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Table of Contents


Chapter  1

Part I
Chapter  2
Chapter  3
Chapter  4
Chapter  5
Chapter  6
Chapter  7
Chapter  8
Chapter  9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12

Part II
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17

Chapter 18


Part I: Embodiment — and The Incarnation.

Chapter 6

Death: A Fact of Life?

Natural or un-natural?

     Almost anyone "in the pew" if asked what kind of death Adam introduced by his disobedience, would say spiritual death. Theologians are pretty well agreed that because of Adam's disobedience, physical death also was introduced. But even they, all too often, play down the physical aspects of the Fall as though physical death is as natural to man as it seems to be for the rest of nature. What was threatened as a punishment, many would say, was not death per se but premature death, a death sooner than expected.
     There is another group of Christian writers whose orientation tends to be more scientific than theological, who however take Genesis to mean that the cause of physical death as a penalty of man's sin applies not only to man but even to the animal and plant world.
     And then, of course, there are the evolutionists in general who would not attach any factor of penalty to the introduction of death but simply say that death is common to all life and not related to the disobedience of man at all.
     Who is right?
     How universal is physical death? What actually is the

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physiological cause? Does death in other organisms than man really occur for the same reason that it occurs in man, and is it the same phenomenon?
     These are the questions to be addressed in this chapter. They will be dealt with very briefly, but hopefully looked at from all the basic angles which are or have been under scientific investigation in recent years.

     The Greeks had an ideal: to die young and postpone it as long as possible! Dying senile was what the Greeks wished above all to avoid. So do we. For most people approaching old age, death is often feared less than the senility which is apt to precede it.
     Perhaps the vast majority of animals, by contrast with man, neither anticipate nor experience this long slow decline but retain remarkable vigour and apparent contentment until very near the end. A few domesticated animals may "die away" more slowly but chiefly because they have lived longer than they would have done in the wild — so that situation is unnatural.
     The hazards of normal animal existence tend to be such that any significant decline in strength and vitality is quickly taken advantage of by other competitors and death is hastened for the individual in one way or another as a consequence. Man is exceptional in this slower pace of dying, and we shall have occasion to comment later on the significance of this fact. At the present moment my object is to look at the subject of physical death as a simple fact of life

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without regard to theological implications.
      It should, throughout the discussion that follows, be kept in mind constantly that death is not the inevitable consequence of having lived. Some of the lower forms of life, and not a few plant forms (trees, for example), can continue their existence for thousands of years without any decline in vigour. There are some trees now known from Japan which may be 7000 years old!
(48) And many of the amoebae that share our world today shared the world of Adam. Moreover, there are some cells, cancer cells for example, that give all the appearances of possessing immortality. Death in itself is not a concomitant of life in itself.

     It seems proper to start with a definition of death itself, and here we run into difficulty. In the first place, it is difficult to lay down a precise definition of death without first of all having a precise definition of life — and this we do not yet have. One would think it would be a simple matter to define life but it isn't. There is a group of people who have committed themselves extensively to the view that there is no difference between what is living and what is non-living.
     In all seriousness they go even so far as to say that if cells are alive then the components of the cells are alive: and if the components are alive, then the atoms which make up their substance are alive: and if the atoms are alive then even the particles — the protons and the electrons and all the rest of them — must be alive.
(49) The determination of the purely materialistic philosophers to avoid any hiatus in the transition from non-life to life drives them relentlessly to this seemingly logical conclusion.
    Someone in exasperation suggested that you can tell whether something is alive or not, just by kicking it. If its response is predictable, given sufficient background information, then you can assume it is dead: if it is quite unpredictable, then you can presume it is alive!
     Now, at the present stage of medical wizardry it has

48. Trees, longevity of: as reported for the species Cryptomeria japonica in in New Scientist, 25 March, 1976, p.2.
49. Atoms alive? See Charles Hartshorne, "Mind, Matter and Freedom" [Scientific Monthly, May, 1954, p.314—20]; E. W. Sinnott, Cell and Psyche: The Biology of Purpose, [University of North Carolina Press, 1950, p.48—50]; A. N.Whitehead, Process and Reality, [New York, Macmillan, 1929, p.486—497]; and D. F. Lawden in Letters to the Editor under Biology, Nature, vol.202, 1964, p.412.

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suddenly become very important to be able to determine when a human being is dead or merely in deep coma. Individuals declared to be clinically "dead" have more than once in recent years shocked surgeons about to remove their kidneys for transplant purposes by suddenly sitting up on the operating table and asking them what in the world they were up to. Furthermore, certification of death has become more and more difficult in view of the currently available means of sustaining life artificially. The case of Karen Quinlan is a distressing illustration of this fact.
     In 1975 Karen, then a teenager, swallowed a murderous cocktail of alcohol and tranquilizers. She has been unconscious ever since. She is now an insentient, motionless, curled-up, skin-wrapped skeleton, having "recovered" from the cocktail to the extent that she now survives without a respirator.
      No one even pretends to believe that she will ever recover consciousness, while in the meantime the bill for this cruel exercise has reputedly passed the three million dollar mark. "She" (if this preparation can be personal still) has effectively been condemned to life, not to death . . . a new thing in human history. And no one has the right (it seems) or the courage (perhaps) "to blow out the candle" (if the candle is alight) in order to allow this tragic example of man's over-sophistication to be terminated. In Karen Quinlan's case, how do you define life? And how do you define death?
      But some very serious attempts have been made in recent years to define what death is. In 1968 the Harvard Medical School tried to give an answer in a statement issued under the heading, "A Definition of Irreversible Coma" in which were listed four basic criteria:

      1. Total unresponsivity i.e., total unconsciousness of externally applied stimuli, even when painful, judged by vocal or other forms of response such as groaning, limb withdrawal, or quickened respiration.
      2. Total absence of movement over a period of at least one

50. Karen Quinan: "The case of Karen Quinlan", New Scientist, 17 Dec., 1981, p.826.
51. Harvard Medical School: "A Definition of Irreversible Coma", Special Communication, Journal of the American Medical Association, vol.205, 1968, p.337.

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hour. This would include detectable pulse or respiration. It recommended artificial respiration be cut off to see whether any attempt at breathing would be made within three minutes.
     3. No reflexes: the pupil fixed, dilated and unresponsive to movement or variation in intensity of a light source. Since the establishment of a fixed dilated pupil is clear-cut in clinical practice, it was felt that there should be no uncertainty in such a case.
     4. Flat encephalogram ( = 'cerebral silence') for twenty-four hours with no measurable change.

     In each case the assumption is made that there is no evidence of hypothermia (a body temperature below 90 degrees F. or 32.2 degrees C.) or the use of central nervous system depressants such as barbiturates.
    But how this definition of death fits the case of Karen Quinlan is difficult to see since breathing continues to be observed in the absence of artificial assistance. Karen would appear to be alive in so far as purely physiological considerations are concerned. But apart from these borderline cases which keep cropping up, there is no doubt that unequivocal death comes to millions of organisms, even if we have difficulty defining it.
      This is not the time or place to go into the distinctions that now have to be made between necrosis (the death of cells locally but not the death of the whole organism); clinical death when the doctor says the patient is dead; legal death when the coroner clears things for the undertaker to proceed and the will to be probated; and biological death which signifies that heroic measures to resuscitate are futile and the body is already disintegrating.
      But to complicate the matter even further, in both man and animals death can be viewed as either a process or an event.
(52) It is not certain whether (apart from accident) it is ever truly an event. When God told Adam that "dying he would die," we have a hint of the fact that dying is a process and many now believe that we are dying from the moment of birth. (53) The same may be true of animals, though not on account of sin but for purely physiological reasons

52. Morison, R. S., "Death: Process or Event?" and L. R. Kass, "Death as an Event: A Commentary on Robert Moison", Science, vol.173, 1971, p.694—702.
53. Dying from moment of birth: Medawar, Sir Peter B., The Uniqueness of the Individual, New York, Basic Books, 1957, p.117.

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which may perhaps be 'natural' for the animal because it suggests a mechanism which is set to program the animal's life span in order to prevent over-population.
     But there is almost always a terminal period in which what may have proceeded for a long time at a slow rate suddenly gallops away, and life is brought abruptly to an end.

     The evolutionists, while admitting that death is not a concomitant of life, are driven to argue that it must have been invented and preserved by nature because it is both necessary and beneficial. Nature is assumed never to invent except on a utilitarian basis. It is held to be necessary for the following basic reasons:

1. To prevent over-population by any one species.
2. To leave the way open for further evolutionary progress by ensuring the removal of less successful species which      would otherwise clog the system.
3. To remove diseased, malformed, or less vigorous members of a population so that they do not perpetuate      themselves. The vigour of the stock is thus preserved.
4. To provide food for predators of a higher order which by a carnivorous diet have a higher energy level, such a      higher level of energy being considered a superior form of life.

     Let us consider these in slightly greater detail.

       1. It is obvious that some species, rabbits for example, breed much more rapidly than, say, stoats. In the economy of nature it is logical that a world over-crowded by a single species could, under certain conditions, become fatally infected with a disease peculiar to that species which could wipe them out entirely, and the web of life accordingly might be grossly disrupted. Or such a prolific species could consume all vegetable foods necessary for other species to live on, and so bring about their extinction. Planting only a single species of tree in reforestation may be unwise

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because of the danger of some species-specific disease wiping out the whole area and robbing the soil of ground cover.
      By the same token, it would not do to have stoats multiply explosively without constraint, for an opposite reason. They could endanger every other species because of their efficiency as predators.
     Professor Edward O. Dodson gives a striking illustration of what could happen but for death in the case of starfishes. In one species the female spawns some 1,000,000 eggs in a year. In a small area of only a few square yards there may be 50 such females. Each year the eggs laid would therefore be 50,000,000. Assuming 25,000,000 of these are females, at an ordinary rate of reproduction these 25,000,000 females would produce 25,000,000,000,000 eggs. It would take only 17 years for the number of starfishes on the earth to exceed the total number of electrons in the whole visible universe!

         2. In the long view, evolutionists hold that in any species there will be individuals born with some slightly modified structure or habit or instinct which has the potential for real advantage to the species. But at first the numbers of such individuals will be too small for the advantage to be shared widely. It could also happen that the potential advantage is an actual disadvantage until the number of individuals who possess it mark out a niche for themselves and multiply sufficiently.
     The competition for food and mates is assumed to be keen. Thus if the more dominant mates of the old stock are not somehow removed, the new stock will not be established in time to preserve its unique and advantageous characteristics. But if the old stock have limitations placed upon their life expectancy, the newcomers' chance of survival and multiplication will be enhanced.
      If we transfer this scenario into the business world, we see something of the basis for fixing mandatory retirement age at a lower rather than a higher level. Extending the

54. Dodson, Edward O., A Textbook of Evolution, Philadelphia, Saunders, 1952, p.4.

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term of office of senior staff can work to the disadvantage of a company by stifling the initiative of the younger members who see little hope of advancement.

          3. This situation is illustrated very nicely by the finding in Northern Canada some years ago, a finding since repeated elsewhere, that when the wolf population is reduced by man to below a certain level with the intent of increasing the deer population, the opposite effect may occur. (55)
     The reason for this is now believed to be because when the predatory wolves are reduced in number, the deer population does indeed increase but the increase includes sick or less fit deer that would otherwise have been killed off by the wolves. The well-being and vitality of the deer herd declines as a result and they begin to die off at a higher rate than expected. Matings are less successful and the offspring less healthy.
      By leaving the wolf population to set its own level, the deer herds are healthier and prove better able to survive the vicissitudes of northern weather.

          4. In the animal world, survival depends to some extent upon individual energy levels. Animals which eat meat can maintain higher levels of energy with less time spent foraging for food than comparable herbivorous species.
    It is a known fact that a man in good condition can run down a horse.
(56) It is obvious that the horse can run faster than the man, but the horse, being herbivorous, tires more quickly and will have to keep stopping to browse. Each time the man begins to catch up, the horse will be forced to run again. In the end the horse exhausts its energies and allows itself to be caught. The Indians of the Plains could apparently catch horses this way, and such horses once caught were less likely to run away even when free to do so.

55. Wolves: see Pierre P. Grasse, Evolution of Living Things, New York, Academic Press, 1977, p.116.
56. See story of "Fast Walker," a Sioux Indian who "out walked a horse" in 1862, The Rivermen in Old West Series, New York, Time-Life Books, 1975, p.144.

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     There is a case of a man who is said to have volunteered to obtain medicine in an emergency for Queen Elizabeth I. The distance he had to go was some thirty to forty miles, and a man was sent out on horseback at the same time in case of accident. The runner made the round trip of over sixty miles in less time than the horseman, and he was interestingly awarded by the Queen. He received a new suit of clothes to compensate for the spoiling of his old suit on the trip, the award to be repeated annually: and the head of his household in each succeeding generation was promised the same reward each year in perpetuity. Only Cromwell's Republic put an end to the arrangement, so it is said, or perhaps his descendants would still be beneficiaries.
      Whether the story is true or not, it is not difficult to see that energy is more quickly recovered on a pre-digested diet of meat than on vegetables, since one step in the conversion to energy has already been taken. Death by predation thus advances the course of evolution, according to this thesis.

      As to the mechanism of death, there have been scores of explanations. A few have won wide acceptance for a while, but fewer still have stood the test of time to the present. The following are six more or less current explanations of ways in which death may occur 'naturally' — apart from accident or predation.

1. Animals often display an internal mechanism which "self-destructs" the organism once it has become infertile.
2. A built-in limitation to cell doubling and therefore to new growth and tissue repair, has been observed. The life span     of the whole organism is therefore believed to be "programmed" accordingly.
3. "Wear and tear" brings about reduced viability so that the animal succumbs to stress.
4. DNA errors of transcription accumulate until a point of "error catastrophe" is reached.
5. Since millions of sperm are released by the male and only a few can continue their existence by fusion with the ova,     millions are destined to die.

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6. Unicellular animals that multiply by simple division appear to escape natural death. It is concluded that       procreated animals are mortalized by some factor relating to, or associated with, the process of gestation and birth.

Let us elaborate these alternatives briefly.

          1. According to Jerome Wadinsky of Brandeis University, this "self-destruct" mechanism is found in a number of species of which an excellent example is the octopus. (57) When fertility is at an end, the individual animal under some hormonal influences ceases to eat and dies of starvation. By experimentally preventing the hormonal effect, it is found that the animal will continue to eat normally though remaining infertile, and its life is considerably prolonged.
     The evolutionary explanation is that from the point of view of the species (as opposed to the individual), an animal no longer fertile will make no further contribution to the improvement of the species but will still continue to compete for its food resources. A mechanism has thus been invented by nature to save this waste of food by putting an end to the individual. Man is one of the few creatures that continues to live for a comparatively long time after ceasing to be fertile.

          2. Leonard Hayflick, over a period of years and by some very elegant experimental techniques has proved to the satisfaction of many biologists (though by no means all) that cells have a limited capacity to divide and multiply. The organism thus loses the ability to continue growth and to heal wounds.
     Since growth and continued life appear to be almost synonymous, a cell that has the capability of only a certain number of doublings (one cell becoming two, two cells becoming four, and so on) the organism has what is termed a "spanned" life which it rarely exceeds significantly.
(58) Different species have either a different rate of cell division or a different allotment of doublings.

57. Wadinsky, Jerome, "Hormonal Inhibition of Feeding and Death In the Octopus," Science, vol.198, 1977, p.951.
58. Hayflick, Leonard, "The Limitd in Vitro Lifetime of Human Diploid Cell Strains", Experimental Cell Research, vol.37, 1965, p.614-636.

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     The finding not only limits the life span of the animal but probably also its size. Since there are real limitations to the size of any free-standing animal, this seems to reflect a certain wisdom in nature. Some years ago, J. B. S. Haldane wrote a fascinating paper on the subject which he titled "On Being the Right Size"! (59) A neat balance is thus struck between the ability to heal, which requires a high level of cell multiplication, and growth in size which must be controlled. It also effectively spans the life of the individual organism.

           3. The wear and tear theory of the cause of death is a common-sense view since it seems obvious, but it is no longer taken seriously because experimental evidence has shown that stressed animals (whether physiologically or psychologically) live just as long, and sometimes longer, than unstressed animals. Records of hard-worked animals in captivity, like elephants and horses, by comparison with free animals in the wild show, according to Professor Raymond Pearl, that the worked animals out-live the wild animals, contrary to expectation. (60)

          4. Mutations, or DNA transcription errors, are constantly occurring in animal cells for a number of reasons not yet fully understood. If a sufficient number occur in a given cell, it will cease to function. If a sufficient number of non-functioning cells occur in a particular organ, it will fail as an organ. At some point these errors overwhelm the whole animal and what Dr. Leslie Orgel of the Salk Institute has aptly termed an 'error catastrophe' occurs which results in the death of the whole organism. (61)
     At the present time this appears to be the most acceptable view of the mechanism of animal death.

          5. According to Professor B. Bacetti of the University of Siena, there is evidence that in a number of species, the extraordinary proliferation of spermatozoa of which the

59. Haldane, J. B. S., "On Being the Right Size" in The World of Mathematics, edited by J. R. Newman, New York, Simon & Schuster, 1956, vol.2, p.952f.
60. Pearl, Raymond, Man the Animal, Bloomington, Maryland, Principia Press, 1946, p.47.
61. Orgel, Leslie, "Senesence and the Selfish Gene," New Scientist, 29 Mar. 1979, p.1042.

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vast proportion die without contributing to the fertilization of the ovum, serve the purpose of providing by their decay a protein-rich environment for those which succeed. (62) This is true of certain species of gastropods.
     A rather similar situation exists in the case of codfish. The female spawns some 6,000,000 eggs of which only 4 or 5 survive.
(63) It is believed that the non-surviving ova, in a like manner, provide a protein-rich environment for the eggs which do survive to grow more vigorously.

           6. August Weismann in the late nineteenth century was the first to underscore the fact that asexual reproduction leads to potentially immortal animals whereas all sexually propagated offspring appear without exception to be mortal. (64)
     It is not clear why this is so in nature, but it does suggest that if an animal wants to live for ever it should avoid being born!

     There are a number of people who feel that the death of animals is a direct result of the Fall, and they occasionally point to Romans 8:22 as implying this. Here we are told that "the whole creation groans" as man awaits his redemption. But the fact is that the phrase "the whole creation" is recurrent in the New Testament and clearly applies to human kind, not to animals.
     In Mark 16:15 the same phrase in the original Greek surely cannot mean that the Gospel is to be preached to animals, as Francis of Assisi preached to birds. Colossians 1:15 (again the same phrase in Greek) cannot mean that the Lord Jesus Christ was the firstborn of all the animals. In Colossians 1:23 (once more the same phrase) Paul did not mean that the Gospel had already been preached to animals everywhere!
      And finally, Romans 5:12 which speaks of the entrance of death — or as Martyn Lloyd-Jones acutely observes, the invasion of death
(65) — cannot be extended to animals as

62. Bacetti, B. and B. A. Afrelius, The Biology of the Sperm Cell, Monographs in Development Biology, No.10, Basel, Karger, 1976, p.78.
63. Codfish eggs: see Science Digest, Aug., 1981, p.25.
64. Weismann, August, Essays Upon Heredity and Kindred Biological Problems, translated by E. B. Poulton, S. Schonland and A. E. Shipley, Oxford University Press, 1889, vol.1, p.139.
65. Lloyd-Jones, Martyn, Romans: Chapter V, Zondervan, 1972, p.194.

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some would have it to be, because the proof of this invasion according to the verse itself is that all have sinned. The universality of death for man is proven by the universality of man's sin. The whole point of the passage is that all men die because all men are sinners. Animal and plant life are clearly not in view. Moreover, amoebae and paramecia are animals; yet they are not subject to death except by accident. That such creatures are tiny has no bearing: they are alive. Thus the concept of death as universal and due entirely to man's sin is neither supported by the facts nor required by Scripture.

     It is clear that death exists in nature not as a punishment but ultimately for its maintenance and well-being. Therefore it is most important to realize that none of what has been said about the necessity of death in the animal and plant world applies to man. This cannot be emphasized too strongly. For them death is natural: for man it is not.
     But it is also evident from what we know about amoebae and paramecia (and unfortunately, cancer cells) that cell life is not necessarily subject to death at all. Once created, it would appear to have potentially the capability of endless existence, barring accidents. The phenomenon of life per se thus illustrates Augustine's concept of immortality as something which it is not impossible to kill but which otherwise has no necessity of dying.

     The death of man and the death of animals are thus two very different kinds of death. In the case of animals, death is a necessity, something programmed for them for the benefit of the web of nature as a whole. No single species of animal is allowed to multiply and "fill the earth," though taking all the species together they have in sum successfully fulfilled the command of Genesis 1:22 to fully occupy it.
     With man, the case is different because, though he is a single species it was intended that he should fill the earth and govern it, but there is good reason to suppose that each

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individual, as soon as he or she had matured, would have been removed from the earth by translation without tasting death at all, thus preventing over-population. No such removal by translation was planned for any of the other species. Only man was designed for this happy prospect.

     Thus the why of death for animals has no bearing on the why of death for man, even though the mechanism may not be altogether dissimilar since both live rooted in the same natural order. But for animals, death being appointed like all else in nature, makes it natural: whereas for man, though death is also now appointed (Hebrews 9:27), it was appointed only as a penalty and as such was unnatural.
     Therefore it seems clear that Adam's un-natural death is no more to be accounted for by some supposed animal ancestry, than the natural death of animals is to be attributed to the Fall of Adam.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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