Why we are here:

Our signature Bible passage, the prologue to John's Gospel, tells us that Jesus (the Logos) is God and Creator and that He came in the flesh (sarx) to redeem His fallen, sin-cursed creation—and especially those He chose to believe in Him.

Here in Bios & Logos we have some fun examining small corners of the creation to show how great a Creator Jesus is—and our need for Him as Redeemer. Soli Deo Gloria.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Hamamelis Yes--Hobgoblins No!

Well, it’s here, again—Halloween. Big orange pepos (specialized berries with tough rinds) are everywhere; and the little (and not so little) hobgoblins and probably quite a few “balloon boy flying saucers”, Sarah Palins and Obamas will be hitting up the neighbors for unhealthy treats.

You can probably tell by that lead that I am not thrilled about Halloween. It’s the devil’s holiday and I don’t like giving him any undeserved attention. So the closest I’ll come to recognizing the day is to offer the above photographs of a lovable but rather odd native tree. It’s called Witch-hazel, wherein lies the stupid Halloween joke.

Hamamelis virginiana is a small understory tree, usually less than 20 feet in height. It is straggly, usually with several trunks. In fact, some would even call it a shrub, rather than a tree. Nevertheless, it’s one of my favorite woody plants. It’s easy to identify and has so many unusual features that it’s just fun to look at during all seasons.

Everything about Witch-hazel seems irregular, like it should be found on the dented cans table at Stop & Shop. Take the leaves (the pictured ones were the only ones left on the tree in late October). Does that look like any other tree leaf, nicely symmetrical and pointy, with smooth or evenly toothed margins? Look at the base of the leaf—the two sides don’t match. And the edges of the leaf—all wavy and irregular, like they were cut out by a Kindergartner with plastic scissors.

Even more unusual are the flowers. What respectable tree blooms in October, after it has shed its leaves? And look at those flowers—yes, those stringy things are flower petals. You call those petals? I don’t know how those flowers get pollinated, but I suppose there are some insect visitors around to do the job, laughing all the while.

But it's the weirdness that makes Witch-hazel so fascinating and lovable.

Of course, when we think of Witch-hazel, we are likely to think first about a certain aroma and a cool feeling, back when barbers routinely splashed Witch-hazel lotion on your neck after your haircut. It’s been a long time since any barber has given me that treat. I wonder why they don’t do it any more. On my next visit to the tonsorial parlor, I must ask for, or maybe even demand a cooling splash.

What is that lotion anyway? For one thing, it’s evidence of the exquisite complexity of plants and their talents as biochemists. The extract from the leaves and twigs of Witch-hazel contain a virtual cornucopia of complex organics:
tannin, gallic acid, catechins, proanthocyanins, flavonoids (kaempferol, quercetin), essential oil (carvacrol, eugenol, hexenol), choline, saponins, and bitters. (You can click on each of those fancy names to discover more about them.) The drug store/barbershop solution contains some alcohol as well. Because it is an astringent, it shrinks tissues (seals any leaks that a razor nick may produce) and is used to treat various other skin-related problems.

But just think of the genetic instructions that are necessary to code for all those molecules, as well as the cellular mechanisms needed to manufacture them! We just have no excuse for claiming that plants are “simple” in any way. Just because they don’t jump around or do other things that your dog does, doesn’t mean that they are any less complex. It also means that we have no excuse for thinking they could have evolved from anything else by some mindless chance process. (Periodically, why not check the Creation/Evolution Headlines site in the "Links to good stuff" on your right? Dr. Coppedge and crew have a remarkable talent for uncovering logical falacies in supposedly legitimate scientific sources.)

I know, I know. We are supposed to be doing special things this year in honor of Mr. Darwin, just because it’s his 200th birthday. But the facts are these: he’s dead and his theory is hanging on by a thread—not in the minds of his sycophants but in the eyes of real experimental science. Every day, it seems, science reveals some new molecular machine in living cells that absolutely precludes life having originated by chance or that it can increase in complexity by mutations and natural selection.

Just a peek at one small, scraggly tree has me reflecting on the greatness of our Creator God. So why should I dress up and give one little bit of honor to the devil or paganism--or a 200 year-old dead man with a failed theory?

But if, just if, I were to backslide, what would I be this Halloween? I know—I would dress up as a witch—a pungently scented witch called Hazel.

Soli Deo Gloria