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.
Mars researchers have discovered a new issue in their attempts to find life on Mars—a toxic Martian cocktail.
One reason scientists believed that life might be possible on Mars was that tests from Martian soil samples show chemicals that are a potential energy source for bacteria. However, because Mars has such a thin atmosphere, ultraviolet radiation levels are very high. A Recent sampling of the Martian soil has also shown that it contains perchlorates, which are toxic to living cells. An article in Scientific Reports on Nature.com said that the UV rays combined with perchlorates as well as iron oxide and hydrogen peroxide together give what the researchers are calling a “toxic cocktail.” The bacteria Bacillus subtilis, which is often found in spacecraft and can survive extreme conditions of space, is wiped out in 30 seconds when exposed to this cocktail.
In other words, the surface soil on Mars can kill living cells. On July 6 Popular Science reported on these findings and indicated that you would have to go six feet below ground to get away from this toxic mix. Surface expressions of life on Mars are almost certainly not going to be found. Deep underground testing is the only possibility for finding life on Mars.
The mass media often oversimplifies what it takes to make life possible on a planet. This oversimplification continues to be bombarded by the facts. Just being in the zone where water can exist as a liquid, called the “habitable zone,” doesn’t qualify a planet as a dwelling place for life. The “uninhabitable zone” keeps getting larger.
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.
Chinese scientists have conducted at least three experiments to create genetically modified human embryos. Now, MIT Technology Review reports that a team of scientists in the United States has edited the DNA of human embryos. The experiment was performed at Oregon Health and Science University, a public university in Portland, under the leadership of Shoukhrat Mitalipov. It is apparently the first time this has been done in the United States, and it involved a greater number of embryos than the Chinese experiments.
Mitalipov, who was born in the former Soviet Union and received his Ph.D. in Moscow, came to the U.S. because there was a lack of funding for genetic experimentation in his home country. Since coming to the U.S. he has cloned monkeys and human embryos. This is the first time for editing the DNA of a human embryo.
The scientists used a gene-editing tool called CRISPR, which we have reported on before. The goal of the experiment is supposed to be to find a way to correct genetic defects in humans. The sperm used to fertilize the embryos came from a man with a genetic defect. The embryos were destroyed after a few days because in the United States it is illegal to allow genetically modified human embryos to develop into full-term babies.
In February the U.S. National Academy of Sciences gave support for creating gene-edited babies if the purpose is the elimination of serious genetic diseases. Genetically modified human embryos can develop into gene-modified humans who will pass on the genetic changes to their offspring. This may offer hope for eliminating genetic defects. However, it also has implications for the nightmare scenarios of a science-fiction movie. When humans start to play God by manipulating the DNA of our children, what if they make a disastrous mistake? The United States Intelligence Agency listed CRISPR as a potential “weapon of mass destruction.”
Beyond the implications of Frankenstein-like creatures, there is the aspect of “designer children.” DNA could potentially be edited to select the sex, physical features, and even intelligence of an unborn child. So far that is illegal in the United States, but not in other countries. One of the problems the Chinese experimenters encountered is called “mosaicism,” in which the change to the DNA is not taken on by all of the cells. The implications of a person with multiple DNA codes in different cells is not fully understood. Other CRISPR errors referred to as “off target” effects could result in serious genetic defects. Mitalipov’s team claims to have those problems under control.
The report from this U.S. experiment should be published soon, and it will certainly be in the news. Christians should be concerned about where this is leading. Do humans have the right to play God with our DNA? What could be the result of “off target” mistakes? What about the ethics of creating human embryos for experimentation and then destroying them? Do the possible breakthroughs in the elimination of genetic diseases outweigh the dangers? What about the moral cost to our society as we go down this road?
One thing you can be sure of is that humans will continue to create genetically modified human embryos. If it doesn’t happen in the United States, it will happen in other countries. You can also be sure that there will be some scientists who will do so with less than pure motives. In Mary Shelley’s classic book telling about a scientist’s desire to create a new species, Victor Frankenstein said, “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs.” The power to become a god creating new species of humans can overpower pure motives as it did with Victor Frankenstein. The outcome could be even more tragic than in the novel.
In each issue of our printed publication, we have a feature called Scientists and God, in which we quote from a leading scientist who is also a believer in God. Today I would like to do something a little different. I want to quote the words of a leading scientist who was not a believer.
J. B. S. Haldane (1892–1964) was a British geneticist and evolutionary biologist. He was also an outspoken atheist and a Marxist. Because of the political controversy caused by his Marxist ideology, he left England in 1956 and spent the remainder of his life in India.
Haldane was a brilliant man who made contributions in the areas of genetics, evolutionary biology, and mathematics. In many ways, he was ahead of his time. He proposed the central ideas of in vitro fertilization. He was the first to suggest human cloning. In fact, the coined the use of the term “clone” for that purpose. He also helped to create the science of population genetics.
In 1929, Haldane introduced the “Primordial Soup Theory,” which said that life began on the early Earth in a chemical soup where the elements of life came together. That theory became the leading concept of abiogenesis–the idea of life coming from non-living matter by a natural process. Haldane’s theory led to the famous Miller-Urey experiment in 1952. In that experiment, Stanley Miller created a sealed container with the chemicals thought to have been part of the early atmosphere of Earth. He subjected the chemicals to an electric spark and collected some amino acids which are the building blocks of proteins. The news media went wild over “creating life in the laboratory,” but that was an example of media exaggeration–or as it would be called today “fake news.”
Incidentally, science has since shown that the Miller-Urey experiment did not emulate the conditions or chemicals of the early Earth and therefore is not a valid demonstration of the first step in abiogenesis. However, it is still shown to students in school textbooks because science has not produced anything better, and it is easy to understand. Today’s attempts at abiogenesis are far more complex, proving that it takes great intelligence and carefully controlled lab conditions to produce even the basic building blocks of life. In other words, it takes intelligence to create life, which has been our message for many years.
Haldane proposed correctly that sickle-cell disease gives immunity to malaria. He prepared gene maps for color-blindness and hemophilia. Nobel Prize winning biologist Peter Medawar called Haldane “the cleverest man I ever knew.”
Haldane wrote numerous books presenting his ideas and defending Darwinism. In 1949 he debated British ornithologist Douglas Dewar on the topic “Is Evolution a Myth?” In that debate, Haldane said that evolution would not be capable of producing “various mechanisms, such as the wheel and magnet, which would be useless till fairly perfect.” In other words, if those mechanisms could be found in living organisms it would be an indication that evolution did not create those organisms.
Since that debate, we have found magnets in anaerobic bacteria which are considered to be the most “primitive” forms of life. The sightless, single-celled magnetotactic bacteria consume iron and produce magnets which they use to guide them to anaerobic areas that are safe for them to live. The magnets they produce are better for some scientific purposes than what humans can produce in the laboratory. Turtles, birds, and other more advanced animals also use magnets for navigation. Wheels can also be found in living organisms. As Janine M. Benyus (another Darwinist) wrote in her book titled Biomimicry, “Even the wheel, which we always took to be a uniquely human creation, has been found in the tiny rotary motor that propels the flagellum of the world’s most ancient bacteria.”
“Majesty in Miniature” is the title of an interesting article in the July 2017 issue of National Geographic (pages 99-118). The article is about the amazing hummingbirds.
Scientists have had a hard time getting data as they try to understand how hummingbirds do what they do. The birds fly at speeds up to 35 mph (56 kph) and they have a “reverse gear.” Their metabolic rate is the highest of any vertebrate on the planet. For every minute they are in flight, they drink more than 12 ounces (355 ml) of water. They consume more than their body weight of nectar every day. Their tongues lap up to 15 times a second. Proportionally their brain is one of the largest in the animal kingdom making up 4.2% of their body weight. It is only with the advent of high-speed cameras and advanced wind tunnels that some of the mysteries of the majesty in miniature have been answered.
Hummingbird brains have a large hippocampus which allows them to remember locations. Their brain has a large lentiformis mesencephali motion sensor which gives the bird stabilization when flying. It has a small arm wing which allows wrist motion to control a larger area of the wing leading to a more powerful upstroke. When a hummingbird hovers, it rotates its wings between the upstrokes and the downstrokes making a figure eight motion. This motion creates vortexes that allow both the downstroke and the upstroke to provide lift. Birds such as pigeons push down to propel forward, but there is no lift in the upstroke. The design of the hummingbird wing gives it the unique ability to get lift out of both strokes.
For many years the papers have reported on anthropologists finding the remains of human ancestors in Ethiopia, eastern Africa. In the past several weeks there have been headlines saying that “the oldest fossil of Homo sapiens” has been found in Morocco which is in northeast Africa. It seems that each new find makes human evolution theories more confounded.
Anthropologists working in Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, found fossils they claim are much older than those found in east Africa. The specimens have a lower jaw which matches Homo sapiens but the brain cases are long and low which is more indicative of apes or monkeys. They also found 14 stone artifacts which they associated with those fossils. The original report said that the tools were found with the fossils. Later reports indicate the tools were found in the strata above the fossils indicating they might not have been produced by those individuals.
Scientific theories about how humans came into existence are always changing as new data becomes available. The classic theoretical model of human evolution in recent years has maintained that humans arose in east Africa and migrated elsewhere. That is apparently not the case, but this new find will be debated and discussed by the experts for many years.
The Bible does not address the evolution of apes or monkeys. We are simply told that animals reproduced after their kind. There is no indication of how many kinds there were, or how much their genetic makeup varied as the years went by. The Bible says that God created man and woman in His own image. That spiritual quality of humans is the thrust of the biblical account. Modern human’s origin in the Fertile Crescent area of what is now Iraq is not questioned by very many people. That is also what the Bible tells us. Human migration throughout the world and the racial variations that developed to help people adapt to different climates is without a doubt.
Most of us have had some experience with lightning. The chances are that our experiences have been terrifying and destructive, and we may view lightning as a bad thing. You may wonder if we need lightning. The short answer is, “Yes.” Lightning is a good thing, and there are many things we are still learning about it.
Lightning helps produce the nitrates and other nitrogen compounds that are needed by all living things on Earth. The process is called “nitrogen fixation, ” and it is vital to our very existence. Water droplets in the air carry an electric charge. That charge can accumulate to dangerous levels unless there is a way to neutralize it. That’s where lightning comes in.
One of my favorite demonstrations as a physics teacher was to get a very small flow of water going from a faucet and then bring a charged rod up to the column of water. The stream of water will bend in response to the charge. That is because the polar nature of the water molecule allows it to have electrical properties. Because of water’s electrical property, lightning is generated to release nitrogen from the air and deposit it in the crust of the Earth as nitrates and other nitrogen compounds that plants need to grow. The plants then feed and protect the animals and us.
Low Earth orbit satellites and high flying airplanes have recently made us aware of other properties of lightning. We have learned that red sprites occur and they have been photographed above large thunderstorms. Other upper atmosphere lightning phenomena include blue jets and terrestrial gamma flashes. Scientists are studying the highly complex nature of lightning to understand how the system works.
The Bible makes many comments about lightning. It tells us that lightning is made with water (rain) even though people at that time totally ascribed lightning to supernatural causes. (See Jeremiah 10:13 and 51:16). Lightning is referred to as a tool of God. (See Job 28:26; 36:30; 37:3, 11, 15; 38:24, 25, 35.)
It was the world’s largest snake. Fortunately, it is extinct. The computer-generated picture shows what it might have been like if a human had ever confronted a Titanoboa (Titanoboa cerrejonensis).
One thing that many creationists and evolutionists forget is the fact that Earth’s climate in the past was much different from what it is today. To produce animals of massive size, Earth’s climate would have to be much warmer. The temperatures would have been so high that mammals could hardly survive. Cold-blooded (ectothermic) animals in tropical areas today tend to be larger than ectothermic animals found farther from the equator.
While giving lectures in Colombia, South America, we learned about the snake named Titanoboa. Fossils of more than two-dozen of these snakes were discovered in coal mines in northern Colombia. The name means “titanic boa,” and that seems fitting because it measured 48 feet (14.6 m) long and would have weighed 2500 pounds (1,135 kg). For a snake of that size to live, the climate must have averaged 90 degrees F (32 degrees C). It is difficult to comprehend how any mammal, especially humans, could survive in such temperatures.
Around 1970, Time-Life Books published a mural of human evolution “The Road to Homo Sapiens.” It became a monstrous success. It was a foldout in a book titled Early Man. It was also laminated and sent to teachers in public schools. This mural became the basis of several movies and even cartoons. What most people don’t realize is that it was quite inaccurate. The artists who made the drawing created the impression that it was a chronological sequence of human history. Actually, the dates were misrepresented, and the drawings were pretty much fictional. In spite of that fact, much of the American public accepted “pliopithecus-to-modern-man” as a proven fact.
Half-a-century later, the picture is much more complicated and highly contested. Recently in Europe scientists found older fossils of what were considered to be the earliest ancestors of modern humans. Others found fossils of a group of small-brained individuals apparently ritualistically buried in a cave complex in southern Africa. This find violated the theory that there is a relationship between brain size and human-like activities. Discovered in Indonesia is a very small hominid that supports the view that there is no relationship between brain size and humanism. Names like Homo floresiensis or Hobbits, and Homo naledi or Naledi, and Graecopithecus fill the literature today.
Debates rage among the leading anthropologists about whether brains became larger as Homo species evolved, or whether brain size came first and increased physical size came later, or whether brain size has nothing to do with evolution at all. It is interesting that some of the great geniuses of the past 100 years had very small brains.
The major source of problems here is the failure to have a good definition of, “What is a human?” The biblical account defines humans as those beings created in the image of God. That does not refer to brain size or any physical characteristic. In reality, we have no idea what Adam looked like, how big his brain was, or any other physical characteristic.
The Bible tells us that “God formed the man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). The Hebrew word yatsar is translated “formed.” It is a term used to refer to someone shaping pottery from clay. It’s different from the Hebrew word bara which is used in Genesis 1:27 to indicate how humans were created in God’s image. Bara is a word used only in reference to what God can do, and that is what makes us unique. You can form a man out of plastic and put clothes on him and put him in a department store window. The body may resemble a man, but it does not have the breath of life, and it does not have a soul.
The fossil record shows us that there were many creatures in the past who may have had some resemblance to humans. The same could be said today. You can visit a zoo and see gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, baboons, spider monkeys, Japanese snow monkeys, and others. The fact that there are some common features does not mean we are related.
The anthropological definition of humans deals only with physical characteristics. From the standpoint of human evolution, the road to homo sapiens is very bumpy indeed. The biblical definition of beings created in the image of God gives humans a special identification and a unique role in the world. It’s a role that has eternal significance and should also help us function in a constructive way in the affairs of this life. Humans can act like animals, but no animal can be human. Only humans are uniquely created in God’s image, now and for eternity.