God’s perfect creation included caffeine. Now we know why.
If like millions of other people you find that caffeine in your coffee, tea, or cola seems to improve your day, you’re not alone. Scientists trying to determine the explanation for caffeine’s existence have discovered that it gives bees a buzz and boosts their memory too.
Do bees go after discarded cola cans just to get the sweets or is it the caffeine? A new study suggests caffeine enhances bees’ memory of where they got their buzz. Image credit: Aziz Almutairi/ University of Massachusetts, in “Caffeine Boosts Bees' Memories” Lars Chittka and Fei Peng, Science 339, no. 1157 (2013); doi: 10.1126/science.1234411
Caffeine, like nicotine, at high doses is bitter, toxic, and lethal, so scientists believe these botanical products help protect the plants that produce them from herbivorous predators. But at lower, more pharmacological doses the effects of caffeine are quite different. Caffeine occurs in low doses in the nectar and pollen of Coffea and Citrus plants. Could this caffeine offer some ecological advantage to the plants, other than poisoning animals that munch on them?
If caffeine offers the plants that make it a reproductive advantage, the answers might lie in the plants’ pollinators—bees. Geraldine Wright of England’s Newcastle University and her team confirmed that caffeine is indeed present in nectar and pollen at low concentrations. The amount of caffeine varies but is unrelated to the amount of sugar in the nectar. The coffee plant produces a great deal of caffeine, and its nectar has a concentration comparable to a cup of coffee.1
Wright fed small amounts of caffeine to some bees and trained them to associate it with various scented sources of sugar. While the caffeine had minimal effect on how fast the bees learned their lessons, “it had a profound effect on long-term memory.”2 In fact, the caffeine was far more effective than just sugar at helping the bees remember even 72 hours later just which smells had provided the best buzz.3
Wright’s team trained each bee to remember a scent by conditioning it to stick out its proboscis for sugar in response to certain odors. Those bees that got a caffeine reward with their sugar remembered the scents better, as indicated by proboscis extension when offered the right scent. Twenty-four hours after the training, the scent-memory of caffeine-baited bees was three times better than controls, and at 72 hours the caffeinated bees still had double the performance of their caffeine-deprived companions.
“We show that caffeine—a compound whose ecological role is mainly to deter and poison herbivores—actually acts like a drug in an ecologically relevant context,” Wright says. “The plant is secretly drugging the pollinator. It may help the bee, but the plant cares more about having a pollinator with high fidelity!”
Caffeine did not improve the bees’ sense of smell but rather their memories. Insect brains have certain cells in their “mushroom bodies” that enable them to lay down memories by integrating sensory input. Caffeine made those cells respond more strongly to smells, thus strengthening the memory process.
The effects of caffeine on humans is much more difficult to nail down. In mammals, caffeine is a “cognitive enhancer.”4 Caffeine inhibits adenosine receptors in a certain part of the brain’s hippocampus, making it easier to establish long-term memories. Do we humans consume caffeine because it helps us or just because we like it? Hard to say, but we probably remember how it makes us feel! As Wright says, “I think there is overwhelming evidence that we return again and again to consume caffeine because of the way we feel after drinking it.”
The bees rejected high concentrations of caffeine, and high doses of caffeine taste bitter to mammals. It appears that the concentration of caffeine in plant nectar is below the bitter tasting “threshold” for bees. Thus bees would most likely prefer to visit plants with a little buzz in their nectar, but not those that have too much. Through pharmacologically manipulating bees’ behavior, therefore, those plants offering just the right balance of caffeine are likely to attract bees and have greater long-term reproductive success. As Wright writes, “By affecting a pollinator’s memory, plants reap the reproductive benefits arising from enhanced pollinator fidelity.”3 It is not yet known whether the caffeine in these powered flowers is addictive to bees, though more research should determine that.5
By demonstrating this way that caffeine-containing plants can out-compete their neighbors for the attention of their pollinators, this discovery demonstrates a very logical reason that our Creator made caffeine. And with moderation, many of us are now able to reap the benefits. Now, of course this research offers no support for evolution (and the researchers don’t claim that it does). But we just thought you would be fascinated by another example of God’s amazing creative genius in designing these amazing little creatures and the plants they feed on.
Cambrian creepy crawly had legs on its head.
Some exquisitely well-preserved Cambrian arthropod fossils, reported in Nature, prompted one internet blogger to comment “Ancient fossil reveals that Cthulhu really did live on Earth 500 million years ago.”6 Indeed, the nicely preserved legs on and near the head segment of these fuxianhuiids, including Fuxianhuia protensa, are reminiscent of the fictional monster created by H.P Lovecraft in the early days of science fiction.
Inspired by Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem The Kraken, Lovecraft’s Cthulhu was “an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature”7 having “a pulpy, tentacled head [which] surmounted a grotesque scaly body with rudimentary wings.”7 Trapped in a fictional undersea city but possessing evil supernatural powers, Cthulhu debuted in the 1928 magazine Weird Tales and later became a science fiction icon.
Literature, including science fiction literature, uses imaginative stories not only to entertain but also to explore many aspects of human nature. But this latest fossil discovery is being imaginatively hailed by at least one coauthor of the study reporting it as offering information relevant to humanity’s origins.
Just last year Fuxianhuia protensa was shown to have possessed a complex brain (have a look at some impressive pictures in our discussion at News to Note, October 20, 2012). This modern-appearing brain so early in the fossil record was a surprise to some evolutionists. As Uppsala University paleobiologist Graham Budd commented, the antiquity of complex brain tissue at the time of the Cambrian explosion “‘throws the cat amongst the pigeons’ in terms of previous hypotheses about how brains evolved.”8
In other words, the complex brain seen in modern insects does not seem to have a rudimentary evolutionary ancestor identifiable in the fossil record. Instead, it seems to have appeared quite suddenly half a billion years ago (by evolutionary reckoning).
One of the ongoing debates among evolutionists concerns the evolutionary history of arthropods, the phylum that includes insects, spiders, and crustaceans. A simpler evolutionary ancestor, many believe, would have evolved a series of virtually identical body segments and later evolved specializations of those segments. The segmental nature of the head of many arthropods is not readily apparent. Therefore, the discovery that this Cambrian arthropod had articulated “legs” on its head, the authors write, “offers key insights for reconstructing the ancestral condition of the euarthropod [true arthropod] head.”9
This close-up of one of the fuxianhuiids shows the short articulated “SPA” adjacent to a longitudinal groove (lg) as well as walking legs (wl), an eye (ey), and various exoskeletal plates such as the anterior sclerite (asc). Image credit: J. Yang et al., “Specialized appendages in fuxianhuiids and the head organization of early euarthropods,” Nature 494 (28 February 2013): 468–471, doi:10.1038/nature11874, usrexp-sandbox.nature.com
This fuxianhuiid from the same group of specimens shows how the paired SPAs (specialized postantennal appendages) are located just behind the antenna (ant). They are attached to either side of the mouth, beside the hypostome (hyp), and their presence suggests the arthropod head has, like the rest of its body, a segmental organization. The SPAs were found in a variety of positions in the specimens, suggesting they were mobile. Joint articulations suggest they were real legs, ideally suited for sweeping debris into the mouth. Image credit: J. Yang et al., “Specialized appendages in fuxianhuiids and the head organization of early euarthropods,” Nature 494 (28 February 2013): 468–471, doi:10.1038/nature11874, usrexp-sandbox.nature.com
In the absence of clearly preserved appendages on the head of previously discovered fuxianhuiids, experts have debated the evolutionary relationships of ancient and modern arthropods as well as the structure of their ancestral anatomy. These well-preserved fossils reveal a short pair of jointed appendages just behind the antennae and beside the mouth. The authors suggest they were useful for sweeping food into the mouth as their short length and position would have likely precluded their use for grabbing prey.
Comparison with the embryological development of modern arthropods illustrates that paired appendages like these form segmentally. Evolutionists tend to draw conclusions about unobservable ancestral evolutionary history based on observable embryology. Therefore, the authors believe these fossils support the idea that an earlier ancestral arthropod actually had a series of similar segments and later evolved greater complexity, like that seen in these fuxianhuiids.
“Since biologists rely heavily on organization of head appendages to classify arthropod groups, such as insects and spiders, our study provides a crucial reference point for reconstructing the evolutionary history and relationships of the most diverse and abundant animals on Earth,” explains coauthor Javier Ortega-Hernández. “This is as early as we can currently see into arthropod limb development. These fossils are our best window to see the most primitive state of animals as we know them – including us” (emphasis ours).
So has this discovery that ancient arthropods may have had a segmentally organized head shined light on the evolutionary history of arthropods—“and us”? Has it shown that ancestral arthropods must have had a series of identical segments that later gave rise to more specialized complex designs? Not at all. Having a segmentally organized head (whether as an adult or as an embryo) doesn’t reveal arthropods evolved from simpler anatomical schemes. No evolution from simpler creatures is shown here. Instead, the discovery shows that these extinct invertebrates, like extant (living) invertebrates, possessed a level of complexity that equipped them for life in their environment.
The “Cambrian explosion” refers to the “sudden” appearance of an abundance of complex organisms deep in the fossil record without fossil evidence of simpler evolutionary ancestors. What this discovery provides, like the Cambrian neurocomplexity noted last year, is one more example of the Cambrian explosion’s many complex invertebrates without evidence of simpler evolutionary ancestors. The simpler evolutionary ancestors are “missing” because they never existed.
The “Cambrian explosion” makes sense when we realize it represents a massive graveyard of marine invertebrates catastrophically buried very early in Noah’s Flood. It is no surprise therefore to find Cambrian creatures with characteristics matching the complexity of modern animals. God created all kinds of organisms about 6,000 years ago and equipped them to reproduce after their kinds, not to evolve through random processes into new and more complex kinds of creatures.
These creatures included both simpler and more complex ones, and they were optimally designed for life without evolutionary predecessors.
“The Higgs boson” or “a Higgs boson” but not the “God particle”
CERN scientists just confirmed that they are reasonably certain the elusive Higgs boson they discovered last July10 is really the particle they’ve been looking for. The Standard Model of physics suggests that a particle, named the Higgs boson after physicist Peter Higgs predicted its existence in 1964, is what imparts mass to subatomic particles. As such, the Higgs boson is the “reason” any matter that exists has mass. And because gravity pulling on matter’s mass holds the physical universe together, the Higgs boson could go a long way toward explaining the way God designed the universe.11
Further analyses of data collected on the particle confirm that it does indeed have the properties the predicted particle is supposed to have and that it interacts with other subatomic particles the way it should. CERN scientist Joe Incandela says, “The preliminary results with the full 2012 data set are magnificent and to me it is clear that we are dealing with a Higgs boson.”12 Whether this particle, which does fit physicists’ understanding of the nature of matter, is only the Higgs boson or whether some game-changing new particles are to be discovered has yet to be determined.
Most physicists chafe at the moniker “God particle.” The long-sought particle acquired the popular—or unpopular—nickname because it controls the nature of other particles. The name, coined by physicist Leon Lederman to the consternation of many colleagues, has nothing to do with proving or disproving God’s existence.
“We think a particle like the Higgs boson was actually a match that set off this cosmic explosion, which created everything we see around us, including the earth and even us,” explains physicist Michio Kaku from City University of New York. Yet despite the claim that it explains what triggered the big bang, the existence of the Higgs boson reveals nothing about the origin of the universe.13
On the contrary, the Higgs boson beautifully illustrates God’s creative design. Creationist astronomer Dr. Danny Faulkner, now with Answers in Genesis after 26 years as professor of astronomy and physics at the University of South Carolina Lancaster, says, “The Higgs boson particle probably does exist. God upholds the creation with the power of His word, and I think this is just a humanly seen manifestation of that.”
But does it prove the big bang? No. Dr. Faulkner says, “It’s oversell, because it doesn’t really tell you about the big bang at all. What they’re testing is in the here and now, and we’re quite comfortable with testing how the world exists and how it now operates.”
Theistic evolutionist Dr. Karl Giberson, former vice president of BioLogos Foundation, commented back in 2011 that the search for the Higgs boson was letting us “push back a bit closer to that mysterious moment almost 14 billion years ago, when our universe emerged in the big bang. What the LHC [Large Hadron Collider, built to discover the Higgs boson] might demonstrate is a piece of the grand puzzle: where does mass come from? . . . If Christians can embrace the big bang theory, instead of inventing odd and implausible reasons to reject it, they will be drawn into a most wonderful world of grandeur that will greatly enlarge their concept of God.”14
Dr. Faulkner, however, says, “To say it proves the big bang or somehow increases your faith in it is just silly.” The Higgs boson doesn’t tell us anything about the universe’s origins. Creationist astrophysicist Dr. Jason Lisle of the Institute for Creation Research explains, “That seems to really confuse two different issues. The big bang theory is really a conjecture about the past, about how the universe could really come into existence from nothing. And the Higgs boson has nothing to do with that. The Higgs boson is about how the universe works today. It appears to be the mechanism by which God has chosen to give different particles different masses.”
The Higgs boson does not scientifically supplant the Creator but is a manifestation of His glory and power. Dr. Lisle adds, “It is rather apparently the way that God has chosen to uphold the universe. That’s true of any law of physics. Gravity is an example. Gravity is not a replacement of God’s power; gravity is an example of God’s power. And that’s the way it is with the Higgs boson.”
Marriage as it is meant to be—don’t give up on it!
Television programs and movies treating same-sex marriage as the norm are chiseling away at the moral sensibilities of many. Pleas that “gay people have a right to be happy” are making many hesitant to stand publicly for the true definition of marriage. And one U.S. senator (Ohio Senator Rob Portman) recently changed his position on same-sex marriage mostly because of the sexual preference of his own son. Thankfully, however, other more thoughtful and younger political activists are organizing to network support in defense of the continued definition of marriage to be between one man and one woman. Like the war to defend the sanctity of human life, the war to defend marriage will be long, but, as these eager and energetic young leaders point out, the long-range consequences of losing it are great.
This “pro-marriage movement” is building a grassroots effort to show the public, our lawmakers, and our judges the importance of one man, one woman marriage for society and the long-term catastrophic consequences of abandoning it. The movement is taking shape in organizations like the Family Policy Institute of Washington,15 the Heritage Foundation,16 the Love and Fidelity Network,17 and the National Organization for Marriage.18 The National Organization for Marriage, for instance, is organizing a march on the National Mall for Tuesday, the day the Supreme Court plans to hear arguments in the debate over Proposition 8, California’s voter-approved law banning same-sex marriage.
Historically, “gay” rights began to be recognized in America’s legal system when activists succeeded in shifting the argument from “morality” to “constitutional rights.” After the homosexual lobby lost before the U.S Supreme Court in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) by a 5–4 decision, those wishing to expand the interpretation of the 14th Amendment’s Due Process clause to embrace the right to engage in homosexual activity realized they had to change the question. They recognized the moral foundation of society—which was biblically based—could not be as easily changed as social and legal opinions about civil rights. After all, freedom and rights are dear to all Americans. The key then, historically, was for them to change the question from one of morality to one of civil rights. Ultimately, the 1986 decision that had reinforced traditional morality was overturned in Lawrence v. Texas (2003). As a result of this strategy, laws based on morality are now unconstitutional.
Taking a lesson from the past, pro-marriage advocates recognize that to protect marriage for the sake of our culture and the future of our children, the battle for public and legal opinion must be fought not on the grounds of “rights” or “happiness” but on the foundation of what marriage is actually about.
“To the extent that the other side is able to frame this as a vote for gay people to be happy, it will be challenging for us,” explains Joseph Backholm of the Family Policy Institute. The defense of marriage is not about making “gay” people unhappy or depriving anybody of their civil rights. “It’s really a broader defense of marriage and a stronger marriage culture,” says the Federalist Society’s Will Haun.
In the report “Marriage: What It Is, Why It Matters, and the Consequences of Redefining It,”16 the Heritage Foundation lays out the arguments. Human beings come in two complementary forms—male and female—biologically suited for the norm of permanent marriage between faithful partners able to produce and raise children. The report points out, “Government recognizes marriage because it is an institution that benefits society in a way that no other relationship does. Marriage is society’s least restrictive means of ensuring the well-being of children.”16 Thus supporting traditional marriage—not only by keeping the legal requirement that it be between one man and one woman but also by encouraging their faithfulness to each other—is a way of protecting children and society.
Proponents of same-sex marriage assert that America has a tradition of expanding freedom for those deprived of it. But does the exclusive recognition of marriage between one man and one woman deprive anyone of freedom? No. The Heritage Foundation report explains:
Promoting marriage does not ban any type of relationship: Adults are free to make choices about their relationships, and they do not need government sanction or license to do so. All Americans have the freedom to live as they choose, but no one has a right to redefine marriage for everyone else.16
It is common knowledge that the bonds of faithful marriage are in trouble. High divorce rates are bad for everyone (with the obvious exception of divorce lawyers), and those who suffer most are often children. The report explains:
In recent decades, marriage has been weakened by a revisionist view that is more about adults’ desires than children’s needs. This reduces marriage to a system to approve emotional bonds or distribute legal privileges.
Redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships is the culmination of this revisionism, and it would leave emotional intensity as the only thing that sets marriage apart from other bonds. Redefining marriage would further distance marriage from the needs of children and would deny, as a matter of policy, the ideal that a child needs both a mom and a dad.
Decades of social science, including the latest studies using large samples and robust research methods, show that children tend to do best when raised by a mother and a father. The confusion resulting from further delinking childbearing from marriage would force the state to intervene more often in family life and expand welfare programs. Redefining marriage would legislate a new principle that marriage is whatever emotional bond the government says it is.
Redefining marriage does not simply expand the existing understanding of marriage. It rejects the anthropological truth that marriage is based on the complementarity of man and woman, the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the social reality that children need a mother and a father. Redefining marriage to abandon the norm of male–female sexual complementarity would also make other essential characteristics—such as monogamy, exclusivity, and permanency—optional. Marriage cannot do the work that society needs it to do if these norms are further weakened.16
Redefinition of marriage will only further destroy all that marriage is designed to do to benefit the entire family and the society of which we are all a part. Biblically, marriage is in intended to reflect both the complementary roles of the co-equal persons of the Triune God (as Genesis 1:26–27 says, “let Us make man in our image … in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them”). It is also meant to reflect the union of Christ with the church (Ephesians 5:22–33) and provide a stable place in which children can grow into mature, responsible adults and best learn God’s truth (Ephesians 6:1–4). In addition, from a merely civil and social point of view, parents who complement each other and are faithfully committed to each other provide a secure environment in which to raise children. The Heritage Foundation report cites additional statistics demonstrating the societal consequences of broken homes in terms of crime, behavioral problems, and promiscuity.16
Some point out that states recognizing same-sex marriage have not had a demonstrable increase in divorce rates. But the consequences of further eroding the stability of traditional marriage and the traditional family will inevitably become manifest over the long term as more and more people come to regard marriage as a matter of personal convenience rather than a commitment essential to family integrity.
As far as protecting freedoms and rights is concerned, while there is no constitutional right to same-sex marriage, there is a constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. The legal repercussions of legalized same-sex marriage encroaches on the religious freedom the government is constitutionally obligated to protect.
Redefining marriage is also a direct and demonstrable threat to religious freedom because it marginalizes those who affirm marriage as the union of a man and a woman. This is already evident in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., among other locations. Concern for the common good requires protecting and strengthening the marriage culture by promoting the truth about marriage.16
Public opinion is shifting on this issue, sliding toward greater acceptance of same-sex marriage, so remember that what you say to your friends and coworkers about it counts. The issue of same-sex marriage is being debated from the grassroots level to the highest court in the land. And while the United States Supreme Court is not directly answerable to the public, the justices are not deaf to the people’s voice. Furthermore, justices are appointed by elected officials who must listen to public opinion.
No one’s freedoms or behaviors are restricted by defending the traditional, biblically based definition of marriage that has come down through 6,000 years of human culture since God originally defined human marriage as a union of one man with one woman. God our Creator knew what was best for human beings when “He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’” (Matthew 19:4) and instituted marriage. Human beings—sinful selfish creatures that we are—have a habit of wrecking our own lives and our own families through faithlessness and failures. Wrecked families hurt a lot of people. The solution is not to throw out the sort of family for which God designed us by simply redefining it. Instead we should affirm the biblical basis for marriage as the best for all while we strive to build better stronger families. Strong families are good for children and good for society, and they don’t deprive anyone of their civil rights.
History slips, and God seems “away from His desk, asleep at the switch.”
The Bible History Channel miniseries’s 3rd installment aired last Sunday night, and over 68 million people have reportedly now tuned in. A lot of people are talking about the series, creating many opportunities for Christians to talk about the Bible itself and the God of the Bible. The second installment (discussed last week19) episode could be summed up as “good on history, soft on sin.”20 But being “Berean” (Acts 17:10–11)21 will be even more critical in the wake of the third episode, for this one takes many more liberties with the actual history and from the opening narration has a tendency to ignore God. Christians need to carefully compare all the history depicted with Scripture not only to keep the actual history straight but also to keep the greatness, the power, and the plan of God in view as we prepare to graciously engage unbelievers and those viewers less familiar with the Bible.
Jumping over the time of increasing idolatry and corruption, this episode focuses on the time of Babylonian captivity and then covers the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus, His baptism and temptations, and His call of Peter as a disciple. The most significant departures from biblical history involve the captivity—Daniel and friends are taken captive at the wrong time, Nebuchadnezzar’s madness and unbelief is left unresolved, the facts are off regarding Persia’s conquest of Babylon, and the wrong Persian king tosses Daniel into the lions’ den, to name a few.
As I explained in my original review of the series,22 one of this episode’s most glaring inaccuracies is its assertion that Isaiah lived at the same time as Cyrus, the Persian king who freed the Israelites to return to their homeland. Such a historically false and egregious statement not only weakens the program but makes Isaiah’s prophecy concerning Cyrus into a worthless joke, for the biblical Isaiah—speaking prophetically by the instruction of God—prophesied Cyrus’s name and actions at least 125 years before Cyrus was even born (Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1).23 In fact, the biblical Isaiah prophesied Israel’s release from captivity before the nation even fell into captivity!
Furthermore, not only does this inaccuracy about Isaiah’s prophecy ignore God’s ability to know the future, the version of the program ultimately televised was introduced by narration that greatly diminished the role of God, even as it reviewed episodes previously aired. For instance, the introductory narration erroneously tells us “Moses earned his people’s freedom from slavery.”
This episode nicely depicts some of the political realities that led to idolatrous Israel’s fall to Babylon. It does show us the difficult position of Jeremiah as he tried to lead King Zedekiah back to God and the consequences of Zedekiah’s refusal. But, after the fall of Jerusalem, we see Jeremiah saying, “Everything we have fought for is lost” and fleeing like a terrified rabbit to Egypt to save his own skin.
The biblical Jeremiah, however, had acted in faith that God would someday restore the land to the people by himself purchasing a plot of land. And the biblical Jeremiah kept on trying to lead the remnant of people left behind back to God, but he was dragged off to Egypt by them in defiance of God’s instructions. The biblical Jeremiah was not just bold with the king, as the miniseries shows, but also faithful to keep serving God whether his audience was royal or common, no matter how much he suffered and was rejected as a result of his prophesies. The biblical Jeremiah, when he was so discouraged he wanted to give up preaching, declared as we should, “But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not” (Jeremiah 20:9).
Meanwhile, over in Babylon, the scriptwriters gave the three men who ended up in the furnace (recorded in Daniel 3) for refusing to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue a repetitive sing-song mantra (“with all my heart I follow you, fear you, I seek your presence”), a pathetic replacement for the actual powerful testimony recorded in the Bible: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (Daniel 3:16–18).
Also sadly and unnecessarily missing is the glorious conversion of this proud and powerful king Nebuchadnezzar to the worship of the one true God, as Nebuchadnezzar himself attests in Daniel 4.
On the plus side, although the writer of one critique justifiably labels this episode “The Absent God,” the miniseries’s Daniel does at least give God credit for his ability to interpret King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, the virgin birth is rightly depicted as a virgin birth, and the program does a reasonable job with the temptations of Christ.
Sadly, we don’t really hear John the Baptist deliver his convicting message concerning sin and repentance as he prepared the people in Israel for Christ’s arrival on the scene. The John the Baptist in the miniseries said the coming Messiah would “bring a new age of righteousness and justice” and that his “power will draw all men to a new world.” The biblical John the Baptist declared that dreadful judgment for sin was coming, that people needed to repent and make ready to receive their Messiah, and that the coming Messiah was the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The miniseries closes with a very adapted version of Jesus Christ’s encounter with Peter and a promise that together they would “change the world.” That Jesus will indeed do, but not the way that the disciples at first expected or the way some Christians even today expect, for He will change the world in judgment before changing it into a new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells.
And as we discuss the issues and questions this episode raises in the conversations God grants us, we must be especially careful to help people understand what God was accomplishing by allowing the people to go into captivity, refining the nation through which He was preserving the Old Testament Scriptures and through which He would one day send His Son Jesus Christ into the world.
We’ll tune in tomorrow to see how the message that ultimately did turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6) is depicted in this cinematic adaption. Let us consider how we can use the interest the series generates in the Bible to open doors for the actual message of the gospel.
The first study on the selective pressure of motor vehicle traffic on birds has just been published in Current Biology. Eighty-million birds are killed on U.S. roadways each year. Therefore, Charles Brown and Mary Bomberger Brown write, “We might expect natural selection to favor individuals that either learn to avoid cars or that have other traits making them less likely to collide with vehicles. If so, the frequency of road kill should decline over time. No information is available for any species on whether the extent of road-associated mortality has changed.”24 To fill this gap in bird demographics, they’ve spent three decades studying living and dead cliff swallows in southwestern Nebraska. These birds were a good choice to study because they build mud nests on highway overpasses. After controlling for the volume of traffic, the population of scavengers, and other factors, they determined that the number of cliff sparrows killed by passing cars has steadily decreased. Over the same time period, the average wing length in the population has decreased by 4 millimeters, but among dead birds wing length has remained unchanged. Why might longer wings cause more collisions? Aerodynamically, longer wings slow the rate of vertical takeoff, decreasing the opportunity to fly upward quickly and get out of the way. Though other factors may be involved, the researchers strongly suspect traffic has exerted selective pressure, imparting a survival advantage to birds with shorter wings. This study illustrates how rapidly natural selection can act to produce variation within a species. But of course nothing in the study has anything to do with evolution of new kinds of animals. It most certainly has nothing to do with the origin of birds or wings or feathers. All the genetic information for swallows with shorter wings was in the swallow genome at the beginning, and the process by which wings became four millimeters shorter doesn’t explain where the longer wings came from in the first place. In fact, nothing in the Current Biology journal article even mentions these birds “evolving.” The popular press, however, headlines their report “Swallows are evolving shorter wings because they keep getting hit by traffic” and quotes Dr. Charles Brown explaining, “Evolution is an ongoing process, and all this - roads, SUVs, and all - is part of nature or 'the wild'; they exert selection pressures in a way we don't usually think about.”25 It is vital to understand that animals do vary within their created kinds—as seen here—and to recognize that this process does not lend support to the idea that new and more complex kinds of organisms can evolve.
Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us. If you didn’t catch last week’s News to Note, why not take a look at it now? See you next week!
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