Saharan Silver Ants

Saharan Silver Ants
The survival of living things in extreme conditions is always fascinating. There are places on Earth, such as the Sahara Desert, where the temperature on the ground can soar to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Even in that extreme heat there are living things functioning very well in conditions that would be lethal to most forms of life.

Extreme survival is a way of life for the Saharan silver ants (Cataglyphis bombycina). The predators of these ants are desert lizards that retreat into their burrows in the heat of the day. Some of the ants keep watch to let the others know when the lizards are gone. Then the ant colony makes its food-search expedition. They come out into the full Sun and intense heat to scavenge animal carcasses. The picture shows them devouring an engorged camel tick.

The question is, “How do they survive the heat?” They have longer legs than most ants, and that keeps their bodies farther from the hot sand. They also travel across the sand at high speed (2.3 feet or 0.7 meters per second) using only four of their six legs to keep fewer feet on the ground. Also, their bodies produce heat-shock proteins that help their cells cope with the stress of the high temperature. Many animals produce heat-shock proteins, but not until they are exposed to extreme heat. The Saharan silver ants are programmed to produce those proteins before heat exposure to prepare them for what’s ahead.

Even with those adaptations, they are still exposed to the direct rays of the Sun. Scientists used electron microscopes to find the secret of the Saharan silver ant’s survival. The ants are covered with microscopic hairs that are not round or oval in cross-section like most hairs. They have a triangle shape to act as prisms. This shape reflects both the visible and infrared (heat) energy from the Sun away from their bodies. Because of these tiny prisms, the ants display a metallic shine. They look like metallic beads rolling quickly over the desert sand. No other desert creature has this form of reflection. Saharan silver ants are among the most heat-resistant creatures in the world.

Like many things in nature, engineers are looking into how we can imitate the prism method of these ants to protect humans from the dangers of extreme heat. Designing something that can reflect the heat this efficiently requires a deep understanding of optics and the nature of light and heat energy. The wisdom of the Creator shines brightly in the reflected light coming from the Saharan silver ants.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2017

Hurricanes and God’s Design

Hurricanes and God's Design
Our hearts go out to everyone who has been affected by the recent storms in Texas and Louisiana. Our family has members who were flooded and have sustained a terrible loss. The total damage to innocent humans is so massive it is hard to comprehend. Please do not interpret this discussion as being callous, unfeeling, or minimizing the loss that so many have suffered. However, we need to consider the cause of hurricanes and God’s design for life on Earth.

When something like this happens, we receive communications either blaming God or wanting to know why God has allowed it to happen. We would not pretend to have all the answers to the questions that a disaster like this raises. However, this is not a vindictive act of God or retaliation for some human sin. It is a natural product of the design of our planet.

The design is a very good. Spreading water around the Earth in such a way that all latitudes and longitudes have enough water for humans to survive is a difficult challenge. When the Sun is directly overhead at the Equator, it generates heat energy on the surface of the Earth at that locale. The heated air rises and cools. Moisture condenses, and precipitation occurs.

The now dry air moves north and south away from the tropical rain forests. Eventually, it falls back to the Earth at about 30 degrees latitude north and south of the equator. That means there will be a desert at 30 degrees latitude. If you look at a globe, you will see that most of Earth’s deserts are at 30 degrees latitude. This effect is called “The Hadley Cell” and is well understood.

In the United States, 30 degrees north runs through Houston, the gulf coast, and northern Florida. Those areas would be deserts except for hurricanes and God’s design. Low-pressure cells generate over the South Atlantic and move toward the Gulf of Mexico. If these cells pick up enough water due to extra heat, a hurricane can result. Hurricanes bring large amounts of water to what would otherwise be parched, dry areas. When these areas go a long time with no significant water-bearing storms, drought is the result.

When I was a child in the middle of the twentieth century, hurricanes were a time for celebration. Hurricane parties were the rage, and people knew how to “batten down” for the “big blow.” The barrier islands were covered with mangroves which would break up the storm surge. Recharging the aquifers in the area was a good thing for everyone.

Since those days, people have cut down the mangroves and built resorts and beach houses on those barrier islands. Without the mangroves, the storm surges are massive. People have built huge housing developments on land poorly protected from the sea. Even farther inland, massive numbers of people have been put in harm’s way by the changes.

Hurricanes are not an evil, vindictive act of God. In this very incomplete and sketchy review of the cause of storm damage along the coast, we want to say that these storms have a positive effect. They are part of a system designed to make an area that otherwise would be a desert into a good place to live.

Like all the things God has given us, in the use of our land we need to apply wisdom. We have not had a good track record on stewardship of God’s gifts. We should think carefully about the future and use our knowledge and our ability to design and engineer things in a way that will minimize future catastrophes. Meanwhile, we need to join hands, clean up the mess, and help those in need.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Why Is There Color in Our World?

Why Is there Color in the World?
One of the joys of life is the beauty that we see in the natural world. The beauty of flowers is so great that we decorate our homes inside and out with flowers of every description. People will get out of bed early in the morning to watch a sunrise display colors of incredible beauty and complexity. We admire the work of artists and photographers who can capture a permanent record of the colors of the world on canvas or film. Why is there color in the world?

There are hundreds of papers that have been written by scientists and science writers concerning the reason for color. The design of the Earth and of the life systems on Earth frequently demand that certain colors exist. For example, the green in vegetation is necessary to protect plants from the high energy wavelengths of the Sun’s light.

There are some colors in the natural world, however, that seem to defy a naturalistic evolutionary explanation. Flowers living in identical environments will frequently have radically different colors. If we postulate that the colors are different to attract different pollinators, we run into logical problems. Wouldn’t the most efficient pollinators provide the same advantages to all flowers of similar geometric design? In caves deep in the ocean, there are some of the more vividly colored tropical fish. These fish never see sunlight and have no camouflage advantage given by their colors. There are worms and burrowing animals in thermal vents deep in the floor of the ocean that display rich and beautiful colors.

A skeptic may reply that these colors are a chance consequence of the materials that make up the bodies of these organisms. The fact is that, in many cases, the colored materials in the organism are inconsequential to the survival of the organism. We would suggest an equally plausible and perhaps more realistic explanation. Could it be that a God of intelligence and creative power designed the creation not only with functional wisdom but also with aesthetic intelligence?

Why is there color? God obviously enjoys beauty. We were created in God’s image, and therefore we enjoy the beauty of the world around us. Beauty is one of the things that makes our sojourn on this planet worthwhile.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Origin of Life Problems Admitted

Wing Challenge to Origin of Life
One of the more honest and fair writers in modern scientific publications is Dr. Bob Berman. He has a regular column in Astronomy magazine and an interesting website. In the September 2017 issue of Astronomy (page 10) he has an outstanding brief review of the problems involved in trying to explain the origin of life. He begins by pointing out that the definition of “life” has been an issue because of questions such as whether or not a virus is alive. Viruses have no metabolism, they don’t feed or breathe, and yet they reproduce.

Berman then reviews some of the parameters necessary to consider when addressing the origin of life. Chirality is a major issue because amino acids that make up proteins come in right- and left-handed versions. Life on Earth is made up of only left-handed amino acids. Sugars used by the proteins are limited to the right-handed direction and so is DNA. The wrong chirality just will not work to support life so how could nature sort out the chirality? If life is easy to produce, why don’t we see it coming into existence all over the Earth? The “amoeba-to-man” model assumes that it only happened once which conflicts with the view that life is abundant in the cosmos.

What is especially interesting is that Berman raises questions about the ability of evolution to explain on a chance basis some of the designs we see in living things. He uses the example of the airfoil that all flying forms of life have. The upper surface is convex using the Bernoulli effect to produce lift. The earliest bird and the flying reptiles all had a wing design that works. Trial and error would not work well to explain how the wing design would come into existence by chance. Berman points out that “some 400,000 cells would all have to simultaneously mutate in just the right way to create a properly shaped wing. This defies an evolutionary hypothesis.”

Berman concludes with the statement “I’m not invoking spirituality, merely that the effect of random collisions and mutations is not always a workable answer. So perhaps nature is inherently smart.” I would suggest that wing design is just one of a massive number of design features that allow life to exist.

Berman quotes Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA’s double helix as saying that the origin of life is “almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.” We don’t invent a “god” to explain these things, but we would point to these things as one more evidence that there is a God and that blind chance is not a good designer of the complexity we see in the world around us.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Just Right Moon

Solar Eclipse Thanks to Just Right Moon
In a few days, a total solar eclipse will cross the full width of the United States, and you can give credit for that to the just right moon.

We have looked at the “how” and “why” of total solar eclipses. We have considered what value total solar eclipses have. We have seen that a total eclipse helped to confirm a very important scientific principle. Also, we pointed out that solar eclipses happen only at the time of the new moon when the Moon is between the Earth and the Sun.

A new moon occurs about every 29 days, so why doesn’t an eclipse happen at each new moon? That’s because the plane of the orbit of the Moon around the Earth is about five degrees off from the orbital path of the Earth around the Sun. Because of that difference, a solar eclipse happens only when the Moon crosses the path of Earth’s orbit around the Sun (called the ecliptic). A TOTAL solar eclipse happens only when the Sun and Moon are exactly aligned.

What would happen if the orbit of the Moon were on the same plane as the ecliptic? At every new moon we would have a total solar eclipse, and at every full moon, we would have a total lunar eclipse. So the Sun would go dark in the daytime somewhere on Earth every month, and the full Moon would also go dark monthly. The influence of the Sun’s gravity on the lunar orbit might cause more serious problems.

No other planet has a moon that plays such an important part in creating an environment suitable for life. The Moon is right where it should be to serve life on Earth. Our just right Moon lights the night, creates the tides that clean our estuaries, stabilizes Earth’s rotation, and occasionally provides a total solar eclipse that gives us a glimpse of God’s marvelous design of our solar system.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Marvelous Coincidence or Design?

Marvelous Coincidence or Design?
Yesterday we talked about the upcoming total solar eclipse and the fact that the Moon can completely hide the Sun from view. That seems very strange since the Sun is about 390 times larger than the Moon. By a “marvelous coincidence” the Sun is 390 times farther away than the Moon. Since the Sun is 390 times farther away, it appears to be 390 times smaller. For that reason, when we see the Moon and the Sun in the sky, they appear to be the same size.

The Moon can exactly cover the Sun’s disc which we call the photosphere. At the same time, in a total eclipse, we can see the chromosphere, which is the very bright atmosphere surrounding the Sun. We can also see what is called the corona–jets of hot gas which follow the lines of the Sun’s magnetic field. Under normal circumstances, the chromosphere and corona are invisible because of the glare from the photosphere.

Scientists have learned much about the Sun by studying what we can see only during total solar eclipses. Only during a total solar eclipse can scientists study the “solar wind” which sends out streams of particles called coronal mass ejections (CME). CMEs can travel all the way to Earth and knock out communication satellites or terrestrial power grids. Just as scientists work to predict weather on Earth to avoid catastrophes, they want to learn how to predict CMEs to prepare for something that could potentially knock out power or communication to large areas of our planet.

Scientists have also learned some interesting things about the Sun’s temperature during total eclipses. They had measured the temperature of the Sun’s surface to be 6,700 to 11,000 degrees F (3,700 to 6,200 degrees C). However, by observations made during total eclipses, they found that the temperature of the chromosphere is up to 14,000 degrees F (7,700 degrees C) and the corona is 3.5 million degrees F (2 million degrees C)! They are still trying to discover how that is possible.

Was it mere coincidence that the Moon can exactly cover the Sun? We think that God designed it that way so that we can learn how “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalms 19:1). We think it is not just a “marvelous coincidence,” but another example of wisdom and purpose in design. Tomorrow we will tell you about what is probably the most significant scientific discovery made during a total solar eclipse.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Plastic-Eating Worms

Food for Plastic-Eating Worms
One of the confusing points about evolution for many Christians is not understanding that there is a difference between the fact of evolution and naturalistic theories of evolution. Evolutionary adaptations have given us plastic-eating worms.

Attempting to say that evolution eliminates God from the picture of creation is an incredibly ignorant statement, and yet we see it in both atheist and Christian papers. The word “evolution” means “unfolding change.” The fact that God engineered life in such a way that living things can change is one of the most incredible examples of design.

Darwin’s work in the Galapagos Islands showing that finches could change physically to meet the local food supply does not contradict the Bible in any way. When we visited Darwin Station in the Galapagos and talked with the workers, they were dumbfounded to hear that anyone thought there was a biblical problem with the work they were doing there.

The August 2017 issue of Scientific American (page 21), carried an article about the larvae of the greater wax moth that has mutated so that it can consume polyethylene plastic. Humans produce some 300 million metric tons of plastic every year, and this material is clogging landfills and showing up in lakes and streams. To find a way to biodegrade this material would be a huge ecological breakthrough, and it is possible because of the design of the genetics of the wax moth larvae. Beeswax is the main food of the larvae, but the mutation allows them to degrade polyethylene as well.

The scientists involved are studying the process to discover the enzyme that the plastic-eating worms use to break down the polyethylene. God apparently built a solution to the biggest waste problem we face today by the design of the genome of the wax worm.

Current Biology journal originally published news of this discovery on August 7, 2017.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Total Solar Eclipse of 2017

Total Solar Eclipse of 2017
On August 21 people across North America will have a unique opportunity to see a total solar eclipse. It is a very rare event, and especially rare to have so much of the United States involved. The experience itself is worth a considerable drive if you don’t live in a zone of totality.

The Moon is just the right size to cover the the Sun. That means that the shadow of the Moon will fall on a small area of the Earth. Normally the bright photosphere of the Sun overpowers everything else. In a total eclipse of the Sun, the photosphere is covered, and you can see the outer atmosphere of the Sun called the corona. When light from the photosphere shines through a valley on the Moon just before and after totality, a blast of bright light appears to viewers on Earth. It looks like a huge diamond ring.

The sky is not the only place where strange things happen. We enjoyed a partial eclipse when I taught astronomy at Riley High School in South Bend, Indiana. We made a point of telling our 1600-member student body what was going to happen. We set up our telescopes and pin-hole cameras to project the event onto poster board. The principal allowed the whole student body to gather in front of the school.

When the eclipse started, there was the usual teenage horsing around as the Moon began to cover the Sun. All of a sudden the kids got very quiet as it became noticeably darker and you could feel the air become cooler. Dogs started howling as the eclipse progressed. Leaves in the maple tree in front of the school projected small pin-hole images on the sidewalk of the Sun with a chunk missing. We even had a few kids who became disturbed by what was happening. This was not a total solar eclipse, but just a partial eclipse which didn’t cover the entire Sun. Those who live near the path of totality will have the rare experience of seeing complete coverage of the Sun and darkness in the middle of the day.

It is amazing that our solar system is designed in such an incredible way that even high school students with a knowledge of math and astronomy can predict when the eclipse will start, reach totality, and end. The fact that the Moon is just the right size to cover the Sun is remarkable. In the past, humans believed that eclipses were the prognosticators of a coming disaster. For us, the total solar eclipse is simply a wonderful display of the precision and design built into our solar system and the fact that we can understand what God has done by studying the events that we see in the sky.

A word of warning–don’t look at the eclipse with your naked eye. Special eclipse glasses are available. Don’t risk losing your eyesight.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Super Night-Vision in Frogs

Super Night-Vision in Frogs
Almut Kelber is a sensory biologist at Lund University in Sweden. For many years Dr. Kelber has been studying the super night-vision in frogs that allows them to hunt and move about in extremely low light levels.

In the August/September issue of National Wildlife (page 10) the group that Dr. Kelber leads reports that amphibians have unique rods or photoreceptor cells in their retinas that are not found in any other vertebrates. These receptors allow frogs not only to see in the dark but to see colors in extreme darkness. Humans can’t distinguish colors in low light, but frogs can see colors in light levels where human eyes would not see anything at all. Dr. Kelber did not expect to find that “these animals can see color in extreme darkness, down to the absolute threshold of the visual system.”

Over and over we see specific equipment built into living things that allows them to survive in their environment, defend themselves against predators, and find unique access to food. You can believe that this is a simple trial and error situation, where having the equipment promotes survival and not having the equipment is lethal. Or you can believe that an intelligence designed and engineered these structures to allow our planet to be a unique oasis of life.

Since we find this super night-vision in frogs everywhere in the world, it is difficult to believe this is a product of isolated chance. “We can know there is a God through the things He has made” Romans 1:18-22.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Chaos Mathematics and Solar System Design

Chaos Mathematics and the Solar System
One of the ongoing mysteries about the solar system is the question of how the orbits of the planets and other objects function. If the solar system consisted of only the Sun and the Earth, the motion of the Earth could be easily calculated by a simple formula. When you add other planets and moons, all tugging and pulling on Earth in different ways at different times, no simple mathematical formula explains what is taking place. The solar system seems to be incredibly stable, but why should that be? Chaos mathematics helps us see design in the solar system.

For hundreds of years, astronomers and mathematicians have wrestled with the questions that relate to the consistency of the solar system. Why does Mars not get pulled out of its orbit and crash into Earth? Why does Earth not drift closer to the Sun when it is pulled on by the gravitation of the inner planets? How does the Moon’s gravity affect Earth’s orbit and rotation?

Modern computers have given us spectacular advances in understanding planetary motions. The simple calculation gets complicated when you add a second planet to the solar system. With three objects tugging on each other and the Earth no longer follows a precisely elliptical orbit. Earth experiences different gravitational pulls at different times depending on the distances between the objects. With each planet, moon, and even asteroid the calculations become more difficult.

Since no simple formula accurately describes the planetary motions, French astronomer Jacques Lasker and others have used an advanced technique called chaos mathematics. The term chaos in this application does not mean a disorderly system. Chaos refers to situations in which the behavior of a dynamic system depends sensitively on the initial variables that control the final outcome. In this case, each of the planetary gravitational effects is written as an equation called a differential equation. By carrying all of the equations out to include many variables and then averaging the equations, Lasker was able to describe the orbits very successfully. Other scientists have found that adding other influences such as the effects of relativity increase the accuracy and predicted stability of Earth’s orbit.

The importance of this work is that it shows why the solar system consists of many objects and not just the Earth and Sun. A resonant system of gravitational forces is needed to keep the stability and consistency of our orbit around the Sun. Chaos theory and the use of computers that can do incredibly complicated calculations have opened the door to a better understanding of our complex solar system.

Romans 1:19-22 tells us that we can know that there is a God through the things He has made. Psalms 19:1 and Isaiah 40:26 tell us to examine the heavens and see the handiwork of God. Chaos mathematics tells us that the initial state is crucial to the outcome. God established the initial state which has given us our present stable solar system.

The more we learn of the creation, the more we learn of the Creator. Chaos theory in mathematics shows us the wisdom and planning built into the orbit of our planet around the Sun.
–John N. Clayton © 2017