We received the following article on COVID-19 vaccines and design from Phillip Eichman. He is one of our readers who has a doctorate in biology and writes for us from time to time.
The politics and debate surrounding the COVID-19 vaccines have obscured the intrinsic beauty of the cellular mechanism that makes these vaccines possible. Earlier vaccines that many of us received, such as smallpox and polio vaccines, contained a weakened or inactivated virus. The COVID-19 vaccines contain only a tiny piece of viral genetic material called messenger RNA (mRNA).
The amount of research and development that went into these vaccines is amazing. Scientists first determined the genome of the virus, then isolated the genes and produced a functional piece of viral mRNA. When injected into your shoulder, this viral mRNA directs the production of a viral protein that your immune system recognizes as foreign, ultimately resulting in immunity to the virus. When I took a molecular biology course as an undergraduate in the early 1970s, something like these vaccines might have seemed more like science fiction than basic science.
Clearly, the fact that these mRNA vaccines have been developed and appear to function as expected shows us that living things are not merely a random bunch of parts thrown together. Rather, they are exceedingly complex, finely tuned machines that result from intelligent planning and design. COVID-19 vaccines and design provide further evidence that the universe did not just happen.
Japanese scientists have released a study of autotomy and decapitation in sea slugs. Researchers found that two species of sea slugs have the amazing ability to separate their heads from their bodies. The sea slug’s head continues to move while it regenerates a heart and other organs.
Autotomy is not a new phenomenon in the animal world. Many of us have seen lizards drop their tails to avoid predators. The tail continues to move to distract the predator while the lizard escapes. But this is the first instance where an animal drops its entire body. Both lizards and the sea slugs can use autotomy as many times as is needed. Japanese scientists have seen specimens regrow their bodies several times.
The slug’s head gets its energy to survive from photosynthesis taking place in cells it has acquired from its algae diet. The researchers believe the sea slug releases its body to get rid of parasites. The scientific community is interested in how this could be applied to replacing human body parts.
The complexity of what appears to be a simple animal is astounding. It’s a good demonstration that God has created animals with unique properties and abilities. Autotomy and decapitation reminds us that there are many things we observe in the natural world that we may use to solve some of the problems humans face.
One of the most interesting demonstrations of design in the natural world is the way some animals build structures that provide for the needs of other animals. The work of these animal engineers creates new ecosystems for survival.
The classic North American example is the beaver, which goes to great lengths to provide a whole ecosystem that benefits other life forms. One might question whether a dam is necessary for a beaver to eat plant material and raise babies. Dam building requires the beaver to spend massive amounts, and the dam is easily destroyed. A large number of other life forms depend on beaver dams and the ponds that form behind them.
Science News (February 13, 2021) published a similar example found in Australia. Life forms in northwestern Australia have to survive in a challenging environment with little water and extreme heat. How do all those animals survive in the harsh conditions?
The answer to that question is large monitor lizards. Two species of monitor lizards dig holes that are up to 13 feet (4 m) deep with numerous side channels. The monitor lizard lays its eggs at the bottom of the long, spiral-shaped tunnel. After the monitor lizard abandons the nest, other animals use the side channels to escape the extreme environment above ground. Arthropods, toads, snakes, lizards are included in 28 different vertebrate species using the abandoned monitor lizard lairs. Researchers have found up to 750 creatures in a single monitor’s pit and side channels.
Like the beaver, monitor lizards provide an environment that allows life in a place where survival is difficult. In the natural world, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. That is not true when animal engineers are needed to allow a diversity of life in a challenging environment. The more we learn of God’s creation, the more examples we find of intelligence and design, which frequently involve animal engineers.
How many bird species can you identify? There are over 10,000 known species of birds in the world, and I am sure you could not identify them all. But God can. More than that, He sees each one individually (Matthew 10:29). That staggers my mind. Sometimes I can’t keep up with counting birds at my backyard bird feeders.
We often feature birds in our daily Facebook postings, and many times we have talked about birds on this website. (For example, HERE, HERE, and HERE.) Birds are fascinating, beautiful, and intelligent creatures. Birds, like mammals, can be trained to do things and respond to humans in various ways. We see that as a purposeful design by our Creator to allow us to bond with these animals.
Watching birds fly through the air and listening to their beautiful songs are fascinating and enjoyable activities. Since the beginning, humans have longed for the ability to fly and see the world from our feathered friends’ perspective. Sometimes, people have been careless in causing harm or even extinction to bird species. When we see the many ways birds benefit life on Earth, we must recognize that we should be good stewards of what God has given us.
An annual worldwide event known as The Great Backyard Bird Count is now in progress. It’s a science project that you can get involved in no matter who you are or where you live. This year, from February 12-15 people worldwide will be counting birds in their vicinity. By doing that, they are helping to compile a database of birds. All you have to do is take at least one period of 15 minutes or more and make a list of all the birds you see in your backyard, in a local park, outside your apartment window, or anywhere else that’s convenient. Just record your location, start and end times, and the number and types of birds you see.
Of course, you can spend more than 15 minutes, or you can do it on each of the four days, or even multiple times per day. As in past years, the statistics from bird watchers worldwide will be tabulated by scientists to get a better picture of the world bird population and health. To help you identify birds, you can consult websites such as WhatBird.com and AllAboutBirds.org, which are free to use.
Counting birds is a science project that anyone can do. To learn the details of how you can get involved in this worldwide project, sign up for free at www.birdcount.org. We think that learning more about God’s creation helps us see our Creator’s wisdom and love. (Matthew 6:26)
Have you ever thought about how a tiny cricket can make so much noise? Researchers have found that male tree crickets use leaves to make baffles that double the volume of their calls. You could call them cricket megaphones.
Cricket wings are resonance structures reverberating with the vibration caused by rubbing the wings together. This reverberation is like the body of a violin, but the sound is weak because the insect is so small. To make a baffle, the male cricket cuts a hole in a leaf and then crawls halfway through the hole, so its wings cause the leaf to vibrate like a loudspeaker. The advantage is that female crickets are attracted to the males with the loudest call.
The discussion among biologists is about whether this qualifies as tool use. Rittik Deb, an ecologist at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India, says crickets show that sophisticated behaviors aren’t just for big complex brains. Deb says his work “really turns that idea on its head.”
Not everything about this behavior is beneficial to the cricket because increasing the volume of their calls makes them sitting ducks for predators like geckos and spiders. It would seem that this controls the cricket population, but it provides a food source for other living things. For that reason, it appears that evolutionary processes would eventually put a stop to cricket megaphones.
A more likely scenario is that the behavior is programmed into the crickets’ DNA to keep a balance in nature. In places where geckos and/or spiders are in abundance, the cricket population remains small. In Australia, we saw large numbers of geckos and large spiders in the homes of people with whom we stayed. We did not see insect problems in those same homes. In America, we have much to learn about the natural controls that God has built into our world. As more evidence unfolds, we see that human attempts to control insects with chemicals are unnecessary.
Most people know that birds have excellent vision.Eagles can spot a mouse from high overhead. How can they have such sharp vision? Science has revealed the hidden design in a bird’s eye.
The secret of a bird’s eyes was detected first, not in an eagle, but in the eye of a chicken. Color cones are cells in the retina located in the back of the eye. The cones capture the image that the lens focuses on the retina. Human eyes have cones of three different colors: red, blue, and green. Examining the retinas of chickens’ eyes, scientists found that they have five different colors of cones. But it isn’t the number of different color cones that is the most amazing feature.
Much more interesting is the arrangement of the cones. The cones for each color are different sizes. Imagine taking many circles in five different sizes and colors and arranging them on a surface, trying to fit the maximum number of circles into the area. If they were all the same size, you might put them into a grid, but since the circles are in five different sizes, packing the maximum number into the area becomes much more difficult. In packing cone cells onto a retina, more cones will give a higher resolution (sharper) image.
The arrangement of cones in the chicken retina seemed to be haphazard until scientists studied them more closely. What they found was something they call “hyperuniformity.” It’s a mathematically elegant concept that appears to be disordered but is actually optimized with a hidden order. You might call it “disordered hyperuniformity.” It’s the hidden design in a bird’s eye.
What appears disordered is the best possible arrangement to evenly distribute the maximum number of unevenly-sized cones over the retinal surface. Scientists are applying this to many other areas. Hyperuniformity could improve cameras and scanning equipment. It could also improve such diverse processes as mixing concrete, making glass, or any application where you need to distribute solid particles evenly.
How did the cells in the chicken’s eyes get arranged so perfectly? Was the hidden design in a bird’s eye an accident, or is this another example of the work of an intelligent Designer?
Sometimes evidence of God’s design in our lives shows up in unusual places. A recent example of that is a study by neuroscientist Livia Tomova and her associates at MIT that showed we were designed for fellowship.
The study involved 40 people who were required to fast for 10 hours. Then the researchers showed them pictures of pizza and chocolate cake and recorded the brain waves from the midbrain of the subjects. Several days later, they took the same 40 people and did not allow them to have any contact with other people for 10 hours. That meant no friends, no Facebook, no Instagram, no social contact. Then the researchers showed them pictures of people chatting or playing team sports. The brain waves showed the same response as they had for food deprivation.
The area of the brain the researchers studied plays an essential role in human desire for food, friends, drugs, or gambling. The research indicates that humans are designed for fellowship. The effects on people who are socially isolated by COVID-19 are significant. It may explain some behavior issues that researchers have noted. Social isolation puts both mental and physical health at stake. It can even leave people craving for more food, drugs, or gambling.
Genesis 2:18 tells us that when God created Adam, He recognized “It is not good that the man should be alone…”Humans are designed to be social in our base nature. We may think that we like to be alone, but the reality is that eventually, we all need contact with other humans.
After a period of isolation, all of us need to be with other people. The biblical model of the Church is that “when two or three are gathered together” in the name of Jesus, He is there also (Matthew 18:20). One of the frustrations associated with the pandemic is not being able to be with other people who share our convictions and values. We are designed for fellowship with others. That is the way God created us.
Recently there have been many articles and news stories about Artificial Intelligence (AI). Some leading scientists are worried about what may happen in the future as machines or robots become available with higher levels of AI. Already we have “Weak AI” with computers and phones speaking in human-sounding voices and answering our questions. The next step is “Artificial General Intelligence.” That would be a general-purpose speaking machine that can think and perform specific tasks better and faster than humans. The main concern here is the loss of jobs that humans now perform. Perhaps we need to be concerned about an invasion of amoral intelligence.
What worries or even frightens some experts in the field is “Artificial Superintelligence.” We are talking about an artificial intellect that could outperform the most brilliant human minds, achieve new levels of creativity on its own, and display social skills that could not you could not distinguish from humans. It would be able to continue learning at a fantastic speed, shape its own future, and act in its own interest. Its desires and motivations could be very different from the interests of its creators or humanity as a whole. It could develop its own agenda even to the destruction of humans. This is the stuff of science fiction movies, and the current prediction is that somewhere between 2040 and 2050, science could achieve this level of AI.
Human life is guided by a conscience that our Creator put into us. Every human being recognizes that there are moral values and that some things are right and good and other things are wrong and evil. No matter if this moral sense becomes distorted by teaching, experiences, or even mental illness, it is still there. Even an atheist such as Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer has some limits, even though he argues that humans are just animals not deserving status above any other species and that parents should have a month to decide whether to keep or euthanize their newborn children. That seems like a shocking moral code, but an Artificial Superintelligence would not necessarily have even those moral limitations.
Humans have a built-in moral quality becauseGod created us in His image. The result of humans making a machine with superhuman thinking abilities and no moral conscience should cause us to step back and carefully consider the possible invasion of amoral intelligence.
We humans don’t always like the winter snow for its inconvenience and sometimes safety threat. For many animals, the snow-cover makes winter the best time of year. Scientists who study life in this seasonal microenvironment under the snow call it the subnivium ecosystem. It allows many species of plants and animals to exist that could not survive without snow.
The first scientific writings about the subnivium world were circulated by a lepidopterist (a scientist who studies butterflies) named Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov was investigating butterflies whose caterpillars eat plants known as blue lupines. These butterflies lay their eggs on the stems of the lupines a few inches above the ground. When snow covers the area, the eggs are protected from the very low temperatures of the mountains where the butterflies live. Scientists conducted a study of those same butterflies in 2019 when there was a significant decrease in the snow cover. They found a 43% decrease in the number of butterflies produced.
This is just one example of life in the subnivium ecosystem. Ruffed grouse burrow into the snow at night and stay in an igloo-like area that can be 50 degrees warmer than the outside air. In wintertime, a surprising number of animals live in the warmer subnivium ecosystem. Wolverines, martens, voles, mice, shrews, red squirrels, and even bears take advantage of heavy snow cover. The protection of snow allows abundant life at high elevations and in polar areas.
Every part of Earth is home to living things because of the design of the animals and plants and the design of water that gives snow thermodynamic properties. It is easy to overlook the statement God made to Job about “the treasures of the snow” (Job 38:22). The simplicity of those words describes a whole world of life in the subnivium ecosystem and the treasure of water stored on snow-covered mountains. The treasure house of snow speaks of the intelligence built into every corner of creation.
It’s 2.5 billion light-years away, and brighter than the over 100 billion stars in our Milky Way Galaxy combined. If it were even as close as 30 light-years from us, it would appear as bright as the Sun, which is only eight light minutes away. Before anyone ever saw it, scientists detected it by the radio waves that it sends out.
In 1963, astronomer Allan Sandage was the first to observe quasar 3C 273 with a telescope. Quasars are the brightest objects in the known universe. They’re massive discs of particles that surround a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy. They emit intensely powerful energy as the black hole sucks the life out of matter and pulls it into its abyss. The energy is brighter than 100 billion stars.
The cloudy streak in the picture from NASA’s Hubble Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 is a jet of energy that was fired off by the quasar at some time in the past. That streak is 200,000 light-years long! It would be impossible to survive in a galaxy with a quasar in its center. The intense energy from the quasar would destroy life while the black hole devoured the matter. We can be thankful that this quasar is so far away, even though it is one of the nearest.
Life on Earth is possible because we have no black holes or quasars near us. We think the universe reveals the work of an amazing Master Designer. We agree with Dr. Allan Sandage, the first person to observe a quasar, when he said, “Science makes explicit the quite incredible natural order, the interconnections at many levels between the laws of physics…Why is the design that we see everywhere so truly miraculous?… As I said before, the world is too complicated in all its parts and interconnections to be due to chance alone.”