SCISSION X - LIVING THE LIFE

The Oxford Dictionary on-line defines life as: the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death. This author would like to append the idea of 'self-awareness'.

The Bible Book of Genesis, chapter 2, verse 7 states, 'And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.' The word for breath [of life] in Hebrew is neshamah; the word also means 'spirit' and 'soul'. It implies that the breath of life instilled a 'spirit' into Adam as well perhaps a 'soul'. The Hebrew for [a living] soul is nephesh, which also means 'body, breath, life' as well as 'self'.

A 'spirit' and a 'soul' are two things that science has no way to measure. Science would rather not deal with such unprovable concepts. Yet the average person immediately understands both ideas.

In order to avoid dealing with such restrictions as 'spirit', science formed an hypothesis on the origins of life that did not require 'God'. They said that over millions of years various chemicals came into proximity of each other, perhaps combined into basic amino acids, when suddenly they were exposed to some intervening agent of force such as lightning or volcanic eruption. When the correct - if unknown - set of circumstances occured, then SHAZAM! life came into existence.
Precambrian stromatolites from Glacier National Park.
Precambrian stromatolites in the Siyeh Formation, Glacier National Park. In 2002, a paper in the scientific journal
Nature suggested that these 3.5 Ga (billion years old) geological formations contain fossilized cyanobacteria microbes. This suggests they are evidence of one of the
earliest known life forms on Earth. P. Carrara, National
Park Service.

Presumably this primordial life was a single cell, an enclosed structure that consisted of an individual entity. All of this sounds plausible in and of itself. However, how did this accident of existence result in self awareness? . . .in the need to grow? . . .in the drive to reproduce? What did it eat in order to grow? Why did it decide to split into two cells? Why did it eventually combine with other cells to form more complex entities? From whence came the energy to effect all these developments?

All of these hurdles to the eventual lives of trees, grass, mice and men are ignored by science. Science implies that over millions of years, even billions of years, it just happened! There was no intelligence behind all this evolution, it just happened. Some cells became plant matter, some became animal matter, some self sufficient, some interdependent.

Many animal species are able to communicate, but only humankind can communicate in abstract symbolism without an immediate stimulus. [Some animals do appear to dream, however.] Animals apparently react by instinct; humans are able to also react through problem solving.
Panspermia hypothesis
Panspermia hypothesis
showing bacteria being
carried to Earth by a
comet.



Many observers skirt the issues of the origins of 'life' by positing a theory of panspermia. That theory claims that 'life spores' were carried to Earth, as well as other planets in the galaxy, by way of asteroids and even intelligently designed vehicles. Since such a scenario is nearly impossible to prove or disprove, it avoids the argument for how life started on Earth and removes the issue of 'God' one more step. When space probes land on such 'space junk' as comets and asteroids the issue of life spores may be clarified, but it seems unlikely.

The Gospel of John, 1:4-5, says 'In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.'

Can the two polar views be reconciled? G*d breathed life into man, or accidental natural processes over billions of years evolved into thinking human beings. In order to prove their point scientists have tried a myriad of experiments creating amino acid compounds and bombarding them with all sorts of environmental effects. They still cannot create life.

Life is a 'spirit', and since science cannot even prove the existence of 'spirit' it cannot be surprising that science cannot create life. The light of life shines in darkness and the darkness cannot comprehend it. The Greek philospher Empedocles [430 BCE] argued that life had material substance and tried to fit it into the four elementals of Earthly material: fire, air, earth and water.

But other Greek thinkers, such as Democritus [460 BCE], attributed the essential characteristic of life as having a soul: psyche. The Greek word psyche [ψῡχή] mirrors the Hebrew and shares the meanings of 'life, spirit' and 'breath'. Of course the ancient Greeks and Jews had not yet evolved to the point of denying the existence of G*d.

Paul Thagard, a Canadian philosopher and director of the Cognitive Science Program, theorizes that life really is a mechanical process, that the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin promised a mechanistic explanation for the origin of species on account of natural selection. 'At first glance, natural selection does not sound much like a machine, but it qualifies as a mechanism because it consists of interacting parts producing regular changes. The parts are individual organisms that interact with each other and with their environments. ... Over the past 150 years, the evidence for evolution by natural selection has accumulated to such an extent that it ought to be admitted that evolution is a fact as well as a theory. Why then is there continuing opposition to Darwin's ideas? ... Theological views have limited explanatory power compared to science, but they have very strong emotional coherence because of their fit with people's personal goals, including comfort, immortality, morality, and social cohesion.

'Today, biology is thoroughly mechanistic, as biochemistry explains how DNA and other molecules work, which explains how genes work, which explains how variation and inheritance work. The genomes of important organisms including humans have been mapped, and the burgeoning enterprise of proteomics is filling in the details of how genes produce proteins whose interactions explain all the operations required for the survival and reproduction of living things.

'Hence what makes things alive is not a divine spark or vital force, but their construction out of organs, tissues, and individual cells that are alive. Cells are alive because their proteins and processes enable them to perform functions such as energy acquisition, division, motion, adhesion, signaling, and self-destruction1|.' [emphasis added]

Does any of this explain the origin of life to anyone? The argument as presented states that organisms are alive because they are made up of cells that are alive. We are encouraged to now accept this as completed science; life is explained. Thagard questions why anyone can question the universal acceptance of this origin of life. He appears to be unaware that his arguments do not settle the origins of life; indeed, they do not even propose a scientific theorum as to how life was started. As usual, it just 'is'.

This is the same construct that we encounter with the Big Bang Theory: it does not require G*d because He is not included in the formula. The universe exists because it exists. Blue is blue because it is not brown.

If we are to accept evolution and natural selection because it has survived over 150 years would it not be logical to argue that creationism has lasted for thousands of years and therefore it assumes the superior position? Well, not if you think that we have advanced through evolution over the centuries.

Ask anyone if a rock is alive and they will quickly reply, 'No.' Why do they say that? Is it because it does not move about? Is it because it does not think? Is it because it makes no sound? Have they reached this conclusion from studying 150 years of Darwinian natural selection?

They know because they perceive that it lacks a 'vital spirit'. It has no sense of self-awareness, it does not reproduce, it does not grow - and it does not die.
Graphic representation of artificial life.
Graphic representation of artificial life. Scientists, including Harvard Medical School's Jack Szostak, expect an announcement within three to 10 years from someone in the now little-known field of "wet artificial life" that they have created the first cell of synthetic life — made from the basic chemicals in DNA. "It's going to be a big deal and everybody's going to know about it," said Mark Bedau, chief operating officer of ProtoLife of Venice, Italy...


In 1828 Friedrich Wöhler, a German chemist, prepared urea from inorganic materials; that is, he created an organic compound from inorganic materials. This synthesis is touted as the beginning of modern organic chemistry and positive support for evolution. This event marked the end of the theory of 'vitalism' which had stated that organic material can only be created from living matter.

Yet we read in Genesis that G*d created Adam from the dust of the ground. How did this fact become forgotten? Perhaps the scientists should have spent a little more time outside their labs, a little more time reading their Bible.

Professor of philosophy at Colorado, Carol Cleland, and Christopher Chyba of Princeton University are recognized authorities on the difficulty of adequately defining, scientifically, the term 'life.' They point out, 'Philosophers as old as Aristotle attempted to define “life” as something that could reproduce itself. By that definition, mules (which are sterile) would not qualify as being alive2|.'

They are concerned with formulating a definition that might account for extra-terrestrial life forms. 'Contending that life reveals itself via certain biochemicals assumes that all forms of life employ those substances. The fact that life on Earth contains proteins comprising 20 amino acids does not, in itself, tell us whether all forms of life do ... One cannot generalize from a single example.2|.'

They point out, 'NASA’s “working” definition (a chemical Darwinian definition) posits, for instance, that life is a “self-contained chemical system capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution.” That definition presupposes chemistry, self-reproduction, genetic variation and natural selection2|.'

It seems that Darwin does not account for the origins of life, despite NASA's great accomplishments. The reader will undoubtedly sympathize with these two scientists and their dilemma of having to expand a definition of 'life' to include unknown life forms. Still, this author will trust the reader to quickly recognize life wherever they encounter it. That might lead to occasional and perhaps grievous error, but in the absence of contradictory evidence the average person is likely to manage without a scientific definition of 'life'.

Admittedly the existence of viruses clouds this comfortable picture. Professor Ed Rybicki of the University of Capetown has described viruses as 'organisms at the edge of life3|.' Viruses display some characteristics of life such as possessing genes and replicating themselves through self-assembly; they also are subject to natural selection. However, they do not metabolize, and they can only create new products within a host cell. Anti-viral medications do not describe their action as 'killing' the virus, but instead as 'killing the host cell' or stopping the reproduction of RNA within the cell.

Professor Rybicki has posed the challenge that the ability of viruses to self-assemble within host cells may have implications for the study of the origin of life. Life may have started as self-assembling organic molecules4|. It may prove difficult to verify such an hypothesis since there is not likely to ever be found fossils of viruses, and fossilized matter cannot be read at the cellular level. Since the 'self-assembling' feature of viruses requires a living host cell, again the hurdle to be cleared as the beginning of life would appear formidable.

If viruses cloud the 'life' issue, prions obscure it almost completely. While viruses have genes, prions have only proteins - prions propagate by transmitting a misfolded protein state. They invade a healthy cell and start building their own misfolded protein chains. Animals which do not manifest the normal form of the prion protein cannot develop nor transmit the disease. The best known disease involving prions is called 'mad cow disease'. The exact structure of the prion protein is unknown, although it is claimed that they can be synthesized.
Prion proteins
Heterodimer4a| model of prion propagation
As an infectous agent prions are considered too small to be a virus. The Prion Protein (PrP) may occur both in infectious (PrPSc - 'Sc' for scrapie) and non-infectious forms (PrPC - 'C' for common). Dr. Stanley B. Prusiner of the University of California, San Francisco, received a Nobel Prize in 1997 for his discovery and work with the enigmatic prion.

The common PrP is a protein that occurs in normal cells attached to the cell membrane. It is considered as a vital part of the 'signaling' of neural cells one with another. The infectuous PrP converts normal proteins to an infectuous form, thus interrupting neural cell interaction. In mad cow disease it appears to manifest as a crippling inability to control the extremities. Since prions affect amyloids in neural cells it may have some implications for such maladies as Alzheimer's disease, although no such claim has been proferred.

Since prions can replicate themselves within proper cells they meet one standard for 'life'. They also appear to evolve somewhat and be subject to natural selection. Since the process of the disease is quite slow it is considered possible to be detected prior to the manifestation. However, no cure has yet been discovered.

Prions share many biological characteristics with viruses, and some scientists consider them to be closely related. The whole subject is still subject to intensive research. Therefore it is too early to estimate how prions might fit into the pattern of 'life'; it is a field worthy of attention. The hurdles for prions connected with the origins of life would seem to be closely related to the hurdles encountered by viruses.

Science no longer attempts to posit a consensus theory on the origins of life, although they still cling to the accidental proximity of amino acids and proteins. Which came first: the gene or the protein metabolist? . . .DNA or RNA?

In order to help avoid this dilemma most scientists have adopted the hypothesis that it is unlikely that genes and proteins arose independently. They have experimented with various chemical combinations, so far unsuccessfully. Research chemist James Ferris of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. says,  “It’s not as simple as putting compounds in a beaker and mixing it up. It’s a series of steps. You still have to stop and purify and then do the next step, and that probably didn’t happen in the ancient world5|.”

Since 'life' has not been easy for science to define, 'death' poses a similar challenge. In order to determine whether an entity is dead one first needs to know what made it alive. Oddly, many commentators believe that death presents a challenge for religion, that 'afterlife', 'reincarnation' and 'resurrection' cloud the issue for the believers. Generally it would seem to be the opposite: it is a challenge for scientists and sometimes lawyers.

Origins

Creationists do not deny the process of evolution; micro-evolution is evident everywhere. What is not proven is natural selection as the origin of species: one species morphing into another genetically exclusive entity due to environmental factors. Of course there are numberless myriads of species on Earth. Yet we cannot claim with certainty that they evolved from other earlier species or whether they were simply created.

The National Public Radio web site features a new species of lacewing found in 2011 and confirmed as a 'new species' in 2012. It is described as the usual color and appearance but with a dark network of lines with colored inserts on the wings6|.

Is this truly a new species or just a here-to-fore undiscovered species? The International Institute for Species Exploration hosts a web page, 'Top 10 New Species' (for 20--)7|. It currently features the appealing Olinguito, resembling a cross between a slinky cat and a wide-eyed teddy bear, living secretively in cloud forests of the Andes mountains in Colombia and Ecuador; the Andrill Anemone a species of sea anemone, living under a glacier on the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica; the Tinkerbell Fairyfly of Costa Rica - the tiny size and delicately fringed wings of the parasitoid wasp family Mymaridae led to their common name: fairyflies ... as well as a few others.

Are these truly new species or just undiscovered so far? If they are new species where did they come from? Did they just recently evolve or did G*d just create them? Can G*d still be creating things upon this Earth? Oddly, when new species are discovered scientists often say that it 'proves Darwin´s theory'.

In 1938 fishermen off the coast of South Africa caught a live coelacanth, a fish reputed to have gone extinct near the end of the Cretaceous Period approximately 66 million years ago. It appeared exactly as the pictures of fossilized specimens. News organizations all over the world ran with the story, emphasizing that it was further proof of evolution [!].

How can that be? The Cretaceous Period ended 66 million years ago! Had the fish evolved in any appreciable way? Not a whit if stories are to be believed. Had it given rise to any new species? Not that anyone can document. Has it built any hospitals, any roads, any news organizations writing specious stories in the past 66 million years? There is no evidence of such. More of these fish have been snagged since 1938 and they all look the same, they all look like the 66 million year old fossils.

Yet we are told that this discovery proves Darwin's theory of natural selection. It has not evolved one iota, therefore it proves evolution. The intellect staggers at modern logic. Fish do not evolve for tens of millions of years, but humankind does in just a few handfuls of millennia! It makes a human feel like a fruit fly.

Speaking of fruit flies, there is an example of the power of evolution and natural selection. The fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, lives for approximately 30 days. The feamle lays about 2000 eggs in that time, and they hatch in about 13 hours. Embryos go through a short larval stage and emerge as adults. Drosophila has proved ideal for genetic studies. With untold generations in the blink of a geological eye they evince all the characteristics needed for extended genetic experimentation.

Biologists are able to produce flies of various body colors, flies with various eye colors. It has only four pairs of chromosomes: three autosomes, and one sex chromosome and contains approximately 15,016 genes. Scientists have produced all sorts of fabricated mutations, resulting in deformed flies, dead flies, sterile flies as well as viable flies. Some have reportedly subjected generations of these flies to extreme environmental conditions, hot and cold, light and darkness, x-rays and other radiation, etc., and watched carefully for natural selection: survival of the fittest.

In the end experiments concluded with countless fruit flies - but still fruit flies8|. Some experimenters object that they never attempted to produce a new species of fly, only to experiment with genetics9|. At any rate, no mutations into a new species has been claimed by any experimentors.

Evolutionary biologists Richard Lenski and his colleagues at Michigan State University experimented with evolution in bacteria for 20 years, tracking 40,000 generations. The only mutations noted were degenerative and non-productive10|.

Emeritus professor of bacteriology Alan Linton of the University of Bristol notes:
Bacteria, the simplest form of independent life, are ideal for this kind of study, with generation times of 20 to 30 minutes, and populations achieved after 18 hours. But throughout 150 years of the science of bacteriology, there is no evidence that one species of bacteria has changed into another, in spite of the fact that populations have been exposed to potent chemical and physical mutagens and that, uniquely, bacteria possess extrachromosomal, transmissible plasmids. Since there is no evidence for species changes between the simplest forms of unicellular life, it is not surprising that there is no evidence for evolution from prokaryotic to eukaryotic cells, let alone throughout the whole array of higher multicellular organisms11|.

—————————————————————————————————
        [All web links acquired in Summer of 2014]
1| Paul Thagard, 'The Cognitive Science of Science: Explanation, Discovery, and Conceptual Change';
     MIT Press; pp. 204–205; 2012.
2| Carol Cleland and Christopher Chyba, 'Can We Define “life?”'; Colorado Arts & Sciences; 2009; see
     at: http://artsandsciences.colorado.edu/magazine/2009/03/can-we-define-life/
3| E.P. Rybicki, 'The classification of organisms at the edge of life, or problems with virus systematics';
     South African Journal of Science, 86:182–186; Jan. 1990.
4| E.P. Rybicki, 'Origins of Viruses'; Introduction to Molecular Virology; 1997, 2008; see at:
     http://www.mcb.uct.ac.za/tutorial/virorig.html#Virus%20Origins
4a| Cohen FE, Pan KM, Huang Z, Baldwin M, Fletterick RJ, Prusiner SB (1994); 'Structural
     clues to prion replication'; Science 265 (5178): 530–531.
5| Solmaz Barazesh, 'How RNA Got Started: Scientists Look for the Origins of Life'; Science News,
     May 13, 2009.
6| Adam Cole, 'A New Species Discovered ... On Flickr'; The Picture Show [NPR]; Aug 11, 2012; see at:
     http://www.npr.org/blogs/pictureshow/2012/08/11/158570034/a-new-species-discovered-on-flickr
7| Quentin Wheeler, 'Top 10 New Species' (for 20--); SUNY-ESF International Institute for Species
     Exploration; see at: http://www.esf.edu/top10/
8| C. Nüsslein-Volhard and E. Wieschaus, 'Mutations affecting segment number and polarity in Drosophila';
     Nature, 287 (5785): 795-801; 1980. This experiment was more limited in testing than stated above.
9| A. Korol, et al., 'Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA' 97: 12637-12642; 2000.
10| J. E. Barrick, et al., 'Genome evolution and adaptation in a long-term experiment with Escherichia
     coli; Nature, 461 (7268): 1243- 1247; 2009.
11| A. H. Linton, 'Scant Search for the Maker'; Times Higher Education; Apr. 2010; see at:
     http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=159282&sectioncode=31
     Prokaryotes lack a nucleus and other membrane-bound organelles; eukaryotes have distinct nuclei
     bound by a nuclear membrane and membrane-bound organelles.


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