Chris' Original Blogbeque

A fresh, vinegar-based examination of life

How plants’ fertilization relates to Christian Morality

Posted by Chris on April 3, 2010

Before reading, you may want to read my introduction which includes why I’m reading The Origin of Species, my scientific beliefs about evolution, and my theological beliefs about creation.  Also, click the category listed below the post for related posts.

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How strange that the pollen and stigmatic surface of the same flower, though placed so close together, as if for the very purpose of self-fertilisation, should in so many cases be mutually useless to each other!  How simply are these facts explained on the view of an occasional cross with a distinct individual being advantageous or indispensable.

This passage from Origin requires some contextual explanation.  Darwin is discussing sexual selection, the idea that the strongest or best evolved will produce the more offspring and perpetuate their advantageous characteristics.  He believes that plants, though many have the ability to self-fertilize (in that on the same plant it would be common to find both male and female organs among its flowers), are better off by cross-fertilizing with other distinct plants.  But it takes some luck, because in theory it would be easiest to self-fertilize (as a bee hops from flower to flower on the same plant).  He observes that some plants, though equipped with the theoretical ability to self-fertilize, in practice do not always– and the example which precedes the above quote discusses a plant whose male and female organs get “ready” at different times, rendering them “mutually useless to each other.”

That is a pretty cool idea and nature never ceases to surprise and amaze even people like me who are not very interested in gardening, botany, or biology but love animal shows.  It also reminded me of an important moral biblical principle, taken from 1 Corinthians 6:12

“Everything is permissible for me”–but not everything is beneficial.

This simple statement encompasses much about how we should and should not interact with what God has created– be it other people, drugs, food, cars, or anything.  In the letter to Corinth, Paul covers myraid topics like suing people; marriage; sex; eating meat; and participating in non-Christian religious events.  Except for a few things that the New Testament clearly forbids or prescribes, most of our moral choices involve wrestling with (or ignoring) this advice.

To slightly tweak Paul’s language, “There are many possible uses for any part of creation; but a limited number of purposes.”  Can you see a parallel to plants’ fertilization now?  Sure, most plants have the two components necessary for reproduction, but in the long-run the species is healthier by cross-fertilizing.  To make the direct comparison, any male and female person can in theory reproduce, but it doesn’t make it a good idea.  Everyone could form a list of who should and shouldn’t be allowed to make babies– this isn’t a practice limited to draconian conservative religious types.  Some would wish to exclude the religious, the poor, the unmarried, the “unenlightened”, the clergy, etc…

I do not think that there is moral overlapping between plants’ fertilization and this moral principle.  Think of it as analogy.  I’m not trying to deconstruct darwinism, but simply compare or contrast what Darwin writes with Creation Theology.  Unless I’m given no alternative, I will always assume that purported “facts” (scientific, historical, etc…) harmonize with scripture because I believe that scripture contains the words of God, used to communicate to man the truths of God. So as I’m reading Origin, I would like to point out not only where his ideas harmonize with Creation Theology, but where his observations of nature harmonize with the moral order of Creation as presented by the Bible.

As I said in this post on Man’s power of selection, Creation, as originally created, is good.  1 Corinthians 6:12 is guidance of how to keep it that way.  Are you in a situation where you don’t know what to do?  James 1:5 instructs us to ask God for wisdom, “who gives generously to all without finding fault.”  We’re not supposed to have all the answers.  I don’t have all the answers, Charles Darwin doesn’t have all the answers, you don’t have all the answers.

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