Trees: God’s creative power on display
Trees are given a prominent position in God’s Word. Psalm 1 compares a man who bases his life on God’s law to a tree growing close to streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.
To most people, trees are the very essence of ‘naturalness’, which basically implies absence of artificial human input. In recent decades, secular literature has shown a noticeable shift towards interpreting naturalness as absence of divine input—as merely the product of chance, by evolution. Nothing could be further from the truth; a tree is not a product of chance, but of divine design.
To help demonstrate this, compare a tree with a skyscraper, often seen as a supreme example of human achievement. A skyscraper begins with a plan, compiled by a team of architects and engineers. Even a very large tree begins with a tiny seed, often no bigger than a pinhead. But it is crammed with complex programmed information that controls its development into a living giant (see box).
It takes a mountain of materials such as cement, sand, and steel to be brought to the site to build a skyscraper. But the tree seedling accomplishes the build-up of its body—the root system, the bole (trunk) and the crown—on site, just utilizing raw materials surrounding it. It uses the water delivered by the rain, the carbon dioxide and the oxygen1 from the surrounding air, and the nutrients dispersed through the soil around its roots.
Not only that, but the energy that makes possible the building of its impressive structure does not have to be generated elsewhere and channelled to the building site. The energy of the sun is captured by special organs of the trees, called leaves. These small, green, and mostly flat, leathery structures contain thousands of minute but highly sophisticated factories capable of capturing solar energy and converting it into energy-rich substances. The tree uses these to build its body and to perform its many functions.
This process, called photosynthesis, is far superior to the similar efforts that mankind, with all our universities and research institutes, has achieved so far. It utilizes complex organic compounds, and structures so miniaturized as to be invisible to the unaided eye, to produce high-energy sugars.
The key raw material utilized in this energy fixation is carbon dioxide. This is a ‘waste product’ generated when an animal or plant ‘burns’ substances like sugars to obtain energy, just as it is when fossil fuels are burned by humans to generate electricity.
In our economies, we struggle with the problem of disposing of waste products. But in trees this is dealt with neatly and efficiently by this fixation of solar energy. The by-product of this process is oxygen, which is essential for animal (and plant) life. It is released from the tree’s leaves to the atmosphere via the same access pores (stomata) through which the key raw material, the carbon dioxide, is taken in.
Tree structure—superiority of design
The crown of the tree is so designed as to give the leaves maximum exposure to the source of energy, the sun. Every photosynthesizing cell in the leaves is connected to the rest of the tree by minute conducting channels. One set, xylem, conducts water and dissolved chemicals upwards from the roots to the leaves. The other set, phloem, conducts the sugars produced in the leaves downwards to the roots. Both types are formed within the tree from the sugars generated from sunlight, reconstituted into strong and stable substances called cellulose and lignin.
The efficiency of the design of these channels is not limited to their conducting function. The xylem has also a structural function. It gives the tree branches and the bole their strength, so that they can support the weight of the crown. It also gives the bole its stiffness, so that it is not pushed over by wind. This is not the rigid strength of most human constructions of concrete and steel, but a flexible strength that enables the tree to regain its shape once the wind eases.
The phloem, too, has a dual function. Besides conducting the flow of sugars downwards, it also protects the soft parts of the tree where new tissue is formed. So it acts as an outer shield against mechanical or fire damage.
The root system of a tree likewise has a dual function. It anchors the tree into the soil and extracts water and nutrients from it. When it rains, some of the water directly enters through the leaf surfaces, but most ends up in the ground. A tree needs to obtain large amounts of water to survive and flourish. Its roots actively search for and extract it, along with dissolved nutrients, from the soil for despatch to the crown.
The roots grow in such a way as to stabilize the tree and protect the soil from erosion. In non-frozen soil, their growth is continuous; they respond to stimuli to grow downwards (geotropism) and toward moisture (hydrotropism). Fungi and bacteria in the soil cooperate with tree roots to maximize the uptake of nutrients, which can be quite dispersed in the soil. By comparison, the foundations of a skyscraper are just mechanical means of holding the building upright, and are limited to their initial size.
The water from the roots is passed on to the crown through the bole of the tree. The water has to be raised against gravity for as much as 100 metres (330 feet), a daunting engineering challenge. Any mechanism, even the most powerful man-made pump, that tried to lift the water up by suction would be limited by atmospheric pressure to a height of about 10 m (33 ft). Trees overcome this with an ingenious combination of methods at the cellular level.
What is clear from all this is the superiority of the divine design. The probability of even one phase of the development and functioning of a tree coming into being by chance is minuscule. This is so irrespective of any selective factors, though these are real enough in fine-tuning a plant’s ‘fit’ to its environment. The probability of the whole integrated and faultlessly operating tree coming into being solely by random mutation and natural selection is effectively nil.
Trees making copies of trees
Though trees are generally long-lived, they do ultimately die and therefore have to replace themselves. The way this is done is yet another marvel of design. Through the seeds, all the information governing the growth and functioning of the tree, encoded on DNA, is transmitted to the next generation via amazing, pre-programmed machinery.
All scientific observations confirm that information can be transmitted, and can decay in the process, but it has never been observed to arise by ‘natural’ processes, i.e. in the absence of intelligence. The information in tree seeds, which includes a limited ability to adapt and vary, thus had to originally come from an intelligent source. This information reflects the brilliance of God’s design in the original Genesis kind.
References and notes
- Like animals, plants use oxygen to burn carbon-containing compounds to get energy needed to drive their processes. Return to text.