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Saturday, November 22, 2014


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The Vegetable In The Witness Box
By Islip Collyer, 1922



Even if Selection could take place in Nature without degrading the plants by subjecting them to a struggle for existence, it would not move a step towards establishing the atheistical theory that has been so freely propounded. Selection must have something to select. We do not explain the origin of any of the articles of furniture in the house by saying that we selected it. If someone asks, " Who made the piano?" it is no answer to say, "I selected it." It had to be made and indeed completed before it was possible to judge of its merits and have any ground for making a choice. We have, indeed, encountered pianos of such quality that it would be difficult to believe that anyone on earth would select them, but there was never any doubt that man made them. Selection does not in any way contribute to the


manufacture of an article. It only makes choice When the article is ready.

Sometimes Evolutionists have scornfully answered the man who believes In God. I remember one writer saying that such old-fashioned people were "continually trying to find gaps in the chain of Evolution in order that they might fill them up with God."

Perhaps there may be some grounds for the sarcasm. There has been a tendency in certain quarters to confine a conception of a Creator to those details in the law of life in which the development theory fails most obviously. To suggest that Evolution might produce monkeys but could not go further and produce men. When believers in a Creator are as timid and unreasonable as this, they are, perhaps, deserving of sarcastic criticism.

Strictly speaking, however, the case is almost the exact opposite of the atheistic critic's representation. Evolutionists say in effect, "Grant that there are living creatures in a world sustaining life. Grant that they are capable of growing and propagating their kind. Grant that they can pass on to their progeny any special pecularities they chance to develop in themselves. Grant that they have a tendency to produce variations covering in the aggregate the entire range of Nature's equipment, and we can fill in the gaps without God." We may well ask, "Where are the gaps?" One might as well say that certain manufactured articles came into being without yielding any evidence of human intelligence


because the machinery that makes them is so perfect that it can be worked by an unintelligent operator. We should say that the perfect machine gives more evidence of human brain power than would the handmade article.

For the moment, however, I do not desire to discuss these foundation, principles. We are dealing more with details now. I do not admit that the marvels of Creation are diminished in the least degree by splitting the work into minute sections and looking at one step at a time. Many people, however, are under the impression that it makes all the difference. They cannot conceive of a chance, variation producing a new and perfect organ; but they readily can accept the idea of such an organ being produced by easy stages, each chance variation in the right direction being selected by the "ever-watchfulforce" - the survival of the fittest. For the sake of the argument, then, we will recognise the distinction and raise the question as to what is involved by our proposition that "selection must have something to select."

Here, again, the opponents of the selection theory have used the argument in connection with living creatures. The wing of the bird has been cited as a test case. The bird cannot fly at all until it has perfect wings. It cannot gain an advantage in the struggle for existence until it can fly. Therefore selection could not begin until it has perfect wings, when, of course, the creative work would be complete.

The Evolutionist has felt triumphant in answering


this argument. He has pointed out that there are some birds which do not fly, such as the ostrich. He has generally been candid enough to admit that such birds are probably the descendants of birds which could fly very well. Indeed, it is remarkable how much evidence the leaders of science have brought forward to show that changes which, have taken place in the animal economy have been in the nature of deterioration rather than development. Repeatedly, when we should have expected Darwin to maintain that certain imperfect and rudimentary organs were the beginnings of new developments, he has claimed -- and as I think, proved --that they were only survivals of organs that were perfect in a remote ancestor. I remember being shocked to find that the theories of Wilford Hall in connection with the subject of rudimentary parts and organs appeared in every way less reasonable, and from my point of view more objectionable, than the theories of Darwin.

But although the bird which cannot fly is the heavy and degenerate descendant of a bird that could fly it uses its wings to aid its running. Here we have a principle of which the Evolutionist makes full use. Whenever a living creature is forced by circumstances to change its mode of life, it makes use of such organs as it possesses, however ill adapted they may be for the new work. If men have to swim in order to avoid their foes, they use their hands and feet for the purpose, and the man with limbs best adapted to the task, will have the best chance of escaping. In the


same way it is claimed that if certain creatures needed to make Iong jumps from tree to tree in order to escape their foes, they would stretch forth their fore limbs to steady them in their flight. If any chanced to develop a peculiarity in the growth of the fore limbs, which in some measure gave them a gliding power, and increased the length of the jump, that might be just the determining factor which would secure their survival. Forthwith, by natural selection and the constant use of parts, the Evolutionist can see the complete development of the bird, every stage of the work so slight that chance seems to him all sufficient, and God can be ignored.

Such an argument seems to me to be very farfetched and unreasonable, but for the moment I have no desire to attack it. All that I desire for the present purpose is to point out that such a line of reasoning is not applicable to the vegetable world, and even if we conceded all the most extravagant demands of the Evolutionist, it would not enable him to evade the force of the objection summarised in our proposition that selection must have something to select.

We will take a single instance from the vegetable world for the purpose of illustration. The strawberry, which is typical of the plants of its order, can be propagated by means of seed, or from runners. Man may surely be excused for thinking that such a plant was designed for his benefit. Nothing could be more luscious than the fruit while, if it is desired to increase the quantity for another year, nothing could


be easier than the propagation of the plants. Instead of having to wait for the seed to grow, the gardener makes use of the runners. He keeps the ground round each plant open arid free from weeds. He feeds the plants generously with manures, and they promptly throw out a number of runners. These runners grow long enough to reach beyond the outmost leaves of the parent, and then they develop a perfect little plant, capable of rooting when it comes in contact with the ground. It is easy for the gardener to pin these little plants down with a wooden peg, or weight them down with a stone, and then they quickly take root and soon become strong enough to be independent. A dozen or more sturdy plants can be taken in a season from one parent without any need to take more than one from each runner. More gardeners prefer to pinch the runner off after it has formed its first plant. If it is allowed to continue its growth, it may produce three or even more, but it is held that the first plant on each runner will be the best fruiter, and runners are produced in such profusion that there is no need to overwork them.

All this is very convenient for the horticulturist who desires to increase his supply of fruit. The Evolutionist, however, will not tolerate any suggestion that such devices of Nature could have been designed for the benefit of man. In fact, he denies that they were designed for anything. He regards them as the pure products of chance variations which, proving profitable to the plant itself, have been selected in the struggle for existence.


We ask, then, how in this case can the work be divided into the easy stages which are necessary, to enable even the Evolutionist to regard chance variation as an adequate explanation? One cannot say that the plant was forced by circumstances into a new course of life, and it made use of such organs and parts as it possessed. The runners are of no use to the species unless they produce perfect plants which can grow. Inevitably the first growth is from the centre and the runner must shoot upwards. All round the parent root are the stalks and leaves as necessary to the plant as lungs are to an animal. If the runner produced the new plant too soon, it could never reach the around, and would be useless. The runner must reach beyond the widest leaves, and must then bend over until it reaches the ground. At this point the new plant must be produced with leaves, stalks, and a growing centre capable of developing to the full size and capacity of the species. The heel of the plant where it comes in contact with the ground must be capable of developing a root rapidly as soon as the conditions are favourable. In other words, the new method of Propagation must be perfect from the start or else it can be of no profit whatever.

This, indeed, is a feeble statement of the case. Every practical gardener who has had any experience of strawberries would read such a statement with a feeling of wonder at its timidity, for every such experienced man knows that the production of runners is very seriously to the detriment of the plant's


fruiting capacity, and therefore unless the runners were perfect from the start, they would be most unprofitable variations. So unmistakable is this fact that if a gardener desires to secure the maximum quantity of fruit from his plants, he takes care to cut off the runners as fast as they appear. Sometimes a plant will throw out scores of such little shoots in a season, all of them being pinched off as soon as they are observed. This is doubtless exhausting to the plant, but it does not check the development of fruit as seriously as If the runners were left to grow. Much more fruit would be produced, however, if by some means it were possible to prevent the plant from attempting to grow runners, and all its energy could be turned towards the production of fruit.

Now the Evolutionist cannot have the argument both ways. He tells us that the growth of fruit or runners is solely in the interest of the species itself. He tells us that the principle of the survival of the fittest provide an "ever-watchful force" which is capable of selecting the most trifling of variations that give the plant any advantage in the struggle for existence. If so, then, it must also be capable of rejecting or weeding out any variation that proves unprofitable. It is demonstrated beyond all cavil that if plants grow runners they do not produce half as much fruit. If, therefore, they threw out rudimentary runners, just the first step in the direction of the new method of propagation, it would be a variation not merely useless but definitely harmful.


The answer which has been given in connection with the wing of the bird will not apply in this case. For a selection of a profitable variation of this kind to come into play, the new plant must be perfect from the start. In other words, the man who talks about filling in the gaps must add to his postulates. Not only must he say, "Let it be granted that these plants are capable of producing variations covering the entire range of Nature's equipment," but he must add, "Let it also be granted that these variations appear suddenly and perfectly from the start."

Surely there is not much left for this much advertised principle of Natural Selection, which has in the case of many men destroyed the belief in God.