A Balanced System of Ocean Life

A Balanced System of Ocean Life includes sea otters
Sea Otter

Kelp safeguards the ocean’s ecology by providing a home for many sea creatures, preventing coastal erosion, and sequestering vast amounts of carbon dioxide. The last century has seen a massive decrease in kelp growing along the California coast because of an increase in sea urchins that eat kelp. Sea otters feed on sea urchins, and as people killed sea otters for their fur, the urchin population increased, reducing the underwater kelp forests. It is easy to see that God has given us a balanced system of ocean life, but humans sometimes upset the balance.

Sea otters have a fast metabolism, requiring them to eat a fourth of their body weight daily, and sea urchins are their favorite food. Because of the fur trade, sea otters disappeared from Northern and Southern California, with a small population remaining in the central part of the state. In 1913, California made sea otters protected mammals, but 1977’s Endangered Species Act gave them more protection. Since then, central California has seen a 58% increase in kelp while kelp in the northern and southern coasts has declined. Research has shown that sea otters are the reason for the ecological improvement in Central California.

Any time humans disturb the balanced system of ocean life or any ecosystem, negative consequences result. The biological design of our planet does not just consist of separate independent organisms, but all of life on Earth is interconnected. An analogy might be the workings of an airplane. Multiple systems operate within an aircraft, including the landing gear, engines, electrical system, hydraulics, wings, rudder, etc. For it to fly, all of those systems must work together. Engineers must design a plan that integrates those systems. The aircraft doesn’t happen by accident but by the design of intelligent engineers. 

All of life on Earth is interrelated and not a product of chance. There is design in all of life and in the planet itself that allows us to exist. In Proverbs 8, “Wisdom” encourages us to see God’s wise design on this planet. In verses 22-31, we see specific wisdom shown in various applications involved in preparing planet Earth for life. Verses 35-36, we see the alternative to understanding God’s use of wisdom in creating the world in which we live. Verse 35 tells us that those who find wisdom find life, and those who do not find wisdom harm themselves and prefer death. We all see all around us the interaction of living things and what happens when humans destroy one of them. 

Let us learn from the balanced system of ocean life that includes kelp, sea otters, and urchins. Caring for all life is a challenge God has given us in Genesis 2:15. The need to do this is more clear today than ever before. 

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: Smithsonian magazine and The Week of April 26, 2024, page 21.

A Plant That Sweats

A Plant That Sweats

You and I keep cool in hot weather by evaporating water from our skin. For water to evaporate, it has to absorb roughly 540 calories per gram of water without changing its temperature. That removes a lot of heat from our bodies, allowing us to survive hot weather. Botanists have discovered that the carline thistle plant cools itself by evaporation. You could say it’s a plant that sweats.

Carline thistles grow in an area of southern Spain where almost no other plants can survive. In August, everything shrivels and dies in the arid region around the Sierra de Cazorla mountain range, except the carline thistle. By evaporative cooling, the flowers on this plant average nine degrees cooler than the surrounding air and may be as much as 18 degrees cooler.

To perform photosynthesis, leaves allow carbon dioxide to enter through tiny pores called stomata. During this exchange, some water in the leaf escapes, allowing some evaporation. However, the carline thistle is the only known plant that allows substantial quantities of water to move to the surface, making it a plant that sweats. That provides cooling to allow the carline thistle to survive the heat of Spain’s Mediterranean habitat.

Researchers still don’t know how the carline thistle can retrieve enough water from the ground to continue this process. They plan to study the root structure for novelties that might explain it. The carline thistle’s advantage is access to pollinators. Since all other plants die, the thistle has sole access to bees and other pollinators when it flowers in August. 

Scientists are interested in this plant’s ability to survive the heat as the planet enters a period of increased temperatures. Vast areas of Earth face drought conditions, and there have always been regions of high temperatures and a lack of precipitation. God has designed plants to survive every conceivable climatic condition, even a plant that sweats. We must use what God has given us intelligently, and the carline thistle deserves our study and attention.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: “This Flower Refrigerates Itself to Survive Scorching Summers” in Scientific American, May 2024, pages 18-19.

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.

Unique Pollination System of the Jack-in-the-Pulpit 

Unique Pollination System of the Jack-in-the-Pulpit 

Most plants must be pollinated to reproduce, but their methods vary enormously, sometimes involving wind, birds, animals, or insects. However, the unique pollination system of the jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum ) depends on fungus gnats. 

The jack-in-the-pulpit’s hood resembles pitcher plants that capture and digest insects. Unlike its carnivorous counterparts, this plant uses insects, particularly fungus gnats, for pollination. It lures and ensnares these gnats by emitting a mushroom-like fragrance they find irresistible. The male flowers, blooming first, attract the gnats, which then become dusted with pollen. They manage to escape through a small hole, perfectly sized for a gnat but too small for larger insects. 

The female flowers bloom next, and the gnats carry the pollen to the flower of another jack-in-the-pulpit. This cross-pollination prevents in-breeding for healthier plants. The female flowers don’t have an escape hole, so after the gnats pollinate the flowers, they are trapped and die. But, before the gnats die, they lay their eggs inside the jack-in-the-pulpit. The larvae that hatch from the eggs eat the jack-in-the-pulpit’s blossom as it decays. When the hood of the plant withers, the adult fungus gnats fly away so they can pollinate more jack-in-the-pulpits. 

This unique pollination system of the jack-in-the-pulpit assures the continued survival of the plant and the gnats while controlling the gnat population. The complexity of this system shows design rather than random chance. The more we know of the creation, the more we can see the design skill and wisdom of the Creator. 

— John N. Clayton © 2024

References: ScienceNews and Wikipedia

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 Evolutionnews.org 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

Mutualism Shows Life Design

Mutualism Shows Life Design - Nitrogen-fixing nodules on legume roots
Nitrogen-fixing nodules on legume roots

We call it mutualism when various complex relationships occur between two species, producing codependency and benefits to both. There are two kinds of mutualisms. In obligate mutualism, both species depend on each other for survival. Facultative mutualism refers to relationships that benefit the species, but they could survive without it. Looking at life on Earth, we see many examples of how mutualism shows life design.

In Borneo, a carnivorous pitcher plant and wooly bats have a relationship of obligate mutualism. The plant lures bats in with an echo reflector, but the plant doesn’t eat the bat. The pitcher plant grows in soils with low nutrients and needs additional fertilizer. The droppings of the bats provide that fertilizer, enabling the plant to survive. The woolly bats are easy victims of predatory animals, but during the daytime, when the bat isn’t hunting insects, it finds refuge and protection inside the pitcher plant. The plant and the bat depend on this relationship, but no one would suggest they are related.

Legumes such as beans, peas, and clover form a mutualism with bacteria. The bacteria can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, turning it into ammonia. The plants use the nitrogen from the ammonia to synthesize proteins needed for growth. The plants serve the bacteria by housing them in root nodules and providing them with sugars and oxygen so they can grow. Once again, mutualism shows life design.

There are a vast number of smaller organisms that depend upon obligate mutualism. An example is a green-brown spongy sludge that grows on the marshes of the Florida Everglades. It may look like a toxic algal bloom drawing oxygen from the water. But instead of being destructive, it is a mutual design of algae, fungi, microbes, and bacteria. This perfectly matched relationship is called a periphyton. It is a system of life that provides the basis for the entire food chain of the Everglades and another example of how mutualism shows life design.

Trying to explain how mutualism became part of Earth’s living systems by a chance process takes a huge imagination and a great deal of faith. It seems far more likely that mutualism is not an accident but part of God’s design for life. The more we know of the creation, the closer we get to the Creator.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

References: BBC News for February 14, 2024, and Wikipedia

Plants Use Frogs to Spread Their Seeds

Plants Use Frogs to Spread Their Seeds

One evidence that God and not chance created all living things is the varied ways plants get their seeds into new places. A recent study of frogs at the University of Newcastle in Australia has shown that plants use frogs to spread their seeds. This comes as a surprise since frogs are primarily carnivorous, but frog skins attract seeds and can carry them considerable distances.

The researchers found that tree frogs can carry as many as 14 seeds on their legs, feet, bellies, and backs. Some of the seeds found on the frogs they studied did not grow in the area where the frogs live, so they were picked up somewhere else. We have pointed out that birds spread seeds. Wading birds will have fish eggs stuck to their feet and legs, so fish will appear in recently dug ponds where humans have not placed them.

The studies in Australia have raised concerns over the loss of amphibians due to pollution and habitat destruction. It isn’t just losing the frogs at issue, but also the function of frogs in supporting plant life. Plants use frogs to spread their seeds, allowing plants to move into areas that need plant cover.

Everywhere we look, we see multiple designs offering complexity that cannot be produced by chance. There is intelligence in the creation, and one place we see it is in the role of all life on Earth.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: American Scientist magazine, March/April 2024, page 72.

Incredible Accuracy of the Biblical Creation Account

Incredible Accuracy of the Biblical Creation Account shown by stromatolite fossil
Stromatolite Fossil of Blue-Green Algae

As a person with a background in paleontology and a Bible student, any new discovery is of great interest to me. One of the things that led me to become a Christian was the incredible accuracy of the biblical creation account. The establishment of “signs, seasons, days, and years,” as we know them, did not occur until verses 14-19, yet Genesis describes plant life in verses 11 and 12.

In Genesis 1:11-12, we see a sequence:
1- “deshe -This Hebrew refers to an elementary plant and is translated as “grass” in older translations.
2- “eseb -This means a naked seed or gymnosperm and is translated as “herb” in many older translations.
3- “zera -This refers to fruit trees – angiosperms in modern taxonomy.

This sequence is precisely what the fossil record shows. According to fossil records, the first life forms on Earth were algae, known as stromatolites. In more recent rocks, we find the fossil remains of ferns and conifers (spore-bearing plants). In a New Brunswick, Canada quarry, researchers recently discovered fossils of ancient trees so well preserved that the branches had attached leaves. Dr. Robert Gastaldo led the study and described the finding as “literally little windows into deep-time landscapes and ecosystems.”

These ancient trees stood about 15 feet tall with narrow trunks and crowns 18 feet in diameter with more than 250 leaves. The evidence indicates that an earthquake-induced landslide in an ancient rift valley preserved the trees by quickly burying them at the bottom of a lake.

The more we know of the creation, the more we can appreciate the incredible accuracy of the biblical creation account – and its brevity. Problems occur only when religious people force a dispensational timeline theory on the fossil record. For more on that subject, go to the doesgodexist.org website and read the booklet titled “God’s Revelation in His Rocks and His Word.” You can order printed copies of the booklet from the PowerVine.store.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: “Enigmatic fossil plants with three-dimensional, arborescent-growth architecture from the earliest Carboniferous of New Brunswick, Canada” by Robert A. Gastaldo in the journal Current Biology, February 2, 2024

Basal Cognition in Living Cells

Basal Cognition in Living Cells

Flatworms called planaria live in the muck of lakes and ponds worldwide. Scientists are intrigued by the fact that if you tear the worm in half, its head will grow a new tail, and its tail will grow a new head, giving you two worms. A new field of science involves the study of basal cognition in living cells outside of the brain.

Many years ago, I was involved with a project that attempted to fight the presence of invasive lampreys in the Great Lakes. Lampreys are eel-like fish that swim up tributary rivers to spawn. We placed barriers on streams to catch and kill the lampreys. The problem was that those who worked the lamprey traps were told to cut the eels in half and throw them back in the river to avoid the stink and mess of dead eels on land. They didn’t understand that returning the eels to water doubled their population because both halves survived.

In the case of the planarian, researchers at Tuft University found that the worm not only survived, but the tail contained previous memory. Both the head and tail of the worm remembered the location of a food source learned before the worm was cut in half. Michael Levin at Tufts has shown that cells can use subtle changes in electric fields as a kind of memory. This basal cognition in living cells works using electrical signals in animals and plants.

Scientists have found basal cognition in the Venus flytrap and the touch-me-not plant. The touch-me-not leaves will fold and wilt if touched to prevent being eaten. Scientists found that if the plant is jostled throughout the day without being hurt, it will learn to ignore jostling. The Venus flytrap can count, snapping shut only if two of the sensory hairs on its trap are tripped in rapid succession. It pours digestive juices into the closed trap only if sensory hairs are tripped three more times.

RNA seems to be a medium of memory storage for cells. Taking RNA from a slug that had experienced an electric shock and injecting it into a new slug causes the new slug to recoil from the touch that preceded the shock in the old slug.

This research shows that intelligence does not always require a brain but is wired into all living things and is vital to all life. The practical use of these discoveries of bioelectricity may help treat cancer where cells are not cooperating with the rest of the body. God’s design of life is far more highly engineered than anyone suspected. We have a lot to learn about basal cognition in living cells.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: “Minds Everywhere” in Scientific American for February 2024, pages 44-51.