SOILS, PLANTS, AND A 4000-YEAR-OLD EXPLANATION (C. 1958)

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Excerpted from The Evidence of God in an Expanding Universe, edited by John Clover Monsma. New York: G.P. Putman’s Sons, 1958

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By Lester John Zimmerman, Soil Scientist and Physiologist

M.Sc, Ph.D., Purdue University. Specialist with the U.S. Soil Conservation Service; Professor of Agriculture and Mathematics, Goshen College. Member of the American Society of Agronomy, the Soil Science Society of America, the Soil Conservation Society of America, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Specialist in chemical soil research and soil fertility.

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We all turn philosopher occasionally.

We walk along a field of growing grain, watch our gardens and truck patches with their variety of vegetables, see the ripening fruit in orchards and vineyards, admire the autumn beauty of the forests, with their wide swaths of flaming colors, and we ask ourselves: How did all this come to be?

Jesus told His disciples on one occasion: “Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it cannot bring forth fruit.”

Jesus was a first-rate Agriculturist. He stated, in plain language, one of the strange facts of Nature, namely that death has to come to a grain of wheat before life can spring forth.

There must be water present for both death and life to result. There must be a source of plant nutrients. The chemical elements and compounds are the raw materials which this new life draws upon and uses in the manufacture of plant food. There must be light, energy, to supply the power for growth.

All life depends upon water for its existence. As Parson has said in his Conserving American Resources, water is the “life blood of the earth.” Most chemical processes relating to life and growth have water either as a reactant or as a product. Water acts as a solvent so that the necessary chemi­cal reactions can occur. It is very abundant in most places, and the cycle by which it is supplied to the land and its growths and verdure continues to operate indefinitely.

All matter is composed of chemical elements. The source of the essential elements necessary for the growth of plants is normally found in the air and the soil. Where did the soil come from? How does it maintain the plant nutrient supply?

A fertile soil consists of mineral matter. But there is also organic matter present which originally came from the lives of other plants and from animals. This organic matter is in the process of decomposition, yet in the midst of the decom­position process plant and animal life abounds. These elements, together with air and water, make it possible for the life-giving processes to function properly. A soil composed only of weathered rock fragments is barren. Productive soil is alive. The countless micro-organisms, both plants and animals, may constitute as much as 20 percent of the organic fraction of the soil and number as high as several billion per gram of soil. Thus, soil is formed by the action of the climatic factors upon the solid portion of the earth and the addition of living products, in process of time.

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But how or when did these processes begin? It is not enough to have light, chemicals, air and water for plants to grow. There is a power within the seed which becomes active in the proper environment. Many intricate but harmonious reactions begin to operate. The seed which began as a union of two microscopic cells, each of which is a complexity of elements and processes, starts a new individual on its way to maturity. When the seed is corn, a corn plant develops. When the seed is an acorn, an oak tree results. When the seed dies, whether it be large or small, a plant very similar, yet not completely identical to the plant from which the seed came originally, springs forth. There is order, there is beauty, there is harmony, there is dependableness as one observes the various growth processes.

There is also the possibility of change. Hybrid seed corn has all but replaced the open-pollinated seed corn. With the proper choice of seed, tall and short corn stalks can be grown side by side in the same field. Length of time from planting to maturity can be regulated and selection made on the basis of the length of the growing season. New varieties, more resistant to plant diseases, are continually being sought, and in many cases found (for examples, see Agronomy Handbook by Cutler). Potential productivity has been increased. The record yield of over three hundred bushels of corn per acre attests to this fact.

All higher plants, while different from each other, have certain things in common. There is photosynthesis whereby plant food is produced from carbon dioxide and water in the presence of light. There is the similarity of structure in that roots, stems, leaves and flowers occupy a unique position and have a similar purpose. There are certain responses to outside stimuli such as bending towards the light, death in the absence of light or oxygen, etc., which are common to all plants.

Who was it that established and set in motion the laws of genetics and plant growth? That question very naturally leads to another, a most fundamental one: Where did the first plants come from? Or rather—for a chance origin is logically out of the question, and the assumption of an intelli­gent originator is imperative: Who made the first plants?

For an answer let me quote from a book that was written at least three thousand years ago, and that is dealing with events that occurred at least four thousand years ago—the very ancient Bible book of Job, chapter 38. In the form of a mighty, heroic epic the Lord God is represented as saying to Job:

“Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? . . . When the morning stars [angels] sang together, and all the sons of God [angels] shouted for joy? . . . Or who shut in the sea with doors when it brake forth . . . when I made the clouds the garment thereof . . . and set bars and doors, and said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed? … By what way is the light parted, which scattereth the east wind upon the earth? Who hath divided a path for the lightning of thunder; to cause it to rain on the earth … to satisfy the desolate and waste ground, and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth? . . .  Canst thou bind the Pleiades [a cluster of stars in the constellation Taurus], or loose the bands of Orion [a large constellation on the equator]? Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth [a constellation in the southern sky] in their season, or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons [the “Bear,” a cluster of seven very bright stars]? Knowest thou the ordi­nances of heaven, and canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth? . . . Who provideth food for the raven, when his young ones cry unto God?”

The answer of the Book of Job to the question of the origin and maintenance of the universe (and that naturally includes the plant world) is my answer. All Nature was origi­nated by God, and He sustains it, incessantly.

As I continue to study and observe the workings of Nature in soils and plants, my belief in God constantly increases, and I daily bow down before Him in wonderment and praise.

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