Design of Snow Is Awesome

Design of Snow Is Awesome
As I write this, we are sitting here in Michigan after having experienced a record snowfall for one day. As we shovel and snow-blow our driveways and around our mailboxes, we hear a great deal of abusive language from our neighbors. Still, there is a great deal of good in every snowflake because of the design of snow.

It is not just the aesthetic value of snowflakes that makes them good, although that certainly is a wonderful thing to see under a hand lens or microscope. The snow has a variety of other positive attributes designed into its structure.

A snowflake is made of water which is a polar molecule meaning that it has a positive and a negative end. The reason ice forms and water expands as it freezes is that the positive end of one molecule is attracted to the negative end of the next molecule. This structure also allows the snowflake to attract particles in the atmosphere that have a polar makeup. Salt, for example, has a sodium atom which has a plus charge, attracted to chlorine which has a negative charge. A salt molecule in the atmosphere will be attracted to a snowflake. Even molecules such as carbon compounds, which do not generally have a polarity, are attracted to the snowflakes. Snow cleans the air, and many of us enjoy being outside when it is snowing because of the freshness and purity it gives the air.

Snow stores water in places where water shortages are a problem. The western United States gets heavy snow in the mountains in winter. Water has a high heat of fusion. What that means is that it takes extra energy to melt ice–80 calories per gram of ice to be exact. For that reason, snow stays in the solid state for a long time after the temperature has risen above freezing. That allows snow to melt slowly sending a constant supply of water to dry areas at lower elevations.

The design of snow is also friendly to animals, especially small animals. When the snow is finally off the ground here in Michigan, there will be small tunnels visible in the ground where mice, voles, squirrels, and other small animals have built passageways under the snow. The low temperatures of the air in winter are not a problem for these animals because the snow is a good insulator. Predators cannot easily get to the animals because the snow covers them from aerial attacks.

Water is unique in many ways. Its freezing temperature and its boiling temperature are only 100 Celsius degrees apart. That allows water to exist on our planet as a solid, a liquid, and a gas. Each of those states of water allows some form of life to exist.

In Job 38:22 God questions Job, “Have you entered into the treasures of the snow? Or have you seen the treasures of ice which I have reserved against the time of trouble…” The Hebrew word translated “treasure” in this verse is atsar meaning “a thing laid up.” It is doubtful that Job knew anything about the water cycle or how he benefited from snow. But the God who designed snow and its role on Earth to benefit humans and all living things certainly knew all about the design of snow.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Michigan also has “summer snow”

Voodoo in Haiti, the Bahamas, and Massachusetts?

Voodoo
In the newspapers on February 4, 2018, there was a story from East Bridgewater, Massachusetts, about a five-year-old girl who was permanently disfigured by a voodoo ritual. Two sisters tied her down and engaged in a ritual intended to rid her of a demon. The sisters say that they perform “cleansing baths” for family and friends and the children sometimes get burned as spirits leave their bodies. Voodoo rituals like that are practiced in Haiti, the home country of the sisters.

Missionaries working in Haiti tell about an evil black pit where animals and occasionally humans are thrown into a putrid bubbling mass to appease evil spirits that cause illness. A man from the Bahamas told us that on some of the islands there, this same kind of activity is common.

The Bible makes it clear that God forbids anything associated with witchcraft, voodoo, evil spirits, or sorcery. The Old Testament law said that a person who performed this type of activity should be put to death (Exodus 22:18). Any activity of that type was forbidden (Deuteronomy 18:10, 2 Kings 9:22, Micah 5:12). We might think that is extreme, but these things can and do result in human sacrifice. That is serious.

The New Testament included witchcraft with other immoral acts including murder (See Galatians 5:20-21). People have done horrible acts of violence in voodoo activities, and humans are frequently disfigured or violated in some way. The New Testament tells us the human body is the temple of God, and that as Christians the Spirit of God dwells in us. “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

Ignorance produces the kind of horrible thing that just happened in Massachusetts, and which happens every day in Haiti and the Bahamas. That is why it is so important for us to educate anyone we can on what God wants from us, and what evil can do. We should never underestimate the power of evil, but God has given us tools far superior to anything evil can produce. James tells us, “Resist the Devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Bird Brainpower

Bird Brainpower
In the February issue of National Geographic, there is a fascinating article about what birds can do. The skills of bird brainpower include puzzle solving, using tools, studying others, vocal learning, socializing, remembering, and social playing.

These abilities are all related to the size of the forebrain compared to the total brain mass. Bird brains vary enormously. Some species such as ravens have very large brains with 80% of the brain involving the forebrain compared to a pigeon having a very small brain with only 48% in the forebrain. In some cases, birds work together pooling their bird brainpower with each having a different role. Some birds prefer certain kinds of music while others seem to show empathy.

It is important to understand that some scientific questions could be raised about the claims that the article makes. In one case, for example, when air was blown on a chick’s fathers, the mother’s heart rate increased. The investigators claimed that shows empathy. A strong wind can be dangerous to any bird. So the question is whether the mother was feeling empathy for the chick or was she concerned over the cause of the wind and what it might do to her.

The article also mentions a cockatoo who rocks in time to the Backstreet Boys tune “Everybody” and a starling who “is happiest when his owner is playing a classical movement on the piano.” The article says the starling likes Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Bach. However, it doesn’t say how you measure starling happiness, or what the owner likes and repeatedly plays in the bird’s presence.

It is a fact that birds show high levels of certain kinds of intelligence, and they can do things that seem almost human-like. However, the things birds can do are not attributes which the Bible ascribes to humans. Many animals are intelligent and can learn from humans, so it is easy to see how the characteristics discussed in the article help the bird survive.

The attributes of being created in the image of God, which is how the Bible defines humans, do not involve any of the characteristics in the article. The creation of art, the creation of music, and the expression of worship are human functions. Also, the expression of the”agape” type of love which does not promote survival or have sexual connotations is a human trait. We don’t see the capacity to be sympathetic and compassionate in these interesting studies of bird brainpower.

The more we learn about the creatures in the world around us, the more we are amazed at the design built into their DNA. This design allows living creatures to navigate, occupy environmental niches, and reproduce in amazing ways. It is all part of knowing that God exists through the things He has made. (Romans 1:18-22)
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Mental Health and Christian Faith

Mental Health
A recent mailing by the National Alliance on Mental Illness said that one in five adults in the United States will experience mental illness. Seventy-five percent of all lifetime incidents of mental health issues occur by age 24. It goes on to say that 90% of the people who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness. As a public high school teacher for 41 years I was frequently associated with students who threatened suicide, or in a few cases committed suicide.

There are cases in the Bible of people who were mentally disturbed. King Saul and his relationship with David certainly shows some severe mental problems. (See 1 Samuel 18:10-16 and 28, 29.) In Luke 8:26-39 we see Jesus dealing with a man who was deeply disturbed. In 1 Thessalonians 5:14 Paul tells us that Christians should help those who are struggling with mental issues.

Biblical Christianity is a guilt-relieving faith. Many people who call themselves Christians have bombarded their followers with a guilt message. You don’t see hell mentioned as a motivational tool in the preaching of the apostles. The word is only used twice in the New Testament by the inspired writers–once in James 3:6 in reference to the tongue and once in 2 Peter 2:4 regarding angels. The gospel is good news, not threats of damnation. Christians are called to a message of love, not to a fear-driven faith based on condemnation. God does not want anyone to be lost. (See John 3:17 and 2 Peter 3:9) God wants to restore everyone to the relationship Adam and Eve had with Him in the beginning.

Christianity should not be adding to the guilt-load that people in our world have today. Instead, Christian faith should be reducing fear and stress. “Hell-fire and damnation” preaching may have motivated people to run to obedience out of fear, but it is not helpful to peace and mental health. Love for God and His love and care of us is a far better motivator both mentally and spiritually.
–John N. Clayton

Evidence for God Reaching the “Nones”

Evidence for God Reaching the "Nones"
All of the polls and surveys tell us that 40% of the American public when asked what their religious beliefs are, answer by saying “none.” Within the Church, we see the same issue. A large percentage of our congregations see their membership becoming older in average age and smaller in number. The evidence for God is there for those who are willing to look.

The difficulty is that many of our young people have an inherited faith or an emotional faith. An inherited faith is one where the person comes to worship and/or is baptized because that is the way they were raised. As one young man told me, “It’s a small price to pay for peace at home.” An emotional faith is one where the person is stampeded into “coming forward” because of a guilt trip or because their best friend responded to an invitation for baptism at camp or in a Vacation Bible School.

Jesus called people to a faith based on evidence. Thomas is the classic example of that. (See John 20:24-29.) Paul reasoned with the people of his day. (See Acts 17:18-34.) Romans 1:20, Psalms 19:1 and numerous other passages tell us we can know why we believe what we believe through the creation around us. I am one who came to believe in God through the scientific evidence for God that is available to all of us.

God has given us the tools to reach people with evidential faith in the twenty-first century. For 50 years now I have been blessed to reach out to college and university students, and to people who have left the Church because they doubted that the God of the Bible is real and that His Word is God-breathed. We offer a free course on evidences for the existence of God on doesgodexist.org. Anyone can watch our video course for free on doesgodexist.tv.

A large percentage of the students in our courses and followers of our Facebook page are “nones.” If you really want to examine the evidence for God, we invite you to join us for a study of the evidence that God exists.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Cake Baking

Cake Baking
At a meeting last summer, my dear friend Paul Methvin told this story about cake baking. It is so good I would like to share it with you.

“When I was a child I was watching my mother make a cake. She measured out some bitter chocolate. I liked chocolate, so I asked her for a bite, which she let me have. It was bitter, and I spat it out. She took some vanilla and added it to the chocolate. I licked the spoon because I like vanilla, but it too was bitter. She took some lemon juice, which I knew better than to taste, some baking powder which I also didn’t like, and a bunch of lard which she offered me on a spoon. It was disgusting, and I wasn’t about to taste it. She mixed all of these unpleasant things together and put it in the oven. When she took it out of the oven, there was this wonderful smell and later a wonderful taste. The cake was a huge success, but it was made up of a bunch of things that individually were not good at all.”

Don’t you see that life is very much like cake baking? The apostle Paul had a life made up of a bunch of unpleasant things. His father was a Pharisee (Acts 23:6) which was a group of legalistic, cynical Jews who fought against Jesus. He persecuted the Church (Galatians 1:13) and killed and imprisoned Christians (Acts 7:58) making havoc of the Church (Acts 8:3). He was educated in the graduate school of Gamaliel but became so unpopular that in Damascus the Jewish leaders tried to kill him. He had to be let down the walls of the city at night in a basket to escape (Acts 9:23-25). He spent three years in Arabia (Galatians 1:17) and began a ministry (Acts 13) that involved a long road of beatings, floggings, stonings, and imprisonments. It is from all of these negative things that Paul was able at the end of his life to express a satisfaction and a joy for all he has been able to do (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

My cake baking life has also been made up of a lot of bitter things. I was raised by an atheist family, involved in organized atheism, educated in a very liberal and immoral university, and driven nearly to suicide by consequences of an immoral life. I had a son born with numerous birth defects, and the love of my life died. On top of that, I was rejected and condemned by people who should have been supporting brothers and sisters. Those are the ingredients that went into my “cake.”

How about your cake–your life’s experiences? Each event may be bitter and hard to bear. The oven of life bakes us and at the judgment what God will see is a cake that the Spirit has produced from all our hardships and pain. We just need to add the right ingredients from God’s Word to make it sweet and palatable to God.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Hummingbird Tongues

Hummingbird Tongues
Outside of my window in the summertime, I have a hummingbird feeder. It is a real distraction because I am just a few feet from birds that flap their wings up to 90 times a second and have a heart rate of 1200 beats per minute. As I watch them stick their beaks into the feeder, I can sometimes see their tongues. I assumed that hummingbird tongues suck up the fluid using capillary action. My friend Richard Hoyt informed me that I was over-simplifying the process and gave me an article to expose my ignorance.

The article tells of the work of Alejandro Rico-Guevara. He realized that capillary action wouldn’t work in sugar solutions above 40%, but some of the liquids consumed by hummingbirds are twice that level of concentration. Rico-Guevara has photographed hummingbird tongues as they get the nectar. Instead of drawing in the liquid, the hummingbird has tubes down the side of the tongue. When it reaches the nectar, the tongue pulls back, and those tubes zip closed carrying the nectar back into the beak.

Ornithologists still don’t understand how swallowing can take place once the nectar is in the beak. Because hummingbird tongues are so efficient, there are many uses of this process in industry. Fluid traps are the newest thing in fluid dynamics, and the Creator already had this complex device built into one of nature’s most amazing creatures. My old idea that the tongue was a capillary tube was much too limited.

To read the article click here.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Life Adapts to a Sealed, Poison Cave

Life Adapts
In southeastern Romania in Constanta county near the Black Sea scientists discovered a cave that had been cut off from the outside world throughout history. Yet, even in a sealed, poison cave, life adapts.

Scientists estimate that the cave was sealed off 5.5 million years ago, and its air is low in oxygen (10%) and high in carbon dioxide (3%). That is almost one-third the amount of oxygen and 100 times more carbon dioxide as the air we breathe. The air and water in the cave also contain high levels of hydrogen sulfide and ammonia. The cave is named Movile Cave, and it is full of life. Biologists have identified 48 species, and 33 of them are found nowhere else.

The food chain in the cave is based on chemosynthesis using sulfur instead of photosynthesis which requires sunlight. Bacteria which oxidize sulfur and methane release nutrients used by other bacteria and fungi. They, in turn, create microbial mats on the cave wall. Those mats are grazed by herbivorous creatures which are consumed by carnivorous creatures such as spiders, leeches, and water scorpions. Contrary to what the media has reported, life didn’t start in the cave. Instead, life has adapted to the cave environment.

Scientists have found life around thermal vents deep in the ocean and under the Arctic ice. We find it amazing that life adapts to hostile environments. We also believe this is a demonstration of the wisdom involved in life’s design. And in spite of what the media have reported, this is not necessarily an argument in favor of life under the crust oceans of Europa and Ganymede, the moons of Jupiter.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018
To find more information click here, and click here.

Anthropomorphism Extreme

Anthropomorphism
It is very easy to anthropomorphize the behavior of animals. According to Wikipedia anthropomorphism is, “the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities…It is considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology.” When your dog cowers after you scold it for doing something, is the dog indicating guilt or remorse? It may look that way, but it may be that the dog has learned that by showing that behavior it will receive less scolding.

There has been an upsurge of scientific material suggesting that humans are not unique in their expressions of grief, guilt, patriotism, devotion, love, hate, etc. Several books have been written promoting the view that no human emotion is missing from members of the animal kingdom. How Animals Grieve by Barbara King and Beyond Words–What Animals Think and Feel by Carl Safina are two examples. There have also been numerous articles in scientific journals promoting anthropomorphism.

The problem is that it is very difficult to avoid anthropomorphism of animals. Frequently we see articles describing how an animal reacts to the death of its offspring. A recent magazine has pictures and discussions of giraffes, whales, dolphins, elephants, gorillas, baboons, chimps, and zebras seeming to grieve at the death of an offspring or a mate for periods of days. (National Wildlife magazine for February-March 2018 page 30-39) The question is whether this is an evolutionary trait of all life and humans are just more highly evolved, or whether we are anthropomorphizing the behavior we see. We have all been influenced by Disney with stories like Bambi, so the question is complicated.

The biblical definition of humans is that we are the life-form created in the image of God. We see that image reflected in the things that humans do that are not physical in nature. We worship. We create art and music and express our emotions in art and music. We feel sympathy and experience guilt. We have an agape type of love that is unrelated to reproduction or survival. We can be taught to think. These properties are made possible by our spiritual nature. We can debate whether all of these characteristics are really unique to humans or whether they have survival value, but our uniqueness as a species is not a function of our intelligence or any physical characteristic.

The difficulty in interpreting animal behavior is that we cannot easily ascertain the role of instinct. Reproduction in animals is instinctively driven. In most mammals the role of the female is determined by her reproductive capacity. It is the lioness that drives the pride, not the male lion. The wonderful work that has been done on gorillas and chimpanzees has shown the role of reproduction in determining the social structure of the entire troop. Study of baboons and chimps shows that stress hormones called glucocorticoids increase when a close relative dies. The release of the hormone oxytocin which inhibits glucocorticoid increases when there is physical contact with other partners after the death of a close relative. What we see in animal behavior is the result of the instinctive drives being disturbed.

There is no question that animals think and that they have emotions, but we should avoid excessive anthropomorphism. Animal emotions are tied into their instinctive drives–not to political or religious values. We suggest that those instincts are part of the design of these animals which provides them with the greatest probability of survival.

The unique nature of all humans should motivate us to value human life. We are not instinctively-driven robots that obey the drives built into our DNA. We can change the world in which we live both physically and spiritually. Valuing all human life and working together to solve the conflicts that divide us is a necessary product of understanding our spiritual uniqueness. When Jesus taught us to love our enemy and to do good to those who do evil to us, He was calling us to express that which makes us human–our spiritual nature created in the image of God.
–John N. Clayton

Star-nosed Mole: Star of the Mole World

Star-nosed Mole
If you mention the word “mole” in my neighborhood, you will see my neighbors reflect all kinds of negative emotions. This tunneling varmint that tears up the manicured lawns of America is not on the “most loved animal” list of anyone I know. There is a unique member of the mole family that has scientists scratching their heads at the complexity and remarkable design of a mole known as the star-nosed mole. This mole is so unique that it has its own genus identification Condylura.

This six-inch long animal lives in wet lowland areas of the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada. A star-nosed mole possesses 22 fleshy appendages called rays that surround its snout. In addition to using thick claws to dig like all moles, the star-nosed mole can swim which other moles cannot. This species of mole can blow between five and ten air bubbles per second, and these bubbles are aimed at fish or crustaceans. After the bubbles contact a possible target, the moles suck them back into their snouts to test the scent in the bubbles for possible prey. This is the first time scientists have observed a mammal capable of using olfactory skills under water.

The complexity of this animal has caused scientists to call it “a neurological wonder.” The 22 appendages of the snout have 100,000 nerve endings crammed into an area roughly the size of a human fingertip. By comparison, your entire hand contains about 17,000 nerve endings. The rays can touch as many as ten different objects in a single second. The animal can identify individual prey in less than two-tenths of a second and in eight milliseconds determine whether or not it is edible. Researchers say the star-nosed mole eats faster than any other mammal on Earth.

When we find an animal with such highly specialized equipment, we are left with some hard choices in trying to explain its origin. Evolutionary scenarios stretch credibility to the limit. Dr. Ken Catania who has been studying star moles for some 30 years says that the star-nosed mole is a poster child for extreme evolutionary adaptations. We suggest that an intelligence was involved in the creation of this incredible animal. The star-nosed mole speaks loudly to the biblical statement that “we can know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:20).
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: National Wildlife, February/March 2018.