Designed with Purpose and Beauty

Designed with Purpose and Beauty

Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species in 1859, and Ernst Haeckel published drawings of embryos in his book The Natural History of Creation in 1868. Haeckel intended his somewhat inaccurate drawings to support Darwin’s theory by showing that embryo development reflects evolutionary development. As we said in yesterday’s post, those who reject the idea of a creator God try to explain what appears to be designed with purpose and beauty by saying it has no purpose and no designer. Beauty in living things can be a problem, or it can be a blessing, depending on whether you accept or reject the Designer of life.

Physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg is an atheist who rejects belief in God because of the problem of pain, which we can summarize as: “Why would an all-powerful and loving God allow pain and suffering?” Weinberg explains his view in his book Dreams of a Final Theory. However, he can’t explain the problem of why living things appear to be designed with purpose and beauty. He made the understatement of the century when he wrote, “I have to admit that sometimes nature seems more beautiful than strictly necessary.”

Evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins, writing in his book Climbing Mount Improbable, told about a time when he was driving through the countryside with his six-year-old daughter. The girl was excited about seeing “pretty” wildflowers. Dawkins asked his daughter what she thought was the purpose of wildflowers. She replied, “To make the world pretty, and to help the bees make honey for us.” Dawkins said he was sorry that he “had to tell her that it wasn’t true.” According to Dawkins, biology is the study of things that appear to be designed for a purpose, but his atheism forces him to argue that there is no purpose.

The living world around us shows many examples of the problem of beauty. Various species sing songs and perform dances that go beyond what survival would require. Gibbons sing duets, and birds of paradise display their beauty with song and dance. Bower birds go to excess extremes to create works of art. The peacock’s beautiful tail is extravagant from a survival perspective. These animal attributes seem inefficient and not a method to adapt to the environment. They certainly go beyond survival of the fittest to what David Rothenberg, a philosopher at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, calls “survival of the beautiful.”

Is it possible that the excessive beauty of living things is merely an accident, or is life designed with purpose and beauty? What is beauty, and why do we care? We will conclude this discussion tomorrow.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

Beauty in Nature

Beauty in Nature - Peacock
Peacock with Tail Spread

For the past two days, we have talked about beauty in nature and how it often seems to defy the evolutionary principle of survival of the fittest. Darwinists refer to “emergent order” as the process of living things coming into being without any design or intelligent guidance. Instead, they say it was accomplished by a set of simple rules laid out originally by Charles Darwin and refined into what is now known as Neo-Darwinism.

In his 1859 book On the Origin of Species, Darwin presented his principle of natural selection. However, he realized that natural selection acting on random mutations couldn’t explain the “selection” method used in all cases. Moreover, he was troubled by the excess beauty in nature. He saw unnecessary frills and flourish, which he could not explain by natural selection. A year after that book was published, his frustration caused him to write, “The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it makes me sick.”

To cover those cases where natural selection can’t explain the beauty in nature, he introduced “sexual selection” in his 1871 book The Descent of Man, and Selection Related to Sex. Sexual selection involves the beauty often seen in male birds in general and peacocks in particular. According to Darwin’s sexual selection theory, the reason for the beauty of the peacock’s tail is that the peahens prefer such gaudy but impractical decorations. The same principle applies to many other species, such as bower birds or birds of paradise, where the males display striking colors or impressive actions to attract a mate.

German zoologist and eugenicist Ernst Haeckel was also an artist. He popularized Darwin through his artwork published in several books. His drawings depict the beauty he saw in even one-celled animals called Radiolaria, and he attributed the beauty to natural selection and mathematical principles. Haeckel was so enamored by Darwin’s hypothesis that he went out of his way to promote it in books of drawings.

Haeckel’s drawings sometimes showed his bias for Darwinism. For example, in The Natural History of Creation (published in German in 1868 and later in English), he displayed drawings that compared human embryos with embryos of various animals, suggesting that the development of those embryos repeats the path of evolution. However, he manipulated his illustrations to prove his point. Other scientists later pointed out the flaws, and his dishonesty discredited his scientific credentials.

However, the books of Haeckel’s drawings were best sellers in their day, and they are still selling even today. Nevertheless, those drawings did not prove design without a designer. We have called the question of how excessive beauty in nature could have evolved by natural selection “the problem of beauty.” Yesterday, we said that we prefer to call it the blessing of beauty—a blessing from God. However, atheists do not see it as a gift from the Creator, and they try to explain it away as accidental. They suggest that what appears to be designed for a purpose has no purpose and no designer. We will look at that tomorrow.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

The Missing Link in Human Evolution?

The Missing Link in Human Evolution?
Taung child – Facial forensic reconstruction by Arc-Team, Antrocon NPO,
Cicero Moraes, University of Padua – CC-BY-SA 4.0

In his 1871 book The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin hypothesized that the evolutionary ancestors of modern humans originated in Africa. He pointed out that African apes most resemble humans, but he lacked fossil evidence to support his conjecture. The missing link, as it was called, showed up more than 50 years later.

In 1924, some miners working in a limestone quarry in Taung, South Africa, found a fossil of a child. Anatomists determined that this 3-to-4-year-old child had some humanlike and some apelike features. They called this “Taung Child” the missing link between apes and humans. Scientists gave it the name Australopithecus africanus, which means southern African ape.

Critics pointed out that young apes have similarities to young humans, but the resemblance goes away as they mature. However, racist attitudes were strong at the time, and eugenics was accepted as real science. Meanwhile, anthropologists were busy categorizing people into races. Western researchers wanted to justify their claim that Africans were more primitive and less evolved than other people, thus justifying slavery and racism.

One of the challenges to people who believe the Bible is making sense of the fossils and interpretations we read about or see in a museum or video documentary. The basic proposal of the “Does God Exist?” ministry is that science and faith are friends. We are interested in understanding–not conflict or debate. As science makes discoveries in various fields, our understanding may grow. We are seeing more evidence for God’s existence in the design of the universe and life.

The history of paleoanthropology has shown that people have used scientific discoveries in political battles and as justification for slavery, eugenics, and racism. The Bible simply says God created man of the dust of the earth. It does not tell us how long ago or give any other details. The most important thing is that He created humans in His own image (Genesis 1:27). That spiritual creation makes ALL humans equal and of infinite value. Christians recognize that fact (Galatians 3:26-29). Even scientists studying mitochondrial DNA have determined that every human alive today can be traced back to one woman they have called “Mitochondrial Eve.”

As science continues to look for the missing link, paleoanthropologist Bernard Wood said that from a scientific perspective, “Our origin story is a work in progress.” In other words, even scientists have trouble making sense of the fossils. Scientific discoveries in various fields may tell us more about how God did what He did, but science cannot tell us how to live successfully. Only the teachings of Jesus Christ that we find in the Bible can do that.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: “Tracing the Origins of Humans” by Erin Wayman in Science News September 25, 2021, (pages 20 -28)

Fossil Apes and Human Evolution

Fossil Apes and Human Evolution

Most of the media versions of human evolution are fictitious and inconsistent with the evidence. That is the finding of a study conducted by scholars from the American Museum of Natural History released in the journal Science for May 7, 2021, titled “Fossil Apes and Human Evolution.”

“When you look at the narrative for hominin origins [referring to bipedal apes and modern humans], it’s just a big mess – there’s no consensus whatsoever.” That’s a quote from Sergio Almecija, the lead author and a senior research scientist at the American Museum of Natural History’s Division of Anthropology. He went on to say, “People are working under completely different paradigms, and that’s something that I don’t see happening in other fields of science.” 

According to the study of fossil apes and human evolution, science has a wealth of fossils, but “many of these fossils show … combinations of features that do not match expectations for ancient representatives of the modern ape and human lineages.” We hasten to add that the museum’s article does not deny human evolution but clearly shows that the story given to the general public is a false impression that our history is a cut and dried factual record on which all scientists agree.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s book The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. There will be many articles and a few TV specials on fossil apes and human evolution in which certain well-known anthropologists will sell their view of human physical history. Careful students who know how much evidence is available will see the contradictions, but the general public will not. 

The biblical explanation of human creation is not a detailed physical explanation of how humans were created. Genesis 2:7 tells us, “God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” The Bible does not detail what processes God used to do that creating or what the finished product looked like (skin color, etc.). 

The Bible does tell us the essential factor that human beings were created in the image of God. “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He them, male and female created He them” (Genesis 1:27). Whether you view God as merely commanding and man miraculously appearing, or if you think of Him as a potter molding and shaping man’s body, that does not diminish the unique nature of humans. The Bible has an economy of language. We would like to have the details, but that is not the purpose of God’s Word. 

It’s a destructive message to tell humans they are just animals with no unique qualities and no real purpose in existing. Letting people know that they are special, created with a unique spiritual makeup means that all humans are equal in God’s sight and have a spiritual purpose for existing. Like Job, we are key players in the war between good and evil. Relegating humans to someone’s guess as to how we evolved and cherry-picking fossils to do that is not only unfortunate but has the potential to destroy our culture.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

References: Here is a link to the study in the journal Science.

This is the American Museum of Natural History’s report on the study.

This is Breakpoint’s summary of the study’s findings.

What Design Looks Like

What Design Looks Like
Architectural Design Team

In his book The Blind Watchmaker biologist and militant atheist Richard Dawkins wrote, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” He then argues that we must ignore appearance and realize that those complicated things were not designed. Can we recognize what design looks like?

Francis Crick, also an atheist, was one of the scientists who solved the mystery of the DNA molecule’s structural design. In his book What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery, he wrote that “biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.”

Even Charles Darwin admitted in a paragraph near the end of his book On the Origin of Species that many scientists rejected his theory, and he concluded that it was because they had closed minds. It seems that scientists in Darwin’s day and most people in our day see design in living things, and design calls for a Designer.

It is counter-intuitive to think that the rich tapestry of life is merely a chance accident with no design and no Designer. In our everyday experience, we know what design looks like. We never see anything complex and functional come into being without intelligent operatives designing it. That is true of buildings, automobiles, computers, books, and websites. Those and many other things around us show design, and they don’t happen without a designer. To believe that dead molecules came together on their own, came to life, and began to reproduce and breathe and think and write books and ask questions requires a great “leap of faith.”

Atheist Thomas Nagel, a professor of philosophy at New York University, wrote a book titled Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. In that book, he wrote, “It is prima facie implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents together with the mechanism of natural selection.” On the other hand, in his book “The Last Word,” Nagel wrote, “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers…I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God…”

For years, Antony Flew was a renowned philosopher described as “the best-known atheist in the English-speaking world.” He had a successful career of disputing God’s existence until he examined the design in living cells. His last book published in 2004 was titled There Is a God.

There is something within us that tells us we see design when we look at living things. We know what design looks like, and we have to go against our intuition to accept the idea that everything, including ourselves and our thinking, is an accident. As you look around at the many things that appear to be designed, ask yourself, “Do I know what design looks like?” And then ask, “Could there be a Designer?” How you answer that second question will make a world of difference in your life.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Ballooning Spiders

Ballooning SpidersNearly two centuries ago a young biologist on a ship 60 miles from the nearest coastline was amazed by some spiders. The spiders were showing up on his ship when they had not been there before. Since his discovery, other researchers have seen similar mysterious migrations of ballooning spiders across open waters. Scientists have studied this amazing technique on Robinson Crusoe Island in the Pacific Ocean 415 miles off the coast of Chile.

The spiders climb to a high point and secure themselves with silk. The spiders have fine hairs called trichobothria which they use to sense wind direction and electric conditions. When it rains, electrons are carried to the ground making the ground negatively charged and the upper atmosphere positively charged. The spiders sense the field that results from this separation of charge. When conditions are right, the spiders release a silk that is so light that even the slightest breeze will keep it afloat. As the spiders spin off this low-density silk, their spinnerets also acquire a negative charge from the ground. The negative charge of the ground repels the negative charge on the silk. When the electric field and the breeze are strong enough, the spiders release the securing silk and become lifted into the air.

The ballooning spiders can rise up to 2.8 miles high and ride the winds for thousands of miles needing no food or water. When they land, they attach themselves and deposit their eggs. The ones that land on Robinson Crusoe Island are called ghost spiders.

The question of why this system is built into the spider’s DNA, how it knows when to send out different kinds of silk, and how it knows to use its legs for flight control is still being studied. There is no connection to other spiders and no compelling force to make them leave their original habitat.

We suggest that God has built incredible designs into all living things that allow the whole world to be populated and repopulated when climate change or other natural processes cause local extinction. By the way, the young biologist who first noticed the ballooning spiders technique was Charles Darwin.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from National Geographic, May 2019, page 28.

Fake Artifact Claims

Fake Artifact Claims
One of the problems with putting together an accurate picture of the past is determining what is real and what isn’t. Whether we are talking about fossils or archaeological discoveries, there are always people who make fake artifact claims. Sometimes they do it as a means to get notoriety, sometimes to get money, and sometimes both. Time magazine, February 4-11, 2019, page 10, presented is a short list of famous fakes:

THE PILTDOWN MAN was introduced as a missing link in human evolution. Amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson claimed to have discovered the skull in 1912. Forty years later it was exposed as a forgery. The portrait painted in 1915 by John Cooke shows a group of distinguished scientists examining the faked skull. Notice the picture of Charles Darwin on the wall.

SCOTTISH STONE CIRCLE has been a subject of archaeological interest because it was considered to be a remnant of early man. It turned out to be a structure that a local farmer built in the 1990s.

THE GOLDEN TIARA was supposed to have belonged to an ancient Scythian king. The Louvre purchased it in 1896, and it was later shown to be a fake made by an Odessa goldsmith.

THE MISSISSIPPI MUMMY was part of the old Capitol Museum since 1920. It was claimed to be from the time of Christ and perhaps related to Joseph and Mary’s time in Egypt. In 1969 a medical student X-rayed it and found it was composed of paper-mâché, a wooden frame, and nails. Fake artifact claims often take a long time to be discovered.

PINGYI MISSING LINK TO DINOSAURS was a fossil pictured on the cover of National Geographic in 1999 as proof that birds descended from dinosaurs. The fossil is actually a fake composed by a local farmer. Chinese paleontologists estimate that more than 80% of the marine reptiles displayed in China’s museums are forged.

All of this is a demonstration of a challenge to scientists to continually be aware that the old “rule of graduate work” made in jest is always with us. It says “make sure your data conforms to your conclusions.” Fake artifact claims sometimes result from the pressure put on researchers to publish or perish. When the truth becomes known it can be painfully embarrassing for the scientists involved. For us laymen, no matter what our belief system is, it is essential to be careful with our sources of information.
–John N. Clayton

Plants Spread Their Seeds

Plants Spread Their Seeds - Sandbox Tree
Plants use a wide range of methods to spread their seeds. Some plants have seeds encased in a shell or a fleshy bundle that various animals, including humans, like to eat. We are all familiar with nuts and fruits, but the basic design of these foods is to spread their seeds. We live in an area where poison ivy is a real nuisance, and getting rid of it this year won’t stop it from being a problem next year because birds eat the berries on the plant and replant the ivy all over our property. For good or bad, plants spread their seeds.

In our front yard, we have maple trees, and we all know about the helicopters that maple trees produce. We have cottonwood trees which have white flocculent packets that drift across the landscape carrying their seeds with them. We also have several plants with seeds encased in a bundle with barbs that stick to our clothes. Plants spread their seeds by many methods working together to make our world green and able to support a host of animal life.

Plants that shoot their seeds use one of the most interesting methods of seed disbursal. The seed pod in the picture is from the sandbox tree (Hura crepitans) nicknamed “the dynamite tree” because of the explosive way the pods burst open. In the segments of the pod, the outer and inner layers grow at different speeds. This creates tension as the surfaces push against each other. When the seeds are ready, the pressure becomes so great, that the capsule explodes. The sections that were initially convex rapidly flip to concave in a process known to engineers as snap-buckling. That explosion can shoot the seeds 100 feet (30 m) at speeds of 160 miles (257 km) per hour.

Some of us remember “jumping disks” we had as children. Two metals were fused together with the metals having different coefficients of linear expansion. If you rubbed the side of the disk with your finger making it hot, it would expand, and you could bend it, so the disk had tension produced and held by the expanded metal. As the disk cooled, it would eventually snap back to its original shape, causing it to jump into the air.

Scientists have tried since the time of Charles Darwin, who had a fascination with the Venus flytrap, to understand how a plant with no muscles could shoot seeds or snap closed to trap insects. It has only been in the last 20 years that high-speed cameras which can take 10,000 frames per second have allowed researchers to understand how this incredible design works.

Measurements of snapping plants show a g-force of 2400. Fighter pilots can handle about nine gs before passing out. A wide variety of designs allow plants to shoot seeds or snap shut to trap food. The American dwarf mistletoe uses a chemical heat system that explodes seeds. The wild petunia has 20 disk-shaped seeds in hooks. When the seed pod gets wet, it splits and launches the seeds like Frisbees, but much faster with revolution rates of nearly 100,000 rpm. The Venus flytrap apparently uses an electrical signal, but scientists are still studying it to learn exactly how it works.

Plants spread their seeds by many amazing mechanisms God has built into them, and which scientists are still trying to understand. Even more amazing is the complexity of the life-support systems on Earth that allow us to exist.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
For more on his topic, see “Physics of Rapid Movement in Plants” in Europhysics News
and a wonderful article “Meet the Speedsters of the Plant World” in Science News

Evolution Weekend and Darwin Day 2018

Evolution Weekend and Darwin Day 2018
February 12 has been designated as Darwin Day by the U.S. government with Senate Resolution 374 and House Resolution 699 both being pushed by the American Humanist Association. The stated goal is “..support of designating February 12, 2018, as Darwin Day and recognition of Charles Darwin as a worthy symbol of scientific advancement on which to focus and around which to build a global celebration of science and humanity intended to promote a common bond among all of Earth’s people.” With Darwin Day comes the return of Evolution Weekend in which various churches use the weekend of February 9-11 to promote their view that “evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith.” The Clergy Letter which Michael Zimmerman circulates among denominational congregations states that “Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy.”

All of this is a strange mix of good ideas and bad ideas along with fact and opinion. It is also replete with attacks on the Bible and denigration of those who claim that bad science is involved. The stated goals are wonderful. The failure to define what is meant by evolution and accurately present what Charles Darwin actually discovered dilutes the value of the weekend and of Darwin Day itself.

It would be wonderful if Darwin Day not only commemorated the birth of Charles Darwin but presented his primary discovery. What Darwin discovered was that living things are designed so that they can change and adapt to environmental conditions and changes humans make to improve crops and animal husbandry. Unfortunately, atheists attempt to add the writings of those who oppose the idea that humans are special. Instead, they suggest that all of life has equal value because they deny the spiritual dimension of humans.

It would also be wonderful if, on evolution weekend, religious bodies would present to their constituents the evidence that claimed conflicts between science and the Bible do not exist. The conflicts are caused by bad science or bad theology–not because of what the Bible actually says or what science has factually proven to be true.

Unfortunately many members of the clergy, such as the “Jesus Seminar,” join the atheists in denigrating the Bible by suggesting that it is full of errors. The National Center for Science Education reports that 182 congregations in 42 states are participating in Evolution Weekend. That is a very small percentage of American churches.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Plastic-Eating Worms

Food for Plastic-Eating Worms
One of the confusing points about evolution for many Christians is not understanding that there is a difference between the fact of evolution and naturalistic theories of evolution. Evolutionary adaptations have given us plastic-eating worms.

Attempting to say that evolution eliminates God from the picture of creation is an incredibly ignorant statement, and yet we see it in both atheist and Christian papers. The word “evolution” means “unfolding change.” The fact that God engineered life in such a way that living things can change is one of the most incredible examples of design.

Darwin’s work in the Galapagos Islands showing that finches could change physically to meet the local food supply does not contradict the Bible in any way. When we visited Darwin Station in the Galapagos and talked with the workers, they were dumbfounded to hear that anyone thought there was a biblical problem with the work they were doing there.

The August 2017 issue of Scientific American (page 21), carried an article about the larvae of the greater wax moth that has mutated so that it can consume polyethylene plastic. Humans produce some 300 million metric tons of plastic every year, and this material is clogging landfills and showing up in lakes and streams. To find a way to biodegrade this material would be a huge ecological breakthrough, and it is possible because of the design of the genetics of the wax moth larvae. Beeswax is the main food of the larvae, but the mutation allows them to degrade polyethylene as well.

The scientists involved are studying the process to discover the enzyme that the plastic-eating worms use to break down the polyethylene. God apparently built a solution to the biggest waste problem we face today by the design of the genome of the wax worm.

Current Biology journal originally published news of this discovery on August 7, 2017.
–John N. Clayton © 2017