Zebra Finch Memory Mapping Skills

Zebra Finch Memory Mapping Skills

Researchers at the University of California – Berkeley have been studying the ability of birds to use a language skill called “fast mapping.” Until now, only humans have shown this ability. However, scientists are discovering zebra finch memory mapping skills.

The researchers examined 20 birds to see what they could remember and how they used the retained information. The researchers found that the finches could identify their mates’ calls 100% of the time. Furthermore, they could identify the calls of every member of their flock for more than a month. They could even do this when they heard the calls of the other finches as few as five times. Even more interesting is that they demonstrated these skills even with changing calls.

It doesn’t take a lot of thinking to see how valuable this memory ability is. For example, birds that flock together need to be able to recognize every member of their flock. Scientists are using this information to study other animals.

Memory is not dependent on the size of the brain.
The zebra finch is a very small bird, and some large animals do not seem to have the memory ability that these finches demonstrate.

Human memory is a subject of intense study, with dementia and Alzheimer’s increasingly becoming a problem that affects us all. Understanding the brain’s design that allows memory storage is essential to improving our ability to store and recall information. Perhaps the zebra finch memory mapping skills can help us understand more of how God designed brains to work.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: National Wildlife magazine, October/November 2021, page 8.

Visiting the Galapagos Islands

Visiting the Galapagos Islands - Galapagos Tortoise
Galapagos Tortoise

In 2013, we had the blessing of visiting the Galapagos Islands, and we spent some time at the Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora. When Charles Darwin studied the living creatures on the Galapagos, what he saw precipitated his understanding of how God’s design in nature works. At the time of Darwin, organized religion taught that every living thing on Earth was created independently by God, and Darwin had been indoctrinated with that belief. However, the Bible does not say that. 

While visiting the Galapagos Islands, Darwin examined the tortoises, iguanas, penguins, finches, sea lions, and other life forms. It made him realize that each creature had characteristics that enabled them to survive on each island’s habitat. The variations were minor, but they ensured survival, and it was clear that not all of the islands were of the same age. This led, 1859, to the publication of his book On The Origin of Species and to what Darwin called “evolution by natural selection.”

Darwin did not view his studies as contradicting the Bible. Furthermore, neither did anyone I talked with at Darwin Station or any other research facility in the Galapagos. In I Corinthians 15:39, Paul defines the various forms of life as the flesh of fish, the flesh of birds, the flesh of beasts, and the flesh of man. He did not say flesh of bluebird, the flesh of robin, the flesh of crow, the flesh of hawk, etc. It was not Darwin’s research but speculations that grew out of Darwin’s work that put human guesses at odds with the Bible.

Since 2013, genetic studies have shown that the animals in the Galapagos came from somewhere else. DNA sequencing has shown that the giant Galapagos tortoises have relatives living on the west coast of South America. The DNA sequences are over 90% identical. Because of the modifications, the tortoises can live in the Galapagos, where conditions are very different from South America. The Galapagos sea lion is almost identical to the California sea lion. The marine iguanas in the Galapagos are basically the same as the land lizards in Mexico and Central America. The Galapagos penguin is a virtual twin to the banded penguins of Peru. The DNA sequences give a clear picture of how the volcanic islands of the Galapagos became inhabited.

Visiting the Galapagos Islands in 1831-1836, Darwin didn’t have any way of knowing the genomes of these creatures, but he saw the similarities. We know that animals can be transported long distances by hurricanes, tsunamis, typhoons, and floating debris. The animals that migrated to the Galapagos adapted to what they found. For example, Iguanas adapted to eating marine algae, and they multiplied in the Galapagos.

We are now using the design that God built into life and what we learned in the Galapagos to produce plants and animals that can provide more food and more nutritious food. The study of genetics is opening doors to our understanding of how to “take care of the garden (planet earth)” that God has placed in our care (Genesis 2:15). Let us do that wisely.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

You can learn more about our visit to the Galapagos Islands from the Does God Exist? Journal for May/June 2013. It is available to read on the doesgodexist.org website at THIS LINK. Another reference used in this post is the Herald Bulletin, Anderson, Indiana, for October 9, 2021, page B5. 

The Purpose for the Woolly Mammoth

The Purpose for the Woolly Mammoth

Often when we see fossil evidence of extinct animals, we wonder what purpose that animal served. For example, the giant plant-eating dinosaurs not only pruned the fast-growing plants of the world in which they lived, but they also spread the plant seeds and fertilized the ground where the plants grew. So what was the purpose for the woolly mammoth?

Russian researchers have found that woolly mammoths played a significant role in shaping the Siberian tundra in the ancient past. Today we see that massive amounts of moss dominate the terrain and causing a build-up of carbon dioxide. Woolly mammoths pulverized the moss, clearing the way for grass to spring up. They enriched the soil for the grass to grow, and the grass stopped soil erosion and took in carbon dioxide.

An American company wants to reconstruct the woolly mammoth’s genome and create herds of woolly mammoths to repeat what happened in the past. That company believes they can increase grass growth and create a whole industry based on herds of woolly mammoths.

This scenario sounds similar to the theme of the movie Jurassic Park. Unfortunately, we don’t have good information about what woolly mammoths were like, how they lived, and what diseases they carried. God had a purpose for woolly mammoths, and the research by the Russian scientists tells how that system worked in the past. When humans try to duplicate what God did, they usually do more damage than good.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: The Herald Bulletin, Anderson, Indiana, October 2, 2020, page A6.

CCL Center is a Valuable New Resource

CCL Center is a Valuable New Resource

On October 9-10, we attended a seminar on archaeology presented by Dr. Rick Bullard at the new CCL Center in Florence, Kentucky. We also toured the Elliott Library and Museum located there. Suppose you are interested in historical books dating back to the early 17th century, original bibles, archaeological finds, and a library with books and artifacts related to the Restoration Movement. In that case, this is a learning center you should visit.

The Christian Church Leadership Center is unique in that it houses rare items not found in any other museum. The library’s curator is Jim Lloyd, and he has a thorough understanding of the books and the issues relating to the history of religion in America. Dr. David Fincher, president of Central Christian College of the Bible in Moberly, Missouri, was our host and the man behind the CCL project. In addition, he has connections with David Lipscomb University in Nashville and York College in Nebraska, home of the Clayton Museum of Ancient History.

We also enjoyed talking at length with Dr. William Custer, an expert in apologetics and the philosophy of religion. Custer is a graduate of the University of Chicago and an associate of Norman Geissler. These men and the CCL Center are interested in working with Does God Exist? to provide apologetics training to leaders in Churches of Christ and Christian Churches.

The CCL Center is offering monthly Saturday presentations by respected scholars on apologetics and topics related to the Restoration Movement. The session we attended, led by Dr. Bullard, was titled “Archaeology and the Bible: Stories and Artifacts.” Dr. Bullard is an archaeology professor who has spent many weeks on actual digs in the Holy Land. His father, Dr. Reuben Bullard, was a well-known archeologist and author of many books and articles. The program included lunch and a tour of the library and museum. For information about upcoming sessions, visit their website at the link below.

The CCL Center is about a 20-minute drive from the young earth Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter theme park. It is a tragedy that many people who visit those commercialized dispensational museums are unaware of the CCL Center with its positive biblical teaching. Attending sessions at the CCL Center is much less expensive, and the library and museum do not charge. We recommend the CCL Center as a new opportunity for solid biblical learning in the Cincinnati area.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

For coming events at the CCL Center: ccleadership.org/events/

For information about the Elliott Library: elliottlibrary.org/

Location: 8095 Connector Drive, Florence, Kentucky

Phone: 513-375-2645

October Meteor Showers

Jupiter Comet Shield and October Meteor Showers
Jupiter Struck by Shoemaker-Levy 9

October is the month for two meteor showers—Draconid and Orionid. They get their names from the constellations closest to the places in the night sky where they seem to originate. The truth is that they have no connection to those constellations. Instead, these October meteor showers come from comets.

Meteor showers result from Earth passing through dust trails left by comets. The Draconids peaked this year on the night between October 8 and 9. They originate from debris left by comet 21P/Giaconini-Zinner that makes a revolution around the Sun every 6.6 years. Every October, when Earth passes through the dirty dust trail, the bits of debris burn up from friction as they enter the atmosphere at extremely high speed, and we see them as “shooting stars.”

The Orionid meteors are the result of Halley’s Comet. That comet makes a complete orbit around the Sun every 76 years, but Earth passes through the left-over debris twice a year in May and October. This year’s Orionid shower will peak on the night between October 20 and 21. However, a few of them may be visible even tonight as the October meteor showers almost overlap.

Unlike asteroids, which can be very large and cause severe damage, comet dust is beautiful but harmless. The Chixculub asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs was 6.2 miles (10 km) in diameter. The impact was like a 100 million megaton bomb blast, and it wiped out three-fourths of all plant and animal life on Earth.

What if a whole comet struck planet Earth? The result would be catastrophic. We can find comfort in the fact that our solar system was designed with comet sweepers to prevent that from happening. The comet sweepers are named Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, and the main one–Jupiter. Those giant outer planets all travel in the same plane, or ecliptic, as our planet. Comets come from outside the solar system, and because those outer planets are much larger, they have much more gravity. Since they are in line with Earth’s plane, they pull in the comets before they can reach our home planet.

The picture from NASA shows some fragments of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 being pulled into Jupiter after the planet’s gravity ripped it into 21 pieces in July 1994. Those pieces were up to 1.2 miles in diameter and traveling at 134,000 miles per hour. Imagine what would have happened if that comet, or even one of those pieces, had hit the Earth! That is something to think about while watching the beauty of the October meteor showers. There is a reason why God designed the solar system the way He did. It was not an accident–and neither are we.

— Roland Earnst © 2021
Click HERE for information about viewing the Orionid Meteor Shower.

Desert Life at Wupatki National Monument

Desert Life at Wupatki National Monument
Wupatki Ballcourt

Wupatki National Monument is a protected site in Northern Arizona once inhabited by ancient pueblo people. The area’s first inhabitants arrived in about 500 A.D. After the eruption of the nearby Sunset Crater volcano, which enriched the soil with volcanic ash, the population grew to around 2,000. In 1225 the site was permanently abandoned. Desert life at Wupatki was difficult.

We visited the site in late July 2021, just after an unusual summer monsoon rain. As we walked the trail through the ruins, a park ranger was sweeping water off the path. He remarked that it had been over five years since they had rain, and he had never seen anything like that downpour.

One of the unusual features of this ancient settlement was a ballcourt surrounded by a short wall. The wall retained the water in the circular ballcourt forming a pool 105 feet (32 m) across. The ranger said it was the first time he had seen that ballcourt filled with water. Then something unusual happened. Small creatures began swimming in the “pool.”

Tourists, who thought the creatures were large tadpoles, alerted the staff who came to look. Lauren Carter, the lead interpretation ranger, examined them and did some research. She found that they were small crustaceans called triops. “Triops” is Greek for “three eyes.” These three-eyed creatures looked like miniature horseshoe crabs.

Even though the pueblo people abandoned the site centuries ago, desert life at Wupatki still exists. Triops eggs can survive in the desert soil for decades until the rain arrives to create a pool of water so the eggs can hatch. After that, they begin filter-feeding and molting until they mature in about a week. Then they lay eggs to produce a future generation.

There is also aerial desert life at Wupatki. Ravens and common nighthawks flying overhead quickly spotted the rare creatures swimming in the pool. They swooped down to gobble up some nourishment. The pool dried up in 3-4 weeks, the triops were gone, and the desert returned to its normal dry state. Thus, desert life at Wupatki was hidden away until the next significant rainfall in five or ten years, or perhaps decades.

I am amazed by God’s design for life on this planet, even in places where you can’t see it. Desert life in Wupatki has a purpose. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Faher feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26)

— Roland Earnst © 2021

Benefit of Vaccines

Benefit of Vaccines

The above data compiled by health policy columnist Dr. Richard Feldman shows the benefit of vaccines. Using available public health data, he researched the prevalence of those diseases before science developed vaccines against them. He then adjusted for population growth and projected what the numbers could be today without a vaccine. Then, he listed the recent number of reported cases. The chart above shows only some of his statistics. You can find his complete article at THIS LINK.

A basic Bible principle is that you can judge the validity of something by its fruit. Jesus said it clearly, “You shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes out of thorns or figs out of thistles? Every good tree brings forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit” (Matthew 7:15-18). In this passage, Jesus was talking about false prophets, but the principle can apply to “false prophets” who tell people to avoid vaccines. God’s design of the human immune system and an understanding of diseases has resulted in “good fruit.” of vaccines that save lives.

The COVID virus is going to add another set of numbers. Because medical science understands some of the design in God’s creation, we have the benefit of vaccines. God can provide us with the tools to improve our lives, but He will not force us to use what He gives us. That is true of every teaching of Jesus, and it is true of COVID.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Ultimate Meaning, Purpose, and Morality

Ultimate Meaning, Purpose, and Morality in God's Creation

I enjoy watching BBC’s video programs “Planet Earth” and “The Blue Planet” written and narrated by David Attenborough. Those programs display the fantastic beauty and design of this planet and its many living creatures. Seeing the way planet Earth’s systems work together like a well-designed machine fills me with awe. However, I find it amazing that Attenborough believes that this incredible beauty and structure came about by mere chance and natural selection without any design, purpose, or meaning. How can he not realize that ultimate meaning, purpose, and morality come from the God who created these wonders?

In his book Miracles, Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis refers to unbelievers as “naturalists.” He wrote, “A moment after they have admitted that good and evil are illusions, you will find them exhorting us to work for posterity, to educate, revolutionise, liquidate, live and die for the good of the human race.” Lewis called that “very odd.” Attenborough teaches us about the beautiful design of our planet without a Designer. He advocates for the environment, even though that environment may have no ultimate purpose or meaning. A BBC interviewer once asked Attenborough if he ever had any religious faith, and he replied “no.” He said, “It never really occurred to me to believe in God.”

When asked why he does not believe in a creator, Attenborough will point out what he considers an evil creature, such as the parasitic worm Onchocerca volvulus that infects children’s eyes in tropical climates. He said creationists believe that God created each individual species, so why would “an all-merciful God who cares for each of us individually” make a creature like that. However, as John Clayton has pointed out many times, the Bible says God created “kinds” of animals, not each individual species. (See Genesis 1:11, 12, 21, 24, and 25.) But then He specially created the first humans in His image (Genesis 1:27).

Attenborough strongly advocates for various environmentalist causes telling us what we ought or ought not to do. C.S. Lewis said that those who don’t believe in God often tell us what we ought to do, but their natural impulses can say nothing about objective right or wrong. Lewis wrote, “Do they remember while they are writing thus that when they tell us we ‘ought to make a better world’ the words ‘ought’ and ‘better’ must, on their own showing, refer to an irrationally conditioned impulse which cannot be true or false any more than a vomit or a yawn?”

Lewis goes on to say that if we make moral judgments, “then we must believe that the conscience of man is not a product of Nature.” He writes that it “can be valid only if it is an offshoot of some absolute moral wisdom…” In other words, ultimate meaning, purpose, and morality come from God, not evolution.

— Roland Earnst © 2021

References: Miracles by C.S. Lewis, and “David Attenborough” on Wikipedia

Hebrew Word Yom

Hebrew Word Yom

Ancient Hebrew used far fewer words than modern English. That can cause misunderstandings when translated into English. For example, a term that has confused many people is the Hebrew word yom, commonly translated “day.”

The Genesis creation account uses the word in multiple ways. It is present in Genesis 1:1-13 in connection with “evening and morning.” Genesis 2:4 uses yom to refer to the entire creation “week.” In Deuteronomy 10:10, we find yom used twice with two meanings, a longer period of time (40 days) and the daylight hours. “And I stayed in the mount just like the first time (yom) 40 days (yom) and 40 nights …” We also see yom used to refer to long time periods such as in Hosea 6:2.

In the New Testament. Peter reminds us that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years one day (2 Peter 3:8).” In Acts 1:7, Jesus says, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father has put in His own power.” The context of that passage refers to restoring the kingdom, but the message carried throughout the scriptures is that God is in control of time.

Both creationists and atheists have often used the Hebrew word yom to make Earth’s age an issue, limiting what God can do or has done. God created time and is not limited by it. The “days” of Genesis may be 24 hours or some other time period. The creation verse in Genesis is verse one, “God created the heaven and the earth,” and it is undated and untimed.

Religious groups have done an injustice to the Genesis account by not recognizing the economy of language in scripture. Atheists have used that to destroy many people’s faith by showing evidence that the universe’s age is not measured in thousands of years. The message of Genesis is that God created everything, not when or how He did it. Taking the Bible literally is not taking a human theology and forcing it on the scriptures.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

An Asteroid and Snakes

An Asteroid and Snakes

There is an interesting connection between an asteroid and snakes. Evolutionists have often believed in uniformitarianism–the idea that no process has shaped planet Earth in the past that is not going on today. The problem with uniformitarianism is that a great deal of evidence shows that it’s not true. The most accepted example is that when dinosaurs ruled the planet, an asteroid strike caused a mass extinction of 76% of all plant and animal life.

A research study by the University of Bath in England has shown that one form of life did well through and after the asteroid collision. That life-form was snakes. There were small snakes before the asteroid strike, but large snakes were easy prey for dinosaurs and simply did not survive. After the asteroid collision, small snakes hid underground and survived for a time without food.

When the snakes emerged, they didn’t face competition from other animals. With their newfound freedom, they spread throughout the world. Today, snakes live on every continent on Earth except Antarctica. Catherine Klein, the lead researcher in examining the snake fossil record, has shown that large snakes did not appear again until all the dinosaurs were gone. She told the BBC, “It’s likely that without this asteroid impact, snakes wouldn’t be where they are today.”

The evidence for the asteroid collision grows every year, and it comes from many different disciplines. Uniformitarianism is not true, and yet a gradual evolution of all life depends on it. Evolution would have to start over after events like the asteroid strike that wiped out massive amounts of life on the planet.

You have probably never thought of a connection between an asteroid and snakes. Current theories of evolution have significant problems with a lack of positive evidence and a growing amount of counter-evidence. God works in mysterious ways, and sometimes He has used catastrophes to shape the Earth for human existence.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: The Week, October 1, 2021, page 21.