Consider the Evidence from Plant Life
PLANT life is the earth’s greatest “factory,” producing, according to one conservative estimate, 150 billion tons of carbohydrates (sugars) annually. This is more than 200 times the world’s production of steel and cement. Plants constitute the food source for every animal and human on the face of the earth—a most bountiful provision. Along with the sugar that gives energy, plants also supply vitamins, minerals, medicines and bulk raw material for clothing, building, papermaking, dyes, paints and an almost innumerable host of other things beneficial to man.
We should be very glad that plant life in its myriad varieties appeared on the earth ahead of mankind, for it is essential to all animal and human life. The Bible describes vegetation as coming into existence prior to animals and depicts the Creator as indicating that he had a design in bringing forth vegetation first when he said to the first man and woman: “Here I have given to you all vegetation bearing seed which is on the surface of the whole earth and every tree on which there is the fruit of a tree bearing seed. To you let it serve as food. And to every wild beast of the earth and to every flying creature of the heavens and to everything moving upon the earth in which there is life as a soul I have given all green vegetation for food.”—Gen. 1:29, 30.
The Role of Photosynthesis
Plant life includes the vegetable phytoplankton of the sea, basic to sustaining fish and other marine creatures. Vegetation, from grasses to trees, is the foundation of the “food chain” on the land. This is because no animal can manufacture its own food. But plants do this work. By the complex process of photosynthesis, not yet fully understood or duplicated by man, plants convert carbon dioxide, water and sunlight energy into carbohydrates and oxygen. Absorbing sun energy, the plant also utilizes minerals from the soil to make fat, protein, starch, vitamins and other products that provide foodstuffs for animal life. Animals and humans breathe oxygen that “fuels” the conversion of the carbohydrates to produce water and chemical energy, by which the other plant products are assimilated into their bodies.
Propagation of Plant Life
For plants to serve their indispensable purpose as the foundation of all animal life, they, or their fruit, must be eaten. Accordingly, plants must have a means of propagation in order to continue as a food source. They must die, decay and be renewed, reproducing their kind regularly and indefinitely. Do we find design in this arrangement? If so, it cannot be mere coincidence.
Consider the methods of propagation that vegetation employs. Plants usually produce seed prolifically. This is essential, for tons of seeds are eaten as food by insects, birds, other creatures, and by humans. Now, if only one seed, or a few, would be produced by a plant, such would be eaten and that species of plant would disappear. Also, seeds fall on many sorts of terrain and some never germinate. Unfavorable weather, fungus and other factors may prevent many seeds from sprouting. For this reason there must be liberal seed production. Therefore, it is not, as some have said, that “nature is very wasteful.” Rather, it is prolific, and there appears to be design in this liberality. It is necessary that plants produce hundreds, even thousands, of seeds. Some trees yield millions of seeds per acre. Certainly we cannot say that such prodigious seed production does not serve a purpose. And does not purpose require design?
The seeds that are produced must also have strong germinating power, for some may have to survive months of winter, droughts or long periods of unfavorable conditions. Most seeds have remarkable germinating power, as much as 90-percent viability. A seed may be completely dry, its life being suspended. But in its inert condition it can withstand extremes of temperature, in many cases far below freezing, or almost as high as the boiling point of water (though not in water). Even after a lapse of years, seeds will come to life when placed in water or in moist soil. An Indian lotus sprouted and flowered after a dormancy in the seed state for 2,000 years, and cuttings and seeds from it have been sent to botanical institutions throughout the world.
Certainly we cannot say that plants realize the need for continuity of their species. What a monstrous coincidence—if it is a coincidence—that all the plants possess this provision! Could “blind,” haphazard forces give such uniform direction for the benefit of all life on earth?
When we look into plant germination or reproduction, we find other complexities, without which the seed could never grow. One of these is the fact that seeds are provided with their own initial supply of food. Each seed contains carbohydrates and other substances that enable the germinating seed to survive long enough to grow roots and leaves so that it can reach maturity in the normal way.
Then there is a great variety of forms of propagation, so that each plant species manages to keep alive in its particular surroundings, according to its own particular nature. Certain plants can be divided or dissected, making two or more root systems, each of which can grow into a healthy plant. Others flourish from a mere cutting, a piece of the plant inserted in the soil. The exposed end of the cutting is able to grow its own roots. The leaves of some plants develop roots at cut places in the leaf. Others, such as potatoes, propagate through tubers; some plants grow from bulbs.
In the distribution or scattering of seeds there is beauty and “scientific” ingenuity. Trees and other vegetation are usually immobile, yet they must have their seeds scattered if they are to cover any appreciable area. Varied and most effective are the means used. The maple tree seed has wings by which the wind can carry it for long distances. Similarly the dandelion, by means of its own parachute-like attachment, virtually floats on the wind. The touch-me-not scatters fine seeds by an explosive discharge. The sandbur and some other seeds are carried on the fur of animals to other growing areas. Some berries and fruits are eaten by animals. Their seeds, however, are not digested, but are dispersed in the body waste of the animals.
Very ingenious is the seed dispersal method of the coconut, which transports its species to more remote shores, even to other islands and continents by sea. We might think that the coconut tree happens to grow in or near the seashore because it needs seawater, but this is not the case. It actually needs fresh water. Hence, its roots are relatively short, only being long enough to reach the fresh water, which is lighter than seawater and so lies on top of the seawater in coastal regions. Yet to disperse its seed the seashore region is best, because the coconuts can float for great distances. By what manner of coincidence did the coconut palm make this unique arrangement? Is it reasonable to think that there was some kind of knowledge that directed this unusual combination of circumstances?
Also, in the fertilization of flowering plants, what ‘blind forces’ would cause some plants to be sexually separated, so that the female plant would have to be fertilized by pollen from the male plant? And how would blind chance then arrange for a carrier of the pollen, especially when this carrier is at times more complex than the plant itself?
Though some pollen is carried by the wind, many plants have to enlist the cooperation of insects. This requires the plants to have food that the insects like, as well as to have a way of attracting them to the food. For this, plants employ a scent agreeable to the insect. Also, in some cases, brilliant colors seem to supply the attraction. Then in the male flower, the stamen containing the pollen must be near the food, so that the insect will brush against it and pick up some pollen in its body hair. In the female flower the pistil must be properly positioned to receive the pollen when the insect visits. Think of the complexity involved. The structure of the flowers, their scent and the proper nectar productivity must be just right. Even this would avail nothing if there were not the complete cooperation of the insect’s instincts and habits, along with its need of and taste for certain food that only the flowers of its choice can supply.
Though such fertilization depends on so many factors, the abundant proliferation of these flowers testifies to the efficacy of their method. And this process is uniformly repeated billions of times over thousands of years. Could coincidence bring about all these requirements and then repeat them exactly, without damaging changes in the pattern over centuries of time?
The Magnitude of ‘Earth’s Greatest Factory’
In the food that it produces, plant life provides earth’s richest storehouse of energy, which it obtains from the sun, the source of nearly all the energy used on earth. But consider how much farther this energy storage extends, as noted in Photosynthesis and Related Products, by Eugene I. Rabinowitch (Volume I, Interscience Publishers Incorporated):
“The reduction of carbon dioxide by green plants is the largest single chemical process on earth. To make clearer what a yield of 1011 tons per year means, we may compare it with the total output of the chemical, metallurgical, and mining industries on earth, which is of the order of 109 tons annually. Ninety per cent of this output is coal and oil, i.e., products due to photosynthesis in earlier ages. Similarly impressive is the comparison of the energy stored annually by the plants, with the energy available from other sources. The energy converted by photosynthesis is about one hundred times larger than the heat of combustion of all the coal mined on earth in the same period, and ten thousand times larger than the energy of falling water utilized in the whole world.”
Considering Benefits from Plant Life Gives Rise to Serious Thought
To sum up: We can be very happy that events have occurred as they have. And it is for the logical and inquiring mind to determine whether the idea of coincidence or of creation by a higher intelligence brought it about. The fact that plant life was introduced before animal life is certainly vital. Was this deliberately or accidentally done? It may be argued that plant life would come before animal life, because animal life could not have existed without it. But upon close observation, plants are found to be extremely complex, not simple, and far, far from a “primeval” molecule. Moreover, plants differ greatly from animals and there is no explanation as to how any of them could by any means have evolved into the most primitive animal.
A fact that argues against blind chance as being able to ensure the continuation of life on earth lies in the ability of vegetation to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It is certain that chance or ‘blind forces’ could not see ahead or provide for drastic changes that might take place in the environment. But a Creator who wanted life to continue on earth could do so. And this advance preparation is apparently what was made at the first in bringing plant life into existence. How so? Note the following example:
There has been considerable fear since the world’s “industrial revolution” began that the production of carbon dioxide brought about by the combustion of fossil fuels would endanger life on earth, perhaps even make life impossible. But recent studies give a much brighter picture. Science News of April 19, 1975, reporting the findings of geologist Fred T. MacKenzie of Northwestern University, says:
“As fossil fuels are burned, carbon dioxide is given off. By knowing how much fuel is burned worldwide, one can calculate the expected amounts of carbon dioxide given off, and how much should be found hanging in the atmosphere. There is, however, one interesting problem with such calculations. Comparison of actual and expected CO2 levels has revealed that most of it is ‘missing.’
“ . . . The missing CO2 is being incorporated into plants. The biomass of vegetation may have increased by 10 percent since the late 1800’s, he says, when CO2 emissions rose along with rising use of fossil fuels.
“The incorporation of CO2 with available nutrients into plants may represent a global feedback mechanism that helps to prevent imbalances in the atmosphere, MacKenzie says.”
To this it might be added that the ocean is a tremendous carbon dioxide reservoir. It absorbs or releases carbon dioxide as needed. Thus, along with the adjustability of the photosynthetic process, animal life is able to survive.
Who can dogmatically affirm that there is no Creator, who at the very establishment of the earth and life upon it, provided these “safety margins” to handle the situations that would arise?
Furthermore, it is most logical, and certainly essential, that there should be a provision to utilize the sun’s energy. Vegetation does this for our benefit. What cooperation, that the sun, 93 million miles away, would provide just the right radiation and in the right quantity! Again, it is good that vegetation does not compete with animals and humans for food, but, rather, provides food. And plant life does not depend on man. For the most part, it promotes its own growth independent of animal life. The part that man plays even in cultivated plants is very minimal. He can do only a little to help—the growth itself is automatic and not even fully understood by man. It is conceivable that blind chance or forces could arrange and bring about such intricacy, complexity and efficiency, whereas intelligent men can see, examine and study and still be ignorant of just how it all works?
[Diagram on page 8]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
breakdown of water molecules
oxygen to atmosphere
hydrogen and energy-rich compounds
carbon dioxide from atmosphere
hydrogen and carbon form glucose
energy-rich glucose the basic food molecule
[Picture on page 6]
Plants scatter their seeds in many ways—the dandelion sends forth wind-born “parachutes”
[Picture on page 9]
What “blind force” could cause some plants to need insect help in fertilization, then supply the insects to carry the needed pollen?