[This is an expanded version of an article originally published in The Old Schoolhouse magazine.]
“A man scattered seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.”
Though he does not know how. Those words of Jesus (Mark 4:26b–27) are still true today. As a trained PhD plant scientist myself, I can vouch that, despite the many thousands of man-hours of ongoing research devoted to studying seeds, seed germination and seedling growth, we still don’t really know in detail how it is possible—certainly no-one has been able to build anything that can do what a seed does! The scientific journals are full of research papers with detailed descriptions of some of the many intricate processes going on in and around the seed as it sprouts and grows, but just how it happens all by itself remains a marvel. As Jesus went on to say: “All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.” (Mark 4:28)
And each of those grains is another seed like its parent, which the farmer can sow when it’s “plantin’ time” or “seedtime” (Genesis 8:22) once more, repeating the sowing-growing-harvesting cycle all over again.
It’s amazing to think how the information and miniature machinery needed to produce an entire plant is compressed into such a small package. There’s a little energy store, too (known as the endosperm), to enable the germinating seed to firstly send down roots that both anchor the seedling into the ground and act as foraging conduits for water and nutrients. And then secondly to erect solar energy panels (the leaves, of course) to power the growing plant once the seed’s store of energy has been depleted. Imagine—the instructions and equipment needed to build and operate a self-maintaining and environmentally-friendly solar energy capturing system (photosynthesis), inside every seed!
For decades now, top solar energy engineers have been striving to mimic the way plants convert sunlight into fuel—but they’ve got a long way to go yet. In fact, scientists have not yet fully described all that happens in photosynthesis, let alone been able to duplicate it.1 So, if such highly intelligent minds are thus challenged, what does it say about the One Who not only designed the incredibly complex chemistry behind photosynthesis, but somehow equipped tiny seeds with their own ready-to-build DIY solar energy kit, complete with instructions for sourcing component parts and ongoing maintenance?
Yet there are those who would deny the hand of the Creator in this, instead proclaiming that “evolution did it”. Really, they have “no excuse” (Romans 1:20) for ignoring the incredible design inherent in every seed. And, as every home gardener with a vegetable patch knows, when you plant peas, you get peas—right in line with God having pre-programmed them that way on Day 3 of Creation Week when He commanded the earth to bring forth vegetation, i.e. “plants yielding seed each according to its own kind” (Genesis 1:11–12). When the wheat seeds sown by farmers today at planting time subsequently sprout and grow they give rise to wheat—not lilies or thistles or poison ivy. If wheat didn’t reproduce “according to its kind” the wheat farmers would soon be out of business! Thankfully our God is a God of order, not of confusion or disorder (1 Corinthians 14:33a), as we can witness for ourselves every seedtime and harvest.
While each kind of plant bears seeds according to its kind, we should not view modern-day “species” as the “kinds” that God created on Day 3 of Creation week. For example, turnips (Brassica rapa) and cabbages (Brassica oleraceae) have been given different species names yet belong to the same created kind (the Brassica family)—evidenced by the fact that planting the two close together produces some seeds of swede, or rutabaga (Brassica napus). Similarly, planting turnips and black mustard (Brassica nigra) together gives some seeds of brown mustard (Brassica juncea).2
Those who refuse to believe that God created plants often cite such variation as evidence for evolution, but in reality it demonstrates the inbuilt variation within a created kind—the result of reshuffling of previously existing genes, not the ‘evolution’ of new ones. (And note that there is a limit to such variation and the capacity to hybridize, e.g. you could plant turnips and mangoes together ad nauseam but you will never get any seeds of a hybrid ‘mangnip’ or ‘turngo’.) We should note here that some of the variation we see in the Brassica family today is the result of deterioration from a once-perfect creation that is now “in bondage to decay” (Romans 8:19–22) as a consequence of the first man disobeying God (Genesis 3). For example, cauliflower is a cabbage but with enlarged clusters of deformed flowers, which stay white because they are covered by leaves—cf. the enlarged deformed green flowers of broccoli which do not have covering leaves. Mutations3, as would be expected from copying errors, have destroyed some of the original genetic information (in stark contrast to evolutionists’ hopes that mutations could have brought about the increase in genetic information that microbes-to-man evolution requires).4
In fact, some mutations have destroyed the genetic information that codes for seeds themselves. We see such seedlessness in commercial varieties of bananas, some citrus fruit, and selected table grapes. These varieties survive because man, seeing seedlessness as a desirable trait, propagates these varieties vegetatively, i.e. without seeds, like when one plants potato pieces to get more potatoes. The cost of fruit production can be higher for seedless varieties, however—e.g. chemicals normally released by the developing seed which promote fruit enlargement have to be sprayed manually onto certain seedless grapes in order to achieve acceptable fruit size and yield.
Angiosperms are categorized as being either monocotyledons (plants with seeds that have only one cotyledon (seed leaf), such as grasses) or dicotyledons (plants with seeds with two cotyledons, such as beans).
Without seeds, where would we be? Just from the perspective of their food value alone, we’d probably be a lot hungrier. For example, the seeds of wheat, rice, corn, barley, rye, and oats are our primary source of calories today. And the various types of beans are a major source of protein. Growing them sure takes a lot of work, too, with millions and millions of acres planted to all those crops every year.
It wasn’t always that way, however. The first two people initially didn’t have the backbreaking labour of tilling the soil to get their food. Instead they could get all the nourishment they needed by simply plucking fruit from garden trees (Genesis 2:15–16). But one of the consequences of the first man’s sin (Genesis 2:17, 3:6) was that they could no longer rely on being tree crop horticulturists, but had to diversify into field crops agriculture, with the associated “sweat of thy brow” that would entail (Genesis 3:17–19).
Perhaps some readers might be wondering, “But if the first people were agriculturalists, what happened to the Stone Age?”
The answer is: there never was a ‘Stone Age’ (in the oft-promoted evolutionary sense that ‘primitive’ hunter-gathering preceded agriculture)—nor was there a ‘Bronze Age’ or ‘Iron Age’ for that matter.5 From the beginning there were people “who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron” (Genesis 4:22).
So how did hunter-gatherer peoples arise?
At some point those people evidently stopped practising agriculture, and it’s highly probable that in many cases the sudden non-availability of seeds of agricultural species was a factor in them turning to hunter-gathering for sustenance.
Even some evolutionists are coming to recognize this. For example, the hunter-gatherer Mlabri people of Thailand were said by evolutionary anthropologists to have “descended unchanged from the Stone Age”. That is, until DNA and linguistic studies showed them to be descendants of Thailand’s Tin Prai people, who grow crops. It turns out that the Tin Prai people have a “legend” that several hundred years ago they banished a young boy and girl from their community, sending them down river on a raft. Somewhere downstream the boy and girl managed to escape into the jungle, but without any crop seeds, they of course had to turn their hand to whatever they could find in the jungle for survival. This one boy and one girl were the ancestors of the Mlabri tribe, with their descendants having no option but to continue the hunter-gatherer ‘tradition’ until presented with the opportunity to re-assimilate back into Thai society—which is now happening today.6
The case of the Mlabri, along with studies of other hunter-gatherer peoples in the Pacific, has led to evolutionary anthropologists conceding, “contemporary hunter-gatherer groups cannot be automatically assumed to represent the pre-agricultural lifestyle of human populations, descended unchanged from the Stone Age”.7
Recognizing the incredible value and importance of seeds to our society, many people have moved to establish various seed collections around the world in an effort to secure our food supply. For example, in 2006 the Norwegian government began constructing a ‘doomsday’ seed bank near the town of Longyearbyen, only 700 miles (1,100 km) from the North Pole, with the prime ministers of five Nordic countries gathering for the occasion.8 The seed vault, in the frozen underground in the side of a rocky mountain, will contain up to three million seeds. The authorities hope that the combination of low temperature and storage in aluminium foil to keep out moisture will keep the seeds viable for many hundreds of years. However, that is probably wishful thinking, as the vast majority of plant seeds cannot be stored for more than 40 years without losing germination vigour.9
As farmers adopted varieties bred by plant breeders, they abandoned the old traditional varieties and many of these are now only preserved in the seed banks.10 Those abandoned varieties have genes in them that are missing from the modern highly selected varieties often grown in huge areas (monoculture)—as I have pointed out, selection causes loss of genetic information. For example, if you select wheat for short stems, then you are eliminating genes that result in long stems (wild wheat will have genes for both, resulting in a mixture of plants of variable height, which does not make such plants suitable for mechanical harvesting).
Everyone agrees that loss of genetic diversity is a bad thing because it is the source of possibly important future genetic information for the breeding of plants—such as breeding for disease resistance, or nutritional characteristics that are not currently appreciated.11 But if all the genetic information in plants arose by accidental changes (mutations) over billions of years, without any intelligent input—the usual evolutionary dogma—then surely intelligent scientists, with all their accumulated knowledge, can create a few genes here and there?
Well, no; in spite of the phenomenal advance of scientific knowledge, it is beyond the ability of scientists to invent new functional genes just yet—to confer disease resistance, for example. In spite of all the combined intelligence of scientists, they cannot yet invent/create the biological information needed for disease resistance or drought tolerance in plants, for example. But the evolutionists among them expect us to believe that the same information that they cannot create just arose somehow by blind natural processes without any intelligence whatsoever. It is not terribly logical.
Interestingly, despite the declining knowledge of the Bible in many western societies today, the influence of Christianity is such that seed banks are still referred to by many as seed ‘arks’—an obvious parallel to the account of Noah and the Ark-borne animals that were saved from the global cataclysm of Genesis 6–9.
It’s possible that many plant species did not survive the Genesis Flood, as there are quite a few plant fossil species (found in sedimentary rock strata laid down during the Flood) which are not known to grow anywhere today. Their disappearance, and thus the loss of their nutritional value as food, might partially explain why God permitted man to eat meat after the Flood (Genesis 9:3).
But clearly many plant species did survive the Flood, as today we enjoy their beauty and value as sources of oil, food, fibre, spices and beverages. A large proportion would have survived through their seeds—many terrestrial seeds can survive long periods of soaking in various concentrations of saltwater (something that Charles Darwin observed). Indeed, saltwater impedes the germination of some species so that the seed lasts better in saltwater than freshwater. Also, some seeds do not imbibe water at all unless the hard outer seed coat (testa) is first weakened (scarified), e.g. by bushfire.
Some seeds could have survived the Genesis Flood in the stomachs of the bloated, floating carcasses of dead herbivores.12 Other plants could have survived in floating vegetation masses, or on pumice (which floats) from the volcanic activity. Pieces of many plants are capable of asexual sprouting, and later go on to produce seeds. The olive leaf brought back to Noah by the dove (Gen. 8:11) shows that plants were regenerating well before Noah and company left the Ark after 371 days on board.
Many seeds have devices for attaching themselves to the fur of animals, and some could have survived the Flood on board the Ark by this means.
Of course, Noah took food on board the Ark prior to the Flood (Genesis 6:21), and that would have included many seeds. Perhaps some seed found its way aboard as accidental inclusions in foodstores, but most was surely intentionally loaded, with Noah likely to have kept some aside as planting material for their crops after the Flood. (After the Flood it seems Noah planted a vineyard before even building his house (Genesis 9:20–21)—in line with the later biblical advice (Proverbs 24:27) to “Finish your outdoor work and get your fields ready; after that, build your house.”)
I remember as an agricultural science undergraduate at university being taught that the origin of many crop plants can be traced back to the Fertile Crescent, i.e. the strip of land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the Middle East. As a Christian I can now see that this fits exactly with the historical account of Genesis. The Bible refers to that area as being the Plain of Shinar, which is where the Tower of Babel was built. This was the place from which God scattered the post-Flood people by confusing their language (Genesis 10:1–11:9). So the various types of crop seed that Noah carried on board the Ark were carefully husbanded after the Flood, having been brought down from the Ark’s landing site “on the mountains of Ararat” (Genesis 8:4). Those crop species and varieties were used by successive generations settling on the Plain of Shinar. With the dispersal from Babel, one can understand that particular families “according to their languages” would have taken their respective farming expertise and seed resources with them as they spread out—thus helping us to make sense of the post-Flood distribution of cropping plants around the world.
Water, animals and man are not the only seed dispersal agents. “Winged” seeds can remain airborne long enough to fall quite some way from the parent tree, blown by the wind. Dandelion seeds’ parachute-like “pappus” can keep them aloft for hours, during which time they can be blown very long distances indeed. But the role played by birds in seed dispersal is surely the most remarkable.
The digestive acids in a bird’s stomach are just right for weakening the seed coat of many seeds (e.g. cherries), which otherwise pass undigested out the “back door” of flying birds, conveniently surrounded by a nutrient-rich dollop of natural fertilizer. Thus if this seed “parcel” lands in a suitable location, it’s ready to germinate and grow right away. A great many seeds are distributed and propagated in this manner.
However, some seeds, like those of the pinyon pine, have only a very thin seed coat, and are readily digested by birds that eat them—such as the pinyon jay, which just adores eating pinyon pine seeds. So there’s no leftover plantable “pit” to be dropped from the birds thereafter. Yet the pinyon jay plays a crucial role in propagating pinyon pines. How so? The birds eat what seeds they immediately need in order to survive, and then bury the surplus in the soil for future needs.
One study reported that from September through to January in a pinyon pine forest near the Grand Canyon, a flock of 250 pinyon jays buried about 4.5 million pinyon seeds! And they don’t just bury them anywhere—they tend to select sites in open areas, near fallen trees. When winter comes, the jays harvest many of their carefully hidden pinyon seeds—but it seems they’ve been programmed to hide more seeds in the soil than they can subsequently eat, hence the remaining seeds are in just the right place to sprout and grow, becoming the next generation of pinyon pines.
Such a nicely-balanced ecological arrangement surely fits better with the kind of system-ordered harmony God originally designed into His good creation, than with evolutionary ideas about ecology.13
Seed-producing plants are categorized as being either gymnosperms (“naked seed” plants such as pine trees [left]) or angiosperms (angion = vessel)—i.e. flowering plants with seeds enclosed in a vessel called the ovary (such as almond trees [right] and wheat plants).
In fact, ecologists have had to rethink their theories of ecological ‘succession’ in light of recent observations of plant colonization of bare land areas. For example, at Mount St Helens, the devastated landscape soon showed both ‘pioneer’ and ‘climax’ species growing side-by-side!14 And on the island of Surtsey, formed by volcanic eruption in the 1960s, evolutionary biologists were surprised to find that it was not the expected lichens and mosses which were the ‘early invaders’, but flowering plants.15 At both Mount St Helens and Surtsey, not only did the evolutionary way of thinking fail to predict what happened, but evolutionists greatly underestimated the innate resilience of the creation to re-seed denuded areas.
That’s probably not surprising, given that their evolutionary ‘history’ of our planet proposes mosses and lichens as the first greenery to colonize the earth, many millions of years after its alleged molten beginning. In contrast, if ecologists could take note of the Bible’s teaching, which is both useful (2 Timothy 3:16) and wisdom-imparting (Psalm 19:7b), they’d have a framework which makes much more sense of the world’s greenery. They’d see that all plant kinds were created together, on Day 3 of Creation Week (and that the earth had a watery, not molten, beginning). Also, that from the account of the Genesis Flood, there’s no reason to expect that mosses and lichens would be the first to colonize newly-exposed ground (Genesis 8:11).
This article began by quoting Jesus’ words from Mark 4:26b–28 about a sprouting seed. Jesus was actually using this as an example of what the kingdom of God is like (v. 26a), and that after a time of growth, there will be a harvest of souls (v. 29). In fact, seeds are used in Scripture many other times, too, as a way of getting across important moral and spiritual matters.
“Do not be deceived for God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7) Just as it is an inescapable principle that a man harvests according to the kind of seed he plants, so too with his actions toward others. The Apostle Paul also used seeds imagery in 1 Corinthians 3:6: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God gives the increase.”
The mustard seed featured in two of Jesus’ parables: about the kingdom of God (Matthew 13:31–32) and one’s faith (Matthew 17:20). Jesus also used seeds to teach about the sons of the kingdom compared to the sons of the evil one, and what will happen to them (Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43). But surely the best-known reference to seeds in Jesus’ teaching is the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1–9). Such is its fame that it has even given rise to this popular saying amongst gardeners (which, though very practical advice, was not the application intended by Jesus (Matthew 13:18–23)):
Probably the most deeply spiritual of Jesus’ lessons using seeds was in John 12:23–24, where he spoke of the necessity of his own death …
… with implications (v. 25) for how His disciples were to regard their own lives, too:
The Apostle Paul later revisited this theme of the seed “dying”, as he reassured his readers of the certainty of their resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:35–38) …
… and continued (1 Corinthians 15:42–44):
These reassuring words of Paul are true because the Creator of seeds Himself became the promised “seed” spoken of in Genesis 3:15, through whose sacrifice we who believe, though in Adam we die, can through faith in Him be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22). He, of course, is Jesus—our Creator, Lord and Saviour—the greatest Seed of all.