IN the last chapter, we considered the probability argument against evolution—the incredibly small chance that two complex systems, each having three component parts, and both essential to the survival of the species, could develop independently and be ready for use at the same time.

This is so powerful an argument that it is worth taking another perfectly fascinating example from the world of trees to reinforce the point. Consider the coconut palm. There are many kinds of palm, including the date palms we see on Mediterranean holidays, but the coconut is one of the most valuable. The leaves provide people with shade and building materials, and the nuts give them food, drink, oil and a tough durable fibre for matting. However, the true purpose of the nut is to provide the next generation of coconut trees, and we want to look now at the admirably efficient way it carries out this function.

Like the hedgerow trees, palms need to spread themselves around, to avoid overcrowding and the risk of being wiped out by disease or storms. The problem is that, for the coconut, the nearest land onto which it can spread may be an island 50 or 100 miles away. How did the first coconuts manage to disperse their seeds? Unlike other trees, they could not use birds or animals as carriers, because of the distances involved. The solution was to employ a ‘space capsule’ that would float on the sea, and wash up safely on a foreign shore.

The design of the coconut is incredibly ingenious. We are used to buying coconuts as brown, bristly spheres we take home and crack open for the white kernel inside. However, what we know as the coconut is only half of the real thing. When it first drops from the tree onto the island sand, the coconut is much larger. In fact, our coconut is only the stone from the middle of the fruit. Around it there was originally a dense mat of tough bristles. Only a few tufts remain on the coconut we buy— the rest has been shaved off to be used in making doormats and brushes. The fibre sheath was surrounded in turn by a thick layer of oily rind with a strong outer skin, the whole assembly resembling a smooth, green football.

Each of the component parts of the coconut is essential to the success of the propagation exercise. The outer rind, for example, and its waterproof skin, provides the buoyancy needed for the long journey across the ocean. The fibrous wrapping and the wood-like spherical stone inside it preserve the delicate seed within from destruction as the capsule approaches its destination. They resemble the heat shield that protects a true space capsule from burning up as it re-enters the earth’s atmosphere. Many South Sea Islands have a deadly obstacle around them, the coral reef, nightmare grave of many sturdy ships. As the nut floats in the ocean currents towards the sandy shore, it must first cross over thisraised, jagged, razor-sharp outer ring over which the rollers break in a frenzy of white foam. Only the most resilient shock absorbent packaging and the toughest inner case could survive sucha pounding without disintegration. The bristle layer and the hard shell underneath provide just the protection required.

Once over the reef, and floated by gentler waves high up the beach to the tide line, the coconut now lies exposed to a fierce sun on a sterile sandy beach with no moisture but the salt sea. That is where the contents of the nut come into their own. The white, starchy flesh and the watery milk provide the nourishment that enables the seed to sprout and put down roots, unfurling green leaves that will soon create nourishment from nothing but air and water. Those vital early weeks are fuelled by the food supply packed neatly inside the capsule.

coco

How does the germinating seed break out of its wooden case, so tough we usually need to fetch our hammer to break it apart? The answer is that three soft depressions, the ‘eyes’, are built into one end of the shell, like knocked-out circles in an electrical junction box. It is through one of these weakened zones that the first green shoot emerges, and soon pressure from the expanding roots forces the halves of the shell apart.

To the islander, the germinating plant is an everyday thing, part of the scenery. But for anyone with eyes to see, the coconut is a remarkable invention, perfectly suited to the dangerous mission it sets out to accomplish. It is time now to consider how such a device could appear without outside help, produced solely by natural selection and aeons of time.

Once again, an extended time period is more of an embarrassment than a help. Until the travelling capsule is complete and ready to work, the parent trees must stop on their original island. A halfdeveloped coconut would be useless. Only when it can successfully cross hundreds of sea miles and survive can the species spread and prosper. Through the whole of that time, the original trees would be vulnerable to storm, disease and predators.

When you add up the sub-systems that need simultaneously to be in a state of readiness, the task begins to resemble the launch of a space shuttle. It would be no use, for example, perfecting the starchy rind and the liquid for rapid germination without bringing along in parallel the hard, shock-resistant shell and the fibre padding to combat the coral reef. And even then, the enterprise would fail without a buoyant, waterproof outer coat that will resist salt water for weeks without deterioration.

On a shuttle development programme, space organisations fund millions of dollars worth of salaries for top scientific brains to design a capsule that will take a few people from earth to space and back again. A project director co-ordinates the various teams concerned with propulsion, life support, communications, and so on, to make sure they keep pace with each other. Even then, they may tragically overlook some important but vital detail, and the mission will fail ignominiously.

rocket

Can you feel comfortable with the suggestion that such a brilliant design as the coconut had not even one brain behind it, but went through those millennia of development and testing, propelled solely by its own need to survive? For many, it is intellectually more convincing to suppose that the Creator, with his angelic assistants, drew up the blueprints for the “plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:12).