One of the most interesting examples of design is the massive number of symbiotic relationships that exist in the natural world. These are arrangements two or more plants or animals benefit each other. Sometimes the design of symbiosis is essential for their survival.
Living by a river in Michigan, we see many animals that couldn’t exist without symbiotic relationships. Such common animals as squirrels need a designed symbiotic relationship that allows them gives them a growing abundance of food. We have a wealth of oak trees. In the fall, there are so many acorns on the ground that you can’t go barefoot. I counted 14 squirrels in my yard this morning, gathering acorns. They not only eat the acorns, but they bury them so that they will have a reserve of food for the rest of the year. They hide so many in so many different places that they eat only a small fraction of the acorns. The rest sprout and produce more oak trees. The oak forest spreads, and that means that the squirrel population can increase. The trees feed the squirrels, and the squirrels plant the trees in the design of symbiosis.
I grew up in the upper peninsula of Michigan. The bedrock there is mostly granite. Granite is hard, and water cannot penetrate it. That means that growing crops is difficult in the “U.P.” Animals would have it tough except that God has provided an animal with a symbiotic relationship to the soil and rocks of the area. To retain enough water to take the entire ecosystem through periods of drought, beavers construct dams in the streams. The multiple dams create small ponds that supply the water needs of plants and animals. What would otherwise be a sterile wasteland is a temperate paradise of woods with a wealth of birds and animals all dependent on the beavers. As beavers reproduce, their kits build their own system of dams and ponds, expanding the availability of water for all northern life.
What is the most expensive meal you can order when you go out to eat? Ask for the “diamonds of the kitchen” and you will be served a fungus called a truffle. A three-pound truffle recently sold for $300,000, and yet it is just a fungus. Truffles grow underground on the roots of trees. The truffle keeps bacteria and corrosive elements away from the tree roots, and the roots provide a protected place for the truffle to grow. This is another design of symbiosis. The way most people search for truffles is to have pigs root around trees until they uncover a truffle. Truffles are said to be the most expensive food in the world, but to locate them requires the use of animals that most of us don’t care to be around.
There are countless symbiotic relationships. The question of interest is, how does such a relationship develop? Is it merely by accident? We suggest God has looked at the nutritional needs of all of His creatures. In His wisdom, He has created living things in a way that links their food supply to other living things in their environment. The design of symbiosis is a marvelous creation of God.
Those of us who live in the United States Midwest are familiar with a very large spider species that we see frequently see in our sheds and outdoor equipment. These spiders have a creamy or golden cast with stripes on their heads and brown, gray, and black markings. Wolf Spiders are One of God’s Dandy Designs.
Wolf spiders have stout bodies covered with sensory hairs. They can run very quickly, and they don’t spin webs. Wolf spiders have eight eyes arranged in three rows. The bottom row has four small eyes, the second row has two large forward-facing eyes, and the top eyes are toward the back and side of the head.
After mating, female wolf spiders place their eggs in a silken sac. They attach the pouch to their bodies and carry them around until they are ready to hatch. When they hatch, the mother assists them by carrying them on her back. She can carry up to 100 spiderlings until they are prepared to function on their own. Sometimes the females will step into a water source and allow the babies to crawl down and get a drink and then crawl back up for safety.
I am totally in awe of how much pets mean to people and how much they do for their owners. As people become more and more aware of the need to take care of planet Earth, they realize the environmental impact of the care and maintenance of pets.
When God created life on this planet, He built balance into all life. There were natural limits to the population of animals. There was a healthy relationship between prey and predator. Then humans killed off certain predators and transported animals to new areas where they had no predators. They sometimes adopted wild animals as pets and later released them or allowed them to escape into the wild. Those actions upset the balance, and today we are paying the price for that disturbance.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service tells us that cats, many of them feral, kill billions of birds every year. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature reports that wild and free-roaming dogs are a threat to the survival of almost 200 species around the world. Sometimes people obtain a cute baby crocodilian for a pet, and when it grows too large, they release it into the wild where it can become a danger to other animals or people. The Florida Everglades has a problem with Burmese pythons, which people released when they became too large for pets.
Every summer and early fall, the newspapers start talking about how horrible mosquitoes are. Then I have to deal with questions of why mosquitoes exist. If there is a kind and loving God, why do we have to worry about the diseases that mosquitoes carry? I have heard some people give rather foolish answers to this question, and I don’t wish to over-simplify in discussing it. But why do we have mosquitoes?
Many years ago, one of my professors at Notre Dame was Dr. George B. Craig, whose specialty was mosquitoes. He was “an internationally recognized expert on the biology and control of mosquitoes” according to a publication of the National Academies of Sciences. As one of his students, I learned some fantastic things about mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are pollinating insects. Most species of mosquitoes pollinate plants and don’t “bite” anything.
The word “mosquito” is Spanish for “little fly” and there are some 3500 species of them. The larvae of the mosquito are a significant part of the diet of fish and other water creatures. The mutation which turned some of them into bloodsuckers seems to have come into existence in recent history. It appears they were not created that way, and certainly have not always carried malaria and other diseases. The fact that there were no mosquitoes in Hawaii until the white man came to the islands with water barrels containing mosquito larvae is another important point to consider. The question of “why do we have mosquitoes” won’t always get answered to everyone’s satisfaction, but at least we can raise some points to make people think.
The design of the various food chains on Earth is very complex. This is especially true in freshwater areas with unique problems. In Alaska, for example, the necessary minerals for plants and the food sources for bears come from the salmon runs that bring the nutrients. The soil is sparse and nutrient-poor, and much of the year, the cold prevents normal food chains from functioning. Insects provide a significant means of moving nutrients through the system, so they are the base of the food chain in those freshwater systems. Without mosquito larvae to feed the freshwater creatures, including the salmon, that life would not exist.
Have you ever been in a desert for an extended time? Have you ever taken the sand of a desert and looked at it under a microscope? Have you visited the Great Salt Lake or the Dead Sea? Do you feel that deserts are a wasteland? Science has come to understand something about deserts, oceans, and life that shows wisdom and planning that is beyond our wildest dreams.
We now know that deserts, in general, are dried up lakes. The vast Death Valley desert in the United States (pictured) was a lake at one time. So was the Atacama Desert in Chile, which is now called “the driest place on Earth.” The African Sahara was once the largest lake on Earth called the Mega Chad. Fossil hunting in these deserts reveals the remains of fish and plankton called diatomite. Diatomite is the skeletal remains of microscopic forms of life called diatoms. The skeletons are composed of silicon dioxide, which is a very durable substance and is highly porous and lightweight. These factors make it ideal for the wind to carry. Diatomite also contains phosphorous, which is essential for life to exist. Every living cell needs water and phosphorous, which is the second most abundant mineral in our bodies.
To have rain on the Earth requires water vapor, cool temperatures, and condensation nuclei on which the water can condense. When bodies of water become deserts, the dust contains phosphorus. Wind currents of our planet take the dust from deserts which once were lakes and carry it vast distances. Dust particles become the nuclei for condensation of raindrops that carry water and nutrients to the ground. The deserts of the Sahara maintain life in the Amazon basin. Lightning in the storms produces nitrogen to add to the nutrients. This pattern is repeated in every life-filled system on Earth. The Great Plains of the United States are sustained by the dust and minerals of the Mojave Desert, an old inland sea.
When I took my first anthropology course at Indiana University in 1958, the professors said that humans are the only animals that fashion and use tools. Later, scientists discovered that chimpanzees could smash rocks until they get one that has a sharp edge. Then they use that sharp edge as a tool to cut open fruit or dig for ants. Louis Leakey, the anthropology guru of that time, stated, “We are either going to have to change our definition of man, or invite the chimps to send a representative to the United Nations.” Tool use is not what makes humans unique.
Since that time, other animals have been observed using tools and some even manufacturing tools. Nuthatches can find a stick that they can slide under the bark of a tree to get at a bug. Crows can fashion a stick and use it to get into a milk bottle. The picture shows a macaque using a stone to smash a crab shell for food. Science now says that less than one percent of all animals use tools, but that number keeps growing. Discover Magazine for November 2019 (page 22), contained an article about skunks picking up a rock and pounding on the ice in a pond to make a hole for drinking.
All life forms on planet Earth need nitrates to build proteins and DNA. We get our nitrates from the plants and seeds that we eat. Plants absorb nitrates from the soil through their roots. The nitrates in the soil come from rain that has absorbed nitrates from the air through which it falls. The nitrates in the air come from the action of lightning. Our atmosphere is 78% nitrogen, and lightning takes some of the nitrogen and catalyzes it into a bond with oxygen to make nitrates. That is why we need lightning.
A surprising thing about this complex system is that the lightning is far more abundant than we realize. Lightning strikes the Earth around 1000 times every second. Above the clouds, in the upper atmosphere, there are continuous lightning types that we don’t see from Earth’s surface. They are called elves, sprites, blue jets, and gigantic jets, depending on their color and shape. There is a voltage difference between the ground and the ionosphere, which varies from 200,000 volts to 500,000 volts. Even in fair weather, there is a constant flow of current, which scientists believe is caused by the spinning of Earth’s core. All of this adds up to a total of over three million lightning strikes a day, and each produces nitrates to sustain life. The jet stream carries these nitrates around the planet, providing a natural fertilizer in places where electrical storms rarely occur.
Atheists and skeptics attack belief in God. They say that if God were real, He would show Himself in the method of their choice. They also charge that believers in God are merely worshiping a “god-of-the-gaps.” basis – meaning that when they don’t understand something, they simply say, “God did it!” We have repeatedly pointed out that we do not use gap arguments. We look at what the choices are and what the evidence supports using scientific methods and applying mathematics to test the alternatives. That is not inventing a god to explain what we don’t understand, unlike the Egyptian sun god (Ra) or the Greek god of the sky (Zeus). The picture shows the ruins of the temple of Zeus in Athens, the city where Paul saw an altar to the “unknown god.” Today Nature is the unknown god.
Most atheists and skeptics in their writings will assert that Nature established the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. You see statements like, “it is nature’s way of doing things” to explain why things are the way they are. Nature is invisible, omnipotent, and omniscient. Why is it that atheists will say that believers in the God of the Bible are unintelligent, and those who believe in Nature are the thinkers? No one can tell us where Nature came from. Nature is the unknown god and the atheist’s “god-of-the-gaps.”
It is easy to attribute everything we know and don’t know to the great god “Nature.” Our world today is making the same mistake as Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in biblical times. Today’s philosophers do what their ancestors did when they attribute all unknown phenomena like dark matter and superstrings to Nature. They explain even what they do understand by using that same Nature god.
Many Christians don’t have a clear understanding of the curses described in Genesis 3. God told Eve in verse 16, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children.” To Adam He said, “…cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground…” What exactly is the curse of sin?
We struggle with this account because of our assumptions about what life was like in the Garden of Eden and how it changed. Some have assumed that the environment changed and that humans were no longer gatherers, but that they had to develop agriculture to survive. Some have suggested that Eve underwent a physiological change so that the pelvic opening was reduced, causing increased pain in the birthing process. Some have felt that the Garden of Eden was essentially heaven, with no pain and no problems or work of any kind. That is not only a poor understanding of what heaven is about; it also raises more questions than it answers.
The Garden of Eden was a physical existence. Genesis 2:10-14 identifies a physical location with known rivers. Being physical means that the laws of physics and biology were in place. Adam and Eve were not in heaven, and they had work to do. In Genesis 2:15, God told Adam to take care of the Garden. The fact that thorns and thistles are mentioned in the curse tells us that they were in existence. The law of entropy was in existence, so things did age and die. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 4:3-4 that God created every creature “to be received with thanksgiving … for every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving.” Pitcher plants ate bugs, and bats and lions were not vegetarians.
The message of the curse of sin is not primarily physical. Thorns, thistles, and sweat are more than just a complication to those involved in agriculture. They are symbols of pain and the difficulty of life away from God. It has been said that the least amount of pain a woman has is the birth process. The struggle and pain of raising a child to adulthood can far exceed the pains of labor and birthing. Eating the forbidden fruit was not just a physical action but disobedience to God. The separation that it produced between humans and God also caused separation in human relationships. Cain killing Abel was a part of the curse of sin. The adage known as Murphy’s Law, “if something can go wrong, it will,” applies to far more than the failure of mechanical things.