All plant life turns toward the light.

Are Plants Smarter Than People?

Plants seem to be smarter than most people, including many who profess Christianity. All plant life, from trees to crops, flowers and even grass, recognize the source upon which they must depend and properly respond. All leaves and blades of grass turn toward the light. They seek it persistently, consistently, and receive its benefits. They all respond to water, and their roots reach into the depths of the soil, however resistant it may be, in order to absorb every available drop of needed water.

The Scriptures encourage those created in the image of God to be fruitful – like a tree planted by the river, extending its roots downward. The Psalmist said to the person who delights and meditates in the Word of God, “You will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither, and in whatever he does, he prospers.”[1]

Jeremiah wrote, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, for he will be like a tree planted by water that extends its root down to a stream and will not fear when heat comes, but its leaves will be green and he will not be anxious in a drought and will not cease to yield fruit.”[2]  The prophet Isaiah said we are to be a “well-watered garden of God.”

We can and should learn from all of God’s creation. Believers are challenged to consider the birds, ants, lilies and flowers, as well as pestilence, the beasts of the field, predatory birds of the air, all of which attack life and hinder fruitfulness.

If we are to be a fruitful garden and God’s vineyard, we must remain under the oversight and watch care of the true husbandman – the Lord Himself, our Shepherd. If you want to see the most briar- and weed-infested field, just look at a cultivated field or garden that has been abandoned, and watch what it grows! The same is true of human beings who are not submitted to the watch care of the Vinedresser.

Are plants smarter than people? Consider these facts:

Bluegrass, at first glance, may appear to simply be bird food or cattle feed, but a closer look reveals a goal-seeking machine more complex than factories churning out automobiles. The growth goal is photosynthesis. All blades intelligently sense light and tilt their leaves to maximize energy absorption and conversion to create green, leafy, hydrocarbon fuel for birds, cattle, and all wildlife.

Even the smallest-living organisms, bacteria-like E-coli, pursue goals with intelligence. They are so small it takes about a million of them to equal a grain of sand; but according to Harvard professor of molecular and cellular biology Howard C. Berg, the tiny bacteria can count molecules of specific sugars, evaluate similar or dissimilar sensory inputs over space and time, compare counts taken over the recent past and trigger appropriate responses. The average cell is a goal machine that uses “close to one to a million unique adaptive structures and response mechanisms – more than the number in a jumbo jet.”[3]

If a blade of grass diligently and consistently seeks light and, of course, water, why can’t people created in the image of God do the same? It seems obvious that all of His creation depends on the Creator, with the exception of those created in His image – both sad and tragic!

We can question whether plant life has intelligence, but we certainly can’t challenge the fact that human beings do. Scientists, however, indicate that even house plants appear to have intelligence. Yes, plants are smart. A plant adjusts to varying conditions by processing information, according to science writer Robert Wright. “It has sensors that absorb information reflecting the state of the environment – where light is coming from, for example – and this information guides the plant’s growth accordingly. And so, too, with every other form of life that pursues goals under varying conditions (which is to say every other form of life).”[4]

In a BBC news article, science reporter Victoria Gill writes how biologists have discovered that “plants can transmit information about light intensity and quality from leaf to leaf in a very similar way to our own nervous systems.” In this way, “plants are able to remember and react to information contained in the light.”[5]

Do plants have souls? Can plants feel pain? No more than a guided missile feels pain or has a soul. It’s a sophisticated machine – that’s all. But make no mistake about it: The plant is intelligent, just like all other sophisticated machines. It persists toward a goal in varying conditions by processing information. Why don’t people?

We are commanded by Jesus to live abiding, connected to and yielded to the vine in order to be fruitful. Our Lord, the Vinedresser, will prune away all that hinders fruitfulness if we remain yielded to His will. He will often prune out of our lives those things which hinder fruitfulness. Sometimes He prunes out pastimes, places where we live and will relocate us. On occasion, even people who may in some way hinder fruitfulness and His kingdom purpose are taken out of our lives, and not necessarily by death. We must never see this as unkind but recognize that every time something is removed from our life, if we respond appropriately to the light of His life and the water of His Word, we will become even more fruitful for His glory. The pruning process must not be allowed to lead to a root of bitterness, or many will be defiled. We must never see the pruning process as anything but a blessing and benefit leading to greater productivity and fruitfulness.

We are challenged by God through the apostle Paul to be “deeply rooted and grounded in love,” which will enable us to sustain the abundant blessings fruitfulness so often produces. “We are to be firmly rooted and built up in Christ.” Christians must also develop a desire to walk in the light of God’s truth and love, continually drinking the “water of the Word.” In this, we will experience cleansing and nourishment necessary to be consistent in all seasons, however blessed or challenging they may be. The droughts and dry times should drive our spiritual roots even deeper to absorb every drop of the water of life possible. Proverbs says, “The root of the righteous yields fruit.” The fruit will look like Jesus!

Just as plants reach toward the light, we must do the same. “In Him (Christ) is light and the light is the life of men.” Seek Him diligently and the light of Christ will not only illuminate our way but also enable us to become a guiding light in the lives of others. As Peter said, “We live to proclaim the excellency of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.”[6]

May God give us a thirst for His righteousness and abundance the fruit of the Spirit produces. We can live continually overflowing with the spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.[7] If plants can be fruitful by consistently seeking light and water, surely we who are created in His image can do as much – and do it for the honor and glory of our great God and Father. “You are the light of the Lord. Now walk as children of the light.”[8]

Special thanks to my friend Erik Van Alstine for his soon-to-be published book The Code: Unlocking New Power to Solve Problems and Get Things Done, which I believe will be a best seller.



[1] Psalm 1:2-3 NAS
[2] Jeremiah 17:6-8 NAS
[3] H.C. Charles Berg, Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on Quantitative Biology, 1990
[4] Robert Wright, Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, New York: Vintage Books, 2000, page 312
[5] Victoria Gill, “Plants Can Think and Remember,” BBC News, July 14, 2010
[6] 1 Peter 2:9 NAS
[7] See Galatians 5:22-23
[8] Ephesians 5:8 NAS

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4 comments

  1. This excerpt is brilliant. This explains why we sometimes wait for answers to our prayers. We cry out and ask why, why, why. The answer is in the plant analogy. Tx for sharing it.

  2. Laurence St. John

    James,

    Excellent inspirational commentary. If I may humbly add, the problem is not in the act of the plant turning toward the sun…all plant life turns toward the sun. Jesus said in Matthew 5: “…He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” The problem is in the seed and its nature. Jesus is stating, based on his parable of the wheat and the tares and the sheep and the goats, there is evil seed and righteous seed and both natures live off of the effects of the sun and the rain. Again he said in Matthew 15, “”Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots.” Every plant starts from a seed and only the incorruptible seed will never pass away.

    In I Peter 1 he says “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides forever.” The issue remains in the fact that the evil seed (flesh and blood) cannot inherit the kingdom of God outside of the new birth, though they are experiencing many blessings from the Son and the Spirit during the suspension of God’s wrath and judgment. That is what grace is. Grace is the suspension of the anger, wrath, and judgment of God upon sin and provides the opportunity to seek repentance, forgiveness, and the new birth.

    When John the Baptist and Jesus began their ministries they preached “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The kingdom of heaven is the dispensation of grace opened up by the revelation of Jesus Christ and literally suspends the Day of Judgment, which is also known as the Day of the Lord. Peter writes of this when he says, “But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men” (II Peter 3). Once again, the reference to ungodly men is speaking of the ungodly seed which will perish once the age of grace expires.

  3. Robyn Brinkley

    You are an angel with words… I always know that your articles will NEVER leave me unchanged. .. I love being in nature with my children… And am diligently trying to train their hearts to see their Creator in everything we see and touch. This was food for a momma’s soul today.. He is such an amazing God! I’ll NEVER look at the trees and plants the same! Thank you!

  4. tremendous article! so well put together! great illustrations of Truth! blessings, doug