Race and Skin Color

Race and Skin ColorWhy do humans have different races and skin colors? If we all came from “Mother Eve,” should we not all be the same color? In the past, some people suggested that people of other races were not really human, and they used that argument to justify everything from slavery to infanticide. What is the truth about race and skin color?

It is interesting scientifically that only humans have mostly naked skin and along with that, different colors of skin. Other animals have hair and mostly light-colored skin. As science has told us more about skin color and confirmed that we all came from common ancestors, we find clues about race and skin color and how we should treat one another.

The most fundamental reason for skin color differences is the fact that humans live at different latitudes. It is quite evident that human populations that have lived near the equator for many generations tend to have darker skin. As one moves from equatorial Africa toward the north, there is a constant change in skin color. By the time you get to northern Scandinavia, you have very light-skinned people with blond hair and blue eyes. People living near the equator have black skin, black eyes, and black hair.

It’s easy to understand why. Take two tin cans and paint one black and the other white. Fill them with boiling water and measure their temperature five minutes later. Dark colors radiate heat faster than light ones, so the darker can will be cooler than the white one. In equatorial Africa, the problems of heat release are very significant, because our brain cannot be allowed to overheat.

Another factor is ultraviolet radiation from the Sun, which can cause many changes in living tissue, including cancer. Human skin produces a substance known as melanin for protection. Melanin, God’s sunscreen, is a large organic molecule which both physically and chemically reduces the effects of UV radiation. Melanin absorbs UV rays causing them to lose energy. It also neutralizes harmful chemicals called free radicals that form in the skin after damage from UV radiation.

Dark skin absorbs a high percentage of UV light. It is essential, however, not to lose all the UV. Another thing that UV light does is to allow the body to produce vitamin D. Farther from the equator, the amount of UV is less, so dark-skinned people may not get enough UV light to make vitamin D. Lack of vitamin D causes rickets, so lighter skin is better at latitudes away from the equator.

As humans have migrated all over the globe, their ability to produce nutrients like vitamin D has been reduced in some groups. The Inuit people in Alaska don’t get enough vitamin D from the Sun, but they eat fish, which is very high in vitamin D. Their diet compensates for the low UV exposure. The presence of melanin in the skin, the complex biochemical system that produces vitamin D, and the ability of the body to protect itself against overheating and nutritional problems all speak well of the wisdom and design of our bodies.

Psalms 139:14 says, “I will praise you, Lord, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Instead of allowing race and skin color to divide and cause hostility between us, we should celebrate God’s wisdom and design. They show that we have a universal Creator who designed and equipped us marvelously to live on a planet that has varied conditions and environments.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Why Do We Have Mosquitoes?

Why Do We Have Mosquitoes?Every summer and early fall, the newspapers start talking about how horrible mosquitoes are. Then I have to deal with questions of why mosquitoes exist. If there is a kind and loving God, why do we have to worry about the diseases that mosquitoes carry? I have heard some people give rather foolish answers to this question, and I don’t wish to over-simplify in discussing it. But why do we have mosquitoes?

Many years ago, one of my professors at Notre Dame was Dr. George B. Craig, whose specialty was mosquitoes. He was “an internationally recognized expert on the biology and control of mosquitoes” according to a publication of the National Academies of Sciences. As one of his students, I learned some fantastic things about mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are pollinating insects. Most species of mosquitoes pollinate plants and don’t “bite” anything.

The word “mosquito” is Spanish for “little fly” and there are some 3500 species of them. The larvae of the mosquito are a significant part of the diet of fish and other water creatures. The mutation which turned some of them into bloodsuckers seems to have come into existence in recent history. It appears they were not created that way, and certainly have not always carried malaria and other diseases. The fact that there were no mosquitoes in Hawaii until the white man came to the islands with water barrels containing mosquito larvae is another important point to consider. The question of “why do we have mosquitoes” won’t always get answered to everyone’s satisfaction, but at least we can raise some points to make people think.

The design of the various food chains on Earth is very complex. This is especially true in freshwater areas with unique problems. In Alaska, for example, the necessary minerals for plants and the food sources for bears come from the salmon runs that bring the nutrients. The soil is sparse and nutrient-poor, and much of the year, the cold prevents normal food chains from functioning. Insects provide a significant means of moving nutrients through the system, so they are the base of the food chain in those freshwater systems. Without mosquito larvae to feed the freshwater creatures, including the salmon, that life would not exist.

Research has not given us enough data to understand how mutations in insects allow them to become disease carriers. There are multiple possible answers to that question, and future discoveries will make it more clear. Those of us who live in the north may not like the mosquitoes that make our outside activities uncomfortable, but we know how to cope with them. Why do we have mosquitoes? As we tie our dry flies to fish for trout and salmon, we see why the beauty of the north is at least partially rooted in things that complicate our lives. Mosquitoes are among those complications.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Understanding Pain

Understanding PainThe May 2019 issue of Smithsonian Magazine (page 48-) carried an article titled “A Mystery in the Family” by Matthew Shaer. The article describes a family in Italy in which the family members feel almost no pain. It also shows how far we are from understanding pain.

The entire Italian family seemed to share a lack of sensitivity to pain. It wasn’t that they couldn’t feel pain at all. When scientists injected capsaicin (the chemical that gives chili peppers their heat) into a family member’s arm, they felt the burning sensation, but only for a matter of seconds.

Our bodies are designed with the ability to feel pain, and we need it to avoid damage from our environment. When you touch a hot pan handle, you feel pain, so you put it down quickly. This is good pain and is essential to our survival. Studies show that one in five Americans suffers from chronic pain which is defined as pain that is unrelated to a recent injury and which lasts more than six months. The recent attention to opioid addiction is undoubtedly connected in some ways to how chronic pain affects us. Researchers are proposing that chronic pain results from our lifestyles. Eating more processed food, getting less exercise, and environmental pollution may all contribute to chronic pain.

Pain is different from our senses of smell, taste, or sight because there is not just one section of the brain responsible for the experience. There may be half a dozen or more areas of the brain involved. Doctors prescribe opioids to relieve the pain. Understanding pain and how we experience it could help us find a better way to relieve chronic pain.

One has to wonder if we have not brought the chronic pain issue onto ourselves. Those of us who have done some world-wide traveling have seen that pain is perceived and handled in various ways in different cultures. People walking on hot coals or running knives through their hands seems to be nothing exceptional in some areas of the world. When I was in the army, a young man assigned to our unit had grown up on the north slopes of Alaska. His view of what was cold in Wisconsin in January was not the same as the rest of us. In the Smithsonian article, an Italian family member showed up on a very cold day with a bitter wind blowing in a short-sleeved dress with her ankles bare. The young man in our army unit used to walk from the barracks to the mess hall in a T-shirt while the rest of us wore heavy parkas.

God’s design of the human body is so complex that it can be disturbed by a variety of external causes. God didn’t design us to have chronic pain. Understanding pain, how it works, and how to relieve it is essential. We need to survive what happens to us without being immobilized by aching that never seems to stop.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Shivering in the Cold

Shivering in the Cold
As I write this on January 21, my outdoor thermometer says that the temperature here in Michigan is -5 degrees Fahrenheit. I just graded a correspondence course from a young lady who lives in Tennessee. She asked, “How can the squirrels I see outside live when it is so cold here, and not even shiver?” It was 35 degrees Fahrenheit where she lives. Why don’t we see squirrels and other animals shivering in the cold?

Recently an atheist said that if God did exist, He wouldn’t make incredibly cold places like Alaska. In his mind, God is just too cruel to believe in. He would rather have the whole planet be like where he lives in central Florida.

There are so many problems with that view it would take much more space to discuss them all. The fact is that many animals are designed for the cold, right on down to making their bodies not feel it. The February/March 2019 issue of National Wildlife (page 8) has an interesting discussion about species of animals that have cold-sensing nerve cells that don’t feel temperatures below 68 degrees F. This allows an animal’s body temperature to drop for long periods so they can hibernate. They do not experience the cold that would keep them awake. Animals that don’t hibernate can survive and be active in temperatures as low as 35 degrees F without feeling the cold, and they can do so for up to nine months.

There are many benefits of animal hibernation both for them and for the ecosystems in which they live. God is sensitive to the problems produced by very cold conditions or even uncomfortable temperatures for humans. He has designed not only the conditions but also the physiological makeup of the living things that exist within those systems so they won’t be left shivering in the cold.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Ice Core Data and Global Warming

Ice Core Data Sampling
Many years ago I did a master’s degree thesis on what we can learn by studying ice core data. To do this, I looked at a core taken from Mt. Rainier and another taken from Alaska.

Those ice cores were taken in a place where it never gets warm enough for the ice and snow to melt. In the winter it snows, and the snow doesn’t melt but gets buried by the next winter snow. In the summer the snow from the previous winter gets dirty on top. Dust, insects, pollen, and the remains of plants and animals that died on the ice accumulate and are buried by the next winter’s snow. This happens year after year, so each summer leaves a line in the snow. Looking at these lines with a stereoscope I could count how many summers had passed and what lived during that summer.

Since my studies when I was a graduate student at Notre Dame, techniques for getting ice core data have improved. We can now get deeper cores in places like Antarctica and Greenland. Also, we now have tools which can measure the composition and abundance of atmospheric gases dissolved in the ice. We now have drill cores that go down over a mile. In 1984, scientists took a core at Vostok in the Antarctic that was 6,560 feet and contained about 420,000 summers. That means we can analyze the gases in Earth’s atmosphere for every year going back over 400,000 years.

Scientists then compared the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere and the average temperature for each location. They could see that when the carbon dioxide content went up, the average temperature also went up. Global warming is not a new thing, but how much human activity has affected the current warming is still unknown. What other factors might be involved is still pretty much conjecture.

Already we see some changes that the warming is producing with the melting of ice sheets and altered weather patterns. Not all of the changes are bad. Some places that have had a drought for a very long time are getting much-needed moisture. Fortunately, these changes are slow so that we can adapt. We can see the design of Earth to allow life to exist more clearly as the ice core data reveals its history.
–John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from Saturday Evening Post, January/February 2019, page 44.

Moon Causes Tides

Moon Causes Tides
Most people know that the Moon causes tides. The gravitational pull of the Moon mostly causes the ocean tides. The tides are essential for cleaning the coastlines and estuaries.

On average, the Moon is 238,900 miles (384,470 km) from Earth. What if the Moon were only half of its present distance from Earth? The Moon half as far away from Earth would create ocean tides eight times higher than they are now. At one-fourth the current distance from Earth, the tides would be sixty-four times higher than they are today. Imagine a world with tides like that! Coastal cities around the world would be in danger. Coastal lowlands would be uninhabitable. The coasts would be eroded away in a short time. Upflowing tidal waters would overpower rivers that flow into the oceans. Floodplains along the rivers would fill and drain with each ebb and flow of the tide.

With a closer Moon, all kinds of aquatic creatures living along the shore would not survive the destructive forces of the tides. In addition to those catastrophes, seawater would deposit salt on the fertile land along the rivers making them barren. Glaciers along the coast of Alaska and Greenland and the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica would be broken up. Icebergs would clog the Atlantic Ocean. Icebergs would sometimes wash ashore with the tides in places far from the cold climates, crushing whatever was in the way.

It all sounds like a plot for a science fiction movie! So the Moon causes tides, but don’t worry. The Moon is not going to move closer to Earth. We can be thankful that it’s is precisely the size and location where it is. It seems as if Someone designed it that way for a purpose.
–Roland Earnst © 2018