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The Vegetable In The Witness Box
By Islip Collyer, 1922



Controversy has generally been spoiled by unfairness or by intolerance. Sometimes disputants have purposely mis-stated their opponents' case in order to triumph over it. Often they have used the weapon of scorn and ridicule with very little justification for having recourse to such a method.

Darwin was the fairest and gentlest of controversalists, but he had some supporters who did not at all follow his example in this matter. I can remember reading a short treatise by a well-known exponent of Evolution which gave a very unfavourable impression of the Professor's mentality. He pitied the ignorance of all who did not agree with him. He wrote as if unconscious of any difficulty in the way of his conclusions or of any limit to the mass of his knowledge. The only effect of such writing is to expose the


limitations of the author and to stiffen the hostility of those who are inclined to dissent.

On similar lines, a theologian delivering an attack upon the Evolution theory in the early days of the controversy, expressed a doubt as to Darwin's sanity and presented a view of the natural selection theory designed to make it appear as absurd as possible.

We may well conclude that if our own position seems absolutely free from difficulty it is probably only due to our self-satisfied ignorance. If we are inclined to doubt the sanity of a writer it is surely not desirable that we should try to answer him. Of what use would it be to enter into controversy either with a maniac or with a sane and capable man whose writings we could not understand?

The theologian who unfairly stated the theory of Darwin, ignored the principle of development by use, and thus by his lack of common justice to an opponent he diminished the value even of his sound arguments. He described the development of legs according to the natural selection theory taking care to make the picture as ridiculous as possible. Legs were represented as chancing to grow from all parts of the wretched creature's body. We were asked to imagine an animal with three legs to support it and two growing out of its back, or an animal with only one leg which would prove an unprofitable variation, as it would prevent the owner from crawling in the old-fashioned way while being inadequate for an improved mode of progression. The survival of the


fittest is represented as making cboice among such monstrosities during countless ages until at last legs chanced to grow in the proper place in even numbers and length.

The sportive method might make entertaining reading for those who felt no sympathy with Darwin or who knew nothing of his writings, but it is safe to affirm that it would never influence serious opinion. Darwin complained that even some of his sober and scientific critics failed sufficiently to take into consideration the effect of use of parts which he had always recoguised as an essential part of his theory of development. It is clear, too, that as he studied the matter more closely he grew increasingly conscious of the inadequacy of natural selection alone to explain the adaptations of Nature, and he was correspondingly more inclined to rely upon development by use.

We have already suggested in a previous chapter that the development of organs by use is an evidence of a Creator. This principle cannot reasonably be regarded as fortuitous. It is on a level of that wonderful capacity of the blood to discriminate between vital and accessory organs in time of famine.

The Evolutionist makes no serious attempt to deal with such fundamentals. He simply accepts them and makes some use of them to explain his theory of development. In this way Darwin used the old established fact that the proper use of an organ tends to develop it.

If we tried to state the case fairly in connection with


the development of legs in an orginally legless creature we should find that the use of parts would be of more importance than natural selection. Imagine a creature crawling along the ground. The very effort to crawl would tend to develop muscles along the under part of the body. If, therefore, legs chanced to grow surely they would be most likely to appear where the muscles were being used?

It is not suggested that this principle of development by use is exhibited as the main factor in the Darwinian scheme of life, but it certainly is insisted upon as a most important accessory, and it is foolish of critics to ignore it. We do not in any way assist the cause of religion by making an unfair representation of oppositions of science.

In connection with the prehensile tail of the South American monkey, Darwin especially mentioned the principle of development by use.

In The Origin of Species, 6th Edition, page 188, we have the words:

"A reviewer . . . . remarks oil the structure, 'It is impossible to believe that in any number of ages the first slight, incipient tendency to grasp could preserve the lives of the individuals possessing it or favour their chance of having and rearing offspring.' But there is no necessity for such belief. Habit, and this almost implies that some benefit great or small in this direction would in all probability suffice for the work,"

In several other passages in The Origin of Species, Darwin complained that critics treated him unfairly


by ignoring this principle of development by use. I think he had good reason for protesting. The effect of the use of parts is absolutely necessary to make his theory intelligible and it is neither honest nor wise to deprive him of any assistance that he can reasonably claim.

For the present purpose I do not desire to argue the question as to the precise bearing that principle has on the doctrine of development as applied to the animal world. All I desire to point out is that it does not apply in connection with the development of plants.

Plants do not exhibit a voluntary muscular movement. They do not have their parts or senses increased by reason of use, nor can they be described as benefiting by any chance variations which may occur. Plants do not wander about after the manner of animals, intelligently employing their parts and using their organs in harmony with their environment. They grow where they are planted in accordance with the laws of their being without muscular movement and without volition.

Darwin exclaimed at those who denied that natural selection was applicable to plants because they have no volition, and his reply was just. No doubt natural selection is applicable to plants, but not the use of parts.

This seems a strong argument against the Darwinian position even when baldly stated. It appears still stronger when considered in detail.

For purpose of illustration we may call the common


garden pea into the witness box. The pea is one of the most nutritious of vegetables, containing in its perfect state far more nitrogenous matter than any of the cereals we cultivate. It is very prolific, and supplies food not only for man, but for birds and many different animals and insects. If we follow the development of the pea from the time it is first put into the ground, we cannot fail to be struck by the number of wonderful adaptations, and it may serve as an illustration, to put the theory of Evolution to the test. There can be no development of parts by use, and there is no sexual selection such as may take place in the animal world. Natural selection is the only force Evolution can rely on.

When the hard round seed is dropped into dry ground and covered up, it remains dormant until sufficient rain comes to give the plant a start. As soon as rain falls in any quantity the pea swells slightly, and a shoot begins to develop. The shoot strikes up, and the root strikes down. The root has the capacity to take hold of the ground, to draw up moisture and nutriment, and to form this nutriment into vital forces. The shoot is pointed so as readily to force its way out of the ground, and it contains within itself all the innate capacity for development into leaves, flowers, and fruits. As soon as the shoot is above the ground it divides, and leaves are formed. These leaves are perfectly constructed, supplied with sap from the stalk, and they have the capacity to breathe and take in nutriment from the air for the


support of the plant. A little later tendrils are developed which become prehensile, and by growth, not muscular action, will take hold of any object they encounter. The plant can thus climb and support itself. Then flowers develop, beautiful, and supplied with honey. Bees are attracted, and in their efforts to secure the honey, they fertilize the flower. Finally the peas, encased in perfectly constructed pods are formed in immense quantity, all just as highly nitrogenous as the seed which produced them, and all containing the same vital power to produce plants another year. They can give ninety-nine per cent. for the food of man, bird, and beast, and still keep up the stock, their vigour unimpaired and their number not decreased.

If you believe in the theory of Evolution, however, you must suppose that all this is the result of natural selection. The shoot strikes up because those which chanced to do so had all advantage over those which did not. The leaves secure nutriment because a slight accidental tendency in that direction gave certain plants an advantage in. the struggle for existence, and less favoured members perished. The tendrils, the flowers, the pods, must all be accounted for on the same principle, and there is no doubt that if the real seed were an indigestible substance encased in the nitrogenous pea, this would be exhibited as an instance of natural selection having favoured those plants which produced an excellent food for birds and beasts and thus secured a wide distribution of the indigestible


seed. This point is emphasised in connection with other plants. It seems rather difficult to suggest all atheistic explanation of the seeds being such an excellent food.

The most interesting point to discuss, however, in connection with this phase of our subject, is the development of the prehensible tendrils. According to the Darwinian theory we must suppose that a few plants chanced to throw out tendrils with the power to grasp.

The first growth of the tendril and the power to grasp must, according to Darwin's principles, coincide, or the tendril taking power and sap from the plant without being of any service, would be an unprofitable variation, and would thus be weeded out. If we are able to imagine the accidental production of a tendril with a slight tendency to grasp, the question arises, Would it be of any real benefit to the plant? The gardener might possibly be able to take advantage of it, but there is no gardener there. The few peas which escape their enemies are dropped by various accidents in all sorts of places, and they have to grow where they are dropped -- if they grow at all. Now it is a fact that the placing of sticks for peas to climb up requires a certain amount of knowledge if any benefit is to accrue. There have been instances of wasted labour in this direction through lack of skill, and there have been some cases where the growth of the plants have been positively retarded by supports being placed by unskilled hands. If, then, a perfectly developed


climbing plant requires a little humouring to secure the best results, what chance would there be that peas in a wild state, sprinkled about anywhere by accident, would drop in a position where a very slight tendency to climb would be of distinct service to them?

Then it must be remembered that there are many other determining factors in the struggle for existence which would easily clash with each other and with this effort to climb, The vigour of the plants, the kind of soil they happen to fall in, and their perfection of fertilization. We should have the spectacle of a number of plants perfectly able to live without climbing, and only a few of tbeir number slightly adapted for climbing. Of these few only a very small proportion happen to fall in positions in which this new tendency is of any use to them; and all the time fertilization goes on indescriminately between them all, diluting this recently formed characteristic and conforming all to the habits of the great majority. Even with every concession to the theory of Evolution, I fail to see how natural selection could possibly effect such a change. But that is not all. The principle of economy of growth which Darwin thoroughly believed in would come into play. The production of any organ or part involves the expenditure of vital force, and if such organs or parts are useless, they must necessarily be worse than useless. If, then, those plants which threw out prehensible tendrils had a very slight advantage over those which did not, when they happened to be in the right position for climbing, they would clearly be


under a disadvantage when not in the right position for climbing, and this would assuredly be in the majority of instances.

Lastly, there is the consideration of what they would climb up. The pea is not a parasite -- it does not extract nutriment from its support. The gardener places dead sticks for it to cling to. These are strong, and they take no nutriment from the plant they hold up. When I meet a gardener who deliberately plants willows or something of that kind, for his peas to climb up, I will inquire into the results, so as to be able to speak from experience; but I never expect to meet such an one. In a state of nature, however, it would almost always be a living plant to which the pea, would cling, and since such a plant must be a support, it simply means that the pea has entered upon a struggle for existence with something stronger than itself.

Yet if you believe in the development theory you must suppose that tendrils with a slight tendency to grasp were thrown out by a chance variation. That the plants which threw them out, or some of them, chanced to fall into a position in which the incipient tendency to climb was an advantage to them. That in spite of the fact that the support was not placed to aid the peas, and being alive, will sap its nourishment, the plants with this slight and imperfect capacity to climb, flourished so much as to survive, and exterminate all others. You will have to suppose that the loss of sap and vital force which would be a positive


disadvantage, except in the rare cases where the pea chanced to fall in a favourable position, was more than counterbalanced by the advantage gained in those cases where the tendrils chanced to grasp something which might assist the growth of the plant. You will have to suppose that these rare cases of advantage overcame the many cases of disadvantage -- overcame the incessant dilution of cross fertilization -- overcame the tendency to reversion, and all this in spite of the fact that the plant is an annual, and the work of climbing has to be recommenced every year.

I certainly cannot believe it, and when I remember that Darwin tactly admitted that natural selection alone could not account for the prehensible tail of the South American monkey, I am at a loss to understand how he could regard it as all-sufficient in this case, beset as it is with so many greater difficulties. Use of parts is introduced to explain the monkey's tail, but use of parts is not applicable in the case of plants.

I will deal briefly with the question of the pods in which the peas are enclosed. It must readily be admitted on all hands that the pod is a wonderful adaptation, beautifully formed, and evidently intended as a case for the seed. Natural selection is the only motive power Evolution has at its command to explain this contrivance. The question then arises, Is the pod of sufficient service to the plant to determine the issue of survival or extermination, so that through many stages the perfect pod could be developed by the selection of advantageous variations?


The pods require a large amount of sap to produce them, and thus on Darwin's principles there must be some distinct advantage in the pod to make the production of it an abiding law among so many different species. We do not have to think long to see the advantage it offers to man, birds and animals, but it is not so easy to see what advantage it is to the plant itself. It is no protection against the attacks of animals as is sufficiently proved by the fact that there is hardly anything in the vegetable world which is attacked more. The pod itself is nutritious, and no difficulty is experienced in getting through it to the peas inside.

The only suggestion I can think of which might offer an explanation from the point of view of the development theory is that birds and beasts would carry the pods away and accidentally spill some of the seeds, thus securing a wide distribution of the plants. This would, however, be a very feeble explanation for so great a fact, a very doubtful advantage to produce so wonderful an adaptation. I think there are good reasons for emphatically rejecting the supposition. I think there can be no doubt that an imperfect pod would serve this end better than a perfect one, and probably no pod at all would be better still. Certain it is that it is easier to harvest seeds contained in pods than many which are not. If you gave a man some corn and wanted him to spill it on the way home you would not put it up in perfectly made bags.


Coming to more practical facts, it has been constantly observed that birds and animal will pluck the pods from the stalks and take them away. I have sometimes found bushels of peas in various conditions from green to black laid up in the homes of rats and mice, like bags of corn. Those pods which had lost any peas had lost them all -- the animals had eaten them. In fact the pods in the case of peas are of such value to animals and birds that it is difficult to see how they can be of value to the plant itself.

Why is the pea so nutritious and attractive? Evolutionists say that no peculiarity in any species of plant or animal is evolved for the benefit of another. When they find beautiful and palatable flesh surrounding the seed in a fruit tree, they say it has been rendered attractive by natural selection in order to widely scatter the indigestible seed. Why then is the pea so attractive? When animals eat that, the seed is killed.

Probably nothing is attacked more. Birds will scratch the seed out of the ground and eat it. They will pick off the young shoots. Then when the pods are formed, right from the green state to the dry, they are attacked and carried away wholesale. Apart from the plant being so enormously prolific it would surely become extinct.