Design of Evergreen Trees

Design of Evergreen Trees

We take for granted that the simple things around us are just the way they are without realizing the wisdom and design they display. A classic example is the design of evergreen trees such as pines, spruces, and firs. Why are these conifers shaped differently from deciduous trees such as oaks and maples? The answer is that the design of evergreen trees is an example of incredible planning and wisdom. Their design gives these northern trees some built-in characteristics that allow them to exist.

The shape of the conifers is pyramidal, which is unique among plants. That shape allows sunlight to reach all of the tree’s branches. Since those trees often grow in cold areas, the shape also prevents excessive amounts of snow from building up on the top branches causing them to break. Evergreen trees tend to have a shallower root structure than deciduous trees, and wind resistance on the upper part of the tree would tend to topple it. The pyramid shape reduces wind resistance.

Instead of having leaves, the design of evergreen trees means they have narrow needles, which also reduce wind resistance compared to broad leaves. The branches are layered with space between the layers allowing wind to pass through. Since those trees often grow in northern areas where the angle of sunlight is low, the layered branches also allow the sunlight to reach into all of the branches. The needles reduce water loss compared to leaves so that the trees can survive in dry areas.

An evolutionist is constrained to believe that adaptations like this are lucky accidents. But as we understand the complex system of the world around us, the models that depend on luck become less believable. In the words of Romans 1:18-20, we can know there is a God through the things He has made. The Bible presents trees as God’s tools to sustain human life in the past, present, and future. (See Genesis 1:8-9 and Revelation 22:1-2.)

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Stink Bugs and Human Mistakes

Stink Bugs and Human Mistakes

Brown marmorated stink bugs (Halyomorpha halys) have become a significant pest in areas of the United States. They are native to Asia, but humans accidentally introduced them into the USA in 1998. Since they have no natural predators in North America, their numbers have grown dramatically. We can learn a lesson from stink bugs and human mistakes.

Brown marmorated stink bugs are commonly known to Americans simply as “stink bugs.” The “stink” is because they give off a foul smell when disturbed. “Marmorated” refers to their marbled coloration. You can distinguish brown marmorated stink bugs from similar-looking beetles by the alternating light and dark colors on their antennae and the edges of their abdomen.

When the weather turns cold, these pests find ways to get into homes through small openings, and there they hibernate. Sometimes the heat in the house causes them to become active and annoy the residents during the cold months. The real problem arises when warm weather arrives. That’s when they come out in force.

Halyomorpha halys is a major agricultural problem in some areas because they feed on a wide variety of fruit and vegetable crops. They pierce the plants or the fruits with their needle-like beaks and suck out the fluids. At the same time, they inject saliva, which causes shriveling and rotting.

In their native countries, there is a wasp that feeds on these stink bugs. The US Department of Agriculture has looked into importing those wasps into the United States to bring the bugs under control. The problem with that idea is the wasps might become new pests because they don’t have native predators. Traps remove only some of the bugs, and pesticides can have harmful side-effects. Pesticides are also not very effective because they stay on plant surfaces. The stink bugs don’t eat the surface of the plants. They pierce through the surface and drink the juices from inside. Perhaps the best hope, for now, is that some of our native birds and insects start to develop a taste for stink bugs as their population increases.

The Creator has given us an excellent and well-balanced system, but we humans have a knack for ruining God’s gifts. That has been true from the Garden of Eden until today. We see a connection between stink bugs and human mistakes.

— Roland Earnst © 2020

Fire Chaser Beetles

Fire Chaser Beetles
Wind driven fire devils in burning forest.

It seems that God has created creatures to fill every possible need that can occur in nature. One of the most interesting of these is a beetle that is actually attracted to fires. According to the American Museum of Natural History, the beetle is of the genus Melanophila. People who live in areas where wildfires are frequent refer to them as “fire chaser beetles.”

When a fire occurs, the beetles sense its presence and fly toward it. They will lay their eggs in forest material that is still smoldering, or in material that has been recently burned. The biological explanation is that their eggs are safer from predators than they would be in an area that has not been burned, but how would they know that.

If you think about it, this beetle is a significant factor in the recovery of a burned area. One problem after wildfires is that much of the food for birds and mammals has been destroyed. The whole ecosystem has to be reset, and the eggs and baby beetles of Melanophila are at the bottom of the food chain. The fire chaser beetles’ ability to locate the fires involves an infrared detection system. Instead of flying away from the fire, as you would expect, they fly toward it.

How such a system could develop by natural selection is an interesting question. It seems that fire chaser beetles are part of God’s design to assist the recovery of burned-over areas.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: Reader’s Digest, June 2020, page 36.

Pollination of an African Lily

Pollination of an African Lily

Various types of plants are pollinated by bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, or bats. Non-flying mammals pollinate some plants. Rodents accomplish pollination of an African lily (Massonia depressa) that grows in a desert region of South Africa and Namibia.

Massonia depressa forms two huge leaves lying flat on the ground. Its flower in the center is at ground level within reach of the gerbils which pollinate it. Each evening the plant secretes globs of nectar as thick as jelly. The strong yeast-like scent attracts hairy-footed and short-eared gerbils that come at night to eat the nectar. The gerbils get covered with pollen as they spread the flowers open with their front legs and push their faces into the nectar.

Although the nectar is sugar (sucrose) jelly, it is 400 times as thick or viscous as an equivalent sugar solution. Rodents are the pollinators because the nectar is too thick for insects to drink. The gerbils lap it with their tongues. To accommodate the mammal pollinators, the flowers must be more sturdy and produce more pollen than plants pollinated by insects. Unlike the brightly colored flowers that attract flying pollinators in the daytime, these flowers are dull. The Massonia depressa produces seeds that are light enough that the wind scatters them.

We see evidence of design in the pollination of an African lily. This plant depends on a gerbil for reproduction, and the rodent depends on the plant for food. They need each other to survive. The plant is on the ground where the animal can easily reach it. It produces a fragrance and jelly to attract and feed the animal. Insects can’t eat the food or pollinate the plant. The lily and the rodent seem to be made for each other. Some suggest they evolved together by coincidence. We suggest this is another project by the Master Designer.

— Roland Earnst © 2020

Evidence for Design in Symbiosis

Evidence for Design in Symbiosis
Nymphidium leucosia caterpillar being tended by Crematogaster ants

The natural world is full of examples of two species living together in a way that each benefits the other. This mutualistic relationship is known as symbiosis. In some cases, the species are totally dependent on the relationship for their survival. In many plant/animal relationships, the animal depends on a plant for food, and the plant depends on the animal for pollination or the spreading of seeds. We see evidence for design in symbiosis.

One of the most interesting symbiotic relationships is between ants and butterflies. Scientists refer to the caterpillar in this relationship as being myrmecophilous, which means “ant-loving.” Dr. Philip Devries has written several articles in scientific journals about the caterpillars of certain butterfly species and their symbiosis with ants. The caterpillars feed on the nectar of croton trees, but they have a mortal enemy in the form of wasps. The wasp will find a caterpillar, kill it by stinging and then eat it. If ants are present, they will drive off the wasp and protect the caterpillar. Devries has covered some croton trees with ants, and they will have many caterpillars, but trees without ants will have very few caterpillars.

So the ants benefit the caterpillars, but what do the ants gain from this relationship? The caterpillars have organs on their posterior which extrude a clear liquid containing amino acids but virtually no sugar. The croton tree has a secretion that is 33% sugar but has very little nutritional value. The ants get vital nutrition from the caterpillar even though what they get is not sweet.

The caterpillar has other ways of attracting ants, including an organ on its back that secretes an ant pheromone that chemically attracts them. The caterpillar also has an organ that attracts ants by sending sound vibrations through the wood of the tree. Because of this feature, Dr. Devries coined the term “singing caterpillars.”

One of the great challenges to evolutionists is explaining how such a complex system of symbiosis happened by chance mutations. The more we study such relationships, the more different systems of design we see in the natural world. The more relationships we see, the more difficult it is not to recognize evidence for design in symbiosis. It speaks to us about God’s wisdom and design that allows the biological world to exist.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

An article by Dr. Devries appeared in Scientific American, October 1992, pages 76-82.

Nitrogen Fixation and Life

Nitrogen Fixation and Life

There are many chemical wonders in our world, but few are as important and complex as the chemistry of nitrogen. Nitrogen makes up 78% of our atmosphere. It combines with oxygen to form nitrates and with hydrogen to produce ammonia, both of which are essential for growing our food. Nitrogen fixation, which is how nitrogen gets from what we breathe to what we eat, is an amazing demonstration of design.

First, let us review a little high school chemistry. The atoms of all elements have electrons which give them their properties for forming compounds. The electrons are arranged in pairs with their magnetic poles designed so that in a stable arrangement, one electron’s north pole is matched with its neighboring electron’s south pole. The electrons have various orbitals with different energy levels. The atom is stable and chemically inert if an orbital is filled with all the paired electrons it can hold. For example, neon has 10 electrons. The first two orbitals each have two paired electrons, and the last orbital has six electrons in three pairs. This pairing of electrons makes neon an inert gas which does not combine chemically with other elements.

Nitrogen has an uneven number of seven electrons. So how does nitrogen become chemically stable? The answer is that two nitrogen atoms share three electrons, giving them stability. The two nitrogen atoms bond together to form a diatomic molecule that cannot be easily pulled apart to bond with other elements. How strong is the bonding? To break up a nitrogen molecule into two nitrogen atoms requires temperatures of 400 to 500 degrees Celsius and pressures of 200 atmospheres. So with nitrogen as the dominant element in our atmosphere, the atmospheric gases are stable and inert. Also, nitrogen is not a greenhouse gas that could threaten our temperatures on Earth. How then has God built a system that takes these stable nitrogen molecules and breaks their triple bonds to produce nitrates and ammonia?

If you think this isn’t an important subject, ask yourself where your food comes from? The answer is that 50% of the American diet is produced using artificial fertilizers containing nitrogen, which has been “fixed.” Nitrogen fixation combines that inert gas with oxygen and/or hydrogen to supply the soil with the chemical needed to grow the plants we eat, and which the livestock eat to provide us with meat.

Bacteria accomplish God’s method of nitrogen fixation. The bacteria turn nitrogen into ammonia, which is a nitrogen atom sharing electrons with three hydrogen atoms instead of with another nitrogen atom. Plants known as legumes such as soybeans and peas, as well as bayberry and alder trees, attract bacteria which concentrate in nodules on the plant’s roots. The bacteria turn nitrogen gas into ammonia and nitrates the plants can use. Cyanobacteria in the ocean and cycad plants on the land are also major nitrogen fixers. Scientists are also discovering tropical plants that contribute to the wealth of nitrogen compounds in the soil.

Most of our fertilizers have nitrogen fixed by a method called the Haber-Bosch process. It uses massive amounts of energy to break the triple bonds of nitrogen gas. Producing 500 degrees and 200 atmospheres is expensive, and that is why you pay so much for the fertilizer you use in your garden. God’s methods are free. Scientists are trying to figure out how to recreate God’s nitrogen fixation method to save energy and produce more food.

Many bacteria are beneficial in various ways, and nitrogen fixation is only one of them. This is a great apologetic for God’s wisdom and design in preparing the Earth to provide food for us to eat.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

An excellent article on this topic titled “Out of Thin Air” was published in Science News, April 12, 2008. It is available online at THIS LINK, but a subscription is required to read it.

Strong Enough to Bend

Willow Tree - Strong Enough to Bend

In 1988 Tanya Tucker had a country song titled “Strong Enough to Bend” that had a great message. In the song, she compared a willow tree to human relationships. She pointed out that willows can survive because their limbs can bend instead of breaking.

Interestingly enough, that concept is present in most living things in the creation. God rarely uses stiff materials in what He creates. On the other hand, humans tend to use rigid materials such as metals, ceramics, dry wood, etc. In your own body, how many stiff materials are there? Bones and teeth are about it. These are components designed for a specific purpose where hardness and stiffness are required. Most things in the biological world are soft, not brittle.

A classic example of the benefit of being soft and not hard is kelp and other marine algae. Those plants live in the violent world of surf. If you have ever surfed, you know the power of waves. I have seen surfboards thrown against rocks, pounded by the waves, and turned into a pile of shredded plastic in a matter of minutes. Kelp live in the surf with one end attached to rocks and the surface of the plant exposed to sunlight for photosynthesis. Kelp can survive because they are strong enough to bend.

Waves produce flows that reverse direction every few seconds. As soon as the plant grows longer than the distance the local water travels between reversals, the additional length of plant material is swept back and forth with the water. The plant literally goes with the flow. Since it moves the same direction as the water and at the same speed, there is no friction between the plant and the water. Kelp can grow to lengths well over 130 feet (40 m). A rigid plant like an oak tree in the surf would be pounded to splinters in a few hours.

Closer to home for most of us, are the leaves of land plants. Take a cardboard tube like a paper towel tube and try to bend and twist it. Then make a lengthwise slit in the tube and try it again. Notice how much easier it is after you cut the tube. The reason leaves have exotic shapes is to allow them to bend and twist rather than breaking in high winds or creating wind resistance that would take down the tree.

This design shows highly complex engineering, and our lives exist because of it. Imagine what would happen if our skin, eyes, ears, stomach, blood vessels, hair, etc. were not made of soft, pliable material. A good sneeze could shatter our face! Our Creator knew that being strong enough to bend was critical for our existence.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Ants Use Vibratome to Cut Leaves

Ants Use Vibratome to Cut Leaves

Yesterday we wrote about leaf-cutting ants that engage in farming activity, which we used to think only humans did. The 1994 Disney movie Lion King started many people thinking about what these ants do. There is another tool leafcutter ants have that is impressive. These ants use vibratome to cut leaves.

Vibratome is sound emissions that alter the structure of matter close to the sound. Biologists use sound waves to prepare specimens to be sliced for microscopic examination. The sound waves cause soft material to become more rigid and, therefore, easier to cut. Ants had used vibratomes long before scientists discovered it.

As we said yesterday, leafcutter ants in the Atta genus slice off sections of leaves and carry them to their nests to feed the fungi they harvest. Researchers have found that as the ants cut, they chirp at a frequency of 1000 hertz. That sound frequency rigidizes soft leaf tissue, making it easier to cut. Vibratome is a technically sophisticated technique and one you would expect skilled technicians to use. Materials science is a relatively new field, and yet ants have it built into their DNA to chirp at a specific frequency as they cut leaves to feed the fungi they eat.

How is it that ants use vibratome to cut leaves? How did they know that it would stiffen the leaves and allow them to make a smoother cut? Scientists further discovered that the vibratome effect does not speed up the leaf-cutting. However, it enables a smoother cutting of the tender leaves, which the scientific report said gives “the most desirable harvest for the ants.”

God created the leaves as well as the ants that use the leaves to feed the fungi they eat. He gave the ants wisdom to use vibratome to cut leaves. The writer of Proverbs reflects God’s wisdom and intelligence in 6:6-8, “Go to the ant … consider her ways, and be wise.”

— John N. Clayton © 2020

You can read the full scientific report on researchgate.net

Ant Farmers at Work

Ant Farmers at Work
Leafcutter Ants at Work Taking Leaf Cuttings to the Colony

We commonly think of animals as opportunists. They find their food and eat it or store it for future eating. One of the characteristics of humans that distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom is that we prepare an environment that produces our food. Farmers plant seeds and tend the crops by fertilizing, protecting from threats, and watering when necessary. They also make arrangements for future crops. Entomologists are finding more and more cases where insects do these same things. For example, ant farmers work together to produce their food.

In Fiji, a plant called Squamellaria grows in a cluster with jelly-bean shaped bubbles inside. The opening into the clusters is just the right size for the Philidris nagasau ant to get into the bubbles. As the bubbles send out shoots, the ants defecate inside the cluster, fertilizing the plant. When the plant blooms, the ants eat the nectar it produces. The ants then plant the seeds where new clusters can grow.

Another family of ant farmers is the Atta genus. In their farms, they grow a fungus species that they nourish with leaf cuttings. After cutting off leaf sections, worker ants carry them back to the colony. As the workers transport the leaf cuttings, others ride on the leaves to protect against a parasitic fly species. You might call that pesticide.

At the colony, other ants pulverize and defecate on the leaves to make them ready to nourish the fungi. The ants can’t eat the leaves, but the fungi are their food, and only one fungus species is edible. If another fungus species develops, the ants produce a toxin, which destroys only the invading fungus. This is herbicide use at its best. The Atta ants inspect the fungus several times a day, tending it carefully. The system is so efficient that one Atta nest can grow enough fungus food to feed seven-million resident ants. In the process, the ant colony produces fertile soil that promotes plant growth.

If you saw the 1994 Disney animated Lion King movie, you saw Atta ant farmers at work. Remember that fungi are not photosynthetic. No sunlight is needed for Atta ants to grow their food. They simply carry in the nutrients for the fungi to grow, and then they eat the fungi. We do the same thing with much of our meat, providing plant material for chickens or pigs to eat, and then eating the animals that we fed. In the case of the ants, they eat only one food, which simplifies farming enormously.

We know it takes incredible planning and design to manage a farm. No chance process produces most of the foods we eat. It requires meticulous planning and careful application of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. As scientists study insect farming, they see a design that is carefully and intricately produced.

Data on the ant farmers came from Science News, April 25, 2020, pages 16-20. The subtitle of the article is, “Could our agricultural role models have six legs?” This reminds us of the challenge in Proverbs 6:6-8: Go to the ant … consider her ways, and be wise. She has no guide, overseer or ruler but provides her food in the summer and gathers her food in harvest.” The title of the article is “The First Farmers.” We might amend that to be “God’s First Farmers.”

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Click HERE to learn about a special tool leafcutter ants use.

Medical Miracle Cure Claims

Medical Miracle Cure Claims

It was bound to happen. With the legalization of medical marijuana and substances made from marijuana, people are making claims about what cannabis can cure. It goes beyond arthritis to include every ailment that is common to man. We must beware of medical miracle cure claims. Entrepreneurs are going beyond legitimate testimonies of over-the-counter supplements, with advertisements like this one:

“Washington, D.C.) – After suffering for years from arthritis, Christie Brinkley set out to find the safest, most potent form of legal medicinal cannabis oil for treating a wide range of diseases, mental disorders, and conditions like she suffers from, arthritis. After treating her arthritis with CBD, Christie Brinkley had a mission to make this miracle oil available to the masses. The supermodel, actress, and entrepreneur teamed up with longtime friend, Doctor Oz, who has been dealing with back pain for years and says CBD oil is the only thing that has improved his condition. Together, the power duo was determined to create something that would not only work effectively but would also be affordable for everyday Americans.”

This very public duo is being trumped by religious figures who are claiming that miracle oils have come from God, and that they have special powers to cure things that the medical establishment deems hopeless. In our January 12 post, we talked about witches and the problems with the translation of biblical words. What your translation of the Bible may call witches or witchcraft were actually people who claimed to have magic miraculous cures for every ailment possible. In Acts 8:9-11, we read about a man named Simon, who had quite a business going with this type of activity, and there are examples in the Old Testament.

It is a wonderful thing if some natural substance or diet can help a person with their ailments. There is certainly no problem with people making a business out of selling these products, but beware of medical miracle cure claims for “a wide range of diseases, mental disorders and conditions.”

As I write this, I have a family member who is dying of cancer. Hospice is caring for him, and he has only a few more days to live. What started as prostate cancer has gone to bone cancer and a massive brain tumor. When the bone cancer was detected, the family member was taken to a marijuana clinic where he was placed on a treatment of marijuana compounds and a strict diet endorsed by some religious leaders. This treatment went on for many weeks.

Standard medical treatment did not have a cure for the bone cancer, but it could be controlled, and the life expectancy would be for many years. My family member was told that marijuana treatment could eradicate the bone cancer. There were even a few “testimonies” given by people who claimed they had been cured. Eventually, it became evident that the cancer was growing, not shrinking, and by the time they stopped the marijuana treatment, a baseball-sized tumor had developed in the brain. Because the marijuana treatments had replaced standard medical procedures, there was nothing that could be done.

We should examine medical miracle cure claims of any kind with skepticism. We are not talking about cosmetic issues or supplements for simple aches and pains. We are talking about major issues like cancer, mental disorders, and diabetes. God warned ancient Israel about miraculous enchantments and potions, and we must heed that warning today (Galatians 5:20).

— John N. Clayton © 2020