Saguaro Desert Old-Timers

Saguaro Desert Old-TimersThe saguaro (pronounced suh-wah-roh) cactus is found only in the Sonoran Desert areas of southern Arizona, northern Mexico, and a small area of southeast California. We call them saguaro desert old-timers for a good reason. Saguaros grow very slowly as a single stem for perhaps 75 years before developing arms. Plants with five arms may be 200 years old.

Saguaro flowers bloom at night from April to June. They close by noon the next day, never to open again. Saguaro flowers can only be fertilized by cross-pollination so there must be a creature to carry pollen from one plant to another. Because the flowers bloom at night, bats are the pollinators. They drink the nectar and transfer pollen from plant to plant.

A successfully pollinated flower will produce a green, oval-shaped fruit with bright red pulp. Many desert creatures eat the fruit and aid the saguaros by spreading their seeds. Only a small percentage of the seeds will ever germinate, but that’s okay because each flower produces as many as 4000 seeds.

Not only do the saguaros have a symbiotic relationship with the bats which consume their nectar and the many creatures who consume its fruit, but it also provides shelter for many desert animals. Saguaros become apartment houses for birds, lizards, desert rodents, and reptiles, as well as a whole entourage of insects.

Saguaros are remarkably well-designed for life in a dry climate. The outside of the plant has pleats like an accordion. The pleats allow expansion for storing large quantities of water when the rains come. As with other cacti, the saguaro has needles rather than leaves to reduce the loss of moisture by transpiration.

Saguaro desert old-timers are designed in a marvelous way to live in the harsh conditions of the desert while providing food and shelter for various desert creatures. They are another indication of a Master Designer of life.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Romantic Get-Away Inside a Sponge

Venus flower basket
The Venus’ flower basket (Euplectella aspergillum) is a deep ocean sponge with fascinating properties and an unusual symbiotic relationship with a pair of crustaceans. We call it a romantic get-away inside a sponge.

The Venus’ flower basket is classified as a glass sponge because its body is made of silica, which is chemically the same as glass. The silica fibers are woven together to make a hollow, cylindrical vase-like structure. The fibers form a fine mesh which is rigid and strong enough to survive deep underwater. The picture shows a Venus’ flower basket more than 8400 feet (2572 meters) under the ocean’s surface.

Glassy fibers thin as a human hair but more flexible and sturdier than human-made optical fibers attach the sponge to the ocean floor. The sponge forms the fibers at ocean temperatures while human-made glass fibers require high-temperature furnaces to melt the glass. Human-made fibers are brittle while the sponge’s fibers are more flexible. Scientists are studying these sponges to find ways to make better fiber-optic cables.

We think it’s amazing that the Venus’ flower basket lights its fibers using bioluminescence to attract prey. Even more interesting to us is the symbiotic relationship these sponges have with some crustaceans called Stenopodidea. The Venus’ flower basket holds captive two of those small shrimp-like creatures, one male and one female, inside the sponge’s hollow mesh tube. The captive creatures clean the flower basket by eating the tiny organisms attracted by the sponge’s light and consume any waste the sponge leaves. The sponge provides the crustaceans with protection from predators.

As the crustaceans spawn, their offspring are small enough to escape from the basket and find their own sponge-home where they grow until they are trapped. Because a pair of crustaceans spend their lives together inside the sponge, Asian cultures sometimes use a dried Venus’ flower basket as a wedding gift to symbolize “till death do us part.”

The Venus’ flower basket and the crustaceans benefit each other by mutual cooperation, which we call symbiosis. One more thing, the bioluminescence comes from bacteria that the sponge collects. This amazing three-way partnership occurs deep under the ocean where humans have only recently explored. We think this romantic get-away inside a sponge is another evidence of Divine design, not chance mutations.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Amazing Human Body Works

Amazing Human BodyThe cover story of the June (2019) issue of Reader’s Digest lists 50 features of your amazing human body. The article gives some evolutionary guesses as to how some of those features could have developed. We thought it was especially interesting that science has not explained nine of the 50:

1-The uvula at the back of your throat.
2-Hypnic jerks that 70% of people feel right before they go to sleep.
3-The “Old Person Smell” – an odor that comes from older people that young and middle-aged people don’t have.
4-Blood types.
5-Eyelid twitching.
7-Handedness and why 90% of us are right-handed.
9-Mesentery – a recently discovered membrane that is two feet long and spreads out like a fan in our digestive system.

David said it best: “I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are your works…” (Psalms 139:14). In spite of all of our medical advances, we still are trying to understand how the amazing human body works. Understanding how our bodies work allows us to take better care of them. It also helps us to treat what goes wrong, which is often caused by our own abuse.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Does God Cause Disease Outbreaks?

Does God Cause Disease Outbreaks?In 1347, history’s worst disease outbreak began when the bubonic plague, or “black death,” spread across Europe. In the following years, one-third of the human race died from that disease. Five-hundred years later in 1847, a cholera outbreak threatened London. In one year, 72,000 people died. These events bring up some questions. Can we blame God for these tragedies? Does God cause disease outbreaks? Do these plagues prove that God does not exist, because a loving God would not have allowed them to happen?

An Italian doctor first presented the concept of germs in 1546, but the idea was not proven and accepted until the late nineteenth century. During those hundreds of years, there were more outbreaks of the plague, cholera, and other diseases. Very slowly, people began to realize how to prevent these deadly outbreaks. The answer was in proper disposal of sewage, prompt and proper burial of the dead, cleanliness and washing, and quarantine.

It seems obvious to us today, but it took centuries for humans to discover those secrets. Actually, they were not secrets at all. Thousands of years earlier they had been revealed in a book. Dispose of sewage properly—Deuteronomy 23:12,13. Bury the dead promptly; avoid touching dead bodies; clean and wash with water, ashes, and hyssop (which contains the antiseptic carvacrol); and quarantine—Deuteronomy 21:23; Numbers 5:2, 3; Numbers 19:1-22; Leviticus 13:45, 46. Those instructions were written in the first books of the Bible by Moses, a man trained in the customs of Egypt for 40 years.

So did Moses learn this from the Egyptians? Absolutely not! Ancient Egyptians mummified dead bodies with their bare hands and then spread the germs around to others. Even Moses admitted that there were “horrible diseases” in Egypt. (See Deuteronomy 7:15.) How did Moses have this life-saving information 3500 years ahead of his time? We think that God revealed it to him.

Does God cause disease outbreaks? Does God enjoy hurting people? The answer is NO. Think of how many lives could have been saved in those three-and-a-half millennia if people had just followed the teaching of the Bible.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

How Far Away Is the Sun?

How Far Away Is the Sun?Does it matter how far away the Sun is? Absolutely yes. The picture shows the order of the planets in our solar system, but not their distance from the Sun. So how far away is the Sun from Earth?

Any star that has planets orbiting it may potentially create a “habitable zone” where the light and heat are just right for the possibility of life to exist. Earth resides in the middle of the Sun’s habitable zone with Venus and Mars near the edge of the zone. Of course, there are many other factors required to support any kind of life, and it appears that Earth is the only planet in our solar system that has all of those factors. Earth has everything needed to support not just primitive life, but advanced life.

So what is the range of the habitable zone? That depends on the star. The size and brightness of the star are critical. Another essential factor is the type of radiation emitted by the star. Our Sun has the just-right radiation. Other stars may emit x-rays, gamma rays, or other deadly radiation in amounts that would destroy all life and prevent a habitable zone from existing.

Back in the eighteenth century, scientists determined the distance to the Sun by watching a transit of Venus across the Sun. Venus passes between the Earth and the Sun twice every hundred years or so. By measuring the time of the transit of Venus from two locations on Earth, scientists were able to use triangulation and simple math to calculate the distance to the Sun.

But the question was, how far away is the Sun? The Sun is about 93,000,000 miles (150,000,000 km) away from us. Since the speed of light is 186,000 miles (300,000 km) per second, it takes about eight and one-third minutes for the light from the Sun to reach the surface of the Earth. The energy the Sun delivers to our planet is just right to make life possible.

If someone asks you “how far away is the Sun,” you can say it is the “just right” distance. There are so many “just right” features of our planet that we can genuinely say we are in the “Goldilocks Zone.” Some think it was all just an accident, but we believe it was God’s plan and design.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Unique Spiders with Amazing Speed

Unique Spiders with Amazing SpeedOne of the evidences for God is the specialized design features built into living organisms. There are indications of design and intelligence that are difficult, if not impossible, to explain by chance. There are about 35,000 named species of spiders, but scientists are still discovering more unique spiders.

Spiders have many features that allow them to provide balance in the natural world by eating insects which would otherwise pose a threat to all life on Earth. Spiders capture their prey in various ways. We usually think of spiders making webs. Most of them do, but not all. Many unique spiders use other tactics to grab insects, while the ones that make webs use a variety of shapes and patterns in a variety of locations. Even the way they use their webs varies.

One family of spiders called ray spiders (Theridiosomatidae) make cone-shaped webs. But even ray spiders don’t all use their cone-shaped webs in the same way. In the Peruvian Amazon, there is a ray spider that weaves a cone and attaches a single strand of silk to its tip. The spider reels in the strand to put tension on the web. Instead of waiting for an insect to fly into the web, this spider takes a more proactive approach. When an insect flies in front of the cone, the spider releases the single strand. With the tension released, the web shoots out with the spider riding the tip of it like a slingshot. The helpless insect gets nabbed in mid-air. For obvious reasons, this spider is called the slingshot spider.

The tip of the cone with the spider attached reaches the target with amazing speed before the insect can escape. Scientists have measured the acceleration of the spider riding the slingshot at 100 times the acceleration of a cheetah, the fastest land animal on the planet. As far as unique spiders, we believe that the slingshot spider holds the title of world’s fastest spider.

This spider creates a very complex and well-designed food-collecting tool. The spider must make the cone in exactly the right shape, and with the right chemical make up of the strands for elasticity. Who taught the slingshot spider this amazing trick and gave it the physiology needed to carry it out? We see God’s design and chemistry in everything from the atom to the universe to every living thing on Earth, including unique spiders.
— John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst

Reference: Science News, April 13, 2019, page 5.

Mount Rushmore and DNA

Mount Rushmore and DNAIf you have the opportunity, I encourage you to visit two locations in the United States. One of them is the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and the other is Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. They are both very impressive; however, they have a big difference. Mount Rushmore and DNA have something in common that the Grand Canyon does not.

The Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore are both made of stone, and both are very complex. The Grand Canyon is much larger, but Mount Rushmore demonstrates specified complexity while the Grand Canyon does not. The specified complexity of Mount Rushmore indicates that natural forces did not create it. It is evident that some intelligence has acted on the granite of that mountain to give it specified features. By contrast, the complex features of the Grand Canyon did not require the direct act of intelligent agents, but only natural forces.

How do I know that Mount Rushmore was acted on by intelligence? First, I recognized that the shape of the mountain is very improbable and highly complex. It doesn’t look like any mountain I have ever seen before. But then, the Grand Canyon is also very improbable and highly complex, and it is not exactly like any canyon I have seen before. More than that, I recognize that the patterns on Mount Rushmore match something that I have seen before—pictures of some US presidents. Very few people would argue with my idea that this mountain shows design by intelligent beings while natural forces can explain the Grand Canyon without requiring the direct action of intelligent agents.

So what do Mount Rushmore and DNA have in common? In recent years, scientists have unlocked the secrets of DNA. We know that the base sequences of DNA are very improbable and contain a highly complex set of instructions. The nucleotide base sequences specify the complex synthesis of proteins in three dimensions. Those who are familiar with computer programming recognize that there are “design patterns” in DNA. There is more than just complexity; there is SPECIFIED complexity to accomplish a complex task. Intelligent people write programs for computers to perform tasks, such as to create an animation of the synthesizing of a protein. Would it not require intelligence to arrange the base sequences in DNA to synthesize actual complex proteins in three dimensions?

In Mount Rushmore and DNA, we see something complex and very improbable. Mount Rushmore shows a recognizable pattern designed to accomplish a task—to show us the faces of some American presidents. DNA is millions of times more complex than Mount Rushmore, and unlike the Grand Canyon, it contains specified complexity. It contains the instructions for making a complex living creature such as a human being. Is it reasonable to say that Mount Rushmore was intelligently designed and that DNA just happened with no intelligent guidance? We suggest that to do so is not rational.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Science and Technology vs. Greed and Stupidity

Science and Technology vs. Greed and StupidityIf you believe everything you read about science and technology in magazines and newspapers, you might want to question how much of it is factual. The way the media presents the stories, you might get the idea that science and technology are making such rapid advancements that in a few decades, we will solve all of the problems of humanity. There is no question that incredible advances have been made in medicine and agriculture. However, what many people don’t realize is that while some critical areas are advancing, others seem to be losing ground.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us: “An American mom today is 50% more likely to die in childbirth than her own mother was.” The primary cause seems to be that health professionals have biases causing them to overlook symptoms. Food shortages are also creating an increase in disease and death due to malnutrition. The primary cause is that there has been a 20% drop in the abundance of food production in countries that depend on their domestic food supply. Humans have reduced the population of pollinators, including wild bees, endangering crop production. Over-fishing is beginning to threaten the primary source of protein for billions of people. The human destruction of mangrove forests and coastal coral reefs has placed 300 million people at increased risk of flooding.

God has given us not only the resources to feed every human on the planet today, but also the way to live with each other to allow the maximum potential for the food and medicine to reach the people who need it. The Genesis account tells us that God gave Adam everything he needed and that by the sweat of his brow, he would be able to eat. Humans have allowed power and control to rule what we do. We have made money and possessions the focus of our activity instead of focusing on God and serving others. In the process, food has become a weapon. Instead of “taking care of the garden, dressing and keeping it” (Genesis 2:15), we have exploited and abused the good things God gave us.

The world continues to reject the teachings of Jesus, replacing them with selfishness, greed, and a moral code that teaches “survival of the fittest.” The result is that we all reap the consequences of what we have sown. Bringing people to believe in God and Jesus Christ not only has meaning in terms of what lies beyond this life, but it also is at the root of the quality of life we and our descendants will have in the future. Science and technology can’t solve all of our problems as long as greed and stupidity get in the way.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Half-Slumber Design in Animals

Half-Slumber Design in AnimalsWe have a clock in our brain that is based on circadian rhythms. The clock is connected to Earth’s rotation, and it provides daily periods of rest and recovery called sleep. Animals have it too, and for many animals, sleep is a dangerous time if there are predators around. Scientists have discovered that many animals, especially marine mammals, have a half-slumber system designed to keep them safe and yet allow them to sleep.

The half-slumber system allows half of the brain to sleep while the other half is awake and able to respond to danger or navigational needs. Studies in dolphins have shown that there are different regions of the brain that work together to allow one side of the brain to function while the other side sleeps. The hypothalamus contains ventrolateral preoptic nuclei that exchange messages between the left and the right sides of the brain. They determine which side sleeps and which side remains alert to danger. This also allows movement of the dolphin’s fins and tails to generate body heat in the coolness of the marine environment. It also allows the animal to surface, to breath, and to swim with its companions.

Northern fur seals have a similar system but highly modified. The fur seals come out on land and assume a posture that allows them to put one flipper in the water which they paddle with while keeping the other three flippers in the air to avoid heat loss. Their nostrils are out of the water, allowing breathing and one eye is open and looking for predators. The part of the seal’s brain that provides vision is not connected to the other functions of breathing or movement.

Birds also use the half-slumber design. Mallard ducks have a unique system where the ducks form a group. Ducks on the outside of the group have one eye open, and their brains function differently than ducks at the center of the group. Migrating birds that fly for very long times also use the half-slumber design with one eye and one side of the brain watching where the bird is going while the other side of the brain slumbers. Great frigate birds fly for ten days at a time using this system. Swainson’s thrush gets its sleep by taking micro naps when it is perched.

It seems that every creature using the half-slumber design to get its required sleep uses it differently. The changes are not small and are highly complex involving many organs. Intricate design differences in the brain primarily direct them. Studies of animal sleep are in an early stage, but the complexity of the system is undeniable. The Bible tells us that we can “know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:18-20). It is a very difficult challenge to understand just how complicated God’s design is. Even in our sleep, we demonstrate God’s plans and engineering.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Periodic Table of Elements

Periodic Table of ElementsOne of the great accomplishments of science has been the organizing of the elements into a form that allows us to use chemistry in amazing ways. In 1789 Antoine Lavoisier published a list of 33 elements grouping them into gases, metals, nonmetals, and earths. For the next 100 years, chemists searched for a better classification system. As the understanding of the design of atoms improved, scientists developed the periodic table of elements.

In 1869 Dmitri Mendeleev published the first table designed to show periodic changes in the properties of the elements. He was even able to predict the discovery of elements unknown at the time that would fill out his chart. As scientists further refined the periodic table of elements, it became even more useful. The horizontal rows are called periods, with metals on the left and nonmetals on the right. As you move from left to right in a period, the elements become less metallic. As you move from top to bottom, the columns, called groups, have similar properties. All of the elements in the last group on the right side of the chart are called noble gases, and they are chemically inactive. The next vertical column to the left of noble gases is called the halogens. They have similar chemical properties, such as the ability to support combustion.

We now know that the reason the periodic table of elements works is because of the electron configurations of the atoms. Chlorine, for example, has an electron configuration that leaves it one electron short of a stable chemical structure. It will exert tremendous force to get a single electron to make its electron configuration stable. Sodium has an extra electron that it would really like to get rid of to gain stability. Those two elements react so that sodium transfers its electron to chlorine and the compound that results is salt – NaCl. Every element in the vertical group with sodium will also react with chlorine in the same way, making lithium chloride, potassium chloride, rubidium chloride, etc.

We now have 118 confirmed elements in existence with 94 occurring naturally. Scientists have produced the remaining 24 elements in laboratories with nihonium, moscovium, tennessine, and oganesson being the most recent. It is difficult to think about atoms and understand how their electrons control their uses and not be impressed by the mind that created this incredibly complex system.

This is a very brief over simplification explanation of the periodic table of elements. It just begins to suggest how the electrons are organized into shells and subshells. The system allows different methods of bonding elements together, creating a diverse population of new compounds that make our lives not only comfortable but possible. For a better understanding, enroll in a basic chemistry class at your local community college or university. “The LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:23 NIV).
— John N. Clayton © 2019