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.

Gender Change Problems

Gender Change Problems

Human rights advocates frequently demand social changes without understanding the consequences of the choices they promote. An example of that is the current transgender craze among teenagers. It’s relatively easy for teenagers to change their names, but the medical treatment of transgender people has become a significant challenge for all concerned. Unfortunately, politicians have advanced transgender legislation without understanding the implications. There are many areas of gender change problems.

Having surgery and taking hormones is a whole different issue compared to participation in sports or sharing bathrooms. But even beyond the physical gender change problems, the mental and psychological issues are also highly complex. Transgender youth are three to four times as likely as their peers to have depression or anxiety. Among 13,600 transgender and nonbinary youth surveyed in 2020, 52% had considered suicide in the previous year, and 21 % had attempted it.

Puberty blockers are a standard treatment of transgender young people. Those drugs suppress the natural release of estrogen and testosterone. Puberty blockers can limit the development of physical features such as breasts, and they delay bone development which can lead to weaker bones in adulthood. Since 80% of people who identify as transgender in early childhood do not continue to do so when they grow up, puberty blockers can have long-term consequences.

Taking estrogen causes transgender teenagers to have decreased muscle mass and changes in fat redistribution. It also causes the softening of the skin, the growth of breasts, and reduced growth of body hair. At the same time, it can cause a higher risk of breast cancer and seems to increase the risk of blood clots. In addition, transgender people taking testosterone experience suppressed menstruation, body fat redistribution, voice deepening, increased muscle mass, and facial and body hair growth. There also seems to be a greater risk of high cholesterol.

The causes of transgenderism are still being debated, and they seem to be very complex. Gender change problems are an issue that is not going away. We would suggest that the move away from nuclear families and the increased use of drugs are involved. When we discard God’s plan and design, the issues become very complicated. Playing God with human sexuality has always produced unfortunate results.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from Science News, August 28, 2021, pages 24 -28.

God’s Design of Fall

God’s Design of Fall

In the Northern Hemisphere, we have just entered the period we call autumn or fall. Summer has ended. Earth’s axis tilt and its path around the Sun cause the Sun to be directly overhead at the equator. We refer to this as the equinox, which is Latin for “equal nights.” Thus, at this time, we have approximately 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night. As a new season begins, we see God’s design of fall.

For those living in the northern hemisphere, this time brings amazing things to see among the plants and animals around us. Tree leaves turn from green to a cascade of colors. They don’t all turn at the same time because of their system design. Some measure the length of the day and start turning colors when the equinox occurs. Others depend on temperature to change colors. In addition, we see fruits and nuts come to full maturity at this time, providing food for animals and ensuring the future growth of new plants.

We see God’s design of fall as animals prepare for winter. With the temperature change, some animals migrate to warmer areas. This movement coincides with the abundance of fruits and nuts, allowing nutrition for the journey. Some animals, such as hummingbirds, leave well ahead of freezing temperatures. Other animals change their color in preparation for winter camouflage in the snow. Still others retreat into a place underground where the temperatures will not drop below freezing.

The question is, how do all these plants and animals know when to do that? It cannot be a conscious, planned adjustment by the animals to the local situation. Many of the changes happen even before the cold weather arrives. Certainly, plants don’t think about cold weather coming and their need to prepare for freezing conditions. Some of the changes seem to be designed to provide humans with a sensation of beauty. A sea of green becomes a splendor of color as the plants eliminate chlorophyll “A” (which gives them their green color) to reveal various colored chemicals in the leaves.

Fall is not just about beauty, but it also brings amazing and beneficial changes. Plants that survive the winter are able to free themselves of insects and bacteria that can damage them. Some animals prepare for winter by fattening up to go into hibernation. Bears give birth during this period. God’s design of fall is a functional system that speaks of God’s wisdom.

We can see God’s wisdom and design in a unique way at this time of year. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.” To those of us who listen, fall speaks of the purposes of God in His living things.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Overdose Deaths are Increasing

Overdose Deaths are Increasing

Deaths due to drug overdoses have skyrocketed. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that in 1970 there were fewer than 7,000 deaths in the United States due to drug overdoses. In 2019 there were 72,000, and in 2020 there were 93,000. Whether or not there is a problem is not the issue, but people question why overdose deaths are increasing?

Some suggest that it is because of the availability of painkillers, especially opioids. When I graduated from high school in 1955, many drugs were available, and I knew people who had died from overdoses. Even in those days, we learned how to get whatever drugs we wanted. There were those available on the street and others we could make ourselves. For example, I remember a cough syrup named “Hadacall” that we used to get high because it contained a higher alcohol content than the booze we could get. Harder stuff was available if you looked for it.

We suggest the fundamental reason why overdose deaths are increasing is the removal of Christian values from our culture. If you do not see a purpose for your life and things go wrong, what is the natural response? For the Christian, there is the promise of Romans 8:28 – “All things work together for good to those that love God and who are called according to His purpose.” Christians know that whatever happens to them has some kind of purpose or connection to a purpose. There is also the ultimate hope which is beyond this life. When you discard that, what is left?

We don’t always understand what good can come from tragedy in our lives
. But, as Christians, we know that if we hang on, we may eventually see a purpose or at least some ultimate good in our loss. Opioids and drugs provide an escape for unbelievers from whatever bad things have happened in their lives. Therefore, overdose deaths are increasing because they feel that life without purpose or hope is not worth living.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from Associated Press release by Mike Stobbe for July 15, 2021. In South Bend Tribune page 12A.

Father’s Day 2021 and Real Fathers

Father’s Day 2021 and Real Fathers

Many related consequences result from the drift of western culture away from faith in God and away from biblical teaching. One of the significant changes is in the role of fathers. Several years ago, I had this vividly pointed out when a male student in my class was bragging about the number of children he had fathered. He had five women pregnant at the same time, and he called himself a “stud father.” I told him he could make whatever claim he wanted to about being a stud, but he could make no claim to be a father. Father’s Day 2021 should remind us of the essential role of real fathers.

In my 41 years of teaching, it was indeed a rare thing to have a father show up for a PTA meeting or a parent conference. When I was a student in elementary and high school, it was my father who was called in to participate in my discipline. I don’t recall my mother having a role in correcting my frequent bad behavior.

The New Testament concept of fathers is unique. Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 give fathers instructions about managing the education and conduct of their children. In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus tells what we commonly call the parable of the “Prodigal Son.” However, the star of the story is not the son but the father. Christ’s story tells of a father who anguishes over the decisions his son has made. He watches anxiously for his son to abandon his foolishness and return to the values of the father’s home. With grace, he forgives the son for his bad behavior. The child’s mother is not in the story, and we know that the forgiving father represents God.

A child who grows up without the example, teaching, discipline, and love of a father is vulnerable to many problems. This is true behaviorally and sexually, and we see the consequences of weak father images in our world today. Some children do well despite not having a strong father image, but in those cases, there is often a grandfather or other male who provides the balance every child needs. In the case of Timothy in the New Testament, Paul refers to him as “my own son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2).

Being a father has nothing to do with impregnating a woman. Being a father to a child means assuming massive responsibility, devoting vast amounts of time, and striving to be the example the child needs to see. The child also needs to hear “I love you” from the same man who shows the child what is really important in life. In 1972, the United States established a day set aside as “Father’s Day.” On this Father’s Day 2021, our nation is suffering greatly because so few men have the strength, courage, and wisdom to be real fathers.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

God In the Flesh

God In the Flesh - The Rational God

Several years ago, I spoke at Ohio State University when a leading atheist maintained that God was an old Chinese woman. I pointed out that he should at the very least attack God on the level that God claims to be and not some straw horse god he had just described. He responded by quoting my old atheist friend Madalyn Murray O’Hair who said, “No God ever gave anything to man nor appeared in any way to man nor ever will.” Then I pointed out that God did precisely what Madalyn said He would not do when He came to Earth in the form of a human. Jesus Christ was God in the flesh.

Put yourself in the role of God for a moment. You have created humans, and you desire to lead them to a better way of living. How would you do it? You could make a violent entry to Earth, displaying all of your power and strength. What would that do? It might create a power struggle among humans to be your right-hand person.

That power struggle actually happened in the life of Christ. Matthew 20:20-23 tells about a mother bringing her two sons to Jesus and asking Him to make them His assistants in His kingdom. Another negative to this approach is that people would give service and obedience to God out of fear, not love. There have been those world rulers who tried to rule by power and force. People knuckled down to the ruler, but they hated him, and they rebelled at the first opportunity.

You can enslave a people for a short time, but ultimately they will revolt. The power struggle that always results brings out the worst in humanity. We see that happening in many places on Earth today. The kind of service that will last is one based on love, not enslavement. Jesus Christ, as God in the flesh, brought that kind of love.

It is also a fact that when a ruler lives a radically different lifestyle from that of his subjects, he has no way to relate to them. In today’s world, people try to imagine what it would be like to live the wealthy and opulent Hollywood lifestyle. Movies such as Camelot have had a theme that revolved around royalty trying to comprehend what it is like to live as “common” folk.

In Jesus, we see God in the flesh avoiding the show of force and the opulence. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us that in Christ, we do not see one who lived a lavish lifestyle, but rather one who could “be touched with our infirmities, but was in all points tempted as we are.” Psalms 22:1 describes God in the flesh crying out at the frustrations of life, as we do. Christ repeated those words in Matthew 27:46. Isaiah 53:3-6 describes the suffering of Christ for us. God coming to Earth makes perfect sense if you understand that God wants a relationship with His creation. The Bible makes this clear in passages like John 1:1-3,14 and Philippians 2:6-8.

The tragedy is that people today have gotten so far away from understanding real love that they think of God as they would a dictator, a slave owner, or a military general. The kind of love that the Bible speaks of has a special name – “agape.” It is so far removed from the mindset of our culture that John 3:16 is a cliché without meaning to most people.

Even religious people have trouble with the concept of grace because they can’t comprehend that God is love. In the verses following John 3:16, we read the observation that men love darkness and reject God. God gave us a choice because He wants us to believe in Him and love Him as a Father, not an abusive dictator.

We have a book titled The Rational God that explores this subject in greater detail. It’s available from us for purchase or on loan. You will find our catalog of materials at doesgodexist.org. You can also purchase the book from the powervine.store.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Memorial Day 2021 and What It Means

Memorial Day 2021 and What It Means

When I was a young man, Memorial Day was a big deal. There were parades, speeches, special services at many churches, and a town memorial. We were constantly reminded of the men and women who died to make it possible for us to live in freedom in the United States. In those days, in Bloomington, Indiana, where I grew up, many military veteran’s groups marched in the parade, and all the high school bands participated. After serving in the military, I found that Memorial Day had changed. It had become “the first weekend of summer.” There were no parades, and only a few veteran groups paid attention to the original purpose. What will Memorial Day 2021 be like?

Memorial Day began as “Decoration Day” in 1868, three years after the civil war ended.
At Arlington National Cemetery. Flowers were put on all graves, and 5,000 people attended the ceremony. General Logan, who directed the ceremony, said, “Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

Since that time, over 1.2 million Americans have died in our nation’s wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a National Holiday by Congress. In 2000, Congress enacted The National Moment of Remembrance Act (P.L.106-579). Its charter says, “To encourage the people of the United States to give something back to their country … by encouraging and coordinating commemorations in the United States of Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance.”

The National Moment of Remembrance Act suggests that at 3:00 PM local time on Memorial Day, “Everyone is to pause for a moment of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation … It is a way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day.” We are in no way minimalizing the struggles for freedom and racial equity in America today, but even with our problems, how can we look at other nations and not be thankful for what we have?

On Memorial Day 2021, not understanding the sacrifices of the past has made us a selfish and self-serving people. Our ecological problems are because we want what is ours without thinking about the future. Our moral problems are because we have forgotten the teachings of Jesus Christ, which call us to live to serve others with integrity. In Luke 22:19-20, we read about Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper as a way of helping us remember Him, what He taught, and the example He set. First Corinthians 11:28-30 warns Christians not to participate in communion without thought and understanding since “for this cause many are weak and sickly among you.”

What is true of the Church is true of America. We need a memorial to remind us of the important things. On Memorial Day 2021, let us not be so focused on our own agendas that we forget the past and what our predecessors have done to allow us to have what we enjoy today.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Alzheimer’s and Dementia are a Growing Problem

Alzheimer's and Dementia are a Growing Problem

Recently a critic suggested that if God were so great, He wouldn’t allow dementia and Alzheimer’s to be a part of the human experience. There is no question that Alzheimer’s and dementia are a growing problem in today’s world. Those of us who have had family members develop these disabilities can testify how hard it is for family and loved ones. Is the inability of a mother to recognize her children or husband a failure in human brain design?

The Alzheimer’s Association has released data showing that one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or other dementia. Since 2000, the number of deaths due to Alzheimer’s has more than doubled. It kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. Almost two-thirds of Americans living with Alzheimer’s are women, and more than six million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. We don’t know all of the causes and contributors to Alzheimer’s. Still, we know enough to tell us that Alzheimer’s and dementia are related to our environment, our growing life expectancy, and our lifestyles.

In the past, people just didn’t live long enough to develop Alzheimer’s. Life expectancy brings many age-related health issues. For that reason, Alzheimer’s and dementia are a growing problem. Diet and physical activity are related to Alzheimer’s. In modern life, we do a lot of sitting and consume many foods that are not good for our brains. The same conditions that have caused heart disease and diabetes also produce Alzheimer’s and dementia. God did not design humans to sit behind a desk with no exercise and eat foods that negatively affect our brains. The Alzheimer’s Association has shown that multiple vaccinations for flu and pneumonia reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s.

Our brains are incredible devices that allow us to survive and do amazing things. We clearly see God’s design in how our brains work, but human activity and choices have contributed to a decline in brain health. Alzheimer’s and dementia are a growing problem but not an indication that God failed in His design. It shows that the neglect of our brains and our choices in life have caused problems that prevent our incredible biological computers from handling all the data we want them to retain. We must take care of the good things God has given us, and our brains are among the most important.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from the Spring 2021 issue of Alzheimer’s Update on alz.org

The Wonder of Birds

The Wonder of Birds - Bald Eagle

We live on the edge of the St. Joseph River in Michigan. By the river and surrounded by woods, I have the joy of observing the wonder of birds in enormous varieties. As I watch geese, swans and ducks take off and land on the river, I am amazed at the way they put their feet out and water ski to a stop. I enjoy seeing them stand on one foot, seemingly asleep with half of their bodies ready to react to any danger.

When our resident bald eagle flies by 100 feet above the water, the ducks turn their heads to track the eagle. The eagle swoops down and picks up a small dead fish which I couldn’t see from 20 feet away. I watch three species of woodpeckers hammer away at the trees on the edge of the river with such force that bark flies in all directions. Still, the design of their skulls lets them do this for hours on end without brain damage.

I watch the finches and nuthatches pick off berries from the poison ivy and eat them in the dead of winter. They never have any problem with the oil that I am allergic to. I watch the hummingbirds come to my feeders and hover for a long time, eating the sugar solution and engaging in territorial combat. I hear the birds singing as they mark their territories, with each species having its own peculiar melody.

As a person trained in physics and chemistry, I am enthralled by the wonder of birds and their widely varied properties. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has an ongoing study of the properties and abilities of birds. One area of research is the specialized equipment individual bird species have. The eagle’s eyes are incredible optical tools that give it the ability to see a small fish from 100 feet above the water.

Woodpecker heads show engineering with their shock-absorbing design to prevent brain damage from the constant hammering they use to get bugs. People researching flight techniques study the wing design of hummingbirds which allows them to hover. The design of the bird’s gut prevents the poison ivy oil from lingering long enough to cause a reaction.

All birds have design features that allow them to survive. Their digestive and waste removal systems avoid the use of a bladder. The vascular system with a unique heart design allows the Swainson’s thrush to travel 3000 miles in a single flight with its heart beating 840 times a minute. Darwin showed us that the design of the bird genetics is flexible enough to allow their beaks to vary depending on what diet is available in their environment.

Humans throughout history have depended on birds as a food source. Where would we be in America without chickens and turkeys? God sustained the ancient Israelites with quails, a provision that continues today in that part of the world. In some areas, songbirds are a source of meat even though they are small. For those of us who look for evidence of God’s design in the natural world, birds are an incredible example of how much has to be done to produce an animal that can do what birds do.

The wonder of birds is not reasonably explained by accidental change. We all need to be concerned about the fact that between human exploitation, the removal of resources and habitat by humans, natural climate change, and pollution, the population of birds on our planet is getting smaller and smaller. Since 1970, three billion birds have vanished from the United States. God told us to take care of the world in which He has placed us. Caring for all of God’s creatures, including birds, is everyone’s responsibility.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Data from Cornell Lab of Ornithology

‘Oumuamua and Space Aliens

‘Oumuamua and Space Aliens

Some people want to believe that everything we see and experience is the product of space aliens, and sometimes this belief ends up in tragedy. In March of 1997, a man named Marshall Applewhite convinced 39 people that a spaceship was following the Hale Bopp comet. He persuaded them to leave their physical bodies to join the aliens on the spacecraft. Despite tragic events like that, many people are investigating similar claims of aliens such as ‘Oumuamua.

In October of 2017, astronomers at the Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii observed a strange space object. They named it ‘Oumuamua, which is Hawaiian for “scout” or “messenger” because it apparently came from outside the solar system. Some thought it was an alien spaceship sent to investigate planet Earth. The object was traveling at 196,000 mph (315,000 kph) as it zipped through the solar system.

As astronomers continue to track ‘Oumuamua, they have found that it is accelerating as it heads out of the solar system. That fact has fueled more attention by those who believe it is not a natural object. It could be a comet, but astronomers have not observed a tail, which comets have. An asteroid is another possibility, but the trajectory does not show any connection to the Sun’s gravity as an asteroid would have. Why the object is accelerating is also not likely to match any asteroid or cometary explanation.

First, we want to remind you that life in space is not an apologetic or biblical issue. Years ago, I did a radio debate moderated by Larry King in Washington D.C. Someone asked my atheist opponent what he would do if a spaceship landed on the Whitehouse lawn and an alien got out with a Bible in his hand and said, “Has Jesus been here yet?” That would raise all kinds of other questions, but it does make the point that the Bible doesn’t tell us that Earth is the only place in the cosmos where life exists.

The current thinking about ‘Oumuamua is that it is a pancake-shaped piece broken off from a planet outside of our solar system. It has been speeding up because the Sun’s heat vaporized some solids, providing the acceleration force. There is no indication that alien intelligence is guiding ‘Oumuamua or that its composition indicates an unnatural origin.

If we would spend the same amount of time and energy encouraging people to get along with each other that we spend trying to get alien help to solve our problems, we might actually accomplish something. Jesus told us that He came so we could have “life and… have it more abundantly.” Following God’s Word instead of celestial objects like ‘Oumuamua can accomplish that.

— John N. Clayton © 2021