Animal Environmentalists – Pygmy Marmosets

Animal Environmentalists – Pygmy Marmosets

People have only recently begun to realize that we must manage the environment in a way that doesn’t destroy the resources we need for survival. However, we see many examples of animals using conservation measures to preserve a vital resource. A classic example of animal environmentalists is the pygmy marmoset in the western Amazon of South America. 

Pygmy marmosets are the world’s smallest monkeys. The heaviest they get is about four ounces, and their largest size is nine inches. Because of their “cuteness,” people have captured and sold them as pets since they don’t bite, are quiet, and are easy to feed. People feed them sugar syrup along with a few supplements. In the wild, one of their main foods is high-sugar-content tree sap. Pygmy marmosets drill holes into a tree and lap up the flowing sap, and they can keep the hole open as long as needed. 

The interesting thing is how pygmy marmosets manage this resource. Drilling holes in multiple trees gives them enough nutrients to sustain a large population. However, making many holes in a tree and keeping them open would eventually kill the tree. So how do these animal environmentalists avoid killing off their food supply?

The PBS program Nature told of researchers who spent a month studying the pygmy marmoset lifestyle in an extremely remote part of the western Amazon away from human interference. The answer is that the monkeys let the holes heal over and switch locations to avoid extracting too much sap from one tree. In this way, they don’t damage the trees and have a constant food source. The question is, how do they know to do this? The human way of doing things might be to pull out everything from one tree and then go to the next until none were left. 

God has built a system of checks and balances into the natural world, allowing it to function indefinitely. It is only when humans upset the balance that trouble ensues. Animal environmentalists such as pygmy marmosets display the wisdom of God’s creation.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Source: The PBS program Nature, which initially aired on October 9, 2019

God Created Two Books

God Created Two Books

How have you arrived at the belief system that governs your life? God created two books we are called to use as the basis for our lives, morals, and religious practice. Since these two books have one author, they must be complimentary and cannot conflict. It is strange that many people read one book and refuse to look at the other. That is true of both atheists and religionists.

One of the books is the Bible, and it calls us to use it as a guide for life. Second Timothy 3:16-17 states it very clearly: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for teaching, for training, for guiding and for moral discipline so that the man of God may be complete and adequately equipped for all good work.” Atheists reject this book because it involves denying one of a few physical pleasures and gives a purpose in living other than survival. Living selfishly has its rewards, and that is attractive.

God created two books, and the second book is the creation itself. The Bible is full of admonitions to use the things God has created as a means of knowing truth and learning how to live a productive and rewarding life. The Old Testament calls us to use what we see in the world around us as a guide to life. The entire book of Job carries that message. Numerous Psalms call us to see God’s wisdom and design and shape our beliefs in them. (See Psalms 8:3-9; 19:1; 53:1-4; 139:14-16.) Proverbs is full of admonitions to learn from the creation. (See Proverbs 6:6; 8:1-7 and 22-36.)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus used the created world as the basis of much of His teaching. (See Matthew 6:26-30; 7:16-20.) Romans 1:18 – 23 says of humans, “That which can be known of God lies plain before their eyes for God himself has made it clear to them. For those things of God which the eye can not see, ever since the creation of the world, are clearly perceived through the things that are made, and are clear to the eye of reason, even his eternal power and divine character so that men have no excuse.”

So God created two books, and it is clear why atheists do not wish to read and apply the Bible to guide their moral and spiritual lives. It is hard to understand why people who claim to believe in God refuse to look at the creation as a source of instruction and guidance. Some are too lazy to read the Bible and study its message, and others are too lazy to read the creation and learn its message. We need to read and study both books so that we can do what 1 Peter 3:15 tells us: “Revere Christ as Lord in your hearts and always be ready with your defense whenever you are called to account for the hope that is in you, yet argue gently and cautiously with meekness and respect.”

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Wormholes, Black Holes, and the Beginning

Wormholes, Black Holes, and the Beginning
Wormhole Illustration

One of the strongest arguments for God’s existence is the fact that all evidence indicates that there was a beginning to the creation. Space and time are not eternal. If the creation began, there had to be a cause for space/time. The only way to avoid that is to show that space/time is eternal. The classic atheist argument is that if God has always existed, it is just as valid to claim that space/time has always existed. One way to support the view that space/time is eternal is to suggest that tunnels called wormholes exist between black holes in the cosmos.

The idea is that wormholes would allow matter/energy to fall into a black hole in one area of space and re-emerge in another part of space. By falling into a black hole, the conservation laws of science and the laws of thermodynamics would be invalidated. Physical laws, entropy, and all other boundaries would start over when the matter/energy emerged at the wormhole’s other end. All matter/energy in the cosmos would experience these changes through an infinite number of wormholes, and since the laws of science would be re-established, this could go on forever. In essence, this is a new version of last century’s oscillating universe theory.

Science fiction writers have used this idea as a way for aliens to quickly travel anywhere in the cosmos. The distances between galaxies are in the millions of light years, so traveling even at the speed of light would take millions of years. If wormholes connected the galaxies, you could take a shortcut traveling instantly from one galaxy to another. This is an imaginative proposal, but the evidence doesn’t support it.

If every galaxy is connected to other galaxies by wormholes, we should be able to see matter/energy emerging from every galaxy we observe. If the wormhole were in empty space, you would see white holes where this would be happening. We don’t see any such objects anywhere. Instead, we see black holes and even have photographic evidence of their existence. However, the nature of a black hole is that matter/energy falls into it and is compressed smaller and smaller to an infinitely small point. Nothing comes out of a black hole by any process.

Scientists speculate that ultimately, all the matter/energy in the cosmos will fall into one supermassive black hole and be destroyed. That reminds us of the words of Peter in 2 Peter 3:10-12, “The elements will be dissolved.” There was a beginning, and it was caused by God, an entity outside of space/time, and there will be an end.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Endothermic or Ectothermic – What’s the Difference?

Endothermic or Ectothermic – What’s the Difference?

You are an endothermic mammal. That means your body’s metabolic rate controls your internal body temperature. We describe that condition by saying you are “warm-blooded.” Many life forms on our planet are “cold-blooded” (ectothermic) because the environment controls their internal body temperature. The limitation of being cold-blooded is that it requires warm environmental temperatures. Ectothermic life forms can’t survive in polar areas. Endothermic life can survive almost anywhere.

During the time of the dinosaurs, the planet was very hot. That means biological systems, including plants, grew quickly. Those conditions were part of God’s preparation of resources that humans would need, including oil, coal, topsoil, and oxygen. However, the geologic record shows a point in Earth’s history when the climate radically changed. 

As the entire planet cooled, areas at or near the poles became too cold for cold-blooded life to exist. Studies of bone growth rates and oxygen isotopes in ancient bones indicate a rapid change. This change would not be a problem for warm-blooded animals but would reduce the number, size, and activity of cold-blooded life forms.

The challenge would be to design living creatures that can translate food into enough internal heat to survive in a cold environment. Science News reported on studies of the inner ears of reptiles and mammals. In warm-blooded animals, the inner ear fluid is less viscous, requiring that the ear canals become smaller. As a result, fossils show a sharp change in inner ear morphology at the time when Earth’s climate became colder. 

Many other changes were required for life to go from ectothermic to endothermic. However, the inner ear structure is preserved in the fossils, making it useful for scientists to study the history of life on Earth. The complexity of endothermy reminds us again of the words of Psalms 139:14, “I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are your works.” In our time of changing climate, the design of life continues to show the wisdom involved in life’s creation. 

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Science News August 27, 2022, page 9, and Nature.com

Our Planet is Unique and Bizarre

Our Planet is Unique and Bizarre

Human technology has allowed more observations of our planet than most of us realize. NASA currently operates around 30 Earth-observing missions accumulating massive amounts of data. We know about changes in sea level for the Earth’s oceans within a fraction of an inch. Hourly, we can know the areas of our planet covered with snow. We measure the amount of tree cover on Earth and minute-by-minute changes in the planet’s atmosphere. The result of all this detecting and measuring is that we know that our planet is unique and bizarre.

Earth is the only planet we have seen with an active water cycle that causes weather and allows the recycling of water resources. It is also the only known planet with active plate tectonics, recycling minerals within Earth’s crust using earthquakes and volcanoes while releasing volatiles that create and maintain our atmosphere.

We have only recently understood the Moon’s role and how important it is for life to exist on Earth. We know that it was formed in a catastrophic impact that determined its location and size. The size and distance from Earth are precisely right to cause the strength of our tides and give our planet a stable 23.4-degree tilt. Without the Moon, our Sun would cause very weak tides causing our coastlines to be much different, while the planet’s axis of rotation would wobble, destabilizing the climate.

Our planet is unique and bizarre because it has been shaped by vegetation, responsible for the atmosphere’s oxygen content of 21%. The typical astronomical atmosphere of planets is dominated by methane and carbon dioxide. Photosynthesis uses sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce the oxygen we breathe. Science is still struggling to understand the source of the massive amount of minerals we have on Earth. Meteorites have a small number of minerals, and while the Moon has a larger number, Earth’s variety of minerals is astounding.

Discover magazine featured an article discussing NASA’s studies of planet Earth. It stated that Earth observations have taught scientists one sure thing: “Our planet is unique and bizarre, with unusual properties that don’t match those of any other world we’ve seen, either in our own solar system or beyond it.”

For those of us who understand the science involved and believe in God as the creator, this is no surprise. Proverbs 8 finds “Wisdom” saying, “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way …” We see that beautifully demonstrated as we look at our planet and marvel at the intelligence of the Designer who produced it.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: “Earth is a Planet Too!” by Alison Klesman in the September/October 2022 issue of Discover magazine.

Mauna Kea Wekiu Bug

Mauna Kea Wekiu Bug
Mauna Kea Volcano Observatory

We have frequently pointed out the importance of recycling agents in the natural world. They are creatures that take waste material of any kind and process it so that our planet is not inundated with excrement and dead bodies. The microbes that process dead material and produce soil, the dung beetles that handle excrement, and the vultures that eat carrion are among those recyclers essential to our environment. From the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory comes a recent discovery of another recycling agent to handle waste most of us would not even know existed. It’s the Mauna Kea wekiu bug (Nysius wekiuicola).

In 1980, scientists on Mauna Kea in Hawaii discovered the wekiu bug that handles natural waste on the summits of mountains where it is too cold for life to exist. At these extreme elevations, the jet stream, typhoons, and other sources of high elevation winds deposit the dead bodies of insects and birds. Instead of those bodies piling up, the Mauna Kea wekiu bug processes them. It’s a beetle whose name comes from the Hawaiian word for “summit.” This bug is specially designed to process mountaintop waste.

The wekiu bug has a straw-shaped mouth that it inserts into a dead insect or bird, allowing the bug to draw out any fluids or nutrients. That leaves the hard parts, which crumble and are carried away by rain, snow, ice, and wind. Even in this very inhospitable area for life, with frequent temperatures well below freezing and no surviving plant life, these bugs process organic material. The Mauna Kea wekiu bug is another example of God’s design to provide balance in nature. He created a natural system designed to allow the constant reprocessing of organic materials so that our planet can support an abundance of all kinds of life.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: The PBS series of Planet Earth for 2022 and Wikipedia.

Natural Insect Control by an Insect

Natural Insect Control by an Insect - Praying Mantis

People struggle with many insects that give us diseases, impact our food supply, and even damage our clothing. Mosquitoes, locusts, grasshoppers, cockroaches, crickets, and the like have been a scourge prompting the use of pesticides. The pesticides, in turn, have brought cancer and attacks on our immune systems. Yet, we often overlook the fact that God has given us natural insect control by providing agents that eat insects, including birds, bats, fish, and even insects. One insect-eating insect that looks like it came from another planet is known to entomologists as “Mantis religiosa” but is commonly called the praying mantis.

The mantis has bulging eyes and a triangular-shaped head that swivels atop a long neck, giving it an odd extraterrestrial look. It is the only insect with three-dimensional vision. It holds its two front legs at an angle as if folded in prayer while actually poised to ambush prey. Those forelegs are armed with spikes so that when they capture an insect, it cannot escape.

Humans introduced the praying mantis from Europe into New York state in 1900 to control grasshopper infestations. Mantises are voracious eaters and can even be cannibalistic. Their population is partly controlled by eating each other when the food supply becomes reduced. Females sometimes eat the males and the egg capsules when there is a food shortage.

A mistake humans have made is using chemicals to control insect populations instead of using the natural controls God has given us. Spraying massive amounts of insect-killing chemicals kills everything, including insect-eating birds, fish, and insects like the praying mantis. We often hear people blaming God for the diseases and afflictions humans have caused.

The more we study the creation, the more we see natural insect control agents. They may require work and a more significant time investment than the easy process of spraying, but they cause far less collateral damage.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

References: The Spokesman-Review for 8/30/22 page A01 by Linda Welford and Wikipedia

Neurotheology or Spiritual Neuroscience

Neurotheology or Spiritual Neuroscience

Ancient societies considered epilepsy “the sacred disease” because they thought of epileptic seizures as religious experiences. In modern times some have argued that epileptic seizures stimulate a region of the brain’s temporal lobe that may explain the “religiosity” of some individuals. Neurotheology or spiritual neuroscience is a modern field of science that tries to understand religion by studying how the brain works.

In 2005 Dean Hamer published a book titled The God Gene, in which he claimed to have found a gene in Human DNA that would predict whether a person would believe in God. Experts criticized Hamer for his misuse of statistics and lack of understanding of genetics. James Clark wrote a book in 2019 titled God and the Brain (Eerdmans Publishing), in which he maintained that the brain has an area tied to religious experience. He called this the “agency detecting device” and asserted that the Creator put it there to cause us to look beyond the mechanics of science and seek the Agent behind creation. Dr. Malcolm Jeeves heads the Psychology and Neuroscience Department of the University of St. Andrews. He encourages a healthy discussion between religion and science while suggesting that there are realms beyond the reach of science.

Neurotheology or spiritual neuroscience is a very “soft science.” That means no scientist has conducted an experiment that answers the question of why some people are more religious than others. It would seem that attempting to find a cause for religiosity is futile because of the nature of our creation in the image of God. One theme throughout the Bible is that people must voluntarily choose whether to embrace faith in God. That belief can be affected by experience and evidence, but it is still up to each person to accept or reject God.

Atheists would like to find a physical cause for faith. If they could, they would deny the human spiritual nature and write it off as a mutation in our distant ancestors that we should eliminate. Agnostic Stephen Jay Gould maintained that science and religion were “non-overlapping magisteria,” meaning they each represent entirely different areas of inquiry. Perhaps that should apply to neurotheology or spiritual neuroscience.

In the August issue of the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, Toby Engelking wrote, “No matter how much we describe the way that minds work, we cannot say much about the way that they ought to work or why they are working at all. These are realms of philosophy and theology, realms which science is not equipped to venture into.”

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: God and Nature the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation

Foods Derived from Flowers Need Auxin

Foods Derived from Flowers Need Auxin
Strawberries – the only fruit with seeds on the outside

What seems like a simple question may have a very complex and essential answer. The question is this: How does a flowering plant develop fruits and seeds? This is a crucial question to answer for the production of common food crops such as peanuts, corn, rice, strawberries, and all other foods derived from flowers.

The time when flowers turn some of their parts into seeds or fruit determines when the fruit will be ready to harvest, how big it will be, and what nutrients and water must be applied at what time.

Zhongchi Liu at the University of Maryland has identified a gene called AGL62 that stimulates plant production of a growth hormone called “auxin.” Once the gene activates, the plant synthesizes auxin, causing the creation of a seedcoat. The seedcoat is the outer layer protecting the endosperm, the part of a seed that provides food for a developing plant embryo and fruit. More auxin can boost grain size and stimulate fruit enlargement. If there is insufficient auxin, the crop produced will be smaller, and the fruit will not be commercially viable.

Liu has been working with strawberries because they are easier to study, but it applies to virtually all foods derived from flowers. This is another example of the design God built into the creation of life. When humans finally understand the design, it opens up a way to produce more food for a hungry world.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Research News from the National Science Foundation

Invasive Species and Environmental Problems

Invasive Species and Environmental Problems - Lionfish
Red Lionfish

It is interesting to hear skeptics blaming God for the existence of invasive plants and animals. There is no question that non-native species thrive in the United States. However, some species brought to this country have no natural predators to keep them in check. As a result, they cause crop damage, human health problems, and environmental damage. There are nearly 6,500 invasive species in America, and they cause more damage every year than all natural disasters combined. The stories of how they got here are interesting. Here are some examples:

NUTRIA – Also known as coypu or “swamp rats,” these South American rodents were brought to America by fur farmers in the 20th century.
BROWN GARDEN SNAIL – These mollusks were brought to California as food by French immigrants in the 1850s.
KUDZU – This Asian vine was brought to the U.S. as an ornamental plant in 1876, and farmers used it to feed livestock and reduce soil erosion. To make kudzu widely available to farmers, government agencies provided 85 million seedlings.
WILD BOAR – These animals were native to Eurasia and brought to the U.S. in the early 1900s for hunting. Early settlers in the 1500s introduced domestic pigs as a food source. Unfortunately, some escaped pigs mated with the boars resulting in the invasive species we have today.
LIONFISH – These beautiful fish with venomous spines are natives of the South Pacific and Indian oceans. Aquarium enthusiasts brought them to the U.S. between 1985 and 1992, but when released, they wipe out native fish populations.
DANDELION – Early European settlers brought these “weeds” to the U.S. for food and medicinal purposes.

These invasive species and others cause billions of dollars in economic damage annually. However, we should understand that not all non-native species are considered invasive. For example, corn and wheat are not native to the United States but were brought here as successful food crops.

In Genesis 9:3, God told Noah, “Everything that moves shall be food for you, just as I have given you green plants.” God has given us a wide variety of food sources designed to thrive in various ecological environments, but we must be good stewards of how we use and spread them.

Problems arise when people purposely or accidentally transport plants or animals to new locations where they become out of control. Without predators to control populations, they can throw an entire environment out of balance. Most of our environmental problems are human-caused, and invasive species of plants and animals are good examples.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: Discover magazine for September/October 2022 (pages 34 – 41)