Why we are here:

Our signature Bible passage, the prologue to John's Gospel, tells us that Jesus (the Logos) is God and Creator and that He came in the flesh (sarx) to redeem His fallen, sin-cursed creation—and especially those He chose to believe in Him.

Here in Bios & Logos we have some fun examining small corners of the creation to show how great a Creator Jesus is—and our need for Him as Redeemer. Soli Deo Gloria.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fungi have to eat too, you know!

I’m sure you have caught up with the news that a honey mushroom fungus is consuming a forest in eastern Oregon. After all, it’s been doing it for over 2000 years.

Yes, genetic tests have pretty well confirmed that the 2300-acre fungus must have originated from one spore, and so is considered to be a single organism—the world’s largest, at an estimated 605 tons.

Consuming a forest, you say? Of course! Fungi, after all, are consumers (as are we), meaning simply that they and we can’t make organic compounds out of carbon dioxide and water like green plants can—so we have to consume ready-made food.

Unlike those clever lichen fungi in the last post, who partnered up with photosynthetic algae, most fungi must attack living or dead things with their digestive enzymes and absorb their victuals in liquefied form.

In the case of our honey mushroom, the food source is living Douglas Fir and other trees. And that makes this fungus a nasty parasite. It starts at the roots, grows up under the bark and eats the sapwood. And it sends ugly black “shoestrings” from tree to tree, thus spreading the destruction.

Doesn’t sound like a mushroom to me. Well, by now you realize that a fungus is always more than meets the eye. The bulk of our humongous fungus’s 600-ton mass consists of the mycelium, that mass of fibers underground and under the tree bark—eating and growing and spreading…eating and growing and spreading….eating and growing and spreading….

But once in a while, a portion of that mycelium gets happy, bunches together and grows upward, breaks the surface—and becomes a ‘shroom, the purpose of which is to produce reproductive spores in order to spread the misery. And that is usually the only part of the organism we ever see, unless we go poking.

Where does that leave us? With the saprophytes, of course. They have to eat too, you know. And that’s a good thing. Saprophytic fungi are the folks that do the bulk of the decomposing and recycling by eating dead plants, dead animals, dead everything. Without their services, dead stuff would pile up, fast. Soil would be depleted of nutrients and food cycles would grind to a halt—and so would we.

What a magnificent plan the Creator has devised to maintain stability in His sin-cursed biosphere! It is simple in principle, yet so intricate in detail and vast in scope that it has kept ecologists busy for decades trying to figure out how the biosphere stays so balanced—and how we human sinners keep trying to throw it out of balance.

You will have to admit that fungi are different from the rest of us. It took biologists a long time to admit this—they kept wanting to call them plants. But finally they had to give in, given all the weirdness—no separate cells to speak of, just long tubes (hyphae) of cytoplasm; a different substance making up their cell walls and a host of other biochemical and metabolic oddities. So the taxonomists (the classification guys) finally assigned the fungi a new kingdom: Kingdom Fungi. Is that too logical or what?

Fungi are highly skilled biochemists, able to produce complex digestive enzymes for their food-getting operations—and a variety of organic compounds that will kill you if given the chance—or at least make you wish you were dead, by damaging various internal organs. In fact, I wouldn’t chance eating any of the beautiful specimens in the above photographs. Are their sophisticated chemical laboratories designed for defense, or just a part of the Edenic curse? I plan to ask the Creator when I see Him. And to avoid meeting Him before my assigned time, it’s supermarket mushrooms only for me.

Well, it’s spring now, and things are starting to sprout, bloom, migrate and generally get happy. So maybe I’ll be able to lay off the fungi after this post. But you never can tell. Just as I was writing this, up popped an email from Amazon.com advertising
this new arrival. Will I be able to resist?
Soli Deo Gloria

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Beatrix Potter's Favorite Pets

After scrolling through the photos, I trust you are as much in love with lichens as Beatrix Potter was. What, you didn’t know? You don’t mean the Peter Rabbit lady? Yes, that lady.

Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) grew up loving dogs, her pet rabbits, Benjamin and Peter—and fungi. And she liked painting them. Lichens, especially, fascinated her. In fact, she was one of the first people to suggest that lichens were some sort of symbiotic organisms. But no one believed her because she was a female. No EEOC in Victorian England!

So Bea’s career as a professional lichenologist was over before it began.

Potter version 2.0: writer and illustrator of children’s stories—Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin, et al—earning her a more handsome income than lichens would ever have afforded her.

Nevertheless, Ms. Potter’s early adventures with the crusty symbionts helped awaken science’s interest in one of creation’s most fascinating phenomena—no thanks to Darwin. You see, at the time, any suggestion that nature could involve cooperation, rather than bloody competition and survival of the fittest was, well—anti-Darwinian. Now we know better—than Charlie D., that is.

A lichen is not, after all, a single organism; it’s a marriage of two or even three totally different organisms living as one cooperative household and creating what amounts to a new and identifiable species—in fact thousands of species, depending on the combinations of single organisms involved. The symbiotic cooperation involves the fact that one partner, an alga, is autotrophic—green—photosynthetic—makes food, while the other, a fungus, is heterotrophic—needs an external food source—but is good at soaking up available water and dissolving rocks to get minerals.

The alga-fungus combination, therefore, can live where neither partner could comfortably live separately. As you can see by the photos, that means on rocks and tree trunks—or even on frozen tundra soil. It’s a great arrangement. The biologists are not nearly as cooperative with each other and keep quarreling about words like parasitism, commensalism and mutualism with regard to lichens. Guess what? The lichens couldn’t care less. They just do what lichens do—cooperate to survive.

And survive they do. Their biomass exceeds that of all the life in the oceans, not primarily due to the rather skimpy examples we have in New Jersey, but because of the extensive ground cover they provide in northern climes, like the arctic tundra—good reindeer food and good medicine for natives of the area.

We can learn a lot from the lichens, about cooperation, of course, but also about living on a rock. Not just about the mundane life on the “third rock from the Sun,” but about living on The Rock—The Son.

A little Bible meditation will give you a break from my pitiful prose and offer something of eternal value. (I’ve made it easy by providing a “click-on” version—but real men and women will also want to crack open the paper version to read the verses in their contexts.)

Let’s start with my life verses:
Psalm 40:1-3 (Actually, He waited—and grabbed me when He was ready—I usually don’t wait patiently for anything.) And by the way, salvation is one event in which there is no cooperative effort. God does it all. Man-made religions always want us to think that we can help. Biblical Christianity is the only non-“Hamburger Helper” faith.

And a few more to click on and mull over:
Matthew 7:24; 1 Corinthians 10:4; and most certainly Psalm 18:2;

Finally, as the name of our pioneer lichenologist should remind us, God is the ultimate Potter—we are clay in His hands. And He will mold us into vessels for His ultimate glory and honor—something certainly much more than a crusty patch on an inert boulder.

Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, March 16, 2009

Feeling musty

I opened the carton, peeled away several layers of bubble-wrap and shrink-wrap—and there it was—my copy of Edwin Way Teale’s Circle of the Seasons! What a blast from the past; what a flood of memories; what other clichés will I use to describe the experience? And what is that smell? It’s the smell of a fifty-six year-old book just released from airtight shrink-wrap after a two-week entrapment. Musty!

Musty or not, I was excited to receive this nearly pristine first edition copy of a long lost friend from the past—for six dollars plus shipping! That’s only two bucks more than its original retail price!

All the packaging, aromas and pricing aside, what was so special about receiving this old book? As mentioned in an earlier post,
Edwin Way Teale was the author who, more than almost any other, sparked my interest in nature and nature photography. The brief daily entries and full page, extremely sharp black and white photographs had me going back to the book time after time in appreciation of Teale’s descriptive and photographic skills.

Let’s see if it still sparks. A couple of samples should tell us.

How about the January 9th entry:

THE NOBLE RED MAN. The “Noble Red Man” never was and never is—it is not races but individuals that are noble or courageous or ignoble and craven or considerate or persistent or philosophical or reasonable. The race gets credit when the percentage of noble individuals is high.

Oh, my! I can almost hear the PC police knocking at the door. I don’t think we could get away with that one these days.

Let’s try January 13:

OPTIMISM. Optimism is more likely if we keep our eyes on the average, the general, rather than the exceptions, the individual. The bat caught on burdock burs—this is the exception, the tragic, the unusual event. It is best not to dwell too long on the exceptions. But what if we are exceptions?

Huh? Other than seeming to encourage mediocrity and fear of risk taking, I fail to see much “spark” in this one.

OK, we’ll give him one more chance. Maybe it gets better later in the year. Let’s go for July 22:

BATTLE BY BOUNCE. Two bluejays in the backyard are quarreling over food. As each rushes toward the other, it bounces high in the air. This is a battle by bounce. The birds seem buoyant, as though partly filled with helium.

This one is at least based on a personal observation of nature in action. So I’ll give it a C, or maybe an Incomplete for its lack of detail.

Oh, Eddie, the spark is gone!

To be fair, I chose these examples mainly for their brevity and for their lack of luster. Many of the longer pieces are more descriptive and are fine examples of old fashioned natural history writing. And many of Teale’s other books, such as North with the Spring and Grassroot Jungles, having a more narrative style and without the constraints of the daily snippet format, were better written, as I recall.

Why the disappointment with my renewed acquaintance with my old friend after a half century? In a word (a very long word), it’s Weltanschauung, that is, Worldview. In high school and even in college, when I first read Teale, I frankly didn’t have much of one. All was naturalism and pragmatism—whatever the teachers and professors threw at me and whatever it took to get through. It seemed exciting and useful enough at the time—but no more.

Looking at the world through the Creator’s eyes makes all the difference. Seeing nature for what it is—His creation, wonderfully engineered and intricately crafted—is what makes it sparkle. A naturalistic, evolutionary worldview, because it is dead wrong, kills the spark. And because it doesn’t give credit where all the credit is due, it is inherently idolatrous—worshiping the created, rather than the Creator
(Romans 1:25).

And nature writing without the spark of the biblical Weltanschauung turns out to be pretty musty—no matter how long it’s been out of the shrink-wrap.

Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Last Snow Hike?

Click on the images to enjoy them even snowier

After our recent snowfall, possibly the season’s last, I decided I had better get my boots on and head to some areas of photographic potential if I wanted to get any snowy scenes. After all, it’s March, and spring is nigh.

So on March fourth, I marched forth (sorry) into Campgaw Mountain County Reservation, not far from home, and hiked the lengths of Hemlock and Indian Trails, shutter-snapping as I trudged on already well-trodden paths.

It’s surprising what snow cover does to a landscape, besides the obvious whitening. The pristine blanket both adds and subtracts detail. Gone is the confusion of fallen twigs, branches, leaf litter and smaller scattered glacial boulders. Added are shadows, both stark and subtle, of tree trunks and in the gentle irregularities in the snowy surface. Larger boulders, in other seasons often unnoticed among the clutter, now show off their surface detail of cracks, nicks and scratches, evidence of the rough treatment they received during their glacial journey long ago.

The simplified landscape almost forces us to see those finer details—the great variety of color and texture of the crustose and foliose lichens decorating the boulders; the unmistakable curly bark of the yellow birch; the heavily lenticeled bark of the black birch, sprinkled with tiny brown fungi; a snow-capped log, showing signs both of decay and of its former life; the straight-laced, strictly parallel branch veins of a fallen beech leaf.

But while enjoying all that which is revealed by the snow, we can easily forget that snow itself is one of the most amazing phenomena, indeed one of the most unique substances in all of Creation. The idea that sparkling, intricately patterned hexagonal crystals of frozen water can fall from the sky in enough quantity to cover the earth, sometimes several feet deep, is amazing in itself. But the uniqueness of water as a substance is even more so.

The three-atom water molecule is polar, positive at the hydrogen end, negative at the oxygen end. That allows the molecules to cling to each other and gives water its unique properties—properties that allow life to exist on our planet. Water is harder to heat or cool, harder to freeze, melt or evaporate, than almost any other substance. Instead of continuing to contract as it nears the freezing point, it expands, making it less dense, so that ice floats instead of sinking. (Who wants to skate on the bottom of a pond?) And water can dissolve more substances than almost any other solvent.

Of course, the amazing water molecule is just one of hundreds of design features, both terrestrial and astronomical, that the Creator has put in place and precisely calibrated in order to make Earth a suitable home for life in all its tremendous variety, and especially for those made in His image.

Looking at our surroundings these days, we see a Creation somewhat out of kilter, poorly calibrated, even less than suitable, making life difficult or even miserable. The “very good” original Creation, cursed by the entrance of sin, awaits its redemption.
Snow is an apt example of the mixed messages sent by the good/not-so-good Creation. We love snow for its Currier and Ives Christmas card scenic beauty; we hate it when we have to shovel it or when it impedes our travel. Skiers love the invigorating recreation it provides, but they hate the injuries and even death it can cause.

My short snowy hike, perhaps the last of the season, was all Currier and Ives, with no bumps, bruises or casts to show for it. The resultant photographs certainly can’t match the images produced by those iconic lithographers—but enjoy them anyway, for what they’re worth.
p.s. Currier and Ives also illustrated disasters, like the burning of the Steamboat Lexington, but for obvious reasons, that scene was never used on a Christmas card. But it further supports the point that the very good Creation was horribly wounded by the occurrences recorded in Genesis 3.
Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, March 02, 2009

Bees get a town council meeting buzzing

A while back, I was invited to attend a local town council meeting at which honeybees were to be a topic for discussion. Excuse me? Let me explain.

It seems that a town resident wants to put a couple of hives in her yard as an educational hobby and to produce some honey. And a group of high school students with an ongoing project wants to establish a demonstration hive at their school. Problem: there is a town ordinance against raising honeybees. And the strange thing is that the ordinance lumps the prohibition of beehives with that of raising goats. Go figure. (Sorry, I just couldn’t avoid using that cliché—the situation is just so go-figure-ish).

Before considering the reason for the ordinance, the council heard from a representative of the student group, from the hive-desirous resident and from the state apiarist, all of whom gave eloquent arguments for bee keeping as a hobby and against the ordinance. The apiarist described the habits of honeybees and those of other bee, wasp and hornet species, asserting that honeybees are the safest to have around, as far as the danger from stings is concerned.

Council members asked probing questions and said they would take the matter under consideration, reminding the bee lovers that there are bee haters who are tax-paying citizens as well. And of course the council members pondered over how the ordinance lumped bees with goats. They concluded that it must have been a good idea at the time—a time long before the terms of any of the present members. One member quipped that the whole thing sounded like the plot of a B movie—and that pretty much killed the discussion.

Of course, I learned a lot from attending the session, about bees and apiculture, and about the operation of a suburban town council—and it got me reflecting about all the honeybees and other buzzing hymenopterans that I have annoyed with my camera’s macro lens—without ever being stung.

Today’s photos were taken during the summer of course, when the honeybees and others were busy nectaring the milkweeds and other meadow flowers and pollinating them in the process. Pictured are a honeybee, a carpenter bee (with the black abdomen), which we usually confuse with a bumblebee—and a real yellow bumblebee, which you won’t confuse with anything else, once you’ve seen one, the furry little bugger.

By the way, our domestic honeybee, Apis mellifera, is not native. It is an Old World species, as are all true honeybees. Our species was introduced into the Jamestown Colony in 1622 and has been here ever since. There is so much to know about this very important creature that the best thing I can do is to refer you to good old

Now one more thing, lest we ever forget. The various species and varieties of honeybees may have—in fact, almost certainly did—diversify from a common bee ancestor. That may be called natural selection or microevolution. But that is not the same as saying they evolved by random, unintelligent processes from “lower” forms. The fantastically complex bodies of insects are preeminent examples of intelligent design. A tremendous amount of information is programmed into their miniscule bodies. Precision flight, a brain that can interpret signals from multi-faceted compound eyes, the precise mechanism of master gene-controlled metamorphosis from larva to adult, not to mention hive-building skill and complex social structure—all reflect non-randomness and purposefulness to the nth degree.

Biblically speaking, believing that a honeybee is the product of anything but divine design—or even failing to give the Divine Designer full credit and honor—puts one in a precarious position, as described in
Romans 1:18-25. That position is, of course, under the wrath of God—not a good place to be.

I know, I’ve gotten harsh again, just as in my anti-booze rantings. But truth is truth and we must face it squarely even though it stings. (Ouch—I promised myself I was going to avoid using bee metaphors). Of course we don’t want to stop at the bad news of Romans 1. We must go on to see that the news gets even worse, placing us all under God’s wrath—until we get to the middle of Chapter 3—and then we keep going as the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ unfolds before us—the Good News of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone.

Well, they say that the key to good preaching is to be able to start from anywhere in the Universe and head straight for the Cross. So you will have to forgive me for starting at a small town council meeting and winding up at the Gospel. An elected council may be an effective way to govern a small town, and the honeybee may be a beautiful expression of God’s intelligent design, but the Gospel is the ultimate expression of His unfathomable grace and totally undeserved love for all who believe.
Soli Deo Gloria