Lessons from a Flood

Lessons from a Flood
As I write this, I am in a state of shock at what has happened to me during the past five days. Our home and main office are located on the banks of the St. Joseph River. The front door of the house is normally 20 feet above the surface of the river, and in the 20 years we have lived here, we have never had a problem with flooding. Many years ago we had water in our basement, but it was only 1 or 2 inches, and outside of wet rugs there was little damage. This time I have learned some lessons from a flood.

In early February of this year, we had some very heavy snow and the third week of February we had record rains as well as record warmth. The result of all that water was what is now being called a 500-year flood. My library, recording studio, fossil collection, and packing area are now full of water in spite of three new sump pumps operating at full capacity. It will take many months and some expense to get back to full operating capacity.

Our local television personalities have done a lot of hand-wringing, and I have heard more than one reporter say, “Why did God let this happen?” One religious writer proclaimed that the flooding of our area, which included a movie theater, was God’s retribution for the theater showing x-rated movies. Several years back there were those who explained flooding of the Mississippi River as God’s punishment for floating casinos on the river. Ridiculous as most of these claims are, there are some apologetic arguments and theological points that need to be understood.

God does not use natural disasters as disciplinary tools. There is a difference between physically afflicting someone and allowing the natural consequences of something to happen. When I was a child, my parents took me to the Indiana State Fair. I wanted a big cone of cotton candy, but my mother loudly told me I couldn’t have it. After a lot of whining and pouting, she finally said, “Ok, go get it but it will make you sick, and you’ll regret it.” I was allowed to suffer the consequences of my action, but I was not physically prevented from eating it.

In Deuteronomy 28, God does the same thing with the Israelites. In the first 14 verses, He tells Israel the blessings of living as God calls them to live. In the next 54 verses, God tells them of the consequences of rejecting His teachings. God doesn’t physically strike Israel, but He allows the natural result of human choices to happen.

There are more lessons from a flood, and I will continue my thoughts tomorrow.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Tree Rights: Do Trees Have Feelings?

Tree Rights
A German forester and author named Peter Wohileben has written a book titled The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate. The book has sold more than 800,000 copies in Germany and has hit the best-seller list in 11 other countries including the U.S. and Canada. He was quoted in the March issue of Smithsonian magazine as saying, “We must at least talk about the rights of trees.” Since we are concerned about human rights should we also be thinking of tree rights?

According to the article in Smithsonian, scientific evidence indicates “that trees of the same species are communal, and will often form alliances with trees of other species.” Wohileben says that trees in every forest “are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, and also use them to communicate.” What Wohileben is talking about is a symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi underground. The hair-like root tips of trees join together through fungal filaments to form a mycorrhizal network. The fungi consume sugar from the tree roots as they pull nitrogen, phosphorus, and other minerals from the soil which are absorbed by the roots for use by the trees.

The trees communicate through their “wood-wide-web” by “sending chemical, hormonal and slow-pulsing electrical signals.” The large trees with deep roots draw up water which benefits the shallow-rooted trees. The article says that trees also share nutrients with each other, even between species. In addition to the underground network trees also communicate with each other through the release of chemicals into the air, and they release large amounts of moisture into the air feeding rain systems.

Wohileben presents his story of the trees as if they have intelligence. He says that we must “allow some trees to grow old with dignity, and die a natural death.” Multiple scientists refute Wohileben saying that trees are not “sentient beings” and call Wohileben’s ideas anthropomorphism.

We believe that God has given us the duty to protect the environment. That includes trees. (Genesis 2:9, 15) However, we see great danger in talking about tree rights. Plants and animals are here to serve humans, and we are here to serve God.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Chemical Elements and the Laws of Nature

Chemical Elements and the Natural Laws
We are amazed to realize that everything in the world around us is made up of fewer than 100 different chemical elements. Those elements are combined to form vast numbers of different compounds, and those compounds come together to make up everything including air, soil, plants, and our bodies.

Even more amazing is that those chemical elements are all made up of the same three particles called protons, electrons, and neutrons. The only difference between the elements is the quantity of each of the particles in their atoms. The periodic table gives an organized way to look at the elements based on the number of protons in the nucleus of each atom. It shows all of the natural elements plus more than 20 others that have been created in laboratories with particle accelerators–machines that smash atoms together.

The natural chemical elements range from hydrogen with only one proton to uranium which has 92. The periodic table, first conceived in the nineteenth century, shows which elements react similarly with other elements to form chemical compounds. The ability of the various elements to combine with other element makes possible every compound which makes up every substance on Earth.

Each atom of each element has protons in the center called a nucleus and electrons surrounding the nucleus in “shells.” The atoms of some elements also have neutrons in the nucleus. The strong interaction in the nucleus binds the protons and neutrons together. At the same time, the electrical or Coulomb force causes the protons to repel each other. As the number of protons approaches 100 or more, the repelling force overcomes the attracting force, and the atom becomes unstable. For that reason, the larger atoms only exist in the laboratory and only for very short times.

If you could add the mass of all of the protons, neutrons, and electrons in an atom, you would find that the total mass is more than the mass of the atom itself. That extra mass is found in the energy that binds the nucleus together. Einstein’s famous equation E=mc^2 indicates that matter and energy are different forms of the same thing. In other words, the extra mass has become the energy that binds the nucleus together.

Physics and chemistry are subject to laws which control all of the universe. Without those laws, the universe could not exist, and neither could science. Scientific experimentation is based on the consistency of the natural laws which came into existence when the universe was created. Science is unable by experiment to study what happened before the creation of those laws. Why do those laws exist? Why does anything exist? We believe the answer can be found in Genesis 1:1.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

God’s Natural Cloning

Natural Cloning of Crayfish
When scientists reach a new accomplishment, they sometimes discover that God has already done it. The marbled crayfish (Procambarus virginalis) has been reproducing by cloning for more than 20 years. Natural cloning, or parthenogenesis, is one of the tools of God for species reproduction.

Someone caught a female slough crayfish (Procambarus fallax) in the Florida Everglades in 1995. A hobbyist bought it for a pet. For an unknown reason, it became a new species called the marbled crayfish and started cloning itself. The hobbyist could not take care of the increasing numbers of crayfish, so he took them to a pet shop where others bought them for their aquariums. A German aquarium owner bought a bag of these mutant crayfish from an American pet trader and found his tank overrun with female crayfish. The marbled crayfish are all female clones from the one female crayfish. The number has gone from one to billions around the world today.

Crayfish are at the bottom of the food chain for freshwater ecosystems, and with this new method of reproduction, the supply of crayfish can be good even with heavy predation. These crayfish can adapt to so many kinds of environments that scientists are concerned about them becoming an invasive species in various areas. Researchers have recently sequenced the genome of the marbled crayfish to learn more about this creature. They are suggesting that study of marveled crayfish reproduction may give clues to how tumors develop and grow.

We still have a lot to learn about these cloned crayfish. There are other organisms in which natural cloning occurs without male participation. Study of this design feature may lead to more advances in the areas of food production and health.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
For more on marbeled crayfish click here. For more on how cloning might be used to protect an endangered species click here.

What Makes Humans Special?

What Makes Humans Special?
As we look at the many creatures that inhabit planet Earth, we see that humans are unique. What makes humans special?

Unlike most animals, we walk on two legs. Even primates that can stand upright, spend much of their time on all-fours. Standing upright frees our hands for making and using tools. It also allows us to use our hands for creating art and writing stories and books. Our hands enable us to write instructions explaining how to use the tools we create. Writing makes it possible for us to record the things we learn about the world around us.

Our hands allow us to do things that no animal can because of our opposable thumbs. Most apes and monkeys have opposible thumbs, but only humans can bring their thumbs in opposition to any of our four fingers.

Most animals are covered with a thick layer of hair to protect them from the harsh environment. We protect ourselves by clothing that we design using our creativity and that we make using our hands.

Humans are special in our ability to speak. The design and position of our larynx, tongue, and mouth make it physically possible to create sounds that form words. Beyond our physical traits, the ability to understand symbolism is essential for advanced communication. Your ability to understand the meaning of words, even the meaning of the words formed by the letters you are reading is unique to humans.

Human children are dependent on their parents for a much longer time than any animal, and our family relationships are important throughout life. We are capable of an “agape” type of love that emphasizes the needs of others rather than ourselves. We learn to love in our families as our parents model a godly love for us.

Most animals live as long as they can reproduce and they die soon after that. Their purpose is to procreate and maintain a balanced natural environment. Humans live far beyond the time when we produce offspring because we have a purpose beyond reproduction. God has given us the responsibility take care of the creation and to serve others and to serve Him.

Our brain makes us unique, not necessarily because of its size but because of what it can do. There are animals with larger brains. The sperm whale has the largest. When you compare brain weight to body size, many birds have brains that make up 8 percent of their body weight. The human brain is only about 2.5 percent of our body weight, but it far exceeds the brain of any animal in intelligence.

The greatest difference–and the biggest mystery to science–is what is often referred to as “mind.” How can mere atoms and molecules form cells and neural connections to create the human sense of self-consciousness and purpose? How can they form themselves into a mind that can contemplate the universe and our purpose in life? We believe this most unique feature of humans is more than the physical action of neurons. We prefer to call it our soul.

As we seek to know what makes humans special and unique, we have to look beyond the physical realm. Our creativity, our search for beauty, our desire for loving relationships, our seeking after justice, and our need to worship, all indicate that we know there is something beyond what this world offers. We believe those desires are in our souls because we were created in the image of our Creator and we were created to have a relationship with Him. That is truly what makes humans special.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Dinosaur Train and Reality

Dinosaur Train and Reality
I have been blessed over the past year with a two-year-old who calls me “Booh” which is Thai for “Grandpa.” It has been a wonderful experience for me in several ways. One of the things I have learned as he has grown older and watches children’s television is how much bad good and bad information children are exposed to in their preschool years. My adopted grandson’s favorite television program is a PBS Kids series called Dinosaur Train.

The program opens with a small pair of creatures that look like pterodactyls standing by a nest containing four eggs. The eggs hatch and the first three hatchlings look like their parents, complete with the ability to fly. The fourth egg hatches a few seconds later with a baby who looks nothing like the parents and who says, “What am I doing in a flying reptile nest?” The mother dinosaur picks up the baby, and the whole family flies to a train station called the Dinosaur Train.

On the train, a conductor takes the family on a trip to different geologic time periods–Mesozoic, Cenozoic, Paleozoic, Triassic, etc. There the family meets dinosaurs from the various time periods who explain what they eat and how they find their food. The train has a cattle car with large dinosaurs in it, and the family goes to a coach containing smaller dinosaurs.

Occasionally a scientist identified as a paleontologist presents a mini-lecture. The lecture may be on the meaning of words, the current evolutionary beliefs about the animals, or the geological processes that shaped the history of the Earth. His presentations are generally accurate, and he attempts to give the viewers a vocabulary that would be the envy of most college freshmen. Sound effects are very entertaining, and the program stays away from blood and gore and tends to focus on herbivores.

There are lots of concerns that parents may have about the current geologic and evolutionary beliefs that are presented as facts. I am concerned about the anthropomorphism of the dinosaurs. The train is a mid-twentieth century coal-burning steam engine and the train station is from the same time period. The conductor is a dinosaur wearing an outfit that looks like a circus barker. He not only calls the “All aboard,” but he gives Powerpoint-style explanations. The dinosaurs all speak perfect English and behave as humans. Everyone is friendly, T-Rex speaks kindly with everyone, and groups of dinosaurs sing Broadway-style tunes. Dinosaur Train is quite frankly very entertaining.

The problem I have is that the dinosaurs are essentially humans, engaging in human contests, doing human things, and having human relationships. Mom and dad have human roles and enjoy human activities like picnics and visits to different climates and places of recreational value. It is no wonder that those who tell children that humans and dinosaurs lived together find a ready audience of young people. I have hunter friends who dislike the story of Bambi because it vilifies hunters and fails to present children with the importance of balance in nature and the role that carnivores like ourselves serve. The same difficulty is present when people don’t understand the role that dinosaurs had in preparing the Earth for humans by supporting the ecology that produced the resources we need to survive on this planet.

Dinosaur Train is interesting and creative, but parents need to take time to give more accurate and realistic teaching to their toddlers as they get old enough to understand. There is no problem in explaining the role of dinosaurs if we understand how God designed and planned for humans from before time began.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Romeo Seeking Juliet

Romeo Seeking Juliet
It’s a case of Romeo seeking Juliet. He has been called “the loneliest frog in the world.” His name is Romeo, and he’s a Sehuencas water frog (Telmatobius yuracare). He may be the only one left.

Sehuencas water frogs lived in the subtropical and tropical areas of Bolivia. Romeo has lived in the Cochabamba Natural History Museum in Bolivia for the past ten years. No Sehuencas water frogs have been seen in the wild since 2008. Their life expectancy is up to 15 years, and that means Romeo’s time for finding a mate is limited. Unless he can find a mate, the species will probably become extinct.

Because of this emergency situation, Global Wildlife Conservation and the Bolivian Amphibian Initiative have taken matters into their own hands. They have teamed up with the dating site Match.com to find a mate for this lonely frog. Actually, it is doubtful that any female Sehuencas water frogs–if there are any–will see Romeo’s posting on Match. However, the groups are hoping to raise awareness and to raise $15,000 by Valentine’s Day to launch expeditions into the areas where these frogs formerly lived in the hope of finding a mate for Romeo.

The story of Romeo seeking Juliet has gone on for years. When Romeo was a young frog, he sent out mating calls with no response. Those calls have slowed down in recent years. In Romeo’s Match listing he says, “I’m a pretty simple guy. I tend to keep to myself and love spending nights at home.” His status is shown as, “Never married.” He concludes with the statement, “So, if you believe in love and want to help an old frog out, please donate to my cause.”

Is there any hope for this species to continue? If all else fails, researchers are considering the possibility of cloning. Many species that are part of the natural balance God created have been threatened by human actions. Habitat loss and the introduction of alien predatory species are two of the major causes. We must learn to be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

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”

Oak Tree Rodent Control

Oak Tree Rodent Control
There have been times in Earth’s history when rodents threatened to overrun areas of the planet. Sometimes humans upset the ecological balance leading to an overabundance of rodents. Then people have to find a way to keep them under control. But what if you are an oak tree with a mouse problem? Is there such a thing as oak tree rodent control?

Among other things, rodents eat acorns which are the seeds of oak trees. How can new oak trees be produced if the mice eat the seeds? Dr. Jerry Wolff of Oregon State University made a study of oak trees and white-footed mice in the Appalachian Mountains several years ago. Dr. Wolff found that oak trees in the Appalachian area synchronize their erratic production of acorns. In that way, they control the rodent population.

When the mouse population is low, the oak trees produce a massive number of acorns which swamps the mice with more acorns than they can eat. These well-fed rodents produce high numbers of offspring. Over the next three or four years acorns will be a scarce commodity, and so the rodent population crashes. At that point, the trees again synchronize and switch back to high volume acorn production. There are fewer rodents around to eat them resulting in a greater production of tree seedlings.

Trying to explain this by some chance process stretches credibility. The simpler view is that the DNA of the trees and the mice were designed to continue providing a constant growth of new trees and the production of acorns for the mice. There are many symbiotic relationships in nature where two species are dependent on each other. This oak tree rodent control is a design to guarantee that both species survive. Design indicates a Designer.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: This study first appeared in Discover magazine in 1992.

Beware of Praying Mantises

Beware of Praying Mantises
There are organizations that advocate natural control of pests as opposed to the use of chemicals. One effort to control garden pests involves the use of praying mantises. While the concept is good, there are complications. In the natural world with no human intervention, there is a balance between predator and prey. When humans upset that balance, the result is always catastrophic.

In Australia, for example, rabbits were introduced to control certain plants. The rabbits had no natural enemies, and in a very short time, the rabbit population was out of control. Now there is the problem of how to get rid of the rabbits. Here in Michigan, beavers have been brought back into the river where I live. Today they have no enemies, and the beaver population has grown to the point where it is almost impossible to keep decorative trees because the beavers eat them.

The December/January issue of National Wildlife magazine (page 10) brought a new issue to our attention. People have introduced large numbers of praying mantises to control the bugs that were eating their gardens. The problem is that they not only eat bugs, but they will also kill and eat hummingbirds. Some people who have deliberately added numbers of mantises to their property have discovered that they no longer have hummingbirds, and apparently the mantises are the cause.

The Wilson Journal of Ornithology reported a study in which there were 147 cases of praying mantises catching 24 different bird species. The praying mantises capture the hummingbirds at feeders or as the birds are getting nectar from a flower. When we see bad environmental situations in nature, it is almost always due to human mismanagement and not a fault in the design of the system.
–John N. Clayton