|Section 1: Design in Nature|
Design in Communities of Living Things 21
creatures form an interdependent system linked with the purely physical earth environment.
Providing significant evidence of design by a Master Designer, ecological studies of
particular localized communities of living things reveal in such communities an intricate,
integrated web of interdependencies among the various living things. Ecological
communities are characterized by self-adjusting balancing mechanisms and also by
conservative cycles by which the materials used by plants and animals are continually
circulated and re-used.
The most obvious balanced interdependence is that between plants and animals in general. By the process of photosynthesis plants are able to capture the energy of sunlight and use it to transform water and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into carbohydrates and other energy-rich organic compounds plus oxygen gas, which is released into the atmosphere. Breathed in by animals, the oxygen reacts with the energy-rich plant products eaten by the animals, producing energy to power animal life processes, and releasing carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. Thus a double cycle of carbon and oxygen powered by the energy of the sun is basic to all life upon the earth. Animals in unusual communities around deep-sea vents are a rare exception to this rule. Energy-rich chemicals in the hot water from the earth's crust provide their energy.
In every ecological community there are food cycles which intermesh with various material cycles involving chemical elements essential to life. The greater part of photosynthesis takes place in the oceans, carried out by the microscopic plants of the plankton suspended in the upper layer of seawater within a couple of hundred feet of the surface. Carbon dioxide absorbed into the water from the air is used by the plankton, and oxygen is released into the water, some going back into the air, the remainder serving as the oxygen supply for the animal life of the oceans. Many of the small sea creatures eat the microscopic plant life; small fish eat them, larger fish eat the smaller fish, and on up the food chain to the largest denizens of the sea. These are thus ultimately dependent upon the photosynthesis performed by the microscopic plankton in the upper water layers.
On the land a characteristic food chain or cycle would consist of photosynthesizing plants, plant-eating grasshoppers, hopper-eating toads, toad-eating snakes, and snake-eating birds of prey, the highest members of the food chain. The predatory bird dies, falls to the ground and is eaten by scavengers, decomposed by bacteria, or oxidized by the air. The essential chemical elements are finally returned to the soil to be used once again by plants. Again, the ultimate energy source is sunlight harnessed by plants.
Mutually dependent and beneficial relationships between plants and insects provide extensive evidence of intelligent and purposeful design in the natural order. The most familiar of these is that between many pollen-bearing plants and pollenating insects such as the honeybee. Bees need nectar and pollen, and the flowers need a mechanism by which pollen can be transported from blossom to blossom. The fig tree and the fig gall wasp are similarly interdependent, and in a manner that is so wonderfully unique that one may only conclude that each was specifically designed for the other. The yucca plant and the pronuba moth are related in a similar but unique manner. Nature is replete with these marvelous fingerprints of infinite intelligence and purpose.
The preservation of all species of plants and animals inhabiting an ecological community requires the automatic maintenance of balance between different kinds of living things. For instance, too many deer will strip the food supply from a forest area until increasing deer population and decreasing food supply bring about catastrophic waves of sickness, starvation and resulting depopulation of the deer herd. Reestablishment of a healthy herd of deer in that area may require decades. The Designer of the forest community included among its fauna predators, such as coyotes, wolves, and mountain lions, which limit the size of the deer population. Thus the balance is preserved between predator, plant, foraging deer, and the plant food supply. Then man comes upon the scene with his domesticated sheep and cattle, and some of these fall prey to the predators native to the region. When an all-out campaign is mounted to exterminate the predators, the natural balance is destroyed and the forest and the deer herd suffer disastrous damage.
Man is learning, often too late, that natural balance must be preserved for man's own welfare. Would not greater awareness of design in nature and a morally based sense of man's responsibility to use natural resources wisely have helped to prevent many unfortunate episodes during the history of man's interaction with the balance of nature?