The Unselfish Green Gene

by David Demick

Evolutionary theory emphasizes the "survival of the fittest," and the idea that progress comes through elimination of less-fit organisms. This idea has been used to justify an ethics of selfishness, by saying that selfish behavior has produced great evolutionary progress.

For example, Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins, in his book The Selfish Gene, paints a picture of the living world as a selfish, dog-eat-dog place where the self-seeking behavior of many competing gene pools is the only reality. Dawkins is eloquent in his portrayal of genes as cunning, savvy survivors.

What place would there be in Darwin's world for the "folly" of self-sacrifice? If Darwinism were true, we should see in the living world not just some competition and predation, but competition and emnity as the overwhelming common theme of all life.

But when we look at the most basic division in the living world-the division between plants and animals-we find biochemically superior organisms (plants) endlessly sacrificing themselves to organisms with an inferior cellular makeup-animals. How could this be?

Plant cells have metabolic energy-producing structures and reactions similar to our own cells, but also have the complex mechanisms for photosynthesis. This would appear to give them, at the cellular level, a huge survival advantage. They can use the daily presence of sunlight as a food source, and not rely on the uncertainties of a purely scavenger existence. Why, then, haven't plant cells evolved to a higher level than animal cells? Why did they ever split off from the animal kingdom at all? Why did the "higher plants" evolve the ability to produce virtually every one of the many nutrients needed by our bodies, including complex and specific vitamins, and thus set themselves up as our main food target?

The green leaves of the world are incredibly productive, turning out simple sugars, carbohydrates, cellulose fiber, and oxygen by the billions of tons each year. All they require are light, carbon dioxide, soil, and water. Their life processes are obviously very different from those of the animals. How did those differences rise?

Modern biochemical research has shown that these processes are guided by very complex biological catalysts or enzymes, but the actual chemical processes are surprisingly simple. The plant process that makes oxygen and sugar from water, carbon dioxide, and sunlight is called photosynthesis. The process common to plants and animals that burns sugar and oxygen to produce carbon dioxide, water, and energy is called respiration.

(It is worth noting in passing that these reactions, with other known and unknown stabilizing factors, have kept the earth's biosphere livable for us for at least the past 6,000 years. By contrast, the recent "biosphere" dome of human invention, begun as a five-year project with much fanfare, was quietly abandoned after less than two years, because all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't figure out how to keep even a small model of the real biosphere balanced.)

Photosynthesis, found only found in plant cells, takes place in structures called "chloroplasts," which contain the green pigment chlorophyll. Like the semiconductor matrix of a photoelectric cell, chlorophyll is able to send electrons excited by incoming photons of light into a cascade of electron-channeling molecules which harness them to produce chemical energy.

Where did chlorophyll and chloroplasts come from? Evolutionists think that the "higher" forms of plants evolved from green algae about the time of the Cambrian period, 600 million years ago. This is pure speculation, because there is no fossil evidence to support this idea, nor can it be shown how it plausibly could have happened through gradual molecular changes. As is always the case, evolution is assumed, but not proved.

In addition to being our main food source, plants contain many chemicals that have healing and restorative properties for us. Physicians and pharmacologists have long known that the green world is the source of most of the medicines that can bring healing and relief of suffering. Why should the plants have evolved the means of healing their evolutionary enemies?

This line of reasoning brings us to a principle in nature long recognized by scientists, both believing and skeptic. This is the "anthropic principle," which simply recognizes that the heavens, the earth, and the things on the earth look very much as though they were made to make the world a livable place for us. The plant world certainly echoes this theme. Far from looking as though it was a product of struggle-for-survival evolution, it looks every much as if it were made for man, and for the animals as well.

(The evolutionist will point to thorny or poisonous plants, and maintain that these are examples of evolved defense mechanisms. The creationist maintains, with at least equal basis, that these evil things are the result of Adam's sin and the resulting curse on the natural world: "Cursed is the ground because of you. . . it will produce thorns and thistles for you…" [Gen. 3:17,18]. Furthermore, studies in plant embryology have shown that thorns are largely degenerative in nature. A high degree of organization and complexity, paradoxically coupled with ongoing decay and degeneration, is a recurring theme in the study of life and nature. It points to descent downwards from a higher past order, not evolution from less order to more.)

This fundamental division of the living world between plant and animal, so unexplainable from an evolutionary viewpoint, suddenly comes into clear focus through a single Bible passage. Genes is1:29,30 show us why it is that plants fulfill virtually all of our diverse nutritional needs, and, as doctors and nutritionists testify, are essential to our good health and longevity: "And God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground-everything that has the breath of life in it-I give every green plant for food.' And it was so."

This is why plant cells have worked with biochemical technology superior to that of our own cells since the world began, just to supply us, through God's providence, with our daily bread. Through God's love, generosity, and ingenious biochemical engineering, every farmer's field and garden plot becomes a wonderful green factory, all for our benefit.

David Demick is a medical doctor practicing as a pathologist in Hastings, NE
See also his article, "Blind Watchmaker Really Blind Gunman" in Sept. 1999, issue of Pulpit Helps.