Bird Brains and Efficient Neurons

Bird Brains and Efficient Neurons
A Macaw has a 20-gram Brain

In the 1950s, if you wanted to denigrate someone, you could call them a “bird brain” because people believed birds weren’t very smart. This assumption probably came from association with domesticated chickens. However, a 2016 study showed that bird brains are denser than those of many other animals. For example, a macaw has a 20-gram brain, and a squirrel monkey has a 30-gram brain, but they have the same number of neurons. 

A new study of bird brains by researchers in Germany shows that bird neurons are more energy efficient than those of mammals. For example, pigeon neurons use three times less energy than mammal neurons. Birds are designed to do many things requiring brain power, including flying and singing complex vocalizations. 

The lead researcher of this study suggests that the brains of birds are organized so that neurons can more easily exchange signals. Organization does not come out of random chance mutations. It requires an organizer. Watching birds around our feeders, we see them doing some incredible things. We know that they are guided by brains that have specific functions allowing them to find and use seeds and other food sources in the winter. 

The brains of all animals are designed to allow them to live in a particular environment. What is unique about humans is that we can alter the environment rather than being altered by it. Also, our brains allow activities such as art, music, complex mathematics, worship, and the ability to be taught to think. Our spiritual nature sets us apart and allows our creative activity and our understanding that there is life beyond the grave. 

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: “Food for Thought” in Scientific American December 2022.

Reading the Rocks in Wisconsin Dells

Reading the Rocks in Wisconsin Dells

We have just enjoyed a return visit to the Wisconsin Dells. I say a “return visit” because, in the army, I was stationed at Camp McCoy near Sparta, Wisconsin. The closest place to go for an escape from military rigor was the Dells. Later, when I was in a National Science Foundation teacher training seminar, we spent a day at the Dells learning about the area’s geological history. I have been to the Dells nearly a dozen times and watched it change from a primitive camping area to a tourist water wonderland. As a geologist, I enjoy reading the rocks in Wisconsin Dells.

The Dells area is geologically interesting because the glaciers did something unusual there. For reasons still debated by geologists, glaciers that covered all of Wisconsin went around the Dells area. That left a very different geology compared to the rest of the state. Where we live in Michigan, glaciers dominated the whole state. Our house sits on a glacial moraine where glaciers dumped sand and gravel as they moved south.

In our gravel pits, we find rocks that came from hundreds of miles north of us. When I took my earth science students on field trips to area gravel pits, they found pieces of copper from the upper peninsula and Jasper conglomerate from southern Ontario. There is no exposed bedrock in southern Michigan, only sand, gravel, and clay left by the glaciers. Hundreds of pothole lakes and ponds cover the area, making it home to a variety of wildlife not abundant in Wisconsin. Farming in our area involves fruits and berries that are rare in Wisconsin.

Reading the rocks in Wisconsin Dells tells us a whole different story with exposed sedimentary bedrock and very little sand and gravel. The area’s rivers are very different, with large pillars and buttes that were spared by the glacial ice, and very few ponds. The whole ecological area of the Dells differs from the surrounding part of the state, and the varied ecology provides different natural resources. For example, the grasses that grow in a place like the Dells provide grains not as easily grown in glaciated areas.

Reading the rocks in Wisconsin Dells tells us that God has provided radically different ecological systems for our benefit. If all areas of the planet were the same, that would limit the available resources. The wisdom of having multiple agents to prepare different soils, different amounts of water, and different mixing of minerals reminds us of the message of Proverbs 8:22-31. That passage personifies Wisdom as being there when God created all these things. Learning to read Earth’s geological history shows us the methods God used to prepare this planet for human habitation. How blessed we are to travel and see places like Wisconsin Dells and learn of God’s wisdom, love, power, and patience in all He does.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Observing Fibonacci Day

Observing Fibonacci Day

Humans look for ways to celebrate certain days. We laugh at Groundhog Day and use Valentine’s Day for special human relationships. Some days have extensive significance, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Veteran’s Day. We are now observing Fibonacci Day on November 23. Fibonacci Day is an unusual celebration of a remarkable mathematical sequence.

Fibonacci was an Italian mathematician who noticed in the year 1202 some interesting oddities about a particular sequence of numbers: 1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55, 89,144, 233. Notice that when you add any two sequential numbers, you get the next number. For example 5 + 8 = 13; 8 + 13 = 21; etc. If you divide two sequential numbers, you get .618034, which some mathematicians have called the “golden mean.”

Applying this Fibonacci sequence to architecture, you get a practical application. A rectangle using any two sequential numbers is aesthetically pleasing to human eyes. If you cut a square off any of these rectangles, you get another rectangle with the Fibonacci sequence. If you connect the corners of the squares in a series of Fibonacci rectangles, you get a spiral (see sketch).

An amazing thing about this is that there are an unlimited number of examples of Fibonacci spirals in the natural world. A small sampling includes:
*The spiral arms of galaxies curl in a Fibonacci spiral.
*The curl of a wave in the ocean fits the Fibonacci spiral.
*The snail shells curl in a Fibonacci curve.
*Elephant tusks curve in a Fibonacci spiral.
*The roots of human teeth curve in a Fibonacci spiral.
*Spider webs fit the Fibonacci spiral
*Keys on the piano are 5 black and 8 white, 13 in all, fitting the ratio.

*Musical chords producing pleasing sounds have the Fibonacci ratio.
*Bacteria growth curves fit the Fibonacci ratio.

There is no natural or evolutionary reason for the Fibonacci sequence. Notice it isn’t just in one discipline but in widely separated areas of study.

The Fibonacci Association publishes a magazine called the Fibonacci Quarterly, and people have written several books about the Fibonacci ratio. If you are observing Fibonacci Day, realize that this demonstrates God’s design in the creation. Chance does not produce a pattern across multiple disciplines like this.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

For more on this, go to DoesGodExist.tv and watch program number 5.

A Mother Carries Her Child for Decades – Not Just Nine Months

A Mother Carries Her Child for Decades – Not Just Nine Months

We all know that a mother carries her unborn child for nine months until the baby is born. However, most people don’t realize that a mother carries her child for decades. That is true even of a woman who chooses to abort her child.

The term “chimera” (pronounced ky-mer-uh) refers to an animal made up of parts of different animals. It goes back to ancient mythology, which told of a creature made of parts from various animals, such as a goat, a lion, and a snake. The Bible even speaks about a vision of multiple animal combinations in the book of Revelation. However, in human mothers, scientists see microchimerism in which fetal cells and DNA are left behind in the mother’s body.

The unborn baby, commonly called a fetus, is not part of the mother’s body and has his or her own DNA. The baby is like a foreign object inside the mother. That’s the reason for “morning sickness,” as the mother’s immune system tries to reject it. The often repeated slogan “my body, my choice” does not consider that the baby is not part of the woman’s body and has no choice in the matter.

The placenta is the link between mother and baby. The unborn baby gets nourishment through the placenta as it connects to the mother’s arteries. However, the baby can also shed some cells and DNA, which enter the mother’s bloodstream as early as two weeks after conception. Those fetal cells can find a home in various organs of the mother, including her heart and brain. Since those cells are from a different person, the result is microchimerism. The woman has part of another person remaining inside of her body.

Scientists have found that a mother carries her child for decades as the baby’s cells remain in her. If she has more than one child, she can retain cells from each of them in her body. Just as science has found that stem cells can be helpful in medical treatments because of their ability to form into different kinds of cells, the potent cells from the baby can become pancreas, heart, liver, or brain cells in the mother. Or they can become skin cells. Scientists have found cells from the baby in the scar tissue after a caesarian birth, indicating that the baby’s cells are helping the mother to heal.

Not only do fetal cells continue in the mother after normal births, but also they are left behind when there is a miscarriage or medical abortion. Surprisingly, studies indicate that more cells are left in the mother after an induced abortion than in a natural miscarriage. Furthermore, this transfer of cells works both ways. To a lesser extent, cells from the mother can get into the unborn baby. Since cells from previous siblings are still in the mother, even those can be passed on to the fetus. In other words, a second or third child may have cells from his or her older siblings.

What does this mean? It tells us that a mother carries her child for decades. As mothers carry with them a part of their children, there is good reason for the bonding between mother and child. Even when a woman decides to end her baby’s life before birth, she still carries some of that child with her. Being a mother is a precious blessing, and abortion is not something to be taken lightly.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

References: National Institutes of Health, “Health Shots” on National Public Radio, and Ariel Precision Medicine

Jesus Christ Challenges People to Think

Jesus Christ Challenges People to Think

People today often refuse to use evidence to make decisions on everything from personal relationships to politics. One of the unique things we find in the Bible is that Jesus Christ challenges people to think.

In the book of Matthew, Jesus uses the phrase “What do you think” five times (17:25, 18:12, 21:28, 22:17, 22:42). Jesus never called his listeners to blind acceptance or thoughtless adherence to authority. In biblical Christianity, faith is not an emotionally-based response. Despite that fact, modern Christian denominations have relied on blind acceptance and emotion instead of thoughtful reasoning.

A good part of this failure is just plain intellectual laziness. People emotionally follow the charismatic leadership of individuals because it is easier than thoughtfully examining the evidence. The result is that we have cults and abusive religious systems. Unlike other world religions, the Bible and Jesus challenge us to examine the evidence and act on it.

Jesus used miracles to convince people of His divine nature. The prophecies about Christ predicted that He would not attract followers by his physical appearance. Consider Isaiah 53:1-6 which is undeniably a messianic prophecy. That passage says, “He had no form or comeliness … there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief … we esteemed Him not.”

Jesus Christ challenges people to think, but as long as people refuse to use their minds and examine the evidence, skepticism and chaos will result. Throughout the Bible, we find encouragement to look at the evidence and know that God is real and that His Word should guide our lives. Read Psalms 19:1, Psalms 53, Psalms 139:14, Proverbs 8, Matthew 6:26-30, Acts 17:22-31, and Romans 1:18-20. Waiting for God to “zap” you with faith is an exercise in futility. Instead, God rewards those who seek to understand and never calls us to blind acceptance.

The “Does God Exist?” program never relies on the opinion or credentials of any human. Instead, we call on all people to come to faith by using their intelligence and what they can see in the world around them. Examine the evidence!

Our materials are free or at cost and provide a way to organize the evidence so that each person who is willing can “know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:20). That means looking at the physical world and the spiritual world and dealing with the evidence that is all around us. Still, in today’s world, Jesus Christ challenges people to think.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

COVID in Animals On the Rise

COVID in Animals On the Rise - Mink Farm
Mink Farm

The COVID pandemic has taught us a lot. People need to be aware that COVID has been found in 32 different kinds of animals. A few domestic cases have had a strong effect on humans both economically and medically. Realize that this data is just the recorded cases, and the actual case numbers of COVID in animals may be far higher.

The most significant instances of COVID in animals have been in the American mink. The problem is that mink farms have large numbers of animals confined in small spaces, allowing the virus to spread quickly. The November 2022 issue of Scientific American reported 787 cases in minks. As a result, some mink farmers have had to destroy their entire stock to stop the disease from spreading. White-tailed deer are the second-highest wild animal group, with 467 reported cases of COVID.

Dogs and cats had the next highest numbers–353 cats and 225 dogs with reported COVID infections. There is great concern about these domestic animals since they are in constant contact with humans. Rounding out the domesticated animals that can carry and spread the virus are cows, hamsters, and ferrets.

The remaining cases in both the wild and in zoos include lions, tigers, gorillas, otters, beavers, lynxes, and hippopotamuses. These cases show that the virus is very active among mammals and will continue to spread unless animal vaccines are produced and used. Our domestication and use of wild animals means that new strains of COVID in animals will continue to arise. Humans can get the virus from animals as well as other humans, and we can also pass it back to animals.

Studying the origins of the disease and compiling a database of infected species will make it easier for scientists to learn how to protect against COVID and other virus infections. We humans are often our own worst enemies, but God has given us the wisdom and the tools we need to be good stewards of life on Earth.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: “Covid Relay” in Scientific American magazine for November 2022, page 22 and ONLINE.

Beavers Can Help Reduce a Climate Change Problem

Beavers Can Help Reduce a Climate Change Problem - Beaver Dam
Beaver Dam

People here in Michigan consider beavers a nuisance because they cut down trees and flood farmlands. Unfortunately, beavers cut down some beautiful shade trees on our property. However, beavers can help reduce a climate change problem.

A significant problem associated with the changing climate is the loss of water. Many reservoirs in the western United States are at extremely low levels, and some have completely dried up. Precipitation amounts have dropped while humans mismanage natural water storage.

Meanwhile, people have hunted and trapped beavers due to high prices for pelts and the flooding of farmland and private homes by the dams they built. The result is that water now floods downstream areas. Beavers reduce that problem by creating ponds that hold the water, so it runs off much more slowly. Besides reducing flooding, this also helps to minimize droughts. Studies funded by the National Science Foundation show that by live trapping and moving them upstream, beavers can help reduce a climate change problem.

God has provided ways to make climate change less damaging. For example, storing water in snow and glaciers helps mitigate the problem of water distribution. Additionally, beavers can reduce the problem by building dams that hold water back, providing relief from weather extremes.

God has given us the responsibility of managing what He has created. However, by creating pollution and mismanaging natural resources such as beavers, we have created problems we can no longer ignore. We can all participate in caring for the creation, and pleading ignorance won’t stop the damage.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Designing a Planet to Support Life

Designing a Planet to Support Life
Agarwood (Aquilaria sinensis )

An interesting electronic game is one where you have access to a reservoir of materials to design a life-sustaining planet. Once you choose your materials and processes, the game computes how long life could survive on your planet. All the choices end up sterile, but the player with the longest survival time is the winner. Unfortunately, the limited number of variables causes all the options to eventually result in a lifeless globe because designing a planet to support life is a complex process. 

As scientists examine systems that support life on Earth, they find multiple complex systems with some surprising agents that allow life to exist over the long haul. For example, we have written before about how many bird and mammal species spread seeds. Also, ants spread the seeds of more than 11,000 plant species. Without ants, the existence and abundance of many plant species could be impossible. A recent study has shown that other insects also spread seeds, allowing the enormous number of plant species on Earth. 

Most plants have a compound called “herbivore induced plant volatiles” (HIPVs for short). A plant releases these HIPVs when caterpillars start eating its leaves. The HIPVs attract hungry predators that eat caterpillars. A recent study showed that agarwood (Aquilaria sinensis ), which is native to China, depends on hornets to spread its seeds.

Agarwood fruit produces HIPVs even though it is not assaulted by caterpillars. The agarwood HIPVs attract hornets which rush to capture the plant’s seeds. The hornets carry the seeds to their nests, where they eat the fleshy nutrient-rich structures called elaiosomes attached to the seeds. The hornets discard the seeds on the ground near their shaded nests. The seeds would dry out and die in the sun, but they germinate to produce new agarwood plants in the shade.

The Chinese people use agarwood for various purposes. However, the plant is listed as “vulnerable” because of habitat loss and the fact that local people eat the hornet larvae. Designing a planet to support life is a complex and challenging goal only God can do. Unfortunately, humans lack the wisdom to protect the life-sustaining system God has created for us.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: “Helpful HornetsScientific American, October 2022, page 18.

The Design of Lobster Eyes

The Design of Lobster Eyes
Have you ever looked a lobster in the face?

How do you design an optical system that enables an animal to see 2300 feet (700 m) below the ocean’s surface? That question is similar to the problem that astronomers face as they look into low light levels in areas of space around black holes. The answer came from a detailed study of the design of lobster eyes, and scientists at the Goddard Space Flight Center have successfully copied it.

The human eye works by refraction, bending light by using rounded lenses. The lobster’s eyes work by reflection. Each eye of the lobster is packed with 10,000 square-shaped tubes lined with a flat, reflective surface that acts like a mirror. These mirrors direct incoming light to the retina, where tiny cells trap the light and focus it onto a layer of photoreceptors. This allows the lobster to have a full 180-degree view compared to the 120-degree view of human eyes. It also enables them to detect motion in low-light conditions.

In 1992, researchers from Columbia University built a device that mimics the design of lobster eyes, but the technology required 15 years to build a device for use in space missions. Studies using the lobster eye device have shown how the solar wind interacts with Earth’s magnetic field. In addition, newer models are opening the door to detecting faint X-rays from distant galaxies.

The design of lobster eyes is another of many design features in animal life that scientists have copied, leading to new discoveries. A visual system this complex is not the product of blind accidents. We see the handiwork of God everywhere we look in the natural world. The same God who designed the lobster’s eyes has given us the design for how we should live, and it’s written in His Word, the Bible. We would be wise to follow it.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: “Lobster Eyes Help Us See Into Space” in Discover magazine November/December 2022, page 18.

Date Palms and Food

Date Palms and Food

In our day of climate change, drought, and food shortages, it is essential to know God’s answer to these problems. The Bible talks about “a land of milk and honey.” Most of us probably think this refers to the product of bees and cows. In fact, the milk was mostly from goats, and the honey was entirely from date palms. This plant is so productive that each tree will provide 150 pounds of food a year.

Date palms can live for over 100 years and grow to the height of a five-story building. However, they grow best when the roots can find underground moisture while the tree is in arid and hot conditions above ground. That is the environment of the area where Jesus lived, and today groves of date palms grow on the edge of the Dead Sea.

Date palm seeds are so resilient that some from the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls 2000 years ago have germinated when planted and watered. In the United States, we merely call them “dates,” but there are many varieties for different uses, such as medjool, khalas, sukkary, barhi, rutab, ajwa, kimia, deglet noor, and halawi. In the Middle East, where dates have been used for over 4000 years, these varieties are well-known.

God has provided for human needs in a wide variety of ways. We can solve the problem of food shortages if we use what God has given us. Many of our staple foods in America are difficult to grow, especially in nutrient-poor soils or harsh climatic environments. Using God’s gifts wisely on a global level can reduce hunger, pain, and suffering enormously. God has given us what we need, but we must manage it intelligently.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: “The Sweet and Sticky History of the Date” Smithsonian magazine for November/December 2022, pages 27 ff.