The Mechanism of Photosynthesis
As you know, plants and some bacteria and single-celled organisms use energy from the Sun in order to produce sugar from carbon dioxide and water. As a result of this reaction, the energy in solar rays is stored inside the resulting sugar molecules. Chlorophyll, a green pigment, plays an important role in the conversion of solar energy into useable chemical energy. (Pigment is the name given to substances capable of absorbing light.)
The entire reaction can be summarized in this formula:
6H2O + 6CO2 —-PHOTOSYNTHESIS—-> C6H12O6+ 6O2
For those who are unfamiliar with the language of chemistry, this formula may be translated as follows:
This general description appears very simple, but this formula shows only those substances that enter the reaction at the beginning and those that are obtained at the end. The production of these final products is carried out as a result of astonishing and exceedingly complex processes and mechanisms in the leaf.
In order for the carbohydrate molecules we commonly call sugar to be formed from carbon dioxide and water, exceedingly complex and delicate measures and processes must be implemented. These processes involve very complex systems working at the atomic level, and even at the level of the electrons orbiting around them.
In the process, there are a large number of elements, consisting of different pigments, various salts, minerals, trace elements (such as ferredoxin and adenosine triphosphate), sub-catalysts, and other substances and chemicals with various different responsibilities. Bearing in mind that plants need 30 different proteins just to produce a sugar molecule as simple as saccharose, you can see just how complex the entire system is.
Components of the Photosynthesis Process
Chloroplasts: Plant cells and animal cells possess the same general features, but the most important difference between these two is that plant cells also contain a green plastid, the chloroplast, in which it makes photosynthesis. These chloroplasts, which absorb solar light, are the heart of the entire system. With their structures resembling interconnected balloons, chloroplasts give plants their green color.
In the plant cell, photosynthesis takes place in the chloroplasts, small discs 2 to 10 micrometers thick (a micrometer is 1 millionth of a meter) and 0.003 millimeters (3/1000 millimeter) in diameter. There are around 40 chloroplasts in each cell.68 Despite being so small, these interesting units are separated from their parent cell by two membranes which themselves are unbelievably thin, just 60 angstroms, or 0.000006 millimeters (about 1/100,000 of a millimeter).The chloroplast contains structures known as the thylakoids, which resemble pancakes. These preserve the chlorophyll, photosynthesis's chemical unit, and are protected by thinner membranes. These thylakoids are arranged as discs known as grana, which are just 0.0003 millimeters in size, one atop of the other. There are some 40 to 60 of these grana in each chloroplast.69 All these complex structures consist of proteins and fats that have been brought together for a specific purpose.
Thylakoids: The second component in the chloroplast are these sac-like membranes that contain the green chlorophyll molecules that absorbs sunlight.
Grana: Thylakoids combine together to form grana.
Chlorophyll: The green pigment in the chloroplast that absorbs sunlight.
Stroma lameli: A pipe-like membrane that links the grana in the chloroplast.
Stroma: A jelly-like fluid in the chloroplast.
Photosynthesis and Light
In terms of both its functions and chemical structure, the atmosphere is a perfect covering essential for life. The Sun emits rays of many differ
ent wavelengths. Of these, however, only a very narrow range contains the wavelengths of light necessary for life. And here another great miracle is evident: Such is the structure of the atmosphere that it only permits light within the range necessary for life to enter, and all other harmful rays are reflected back. The atmospheric layer responsible for this filtering, of such vital importance for life, is the ozone layer, composed of oxygen molecules with the chemical formula O3. From among all the other 1025 wavelengths, the ozone layer absorbs 97-99 percent of the sun's high frequency ultraviolet light which is potentially damaging to life on Earth and admits only light in the visible that are essential for life—a miracle specially designed for us.70 If the atmosphere did not admit light in that range, or also admitted rays of other wavelengths, then life as we know it on Earth would be impossible. This is just one of the hundreds of thousands of conditions that must be met for life to exist. The fact that all these conditions are flawlessly met means that it is impossible for life to have emerged by chance.
Rays of Different Wavelengths are Perceived as Different Colors
All the colors we see have a specific wavelength and frequency. Red, for example, has a longer wavelength than violet. We can see colors because our eyes have been created in such a way as to perceive these narrow wavelengths and our brains in such a way as to interpret them.
A wavelength of light is defined by a unit called the nanometer—such a small unit that it is impossible for human beings to comprehend, the equivalent of 1 billionth of a meter. For example, the wavelength of red is 770 nanometers, and that of violet, 390 nanometers.71 These rays also have frequencies, measured in terms of Hertz, or number of cycles per second. A cycle is the distance between the top and bottom of a wave. Light travels at 300,000 kilometers/second (186,000 miles/second). If the wavelength is shorter, the photons must travel a greater distance in the same amount of time.
As you can see, the light used by plants possesses a very special structure. This light—moving at the fastest speed possible—is filtered through a sensitive sieve in the atmosphere, down to a narrow spectrum that we can perceive. In addition, since it moves both as a wave and in the form of particles known as photons, it also causes chemical reactions by striking the atoms that comprise matter.
When light, with its complex structure, travels enormous distances and reaches the plant, it is perceived by a special system, created in such a way as to process light in this very narrow spectrum. If the light had any other speed or frequency then the chlorophyll pigment would be unable to perceive it and the process would come to an end before it had even begun.72 The harmony between pigment and light is one of the examples of deliberate creation we frequently encounter. There are countless examples of such harmonious creation, such as the ear and sound waves, the eye and light, and food and the digestive system. Light cannot regulate its own wavelength, nor can the pigment select the wavelength of the light it is to perceive. Clearly, both have been created for this system to work.
The Miracle that Allows us to Live in a Colorful World
All substances, except wholly transparent ones, absorb light, and their colors stem from the wavelength of the light they reflect, and which is not absorbed by the surface in question. Chlorophyll, present in all photosynthetic cells and a variety of pigments, absorbs all visible wavelengths of light except green. This reflected light is what makes leaves appear green. Black substances absorb nearly all the light that falls on them. White pigments, on the other hand, reflect nearly all the wavelengths of light that strike them.
For example, the pigments in plants known as chlorophyll permit the color green to appear and are also where photosynthesis takes place. Pigment molecules are formed by atoms such as carbon, hydrogen, magnesium, oxygen and nitrogen combining together. Considering the properties of chlorophyll, which plays a vital role in the continuation of life, will afford a better understanding of the sensitive, delicate calculations on which it is constructed.
Organized in groups of 250 to 400, chlorophyll molecules constitute a structure known as the photosystem, which carries out vital processes. All the chlorophyll molecules within this system can absorb light, but only one chlorophyll molecule in every photosystem actually uses the chemical energy obtained in this way. The molecule using the energy installs itself in the middle of the photosystem. The other chlorophyll molecules are known as antenna pigments, which collect light for the reaction center (that is, "chlorophyll a") by establishing a network around it. When the reaction center receives energy from one of the more than 250 antennae molecules the energy boosts an electron out of place to a higher energy level. In other words, an electron belonging to the "chlorophyll a" moves to one of the other chlorophyll molecules arranged around it. Thus thanks to a chain reaction an electron exchange, photosynthesis begins.73 Therefore, the organs we call pigments play a vital role in the process of photosynthesis, while these molecules with their very special structure give rise to the green world of plants around us.
Pigments and Unrealistic Evolutionist Scenarios
Visible light, the colors produced by pigments, and our eyes that perceive these millions of hues have all been created through the infinite knowledge and artistry of Allah. The components in this three-part system, which will not function if any one component is missing, are all in perfect harmony.
The material used in the pigments of plants has also been used for the retina, the pigment in the human eye. Yet while the same substance initiates photosynthesis in plants, in the human eye it is responsible for transmitting messages about the image in the eye to the brain. It is extraordinary how a substance consisting of a combination of a few atoms can possess different properties and duties depending on its location.
The retinas are connected to the brain by 600,000 nerves that receive 1.5 million messages, arranges them and sends them on to the optical center at a speed of 500 kilometers/hour (300 miles/hour), at the same time to the brain.74 Like the complex system in the human eye, the task performed by chlorophyll in plants has a very complex structure. In describing these two systems, evolutionists never raise the fact that every part of the system's complex structure must have been created at the same moment.
According to the classic evolutionist scenario, plants felt the need to make use of solar energy and—in some way—produced pigments. Never forget, these plants had no prior knowledge of any substance such as pigments nor of any system in which they can function. The logical inconsistency in this theory becomes clear when evolutionists' beliefs are actually laid out. According to them, a single-celled organism, needing an energy source for its survival, possessed no awareness or intelligence. Yet somehow it determined that the Sun is an economical, constant energy source. It later "realized" how it could use this energy and, resolving problems which present-day scientists are still seeking to answer, planned a system to store solar wavelengths as chemical energy. To achieve that goal, it determined solving the wavelengths of the Sun and the chemical formulae that would establish the electron exchange, and then began production by combining specific chemicals in carefully calculated quantities to produce chlorophyll. That is the irrational scenario maintained by evolutionists.
Along with being irrational, this scenario also leads to an impasse in several ways. Recent studies have revealed that plants very definitely did not evolve from a common forerunner. This means that if evolutionists' claims were true, then every species of plant must developed the process of photosynthesis separately, quite independently of the others. This scenario strains the imagination, because it is impossible for even a single organism to acquire, by coincidence such a complex system as photosynthesis, which cannot be replicated with today's advanced technology and level of scientific knowledge. Even though this impossibility is obvious for all to see, evolutionists still maintain that it took place again and again. But as you shall see in due course, the chlorophyll that is such an important component and of the working systems of photosynthesis has such an extraordinary design and structure that it cannot possibly have evolved by coincidence.
The Factors Influencing Photosynthesis
As the following sections will show, photosynthesis is a very complex and delicate process, and every part of the plant has special structures for the task. However, the elements necessary for photosynthesis are not limited to the plant's structure. As you have already seen, the wavelengths of the light that penetrate the atmosphere have been created to be in complete harmony with photosynthesis. However, other factors also have impact on the process.
1. Light Intensity and Duration
Photosynthesis varies depending on the intensity and duration of the light, and whether the light arrives directly or in a diffuse form. There are significant differences between direct sunlight and that filtered or reflected by clouds, fog and other bodies. Direct rays constitute 35% of total light, and scattered light, between 50 and -60%. Since scattered light has a greater physiological effect, plants' needs for light are actually met in full.
Plants are divided into sun-loving and shade-loving species, according to their needs for these two types of light. Sun-lovers have been created to obtain maximum efficiency by receiving sunlight directly, while shade-lovers achieve maximum photosynthesis with light arriving more indirectly, as in forests or in cold and cloudy climates.
Trees such as beech, lime, elm, and ash trees have been created to be capable of living in both types of environment.
2. Level or Density of Light
The further north or south from the equator one goes, the longer the variation between periods of night and day—and the photosynthesis linked to this illumination. The duration of daylight causes increased photosynthesis with a result in faster rapid, short-term growth, flowering and leaf production. Flowers time their blooming according to length of day. For example, the chrysanthemum, a short-daylight plant, opens its flowers in the early autumn, when the days are growing shorter, and grows its shoots and buds in summer when days are longest. However, no matter how much light may reach the plant, photosynthesis still continues, at a greater or lesser degree.75
Plants need warmth to carry out photosynthesis and survive. Plants open their flowers, sprout leaves, and germinate their seeds and all at specific temperatures—vital activities that come to an end when temperatures drops below a critical level. For example, forest trees begin their growth stage when the general temperature rises above 10 degrees Celsius. This figure is 5 degrees Celsius for agricultural crops. Chemical processes increase by two or three times as temperature rises. But excessively low or high temperatures may stress plants, inhibit growth so as to create a spindly appearance, or cause foliage to wither or fall prematurely.76
When the stages of photosynthesis and the special conditions the process requires are examined as a whole, important evidences of creation can be seen. This system, which brings together so many sensitive and delicate measures, is a blessing placed at the service of mankind by All-Mighty Allah, the creator of all things.
Many requirements need to be met for photosynthesis to take place, and in the absence of any one of these, photosynthesis will not occur. The growth activities of plants are closely linked to the temperature differences between day and night. Some plants need warm days with low temperatures at night to form new growth. Others do not require such a temperature differential.
As the Sun rises, perspiration and in relation to that photosynthesis in the leaf increases. In the afternoon, photosynthesis slows down. As heat levels decline at night, however, perspiration slows down and the plant goes to rest. If there were no night over the course of just one day then most plants would die. In the same way that it is for the animals, night is a period of rest and renewal for plants.77
In the Qur'an Allah has revealed that He has placed day and night, Sun and Moon and all plants, at the disposal of human beings:
He has made night and day subservient to you, and the sun and moon and stars, all subject to His command. There are certainly Signs in that for people who use their intellect.
And also the things of varying colors He has created for you in the Earth.
There is certainly a Sign in that for people who pay heed.
(Surat an-Nahl: 12-13)
In other verses, we are told that Allah has created night, and that no other entity than He has the power to do this:
Say: "What do you think? If Allah made it permanent day for you till the Day of Resurrection, what Allah is there other than Allah to bring you night to rest in? Do you not then see?"
But part of His mercy is that He has made both night and day for you so that you can have your rest and seek His bounty, and so that hopefully you will be thankful.
5. Carbon Conversion
Plants may be thought of as factories that transform the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the oceans to produce organic compounds, and as purification units that cleans up the environment. They do produce low levels of carbon dioxide by way of respiration—especially at night—but during the day, use ambient CO2 for photosynthesis. The balance between the consumption of CO2 by plants and single-celled organisms and its exhalation by human beings and animals is established with the production of carbonates in the oceans. During this process, large quantities of carbon dioxide in the air and water are transformed.
Human activities raise the level of CO2 in the air to a considerable extent, leading to global warming and the resulting greenhouse effect. The emission of carbon dioxide and other harmful byproducts of combustion and factories also leads to acid rain. The most powerful antidote to all these harmful factors is living things that perform photosynthesis. Had such equilibrium not been established, organisms would soon die out from a lack of oxygen and from carbon dioxide poisoning. As yet, however, we never have faced such a problem, because there are no flaws or deficiencies in the creations of our Lord Who has infinite knowledge and wisdom, and has created all things with due measure:
He to Whom the kingdom of the heavens and the Earth belongs. He does not have a son and He has no partner in the Kingdom. He created everything and determined it most exactly.
67. "Photosynthesis," http://www.emc.maricopa.edu/faculty/farabee/BIOBK/BioBookPS.html.
68. Kingsley R. Stern, Op cit., p. 38.
70. Solomon-Berg- Martin-Villee, Biology, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1993, p. 190.
71. "From Photons to Chlorophyll: Some Observations Regarding Color in the Plant World," C.J. Horn, Botany column-November, 1997, http://photoscience.la.asu.edu/photosyn/education/photointro.html
72. "The Photosynthetic Process,"
73. Kingsley R. Stern, Op. cit., pp. 167-168
74. "From Photons to Chlorophyll: Some Observations Regarding Color in the Plant World, C.J. Horn, Botany column-November, 1997, http://photoscience.la.asu.edu/photosyn/education/photointro.html.
75. Malcolm Wilkins, Op. cit., p. 154.
76. Kingsley R. Stern, Op. cit., p. 174, http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/greenhouse/nursery/guides/ornamentals/light.html.