Created: September 9, 2015
Revised:Synopsis Sept 2017  

The Creation Narrative of Science and the Bible
 

Dr. David C. Bossard

Dr. David C. Bossard
Biographical Information


VIII.
Plant Food for Life on Land: The Greening of the Land
Creation Day Three


11 And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.

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
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),

early plantlife and spores
Early Spores (Ordovician - 435 Ma)VIII.11  Cambrian Green Algae (Chengjiang formatiom)VIII.12

probably released by floating beds of algae and blown over land. These are very small—about the size of an average bacterium (20 µm). Through Palynology, the geological record shows another interesting fact: that sexual reproduction among plants was already in place long before the greening of the land. This is demonstrated by the characteristic "trilete" shape of the spores in the figure. The trilete marks show the join point of four cells produced by plant sexual reproduction. 


FOOTNOTES VIII

[*fn]VIII.01 See  Body Plans: Beginnings of the Eukaryotic Phyla, which lists the major plant and animal phyla and classes, and indicates the earliest appearances in the fossil record.

[*fn]VIII.02 Bacteria were the first colonizers of land, and came long before the first land plants. These early pioneers were able to survive  under harsh cosmic rays because of their high reproduction rates, and because the damaged bacteria could both shield survivors and provide nutrients for them (particularly fixed nitrogen). The first plant colonizers lived in swamps and marshes and the water provided some shielding. Plants gradually advanced into the interiors away from wet areas over many millions of years. See The Ozone Shield.

[*fn]VIII.03  See the Wikipedia article,  Timeline of Plant Evolution.

[*fn]VIII.04 See, for example, William Buckland, Geology and Mineralogy Considered with Reference to Natural Theology, (1837) Chapter XIX "Proofs of Design in the Dispositions of Strata  of the Carboniferous Order", "... an ulterior prospective view to the future uses of Man, formed Part of the design, with which they were, ages ago, disposed in a manner so admirably adapted to the benefit of the Human Race."

[*fn]VIII.05 Examples of gas formations and the corresponding geological ages are: Conesauga Shale (Alabama)—Cambrian (~520 Ma); Utica Shale (Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and Quebec): Mid-Ordovician (~460 Ma); Marcellus and Antrim Shale (PA, OH, NY, MI, WV, KY, TN): Devonian (400-360 Ma); Barnett and Fayetteville Shale (TX, MS): Mississippian (Upper Carbonaceous) (~325-360 Ma).

At one time, some scientists thought that petroleum might be generated inorganically, refered to as Abiogenic petroleum. After study, scientists generally rejected this hypothesis. Wikipedia states:

The two principal abiogenic petroleum hypotheses, the deep gas hypothesis of Thomas Gold and the deep abiotic petroleum hypothesis, have been scientifically reviewed without confirmation. Scientific opinion on the origin of oil and gas is that all natural oil and gas deposits on Earth are fossil fuels and are, therefore, biogenic. Abiogenesis of small quantities of oil and gas remains a minor area of ongoing research.

The scientific concensus, however, is that essentially all petroleum and natural gas deposits derive from organic sources, confirming the label "fossil fuels."

[*fn]VIII.06 Discovered by William Mackie while mapping the western margin of the Rhynie basin near Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1910–1913. See the University of Münster website The Rhynie Chert and its Flora.


[*fn]VIII.07 The limits of variation is an important question, but that is not the point of creation "after his kind". Early geologists were very interested in this because of the broad, but definitely limited, range of variation that they observed in the fossil record. Major changes appear suddenly, but then this is followed by a long record of variation within the major changes. See Appendix 4, "Magnates Walk First". In current terminology, variation within limits is called microevolution, and is distinguished from macroevolution which assumes random changes that pass over these limits. In my view secular evolutionists have generally avoided deep investigation into the limits of variation, and tend to mix microevolution and macroevolution to "prove" the "fact" of evolution.

[*fn]VIII.08 "according to his kind"—Hebrew le-min. Some scholars claim that this phrase refers to the fixity of species (however defined). Against this, R. Laird Harris, et. al. eds., The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (1980), states on "min Kind" (p.503), "Some have argued that when God created min, he thereby fixed the 'species.' This is a gratuitous assumption because a link between the word min with the biologist's descriptive term species cannot be substantiated, and because there are as many definitions of species as there are biologists." [I agree]. He goes on, however to assert that "God created the basic forms of life called min which can be classified according to modern biologists and zoologists as sometimes family or order." In my view this is an unsupported assertion. It implies that this statement in the creation account argues against evolutionary change to produce new species. As I understand it, "after his kind" is not about fixity of species (or any particular classification), but about the phenomenal fact that living species are able to pass their genetic signature to their offspring and thus continue the race (of plant or animal). This is a miracle of creative fiat, and is the point of these verses, which say little about fixity of species as such. All offspring are slight variations of their parents: indeed that is the point of sexual mating, which combines the slightly different dna of the parents to form an offspring that is not an exact image of either parent. That ability to change helps to preserve the species. The issue of how much change is possible is a separate (and very interesting) matter, but which is not covered by the reproduction "after his kind". Michael J. Behe, The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism (2007) explores the issue of the limits of evolutionary change.

I recall the remark of Thomas Henry Huxley (4 May 1825—29 June 1895) Darwiniana (1893), Ch. II "The Origin of Species" (written in 1860): "Of all the perennial miracles [Nature] offers, ... perhaps the most worthy of admiration is the development of a plant or of an animal from its embryo." Many individual cells of a given species contain a copy of the species' DNA, which allows, in principle, cloning of that species from its own cells.


[*fn]VIII.09 The easily visible geological record gives this impression: sea animals appear in the Cambrian (530 Ma) whereas the strata showing land plants are much higher in the geological column (beginning in the late Permian, around 300 Ma). Microscopic examination (Palynology) corrects this misconception.

VIII.10 [*fn]VIII.10 A product of plant meiosis. See Wikipedia articles on Meiosis, Spore tetrads and trilete spores.

[*fn]VIII.11 From Alain Le Hérissé, Late Ordovician-earliest Silurian Palynomorphs from Northern Chad ... (2013). This article contains many other beautiful photographs and Electron micrographs of "miscellaneous organic debris" from the Ordovician/Silurian boundary. For somewhat later examples, see Adnan M. Hassan Kermandji, Late Silurian-Middle-Devonian Miospores (2012).


[*fn]VIII.12 Xian-guang Hou, et al. The Cambrian Fossils of ChengJiang, China: The Flowering of Early Animal Life (2008) shows several illustrations of Cambrian algae.



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