The Creation Explanation
|Life -- Miracle, Not Accident|
If He should set His heart on it, if He should gather to Himself
His Spirit and His breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.
You hide Your face, they are troubled; You take away their breath,
they die and return to their dust. You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You
renew the face of the earth.
What Is Life?
Biology is the science devoted to the study of biological life. By observing plants and animals in their natural environment and also in agricultural settings, intelligent humans have for thousands of years been learning much about the characteristics of living things. Modern biological science has refined the process of observation in nature and in addition under laboratory conditions. Much has been learned about life. It would seem that any scientific discipline would include a precise definition of the object of study, but complete agreement on the definition of life has never been attained, primarily because scientists are not capable of discovering the source of life.
One way of defining life is to list the essential characteristics and functions which appear to be common to all living creatures. There follows below a generally accepted list of essential life attributes and functions.1 Note that only the first item could be a characteristic of a non-living thing, and the complexity could not rival that of even the simplest known organisms.
Stable, complex structure as a property of living things is fairly obvious to everyone, but the degree of complexity has only become fully apparent in the four decades since the advent of molecular biology. Later in the chapter some of the new discoveries, outstanding triumphs of modern science, will be described.
Growth is easy to understand since it is a process which we have observed both in ourselves and in other living things. No matter how small or large, whether plant or animal, all living things grow in some way, though not necessarily in the same way or to the same degree.
Metabolism is the name given to the entire complex of chemical reactions used by plants and animals as they appropriate energy, food, oxygen, and water from the environment, using them to power life functions and provide building and repair materials for their bodies.
Homeostasis means literally, "staying the same." This refers to the unique capacity of living organisms to maintain their bodies in a state of chemical structure, composition, and energy content quite different from their surroundings. Thus a living organism will have within its body higher or lower concentrations of certain chemicals than exist in the surroundings, a higher or lower temperature, perhaps, and always a higher concentration of free energy. A living organism uses energy from its surroundings to maintain its inside in a physical-chemical condition which is not in equilibrium with the outside. The organism has as it were a system of pumping mechanisms which continually pump or trap and thus bring energy and selected chemicals from the outside to the inside and vice versa.
Contrast a living organism with an automobile tire, which needs an internal air pressure of 32 lbs/inch2 greater than the outside air pressure (this difference is called the "gage pressure"). As soon as the gage pressure is adjusted to 32 lbs/inch2 at the service station, the air begins to leak very slowly through the rubber material of the tire and through the seals around the tire rim. After a few weeks more air must be pumped into the tire. But imagine a tire with tiny built-in pumps which continually pump in air to replace any which has leaked out. No such high-tech tire has yet been put on the market, but if it were, there would have to be an input of fuel or of electrical energy to run the built-in tire pumps. A living organism does not need such help, for it contains its own pumps and powers them with fuel which it imports from the outside. But at death, the various homeostasis "pumps" stop working and equilibrium with the outside is soon established as the structures of the organism cease functioning and decompose. Needless to say, only living organisms have the built-in, self-controlled dynamic mechanisms to maintain homeostasis. Anything which has internal conditions in equilibrium with external conditions is dead.
Response to environment (or irritability) is a term which includes both apparently very simple and also exceedingly complex activities. For example, most plants are in some way phototropic or light seeking. Bacteria are attracted by some chemicals and repelled by others. Female fireflies flash response signals to the flashes of male fireflies. Human beings respond to symbolic communications of ideas contained in words transmitted in written or oral form.
Reproduction is one of the most important definitive characteristics of living things. Many different methods are used by different species to reproduce, including seeds, eggs, spores, and cellular division. By these means living things are able to bring additional members of their species into the world.
Repair mechanisms refers to the amazing abilities of every species to repair or replace structures which decompose, break or wear out.
Adaptability refers to the ability of every species of organism to vary genetically under the influence of the environment so as to maintain the viability of the species.
Purposefulness is a characteristic peculiar to living things, each species having its own set of "purposes." Survival is a purpose common to all that lives, and a part of this is an aggressive tendency to multiply and occupy new territory. All this is automatic or instinctive. However, human beings alone have purposes which are not merely instinctive, but rational, emotional and moral. Yes, under the category of purposefulness are included the highest qualities of life, qualities which relate man in a special way to his Creator. "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever."
Inherited coded genetic information refers, of course, to the information carried in the DNA of genes in chromosomes, to a far lesser amount carried in DNA in the mitochondria in cells, and also to an indefinite amount of information carried in other structures of the fertilized egg cell, in the cortex and cytoplasm.
1. Curtis, Helen, Invitation to Biology (Worth Publishers, New York, 1972), pp. 18-21. Author has slightly enlarged the list given by Curtis; Moore, John N. and Harold S. Slusher, Editors, Biology: A Search for Order in Complexity (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1971), pp. 14-15, 61-66.
2. Curtis, Helena, ibid., pp. 27-47, 82a-82k, 49-81; Fawcett, D.W., The Cell, 2nd Edition (W.B. Saunders, Philadelphia, 1981).