TESTING: Lab Rats, Guinea Pigs, and Nuclear Bombs!
Dr. James J. S. Johnson
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you. But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. . . .
Therefore, let them who suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls [ψυχας] unto Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator. (1st Peter 4:12-13 & 4:19)
It’s not just rodents (like rats and guinea pigs) that are tested in laboratories, humans are tested daily, sometimes in exotic contexts (like atomic bomb explosions), yet more often in more prosaic “ordinary” contexts. And, as Peter warns us in his first epistle (quoted above), we can all expect “fiery trials” in life, but there is a valuable purpose for those trying times of testing.
What are “lab rats”?
Whenever rats are used for scientific experiments, in laboratories (or elsewhere) they are nicknamed “lab rats” – with some serving as the “control” group, to be compared with the “experimental” group who are subjected so some kind of experimental event or condition (similar to the controlled experiment devised by the prophet Daniel, in Babylon – see Daniel chapter 1).
Traditionally the rat most often employed, for such experiments, has been the albino variety of Norway Rat (Rattus norvegicus), a/k/a the “Brown Rat”, which -strangely enough — played a role in ending the “Black Death” Plague which wreaked havoc (due to the Black Rat’s role as the plague’s transmitter) during the late Dark Ages and again during the early Reformation era.(1)
Of course, mice (which are similar to rats, both physically and behaviorally, in many ways) are also used as laboratory experiment animals.
What are “guinea pigs”? The name is misleading—they are not pigs; they did not originate from Guinea.
Like rats and mice and voles, the “guinea pig” is a (relatively) small rodent, not at all belonging to the swine family (just as a “hot dog” is a food hopefully having no canine ingredients!). Larger than mice, rats, or voles, the guinea pigs of today often weigh between 1½ and 2½ pounds (i.e., between 700 and 1200 grams), but otherwise resemble a plump furry rat. These rodents, in the wild, thrive in grassland habitats, such as the pampas of South America.
They are not known (so far) as burrow-builders, yet they have been observed to “borrow” the burrows built by other animals, or to take shelter in rock crevices that may be conveniently available.
Unlike small mammal stockpilers—such as the “haypile”-hoarding pika, who accumulate vegetation for winter food needs—guinea pigs acquire and eat grass (and other plant material) like hunter-gatherers, migrating (in “herds”) to find available food, in reaction to changing environmental conditions. For many, however, they are just cute little pets!
Guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus) pets in Peru. Used often for laboratory test experiments since the AD1800s.
Nowadays, this rodent–also called a “cavy” (or “domestic guinea pig”)—usually grows no bigger than a rabbit, but in earlier times much larger versions once lived and died (and became fossilized).(2)
In technical literature these rodents are usually called cavies, but in slang they are routinely known as “guinea pigs”, often serving as pets or as experiment subjects.
One of the first serious studies of the guinea pig was done by Dr. Konrad Gessner, a Swiss young-earth creationist who provided an enormous foundation for the intertwined sciences of creation ecology and creation biology (and their sub-disciplines, creation zoölogy and creation botany), back in the mid-AD1500s (describing the guinea pig in AD1554).(3)
Dr. Gessner was the first bioscientist to document comprehensive observations of both the Guinea Pig and the Brown Rat (mentioned above).
Nuclear Bomb Testing
What was it like to monitor an atomic bomb, as it was tested?
Consider this eye-witness report from a scientist-monitor, by Captain James Chamblee Meredith, published by the National Association of Atomic Veterans.
As a Commissioned Officer of the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS), I was assigned to the 1957 Atomic Tests in Nevada, designated “Plumbbob”, to provide off-site monitoring along with about 50 other PHS officers, one civil service scientist, and two U.S. Army veterinarians. The last surface atomic test in the United States took place in 1962. The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed in 1963, and since then many nations have tested their nuclear weapons underground. Unfortunately, some nations have exploded them above the surface.
After each atomic explosion, about 15 other PHS officers, the civil service scientist and I were assigned to drive under the nuclear cloud as it moved eastward to test for radioactive fallout. The remaining officers were stationed in strategic communities in Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and California to provide continuous monitoring of [nuclear] radiations and to keep the local citizens informed of atomic explosions and related activities. The two Army veterinarians observed animals in the four-state area potentially affected by the atomic tests. So that we would blend in with the public, none of us were in uniform.(4)
What was then called the Atomic Energy Commission oversaw the monitoring.(5)
The Atomic Test Site was located 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Except for those stationed in surrounding areas, all of the personnel involved in the tests were stationed at Camp Mercury. We lived in small trailers with two sets of bunk beds.
We could look out our window and see an Army encampment across the dry gulch where U.S. Army soldiers suffered in the heat living in pup tents. The soldiers were there to take their places in trenches along with U.S. Marines about a mile or two from “ground zero”. This was later determined to be a bad decision to use humans as “guinea pigs” in the test. The Department of Veteran Affairs has treated veterans of those tests for many years.
On days when an atomic shot was scheduled for the following morning, we would check the tower in the center of the camp at 6:00 p.m. to see whether the light was green [for “go”] or red [for “no go”]. If the light was red, we would head into Las Vegas to see live entertainment . . . . If the light was green at 6:00 p.m., we would eat supper and relax until 11:00 p.m. and check the tower again. If the light was red, we would sleep through the night. If the light was green, we would go to bed and get up at 1:00 p.m. [at night] and eat breakfast in the dining hall.
From the dining hall, we would load up into vans to go to the test site to be in place by 4:00 a.m. (Before the test series was started we had been given a tour in closed vehicles around the craters form earlier atomic tests. The craters appeared similar to a volcano crater, except that they were not black with lava but white with fused sand. The craters were about a half-mile in diameter and were ringed by structures made from different materials to determine how they stood up under [atomic] explosions.) When we arrived at the test site before the atomic shot, it would be completely dark. Most of the bombs were detonated about one minute before daybreak to allow testing for radiation without any sunlight. Sunlight consists of many of the same types of radiation as an atomic explosion—visible light, infrared light, ultraviolet light, etc., and they wanted to observe the initial explosion without sunlight. We would be standing in a bunker, which was essentially a mound of sand about 15 feet high and about a mile long, located about ten miles from ground zero. Our only protective clothing was a pair of dark goggles. An atomic blast is about 100 times brighter than the sun, so we could look directly into the sun with those goggles and it would appear only as a bright disc.
A voice would come over a loud speaker at intervals giving us warning of the approaching time for the explosion. Finally, the count-down would begin – ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, zero. Immediately there was a bright flash that was all that my eyes could bear even through the dark goggles. Within a couple of seconds, a bright white ball formed and expanded very quickly at ground zero and then started to rise quickly. At the point the sun would rise suddenly as it always does in the desert, and it appeared that the explosion had lit up the world.(4)
After the initial bright flash, we were allowed to remove our goggles. The white ball would expand rapidly and start turning bright yellow as it rose. The color turned quickly to orange and then to a fiery red as the ball arose. Finally as the cloud took the form of a gigantic mushroom, the whole column would turn white and keep expanding upward. The next sight seen at every test was a silver airplane circling the cloud and reflecting both the sunlight and the brightness of the cloud and then flying into the cloud.
Years late, I saw the pilot of that plane on television, and he said that it was a bumpy ride. After about a half hour, the cloud would begin drifting east. We would then go back to the camp and get into vehicles to start driving out across the desert to test for radioactive fallout. There would be two men per car or truck tracking the cloud, and we would stop periodically to check for different forms of radioactivity—gamma rays, beta particles and alpha particles—and call in our results to our headquarters by radio. We used something like what the public knows as Geiger Counters that used removable shields to block out all but one type of radiation at a time.
One time we made the mistake of calling in form a point on the side of the road in the barren desert when it was about 110 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, except there was no shade. Commander Carter, assistant director of our mission said over the radio to stay there and call in readings every fifteen minutes. We were there about three hours in the dry heat, and I became dehydrated and developed a severe headache. When we finally got to a populated oasis, my partner went swimming in a public swimming pool surrounded by palm trees, while I lay on a bench and suffered. I got over it after drinking a lot of water and having a good night’s sleep. We would sometimes be gone for two or three days on these cloud-tracking trips.
In the meantime, our headquarters was plotting the radioactivity readings on maps as we called in.
One time, a bomb on a tower did not go off and Commander Carter picked me as the subject of a practical joke. When I got back to our headquarters, he said in front of the team, “Cham, we got a call from Control Central and they want a Public Health Service Officer to go up the tower with the technician and see why the bomb did not go off. You have been selected.” For a moment, I believed him and I know that I must have turned white. We all had a laugh.(5)
The Testing of Christ
But the testing of atomic bombs is insignificant compared to the stranger-than-fiction testing of the Lord Jesus Christ, God incarnate. And as He perfectly passed every such test the Lord Jesus gave us the formula for conquering any temptation—reverential dependence upon God and His will for our lives, as that is revealed by specific (and situation-relevant) Scriptures, applied to our attitudes and actions.
For every temptation Christ identified the relevant Scripture that solved that specific temptation/problem—and He applied it to that immediate situation. What a role-model for us!
Here-and-now Testing, for Rewards Hereafter
Some tests are exotic, like atomic bomb blasts, yet most of the tests we are familiar with are more of the “everyday” nature.
Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations, that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. (1st Peter 1:6-7)
The testing of our faith, by the distracting temptations and challenging circumstances of daily living, is to be expected—it is part of God’s providential plan for our earthly lives.(7)
But it is for a good reason—a very valuable reason: God’s glory in Christ, to be displayed in and through our earthly lives. And this is cause for joy!
And, as we suffering afflictions in life—and other painful forms of testing—we can take comfort in knowing something that Job did not originally know (because he could not then read the Old Testament book that bears his name): God is faithful and providentially caring (1st Corinthians 10:13), so He will make a way for our souls to succeed.
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(1) See, accord, James J. S. Johnson, “Thank God for Norwegian Rats!”, Syttende Mai Lecture Series (Norwegian Society of Texas, Arlington, Texas, May 14, AD2016), page 15 of 21, at Footnote 15. Ironically, the behavior of Black Rats (Rattus rattus) in the wild, transmitting the (Black Death) Plague of Yersinia pestis, has been used as God’s instrumentality for teaching humans — and for testing them regarding theological truth! See 1st Samuel chapters 4—6, analyzed in James J. S. Johnson, “Evolutionary Naturalism vs. Biblical Providence” [Did Norwegian Rats Shut Down the Black Death?], Acts & Facts, 45(4):21 (April 2016), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/evolutionary-naturalism-vs-biblical/ .
(2) Brian Thomas, “One-Ton Guinea Pig”, Acts & Facts, 44(4):13 (April 2015), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/one-ton-guinea-pig/ .
(3) Dr. Gessner was a true Reformation scholar (in fact, a close friend of Heinrich Bullinger, one of the Reformation’s most influential Reformers) – complementing his medical practice and scientific research with professional service as Greek professor in Lausanne, before moving on to Zürich to serve as lecturer in physics, as well as pioneering the infant science of paleontology. See William A. Hoesch, “False Political Correctness in the Sixteenth Century”, Acts & Facts, volume 36 (January 2007 issue) (spelling his name as “Conrad Gesner”), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/fossil-political-correctness-sixteenth-century .
(4) Capt. James Chamblee Meredith, “Atomic Explosions Remembered”, NAAV News (Members’ Publication of the National Association of Atomic Veterans, first Quarter 2016), pages 6-7.
(5) Historical note: The Atomic Energy Commission was discontinued as a stand-alone agency (of the federal government), pursuant to The Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, via transferring its regulatory activities to the new Nuclear Regulatory Commission, leaving its nuclear energy promotion activities to the Energy Research & Development Administration that was later absorbed by the U.S. Department of Energy.
(6) The typical explosion, of such nuclear bombs, was the equivalent of 10,000 to 20,000 tons of TNT. See Meredith, “Atomic Explosions Remembered”, NAAV News (first Quarter, 2016) page 8.
(7) Of course, God tests us (and judges us) on what we know (and should know), at a given point in time, based on our opportunities (then) to have acquired relevant information about what it true. This is true for groups, such as government-directed groups who test nuclear blasts: what did they then (during the Cold War) know? — and what were the foreseeable risks, then, that they needed to be defensively prepared for? And, this is also true for the testing of individuals. See, accord, James J. S. Johnson, “God’s Timing Makes Sense of Adversity”, Acts & Facts, 45(2):21 (February 2016), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/9143/ — and James J. S. Johnson, “The Truth Test”, Acts & Facts, 43(1):22 (January 2014), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/truth-test/ . So we are tested in time — thankfully, because God has given us the Holy Bible (Jude 1:3-4; 2nd Peter 1:18-21; 2nd Timothy 3:15-17), our daily lives are “open Book exams”.