Deer Sense the Earth’s Magnetic Field

A herd of roe deer on snow.  (Click for credit)

A herd of roe deer on snow. (Click for credit)

There are many animals that sense the earth’s magnetic field. Monarch butterflies, for example, sense the magnetic field and use it to aid in navigation during their amazing migration.1. Salmon seem to “imprint” a picture of the earth’s magnetic field at the point where they enter the ocean, and they later use that imprint to navigate back to that same point when they return to their birthplace to spawn. Homing pigeons also sense the earth’s magnetic field and use it as a part of their navigation.

Years ago, I read about a study that seemed to say cattle tend to align with the earth’s magnetic field while they graze. It perplexed many scientists, and some didn’t want to believe it. After all, cattle don’t navigate long distances! Why in the world would they need to sense the earth’s magnetic field? However, the study seemed to stand up to scrutiny. When I am speaking, I often use it as an example of experimental data that make no sense, but nevertheless seem to be true. I further suggest that rather than fighting against the conclusion of the study, someone should try to figure out why cattle seem to have a magnetic sense.

Well, no one (to my knowledge) has done that for cattle, but someone has done it for roe deer, which are pictured above. Roe deer tend to congregate in flat areas, so their herds are easy to watch from a distance. Researchers studied them in 60 different locations in three hunting grounds in the Czech Republic. They observed the way the deer faced while they were grazing and, more importantly, how the deer reacted when they were startled.

They found that the deer tend to align their bodies along north/south magnetic field lines while grazing. Then, when startled, they tend to run north or south, regardless of the direction from which the threat comes. These behaviors were more pronounced when the deer were in large herds.2

Why do the deer bother sensing the earth’s magnetic field? Based on their observations, the authors suggest:

…an important function of this behavior is to coordinate the movement in the group, to keep the common course of escape when frightened and to maintain the cohesion of the group.

In other words, it helps the deer escape without running into one another, and it helps them regroup once the threat is gone.

The authors say that this is the first confirmed case of mammals using the earth’s magnetic field to navigate. I suspect that it is merely the first of many. The more I learn about Creation, the more in awe I am of its Creator.

REFERENCES

1. Patrick A Guerra, Robert J Gegear, & Steven M Reppert, “A magnetic compass aids monarch butterfly migration,” Nature Communications 5:4164, 2014, doi:10.1038/ncomms5164
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2. Petr Obleser, Vlastimil Hart, E. Pascal Malkemper, Sabine Begall, Michaela Holá, Michael S. Painter, Jaroslav Červený, and Hynek Burda, “Compass-controlled escape behavior in roe deer,” Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 06 June 2016, DOI:10.1007/s00265-016-2142-y
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No, Dr. Michio Kaku Hasn’t Proven God’s Existence!

Dr. Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist and "futurist" (picture from his Facebook page)

Dr. Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist and “futurist” (picture from his Facebook page)

The headlines are screaming it. Christian Today says, Top scientist claims proof that God exists, says humans live in a ‘world made by rules created by an intelligence.’ The Geophilosophical Association of Anthropological and Cultural Studies proclaims, Scientist says he found definitive proof that God exists. ChristianHeadlines.com says, Respected Scientist Says He Found Proof God Exists. At last! We now have definitive, scientific proof For the existence of God, right? Wrong!

I guess this story broke when I was busy getting ready to go to Salt Lake City to speak at a homeschool convention, because I hadn’t seen it until someone emailed me the Christian Today article and asked me what I thought of it. Since then, several other people have contacted me via email and Facebook to get my thoughts. Initially, I only glanced at the article, but even with that little glance, I was incredibly skeptical. The article claims to report on the work of Dr. Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist who had done some cutting edge research a couple of decades ago, but is more of a “scilebrity” today, promoting science and his ideas about the future on television shows, etc.

According to the article, Dr. Kaku was conducting tests on “primitive semi-radius tachyons” and decided that his tests told him that we live in some sort of “matrix” that was made by an intelligence. This bothered me a lot. Tachyons are theoretical particles. We have no idea whether or not they exist. If they exist, they travel faster than the speed of light, so it’s hard to know how in the world we could ever detect them, much less conduct tests on them. I have no idea how such particles can tell us something about the nature of the universe. I looked in vain for an article on the subject authored by Dr. Kaku himself. I then went to his Facebook page, which made no mention of this “monumental discovery.”

Since I couldn’t find anything written by Dr. Kaku, I decided to investigate these “primitive semi-radius tachyons” myself. I had never heard that term before, but then again, I am not a particle physicist. So today, I tried to find the term in my reference books. I could not. When I did an internet search on the term, the only hits I got were to articles about this supposed discovery. As a result, I seriously doubt that primitive semi-radius tachyons exist, even in the minds of theoretical physicists.

However, searching for that term did lead me to some Spanish websites, which show that this is actually an old story. This website posted the same story more than a year ago. Through the magic of Google Translate, I learned that this website decided the story was a hoax more than two years ago. Apparently, the hoax started on Spanish websites and has now made its way to English websites.

I think science offers a wealth of evidence to support the belief that God exists. However, as far as I can tell, Dr. Michio Kaku has not offered any.

An Unexpected Consequence of the Fukushima Disaster

The thyroid gland is an important part of the endocrine system.

The thyroid gland is an important part of the endocrine system.

On March 11 of 2011, the most powerful earthquake known to have hit Japan struck near the east coast of Honshu. The earthquake generated a tsunami that reached a height of more than 130 feet. One of the many things that happened as a consequence of the disaster is that some of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant went into meltdown, and radioactive substances were leaked into the ocean and released into the air. People in a 12-mile radius around the power plant were evacuated. I have written several posts about the incident (here, here, here, here, and here), and I will continue to do so whenever new information comes to light.

Much of the discussion about the nuclear power plant disaster revolves around its long-term consequences. Since we know increased exposure to radiation can lead to an increase in cancer risk, it is natural to think that there will be an increase in cancer rates for people who were living or are living near the disaster site. Thyroid cancer is particularly sensitive to a common radioactive product of nuclear power plants, so it is assumed that thyroid cancer rates will climb in Fukushima. Indeed, a recent study shows a significant, persistent increase in thyroid cancers in the Ukraine that can be directly tied to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster of 1986.1

Two of my previous posts (here and here) discussed the projected increase in cancer rates as a result of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, and the balance of the evidence seemed to indicate that the increase would be rather small. However, in order to get a more direct measurement of thyroid cancers resulting from the disaster, Japanese authorities decided to screen all 368,651 Fukushima residents who were under 18 at the time of the disaster. An advanced technique (ultrasound) was used, and the results were surprising!

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What Drives Young People to Atheism?

Minnesota Atheists in the 2012 Pride Parade (click for credit)

Minnesota Atheists in the 2012 Pride Parade (click for credit)

I have written about Larry Alex Taunton before (here, here, and here). I don’t think I had heard his name until I read his book, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens. I enjoyed his writing style and his intellectual approach to Christianity, so I read another one of his books, The Grace Effect. I have since moved to his works found on the internet, and I ran across an excellent piece entitled “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity.” I strongly recommend that you read it.

In the article, he discusses the results of a project created by his organization, Fixed Point Foundation. The project’s participants simply asked young atheists to tell their story. They wanted to hear what caused these young people to become atheists. What they learned was no surprise to me, but I think it is worth discussing, especially for those who do not have a lot of experience with atheists.

In my opinion, the most important result that came from the project was:

Most of our participants had not chosen their worldview from ideologically neutral positions at all, but in reaction to Christianity. Not Islam. Not Buddhism. Christianity. (emphasis his)

This is certainly consistent with my experience. Most of the atheists I know were raised in the church and became atheists in reaction to what they perceived as the church’s failings. What were those failings? I suspect that most Christians will be surprised to learn them.

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Homeschooling In Real Life

hirl

I was recently interviewed by Andy and Kendra Fletcher, two homeschooling parents who started Homeschooling in Real Life. They have an excellent podcast in which they discuss many of the issues related to homeschooling. I love their take on homeschooling, and I highly recommend their podcast. The episode that includes me can be found here:

http://ultimateradioshow.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/HIRL_104_DadsHomeschool.mp3

The entire episode is worth listening to, but my segment begins at about 19:07.

If don’t know what got me interested in working with homeschoolers, you might want to listen. It’s the first thing I discuss.

Kirsten Powers: Another Atheist Who Became a Christian

Kirsten Powers's picture on Twitter (click for credit)

Kirsten Powers’s picture on Twitter
(click for credit)

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that I collect stories about atheists who have become Christians. I don’t do this because I think that they “prove” the truth of Christianity. Instead, I do it because I find such stories fascinating. As I read them, I become amazed at the many, many different ways God breaks down the barriers in our souls.

The latest story I have run across comes from Kirsten Powers, a columnist and TV political pundit. She began her career as a Democratic Party staff assistant in 1992, helping with the transition between president Bush and president Clinton. She continued to work with the Clinton administration through 1998 and then worked for the Democrat Party in various roles. Eventually, she transitioned to being a full-time member of the political media.

In 2013, Powers wrote an article for Christianity Today. Here is how it begins:

Just seven years ago, if someone had told me that I’d be writing for Christianity Today magazine about how I came to believe in God, I would have laughed out loud. If there was one thing in which I was completely secure, it was that I would never adhere to any religion —especially to evangelical Christianity, which I held in particular contempt.

I have to say that her statement comes as no surprise. As far as I can tell, most members of the media don’t believe in God and hold evangelical Christianity in contempt.

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Going Back to College (Again)

Thermodynamics is the study of  the relationships and conversions between heat and other forms of energy. (click for credit)

Thermodynamics is the study of the relationships and conversions between heat and other forms of energy. (click for credit)

Nearly two years ago, I announced that I was going to teach a one-semester course at Anderson University. It’s one of the few Christian Universities that I am willing to teach at, because it doesn’t have a long list of doctrinal beliefs to which you have to agree. Instead, it seems to understand that the quest for truth is important and cannot be hindered by one specific interpretation of the Scriptures that has been developed by fallible people. Instead, if we are to learn the truth, we must honestly search the Scriptures, honestly study God’s creation, and honestly explore the various ideas that have emerged throughout the history of Christendom.

It was the first time in 19 years that I had taught a complete, semester-long college course, and I posted a few articles about my experience. I had a great time, and I decided that I wanted to do it again at some point in the future. Because I had some book deadlines with which to contend, however, I couldn’t do that right away. Now that my book deadlines have slowed down a bit, I have decided to go back to the college classroom once again.

This fall, I will be teaching thermodynamics at Anderson University. It is an upper-level course, typically taken by juniors. I use some aspects of thermodynamics in my research as a nuclear chemist, and it is actually one of my favorite topics to teach. As a result, I am really looking forward to it!

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The Power of Grace

Larry Taunton and his Ukrainian daughter, Sasha. (color version of s photo that is in the book)

Larry Taunton and his Ukrainian daughter, Sasha. (color version of a photo that is in the book)

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a review of a book entitled, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens. I had never heard of the author (Larry Taunton), but I enjoyed his writing style and his obvious intellect. As I mentioned in a different post, part of the book deals with Sasha, his daughter who he and his family adopted from the Ukraine. As an adoptive father, his loving words about his daughter touched me deeply, and when I found out that he had written a book specifically about her adoption, I had to read it. It’s called The Grace Effect, and I have to say it is probably the best book I have read since Quivering Daughters. The Grace Effect isn’t nearly as emotional as Quivering Daughters, but it is very meaningful on at least two levels.

The first level is obvious. This is primarily a story about a family who followed God’s leading and ended up radically changing a young girl’s life for the better. The simple version of the story is that Larry’s wife and three boys went on a short-term mission trip to the Ukraine. They went there to improve the facilities at one of Ukraine’s many orphanages: #17. There, they met a young girl named Sasha, and they all fell in love with her. They felt the Lord leading them to adopt her, not knowing anything of the challenges that they would face. With the help of some incredibly generous Christian brothers and sisters, they convinced Larry to adopt Sasha. As a result, Larry, his wife, and two of his boys traveled back to the Ukraine to get her.

The long version of the story, however, is much more interesting. They knew that such adoptions were expensive, but they had no idea how expensive. Not only are the legal costs high, but the Ukrainian government is so intensely corrupt that pretty much every step in the lengthy adoption process requires a bribe. Judges cancel hearings, orphanages delay appointments, etc., and the process comes to a halt. In order to get the process back on track, the person in charge has to be given a “gift.”

While Taunton never indicates the total cost, he mentions discussing Sasha with some well-to-do Christian friends, which resulted in two incredibly generous donations of $10,000 each. In addition, he discussed Sasha with Frank Limehouse, dean of the Cathedral Church of the Advent. He only discussed Sasha to get some wisdom regarding her health issue (she is HIV positive), but a few days later, Limehouse handed him a check and simply said:

That’s from the people of Advent. You get that little girl and bring her home. (p. 184)

So we know that the adoption costs were well over $20,000, much of which went to the bribes that were necessary to get greedy people simply to allow someone else to help a little girl.

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I Was Wrong About Homo naledi

A reconstruction of Homo naledi's skull (click for credit)

A reconstruction of Homo naledi’s skull (click for credit)

Last September, the media was abuzz about a group of fossils which was supposed to represent a new species: Homo naledi. The fossils were special in many respects, but there were two that stood out: First, the fossils had characteristics that indicated they might be related to modern humans. Second, they looked like they were the result of deliberate burial, which indicates distinctly human behavior.

After reading the scientific papers that had been published regarding the fossil, I wrote a blog post about it. I was very skeptical of the authors’ interpretation that the fossils represented some species of ancient human. To my untrained eye, the fossils seemed to be characteristic of extinct apes, like those found in the genus Australopithecus. In addition, it was hard for me to believe that the collection of fossils even belonged to a single species. There seemed to be too many variations among the fossils, especially when it came to the skulls. Of course, I was quick to point out:

Now please understand that I am not a paleontologist. I am not even a biologist. I am simply a nuclear chemist who has taken an interest in the creation/evolution controversy. As a result, you need to take my comments for what they are worth.

I have been following the scientific papers that have been published since September, and I think I can unequivocally say that my comments weren’t worth very much. Because of several different analyses (both in the secular and creationist literature), I have changed my mind. Once again, who knows how much this conclusion is worth, but I now think that the balance of the scientific evidence indicates that Homo naledi is a single species, and it is probably human.

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Another Creationist Prediction Confirmed

A cluster of the bacteria discussed in the article

A cluster of the bacteria discussed in the article

Dr. Richard Lenski, an evolutionary biologist at Michigan State University, has been running a long-term experiment on evolution. Indeed, it has been named the LTEE (Long-Term Evolution Experiment). It started back in 1988 and is still running today. It has followed 12 populations of the bacterium Escherichia coli through more than 50,000 generations, examining how environmental stress changes the bacteria’s genetic and physiological characteristics. More than 6 years ago, I discussed how the project was confirming the creationist view of the genome, and it continues to do just that. In addition, it has inspired another experiment that specifically confirmed a creationist prediction while, at the same time, falsifying an evolutionary one.

To understand what has happened, we need to go back to 2008. In that year, the LTEE showed that even though Escherichia coli normally can’t make use of a chemical called citrate when oxygen is present, one of the their populations developed that ability after 31,500 generations of existence.1 As a result, it was dubbed the “citrate plus” population. How did that happen? At the time, no one knew. However, evolutionists thought it was the result of some rare event or combination of events, exactly the kind upon which evolution depends. New Scientist put it this way:

By this time, Lenski calculated, enough bacterial cells had lived and died that all simple mutations must already have occurred several times over.

That meant the “citrate-plus” trait must have been something special – either it was a single mutation of an unusually improbable sort, a rare chromosome inversion, say, or else gaining the ability to use citrate required the accumulation of several mutations in sequence.

Lenski himself was bold enough to write:

So the bacteria in this simple flask-world have split into two lineages that coexist by exploiting their common environment in different ways. And one of the lineages makes its living by doing something brand-new, something that its ancestor could not do.

That sounds a lot like the origin of species to me. What do you think?

Not surprisingly, a recent experiment has shown that the evolutionary predictions of Lenski and New Scientist are wrong. At the same time, it demonstrated that the predictions of both intelligent design advocates and creationists were correct.

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