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The Vegetable In The Witness Box
Strictly speaking the doctrine of Evolution does not explain anything or throw the faintest ray of light on the mystery of our origin. Its best effect is to stimulate thought and quicken our appreciation of the wonders of Nature, its worst effect is to remove God farther from us and to make men atheistic in heart if not in profession. The doctrine of development does not diminish the marvels of Creation because for everything that Nature has evolved there must have been a law or cause at least as wonderful as its effects.
One of the greatest scientists once pointed to a bird coming from an egg as an illustration of Evolution that we can see in progress. We must agree that an egg seems a simple object as compared with the bird; but when we reflect that, mysteriously concealed in the albumen of the egg are all the organs and powers of the bird to be, we may well doubt which is more
wonderful. The living bird is marvel enough, but if anything it is still more marvellous that he, with all his power, should be invisibly packed away in a transparent blob of albumen.
The Evolutionist asks us to grant the unexplained existence of life in a world capable of sustaining it. He asks us to grant the existence of unknown laws governing substance and only visible by their effects. He asks us to grant the existence of simple forms of
life capable of growing, producing their kind, and with a capacity for almost infinite chance variations on which natural selection may act. Then God can be kept far away and the idea of a divine purpose with the earth and be scouted, while all that now exists can be explained by natural law. There is certainly not much left for natural selection when all the necessary postulates have been granted.
But although the development theory does not and cannot, throw any light upon the origin of Nature's wonders; although it is not in any way the complete explanation of life that some people have supposed; it is, nevertheless, a serious challenge to religion in that it tends to remove God so far from His creatures. There is a fundamental distinction between creative design and the myriad effects of law. Probably every believer in creation will recognise that there are many effects which are no part of the original plan. Man
was produced as a matter of design and with a definite end in view, but probably no one will maintain that racial or individual peculiarities were
designed. Races have sometimes been stunted in growth by purely chance influences or through their own evil ways. According to this view, the human race was designed and put under laws, both physical and moral. The millions of causes which modify humanity are not controlled, and so there is free play for that which we sometimes call chance.
The Darwinian theory denies even the general plan. Perhaps it will be conceded that God started life on the earth, but if so much is admitted that is all. The development is regarded as the result of a billion chances in which laws have had effects never designed bythe Lawgiver. We who believe in Creation might admit the probability that God never designed that there should be a race of human pigmies in mid Africa. These people have been stunted by purely natural laws, and the play of many chances. The true Darwinian claims that the very appearance of man on earth is equally the result of chance. Nature had no design of any kind. The highest form of life might just as well have been an eel or an earth worm. The noblest plant might just as well have been the coarsest of grass or a poisonous fungus which should prove its "fitness" by exterminating everything else, both vegetable and animal.
There are doubtless many believers in Evolution who would deny these propositions and affirm their conviction, both in Creation and overruling Providence. They are not Darwinians, and perhaps we have no quarrel with them. Everybody believes in Evolution
in the sense of unfolding powers. Eggs evolve into birds, acorns evolve into oaks. Each egg after its kind, and each seed after its kind. We may examine the germ as minutely as we choose but we shall never find packed away there the bird or the tree that is to be evolved. Yet the, potentialities are there, even to the tiniest of details. Run some drab-coloured hens with a game cock, and, although we are unable to trace the slightest difference in the eggs, the markings the quality of flesh and the disposition of the sire will all come out in the chicks.
Some creatures pass through several stages of life involving such translation as to seem like miracle; but such evolution is ordered by law, and when the life cycle is completed, the whole process is repeated. If scientists can prove that there are life cycles, even more remarkable than those already well known, all lovers of truth will welcome the increase of knowledge. It is unfortunate, however, that many people would regard such discoveries as witnessing the truth of the Darwinian theory. There is really no affinity between the two positions. They exhibit contrast rather than comparison. In the one case we have an orderly unfolding from the embryo to the predetermined final effect. In the other case we have a theory that in final analysis all things that we see have been developed through the myriad chances produced by many conflicting laws and with no creative design whatsoever.
We have seen that this theory fails, utterly at many
points, and that repeatedly the efforts to defend it do not touch the difficulty so far as the evidence of the vegetable world is concerned. The battle has been fought over animals and birds, and often the issue has been confused to the advantage of the development theory, when an appeal to the vegetable world would have exposed the hollowness of the arguments used.
Thus the objection that the struggle for existence is in itself a degrading influence, has been met by the claim that it brings compensations in the increased use of parts, the quickening of energies and the maintainance of organs in fit and vigorous condition. It has been pointed out that the struggle of the wild is not incessant. It is severe for a time, with considerable destruction and consequent selection, and then comes a period of peace and plenty in which the fittest "survive and are happy." It has been shown that in the struggle for food the most fit may escape to a more favoured locality so that even if there is temporary degradation they soon recuperate while the unfit perish.
All this can be urged regarding animals, but, is totally inapplicable to plants. In the vegetable world there is no rapid destruction, and there are no periods of relaxation. Seeds grow where they chance to find suitable lodgment, and there the plant lives and dies. If there, is a struggle for existence it, is incessant so far as the individual plant is concerned. If it is severe enough to destroy any, it will be severe
enough to degrade all. It is a struggle for light and nourishment, and none can escape to a more favoured locality.
All practical experience goes to prove that wild plants are easy to degrade but hard to kill. Every practical gardener knows that cultivated plants will lose the most careful selected qualities if they are subjected to a struggle for existence. His whole effort is to prevent that struggle. When carrying out a selective process, he makes the most rapid destruction of the plants rejected, and the most complete preservation from all struggle of those selected. Nothing could be more grotesque than the suggestion that there is a parallel between the work of the gardener and so-called natural selection. The processes are distinctly opposite. It is worthy of note that Mr. D. H. Scott in The Evolulion of Plants is careful to explain that natural selection is not the only force to be relied upon in explaining the evolution of plants. There are other forces, the nature of which he does not explain. It is difficult to resist the conclusion, that natural selection has been accepted on authority; and scientists have been loath to discard it because there was nothing to put in its place. Certain it is that the struggle for existence is always degrading to plants, there is no escape of favoured plants to other localities; the battle has to be fought out in the place where the seeds chance to germinate. Unless the struggle is extraordinarily severe, the plant once rooted will produce seed and while this
degrading struggle is going on there is cross fertilization all the time between the fit and unfit.
We have seen that the law of economy of growth presses with merciless severity on, the natural selection theory. The illustration of runners on the strawberry plant will surely be accepted by all who have any practical knowledge of the subject as a conclusive demonstration of the fact that such new parts could not have been produced in the manner supposed.
We have also seen that dilution presents a far greater problem in the vegetable world than in animal life, and that the attempt to explain the isolation and preservation of the new species breaks down completely.
The argument regarding reversion and deterioration is worthy of closer attention than could be given with only once reading of the very simple statement of it presented in this work. Darwin admits the law and gives illustration from his own experiments to show how it works. His experiments confirm the experience of the present writer that sometimes the results of many generations of the most careful of selection may be swept away in very little while by this law of reversion. He shows, too, that The cross breeding of widely different varieties tend to bring the law into active operation, and cross fertilization inevitably takes place in the vegetable world.
... Darwin admits that the effects of selection might often be lost through this tendency to revert to a less perfect type, but he suggests that as the gardener has
been able to overcome this force, so might natural selection.
We again invite the reader to consider the case of a vegetable of, say, the brassica family with as many as a thousand seeds on one plant. The gardener will, if necessary, select the one plant out of a thousand that pleases him. He isolates it, nourishes it, preserves it from struggle, and ruthlessly destroys all the unfit before they can compete or interfere. If necessary he wiIl repeat the one in a thousand selection the next year and for many more years until he has fixed the type. Who shall calculate the difference between the chance of preservation of an individual peculiarity in nature and in the well ordered nursery? In the first year we have one thousand multiplied by one thousand plus all the other factors involved in preservation of the seed bearer from struggle and the isolation of the favoured individual. What would be involved in several years of such numerical progression?
It is true that Nature is often equally drastic in destroying the great majority, but the destruction is not selective. A thousand seeds are scattered to the winds, and only one may drop In a favoured place, escape all enemies to its growth and bring its seed to perfection. The hundred chances which have saved it probably have nothing to do with the peculiarity of its development. The parent plant may be a very choice growth but its seeds will not bring a new generation to perfection unless they chance to drop
in suitable soil. And it is certain that the rare patches of unoccupied soil will not be reserved for the embryo new species as in the garden. In Nature, all such available spots will be studded with plants from the old stock. The sportive new species will quickly have to conform to type. There is certainly no comparison between so-called "natural selection," and the work of the gardener. When Darwin made that remarkable admission regarding the effect of the tendency to revert, and appealed to the analogy of the gardener's work, he really gave his case away.
Then we have seen that the simplest forms of plants are the most tenacious of life and thus in the Darwinian sense are the fittest to survive. Men have allowed themselves to be deceived by using the word "fit" with two contrary meanings. If we are asked to pick from a richly furnished room the article most fit to survive, our verdict must depend entirely on the meaning of the word "fit." If the idea is to choose that which is most valuable in the eyes of men, it may be a fragile work of art, needing the utmost care to preserve it. If the idea is to choose the article which is most likely to survive a removal to another to another town, pick the ugliest, clumsiest and most worthless article In the room and you will probably have found the most fit. It must never be forgotten that according to the school of Darwin, there is no final object in Nature. There is no reason for the existence of the nobler forms of plants or animals unless they are better able to survive in the rough
struggle of life. Even the appearance of man is regarded as the result of countless chance variations selected by the law of survival, with no controlling, hand to guide the course of events and with no object in view.
Perhaps a change is now taking place in the thoughts of men, dethroning the theory of natural selection from the place it has held. The ill effects of false doctrine will linger, however, long after the destructive theories have been repudiated by leaders of thought.
A few days ago a distinguished author complained that people "confuse the doctrine of Evolution, which is religious, with the doctrine of natural selection or survival of the fittest, which is devilish."
Here at last is a writer who begins to see the truth of the matter. Some readers might regard his remark as paradoxical, simply because the gross error which it challenges has been thoughtlessly accepted for many years. As a matter of fact he only states a truism.
Evolution is a fact in Nature. It is the unfolding of powers that have been implanted in the substantial world, and it speaks to us of design and order and purpose, and of forces which are quite beyond our understanding. While naturalists seek to observe and classify the facts, they are truly scientific. When they put forth theories to account for the facts, they may easily go sadly astray and lead their followers to confusion.
When Darwin confined his work to observation of Nature and classification of facts, he had few equals, and his work was valuable., When he attempted to explain final causes and the wonder of human life, solely on the basis of materialistic observations, he became an enemy to truth and righteousness.
Before his death Darwin came to recognise that in earlier days he had attributed too much to natural selection. He percieved that it was a less potent force than he had originally supposed. Every argument that has come to light since his day has tended still further to pull down the natural selection theory from the place in which he tried to enthrone it. Modern exponents of Evolution have far less to say regarding this "ever watchful force," which at one time was supposed to be capable of taking the place of God.
If these fragmentary notes regarding the vegetable world can ef fect anything further toward the overthrow of this essentially atheistic theory, they will not be devoid of value.
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