Dinosaur Mania in Media

Dinosaur Mania
We seem to have an obsession with dinosaurs, and popular science magazines can’t seem to get enough dinosaur articles. Dinosaur mania struck in May 2018 with Smithsonian Magazine, Scientific American, and National Geographic all featuring dinosaurs as their main articles.

Smithsonian told about new discoveries in China. Scientific American gave a speculative review of how new discoveries affect the classification of dinosaurs. National Geographic provided us with pictures of new fossils of the birds and bird-like dinosaurs. Their article makes the argument that modern birds evolved from dinosaurs after the asteroid collision that ended the dinosaur age. All of these articles are presented with wonderful pictures and charts.

Many people in both the scientific community and in the religious community seem to believe that there is a conflict between what these articles present and what the Bible says. Children receive indoctrination in dinosaurs from “Dinosaur Train” and other shows on children’s TV and websites plus revisions and repeats of “Jurassic Park.” It is important in all of this dinosaur mania that children should not be taught that the Bible is anti-science.

There is much about the history of the Earth that the Bible doesn’t address. There is an economy of language in the Bible, and it doesn’t give us information about how God prepared the resources He knew we would need. The Bible simply says He did it, not how He did it. Passages like Proverbs 8:22 ff and Romans 1:18 ff tell us that wisdom and design were involved, but they give no specifics about when it happened, how long it took, or what the processes were.

No Hebrew word used in the Bible could be applied to dinosaurs. The words used in the creation week referred to animals that Moses knew. We don’t see references to bacteria, viruses, platypuses, penguins, or organisms that use chemosynthesis instead of photosynthesis to produce their food. The Bible does consistently use four classifications of animals. First Corinthians 15:39 is the clearest statement of this: “All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes and another of birds.” In Genesis 1:21-27 the same classifications are used: cattle (behemah), winged fowl (kanaph oph), and great sea creatures (tannin). (For a detailed treatment of these Hebrew words, please see “God’s Revelation in His Rocks and His Word” on our doesgodexist.org website.)

We may be accused of being too literal in our understanding of these words, but we are looking for the agreements between the evidence and what the bible writers express. So were the dinosaurs birds or were they reptiles (part of the “flesh of fish” grouping)? Science has not answered that question yet. The National Geographic article pushes the argument hard that the birds are simply dinosaurs that survived the asteroid collision, but there are many scientists who disagree. Dinosaur mania has taught us much, but there is still much to learn.

Either way, the biblical account is not in error. It simply does not address what seems to have been an effective tool God used to help prepare the Earth for humans. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” is short, brief, and leaves many questions for us to answer ourselves. The methods God used are not important to the overall message of the Bible. If God created everything, and if science is knowledge of what actually happened, they must agree. If they don’t agree, we either have a poor understanding of the scientific evidence or a poor understanding of what the Bible intends to convey. None of us are immune to those two problems, and that certainly includes your author. Let us keep learning and searching for positive answers and stop trying to generate conflict that is destructive to everyone.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Job’s Dinosaur

Job's Dinosaur
There is an interesting Bible reference to a fearsome creature in Job 40:15-24. Some creationists consider this to be Job’s dinosaur showing that dinosaurs and humans interacted at the time of Job. This is part of an attempt to suggest that dinosaurs and early humans were contemporaries to disprove the scientific evidence that dinosaurs became extinct long before humans existed on Earth.

The question is, “What kind of creature Job is describing?” Did an animal that existed in the past fit this description? The Hebrew word used for this creature is “behemoth” which literally means a large creature. Many animals that lived in the past and some living today could be called large creatures. We must look at the properties of this animal as described in the passage. We know that it was an herbivore (“feeds on grass like an ox”). Also, we know that “his tail sways like a cedar.” The description also tells us that he was virtually impossible to control.

The AP reported on May 5 about a discovery at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. Scientists found human footprints inside the footprints of a giant ground sloth. The giant ground sloth was an herbivore that could stand seven or eight feet tall, had tight muscles and front legs tipped with wolverine-like claws. It had a huge tail used mostly for balance when it stood on its hind legs to get at vegetation. It appears that some humans were hunting the sloth and tracking it closely.

There is no denying that ancient humans interacted with these huge creatures. In the Natural History Museum in Chicago, there are displays of the fossils of these creatures, and the picture shows a recreated giant ground sloth at Kartchner Caverns near Benson, Arizona. The finding of human tracks intersecting the tracks of the sloths leaves no doubt about the fact that they were contemporaries. You can’t prove that Job’s dinosaur was actually a ground sloth, but the description fits very well. It is certainly more likely than the claim that the animal was a T-rex or a brontosaurus.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Astronomy Picture of the Day: APOD

Astronomy Picture of the Day
One of my favorite free websites is NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD). Every morning I begin my day by looking at what new image is on that site. Since there is an explanation of the image, this is also an opportunity to learn about objects in space and how those objects might fit into our understanding of the universe. The picture from April 17, 2018, is called “M57: The Ring Nebula.”

M57 is known as a “planetary nebula,” but the glowing material does not come from planets. Scientists believe it is the outer layers expelled by a star very similar to our Sun. It went through a process that we see happening in space where stars explode and seed space with heavy elements produced by the explosion. What is left of the star is the tiny dot at the center of the nebula. That dot is a very dense remnant of the core of the star that is spinning very rapidly obeying the laws of physics as it does so.

This is not creation. The material this explosion produced is not coming from nothing. It is the product of previous materials that were produced at the moment of creation by a process that we cannot duplicate or even adequately describe in scientific terms. The process of fusing hydrogen to heavier elements, seeding space with all of the material produced, and reforming the material to make terrestrial life possible is outside of our capacity to observe. To some extent, it can be described with mathematical equations. The astronomy picture of the day on the NASA site continues to detail the process that produced our world and all we see around us.

God is not limited by time or space or our capacity to understand. In Job 38:4 God challenges Job to deal with “the foundations of the Earth.” In Proverbs 8:22-27 wisdom speaks about the planning and design God made before the Earth came to be (verse 23). Wisdom speaks about the preparation of the heavens (verse 27).

When we look at the astronomy picture of the day on the NASA website, we are not seeing the present. We are looking into the past. M57 went through the process of seeding its neighborhood with heavy elements 2,000 years ago, and we witness that event today. Virtually everything on the NASA website, and in astronomy, is in the past. Seeing these things allows us to wonder at the power, wisdom, and majesty of God. It reinforces David’s statement in Psalms 8:3-4: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars which you have ordained, what is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that you visit him?”
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Insect Migrations and Earth’s Ecosystems

Insect Migrations and Earth's Ecosystems
It is spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and one of the joys of spring is seeing the amazing migrations of birds as they move north from their wintering grounds. We watch the birds without thinking of the logistics that are involved in millions of birds moving over fast distances. How do you feed these hordes of living things? Their needs are even greater than usual because of the energy required for the long flights. We may not realize the importance of insect migrations that occur at the same time. What collateral benefits does this system create?

Dara Satterfield of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. says, “Trillions of insects around the world migrate every year, and we’re just beginning to understand their connections to ecosystems and human life.” This migration not only feeds birds, but they pollinate wild plants and gobble agricultural pests.

We have written in our quarterly journal about the spring migration of monarch butterflies from Mexico to North America. In Europe and Africa, the migration is even more amazing and complex. Each spring the painted lady butterfly travels from Africa across the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean Sea into Europe and then retraces that journey in the fall. Because their life expectancy is so short, it takes six generations of butterflies to accomplish this migration. The butterflies avoid the extreme heat of North Africa in the summer, but they arrive in Africa just in time to feed from the flowers in the fall. Those butterflies are vital to the balance of living things in Europe.

Some of the insect migrations are very important to human food production. The marmalade hoverfly eats aphids during the larvae stage, and as adults they pollinate plants. The volume of insects is seen most clearly in the Pyrenees and Alps. Millions of hoverflies use the winds blowing through the mountain passes to get from one place to another. Scientists have been monitoring this migration because of its economic importance to agriculture in Africa and Europe. There is also a hoverfly migration in the western United States, but it has not been studied.

The size of these insect migrations is hard to comprehend, and we fail to understand the complexity of this system. Studies in the southern United Kingdom estimate that 3.5 trillion insects migrate over that area every year. Without those insect migrations, ecosystems on this planet could not exist.

Those of us who believe in God’s design of the creation see this as one more evidence that the simple statement “In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth” is a massive oversimplification. We truly can “know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:20).
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Mollusk Designs

Mollusk Designs
Many of the invertebrate creatures known as mollusks build interesting shells. An article titled “How Seashells Take Shape” describing a study of mollusk designs appeared in the April 2018 edition of Scientific American (page 70). The article begins with this paragraph:

“Mollusks are fabulous architects. They build houses that protect their soft bodies from predators and the elements–shells of uncommon strength, durability and beauty. Many of these shells have spectacularly complex shapes–logarithmic spirals bedecked with fractal spines or other ongoing elements, all executed with near-perfect mathematical regularity. Yet mollusks, of course, know nothing of math. How, researchers have wondered, do these humble creatures produce such intricate patterns so precisely?”

The article goes into the mathematics of the shells and how the animals use complex processes that scientists are still studying. It isn’t just the shapes that are an issue here, but also the physical properties of the shell material including elasticity, ductility, tensile strength, and the use of oscillatory systems. Scientists are trying to understand the fractal-like spine pattern in some mollusk designs. Also, the researchers are curious about why 90 percent of mollusk shells are right-handed and only 10 percent are left-handed. Other “exquisite ornamentations” create a mystery for scientists to study.

Romans 1:18-22 tells us that “we can know there is a God through the things He has made.” The complexity of something as basic as a seashell can speak to us about the design God has used in everything He does. It is only with the advent of mathematics and engineering that we can duplicate what we see in nature. Seashells are an intricate example of the design of living creatures.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Life Needs Phosphorus

Life Needs Phosphorus
The element phosphorus is used to make matches. Molecular phosphorus has two common forms. There is white phosphorus which is dangerously combustible and is used to make fireworks and weapons. The more stable red phosphorus is used on the side of any box of safety matches. When you strike the match against the red phosphorus, a small amount of it is changed to white phosphorus to ignite the match. But phosphorus has more important uses than starting fires. Life needs phosphorus. The average human body contains about 26.5 ounces (750 grams) of phosphorus. Most of it is in our bones.

Phosphate is a compound of phosphorus and oxygen. It combines with sugars in living tissue to form the backbone of DNA, which is the blueprint for life found in every living cell. Phosphate is also part of a complex organic chemical called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) found in every living organism. ATP releases energy so that cells can function. Life needs phosphorus and could not exist without it in an abundant supply.

Recent research presented at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science on April 5, 2018, indicates that phosphorus may not be widely available in the Milky Way. The research indicates that it is more random than scientists had previously thought. That means even if one of the recently discovered exoplanets had all of the conditions required to support life, it still might be lifeless without phosphorus.

We have often referred to the many conditions required to make a habitable planet. Here is one more to add to the list. Life needs phosphorus, and apparently phosphorus is less widely distributed than we thought. Phil Cigan, one of the astronomers involved in the study, said, “It’s not a guaranteed thing to have phosphorus abundant everywhere, ripe for the picking. It seems to look like luck plays a bigger role in this.”

Is it just one more chance coincidence that planet Earth has the phosphorus needed for life? We don’t think it is a matter of luck. We think this is another evidence of God’s design for life.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Can Death Be Conquered?

Can Death Be Conquered?
Some people say that nothing is certain except death and taxes. The truth is that only one of those things is certain. Not only will every one of us die, but every government that collects taxes will also die. It’s a scientific fact that all things, even the universe itself, will come to an end. Can death be conquered?

There is no escaping physical death for everyone and everything. Since we are limited to the dimension of time, and since there is such a thing as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, disorder will eventually catch up with us and with everything else. Our vehicles wear out. Our clothing wears out. Our bodies wear out. Even the Sun and all of the other stars will wear out.

If you spend your life getting all you can for yourself not caring whom you hurt in the process, you will not take your riches with you. If you devote your life to studying science and adding to the database of human knowledge, that too will go away. If all things in the universe, including humans, are merely accidents of chance, we ultimately have no purpose, no value, and no hope.

If you have read this far, you may be feeling depressed, but I have good news. There is a God who created the universe, and you, for a purpose. Yes, your body will die, and even the universe will die. But by God’s grace, you can choose to live on. God entered the time dimension in human form and conquered death for us. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, though they die, yet shall they live.”

How can death be conquered? In the beginning, God created time and space, matter and energy. Since He created those things, God is not limited by them. God had no beginning, and He will have no end. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus demonstrated God’s love and grace and His power over death. Because of that, you have the choice to believe and accept and live on beyond the universe. “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54).
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Donkeys and Horses

Donkey and Horse
There are many obvious physical similarities between donkeys and horses. In their actions, they are very different.

Horses were first domesticated about 4,000 B.C. A horse can carry a rider into or out of a battle with speed and grace. A horse and its rider form a partnership of mutual trust. With a trusted rider on its back, a horse will charge ahead into the danger of a rugged course or a heated battle. Horses have been used in warfare for thousands of years.

Donkeys were domesticated around 3,000 B.C. While a horse can be fearless, a donkey has a much stronger sense of self-preservation. The unwillingness of donkeys to go into dangerous situations has given them a probably undeserved reputation for being stubborn. Donkeys don’t connect with their human riders in the way that horses do. That lack of mutual connection is a major factor in the reason why warriors have never ridden into battle on donkeys. Riding into confrontation on a donkey would indicate surrender.The use of donkeys in warfare has been limited to carrying supplies and carrying the wounded away from the battle.

So donkeys and horses are physically similar, and studies have not indicated a strong difference in intelligence between these animals. The difference between them seems to be in the way they are programmed in their DNA. The Creator understood that and chose a donkey to ride into Jerusalem as Jesus became the sacrificial fulfillment of the Passover Lamb in Matthew 21:1-5. In the final battle when the power of evil is destroyed forever, Revelation 19:11-16 describes Him riding on a horse. It’s easy to see that the donkey is used by the Suffering Servant and the horse is used by the Conquering King.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Bird Migration Data

Bird Migration Data
A fascinating area of study is bird migration. With new technologies, scientists are gathering more bird migration data than ever before.

Arctic terns spend their summers in Alaska and migrate thousands of miles to wintering grounds in South America. Years ago researchers demonstrated that the tern didn’t get the migration information from its parents because terns raised in isolation having no contact with other terns could still make the journey. Terns deprived of visual acuity could still make the journey, so the migration was not by landmarks. The Earth’s magnetic field was not the method because terns equipped with a magnetic scrambler could still make the journey. Similar tests showed it was not by smell or by sound. The researchers concluded that the tern used several navigation tools. If one was lost, the bird would switch to another. We suggested that such a complex system was not a product of chance. It is designed into the tern’s DNA suggesting that God had something to do with the design.

In the March 2018 issue of National Geographic, there is an excellent article titled “Epic Migrations.” Scientists use new tools to collect bird migration data that enables a much more precise understanding of both short and long migrations. Nearly half of all bird species are migratory, so there are a large number of species to study, and scientists are gathering new data continuously.

The long-distance winner of migration is the bar-tailed godwit. One specimen flew 7,150 miles non-stop in eight days from its summering grounds in Alaska to its wintering grounds in New Zealand. In the weeks before migration, godwits build up enormous layers of fat adding more than half their body weight. When they arrive in New Zealand, they have lost all of the fat reserves. Because they do not glide or soar in the journey, their wings are beating all the time. On the way back to Alaska, the birds travel 6,000 miles to China near the Yellow Sea where they spend six weeks. Then they fly 4000 miles back to Alaska. Their departure time for these trips is the same from year to year, influenced only by local weather and winds. They seem to be guided by a precise clock.

Researchers have found an assortment of interesting bird migration data. Studies of frigatebirds in the Pacific show that they sleep while soaring, but only for about 12 seconds at a time for a total of 42 minutes a day. Research shows that half of the bird’s brain is asleep and the other half is awake. Other studies have shown that European starlings use the Sun as a compass and that indigo buntings use stars as a compass. European robins use an internal magnetic compass. When researchers artificially rotated the magnetic compasses by 90 degrees, the birds flew the wrong direction until the Sun came up. Then they reset their magnetic compasses using the Sun for orientation.

Each species of migratory birds seems to have their own built-in devices to make their journeys. The programming of their DNA is incredibly complex and seems to be a designed characteristic built into each species. We can learn a great deal about God by observing the world around us, and truly “we can know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:20).
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Blessings from Natural Disaster

Blessings from Natural Disaster
Yesterday I began to tell about lessons from a flood. In February our area experienced what has been called a 500-year flood. We have lived in our home on the St. Joseph River for 20 years without a problem—until now. You can read more about it here. I want to continue to explain how it is possible to receive blessings from natural disaster.

Natural disasters are not an evil act of God. Skeptics often say something like, “How can you believe in a God who…?” They are demonstrating a failure to understand some key characteristics of God’s nature and how God functions. James 1:13 tells us, “Let no one say when he is tempted ‘I am being tempted by God’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one.” I personally have a hard time understanding man’s inhumanity to man. I will never understand the holocaust. I can’t comprehend the atrocities by ISIS that I have seen in recent years. These are not vindictive acts of God, but they are the evil actions of humans. What do we expect God to do? Should God strike every Hitler-like leader dead when they decide to do some evil act? Should He afflict every politician with a fatal disease when they vote for something that hurts innocent people? The history shown in the Bible is that God allows natural consequences to come about, but He does not threaten us with physical punishment as an immediate reaction.

We are learning more and more every day about the consequences of our own actions. Is the flooding I have suffered a result of human failure to take care of the “garden”- planet Earth (Genesis 2:15)? That is likely but unproven. The failure to follow God’s plan for sex, marriage, and family has caused more suffering than any “natural disaster.” Abuse is not caused by God, but by humans who fail to follow the instructions of God in Ephesians 5:28-33.

What appears to be a disaster always has some beneficial aspects to it. For Christians, good always comes from these events. Romans 8:28 may be one of the most important passages in the New Testament–“For those who love God all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose.” First of all, we are called to understand that God’s purposes are different from ours. Job and his friends struggled with this issue. Solomon tried everything and came to understand God’s purposes were what gave satisfaction and meaning to life (Ecclesiastes 1-5). One of our friends has a line on this. I call it “Ethyl Louise Knight’s gospel of life”–“If it isn’t of eternal significance, I don’t want to hear about it.”

Someone might ask, “Well what possible benefit could come from your 500-year flood?” The answer to that comes in many forms. A neighbor and I were looking at the river whizzing by our houses with uprooted trees, hundreds of Styrofoam cups, plastic wrappers, and tubs of all kinds and shapes carried to the next dam where they would accumulate. We have been working for years to clean up the trash in the river, and it will be gone with this flood. Remember that the Nile River flooding every year for centuries made Egypt the breadbasket of the ancient world.

In addition to these physical blessings, there can be huge spiritual blessings from natural disaster. Our neighborhood has been drawn together on a spiritual level as we face the challenges of flooding. I celebrated my birthday on the day when the river reached its peak, and as friends and family made February 22 special, I was able to focus on what really matters in life. There truly are blessings from natual disaster.
–John N. Clayton © 2018