Vanilla Mystery Solved by a Bee

Vanilla Mystery Solved by a Bee

The vanilla flavor used in many foods comes from an orchid (Vanilla planifolia) that originally grew in Mexico. Herman Cortes, a Spanish conquistador, discovered the pleasant-tasting substance used by the Aztecs, and he introduced it to Europe in the 1520s. But it took 300 years to solve the vanilla mystery.

When the Europeans tried to produce vanilla in their own countries, they could grow the vines, which produced flowers that bloomed one morning each year. However, within 12 hours, the flowers withered and produced no fruit. For three centuries, the vanilla mystery remained unsolved, and the Europeans depended on Mexico for vanilla flavor.

Then in 1836, a French botanist named Charles Francois Morren traveled to Mexico to study vanilla production. He noticed bees landing on the vanilla flower, working their way under a flap in the flower, and becoming dusted with pollen. Then they transferred the pollen to other flowers. Within hours of pollination, the flowers closed, and soon seed pods began to form.

The vanilla mystery solution was known only to those stingless bees of the genus Melipona which lived only in Mexico. They knew how to pollinate the flowers so that they could produce seed pods. The people who attempted to grow vanilla elsewhere tried without success to bring the bees into their areas. Then in 1841, a twelve-year-old slave boy discovered a way to hand pollinate the flowers using a sliver of bamboo. The vanilla mystery was solved!

Because of hand pollination, Indonesia and Madagascar now exceed Mexico in vanilla production. However, hand pollination is labor-intensive and requires constant monitoring of the plants since the flowers stay open for only a few hours. It took humans 300 years to discover how to pollinate the vanilla flower. Before that, only the Melipona bees knew the secret. No other insects knew how to enter those flowers and pollinate them.

Without the bees, there would have been no vanilla plant for humans to discover and use. More important, without the bees, the vanilla vines could not reproduce. Since the orchid could not survive without the bee, the question is, “Who put that bee there and told it how to pollinate that flower?” The vine and the bee could not have evolved separately. That leaves us with another vanilla mystery. Perhaps the bee and the vanilla vine were created to work together. We see this as another evidence of God’s creative work. Think about that the next time you enjoy some vanilla ice cream.

— Roland Earnst and Dave Hart © 2021

Importance of Religion and Family Life

Importance of Religion and Family LifeThe Pew Research Center wanted to learn about global views on the importance of religion and family life, so they surveyed over 30,000 people in 27 countries. One set of questions presented was, “Does religion play a more or less important role today than it did 20 years ago, and is that good or bad?” A second query set was, “Are family ties stronger or weaker than they were 20 years ago, and is that good or bad?”

A large majority in most countries agreed on the two questions involving family ties. There is strong agreement that family ties are weakening and that it is a bad thing. Across the 27 countries, 58 percent said that family ties had weakened while 22% said there was no change and only 15% said they had strengthened.

There was less agreement concerning religion. A median 37% said that religion plays a less important role in their countries today, while 27% said it is more important. Interestingly, most of the people surveyed were NOT OPPOSED to religion playing a more important role in their countries. The most significant opposition to religion’s role seems to be in Europe with Sweden (51%), France (47%), and the Netherlands (45%). In the United States, only 18% are opposed to a more important role for religion in the nation. In Canada, the opposition is 29%.

The countries where the largest percentage of people said that family ties are strengthening are Indonesia and the Philippines. The countries where more people said that religion plays a more important role now than 20 years ago include the Philippines, Kenya, Nigeria, and Indonesia. By far, the people of Indonesia said that religion plays a more important role now (83%). Indonesia is 87% Muslim, and Nigeria is evenly split between Christians and Muslims. Kenya is 83% Christian and the Philippines 90% Christian in the broadest sense.

Not surprisingly, in the United States, people who consider themselves to be somewhat or very conservative (to the right end of the political spectrum) are 42% more likely to favor more religious influence in the country than those who are liberal or left-leaning. That attitude is reflected in the positions taken in the current U.S. Political campaign.

For more details on this study of the importance of religion and family life, visit the Pew Research website HERE.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Alien Invasions Causing Extinctions

Alien Invasions such as the Brown Tree Snake on Guam cause extinctions

New research published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment on March 4, 2019, indicates that alien invasions are causing extinctions of native animals. Humans are mostly to blame.

When humans throw the world of plants and animals out of balance, the result is extinctions. We can destroy God’s designed balance when we introduce a non-native species into an environment. The introduced species without natural predators uses up local resources leaving native species without food. There are many examples.

One example is the brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis) which was accidentally introduced to Guam aboard a military cargo ship after World War II. Those snakes are native to Australia and Indonesia where natural predators control them. On Guam, they have decimated 50 percent of the native bird and lizard species and two of the three bat species on the island. The brown tree snakes considered those native species to be tasty treats, and the snakes had no predators to control them. The result was the extinction of many species, some of which existed nowhere else on Earth. Alien invasions of brown tree snakes forever changed the ecosystem of Guam.

In other cases, humans throw nature out of balance by their direct actions. An example of that is the over-hunting of sea otters. Sea otters kept the purple sea urchins in check. Steller’s sea cows (Hydrodamalis gigas)were giant relatives of manatees, and they lived on kelp. Without control by sea otters, the purple sea urchins ate so much of the kelp that Steller’s sea cows had no food, and they became extinct. However, the research project indicated that direct interference by humans in cases like this has less impact on extinctions than the alien invasions have.

Sometimes humans make the mistake of bringing in another non-native species to control the first one. That technique often makes the problems worse. Usually, by the time people discover the problem of alien invasions, it’s too late to fix it.

The research concludes that 25 percent of plant extinctions and 33 percent of animal extinctions were caused by alien invasions – the introduction of non-native species. The bottom line is that humans have not been good stewards of the planet God has given us to enjoy and protect. God gave humans the responsibility to have dominion over creation and “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28). Romans 13:1-4 indicates that those who rule over people have the responsibility to protect. We might say the same of us who rule over the creatures.

— Roland Earnst © 2019

Artistic Expression and Human History

Artistic Expression and Human History
One of the interesting challenges to human evolution has to do with our capacity for artistic creation. Why do human artistic expressions display beauty and color? There is no good evidence that animals express themselves aesthetically – be it music, color, artistic expression, abstractionism, or worship. When people have claimed that animals express themselves in these areas, the claims have turned out to be anthropomorphisms by those making the claims. We all tend to attach human attributes to animal actions, but the evidence supports the view that animals don’t do those things. On the other hand, artistic expression and human history go together.

One evidence of artistic work has to do with the pictures left on cave walls in various locations. Those drawings do not show a sequence of development. In other words, you don’t see older drawings that are more primitive than recent ones. There is a story that Picasso examined the Cromagnon cave drawings and said, “We have learned nothing about art in our entire history on planet earth.”

USA Today (November 9, 2018) published an article on new art finds in Borneo and Indonesia. They are much older than any of the drawings in Spain and France. Dr. Maxime Aubert who led the discovery says the paintings are 4,000 years older than any other find. Aubert says “they are the earliest known figurative artwork.” In addition to the drawings of mystic animals, there are hand stencils and cave paintings of human scenes, and extensive use of color.

Genesis 4:21-22 indicates that humans developed tools and musical instruments early. Human history has included artwork and musical synthesis from a very early time. We would suggest this is all tied to our spiritual nature. It is our soul that gives us the capacity to do all the things that set humans apart from animals. The new finds support the view that these abilities were present in human’s from the beginning, not developed over a long time. Artistic expression and human history cannot be separated.
John N. Clayton © 2018

Natural Disaster and God

Natural Disaster and God Every time natural disaster strikes anywhere in the world, people tend to blame God for what happened. The current examples are the hurricane in the panhandle of Florida, and the catastrophic earthquake in Indonesia. What atheists and skeptics fail to realize about natural disasters is that the vast majority of catastrophes are due to human ignorance and mismanagement. Both of the current crises demonstrate that point.

The major loss of life and devastation in Indonesia is in an area that was built on a restored landfill. Gravel, sand, and dirt were brought in to make living space for what were mostly poor workers and laborers. Engineers have warned for a very long time that the land under the highly populated area was unstable, and the earthquake was enough to cause that land to move in a significant way. You could call this a human-designed natural disaster.

In America, we have the same situation in New Orleans and Los Angeles. New Orleans is built on an area that is soft and prone to flooding, and part of the city is even below sea level. Los Angeles is built in an earthquake active area riddled with faults. It isn’t a question of whether a severe earthquake will happen in the Los Angeles area, it is just a question of when. There will be a catastrophe when that happens, and God will be blamed for causing it.

Hurricane Michael is a demonstration of another human-caused natural disaster. One of the designs of our planet is the method which brings water to areas that would otherwise be a desert. At the equator, the direct sunlight evaporates ocean water which falls as rain causing tropical rain forests. The remaining dry air moves north or south in what is called the “Hadley Cells.” When that dry air cools and returns Earth’s surface at 30 degrees latitude, it produces desert conditions. Most of the world’s great deserts are found at 30 degrees north or south latitude–the Sahara, the Australian Outback, the Mohave, etc.

In the southeastern United States, 30 degrees north latitude runs through northern Florida. That area would be a desert were it not for hurricanes. The heating of the ocean in the summer is sufficient to lift massive amounts of water which are then carried to the land restoring lakes, rivers, and underground aquifers. Without that large water supply system, that area would be a desert like the Sahara. The land area around the Gulf of Mexico in its pristine state had barrier beaches and mangrove forests that moderated the wind and storm surge. When I was a child living in Alabama, we looked forward to “hurricane parties” when we would “button down” and enjoy not having to work. The storm’s damage was limited, and even the storm surge was never a problem. That was 80 years ago.

Since that time, we have modified the shoreline stripping the barrier beaches of vegetation, and building houses where they are easily destroyed by water or wind. Even the vast mangrove swamps that were a buffer to storms have been removed, and channels have been built lined with aluminum houses, golf courses, and boat facilities. It was an invitation for a natural disaster.

We are sympathetic to those who have suffered because of the greed and foolishness of city planners and real estate salespeople. But don’t blame God for the foolishness of human actions.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Komodo Dragons and Parthenogenesis

Komodo Dragons and Parthenogenesis
There seems to be an unlimited number of methods by which plants and animals reproduce. In 2006 in England’s Chester Zoo a female Komodo dragon (a large lizard) who had never been in the presence of a male laid a clutch of eggs that hatched producing male Komodo dragons.

This self-fertilization process is called parthenogenesis, and it apparently happens often with Komodo dragons. When a female Komodo dragon is isolated so that normal sexual reproduction cannot take place, the isolated female can bear male offspring which will have the same DNA as the mother. When they grow up, they can be the female’s mate. This doesn’t allow for diversity in the gene pool, but it does provide a way for a geographically isolated population to reproduce.

Komodo dragons only live in the wild on seven islands of Indonesia. They are threatened by loss of habitat and poaching of the animals they prey on such as wild boar, water buffalo, and deer. They have been designed with a method to protect them from extinction.

Komodo dragon parthenogenesis is possible because the females have both male and female chromosomes. This allows for reproduction in a way that meets their particular situation. God’s design to keep Earth populated with life is incredible, and discoveries continue to help us understand just how complex the design is.
Reference: National Geographic, November 2017, page 29.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

In the Spiritual Image of God

Spiritual Image of God shown in Cave Art in Sulawesi
The biblical definition of humans involves our being created in the spiritual image of God.

In April 2017, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published a study concerning areas in Indonesia where some of the oldest cave art has been found on the island of Sulawesi. (Pictured) In 2014, cave art was found that dated back to 40,000 years ago. The new study reports on remarkable pieces of handmade jewelry found in the same area dating back to 30,000 years ago. Jewelry pieces include beads and pendants.

The “image of God” in humans doesn’t refer to our physical appearance, but our capacity to engage in spiritual things–worship, music, art, using symbolism, feeling guilt, and being sympathetic. Artwork shows spiritual events and practices. Finding these artifacts so early in human history is a strong indication that it was not something that evolved as culture moved into the modern era. It was present in the earliest days of human existence.

The spiritual image of God cannot be observed directly because it is not a physical image. However, the evidence of a spiritual image is present in the earliest artifacts of human creations.
–John N. Clayton © 2017