Plant Food for Life on Land: The Greening of the Land
Creation Day Three
This is the first mention of life in the Genesis account and celebrates the creation of land plants. After forming dry land, the next step is to fill it with food. This is appropriately called the "greening of the land". Three words in this verse imply greening; that is, photosynthesis. One might (loosely) translate the Hebrew to read "Let the earth green (dasha) green (deshe) greens (eseb)."
The "greening" is essential for the advanced plants and animals, because the more complex life becomes the more it depends on pre-packaged nourishment. It simply can't take the time or energy to prepare its own food in addition to all of its other tasks. Plants (but not animals) can fix carbon using sunlight, but neither plants nor animals can fix nitrogen. Every advanced species needs millions of fixed carbon and nitrogen atoms. As we saw earlier, fixing is a very slow process. So the task of this part of Day Three is to fill the dry land with food.
The Earth's fossil record beautifully complements this brief account in Genesis with an extensive description of how this greening of the land was doneVIII.01, a story whose full details are by no means yet known; it will continue to reveal fascinating insights for many years to come.
The particular plants mentioned in these verses come at the end of a long process. They are the flowering seed plants that are the staples of agricultural life: grasses, grains and fruits. Without them, civilization could not exist.
Before the greening of the land could occur, two things had to happen:
• The dry land had to have organic nutrients in place before plants could grow (particularly fixed carbon and nitrogen). This meant that the movement into the continental interior progressed slowly as the biomass accumulated; and
• Harsh cosmic rays had to be filtered so that land plants could survive. This was accomplished by the Ozone shield which began to form 1-2 billion years ago, after the atmospheric oxygen content stabilized at about 25% (which it has held since that time). It took over a billion years from this point for the shield to reach adequate levels to shield the atmosphere and land surface.VIII.02
The fossil record shows this advance of plant growth onto land.VIII.03 It reveals a long progression of plant growth on land, from pithy plants that lived along shorelines, in marshes and swamps to the movement inland to higher elevations, first forests of pine-like species and finally the broadleafed plants and trees (the flowering plants).
• Devonian Age (410-360 Ma = Million years ago)—low plants, mostly fern-like at the start to tall jungle-like pith-centered trees (lycopods).
• Carboniferous Age (360-295 Ma)—Continued growth of jungle-like pith-centered trees in marshes and low areas; early pine-like gymnosperms in higher elevations. Major coal formations come from this age.
• Permian, Triassic, Jurassic (295-135 Ma)—woody trunked gymnosperms (conifers) generally take over from pithy trunks. Ancestors of many present-day conifer families. Source of oil and gas.
• Cretaceous Age (136-65 Ma)—Angiosperms (the flowering seed plants) take over from gymnosperms. Explosion of angiosperms about 115 Ma. Source of oil and gas.
• Cenozoic Age (65 Ma to Present)—Diversification of angiosperms; Grasses (Family Poaceae—monocots) "the most important of all plant families to human economies" (Wikipedia). The "greening" of Day Three.
The early geologists often noted that a major task of the earlier ages was to prepare the great deposits of ores and fuels without which the industrial revolution could never have occurred.VIII.04 The recent fracking revolution retrieves gas and oil from the Cambrian age and onward.VIII.05
The geological fossil record preserves a marvelous and detailed record of how this greening of the land began. The record begins with a cameo showing land plants in 3-dimensional microscopic detail. This is the Rhynie ChertVIII.06which has marvelously preserved fossils of small land plants from the early Devonian age (about 410 Ma), in 3-dimensional "forests", placed in their natural growth positions and showing soft-body parts in exquisite microscopic detail, preserving all stages of growth.
Rhynie Chert (ca. 410 Ma)
Early Land Plants
University of Münster
Palaeobotanical Research Group
The preservation in the Rhynie Chert is so detailed and complete that it is as if the plants had been photographed in three-dimensional form, in an instant of time, including "live" action shots such as the ejection of sperm cells from sporangia. The preservation includes all growth stages of these vascular plants, and so are ideal for a deep scientific understanding of these, the first plants to migrate to land.
Seed after his kind. The final creative act mentioned in Day Three is the creation of seeds that reproduce "after his kind". This opens up a new dimension in the creation narrative, and new possibilities for misinterpretation of what the Genesis account actually says.
The phrase is a celebration rather than a command. The emphasis is on "kind" as a celebration of the fact that living species can reproduce new living species like themselves. The emphasis is not on the restriction of the amount of variation.VIII.07 It is a celebration of the ability of a radish to pass on its own blueprint (DNA) so that its "seed" will produce similar offspring. The seed of a radish is the start of another radish, not a cabbage (though the seeds in fact look very much alike!).VIII.08 The phrase is not a command that puts the Bible in a position that rules out evolution. It is a celebration of a marvelous provision in God's creation of all "kinds" of plants and animals—that they pass on their blueprints. In fact, sexual reproduction exists precisely so that offspring can vary from the parents—they are not exact clones. The wonder is not just that God created life and created living plants to populate the land and provide food for future plants and animals, but that he created them able to make spore and seeds—that look nothing like the parents—but which reproduce multiple living copies of the parents, to "fill the land".
Early geologists misread the fossil evidence to conclude that the creation of animals preceded plants.VIII.09 That is not strictly true: vast mats of algae, kelp and other water plants existed far longer than animals. The earliest plants show their presence in microscopic pollen, spores and seeds, the science of Palynology —literally, the "study of dust". Spores and pollen appear from the early Ordovician (ca. 500 Ma). The following figure shows spores from the Ordovician/Silurian boundary (430 Ma),