Star-nosed Mole: Star of the Mole World

Star-nosed Mole
If you mention the word “mole” in my neighborhood, you will see my neighbors reflect all kinds of negative emotions. This tunneling varmint that tears up the manicured lawns of America is not on the “most loved animal” list of anyone I know. There is a unique member of the mole family that has scientists scratching their heads at the complexity and remarkable design of a mole known as the star-nosed mole. This mole is so unique that it has its own genus identification Condylura.

This six-inch long animal lives in wet lowland areas of the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada. A star-nosed mole possesses 22 fleshy appendages called rays that surround its snout. In addition to using thick claws to dig like all moles, the star-nosed mole can swim which other moles cannot. This species of mole can blow between five and ten air bubbles per second, and these bubbles are aimed at fish or crustaceans. After the bubbles contact a possible target, the moles suck them back into their snouts to test the scent in the bubbles for possible prey. This is the first time scientists have observed a mammal capable of using olfactory skills under water.

The complexity of this animal has caused scientists to call it “a neurological wonder.” The 22 appendages of the snout have 100,000 nerve endings crammed into an area roughly the size of a human fingertip. By comparison, your entire hand contains about 17,000 nerve endings. The rays can touch as many as ten different objects in a single second. The animal can identify individual prey in less than two-tenths of a second and in eight milliseconds determine whether or not it is edible. Researchers say the star-nosed mole eats faster than any other mammal on Earth.

When we find an animal with such highly specialized equipment, we are left with some hard choices in trying to explain its origin. Evolutionary scenarios stretch credibility to the limit. Dr. Ken Catania who has been studying star moles for some 30 years says that the star-nosed mole is a poster child for extreme evolutionary adaptations. We suggest that an intelligence was involved in the creation of this incredible animal. The star-nosed mole speaks loudly to the biblical statement that “we can know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:20).
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: National Wildlife, February/March 2018.

Fox Squirrels and My Wife

Fox Squirrels and My Wife
My wife likes to organize things. Items in our pantry are grouped together based on what is in the box or can. All of the spaghetti is stacked together on the same shelf as the spaghetti sauce. All of the soups are together on their own shelf. All the cereal is together on its own shelf. Etc. etc. etc. When I put something in the wrong place, I am chastised, and she expresses amazement at my male inability to understand the importance of organization. I recently learned that fox squirrels do the same thing.

I have often wondered why the large female squirrel I see outside my office window is chattering at the smaller male squirrel who is dashing around seemingly looking for something. It is the dead of winter here, so thoughts of baby squirrels don’t seem to be a reasonable explanation.

A recent experiment done at the University of California-Berkeley may give an answer. Squirrels sort their nuts by a process called “chunking.” Researchers at the university used GPS devices to track 45 male and female fox squirrels for two years. They gave the squirrels different kinds of nuts–almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, and walnuts. The squirrels buried the nuts in unique spots with each nut having its own location.

The researchers made the nuts available one at a time, at different times of the year, and in different locations. The pattern of distribution caused the researchers to conclude that “the squirrels use a surprisingly flexible and sophisticated memorizing strategy to cache their nuts.” I have noticed that our grey squirrels here in Michigan do the same thing. I recently found a cache of sunflower seeds that came from my bird feeders, and later found a cache of acorns. There were no sunflower seeds with the acorns and no acorns with the sunflower seeds.

Fox squirrels gather between 3,000 and 10,000 nuts a year. By using the chunking method, they know where to find each nut type. That simplifies locating food sources. Like my wife, the squirrels know where to find each unique meal item.

We need to re-examine the old idea that squirrels bury nuts at random in scattered places. There is a design feature built into the squirrels’ DNA that assures the squirrel of a more efficient way to find its stored food. Programming requires intelligence, and DNA has to be programmed to work. God has programmed all kinds of instructions into the DNA of His creatures, and this seems to be one more example of how well the process works.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: The original study was by Dr. Mikel Delgado and was contained in the journal Royal Society Open Science. It was referenced and summarized in National Wildlife, February/March 2018.

IQ Tests, Intelligence, and Being Human

IQ Tests and Intelligence
An interesting area of discussion in talking about what makes a human is the question of intelligence and IQ tests. For several hundred years there have been debates among intellectuals about whether intelligence is related to race, sex, or genetics. Some interesting experiments have been conducted to measure intelligence in animals, and scientists have found that creatures from bees and ants to dolphins and crows demonstrate intelligence.

My first master’s degree was in the field of psychometry, the study of testing and measurements. One of the things I learned very early was that there are different kinds of IQ tests. Our mentally challenged foster son Tim was tested at an early age and had a Stanford Benet IQ of 42. One-hundred was the average among humans. When Tim entered the public schools, he was tested with the Otis IQ test, and his score was 110. Why were the scores so different? The Otis was verbal so that it could be administered to many people at a time. Tim’s verbal abilities are very high because my wife read to him constantly when he was a child.

Tim knows the words, but his application skills are sometimes lacking. One of our favorite stories about Tim was when he was angry with me one time he yelled at me “… and you’re causing me to commit adultery!!!” He knew that adultery was bad, but he had no idea of why.

When I was a college student, there were psychologists who maintained that Afro-Americans were less intelligent than Caucasians, because they scored lower on IQ tests. The problem was that the tests were loaded with cultural distractors that were not a part of the students’ ethnic background. In my years of teaching science in inner-city schools, I saw no variation in intelligence among kids from different backgrounds. However, to this day I hear people say that Asians are superior in intelligence and Afro-Americans are inferior. For most of my 41 years of teaching physics at the secondary level, I fought with administrators and counselors who maintained that girls were less able in the physical sciences than boys. I know that isn’t true from experience.

The bottom line is that intelligence means different things to different people and IQ tests do not show who is important or valuable. The ability to solve problems is frequently considered to be a measure of intelligence, but problem solving is frequently a function of experience or trial and error–not reasoning. For anyone to attempt to use intelligence to tell who is human and who isn’t, who should have the right to vote and who shouldn’t, or who should be allowed to survive and who shouldn’t, is illogical and in violation of everything God has taught us.

My mentally challenged foster son with a very low IQ score is still created in the image of God. It is his soul that makes him human, not his physical appearance or his IQ. Galatians 3:26-29 says that all the ways of dividing people are done away with in Christianity “for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Skeptical or Religious Bigotry?

Skeptical or Religious?
Atheists have frequently written about the bigotry of people who believe in God and refuse to accept a fact that contradicts their religious belief. In the January 2018 issue of Scientific American, atheist Michael Shermer devotes his monthly column to this skeptical or religious bigotry.

In the article, Shermer quotes Asheley R. Landrum, a psychologist at Texas Tech and an expert on the factors influencing public understanding and perception of science, health, and emerging technologies. Studies conducted by Landrum showed how people look at data concerning climate change. The study showed that Republicans and Democrats reacted in very different ways to the content. A study that was skeptical of climate change data was not read by many of the Democrats while it was much more readily accepted by the Republicans.

Landrum concluded that, “We are good at being skeptical when information conflicts with our preexisting beliefs and values. We are bad at being skeptical when information is compatible with our preexisting beliefs and values.”

It has been my experience that the same thing happens when atheists and agnostics are confronted with data that supports the existence of God and the validity of Christianity. Trying to get some of my atheist friends to read scientific material by Dr. Francis Collins or Dr. Alister McGrath or even our own material has been almost impossible. It doesn’t matter if the authors are highly trained scientific researchers because they also believe in God, the material is off limits to many atheistic skeptics. In the same way, many of my religious associates have not read any of the scientific material produced by Richard Dawkins or Michael Shermer.

Frequently atheists have told me that they have no answer to a presentation that I have given. However, they don’t want to believe in God, and so they won’t believe no matter what the evidence is. Atheists with that kind of bias are not being skeptical, but rather they have built their own religion and don’t want to look at any fact that might conflict with it. Christians frequently do the same thing.

Maybe the starting place for discussions with a relative or friend who has rejected the existence of God is to ask whether there is anything that would change their mind. The question is whether they are being merely skeptical or religious. Has their unbelief become a religion? At the same time, we should be open to their skeptical questions, but we need to be sure that we are “ready to give an answer to anyone who asks of the reason for the hope that is within us, but do it with gentleness and kindness” (1 Peter 3:15).
–John N. Clayton © 2018

UFO Claims and 22 Million Dollars

UFO Claims
The New York Times recently reported that the United States government between 2008 and 2011 spent 22 million dollars on a secretive program to investigate UFO claims. A collection of stories has now emerged concerning the results of the study. It includes:

Reports of pilots seeing strange aircraft that moved at great speeds and made 90 degree turns at full throttle.

Claims of government contractors constructing specially-modified storage buildings to house mysterious “metal alloys” recovered from UFOs.

A quote from the former director of the program saying “What was considered science fiction is now science fact.”

We have pointed out repeatedly that whether there is life in outer space is not an apologetic issue. God may have seen fit to create life elsewhere. Historically the UFO claims have been used by skeptics and opponents of Christianity in all kinds of ways to suggest that aliens are responsible for our existence and that we are just pawns in some alien chess match. The fact that this story is raised repeatedly in the media is a reflection of that way of thinking.

The fact is that the story of pilots seeing strange space vehicles originally occurred in the 1940s and has been shown to be reflections off the cockpit windows. I have a friend who works with government contracts to test new alloys and materials. All of their samples come from the Earth, and there are dozens of buildings built with government contracts to store all of the materials being tested. His favorite line is, “We have a solution, now we are looking for the problem for the solution to solve.”

We can’t blame aliens for the chaos that is in our world today, and we can’t look for aliens for solutions to our problems. Christ has the answers everyone is looking for, but He will not force solutions on us against our will. What Jesus calls us to do goes against our selfish desires. Wasting 22 million dollars on UFO claims is a reflection of the ignorance that permeates the governing agencies of our culture.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Stephen Hawking and the Theory of Everything

Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking is perhaps the most famous scientist in the world today. Hawking is a British theoretical physicist and cosmologist. In 1963, when he was 21 years old, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The doctors gave him two years to live. He has far exceeded the life expectancy of an ALS patient, even though the disease has gradually taken away his ability to move.

Today Hawking speaks using a computerized voice that he controls with his cheek muscles using a slow process of selecting words and letters. In spite of his disability which he does not talk about, he has given lectures and written best-selling books. Although he had previously written that God was not needed to explain the creation, in 2014 he openly declared himself to be an atheist.

Hawking married Jane Wilde in 1965. Over the years his illness and his celebrity put a strain on the marriage. Also, Jane Hawking was a Christian and Stephen was an unbeliever, which added to their differences. In 1990 Stephen left Jane for one of his caregivers. In 1995 he divorced Jane and married the caregiver, Elaine Mason. In 2006 Stephen and Elaine divorced. Hawking then resumed a closer relationship with his first wife and his children and grandchildren. Jane wrote a book about their renewed relationship, and it was made into a movie The Theory of Everything in 2014. Eddie Redmayne played Stephen Hawking in the film, and the role won him the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Speaking of the Theory of Everything, that is what Stephen Hawking and other scientists have spent years trying to find. On January 8, 2018, a new episode of the series Favorite Places premiered on CuriosityStream.com. In the show, Stephen Hawking is shown traveling through space to visit some of his favorite places including Venus, the Sun, and the star Proxima Centauri. Narrating the adventure with his computer-generated voice, he tells about his search for the Theory of Everything:

“I have been searching for something my whole life. Something to explain the world that is by turns kind and cruel, beautiful and confusing. A single all-encompassing idea that can explain the nature of reality—where it all came from and why we exist at all—the Theory of Everything.”

Perhaps Hawking has been overlooking the answer. Perhaps he has left out the key to that answer—God. Perhaps his ex-wife Jane had the answer all along in her Christian faith. Stephen acknowledges that the universe is amazingly fine-tuned for life. He attempts to explain that by the idea that this is only one of an almost infinite number of universes with different parameters and we just happen to live in the one universe with the right parameters and laws to allow life to exist.

Instead of an accidentally fine-tuned universe, what if God created a perfect universe. What if God is love and He created us so that He could love us and so that we would love and serve Him. What if our failure to do so explains why the world is “by turns kind and cruel.” That would explain “where we came from and why we exist at all.” It would also explain “the nature of reality.” That is what Stephen Hawking has been searching for his “whole life.”

We think that the “Theory of Everything” is written in the Bible ready for each of us to discover for ourselves.
–Roland Earnst – © 2018

Science and Biblical Apologetics

Science and Biblical Apologetics
Every so often we get a negative comment from someone suggesting that this ministry is misdirected. We deal with science and biblical apologetics in an attempt to show that science and the Bible are friends and not enemies. The negative comments are, “You just have to believe” or “Any attempt to use human intelligence to build faith is an exercise in futility.”

Such a view is out of touch with the needs of people living in the twenty-first century, and it also contradicts what the Bible teaches. Jesus frequently used scientific knowledge as the basis of a parable. In Matthew 16:2-3 Christ uses the fact that people can look at the sky in the evening and the morning to forecast the weather. Much of Proverbs chapter 8 tells about the role of wisdom in the creation. Romans 1:18-22 speaks of learning from the design seen in everything around us. Psalms 19 tells us that God’s handiwork in the heavens declares His glory.

One of the most interesting apologetic teachings of the Bible is seen in Job’s statement to his friends in Job 12:2-13:
“And who does not know such things as these?… But now ask the beast, and let them teach you; and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you; or speak to the earth, and let it teach you; and let the fish of the sea declare to you. Who among all of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind? Does not the ear test words, as the palate tastes its food? Wisdom is with aged men, with long life is understanding. With Him are wisdom and might, to Him belong counsel and understanding.”

In Job 38-41 God confronts Job concerning his complaints about his suffering. God begins with an apologetic discourse on the scientific answers to the creation of the world that we see around us. Job responds with a reflection on our limitations as humans: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things that are too wonderful for me to know… my ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you …” Job 42:3-6.

Science and biblical apologetics have been important in ancient times, and they are even more important today.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Wonderful New Book Available

Wonderful New Book
We have just come in contact with a wonderful new book written by Joan Haselwood titled Behold the Birds and subtitled Spiritual Insights from God’s Design. We have known Mrs. Haselwood for many years and are thrilled that she has taken our “Dandy Designs” material, added to it, expanded it and even written her own poems to support it. Teachers will find this book very useful for Bible classes, devotionals, and for their own edification and study. It is a great book to have on a bed stand or in the magazine rack in your bathroom.

The book explains the scientific information known about different birds. Mrs. Haselwood then gives a series of questions for discussion or thought and a poem either from herself or some other author. There are 12 birds covered in the book, all of which are common birds we all know–sparrows, warblers, hummingbirds, pigeons, eagles, chickens, etc.

From the back cover of the book:
“Behold the Birds by Joan M. Haselwood is a fresh and unique women’s study guide investigating birds of the Bible. Ladies’ Bible classes will love this book. Behold the Birds has everything needed for personal and group or class study—even providing applicable song suggestions for every lesson. The structure is easy to navigate for individuals and groups. God’s creatures will be viewed in a new light following this study.”

Behold the Birds is a 134-page, spiral-bound paperback. We will probably publish a review of this wonderful new book in a future issue of our printed journal, but it is so good we wanted to share it with you here. It was published by and is available from the Gospel Advocate.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Earth’s Atmospheric Shield

Earth's Atmospheric Shield Protects Against Meteoroids
In 2013 a 10,000-ton 60-foot (20 m) wide asteroid entered the Earth’s atmospheric shield and exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia. The explosion occurred 18 miles (29 km) above the Earth emitting a shock wave equivalent to 10 Hiroshima bombs.

A team led by Dr. Jay Melosh of Purdue University has extensively studied what controls how much damage a rock from space can cause. Dr. Melosh’s research was funded by NASA’s Office of Planetary Defense, and some interesting facts have come from the research. According to the study, Hollywood disaster movies aren’t even close to being realistic. Dr. Melosh says “Realistic stuff doesn’t make a good story. Hollywood usually manages to get it wrong.”

Meteoroids are hunks of rock that come in all shapes and sizes and with different amounts of porousness. As a rock enters the atmosphere, air pressure builds up in front of it, and a vacuum develops behind it. For most porous rocks, the air will rush into the rock and blow off pieces, like an air hose blowing in a bucket of sand. The design of the Earth’s atmosphere is what causes the break-up of the meteoroids. It is only if they are too big to blow apart that they hit the Earth leaving a crater such as Meteor Crater in Arizona.

The article about Dr. Melosh’s work in the Herald Bulletin says that Earth’s atmospheric shield is better than we thought. Modern astronomy continues to find design features of the universe and the Earth that allow life to exist on this planet. This is another example of a design feature that makes it so that we don’t have to walk around looking up to dodge an incoming celestial missile.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Earth’s Magnetic Reversals

Earth's Magnetic Reversals and Ancient Pottery
When I took my earth science students on our annual field trip to Lake Michigan, we did a “magnetism and history” exercise showing Earth’s magnetic reversals. We would go to the large sand dune known as “Old Baldy” (no, not named after me), cover a bar magnet with a white handkerchief, and stick it into the sand. The handkerchief would come out completely covered with little black needles of magnetite which is a magnetic iron oxide.

There was a nearby pool where the water was calm and where you could see the magnetic pieces with a pair of binoculars. They pretty much lined up in the same direction, and I showed the students that they were lined up with a compass needle. We would then dig down several feet into the sand to a layer of mud where the magnetite pieces pointed every which way. I would ask my students to tell me why that would be. Most of them said that the Earth must have lost its magnetic field at the time when that mud was deposited. I then told them if we dug down deeper we would find the magnetite pieces lined up again, but in the opposite direction. The point was obvious–the magnetic field of the Earth had flipped.

In reality, there are several other possible causes for the scrambled magnetite pieces, but the magnetic reversal did happen. In the mid-ocean ridge of the Atlantic, lava flows have trapped the magnetite. The process is called “thermoremanent magnetization.” Because the lava flows happened multiple times, they show a picture of the history of the Earth’s magnetic reversals. These lava flows have recorded over a dozen “flips” in the magnetic field of Earth.

Archaeologist Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University has led studies of the history of magnetic changes on the Earth. Ancient pottery has tiny magnetic minerals that were aligned with the Earth’s magnetic field when the pottery was fired in the kiln. The stronger the magnetic field, the greater the alignment of the magnetic particles. From the late eighth to the second century B.C., ceramic jars bearing the impressions of royal stamps were manufactured in and around Jerusalem. Scientists have studied handles from 67 pieces of pottery, and they have found that the magnetic field of the Earth has gone through periodic rises and falls throughout history. The mapping of the magnetic fields gives a record of history, with small changes producing a pattern that improves dating techniques by a huge factor.

What causes the Earth’s magnetic field is still not completely understood, and the magnetic reversals are even more of a mystery. By measuring the magnetic particles in the pottery, scientists can date the pottery very accurately. This dating method can answer many questions about ancient kings and kingdoms including the major figures in the history of Israel.

For more on this go to https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/1.771427
–John N. Clayton © 2018