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Saturday, November 22, 2014


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The Vegetable In The Witness Box
By Islip Collyer, 1922



Our attack on the Evolution theory under this heading will not be in matters of doubtful detail. The very foundation principle of Darwinism invites a frontal attack from every gardener capable of applying the plainest lessons of his vocation.

The theorist who attempts to explain Nature without God relies on natural selection through the struggle for existence to account for the development of complex forms from simple types, and that struggle for existence which is to take the place of a Creator, is in itself a degrading process.

This grave objection to the atheistical theory of development has been frequently stated in connection


with animal life. It has been pointed out that a great war has been known to lower the standard of a nation with a perceptible dwarfing of its manhood. Whenever creatures are subjected to a struggle for life so severe that many are slain, those that are left will inevitably be degraded. Even Darwin gives some unintentional illustrations of this fact. He refers to the great battles which sometimes take place among salmon, and he mentions the fact that after such struggles many of the fish may be seen swimming about in an exhausted and dying condition. Doubtless many of them would die, and surely it is obvious that those which survived would be weakened and less fit as a result of their struggle. The same argument would apply with even more force in the case of struggle for food. If the scarcity is such that many must die, it will be such that even those which survive will be degraded and rendered less fit to develop new powers.

This line of argument has been answered with some force of reasoning from the Evolutionist's point of view. It has been claimed that a struggle so stirs the energies of those who engage in it, and causes such vigorous use of parts, that more is gained than lost. A great conflict may exhaust and weaken even those who are victorious, but it arouses all their forces into such activity, that there is no permanent degradation.

With still more force of reason it is pointed out that the struggle of the wild animals is not incessant.


Beyond all question a struggle takes place; yet the prevailing impression one receives from a study of Nature is that wild creatures are happy. The Evolutionist explains that the struggle is intermittent. Sometimes it is severe with a great deal of extermination. Anon it relaxes, and there is opportunity for the joy of animal life. There may be a war of extermination between two closely allied species, one of which is beaten out in the struggle. As soon as the war is over there is a period of healing peace in which the conquerors can enjoy their victory, while if there are any survivors of the beaten species they learn perhaps to grow accustomed to a new kind of life, with new food, which may have the effect of starting them on a new line of development.

Or, again, the struggle may be against famine, caused through a sudden cutting off of the usual supply of food. There may be a period of great extermination, and some measure of degradation, for all who suffer; but if any of the creatures afflicted can find new food, and adapt themselves to new conditions, there will soon come a period of ease for them, and there will be a most obvious illustration of selection. So it is with flood or fire, or any of the visitations which cause animals to flee or struggle for their lives. For a time the fight is severe and many fall; but presently circumstances become more favourable, and as Darwin says, "the fittest survive and are happy."

I have no desire at the present time to urge this


contention that the struggle for existence is a degrading one to animal life, or to enquire how far the argument is met by the answer here suggested. All I desire to point out for the moment is that if we turn from the animal world to the vegetable world, the argument against the Natural Selection theory applies with tenfold force, while the answer from the Evolutionist's point of view does not apply at all.

In the vegetable world the struggle for existence is always degrading, and there is no counter-balancing advantage in the matter of moral stimulus. In the vegetable world there is no such thing as intermittent struggle, with periods of rapid extermination followed by periods of ease. Plants do not walk about, quarrel, and then bite and scratch each other. There are no battles for food decided in a few minutes, and giving death to the vanquished and peace and plenty to the victor. Vegetables do not fly before flood or fire to seek life in a new land. They do not forsake their original homes and wander far afield in search of a better feeding ground. Their struggle is merely for light and nourishment, and in the place where the struggle begins, there, so far as the individual plant is concerned, must it end.

Even when the struggle is most severe, there is no rapid extermination. When once a plant has established itself, probably as a mere chance that dropped the seed on a vacant spot, it will generally ripen its seed, even if it is hopelessly outmatched in the struggle with its neighbours. And during this slow


subjects of much careful selection by man will lose the special characteristics bred into them if they are in any way subjected to the struggle for existence. Take two familiar examples -- the Cauliflower and the Cos Lettuce. The specially inbred characteristic of the one is to produce a compact and level head of flower. The selected peculiarity of the other is the tendency for the leaves to fold inwards, thus forming a solid and well-bleached heart. Keep the plants a good distance apart, free from struggle and well fed, and the majority of them will develop the qualities you desire to see in them. Give them a struggle for existence at any stage of their lives and away go the special qualities that have been so carefully selected. It is not only that the plants are stunted in growth; they lose the distinctive features they have acquired through artificial selection, and revert to the common stock from whence they came.

Perhaps a practical man who, in spite of his experience, was inclined to accept the teaching of Darwin, would explain that the reason these plants thus lose their peculiar characteristics is that any check to their growth makes them run to seed in accordance with a law that is evident throughout the vegetable world. This is perfectly true and I would like for a few minutes to examine the significance of that well-known law. Gardeners use an apt word to describe the haste with which plants will develop their seed when circumstances are adverse. They say for instance that the lettuce if checked in its growth


by drought or overcrowding will "bolt." The word is singularly appropriate, for the effort on the part of a struggling plant to reproduce its kind is like the impetuous rush of a runaway creature.

Probably all who have ever taken any pride in a garden have had opportunity to observe this law. Perhaps you have had a bed of plants carefully tended and guarded against the struggle for existence. A near neighbour has carelessly allowed a quantity of groundsel to run to seed and send its winged messengers over the countryside. You, however, have taken such pains to keep the hoe busy, that you have no fear of any trespassing successfully on your ground. Then, perhaps, there comes a spell of wet weather, and for a few days you neglect your favourite bed of plants. The next time you go among them you are amazed to find one or two of the hated weeds with flowers out and seed almost ready to blow away. Your plants have been given such a start, and were so completely appropriating the available light and sustenance that the weeds have had a terrible struggle for existence. Here is the result of that struggle. The weed is stunted and weakly, but it has produced its seed in marvellously short time.

This law of Nature, aiming at the preservation of the species, is consistent with the idea of intelligent creation. It is a fact strongly suggestive of such a foundation. We need not, however, discuss this phase of the matter now. The scientist generally rules out such a consideration, and merely accepts each law as


a matter of course, with all its effects and relations. We may be quite content to accept this law, and note its meaning. It is simply that when a plant has a struggle for existence, all its energy is bent to the one object of producing its seed. Variation, strange growth, and the development of new powers will only come when the plant has freedom from struggle. If the gardener wishes to select such a new variety, he encourages it by protecting it from every adverse influence, and feeding it in every way to promote growth. He knows that any check to its growth will immediately result in the full energy of the plant being bent to the production of seed. He knows that a severe struggle will utterly kill the new tendency, and probably degrade the plant to a lower level than that of the original stock.

Yet this principle of struggle and survival which the plant breeder seeks to avoid, is the force relied upon by the disciples of Darwin to explain all the wonders of Nature. It is supposed actually to take the place of the plant breeder in the great garden of the world!

It seems to me that if a gardener ever comes to accept the theory of Natural Selection as Darwin explained it, and if he embraces it as the great cause of development, it can only be because he has completely forgotten the first and most important lesson of his calling.