Autumn Leaves – A Manifestation Of Natural Life
As a columnist of a top local Daily Newspaper in Manipur, and living abroad, I have the resources to report on topics of interest that are specific to Manipuri community, even though they are of international issues. Most world events have always had a quick impact on Manipuris.
A newspaper columnist of a local paper, worldwide, usually focuses the write-up on a particular topic and usually offers a personal point of view. These could be on the existence of God, gardening problems, women issues, personal interesting stories, a particular scientific topic or just about any other topic.
Now that the Loki Saba election fever is subsiding, I will reply, though belated, to Sashikanta Takelambam, who emailed me on Sept 22 2013: “D/Sir, with due regards I want to share my views regarding God. I am a fan and avid follower of “Diaspora Speak” in the Sangai Express. I’ll go straight to the page hoping to read new and interesting article from you. All your articles that I have read so far, are enlightening, but more interesting are those write-ups on God, science & religion. I do not believe in the existence of God…”
Dear Sashikanta, like you, I am naturalist and evolutionist. Today’s article is an imperfect medley of self-portrait of early years and columnist-style dash off. It is an open-eyed, open-minded way of seeing the idea that life is all natural.
In my childhood, I believed in the existence of God. Those were the days when I thought they would never change. The land of Sana Leibak Manipur in which I was born was endowed with gods of the Hindu pantheon and equally primitive gods of Sanamahi religion. Though I was never a big Godly boy I had my share as part of a religious family.
I have grown very old, but strange it seems, most of the time, I think of myself as around late 20s. That is until I look at my face in the mirror. Might not be many years left, but I enjoy reliving my youth. This brings out the passage from the Bible: “When the almond tree blossoms and the grasshopper drags himself along and desire no longer is stirred.” (Ecclesiastes 12:5).
Youth is the only time of life with a fresh state of mind but with an opaque future suspended in front you. I could not have been alone in waiting for the annual Yaoshang (Holi) festival with the promises of a thrilling encounter with the girls of my dreams. What better place than in Manipur to celebrate Holi – the frolicking of Krishna with Radha and other girls from Brindaban.
I have vivid youthful memories of chilly and tranquil bright moonlit nights of November when the stars glittered and twinkled, sometimes with the melody of a flute played afar, beckoning to me to wonder at the creation of the universe by a mighty God.
I often wondered if the stars shone out for us and floated down like autumn leaves. I marvelled at the giant Marigold flowers blossoming in the front garden of every Meitei home, waiting to be plucked by vestal virgins at the break of dawn in November every year, to propitiate Krishna with flowers and fragrance when he woke up from slumber at “Hari Uthan” (wake up-call for Krishna) – a Vaishnavite ritual of obscure Hindu theology.
All that changed as I grew older. God no longer was real to me. Yet, the question of whether nature created God or God created nature continued to haunt my ambivalent minduntil Stephen Hawking could explain in his “Big Bang” theory that universe came into existence without a God because of physical laws like gravity.
As we will see later why the autumn leaves fall, nature sustains nature for survival by a process of adaptation unlike a Swiss clock made by a watch maker. Human nature likewise, follows natural changes. We could not have done this if we remained unchanged like a “Clock designed by God”.
As a biologist, I understand how the autumn leaves in my garden turn to vibrant colours of red and gold in November, heralding the end of summer. That is how nature works without a God but only with a biological clock.
The tree is a highly organised arrangement of living, feeding, growing and dying as human beings are. They have a system similar to a the human heart and a circulatory system for pumping fluid containing nutrition and minerals, extracted from the soil by its roots to the crown of the tallest tree. This is called The “Ascent of the Sap”.
The reason why trees (deciduous) shed off their leaves during autumn is for survival. When winter approaches, our part of the Earth receives less sunlight. Trees prepare themselves for the cold winter like human beings. They drop their leaves by sealing the spots where leaves are attached so that the sap is now blocked from reaching the leaves. After that, a layer of cells known as the abscission or separation layer develops at the bases of the leave’s stems.
Chlorophyll breaks down and the natural pigments of the leaves are exposed and thus the leaves change colour. They die and fall off. When spring comes, with warm air and fresh water, the trees will sprout new leaves and start growing again.
This is to conserve their energy during the winter season. Those that can’t seal the spots will die. Trees make food (sugar) in summer from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide (photosynthesis), but it is less effective in cold winter.
Richard Dawkins in his book The Blind Watchmaker (1986) explains with persuasive arguments that evolution and natural selection, is the true origin of life, and finding the complexity of living organisms does not prove that a Creator must exist.
Dawkins’ book has been acclaimed as the most influential work on evolution in the last hundred years. He sets out to demonstrate that the theory of evolution by natural selection – the unconscious, automatic, blindyet essentially non-random process discovered by Charles Darwin – is the only answer to the biggest question of all: why do we exist or what is life?
In this book, the nature itself is gradually forming order from the very building-blocks of life: DNA. His book is the most important treatise on evolution since Darwin. It describes nothing less than the meaning of life.
It describes that the existence of all known biological structures and behaviours can be explained using the scientific method, starting with basic physical laws and principles, adding that only random mutation and natural selection in particular, can explain our existence and does not require an Intelligent Design.
He puts it this way: “life evolves from non-random survival of randomly varying replicators [mutations].” He writes: “Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, authentic process which Darwin discovered, and which we know now is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of life, has no process in mind. It has no mind and no mind’s eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the “Blind Watchmaker.” (p147).
Dawkins’ book easily refute some of the creative arguments by attacking the rise of creationism in the United States, by giving evidence against a “young earth” with a meticulous reasoning, leavened by the rift on metaphor with a combative secular humanism.
The book provides a masterful and compelling description of how complex biological structures such as eye and behaviour such as echolocation in bats, could have come from random mutation of very simple DNA plus protein system, and driven only by natural selection.
He explains mysteries of how self-replicating molecules (DNA) emerged, and how did life begin, why it began on Earth and apparently only on Earth and how the first organisms began to drift on the warm water of Precambrian tides. Precambrian is the first time period on earth, 4 billion years ago, since earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago. It is not a “geographical time” as no rocks were formed yet.
During this period, life formed though it was not a cell life as we know. Scientists say the oceans then, were not like what they are now. They were like thick soup known as “Primordial soup” from which celled life began. The first one-celled organisms produced oxygen in the air and water for new life forms of many cells that could form to make different kinds of animals and eventually human beings. That was the origin of life.
Richard Dawkins is a Fellow of both the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Literature, and Vice President of the British Humanist Association. He was first catapulted to fame with The Selfish Gene, which he followed with a string of bestselling books: The Extended Phenotype, The Blind Watchmaker, River out of Eden, Unweaving the Rainbow, and an impassioned defence of atheism -The God Delusion.