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Saturday, November 22, 2014


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The Vegetable In The Witness Box
By Islip Collyer, 1922



There is a connection between the animal and vegetable worlds, even in the matters dealt with in the last chapter. There is sex in flowers and beauty plays a utilitarian part. Darwin's contention was that flowers existed solely for the propagation of the species, and that they were bright and beautiful solely to attract the insects which fertilize them. There is thus a close analogy between the two kingdoms. It may be said that sexual selection takes place in both, and, according to Darwin, that is the only cause of beauty. In the animal world beauty attracts a mate; in the vegetable world it attracts a marauder. In both cases fruitfulness is the result.

No believer in creation will dispute that beauty plays a utilitarian part in both kingdoms. The real point at issue is as to whether the selection effected in this vital matter of fertilization is sufficient to account for all the adornment of Nature. When we see birds


with beautiful plumage, are we justified in saying, " These feathers were made so gay solely to attract a mate?" When we see a gorgeous floral offering to Heaven, are we justified in saying, "These flowers were rendered beautiful solely to attract insects that the blooms may be fertilised?"

Here again we notice an extraordinary difference between the treatment of the two kingdoms in the Darwinian philosophy. It seems that a great effort is made to expound the subject where there appears to be a reasonable chance of answering the difficulty, while the greater problem is ignored. Thus in attempting to account for the gay plumage of birds, Darwin goes into great details to show that the courtship is "a prolonged affair" with much evidence of selection. The male bird spreads his wings and ruffles his tail to display his charms to the best advantage. The female of ten, makes it evident that she is influenced by these attractions.

When challenged by the Duke of Argyle with regard to the wonderful marking of the Argus pheasant, Darwin maintained that even this could be explained by sexual selection. The feathers of the Argus pheasant are so marked that a "cup and ball effect is produced, the shading corresponding to that which an artist would make in a picture of cup and ball. The Duke of Argyle argued that selection could not account for such a remarkable effect, but Darwin was fully prepared to justify his position. He produced evidence of the manner in which the


male bird displays his charms before the severely critical female. He presents his case so well that we are almost led to believe that a hen has a, nicer perception of artistic decoration than many buman beings.

Again so far as this treatise is concerned there is no need to argue the case. ' Let, it be granted that in the bird world the potential mothers are so coy and hard to please that if we once admit the postulates as to Nature's capacity for variation, sexual selection will account for all the beauty of bird life. What of the floral creation? Are not flowers more beautiful than birds? Note the subtle grace of the stem and the curve where the bloom appears: note the setting of the flower amid the leaves, note the curve of the petals, the quality of the colour and the varied markings, rarely set but always symmetrical.

Ifwe want to know whether there is anything really beautiful in a flower, let us try to imitate one. An unskilful painter of pictures may spend hours attempting to copy a flower, yet even with the original before him he utterly fails. The colours look dirty, all the grace of curve is lost, and there is no beauty of form. Mankind has been searching for pigments all through history. The mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms have all been explored in order to find dyes capable of imparting permanent beauty of colour to the cloth we use. Much success has been achieved as the result of many experiments. Yet even the finest dye does not equal the richness


of a wild flower, while the most artistic of designs cannot for a moment be compared with floral grace.

Take your favourite wild flower, if you have one, and analyse its perfection. You will find many essential elements in its beauty, many features that would have to be noted in any attempt at imitation. You will probably agree that there is more evidence of artistic selection here than in all the beauties of a bird's wing.

The question then arises, "How does the Evolution theory account for this variety and beauty of floral decoration?" The answer is that all beauty in both animal and vegetable kingdoms is to be explained by chance variation and sexual selection. This selection, it is claimed, gives greater fruitfulness to the more beautiful individuals, and thus, during millions of years, has produced the perfections which lead simple souls to believe that the Creator has purposely given us some beauty of form and colouring to indicate what the earth might be.

Surely it is evident here that there is a fundamental difference between the animal and vegetable world. All the prolonged argument based on the observation of birds and butterflies fails to apply. Even if we grant that a hen pheasant may have an extraordinary artistic sense and a determination to choose a mate conforming to her exacting standard, such concession will not help to explain the selection of beauty in flowers, for the cases are not in any way parallel. The flowers do not seek each other, but are fertilized by insects in search of honey. Their courtship is not


"a prolonged affair." The insect which performs the good office for them is really a marauder intent on finding food.

We may be willing to accept the claim that animals, birds and, even butterflies are fastidious in their choice of companions but we certainly cannot admit that insects insist on a certain standard of beauty on the doors of the honey chamber before they will condescend to fetch their food. Even in the case of humanity there would be no selection of beauty in such a case as this. If a young woman can choose a mate from a number of men, she may select the best looking (though even that is doubtful). If, however, she is a pickpocket intent on petty larcency, beauty will be a matter of complete indifference. Allwho could be recognised as men with well-filled pockets would be equally attractive, though their faces might be like a nightmare and their bodies like question marks. It is altogether too much to ask us to believe that insects flitting from flower to flower in search of honey have made such careful selection of beauty as to account for all the subtle charms in the jewelry of Nature.

To make the proposition still more unreasonable, scientists inform us that the eye of an insect has many lenses showing a multiplication of images. Even the most artistic of human beings would be unable to make a selection of beauty if equipped with such an eye. No doubt the bees use their eyes, no doubt the flowers attract them because they know


that honey is there; but any kind of distinctive mark would have served equally well. They certainly do not insist that the honey-pots must be delicately and rarely beautiful before they will raid them. A bee keeper in time of honey shortage will often feed his bees with a mixture of sugar and water. There is no need to employ a skilful artist to paint artificial flowers so as to administer the food in a beautiful bowl! The bees will accept it in rough and ready form. Nothing could more fully demonstrate the fact that the food is the attraction ; with inherited instinct as the normal guide.

If Nature had been purely utilitarian, surely the commonest of grass, fertilized by the wind, independent of insect attentions and with no delicate parts to get out of order, would have been not only dominant but supreme on earth. Why should more delicate and complex forms exist at all? Why become dependent on a particular kind of insect for the essential process of self-propagation? Above alI, why such wonderful variety and beauty of flowers if only to please the eye of greedy creatures which in spite of all inherited instincts will take sugar from a stick?

The truth is that all through Nature there is a strange and subtle blend of good and evil. To deny design is to stultify our reason. Often there is duality of design. The same organ may be used to perform more than one office. Asthetic qualities may be used partly for utilitarian purposes. The whole earth is a lesson in the evil and ugliness that has been, and the good and beauty that may be.


Even Darwin had to admit the Creator as a first cause. The only logical position is to admit Him as a constant cause -- the one Great Reality in all the Universe. The blend of beauty and ugliness, good and evil in the world has its counterpart in revelation. Greedy insects make beauty fruitful and human robbers are carrying out a similar work on the spiritual plane.