Animals Are Not Helpless Creatures

Animals Are Not Helpless Creatures
Chimpanzee with Injured Lip

Sometimes people suggest that animals are at the mercy of the elements and therefore plagued with disease, pain, and suffering. The fact is that animals are not helpless creatures suffering from massive illnesses and infections that make their lives a painful misery. Instead, the Creator has given animals immune systems to resist disease and an awareness of ways to treat injuries.

By watching animals, humans have learned that certain plants can fight infections and help to heal wounds. For example, we use aloe to relieve sunburn pain, but animals have been using it for various skin conditions for many years. Various plants bring comfort to animals when they are sick or injured, and humans have copied plant use by animals for treating a variety of ailments.

Researchers recently discovered that not only can plants offer relief to animals, but insects are also medically beneficial. More surprising is that animals know about these remedies and can use them. For example, scientists have observed chimpanzees catching a tiny flying insect and placing it on a wound or sore to provide relief. Researchers have not yet identified that insect, but they have seen primates use other arthropods and certain leaves to help heal wounds and provide relief from pain.

When humans don’t upset the system, animals are not helpless creatures. They have a minimum of suffering, and they even know ways to treat wounds and infections. Death in the undisturbed animal world is rapid and purposeful. Human interference with the natural balance often results in prolonged suffering for animals.

Too often, we prolong the suffering of other humans with expensive treatments that don’t produce a quality of life. However, we have much to learn from the world God created, and perhaps a tiny flying insect can be one more aid to healing or pain relief if the researchers can just find out what it is.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Current Biology Volume 32, Issue 3

How Do Plants Communicate?

How Do Plants Communicate?
Mycorrhizal Network allows Plants to Communicate

People communicate with each other through spoken and written words and actions. We also know that animals communicate by using sounds and movements. However, we may not be aware that plants talk to each other. They don’t do it by speech, writing, sounds, or movements. Since they are stationary and silent, how do plants communicate?

Plants are continuously engaging with other plants in their environment, mostly underground. For example, the roots of most plants host fungi, and working together, the plant roots and the fungi create underground structures called mycorrhizae. These mycorrhizae resemble a web system surrounding the plant’s roots, helping the plant absorb nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus in a symbiotic relationship. As the mycorrhizae help the roots absorb essential nutrients and water, the plant uses photosynthesis to produce sugars which it shares with the fungi.

But how do plants communicate? The mycorrhizae can connect multiple plants into a network through which they can share energy and information. This web creates a fine-tuned community-wide sharing system. Through this communication channel, plants can pass defensive chemicals to protect against insects. When pests such as aphids attack a plant, it can send a message to its neighbors so they can preemptively activate defense responses. In this way, mycorrhizae enable a system of cooperation between plants.

However, when resources such as light or nutrients are scarce, a plant can limit its mycorrhizae connections and avoid making new ones. Then when resources are good, they can restore their sharing network and even make new connections. When the plants connected in the mycorrhizae network are closely related, they share more than if their neighbors are not close relatives. Trees use these fungal networks to communicate and share but also sometimes to sabotage their rivals. Plants determine when to share and when to maintain their independence.

As we investigate the question, “How do plants communicate?” we realize that they behave as humans often do, putting their own interests first. Yet, sharing and working together is part of God’s design for life, and humans should always follow the example set by Jesus in His life and teaching. (See Matthew 5:38-48 and 25:31-46.)

— Roland Earnst © 2022

Reference: The Conversation

Keystone Plants and Caterpillars

Keystone Plants and Caterpillars
Oak Trees are Keystone Superstars

As we think of the design of life in our world, we tend to focus on animals, birds, and fish. As scientists study the things that support these life forms, it becomes apparent that all land life on this planet depends on keystone plants and caterpillars. Plants capture solar energy during photosynthesis, but how that energy gets into a bird or other animal is primarily through caterpillars.

Caterpillars transfer more energy from plants than any other form of life. Ninety-six percent of terrestrial birds depend on the protein-packed bodies of caterpillars for food. Most of us are familiar with monarch butterflies that deposit their eggs on milkweeds because they are the only plants their caterpillars can eat. North America has 17,000 native plant species, and having a caterpillar that can eat plants from only the milkweed genus is very rare. Some plants are called “keystone” plants because they support many different caterpillars and other species.

The superstars of the keystone plants are the oak trees that provide food for 952 species of butterfly/moth (Lepidopteran) caterpillars. In addition to that, nesting birds, woodpeckers, squirrels, and other animals survive because of oak trees. A single oak tree will support tens of thousands of individual species of life in its lifetime. Goldenrod is another keystone plant, and it blooms from late summer to fall when other plants can’t support caterpillars. There are more than 100 goldenrod species in America, and they support both caterpillars and bees.

North American ecosystems are designed so that caterpillars are available to support birds and other caterpillar eaters. God’s intricate design of life is evident in keystone plants and caterpillars that eat them, transferring energy from the Sun to many birds and other animals.

As we learn about the creation we live in, we see more and more examples of God’s wisdom in design that sustains all life and speaks of the complexity of what may appear to be simple things.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: National Wildlife, April-May 2022, pages 29-35.

Diatoms Are Essential for Life on Earth

Diatoms Are Essential for Life on Earth
Electron Microscope View of New Diatom Species Epithemia pelagica

We seldom think about the importance of microscopic organisms. Diatoms are essential for life on Earth because they generate 20-30% of the oxygen we breathe. They are single-celled algae with a cell wall made of silica. In March 2022, the National Science Foundation announced the discovery of two unique diatom species in the waters around Hawaii.

Diatoms live in the oceans and waterways. You may be familiar with diatomaceous earth, which has many commercial uses, including pest control in organic gardening. It consists of the empty silica shells that diatoms leave behind. In addition to generating oxygen, diatoms are essential for life as part of the food chain in the oceans.

Like green plants, diatoms need nitrogen to grow. Marine diatoms thrive in nutrient-rich ocean areas such as the Gulf of Mexico. However, the open ocean waters around Hawaii lack significant nitrogen nutrients. Ocean waters contain dissolved nitrogen gas, but the diatoms can’t use it. These two species of diatoms solve that problem by having a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria. These bacteria do not contain chlorophyll for photosynthesis, but they can extract nitrogen from ocean water and convert it to ammonia. In turn, the diatoms can use the nitrogen from the ammonia. In a symbiotic relationship, the newly discovered diatom species take the nitrogen-fixing bacteria into their shells to nurture their own personal nitrogen generators.

We have mentioned many symbiotic relationships before, but here is a microscopic one. Diatoms are essential for life because they provide much of the oxygen we breathe. This symbiotic relationship between diatoms and bacteria is another example of God’s wisdom and design for life. Everywhere we look, we see that God has designed and implemented systems that sustain life in all kinds of environments.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: National Science Foundation

Learning About Lepidopterans

Learning About Lepidopterans - Monarch

One of the joys of life is the ability we all have to learn beyond school or college. Learning often happens when we contact someone who knows a lot about a subject we have never studied. For example, we recently visited the Marine Discovery Center in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, where we met specialists in butterflies and moths. So naturally, we were interested in learning about lepidopterans.

The order Lepidoptera includes butterflies and moths, and we learned that there are 2932 species of these insects in Florida. Studies have revealed incredible details about these creatures’ surprising complexity and design. The word “lepidoptera” means “scale wings,” and these creatures have microscopic scales on their wings. They have four wings – a pair in front and a pair in the back. Their bodies have three parts, a head, a thorax, and an abdomen with three pairs of jointed legs attached to the thorax.

Butterflies and moths taste with their feet, which means when they land on something, they immediately know whether it is food or not. These creatures breathe through tiny valves on the sides of their abdomen called spiracles, and they eat through a long tube called a proboscis. Butterflies are active during the day, and moths are active at night, with very few exceptions. Coming out of their heads between their eyes are antennae. In butterflies, the antennae are club-shaped, and in moths, they taper to a point. When a moth attaches to a surface, sensitive cells detect moisture, temperature, and exposure to the wind and rain.

Butterfly antennae have cells sensitive to the pollen of whatever plant its caterpillars need to survive. Each butterfly has a particular sensitivity to a specific plant or group of plants. For example, monarch butterflies are sensitive to milkweed. Farmers know which butterflies produce caterpillars that eat certain crops. In the natural world, the caterpillars of moths and butterflies are food for many larger creatures. When humans eradicate those predators, we upset the balance, causing problems for humans. Learning about lepidopterans and the environment is essential for understanding how to maintain balance. God did not design butterflies and moths to be destructive, but when we mismanage the environment, the result is a problem for humans raising crops.

The complexity of butterflies and moths is impressive. They have their larval ability to eat plants and produce silk to make a cocoon and morph into adults with the beautiful colors and designs of wing scales. Learning to control the destructive nature of caterpillars requires an understanding of the complexity of these remarkable creatures. Without the help of mature insects as pollinators, many other plants would suffer. Learning about lepidopterans shows us God’s excellent design of life.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

In the Shadow of NASA

In the Shadow of NASA

The John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida gets a lot of attention from the media. However, most people probably are not aware that attached to the Space Center in the shadow of NASA is the Canaveral National Seashore/Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. It has 69,000 acres of marsh left undeveloped and managed by the National Park Service. Researchers have identified 1045 plant species and 310 bird species in the shadow of NASA.

A dozen species of wildlife that are federally listed as endangered live there, including sea turtles, West Indian manatees, wood storks, eastern indigo snakes, and Florida scrub jays. In addition, there are the usual animals found in Florida, including land tortoises, otters, armadillos, and a wild assortment of crabs, insects, oysters, clams, and shrimp.

We had the pleasure of visiting this refuge the second week of April in 2022. It was interesting to watch hundreds of birds wading through the marsh, eating crabs and shrimp. We also saw mullet jumping as they were chased by larger fish and alligators basking in the Sun and then looking up to see a rocket being prepared to lift astronauts to the space station.

The refuge is a barrier island with sand dunes covered with various plants, including numerous palm trees and ancient oaks covered with Spanish moss and palmetto and sea oats. The National Park Service has built wooden walkways to control human traffic, allowing a natural environment to function within sight of the Kennedy Space Center in the shadow of NASA.

Just north of this area is New Smyrna Beach with its towering resorts, massive numbers of tourist attractions, and where people can drive vehicles on the beach. That area is essentially a biological desert with some gulls and pelicans and various sparrows, vultures, and blackbirds, but nothing like what we see in the wildlife refuge. The primary vegetation is a variety of human-introduced plants decorating the resorts. As you drive through the area, you see the trunks of dead palm trees everywhere but very little wildlife. Meanwhile, construction continues on more resorts and tourist complexes.

What happens when a hurricane hits this area? In the wildlife refuge, the answer is almost nothing. The vegetation holds the dunes and prevents the destruction of the plants and wildlife that depends on them. We all know about the collapse of the resort tower in this area, which tragically killed several people. No human structure is free from the elements. The human-introduced plants are generally wiped out in a hurricane and have to be replanted. Human attempts to control the area are at the mercy of natural processes. As the climate warms and water levels rise, more human-made structures will be destroyed, but what God constructed will survive. The refuge will change, and the wildlife and plant life will adapt, but it will do quite well left alone.

It was interesting to see the challenges facing the park service in the refuge. Roads don’t do well, and wooden structures have to be replaced. Meanwhile, the natural world functions smoothly and efficiently with an abundance of residential and migratory life. As humans try to control parts of nature, we constantly need to rebuild and replace. “And God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit … and God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:11-12). You can see how good it is when you visit an area not corrupted by human ignorance, greed, and selfishness.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Data from National Park Foundation publication Canaveral/Merritt Island 2021.

The Purpose of Beauty

 The Purpose of Beauty - Sunset

Humans are obsessed with beauty. We try to make ourselves more beautiful with clothing and cosmetics. We seek to create beauty in music and art, and we continually long for something even more beautiful. But, what is the purpose of beauty, and how can we explain excessive beauty in nature? That is what we have called “the problem of beauty,” which we have discussed all this week.

Beauty is not to provide protection or to solve problems. The purpose of beauty is to bring joy, peace, and meaning to life. However, as we seek beauty, we long for something even more beautiful. We strive to create it, and we desire to find it in people and in nature.

The prophet Isaiah in a vision, saw God’s throne room where one seraph cried out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3). God’s glory is displayed in the beauty we see on this planet. The curse of sin has marred that beauty, but it still peaks through. It reminds us of the Creator of “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17). Theologian N.T. Wright asked the question that we all face at some time, “If the earth is full of God’s glory, why is it also so full of pain and anguish and screaming and despair?” That is what we call “the problem of pain.” I think we can see a glimpse of the answer in the purpose of beauty.

I suggest that humans appreciate and desire beauty because God created us in His image.
God creates beauty in the world around us to give us a sample of what is possible. When we see beauty, we long for more because we always find imperfections in the beauty we see here. Beautiful peacocks die. Colorful fall leaves turn brown and fall to the ground. The beauty of a sunset is fleeting. We long for more. We want to know what more God has in store for us.

The apostle John saw a vision of what God has waiting for those who accept His gift of eternal life. In Revelation chapters 21 and 22, he struggled to describe it in terms of the familiar, such as gold, pearls, and jewels, but he knew those words were inadequate. Perhaps the purpose of beauty in the world around us is to show us a glimpse of the glory of God’s beauty. We long for the revelation of the pure beauty of God’s kingdom. As we struggle to answer the problem of pain, perhaps the answer is before our eyes. The problem of beauty is only a hint, a clue, a sample of the ultimate beauty. I can’t wait to see the real thing.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

Designed with Purpose and Beauty

Designed with Purpose and Beauty

Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species in 1859, and Ernst Haeckel published drawings of embryos in his book The Natural History of Creation in 1868. Haeckel intended his somewhat inaccurate drawings to support Darwin’s theory by showing that embryo development reflects evolutionary development. As we said in yesterday’s post, those who reject the idea of a creator God try to explain what appears to be designed with purpose and beauty by saying it has no purpose and no designer. Beauty in living things can be a problem, or it can be a blessing, depending on whether you accept or reject the Designer of life.

Physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg is an atheist who rejects belief in God because of the problem of pain, which we can summarize as: “Why would an all-powerful and loving God allow pain and suffering?” Weinberg explains his view in his book Dreams of a Final Theory. However, he can’t explain the problem of why living things appear to be designed with purpose and beauty. He made the understatement of the century when he wrote, “I have to admit that sometimes nature seems more beautiful than strictly necessary.”

Evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins, writing in his book Climbing Mount Improbable, told about a time when he was driving through the countryside with his six-year-old daughter. The girl was excited about seeing “pretty” wildflowers. Dawkins asked his daughter what she thought was the purpose of wildflowers. She replied, “To make the world pretty, and to help the bees make honey for us.” Dawkins said he was sorry that he “had to tell her that it wasn’t true.” According to Dawkins, biology is the study of things that appear to be designed for a purpose, but his atheism forces him to argue that there is no purpose.

The living world around us shows many examples of the problem of beauty. Various species sing songs and perform dances that go beyond what survival would require. Gibbons sing duets, and birds of paradise display their beauty with song and dance. Bower birds go to excess extremes to create works of art. The peacock’s beautiful tail is extravagant from a survival perspective. These animal attributes seem inefficient and not a method to adapt to the environment. They certainly go beyond survival of the fittest to what David Rothenberg, a philosopher at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, calls “survival of the beautiful.”

Is it possible that the excessive beauty of living things is merely an accident, or is life designed with purpose and beauty? What is beauty, and why do we care? We will conclude this discussion tomorrow.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

Beauty in Nature

Beauty in Nature - Peacock
Peacock with Tail Spread

For the past two days, we have talked about beauty in nature and how it often seems to defy the evolutionary principle of survival of the fittest. Darwinists refer to “emergent order” as the process of living things coming into being without any design or intelligent guidance. Instead, they say it was accomplished by a set of simple rules laid out originally by Charles Darwin and refined into what is now known as Neo-Darwinism.

In his 1859 book On the Origin of Species, Darwin presented his principle of natural selection. However, he realized that natural selection acting on random mutations couldn’t explain the “selection” method used in all cases. Moreover, he was troubled by the excess beauty in nature. He saw unnecessary frills and flourish, which he could not explain by natural selection. A year after that book was published, his frustration caused him to write, “The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it makes me sick.”

To cover those cases where natural selection can’t explain the beauty in nature, he introduced “sexual selection” in his 1871 book The Descent of Man, and Selection Related to Sex. Sexual selection involves the beauty often seen in male birds in general and peacocks in particular. According to Darwin’s sexual selection theory, the reason for the beauty of the peacock’s tail is that the peahens prefer such gaudy but impractical decorations. The same principle applies to many other species, such as bower birds or birds of paradise, where the males display striking colors or impressive actions to attract a mate.

German zoologist and eugenicist Ernst Haeckel was also an artist. He popularized Darwin through his artwork published in several books. His drawings depict the beauty he saw in even one-celled animals called Radiolaria, and he attributed the beauty to natural selection and mathematical principles. Haeckel was so enamored by Darwin’s hypothesis that he went out of his way to promote it in books of drawings.

Haeckel’s drawings sometimes showed his bias for Darwinism. For example, in The Natural History of Creation (published in German in 1868 and later in English), he displayed drawings that compared human embryos with embryos of various animals, suggesting that the development of those embryos repeats the path of evolution. However, he manipulated his illustrations to prove his point. Other scientists later pointed out the flaws, and his dishonesty discredited his scientific credentials.

However, the books of Haeckel’s drawings were best sellers in their day, and they are still selling even today. Nevertheless, those drawings did not prove design without a designer. We have called the question of how excessive beauty in nature could have evolved by natural selection “the problem of beauty.” Yesterday, we said that we prefer to call it the blessing of beauty—a blessing from God. However, atheists do not see it as a gift from the Creator, and they try to explain it away as accidental. They suggest that what appears to be designed for a purpose has no purpose and no designer. We will look at that tomorrow.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

The Blessing of Beauty

The Blessing of Beauty -Nightingale Song
Nightingale Singing

Yesterday, we talked about the problem of beauty. The question is: “How could natural selection acting on random mutations create beauty which seems to have no survival value?” I suggested that natural selection acting on blind chance mutations cannot explain all of the beauty we see in animals and plants. Let’s continue to think about this as we examine the blessing of beauty.

The blessing of beauty involves more than just visual beauty. A humpback whale’s intricate and beautiful song lasts for half an hour. Does it have anything to contribute to the survival of these mammals? Well, in a way, it does. When human technology reached a point where the humpback’s song could be heard and recorded in the 1960s, more people than whale hunters got a chance to hear it. The exposure of that song to the general population of humans played a large part in the passage of laws preventing the slaughter of those animals. But that is evidence for human appreciation of beauty, not evolutionary natural selection. For those who suggest the male humpbacks use their songs to attract females, there is little to no evidence that the females are even paying attention.

No proponent of Darwinian evolution would suggest that humpback whales are even remotely related to nightingales, but those birds also contribute to the blessing of beauty. They sing long, complex, and beautiful songs, but rather than singing into the ocean, nightingales sing from twilight into the night. As those small birds sit on a branch singing, they make themselves easy prey for predators. Instead of singing for hours in the darkness, why don’t they just be quiet and stay safe until morning?

When scientists tape-recorded nightingales and slowed down the tape, lowering the pitch a couple of octaves, they discovered something very interesting. The result was that the nightingale’s song sounded much like the song of a humpback whale. On the other hand, if you take the humpback whale song and speed it up while raising the pitch, it compares to a nightingale’s song. Why should they be so much alike? Evolutionists like to call this sort of thing “convergent evolution.” I have another suggestion. Perhaps they got their music from the same original Composer.

Since the beauty of bird songs often goes beyond attracting mates for the survival of the fittest, do the birds sing because they love to hear music? I think they are merely doing what their Creator programmed them to do. But why did God design and program these animals to sing? Perhaps the blessing of beauty is God’s gift to us. Beauty brings us joy, eases our stress, and touches our emotions. Because God loves us, He created beauty for us to enjoy. The beauty around us provides an earthly sample of the beauty God has planned for us beyond this life. In other words, beauty is another evidence that God exists. With that in mind, the problem of beauty becomes the blessing of beauty.

Tomorrow, we will look at how beauty was a problem that, according to Darwin, “makes me sick.”

— Roland Earnst © 2022