The beauty of autumn’s brilliant colors is an amazing testimony to the creative wisdom of God as well as an expression of His love of beauty. The colors of fall are caused by several pigments and the interaction of sunlight and sugar.
Most of us know that chlorophyll makes leaves green. When leaves receive reduced sunlight in the fall, they also have a reduced supply of nutrients and water, causing the chlorophyll to be removed. The chlorophyll masks two pigments that have different colors. Carotene is yellow, and several varieties of anthocyanins are red. Many leaves contain tannin, which is brown and is dominant in oak trees. Sunlight acting on trapped sugar also produces anthocyanins with various sparkling colors, which is why the color is so spectacular on a sunny autumn day in a maple forest.
As the days grow shorter, the reduced amount of sunlight causes a corky wall called the “abscission layer” to form between the twig and the leaf stalk. This wall will eventually break and cause the leaf to drop off in the breeze. The corky material seals off the vessels that supplied the leaf with nutrients and water and blocks any loss of sugars from the plant.
What is especially interesting is that the leaf colors are not all the same. Some vines produce spectacular colors. Poison ivy takes on a beautiful red due to a high concentration of anthocyanin. Aspen has a high concentration of carotene producing the vivid yellows which dominate the woods in the Rocky Mountains. In Michigan, we have maples, gum, aspen, and oak, giving us spectacular colors that vary from one location to another.
The colors of fall are a great testimony to the fact that God paid attention to aesthetics in the creation. If survival of the fittest were the only criteria for choosing the chemicals that allow plants to survive, it seems that there would be one best choice. Different chemicals provide a vivid, beautiful splash of color for humans to enjoy. Beauty is not part of the evolutionary model, but it speaks of God’s creativity, giving us a wonderful and beautiful world in which to live.
Imagine that you are walking along an unfamiliar street, and you see a sign that says, “Magic Potions from the Periodic Table.” The unusual sign and the look of the store arouse your curiosity.
As you walk in, you notice that the room is dark, and you see a man who looks like the stereotype of a wizard. On shelves lining the walls, there are 92 bottles of chemicals. You see labels on some of them that say “carbon,” “oxygen,” “nitrogen,” “phosphorous,” “zinc,” and other elements. The “wizard” is pouring some chemicals from bottles into some beakers. He looks at you with a smile and says, “What can I mix for you today? I can give you a potion for morality. How about something to make you appreciate beauty? Love—the true, unconditional kind of love is right here. How about letting me mix you up some meaning and purpose in life?”
You are startled and a bit confused because you had chemistry class in school. You realize that putting together the chemical elements you see on the shelves will not give you the things this “wizard” is offering. Even carbon-based molecules cannot supply morality, appreciation of beauty, true unselfish love, or meaning and purpose in life.
Chemistry is not enough. There is something beyond the chemical formulas and covalent bonding that comes into play in humans. The “wizard” is the naturalist who says that chance evolution and chemistry explain everything about our existence. Do we accept his suggestion? Does chemistry explain it all? Can the wizard’s magic potions from the periodic table fully explain what it means to be human?
Shouldn’t we look for an explanation beyond naturalism? We think a better explanation is that there is a God who created us in His image. It seems evident that we are more than bodies made of chemicals assembled by chance.
My daughter and I were digging up potatoes in the garden. Most of the potatoes were pretty small, but we try to be sure we do not waste anything, so all of them were going in the bucket. Suddenly I heard, “Yuk, this isn’t a potato” and she reared back to pitch a tulip bulb she had dug up into the compost pile. I stopped her and said, “Hey, we want to plant that in the flower bed, and it will be beautiful by spring.” She looked at the dirty, shabby tulip bulb and said, “How can anything as pretty as a tulip come out of something as ugly, old, and beat up as this?”
The fact of the matter is that it is a basic design of the Creator that causes all kinds of beauty and new life to come from an old source that has been buried. These beautiful flowers all were dead looking ugly bulbs at one time. It is a design of nature that allows seeds to come out of a dying and rotten vegetable.
The same thing is true on a spiritual, psychological, and emotional level. A beautiful Christian life is only possible when the ugly old person of sin is buried. Those of us who have found ourselves deep in sin, fight a losing battle if we try to overcome that sin on our own. It is only when we bury that sinful, ugly old person that something beautiful can blossom and grow. That is why baptism is such a wonderful and beautiful act. Perhaps those who have grown up in the church cannot appreciate it as much as those of us who experienced total contamination by the world, but it is far from a meaningless or senseless act.
One of the joys of life is the beauty that we see in the natural world. The beauty of flowers is so great that we decorate our homes inside and out with flowers of every description. People will get out of bed early in the morning to watch a sunrise display colors of incredible beauty and complexity. We admire the work of artists and photographers who can capture a permanent record of the colors of the world on canvas or film. Why is there color in the world?
There are hundreds of papers that have been written by scientists and science writers concerning the reason for color. The design of the Earth and of the life systems on Earth frequently demand that certain colors exist. For example, the green in vegetation is necessary to protect plants from the high energy wavelengths of the Sun’s light.
There are some colors in the natural world, however, that seem to defy a naturalistic evolutionary explanation. Flowers living in identical environments will frequently have radically different colors. If we postulate that the colors are different to attract different pollinators, we run into logical problems. Wouldn’t the most efficient pollinators provide the same advantages to all flowers of similar geometric design? In caves deep in the ocean, there are some of the more vividly colored tropical fish. These fish never see sunlight and have no camouflage advantage given by their colors. There are worms and burrowing animals in thermal vents deep in the floor of the ocean that display rich and beautiful colors.
A skeptic may reply that these colors are a chance consequence of the materials that make up the bodies of these organisms. The fact is that, in many cases, the colored materials in the organism are inconsequential to the survival of the organism. We would suggest an equally plausible and perhaps more realistic explanation. Could it be that a God of intelligence and creative power designed the creation not only with functional wisdom but also with aesthetic intelligence?
When my oldest daughter married and moved to West Texas, I worried about how a young lady born and raised in Indiana would fare in an area that was essentially a desert. Leaving a state full of lakes, streams, trees, and fruit and vegetable crops for a world of cactus and yucca seemed to be quite an adjustment. When my daughter and her husband showed us a lot they were buying high on a butte, I worried even more. They were miles from town and surrounded by nothing but thorn-covered plants, mesquite trees, and bare rock and dirt.
Our first visit after they built their new house was during a time when they had been blessed with a great deal of rain. I was amazed at the transformation that had taken place in the landscape. Everything was green, and most things were blooming. Even the obnoxious cactus I always managed to get scratched by was covered with beautiful flowers.