Frog Choruses Sing Out a Song of Creation

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BY FAZALE RANA – JUNE 12, 2019

My last name, Rana, is Sanskrit in origin, referring to someone who descends from the Thar Ghar aristocracy. Living in Southern California means I don’t often meet Urdu-speaking people who would appreciate the regal heritage connected to my family name. But I do meet a lot of Spanish speakers. And when I introduce myself, I often see raised eyebrows and smiles.

In Spanish, Rana means frog.

My family has learned to embrace our family’s namesake. In fact, when our kids were little, my wife affectionately referred to our five children as ranitas—little frogs.

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Image: Five Ranitas. Image credit: Shutterstock

Our feelings about these cute and colorful amphibians aside, frogs are remarkable creatures. They engage in some fascinating behaviors. Take courtship, as an example. In many frog species, the males croak to attract the attention of females, with each frog species displaying its own distinct call.

Male frogs croak by filling their vocal sacs with air. This allows them to amplify their croaks for up to a mile away. Oftentimes, male frogs in the same vicinity will all croak together, forming a chorus.

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Image: Male Frog Croaking to Attract a Female. Image credit: Shutterstock

As it turns out, female frogs aren’t the only ones who respond to frog croaks.

A research team from Japan has spent a lot of time listening to and analyzing frog choruses with the hopes of understanding the mathematical structure of the sounds that frogs collectively make when they call out to females. Once they had the mathematical model in hand, the researchers discovered that they could use it to improve the efficiency of wireless data transfer systems.1

This work serves as one more example of scientists and engineers applying insights from biology to drive technology advances and breakthroughs. This approach to technology development (called biomimetics and bioinspiration)—exemplified by the impressive work of the Japanese researchers—has significance that extends beyond engineering. It can be used to make the case that a Creator must have played a role in the design and history of life by marshaling support for two distinct arguments for God’s existence:

Frog Choruses: A Cacophony or a Symphony?

Anyone who has spent time near a pond at night certainly knows the ruckus that an army of male frogs can make when each of them is vying for the attention of females.

All the male frogs living near the pond want to attract females to the same breeding site, but, in doing so, each individual also wants to attract females to his specific territory. Field observations indicate that, instead of engaging in a croaking free-for-all (with neighboring frogs trying to outperform one another), the army of frogs engages in a carefully orchestrated acoustical presentation. As a result, male frogs avoid call overlap with neighboring males on a short timescale, while synchronizing their croaks with the other frogs to produce a chorus on a longer timescale.

The frogs avoid call overlap by alternating between silence and croaking, coordinating with neighboring frogs so that when one frog rests, another croaks. This alternating back-and-forth makes it possible for each individual frog to be heard amid the chorus, and it also results in a symphonic chorus of frog croaks.

The Mathematical Structure of Frog Choruses

To dissect the mathematical structure of frog choruses, the research team placed three male Japanese tree frogs into individual mesh cages that were set along a straight line, with a two-foot separation between each cage. The researchers recorded the frog’s croaks using microphones placed by each cage.

They observed that all three frogs alternated their calls, forming a triphasic synchronization. One frog croaked continuously for a brief period of time and then would rest, while the other two frogs took their turn croaking and resting. The researchers determined that the rest breaks for the frogs were important because of the amount of energy it takes the frogs to produce a call.

All three frogs would synchronize the start and stop of their calls to produce a chorus followed by a period of silence. They discovered that the time between choruses varied quite a bit, without rhyme or reason, and was typically much longer than the chorus time. On the other hand, the croaking of each individual lasted for a predictable time duration that was followed immediately by the croaking of a neighboring frog.

By analyzing the acoustical data, the researchers developed a mathematical model to describe the croaking of individual frogs and the collective behavior of the frogs when they belted out a chorus of calls. Their model consisted of both deterministic and stochastic components.

Use of Frog Choruses for Managing Data Traffic

The researchers realized that the mathematical model they developed could be applied to control wireless sensor networks, such as those that make up the internet of things. These networks entail an array of sensor nodes that transmit data packets, delivering them to a gateway node by multi-hop communication, with data packets transmitted from sensor to sensor until it reaches the gate. During transmission, it is critical for the system to avoid the collision of data packets. It is also critical to regulate the overall energy consumption of the system, to avoid wasting valuable energy resources.

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Image: The Internet of Things Made Up of Wireless Sensors. Image credit: Shutterstock

Through simulation studies, the Japanese team demonstrated that the mathematical model inspired by frog choruses averted the collision of data packets in a wireless sensor array, maximized network connectivity, and enhanced efficiency of the array by minimizing power consumption. The researchers conclude, “This study highlights the unique dynamics of frog choruses over multiple time scales and also provides a novel bio-inspired technology.”2

As important as this work may be for inspiring new technologies, as a Christian, I find its real significance in the theological arena.

Frog Choruses and the Argument from Beauty

The grandeur of nature touches the very core of who we are—if we take the time to let it. But, as the work by the Japanese researchers demonstrates, the grandeur we see all around us in nature isn’t confined to what we perceive with our immediate senses. It exists in the underlying mathematical structure of nature. It is nothing short of amazing to think that such exquisite organization and orchestration characterizes frog choruses, so much so that it can inspire sophisticated data management techniques.

From my vantage point, the beauty and mathematical elegance of nature points to the reality of a Creator.

If God created the universe, then it is reasonable to expect it to be a beautiful universe, one that displays an even deeper underlying beauty in the mathematical structure that defines the universe itself and phenomena within the universe. Yet if the universe came into existence through mechanism alone, there isn’t any real reason to think it would display beauty. In other words, the beauty in the world around us signifies the divine.

Furthermore, if the universe originated through uncaused physical mechanisms, there is no reason to think that humans would possess an appreciation for beauty.

A quick survey of the scientific and popular literature highlights the challenge that the origin of our aesthetic sense creates for the evolutionary paradigm.3 Plainly put: evolutionary biologists have no real explanation for the origin of our aesthetic sense. To be clear, evolutionary biologists have posited explanations to account for the genesis of our capacity to appreciate beauty. But after examining these ideas, we walk away with the strong sense that they are not much more than “just-so stories,” lacking any real evidential support.

On the other hand, if human beings are made in God’s image, as Scripture teaches, we should be able to discern and appreciate the universe’s beauty, made by our Creator to reveal his glory and majesty.

Frog Choruses and the Converse Watchmaker Argument

The idea that biological designs—such as the courting behavior of male frogs—can inspire engineering and technology advances is also highly provocative for other reasons. First, it highlights just how remarkable and elegant the designs found throughout the living realm actually are.

I think that the elegance of these designs points to a Creator’s handiwork. It also makes possible a new argument for God’s existence—one I have named the converse Watchmaker argument. (For a detailed discussion, see my essay titled “The Inspirational Design of DNA” in the book Building Bridges.)

The argument can be stated like this:

  • If biological designs are the work of a Creator, then these systems should be so well-designed that they can serve as engineering models for inspiring the development of new technologies.
  • Indeed, this scenario plays out in the engineering discipline of biomimetics.
  • Therefore, it becomes reasonable to think that biological designs are the work of a Creator.

In fact, I will go one step further. Biomimetics and bioinspiration logically arise out of a creation model approach to biology. That designs in nature can be used to inspire engineering makes sense only if these designs arose from an intelligent Mind.

In fact, I will go one step further. Biomimetics and bioinspiration logically arise out of a creation model approach to biology. That designs in nature can be used to inspire engineering makes sense only if these designs arose from an intelligent Mind. The mathematical structure of frog choruses is yet another example of such bioinspiration.

Frogs really are amazing—and regal—creatures. Listening to a frog chorus can connect us to the beauty of the world around us. And it will one day help all of our electronic devices to connect together. And that’s certainly something to sing about.

Resources

Endnotes
  1. Ikkyu Aihara et al., “Mathematical Modelling and Application of Frog Choruses As an Autonomous Distributed Communication System,” Royal Society Open Science 6, no. 1 (January 2, 2019): 181117, doi:10.1098/rsos.181117.
  2. Aihara et al., “Mathematical Modelling and Application.”
  3. For example, see Ferris Jabr, “How Beauty is Making Scientists Rethink Evolution,” The New York Times Magazine, January 9, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/09/magazine/beauty-evolution-animal.html.

Reprinted with permission by the author
Original article at:
https://www.reasons.org/explore/blogs/the-cells-design/read/the-cells-design/2019/06/12/frog-choruses-sing-out-a-song-of-creation

No Time for God to Exist

stevenhawking“We have finally found something that doesn’t have a cause, because
there was no time for a cause to exist in. For me this means that there
is no possibility of a creator, because there is no time for a creator to
have existed in.” ~Steven Hawking

I read a science news article the other day wherein the late astrophysicist, Stephen Hawking, was giving some finalized theories regarding our universe and a creator in his farewell book, “Brief Answers to Big Questions,”. I used to just automatically equate Hawking with the same level of genius as Einstein because folks said he was, so I was supposed to as well; but I dropped that potato real fast when one of his last opines smashed head on into an asteroid at 186,000 miles per second.

In his last days, one of the final issues he addressed was the existence of God. He stated in reference to our universe’s beginning, “We have finally found something that doesn’t have a cause, because there was no time for a cause to exist in. For me this means that there is no possibility of a creator, because there is no time for a creator to have existed in.”

You don’t have to believe in God to perceive that there is something really wonky with that simplified conclusion. Even Einstein held to a pantheistic concept of an impersonal Creative entity. Hawking is stating with all confidence, that God cannot exist because before the Big Bang there was no linear time in which anything could be the cause of anything, therefore, neither could there be an ultimate conciseness to choose to cause something. Zing! What the hey kind of brilliance was that? He certainly wasn’t thinking through all the possibilities when he blurted that one over his synthesizer.

He addressed the God issue with a near idiotic assumption that the universe and specifically linear time had to have God within its boundaries, or perhaps more to the point, a time out of time, in order to exist, rather than a God from a timeless higher dimension outside the creation event, or the sudden explosion of everything from nothing, referred to as the Big Bang.

Why that’s like saying, “I just made you pancakes for breakfast, but unfortunately I didn’t exist because I wasn’t part of the pancakes, so there aren’t any pancakes. So why don’t you go back to bed, and then come back out here after awhile, and see if any pancakes show up. You never know, I might suddenly exist inside the Bisquick box, and then, there they’ll be… all nice and fluffy with butter and syrup on them!”

The whole concept there StephenO, is that an extremely powerful Entity chooses to create a dimension of both physical matter and continuously expanding movement of said matter, including those speedy little photons which is what we like to measure the speed thereof and refer to the results as time. The Entity itself is not a part of Its newly created dimension, any more than you are a part of your scooter, which will probably be enshrined in a prominent place at The Cambridge University now.

Time is an intrinsic prisoner of our expanding universe and is not a requirement nor probability outside of it, regardless of what alternate realities lie beyond its expanse. I cannot help but chortle a bit at Hawking’s final conclusion on the subject, because the one thing he was right on, is that God really cannot be a part of time, which is merely an attribute of the physical universe He made to begin with, so what was he putting in his tea everyday pray tell, that would give him cause to believe that a creator necessarily has to have this attribute of His creation in order to exist, when he made such an utterance?

As a young man he was known to have believed in a creator, but perhaps one reason for the eventual overtly atheistic view, could be that he became set against a perceived mean God for a lifetime of imprisonment in a non-responsive body, which would be understandable; however that angle is purely speculation on my part. Actually, that’s not true. My wife suggested it to me.

At any rate, I would have thought that he would have been more of an outside the box, thinking bigger kind of guy, but I guess his logic got sucked into a black hole in the end. Well, that was kind of a dismal end theory to wrap up with, and I believe I’ll adhere to a much grander and more creative hypothesis myself.

Douglas L. Duncan


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God Whistles While He works

Before getting into the whistling part, firstly I want to say that the Bible clearly reveals that God especially enjoys music, and this is fundamental to the crux of my story here. It should also be a given that even less than joyous lyrical music will still have interest for God, because both the mood set by the instrumentation, and the words being sung aloud can have the unique ability to reveal that man is sometimes voicing his trials, suffering, and cries for help directly to Him in powerful melodic form, and by so doing, is confessing aloud that he is in a seemingly hopeless situation that is beyond his ability to conquer alone.

So while many songs are certainly joyful, giving God pleasure, it is likely the songs of distress and hopelessness that are more apt to move God to have compassion and tell Him that the situation is desperate enough to put to music and sing with as much fervor as any intense prayer. In fact, music is prayer.

Any form of music sent up sincerely and purposely to God, will surely be listened to, for this is the most expressive type of language there is, and He is the author of it; and being the author of such a method of expressive and colorful communication, is what has led me to the rest of my story.


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I’m now self-convinced that God does not work in total silence. He has a voice because we hear Him speaking throughout the Old Testament, and often quite loudly. Here then, is the story from my own surrealist mind about a Divine Creator who occasionally gets a little noisy when He’s busying about.

I got to thinking one day about God’s creative propensity, His surroundings and what He might have been doing long before He had created the angels. I’m still not sure why my mind went in that direction just then, but I do know I’ve never lost my intense childhood inquisitiveness, nor do I ever plan on losing it. At any rate, here I am alone, sitting out on the porch in the morning, gazing out across the tops of the trees while rocking back and forth with my fingers tapping out a rhythm on the arm of the rocker, and diving deeper and deeper into my thoughts, “Hmm, just what might He have actually been doing some of the time before the company of  angels came about I wonder?” I knew He was called the Alpha and always was, but the angels weren’t because they were first conceived in His mind, then created, so surely there had to have been an unknown interval of time when God was thinking and doing other things.”

“Wait a minute. This isn’t precisely what I want to know!” A rundown of the things He might be doing is all very intriguing, but really, it’s pretty much a given that He was undoubtedly forever doing a myriad of things involving masterly conception and creation, but since there are no records of what those things were, it’s a moot point. What I really want to know is just some aspect of how a perfect mind might focus and proceed with the task at hand, kind of like watching and learning a man’s daily routine from breakfast to bedtime sort of thing, and that just might be something that can very well be deduced using the Old Testament.

Granted the whole rocking chair musing exercise was little more than a Sherlock Holmes style deductive reasoning game based on a bit of Biblical reference with a huge bit of pure conjecture, and doubtless, way out there in left field, but that’s often how I relax, have fun and get my mind off of depressing things… like living in one room. Other people mow their lawns to do that, but not me. I have to be comfortably loafing. Besides, I don’t have a lawn anymore, and it’s no less constructive than making up jokes and one-liners for a book. Well, except for the royalties the book can return if anybody buys the thing.

So I began thinking all over again, but this time with the specific desire to envision God out in the field, putting in His next seven-day creation project. How does He carrying Himself about? In that same cloud that hovered over the tabernacle tent for forty years in the wilderness? How does He start His morning? Does He sit, stand or both when He works or does He continuously move about?

Then a really intriguing thought suddenly entered my mind. Does He talk to Himself or make other kinds of vocalizations when He has an epiphany or asks Himself whether there’s a better way of doing the thing He’s making? Yes, that’s it! That’s the question! What a concept! Does He talk, shout, laugh and even sing to Himself all the time? If He does, then I’ve stumbled onto an aspect of God I can really relate to.

I talk things out and sing to myself constantly when I’m alone. So if I’m made in God’s image, why wouldn’t He talk and sing to Himself as well? I always find that talking to another me, gets the bugs out of the project sooner and with much greater clarity. Talking to one’s self is a constructive thing. Having a mental handicap that causes strange verbalizing is not, and people who make fun of you for talking to yourself, need to learn the difference.

Now the obvious was entering my mind and all the lights came on. “Wait a second. God made the decision to populate heaven with angels for intelligent company and to be recognized as being their creator.” He thought out their makeup and endowed them with the specific talents and skills of His choosing. And what do we know from the Bible, to be one of the greatest talents that angels do so well, that would have made Him want to create them precisely the way He did? They sing! They started singing from the time they were created and they haven’t stopped since. Their singing is the most beautiful sound in existence. It’s the Heavenly Choir!

Within sixty minutes after stepping out onto the porch that morning, my rocking chair crossed the finish line. The Creator of music had always been making some sort of melodic compositions, either as a concept in His mind, or more likely, manifested as real audible music emanating from the very same voice that spoke to Moses and the prophets. And if God is singing with His own voice, then the strong probability is that like us, when we’re busy working, we drop back from singing to less focused humming and whistling mode.

There it was. A uniquely physical attribute that God undoubtedly has, that I as a music lover could relate to and have a daily pick-me-up affinity with right here on this temporal plane. Whether its accurate or not doesn’t matter. It falls into the realm of probability, and I can take that worked out rocking chair exercise and hold on to it as a calming thought just for me, on the same level as a memorable sunset by the ocean or that little wooden cross around your neck. Admittedly there is no other use for such thinking as this was, but imagination has always been useful to me as it gives me nearly as much pleasure in this life as music.

What I’ve done with this Sherlock deduction as a way to remind me that God loves music enough to be apt to hum or whistle sometimes, is turn it into a fun greeting whenever I meet someone new, so they always get an introduction of, “Hi there… Nice to meet you. My name is Doug, and I know something about God that you don’t”. And when they ask, “What?”, I reply, “He whistles while He works!” People always smile and laugh, but then God does that too… while He whistles of course. That’s my final word on the subject, and I’m sticking with it to the end.

Douglas L. Duncan


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“Silenced” B Cells Loudly Proclaim the Case for a Creator

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BY FAZALE RANA – AUGUST 1, 2018

When I was an undergraduate student studying chemistry and biology, I hated the course work I did in immunology. The immune system is fascinating, to be certain. And, as a student, I marveled at how our body defends itself from invading microorganisms. But, I hated trying to keep track of the bewildering number of the cells that comprise the immune system.

But my efforts to learn about these cells has finally paid off. It allows me to appreciate the recently discovered insights into the role “silenced” B cells play in the immune system. Not only do these insights have important biomedical implications, but, in my view, they also add to the mounting evidence for creation and further validate a creation model approach to biology.

First discovered thirty years ago, these cells were initially deemed nonfunctional junk produced by a flawed immune system. And this view has persisted for three decades.Immunologists viewed silenced B cells as harmful. Presumably, these cells impair immune system function by cluttering up immune tissues. Or worse, they considered these cells to be potentially deadly, contributing to autoimmune disorders. Yet, immunologists are changing their view of’silenced B cells, thanks to the efforts of researchers from Australia.1

A Brief (and Incomplete) Primer on Immunology

To understand the newly discovered role silenced B cells play in the immune system, a brief primer on immunology is in order.

It goes without saying that the immune system’s job is to protect the body from pathogens. To do this, it must recognize pathogens as foreign materials. To put it another way, it must distinguish self from nonself. (Autoimmune disorders result when the immune system mistakes the body’s own tissues as foreign materials, and then attacks itself.)

An incredibly complex biological system, the immune system contains one component called the humoral immune system. This part of the immune system relies on proteins, such as antibodies, circulating in extracellular fluids to mediate the body’s immune response.

Plasma cells secrete antibodies into the circulatory system. Antibodies then bind to the invading pathogen, decorating its surface. The antibodies serve as a beacon that attracts certain immune cells, such as macrophages and killer cells, that will engulf the pathogen, clearing it from the body.

Plasma cells originate in bone marrow as B cells (also known as B lymphocytes). B cells develop from hematopoietic stem cells. As they develop, genes in the developing B cell genome that encode for antibodies (and receptor proteins) undergo rearrangements (just like shuffling a deck of cards). These rearrangements generate genes that encode an ensemble of receptor proteins that reside on the B cell surface, with each receptor protein (and corresponding antibody) recognizing and binding a specific pathogen. Collectively, these cell surface receptors (and antibodies) can detect a large and varied number of foreign agents.

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Image credit: Shutterstock

After developing in the bone marrow, B cells migrate to either the spleen or lymph nodes. Here, the B cells are exposed to the flow of lymph, the fluid that moves through the lymphatic circulatory system. If pathogens have invaded the body, they will encounter B cells in lymph tissue. If a B cell has a receptor that recognizes that particular pathogen, it will bind it. This binding event will trigger the transformation of the B cell. Once activated by the binding event, the B cell migrates into a region of the lymph tissue called the germinal center. Here the B cells undergo clonal expansion, rapidly proliferating into plasma cells and memory B cells. The plasma cells produce antibodies that help identify the pathogen as a foreign invader. The memory B cells hang around in the immune tissue so the immune system can rapidly respond to that pathogen if it invades the body in the future.

A Flaw in the Immune System?

During the B cell maturation process in the bone marrow, about 50 percent of the nascent B cells produce cell surface receptors that bind to materials in the body, instead of pathogens. That is, these B cells can’t discriminate self from nonself. This outcome is a by-product of the random-shuffling mechanism that generates protein receptor diversity. The random shuffling of the genes is equally likely to produce receptors that bind to materials in the body as it is pathogens. But when this misidentification happens, an elaborate quality control system kicks in, either eliminating the faulty B cells or reworking them so that they can be a functioning part of the immune system. This reworking process involves additional gene shuffling with the hope of generating cell receptors that recognize foreign materials.

However, a few of the faulty B cells escape destruction and avoid having their genes reshuffled. In this case, the immune system silences these cells (called anergic cells), but they still hang around in immune tissue, clogging things up. It seemingly gets worse: if these cells become activated they can cause an autoimmune reaction—just the type of sloppy design evolutionary mechanisms would produce. Or is it?

A Critical Role for Silenced B Cells

Recent work by the research team from Australia provides a rationale for the persistence of silenced anergic B cells in the immune system. These cells play a role in combating pathogens such as HIV and campylobacter, which cloak themselves from the immune system by masquerading as part of our body. While these pathogens escape detection by most of the components of our immune system, they can be detected by silenced B cells with receptors that recognize self as nonself.

The silenced B cells are redeemed by the immune system in the germinal center through a process called receptor revision. Here the genes that encode the receptors experience hypermutation, altering their receptors to the extent that they now can recognize foreign materials. But the capacity of the receptors to recognize self serves the immune system well when infectious agents such as HIV or campylobacter invade.

The researchers who made the discovery think that this insight might one day help pathologists do a better job treating autoimmune disorders. They also hope it might lead to a vaccine for HIV.

A Remarkable Turnaround

In a piece for Science Alert, journalist Peter Dockrill summarizes the significance of the discovery: “It’s a remarkable turnaround for a class of immune cells long mistaken for dangerous junk—and one which shows there’s still so much we have to learn about what the immune system can do for us, and how its less than perfectly obvious mechanisms might be leveraged to do us good.”2

The surprise expressed by Dockrill reflects the influence of the evolutionary paradigm and the view that biological systems must be imperfect because of the nature of evolutionary mechanisms. And yet this discovery (along with others discussed in the articles listed in the Resources section) raises questions for me about the validity of the evolutionary paradigm. And it raises questions about the usefulness of this paradigm, as well. Viewing silenced B cell as the flawed outcome of evolutionary processes has stood in the way of discovering their functional importance, delaying work that “might be leveraged to do us good.”

The more we learn about biological systems, the more evident it becomes: Instead of being flawed, biological designs display an ingenuity and a deep rationale for the way they are—as would be expected if they were the handiwork of a Creator.

Resources

Endnotes

  1. Deborah L. Burnett et al., “Germinal Center Antibody Maturation Trajectories Are Determined by Rapid Self/Foreign Discrimination,” Science 360 (April 13, 2018): 223–26, doi: 10.1126/science.aa03859; Ervin E. Kara and Michel C.Nussenzweig, “Redemption for Self-Reactive Antibodies,” Science 360 (April 13, 2018): 152–53, doi:10.1126/science.aat5758.
  2. Peter Dockrill, “Immune Cells We Thought Were ‘Useless’ Are Actually a Weapon Against Infections Like HIV,” Science Alert (April 16, 2018), https://www.sciencealert.com/new-discovery-bad-immune-cells-actually-secret-weapon-against-infection-b-silenced-redemption-lymphocytes.
Reprinted with permission by the author
Original article at:
https://www.reasons.org/explore/blogs/the-cells-design/read/the-cells-design/2018/08/01/silenced-b-cells-loudly-proclaim-the-case-for-a-creator