with no natural predator or forager. The species then has no control factor to balance it, and plant growth or animal reproduction becomes out of control.

An example of a non-native species invasion is the kudzu plant. This vine can grow up to a foot per day and is known as “the vine that ate the south.” It has taken over parks, roadsides, and forests in some areas. Kudzu vines wrap themselves around the trunks of native trees, out-competing their host for sunlight and even nutrients by girdling its bark and strangling the tree. 

Kudzu is native to Asia and some Pacific islands, but people brought it to North America as a decorative plant in the 1870s. As late as the 1940s, the U.S. government urged farmers to plant it to prevent soil erosion, and people promoted it as a fast-growing plant to shade porches. The consequences of human actions have become evident, costing millions of dollars.

One of the worst U.S. invaders is the inappropriately named tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima ), native to areas of China and Taiwan. It was brought to the United States in 1784 as a decorative tree. However, its habits of sending out shoots, known as suckers, colonizing areas, and suppressing competition by producing chemicals that inhibit the growth and reproduction of other plants. This non-native species invasion also creates an objectionable odor and hosts another invasive species, the spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula). Eradicating this “tree of hell,” as some call it, is difficult because if you cut it down, it will quickly regrow from new shoots.

All of these invasive species serve a purpose in their native lands, where they fit into the balance of the natural world. The problem comes when humans upset God’s balanced system. In many ways, humans have not been good stewards of the job God assigned us to “rule over” the Earth (Genesis 1:26) and “work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). 

— Roland Earnst © 2023

References: Wikipedia- Kudzu in the U.S., Tree of Heaven, Spotted Lanternfly

Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence

Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence - Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan in 1987

It’s known as the Sagan standard and abbreviated ECREE. Carl Sagan, an American scientist, and agnostic, hosted the PBS program Cosmos in the 1980s. He said in the series, “I believe that the extraordinary should be pursued. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” He was talking about claims that aliens from space had visited Earth. But we can apply the principle to more than alien visitations.

The truth is that Sagan did not originate the ECREE concept. He just popularized it on television. The idea had been previously expressed many times by others. Even Thomas Jefferson described it in a letter he wrote in 1808 about the existence of meteorites, but he was much more wordy. (He used about three dozen words instead of Sagan’s five.)

What does the Sagan ECREE standard mean? It tells us that when we make an extraordinary claim, we must back it up with extraordinary evidence. How about the extraordinary secularist claim that everything we see came from nothing by means of nothing? If matter, energy, time, and space all originated at the “big bang,” and nothing existed before that, where is the extraordinary evidence to back up that claim? Could an eternal God existing outside of time and space be a better explanation for the universe?

If one claims that life originated from non-living chemicals without intelligent guidance, what is the extraordinary evidence for that? Even if science succeeds in creating life from non-living chemicals in the laboratory (and they are far from doing that), it would merely prove that intelligence can create life from non-life. That is what the Bible has said for thousands of years.

Once life got its start, what is the evidence that it evolved from species to species until it reached homo sapiens? We don’t see any extraordinary experimental or fossil record evidence of that either. To prove that natural selection acting on random mutations could accomplish a task that defies the second law of thermodynamics requires extraordinary evidence, which we don’t have.

We agree with the Sagan standard that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” (ECREE). The question is, does all that we see in the universe and on our planet give extraordinary evidence of unguided random chance or design by an intelligent Creator?

— Roland Earnst © 2023

Reference: Wikipedia