Self-Awareness Test Passed by a Fish

Self-Awareness Test Passed by Cleaner Wrasse

One of the indicators that scientists use to measure evolutionary development is a test that determines whether an animal has an awareness of itself. The test involves placing a mirror in front of the organism and then observing the animal to see if it gives evidence that it recognizes that what it sees in the mirror is an image of itself. A recent report says that a fish can pass this self-awareness test.

Self-awareness has been used to categorize animals as having higher intelligence than others. Scientists have considered the mirror test to be the “gold standard.” Applying that test they have determined that great apes, bottlenose dolphins, killer whales, Eurasian magpies, and Asian elephants are all very intelligent and therefore highly evolved. Now a fish known as the cleaner wrasse passes the self-awareness test and must be added to the list.

Researchers in Germany placed a mark on the four-inch fish in a location that could only be seen in a mirror. The cleaner wrasses checked their reflection multiple times and then tried to remove the mark by rubbing their bodies on hard surfaces. With no mirrors, the fish didn’t try to remove the mark. When the mark was placed on the mirror, the fish ignored it.

We should note that the cleaner wrasse survives by inspecting larger fish for parasites and dead tissue. The larger fish waits patiently while the wrasse cleans it by eating what it finds. This mutual relationship protects the health of the larger fish while providing food for the wrasse. Symbiotic relationships like that can be more easily explained by design than by evolutionary theory. Since the wrasse is designed to look for unwanted detritus on the bodies of other fish, perhaps that is why it is keen to notice marks on its own body.

If self-awareness shows high intelligence, we must now add a fish to the list of intelligent mammals and birds. Dr. Alex Jordan reported that the fish “behaviorally fulfills all criteria of the mirror test.” Dr. Jordan says that either the species is self-aware or the gold standard test needs updating.

–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst

Reference: The Week, March 1, 2019, page 20.

Why Do Zebras Have Stripes?

Why do zebras have stripes?

I can remember that even as a child I wondered about zebras. They look like horses in just about every way except the stripes. Why do zebras have stripes?

When I raised that question in my high school biology class, I was told it was for camouflage. That explanation satisfied me until I was in the army where I was taught how to camouflage myself in combat. Our combat uniforms were striped. The leaders told us that the stripes would only work if there were movement around us, and if there wasn’t, we should stand perfectly still. Watching zebras in the wild, to me the stripes seemed like a flag saying “here I am.” I realized that a striped deer in the Michigan woods wouldn’t last very long during hunting season.

A good friend sent me a clipping of an AP report published in the February 23, 2019 issue of The Herald Bulletin in Anderson, Indiana. It finally answered my question of why do zebras have stripes? The article told about research by scientists at the University of Bristol and the University of California at Davis. They dressed horses in white striped coats. The striped horses had significantly fewer horseflies landing on them than the ordinary horses. The striped coats apparently disrupted the visual system of the horseflies. The leader of the research team said that when flies get close to the stripes, they tend to fly past them or bump into them.

In much of Africa, there is a fly that carries a parasite that causes “sleeping sickness” or Trypanosomiasis. The parasite is transmitted to humans and animals by a blood-sucking insect, the tsetse fly. For a zebra, the tsetse fly is the number-one enemy. A healthy zebra can outrun a lion, and most other threats to their survival are of minimal efficiency. Getting away from flies is virtually impossible.

The stripes are a design feature of zebras. In northern areas tsetse flies don’t exist, so deer and horses don’t have stripes. An animal’s external appearance is a genetically determined feature. Why do Zebras have stripes? They are a classic example of how a change in appearance can protect against various kinds of enemies.

This new area of research shows one more example of God’s design in producing a genome that allows animals and plants to survive in a world of constant change.

–John N. Clayton © 2019

Vestigial Organs and Immune System

 Vestigial Organs - Appendix and Immune System

Many of us have taken classes in biology in which we were told that one of the arguments for Darwinian evolution is the presence of vestigial organs. New research questions whether vestigial organs are evidence of evolution or evidence of design.

The argument for the appendix being vestigial was that this fingerlike projection on our colons was a second stomach in earlier stages of evolution. The theory was that since we now cook our food, there is no need for the appendix and it has become useless. The same was said of the tonsils, adenoids, and gall bladder, so they could be removed with no consequences. I can tell you from personal experience that having these three items removed from your body does have negative implications for your general health.

Scientific American (March 2019, page 20) published a report of a 2017 study by an evolutionary biologist named Heather Smith. She is the director of the Anatomical Laboratories at Midwestern University in Arizona. Her study questions whether those organs are really vestigial. She examined 533 species of mammals and found that there is an immunological and gastrointestinal purpose for the appendix. The appendix contains a layer of gut bacteria that are important in fighting disease. Like the tonsils and adenoids, the appendix serves a vital role in defense of our bodies against infection.

It seems that the evolutionary explanation of the use of these organs is not totally correct. While things like wisdom teeth may be examples of vestigial organs; tonsils, adenoids the appendix and the gall bladder are not. The design of the human body is so complex that science is still trying to figure out all of the design features that enable us to survive.

–John N. Clayton © 2019

Sirius Shining Brightly

Sirius Shining Brightly

On a clear night look around to find the brightest star. (Don’t get confused with planets which sometimes are more brilliant than stars.) The brightest star in the sky is Sirius.

The name comes from an ancient Greek word which means “glowing.” It’s in the constellation Canis Major which means “big dog.” Sirius is at the base of the dog’s neck. It looks bright because it’s 25 times more luminous than the Sun and is “only” 8.6 light-years away. Other stars are more luminous, but they don’t appear as bright because they are farther away from the Earth.

We see Sirius as a single star, but it’s more than that. It is actually a binary star consisting of Sirius A and Sirius B. A binary star is two stars orbiting around a central point. There are star systems composed of 2, 3, 4, or more stars orbiting each other which look like a single star to us. Astronomers estimate that half or more of the stars we see in the night sky are actually multiple star systems.

If our Sun had been part of a multiple star system, we wouldn’t be here. Imagine being on a planet orbiting a star which is orbiting one or more other stars. Gravitational forces would pull the planetary orbit apart. Days and seasons and years would be completely chaotic. Life would not be possible.

Genesis 1:14 tells us that God established the Sun and Moon to “serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years.” It’s no coincidence that we are orbiting a single star to light the day, and we are orbited by a moon to light the night. Together it is an unusual and extraordinary system. It is a gift from God.

–Roland Earnst © 2019

Vastness of Space

Vastness of Space and the Big Dipper

One of the struggles we all have in dealing with the creation of the cosmos is understanding the vastness of space. When someone tries to give a naturalistic explanation for Earth and its abundance of life, they assume that the variables necessary for the creation of life and the conditions required for life to exist have just happened naturally. Because of the number of stars and planets, they assume that the creation can be a product of blind opportunistic chance.

In 1961 Frank Drake (a founder of SETI) presented what is known as the Drake equation. It involves multiplying seven variables that are necessary for creating a planet with intelligent life by the odds of each of those variables happening by chance alone. Let’s say the odds of having one of Drake’s seven variables are 1 in a million. Those promoting chance explanations of the creation would say that since there are 100 billion stars in the galaxy in which we live, the odds are reasonable for the creation to happen by chance.

There are many problems with this equation and the chosen variables. One statistical problem is that you can’t just have one variable which is isolated from all the other variables. If there are seven variables, then they all have to be accomplished at the same time in the same place. You can’t have variable one at one place at one time, and variable two at a different place and at a different time.

We don’t seem to comprehend the vastness of space, and how isolated stars are from one another. An excellent example of this is the asterism we call the Big Dipper. Seven stars make up the Big Dipper. When seen from Earth, they seem to be close together. The fact is that the stars are nowhere near each other. Mizar, the second star from the end of the handle is 78 light years away from Earth. (A light year is how far light goes in a year – roughly 588 quadrillion miles.) Dubhe, the star at the top edge of the bowl of the Big Dipper is 124 light years away. Merak which with Dubhe makes up the pointer stars of the Big Dipper is 79 light years away from Earth and 45 million light-years from Dubhe.

The size of the cosmos is incredible, but that size does not make chance explanations of the creation accurate. Having the right size planet going around a star that is a red giant would not support life. If you had the right size planet going around a spectral G-2 star (like our Sun), it would not support life if it were located at the core or in the equatorial plane of the galaxy. All variables have to work together at the same time and place, and that is unlikely considering the vastness of space.

When wisdom speaks in Proverbs 8:22-23 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 vastness of space isolates us from the destructive forces that exist throughout the cosmos. It also reinforces the statement of Romans 1:20 which says “we can know there is a God through the things He has made.”

–John N. Clayton © 2019

What Good Are Termites?

What Good Are Termites? Termite Mound

We have had the great pleasure of presenting our lectureships in Australia. One of the common questions from college groups has been, “What good are termites?” The termite mounds in some places we saw were over 10 feet (3 m) tall. People frequently complained that they couldn’t build structures out of wood. There were so many termites that the wood didn’t last long enough to make it cost effective.

Science News
(February 16, 2019, page 4) carried an interesting article about termites. Kate Parr is a tropical ecologist from the University of Liverpool in England conducting research for the university and the Natural History Museum in London. She has been examining how ants and termites affect the decomposition and consumption of organic material in rainforests.

As they conducted their study, the research area went through a drought. During the drought, termite numbers doubled, and decomposition rates increased dramatically. They found that during the drought in areas where termites were not disturbed, and their numbers increased there was a greater amount of soil moisture, more nutrient mixing, and better seedling survival rates. Areas where the termites had been eliminated had massive die-offs of plants which affected the animal population. In times of normal moisture with no drought conditions, there was no difference in all these variables. What good are termites? It seems apparent that the termites allowed life to prosper during droughts. In places like the Australian outback, the presence of termites is apparently vital for the avoidance of drought die-offs.

One aspect of design in the cosmos is the fact that there always seem to be animals that serve a unique roll in an area when destructive agents threaten the balance of the ecology. The role of insects and small life-forms in the existence of life on Earth is an area that is very understudied. But new discoveries are coming fast and furious as we see the designs of God allowing life to exist even under the most severe environmental conditions.

–John N. Clayton © 2019

Exoplanets and TESS

Exoplanets and TESS
Data is coming in from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, known as TESS for short. It is the most powerful telescope ever deployed to look for planets orbiting other stars. Over two years, TESS can cover all 360 degrees of sky visible from Earth’s orbit. Our previous satellite called Kepler could only scan a small segment of the sky. Already Tess has identified over 300 probable exoplanets including one named HD 21749b which has the lowest known temperature for a planet orbiting a bright nearby star. (“Nearby” being 53 light-years away.)

The problem with this is that what astronomers consider “cool” is not cool from our standpoint. The surface temperature of HD 21749b is 150 degrees Celsius, which is way too hot for liquid water. (Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius.) A year on that planet equals 36 Earth days as it makes a complete orbit around its star. Most of the other exoplanets found at this time are vastly hotter than HD 21749b.

Astronomers have found other planetary systems, but they again have properties that would preclude any kind of life. Some of them have a planetary density equal to that of pure water. Some have orbits that are highly eccentric. Pi Mensae b, for example, has an orbit that varies widely. Its closest distance to its star approximately equals the distance from Earth to our Sun. The longest distance is similar to Jupiter’s distance from the Sun.

All of this continues to tell us that Earth is a unique planet orbiting a unique star. It is possible that those stars with exoplanets are undergoing an evolutionary process that could result in Earth-like planets billions of years from now. As we study them, we are learning more and more about what God did to create the “heaven and the earth.” God’s power and design become more amazing to us as we learn more about the universe. The more we learn, the more we see what Frank C. Baxter, who hosted the old Bell System Science TV Series, called “the wonder-working hand that has gone before us.”
–John N. Clayton © 2019

If you would like the nostalgia of watching Frank Baxter in the Bell System Science Series click HERE or HERE.

Impact Craters and Uniformitarianism

Impact Craters and Uniformitarianism
One of the underlying assumptions of Darwinism is something called uniformitarianism which says that no process operated in the past that is not going on today. The snappy way of saying it is “the past is the key to understanding the present.” Impact craters disrupt the uniform history of Earth.

Evolution assumes that the conditions on Earth’s surface have been relatively stable as they are today. That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been earthquakes or forest fires or hurricanes or global warming in the past because obviously there have been. What it does mean is that there have not been global events that would affect all living things. Something like a global flood would not be uniformitarian. If water covered all of the land, vast numbers of animals would have drowned causing a profound effect on the history of life.

The December 22, 2018 – January 5, 2019 issue of Science News (page 40) carried a fascinating report on how many impact craters there are in the crust of the Earth. We have taken groups to see the Barringer Crater near Flagstaff, Arizona. It is a relatively small impact crater only 1.2 Km in diameter. The Chicxulub Crater in Mexico was 150 Km in diameter. Scientists believe it had global implications for life. We have reported on this crater before, and we have talked about other craters scientists have discovered. There are now 190 confirmed impact craters in the Earth Impact Database at the University of New Brunswick in Canada. Scientists estimate that there are perhaps 350 impact craters that have yet to be discovered.

Most scientists accept the idea that astronomical catastrophes like Chicxulub caused major die-offs of life. As the planet warms and ice melts exposing more surface rocks, it is becoming more evident that impacts have been major causal agents of punctuations in Earth’s history. One of the differences between the biblical account and the Darwinian theory is the question of whether or not uniformitarianism is true. The Bible teaches us that Earth’s history is mostly uniformitarian, but rare catastrophes like the flood of Noah have punctuated the history of our planet. Once again it appears that the biblical record fits the evidence better than the theories of evolutionary scientists.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Marijuana Use Has Consequences

Marijuana Use Has Consequences
Drug promoters, politicians, and even stockbrokers have flooded the media with claims about marijuana, and almost everything they have said about marijuana use is wrong. When you read the scientific studies about marijuana, they contradict what the promoters of the drug have said. Here are some factual data from scientific sources and from the National Academy of Medicine for you to consider:

“Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk.”

Marijuana use as a pain killer is too weak to work for people who truly need opiates such as terminal cancer patients.

Marijuana does not reduce opiate use. The United States which is the western country with the most cannabis use also has by far the worst problem with opioids. The January 2018 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry carried a report showing that people who used cannabis in 2001 were almost three times as likely to use opiates three years later.

Teenagers who smoke marijuana regularly are three times as likely to develop schizophrenia.

In 2014 there were 90,000 cases of “diagnosable cannabis use disorder,” which is triple the number in 2006.

A study published in June of 2018 in Frontiers of Forensic Psychiatry showed that over a three-year period men with psychosis who used cannabis had a 50% chance of becoming violent. That is four times higher than those with psychosis who didn’t use cannabis. A study of 1600 psychiatric patients in Italy showed a 10-fold increase in violence in those using cannabis.

A 2007 paper in the Medical Journal of Australia on 88 defendants who had committed homicide found that two-thirds were misusing cannabis — more than alcohol and amphetamines combined.

The Journal of Interpersonal Violence in 2012 reported a study of 9,000 adolescents which found that marijuana use doubled domestic violence, and a Chinese study found a fivefold increase.

States that have legalized marijuana have had a 37% increase in murders and a 25% increase in aggravated assaults.

We want to emphasize that studies on the medical uses of marijuana are ongoing. If marijuana use can be beneficial for medical purposes over the long haul, it certainly should be used. However, the legalization for recreational use is a recipe for disaster.
–John N. Clayton © 2019
For more on this, see the excellent article by Alex Berenson in the January issue of Imprimis Monthly available from Hillsdale College, 33 E. College St., Hillsdale MI 49242. It is available online HERE.
We have posted before about the consequences of marijuana use HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Gene Editing Controversy Continues

Gene Editing Controversy Continues
We recently reported on the gene editing controversy when a scientist used CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing to produce “superior” human babies. Jiankui He, a Chinese geneticist, announced that twin girls had been born with genes edited by his medical team to reduce the risk of contracting HIV.

For several years experts have predicted that it will be possible in the future to produce “designer babies” by the technique He has used. The twins’ father has HIV, but their mother does not. We pointed out previously that human knowledge is not good enough to know what collateral damage we may create in such a project. There are also issues about whether humans should ever genetically modify human life. Playing God has enormous responsibilities, and the gene editing controversy brings up concern about the old “Frankenstein Complex.”

Since He’s announcement there have been numerous articles and responses by experts in the field backing what we said in our article:

Researchers say there was virtually no chance the girls would have been infected with HIV since their mother doesn’t carry the virus.

No evidence can verify that the editing was successful and didn’t damage other genes.

Previous CRISPR/Cas9 research has shown that some cells in embryos may be incompletely edited or escape editing entirely creating what is called a “mosaic embryo.”

He was asked why the research was done in secret and why he chose to violate established rules of CRISPR/Cas9. He refused to answer those questions.

Julian Savulescu who is a bioethicist at the University of Oxford said, “I liken it to Russian roulette. You can pull the trigger and not kill, but it doesn’t mean that what you did was right.” We would suggest that this gene editing controversy is a classic of example of the fact that science cannot determine the way its discoveries will be used. In this case, it appears this was a desire to become famous, rather than trying to improve the well being of human life.

There are many Christians who are scientists working with CRISPR/Cas9 and who have stated their dismay and feeling that their greatest fears are being realized. The gene editing controversy continues, and we will hear more of this.
–John N. Clayton © 2019