Table of Contents
Part III: If Adam Had Not Died Chapter 1
Is Immortality Possible For Man? The Data of Research
TO ANYONE not familiar with current research in the biosciences, it may come as a surprise to learn that in spite of the certainty of death as a termination of life, there is no satisfactory explanation as to its cause, nor even whether it is in any way an inevitable consequence of the process of being alive. Not only is there no completely satisfying way of defining it precisely, but it cannot be certified with complete assurance when it seems to have occurred for "natural reasons." Part of the problem, of course, is that we do not precisely know what is meant by being "alive," and thus the surrendering of life is an equally ill-defined phenomenon.
An organism is by common agreement said to be alive when it displays a certain group of reactions or a certain pattern of behaviour. It is said to be dead when this group of reactions is irreversibly lost. But it is these last two words which are critical, because it is becoming increasingly difficult to know when the power of recovery has actually been irretrievably lost. Increasingly one reads of both animals and people being brought back to life who were, to all intents and purposes, dead.
The British Medical Journal (1) carried a story of a child apparently stillborn, who was "revived" due to the persistence of the midwife and the doctor though it had already turned bluish grey in colour, musculature had become completely flaccid, the chest-cage had collapsed, and there were no heartbeats or respiratory sounds. The doctor had been called by the midwife after she had tried for ten minutes by several means to revive the infant. When the doctor
1. From a letter by D. J. Zeitlin in British Medical Journal, February 5, 1966, p.357, entitled "Resuscitation of the Apparently Dead." pg 1 of 22
arrived, the two worked together for another twenty minutes and were just about to give up when they noticed a very slight change in facial colour. They immediately applied themselves for another fifteen minutes -- when the heart began to beat, followed by respirations, and a little later by crying. Dr. Zeitlin observed that if he had accepted what was "obvious death," he would have had his first stillbirth in thirty years. Thus he concludes, "So I ask, When is a human being dead?"
I had occasion a year or two ago to read in a classified document of an instance where an individual who was "dead" was revived after 48 hours of continual artificial respiration. And I have had the pleasure of knowing a very experienced military man who had the distinction of being both a brigadier and a physician who told me that towards the beginning of World War II, he had occasion, in his rounds, to visit a civilian lady who was very badly injured and had been pronounced clinically dead for several hours. He had a feeling that one more effort might be made to revive her, and this was done. Several hours later he was notified that the woman had actually "revived." He told me that when he went to see her, she was exceedingly angry with him for having, in her words, "brought her back." I shall not elaborate further on what this lady said (the doctor made a full report) but only underscore the fact that she was without doubt dead for several hours. I should add that a few hours later she died a second time from her injuries and could not again be revived. Was she really dead in the first instance?
The classic example in recent years of this kind of thing is, of course, the case of Leo Dadvidoch Landau, a Soviet theoretical physicist with an international reputation. (2) This renowned teacher, on the morning of January 7, 1962, was involved in a car accident in which he was so badly injured that the medical report refers to these injuries as "simply appalling." The story of how Dr. Landau died, literally time after time, and how he was again and again revived by the taking of extraordinary measures in which a team composed of the very best brains that Europe and America could provide finally brought him through, has been told by Alex Dorozynski in his book, The Man They Wouldn't Let Die. Again and again his breathing and pulse had stopped: yet eleven months later Dr. Landau was well enough to walk to a brief ceremony in a hospital conference room to receive the Nobel Prize for physics. The story is a moving one, and undoubtedly the tremendous effort to revive him and keep him alive
2. Dr. Landau: Alexander Dorozyoski, "Miracle in Moscow," Reader's Digest, March, 1966, pp.152f. pg.2 of 22
was justified by his importance to the community. Yet, it may also be a sobering thought to know that many people who do not have this much importance in the eyes of the community are never revived, though they might very well be.
In The New Scientist in 1964, Professor F. Camps, reviewing a book by W. D. Evans, The Chemistry of Death, observed: (3)
Death has been a subject of discussion for many hundreds of years and even now, its true scientific definition must still be controversial, the more so with the increasing frequent application of resuscitation. . . .
It is also a fact that, during the last winter, cases were seen during the cold period when the only evidence of life was demonstrated by an electrocardiogram. If the definition of death is the cessation of the heart beat then the "vegetable" human who has suffered degeneration of the central nervous system but whose heart and respirations continue to function, is still alive physiologically, but of course from a philosophical point of view it may be asked, "To what purpose?"
Death must now be defined as the point at which life cannot be restored . . . (and) it would now appear to be possible to die several times on the basis of medical evidence.
Since it is no longer possible to use even an electrocardiogram as a decisive determination of whether an individual is alive or dead, and since this determination is crucial where organs are being sought for transplant, some other absolute determinate is required. The problem is complicated by the fact that such organs cannot be allowed to degenerate in a body too-long dead but they can hardly be removed either, if there is any doubt about the actual viability of their present owner. The Council for the International Organization of Medical Science, established under the auspices of the World Health Organization, met in Geneva in June, 1968, and laid down that a patient should be considered dead and suitable as a donor for transplant purposes only where there has been complete and irreversible cessation of cerebral function. This means that there must be an absolutely flat electroencephalographic (EEG) tracing.
Summing up the situation, Doctors Mordecai Shalit, Moshe Peinsod, Shamai Kotev, and Professor Aharon Beller are working on this problem at the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem. (4) They conclude that "we have to find the exact point at which the brain has completely and irrevocably ceased to function, yet the other organs are still suitable for transplantation."
The Hadassah team thinks that the criteria as defined in
3. Evans, W. D., The Chemistry of Death, Thomas, Springfield, Illinois, 1963: reviewed by F. Camps in New Scientist, February 27, 1964, pp.558f. pg.3 of 22
4. Hadassah-Hebrew Medical Center: "Death Needs Better Definition," appearing under "Comment" in Science Journal, Feb. 1969, p.11f.
Geneva are adequate in 99.9 percent of cases but they are worried about some extraordinary cases they have treated which appear to challenge the currently accepted definition. They give as examples one case of a 15-year-old boy who fell into a deep cave and was admitted to the hospital in a profound coma. Shortly afterward he stopped breathing, and subsequently the EEG reading of the electrical activity of the brain was completely flat. The report states that the doctors nevertheless refused to accept that he was dead and for two weeks he was kept on an artificial respirator to maintain heartbeat and on drugs to maintain blood pressure. Although throughout this period the EEG reading was completely flat, his condition began to improve, spontaneous respiration was regained, and the EEG changed. After a further week he was conscious: and two months after the accident the boy was physically and mentally in an excellent condition with a normal EEG. Up to the time of the report, all evidence confirmed that the boy had suffered no measurable detrimental effects from the accident. pg.4 of 22
A second case is reported of a 14-year-old girl wounded in the head by a shell fragment during the Six Day War. In her case also, the EEG recording on her second day of admission was completely flat, yet within a week her EEG reading was normal, and she now appears to have recovered completely. A number of other cases, involving adults, from other parts of the world have also been reported. The situation is clearly far from simple.
The opinion has been expressed on several occasions in England that not a few old people who live alone and are found dead in a chair before a fire that has gone out, may in reality have reached a hypothermic condition such that they were quickly pronounced clinically dead when in fact they could have been revived. There are, of course, a few cases of such a thing occurring even in a morgue. Presumably in the vast majority of such cases a person's apparent death is turned into a reality simply because no attempt is made to revive them. But it would be a mistake to suppose that such people are ever aware of being buried alive, for presumably they never recover any kind of consciousness. Yet it does underscore the fact that death is in some circumstances very difficult to define with precision.
It must surely be the result of one or two such occurrences, in which the apparently dead have come to life again, that some older cultures, or more conservative people like the Irish, have preserved the traditional Wake. I may be quite wrong here, but it certainly looks to me as though this custom arose from the attempt on the part
of relatives and friends of the deceased to make absolutely sure that they really were dead, the object being literally to "wake the dead." And some Irish songs bear witness to the fact that it was a successful endeavour at times.
I think also that there is some significance in the fact that so many societies make this attempt to arouse the dead for three days only, after which, (5) apparently, the general feeling is that the spirit really has left the body. It seems likely that in hot countries the body would, even with the best of care, begin the process of decay within this period; and perhaps the living feel that a spirit will not come back into a body that has begun to decay. It seems to me highly significant that the Lord Himself was left in the grave for a period of time which satisfied this "three days interval" as the Jews understood it, as though God in accommodation to their ideas wished them to know with absolute certainty that Jesus Christ really was dead.
Moreover, the Lord performed four miracles which are surely designed, by the order in which they occurred, to prove to the Jewish people that He was indeed (and is) the Lord of Life. The first miracle involved a child who was sick unto death (John 4:46-53); the second, a child who died while He was on the way (Mark 5:35); the third, a young man who was being carried out to be buried (Luke 7:11-15); and the fourth, a man who was dead already three days (John 11). The first three miracles had amazed people increasingly, yet there must have been in their minds the suspicion of a doubt that perhaps after all they were not really dead -- He had merely revived them. But when it came to Lazarus, it is clear that the Lord very deliberately waited just long enough to ensure that there could be no mistake about it. He said, plainly, "Lazarus is dead." The raising of Lazarus was so stupendous an event that the Scribes and Pharisees finally admitted defeat. "See how ye avail nothing; the whole world has gone after Him."
Now, there is considerable difference of opinion as to whether there is any clear-cut distinction between life and death at all. For it is now quite clear that many of the cells which make up the body of an animal which has recently died are actually still alive and can be induced to proliferate indefinitely if provided with a suitable medium in which to grow. At the university we learned by experiment that a frog's heart preparation will keep beating away steadily
5. Three days in the grave: Many primitive people have this custom of assigning a special importance to the period of three days. See, for example, Elie Reclus in his Primitive Folk: Comparative Studies in Ethnology, Scott, London, no date, vol. 2. p.308. Alfred Edersheim, Life of Christ, vol.2. p.631 refers to similar Jewish beliefs. pg.5 of 22
for a very long time if appropriate nourishment is provided. Naturally, in order to get this heart, one has to sacrifice the owner of it so that we have the anomaly of being able to keep alive that which kept the owner alive, long after the owner has died. Alexis Carrel at the Rockefeller Institute kept alive some chicken tissue for over thirty years, (6) from 1912 to 1946, the experiment being terminated only because of a breakdown of the equipment. Surgeons of the University of Amsterdam have succeeded in keeping a human heart alive and beating on the laboratory bench for six hours, and during that time they made hundreds of measurements of the electrical activity which accompanies each cardiac contraction. (7)
Whether it is proper to speak of such hearts as being alive is a moot point. There are forms of life which pulsate and which react to certain stimuli much as the heart does, and which seem to have no faculties which the heart preparation does not possess, and we say they are alive. It is true that they can feed themselves, but only if they are in the right medium -- which is roughly the situation of the experimental heart also. Thus it becomes exceedingly difficult to define precisely at what moment that which has been alive has passed into a condition in which it is now dead. When we come down to fundamentals, life under certain circumstances might conceivably never be terminated. In many organisms it is only terminated by accident.
Unicellular animals are immortal in the sense that they do not naturally die and disintegrate, but merely grow to a certain size and then divide into two smaller pieces which in turn grow until they, too, divide each into two smaller pieces. The mean size of the animal is thus maintained and the population grows by division without, under ideal conditions, leaving any dead members. Fortunately, the process is limited by various agents which bring about the death of these single-celled animals. They may be eaten or crushed, or dehydrated by exposure, or poisoned from contaminated water, etc. Thus we are provided with an instance of something potentially immortal which nevertheless suffers the fate of mortality, a circumstance which brings us to one very important aspect of the definition of the term "immortality."
When a creature is said to be immortal, the meaning is not that it cannot die but rather that it need not die. This is clear from the case of such unicellular creatures as the amoeba which, individually, may
6. Moog, F., "The Biology of Old Age," Scientific American, June. 1948, p.41. pg.6 of 22
7. "Human Heart Beats After Extraction," from Notes and Comments in New Scientist, October 28, 1965, pp.248-249.
go on dividing indefinitely, some always surviving through successive divisions from the time of the appearance on earth of the very first amoeba until the present day. In such an unbroken line, there are no deaths. This is what distinguishes such forms of life from higher forms of life. In the former, the parents are continued in their children, but in the latter the parents are buried by their children. The latter leave corpses, the former may not.
And so, to repeat for the sake of clarity -- because the point is fundamental to everything that follows in this volume -- immortality does not mean the impossibility of dying, but the possibility of not dying; and of course, by "immortality" we mean physiological or biological immortality, not spiritual immortality. Although this is anticipating somewhat, it seems an appropriate place to note that Augustine said of Adam and Eve in their unfallen state that it was not impossible for them to die, but possible for them not to die: "non imposse mori, sed posse non mori."
For reasons which are not clear it appears that, up to a point, living forms are potentially immortal until they begin to develop a central nervous system, and complexity of which exceeds a certain level. H. J. Muller of the Department of Zoology of Indiana University pointed out recently, "Natural death is not the expression of an inherent principle in protoplasm." (8) Paul Zahl, Associate Director of the Haskins Laboratory, wrote in 1949: (9)
Only a few years ago the biologist would have defined death as an irreversible cessation of metabolic activity. But today . . . he has had to revise his conception of mortality. Can not the viruses, dried to a state of zero metabolism, be preserved indefinitely, thereby virtually negating death? Do not experiments in which microbes are frozen into suspended animation, to be revitalized at will, change our ideas of biological time and the meaning of death. . . ?
The first inhabitants of our planet were not subject to death. As single cells they grew until reaching a fixed size limit, then divided in two, leaving no parent -- and no corpse.
However, as animals appeared of greater complexity and composed of millions of single cells which were united in different parts of the body to form specific organs with specialized functions, then a change took place. Something which leads to the disorganization of the individual brings about the failure of the organism as a whole, leading to its death as an individual, even while some of its cells may continue to live. Zahl put the matter thus: (10)
8. Muller, H. J., "Life," Science, vol.121, January 7, 1955, p.5. pg.7 of 22
9. Zahl, Paul A., Need There Be Death? New York State Joint Legislative Committee on Problems of Aging, report published in 1949.
10. Ibid., p.134.
Senescence and death are by no means universal phenomena; they are the price paid for high specialization. . . Perennial organisms, for example, are in fact not subject to senescence, and never wear down to natural expiration.
This condition prevails, presumably, because the body tissues of such organisms have not been specialized to the point where they have wholly lost their reproductive capacity. A single mangrove sprout may spread in a continuous net over many square miles of brackish swampland, its indefinite increase being limited only by competing vegetation or other environmental restriction.
Perennialism applies, in addition, not only to such notable examples of non-aging as the giant sequoias, but to the teeming bacteria, fungi, and algae; and also to many of the lower multi-cellular animals which grow and bud very much like plants.
Among organisms of this class, life can be stopped (as it is most often) only by accident, attack by preying organisms, or severe environmental adversity.
He concluded, "We may infer from the absence of inevitable death among the lower organisms that there is nothing in the fundamental nature of protoplasm that demands a wearing out." (11) In 1938 Julian Huxley published a series of short essays, one of which was entitled, "The Meaning of Death." In this essay he explored the question of aging and death, asking whether death is in any sense "natural" for living things: (12)
We have records of trees of vast age and size, whose death seems only to have been due to accident, that is to say, to something in the external world, and not in the tree itself, and therefore something which could be avoided. . . . There is nothing inherent in the tree itself which causes its death, merely the long-continued shocks and buffets of the world, preventable things one and all, by which I mean that if one could shelter the tree from storms, keep off its active enemies, and provide it with a reasonable amount of food, water and air, we must suppose that it would go on living for ever.
Julian Huxley was, of course, assuming that man is simply to be classed among animals and that what is true of animals must be inevitably true also of man. But I think Scripture makes a fundamental division at this point and sets man apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Of course, it is a common belief among Christians and non-Christians alike that man enjoys a certain immortality of the soul or the spirit ‹ depending on how one defines these things. But by and large there is not at all the same confidence that man either originally enjoyed or will ultimately enjoy physical immortality. No one, probably, is going to argue very strongly in favour of the
11. Ibid., p.135. pg.8 of 22
12. Huxley, Sir Julian, "The Meaning of Death," in Essays in Popular Science, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1938, p.105.
physical immortality of other primates. And since it is currently popular to derive man from some lower animal form, it is not commonly believed that his fate in this respect can be very different. Making all due allowance for the continuance of his spirit, the general assumption remains that as the more highly developed animal body dies, so dies the human body. However, from the point of view of Christian philosophy, there could be important differences which are to be explained only in the light of God's dealings with the animal world as opposed to His dealings with, and plans for, man.
If one examines the succession of animal forms, it appears to me that there is something to be learned about God's method of preparing the world for man. And when I speak of a succession of forms, I am not proposing that each step in the succession arose by some form of evolution, nor even by creative evolution. As already set forth in one of the Doorway Papers (13) my view is that there really was a succession of forms which began with exceedingly simple ones and terminated with creatures which sometimes look deceptively like human beings. But I believe that these successive forms arose by a process of direct creation, a process upon which laboratory experiments or scientific theory can never hope to shed much light. It does appear to me, however, that at no stage in this process were any new forms introduced by creation until the total environment at that time (atmosphere, temperature, plant and animal life) was prepared to receive them. Each new form thus introduced modified this total environment by its own presence and thereby prepared the way for still higher forms to be introduced by direct creation. The natural variability of forms is not, of course, in question.
It is unnecessary, in this view, to assume that creation was involved with the appearance of each divergent form, for species have a built-in system of variability and God could very easily have used this variability and selected for survival variant forms which best suited His purposes at each stage. This process can, for convenience, be called Supernatural Selection, since it represents a measure of Natural Selection divinely overruled. But the limits of this built-in variability are such as to necessitate creative action all along the line in order to bring changes in the economy of Nature which are quite
13. "The Preparation of the Earth for Man." (Part I in Evolution or Creation?, vol.4 of The Doorway Papers Series) It is interesting to see that the idea of supernatural guidance in paleobiological processes has been admitted as the only alternative to random evolution (quite unacceptable, of course) by A. T. Patterson and W. S. Stone in their book, Evolution in the Genus Drosophila (Macmillan, New York, 1952, p.234). Even Charles Lyell at one time believed that "a Supreme Intelligence might possibly direct variation" (letter to Charles Darwin, May 5, 1869, in Life, Letters and Journal of Sir Charles Lyell, Murray, London, 1881). pg.9 of 22
beyond the power of Natural Selection. We thus have two factors, as I see it, involved in the setting of the stage for the appearance of man: Natural Selection, divinely superintended, which thus becomes Supernatural Selection; and direct creative activity. And both of these occurred concurrently and throughout geological ages.
To this extent, both Natural and Supernatural Selection have something in common, namely, that the in-built variability of living forms, whereby the offspring differ slightly from the parents, forms a basis upon which, perhaps, God was able throughout geological history to bring about the gradual change of the total economy of nature until the world was made an appropriate setting into which to introduce man.
It is at this point that the phenomenon of death in animal experience appears to me to have an important significance, because in order for the economy of nature to be continually in a process of purposeful change toward the end which God had in mind from the beginning, it is essential that there be some method whereby the older forms, after giving rise to newer forms, should themselves be removed. Were this not the case, the creatures existing at any particular period would overwhelm their habitat by sheer numbers so that a new order could not arise because the old order would not be passing away. H. J. Muller, although certainly not sharing my view as outlined above, nevertheless expressed himself on the importance of death in the animal world in rather similar terms: (14)
Death is an advantage to life. Its advantage lies chiefly in its giving ampler opportunity for the genes of the newer generation to have their merits tested out. That is, by clearing the way for fresh starts (and new combinations) it prevents the clogging of genetic progress by the older individuals.
The same observation was made by Comte du Nouy in rather more elaborate terms: (15)
If several methods of asexual reproduction are known in plants and in animals, it is evident that these processes reproduce indefinitely the same characters. The cell or organism separates into two individuals who live, grow, and in their turn each separate into two others.
They never die, except accidentally. They go on untiringly doubling their number according to their specific rhythm, so that if it were not checked by a more general or dominant phenomenon, they would soon smother the earth under their mass. . . .
Asexual cells do not know death as individuals. They are immortal. All of a sudden, with sexual generation, we see the appearance of an entirely new and unforeseen cyclical phenomenon: the birth and death of the individual. It
14. Muller, H. J., ref.8, p.5. pg.10 of 22
15. Du Nouy, Le Comte, Human Destiny, Longmans Green, Toronto, 1947, p.61.
is clear that sexual reproduction with fecundation which suppresses the immortality of the individual was indispensable to make a strain progress towards complexity.
In short, in order to provide a mechanism whereby changes could be brought about in living forms, it was necessary to introduce a mode of reproduction which at the same time leads to the inevitable death of the individual. Animal death is therefore necessary for progress to higher forms of life. But an important corollary of this is the fact that once no further progress for a particular form is envisioned by the Divine Architect, then death may be abolished as a necessary element in its life. Thus, if man is the climax and fulfills the role for which he was created, it would not be necessary for him to experience death. Death is necessary for the achievement of something higher, but it is no longer necessary when that goal has been achieved. It therefore follows that if, when he first appeared, it was intended that man should have an unblemished physical existence in perfect obedience to the laws of God and fulfilling completely the role for which he had been created, he need not have been a creature subject to physical death like all the other creatures. He could have been immortal. pg.11 of 22
It may be argued that if, with the appearance of Adam, the animal kingdom had reached its climax and therefore it also required no further change, this kingdom, too, needed no longer to experience death. But without death some means must be provided to prevent unlimited multiplication of individuals until there would not be room for anything to live. If we theorize that because no further development was needed, therefore death could be eliminated; we must somehow provide a means whereby the unlimited growth of population can be circumvented.
As we shall see, this contingency was met for man in a way which God did not evidently consider appropriate for animals, and therefore the death of animals had to be allowed to remain as part of life even though it was no longer serving the purpose of opening the way for further progress in their formal development. From the evolutionist's point of view, we are often assured that evolution has stopped with the appearance of man; but from the creationist's point of view we are saying that, although evolution never took place, there was throughout geological time a progressive change from simpler to higher forms, which was made possible at a certain stage by the introduction of death; and that when the point was reached in which no further change was necessary, death remained for animal forms to prevent over-population; but it was originally eliminated for man, for
whom over-population was avoided by an entirely different means * * * *
We have, therefore, established for the present a kind of basic philosophy regarding death. First, death is not inherent in living tissue. Second, once living tissue has developed a certain complexity in order for diversity to be possible, then death has somehow been imposed upon it in order to allow for diversity to be realized by the removal of the competitive forms. Third, when the highest form of life (man) had appeared and further change was not in view, death was no longer necessary to provide a means for the prevention of over-population. And fourth, where that means was not applicable, death was left as the simplest expedient for regulating population growth. Thus, the reasons for death, as the open sesame to higher life, have been considered -- but not the cause of death. And while the cause of death might be considered a subject of academic interest only, this is not really the case. For if it was God's original intention, as we shall show, that man should not be subject to death, then it becomes important for our own understanding of God's ways with mankind, that we have some knowledge of how "death entered," as Romans 5:12 puts it. And the study of why animals die may throw some light on why man now dies, and perhaps also on the fact that, as first created, he was not subject to death, thereby distinguishing entirely from the rest of the animal world even though, physiologically considered, he seems to share so many of its processes.
In considering the "why" of death, we are not concerned at the moment with the implications or the consequences of the phenomenon of death but rather the physiological causes. In other words, what happens to a living organism that brings about its decease.
We have already noted the statements of Zahl and Huxley to the effect that there is no inherent principle of mortality in functioning protoplasm. George W. Casarett, in speaking of the effect of radiation on living tissue, observed that although there does seem to be a kind of average age to which a member of any particular species will normally live, there is nevertheless no evidence to indicate the existence of a built-in time clock in either humans or animals. Indeed, he says that from a philosophical point of view, "man could be a potentially immortal animal." (16)
Much research is being undertaken into the causes of aging,
16. Casarett, George W., "Radiation Slows Down Aging in Dogs," Science Newsletter, August 30, 1957, p.136, under "Medicine." pg.12 of 22
and the subject has a direct bearing here because, normally, death is the terminal phase of the aging process. If we once understand what aging is, we ought then to have a better understanding why death occurs. Howard J. Curtis in a paper entitled, "Biological Mechanisms Underlying the Aging Process," (17) discussed briefly various theories which have been proposed, and observes that the so-called wear-and-tear theory of aging has been shown by experiment with animals not to be a factor. Using mice and subjecting them to various kinds of stress, to which they were exposed as often as possible without actually killing them, and continuing the experiments over a period comparable to the life span of the animal, it was found that "even after this severe treatment the life expectancy of the mice was unchanged." He concluded that the mammalian organism seems to be constructed in such a way that it can deal with most stress situations and emerge unharmed. The experiments which he described were certainly pretty rugged and, relatively speaking, far worse than the organism would experience in real life. The next factor which he explored was the effect of radiation in causing somatic mutation so that the body cells undergoing division in the adult accumulated damage in the cell nucleus. Recently, it has been established that radiation is indeed one of the most potent mutagenic agents and seems to accelerate the aging process. He added, however: (18)
Radiation is not the only mutagenic agent, so one would reason that other mutagenic agents should also cause aging. Consequently, the mutagen nitrogen mustard was administered to animals in just sub-lethal doses to test the effect on life-span. No effect on life-span was found.
Even when the agent was administered as often as three times a week for over two-thirds of the normal life-span of the animal, no change in life-span was observed.
Curtis then explained this finding as due to the fact that though both radiation and mustard are mutagenic agents, their action differs in such a way that radiation causes injury in a more permanent way to the organism as a whole. But in any case, there was observed "a qualitative relation between the development of aberrations and the life-span, and in some cases there is a reasonably good quantitative correlation." He concluded, therefore, that we should look for a causal relationship between cell mutation and aging. In summary, he stated that stress itself "does not contribute to aging," and no
17. Curtis, Howard J., "Biological Mechanisms Underlying the Aging Process," Science, vol.141, 1963, p.689. pg.13 of 22
experimental evidence could be found to support the idea. Secondly, a great deal of evidence now available does indicate that mutations in the body cells, occurring either spontaneously or due to mutagenic agents of one kind or another "play a dominant role in aging." This is by no means all that he concluded, but it is sufficient for the present purpose.
Perhaps no one has written quite as extensively on the matter of aging as a biologist from Trinity College, Cambridge, Alex Comfort. In 1961 he summed up the then present position by saying: (19)
There is still no generally accepted theory to explain aging, nor is it safe to assume that aging is an inevitable consequence of living. Among warm-blooded animals aging is almost certainly universal; it may be universal in other vertebrates, but in some, such as large fishes and tortoises, the process is so slow as to be almost undetectable. In other forms, particularly invertebrates, aging may not occur at all.
He then adds, significantly, that an animal that does not age is not to be regarded as immortal. The fact is that a number of circumstances intervene, as it were, to bring about its death which are in no way related to any aging process. Size, for example, is one of these. In a fascinating little paper entitled, "On Being the Right Size," J. B. S. Haldane (20) pointed out why a land animal cannot grow beyond a certain size because there is a limited amount of weight which can be supported by the skeletal frame. I have a copy of a diary which was kept by a parson for forty years in the latter half of the 18th century. (21) He tells how he went to see, in Norwich (England), a giant pig which was nine feet long and four feet high! He observes as a bye-the-bye that it had to be supported on its legs and when it fell over was unable to raise itself. Haldane, in a fascinating way, explored the implications of such a situation so that one is led to conclude, on strictly physiological grounds, that any animal whose body cells multiplied indefinitely would grow to such a size as to come to an end by other means than the mere process of aging. There is one exceptional circumstance, namely, where the animal is supported with respect to its body weight in a fluid medium -- a circumstance which is borne out by the extraordinary size of some of the prehistoric monsters who lived mostly in the water, by whales at the present time (whales weigh up to 140 tons, compared with an
19. Comfort, Alex, "The Life Span of Animals," Scientific American, August, 1961, p.108. pg.14 of 22
20. Haldane, J. B. S., "On Being the Right Size," in The World of Mathematics, vol.I, edited by J R. Newman, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1956, p.952.
21. Woodford, James, Diary of a Country Parson, vol.1, edited by John Beresford, Oxford University Press, 1926, p.245.
elephant's mere 5 tons), (22) by the very long life of some fishes, sturgeon for example living up to 100 years and halibut up to 70 years, and quite recently a turtle taken from the sea with a possible age of 1000 years.
Thus, there is nothing inherently impossible in the great longevity of the patriarchs, particularly if environmental conditions in pre-Flood times were slightly different from what they are now -- different, that is, by somehow protecting man from the harmful effects of certain types of solar or cosmic radiation. At any rate, a fundamental change in thinking about this whole question of mortality has been taking place over the past twenty years or so. Even within the aging bodies of both animals and man there may be cells alive which are detrimental to the organism as a whole simply because they are not sharing the aging processes of the rest of the cells.
This may be true, for example, of cancer cells, as R. E. D. Clark put it: (23)
Concerning death we of course know very little. But it is by no means impossible that man was designed to be immortal. The cells of which the body is composed are able to function for long periods and to react continuously to changes in the environment.
Many cells are known, such as those of cancer, which never lose this power and are in the strictest sense immortal. But for reasons as yet quite unknown, the cells of which the body is composed lose their powers with advancing age.
It could very well be that it is their very immortality in the presence of mortal or aging cells that makes cancer cells so dangerous, since they live at the expense of others. In 1946 V. Korenchevsky, writing in the British Medical Journal on the possibility of stopping this aging process of body cells, said: (24)
As aging starts very early, actually with the normal process almost the whole of the span of human life will be changed, and therefore in some distant future, man will probably become in some respects a different creature.
Probably Dr. Korenchevsky is quite unaware of the fact that when the Lord returns to establish His rule upon earth, certain conditions of life will be so changed that a man will still be a child when he is a thousand years old (Isaiah 65:20). As a matter of interest and physiologically speaking, we are dying from the moment we are
22. Moog, F., ref.6, p.41. pg.15 of 22
23. Clark, R. E. D., "The Mystery of Evil in Relation to the Divine Economy," Transactions of the Victoria Institute, vol.71, 1939, p.120.
24. Korenchevsky, V., "Conditions for the Rapid Progress of Gerontological Research," British Medical Journal, September 28, 1946, p.468.
born. (25) Indeed, more than this, it appears that the child ages more rapidly than the aged man. (26) Toward the end of life the process of aging is slower than it is in the first few years, paradoxical though this appears to be. In short, science has not yet found the cause of death. Hans Selye of Montreal has had no hesitation in saying that for man "Death is not inevitable." (27) He said, "There is no good reason why a limit should be placed on the human life span." That is a statement which really means that scientific research has not yet found why death seems always to terminate life in a way that has hitherto led men to assume it is natural. On another occasion, Selye asserted that in all his autopsies he had never yet seen a man who died simply of old age, nor did he think anyone ever had. (28) "To die of old age would mean that all the organs of the body would be worn out proportionately merely by having been used too long." But man, he believed, dies because one organ has worn out too soon. Since this is the case, Selye is sure that the natural human life is far in excess of the actual life lived today.
Nor does it appear that the organs which wear out prematurely are of such a complex nature that their very complexity makes the wearing out inevitable. Raymond Pearl observed, "Natural death is not the inevitable penalty of life, and even highly specialized cells are practically immortal." (29) He attributes death, not to the complexity of certain cells whose continuance is critical, but to the appearance for some reason of rebellion in otherwise normal cells in a way that, as he puts it, causes "an outbreak of cellular bolshevism which destroys the commonwealth." In 1947 Korenchevsky wrote: (30)
As to the possible prolongation of human life in the future, beyond the extreme age already reached by some centenarians, the scientists who have studied this problem give different answers. . . . Metchnikoff says that "we may predict that when science occupies the preponderating place in human society that it ought to have, and when knowledge of hygiene is more advanced, human life will become much longer."
Prof. Fisher concludes that "it would be surprising if the future did not witness a further lengthening of human life, and at an increasing rate. Of course, there is a limit to the further increase of human life, but there is good
25. Medawar, Sir Peter B., The Uniqueness of the Individual, Basic Books, New York, 1957, p.22. pg.16 of 22
26. Ibid., p.21.
27. Selye, Hans, "Death Is Not Inevitable," MacLean's Magazine, August 15, 1959, p.13.
28. Selye, Hans, quoted by Stephen E. Slocum, "Length of Life," Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, vol.13, no.1, 1961, p.19.
29. Pearl, Raymond, The Biology of Death: Monographs on Experimental Biology, Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1923: reviewed in British Medical Journal, March 3, 1923, p.382.
30. Korenchevsky, V., "The Longest Span of Life Based on the Records of Centenarians in England and Wales," British Medical Journal, July 5, 1947, p.59.
reason to believe that the limit is still far off." Prof. Simms of Columbia University states that "there is at the time no proof for or against the possibility that we can some day extend our active life an extra one hundred or two hundred years with retention of youthful health, intelligence, and appearance."
In 1946 Korenchevsky had said man would be basically a different creature if his potential for longevity were ever realized, and Haldane saw the same factor changing society as a whole quite radically. It did, prior to the Flood! Indeed, it necessitated the Flood to bring to an end a world order, a society, that had fundamentally gone entirely to the dogs...As Haldane has seen it, then: (31) "The man of the future must not be considered as one who would fit into any one of the contemporary societies. . . . He would develop slowly, continuing to learn up to maturity . . . and then living several centuries . . . and most individuals would have some special aptitude to the degree which we call genius."
His picture is remarkably reminiscent of that pre-Flood society, the real existence of which he would nevertheless almost certainly categorically deny. It could happen in the future, but it could never have happened in the past.
P. B. Medawar, Director of the Medical Research Council (England) said: (32)
No one dies merely of the weight of years. The greatest clinical pathologist of the last generation looked back upon his life for evidence of such a case. He once thought he had found it in a colleague 94 years old, whose life seemed merely to fade away; but autopsy showed a lobar pneumonia of four days' standing!
Or to put the matter very simply, a medical man with a wide experience could not readily recall a single instance of what has hitherto, and rather obviously in error, been termed "natural death." This bears out the remark made by Edward Deevey in 1948 in a paper having the rather intriguing title, "The Probability of Death," in which he observed, "Death from old age is a legal fiction, not a medical fact." (33)
The truth is that, contrary to popular opinion, death from old age is indeed a rare event, even in the case of such complex forms of life as fishes. Possibly they would die in due time simply from "age," but this is not certain. According to Bidder, fish grow without limit
31. Haldane, J. B. S., Genetics, Paleontology and Evolution, Bicentennial Conference, Series 2, 1946, p.26. pg.17 of 22
32. Medawar, Sir Peter B., quoting from Lancet, vol..235, 1938, p.87.
33. Deevey, Edward, "The Probability of Death," Scientific American, April, 1950, p.59.
and never undergo senescence nor suffer natural death. (34) Indeed, he states that he cannot ever "remember any evidence of a marine animal dying a natural death." Bidder agrees with Haldane that size becomes a limiting factor where birds and terrestrial animals are concerned, but this is not a problem for waterborne creatures, hence the enormous size of some whales, for example. (35) Ray Lancaster observed that among fish many "are not known to grow feebler with age, and some are known not to grow feebler." (36)
It is true that a number of species of salmon die shortly after spawning, as Emmerson observes: (37) "Five species of the Pacific salmon of the genus Oncorhynchus regularly die within a week or two following their first spawning." Nor are they the only fishes to die thus. There is reason to believe that if the females are prevented from spawning they do not suffer death. Emmerson said: (38)
Further researches into the causes of this sudden death are in progress. This genus of salmon migrates from the sea into fresh water rivers prior to spawning and does not feed after entering fresh water. Degenerative changes occur in the adrenal cortical tissue and in the pituitaries of the fishes as they spawn and approach death.
At full sexual maturity other internal organs and tissues show extensive degeneration which seems incompatible with continued life. Although the physiology of death is not fully known, there seems to be a strong indication that death mechanisms are innate and characteristic of related species of Pacific salmon.
It appears that the limitation of the life of the individual has a genetic basis in these fishes (and in insects) that die soon after their first reproduction, and that the death mechanisms are adaptive not to the individual survival but to group survival. Adaptive death has been called beneficial death.
Thus, in order to set limits to animal multiplication, a very urgent requirement and one which is strikingly absent in the human species in which the female survives long after her reproductive period is past, there is a built-in system of death "beneficial" to the whole species. But I think perhaps it is not so much genetically determined but "circumstantially" determined. Handrich pointed out: (39)
34. Bidder, G. P., Proceedings of the Linnean Society, 1937, p.17; and British Medical Journal. vol.2, 1932, p.583. pg.18 of 22
35. Bidder, G. P. quoted by Alex Comfort, "The Biology of Old Age," in New Biology, no.18, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1955, p.19.
36. Lancaster, Ray: quoted by Alex Comfort, ref.35, p.19.
37. Emmerson, A. E., "Evolution of Adaptation in Population Systems," in Evolution After Darwin, vol.1, edited by Sol Tax, University of Chicago Press, 1960, p.326.
38. Ibid., p.327.
39. Handrich, T L., The Creation: Facts, Theories, and Faith, Moody Press, Chicago, 195, p.60.
When the Pacific salmon swims upstream to spawn, its jaws undergo a change. They grow into a curved shape which enables the salmon to scoop out little hollows in the sandy bottom of some streamlet in which to lay its eggs.
Suppose that this change in jaw shape (and function) is the result of the absence of salt in the water and that this is accompanied by a total loss of appetite -- even in human beings salt influences appetite. Then the lack of food results, in turn, in degenerative changes internally which are involved in the triggering of the spawning mechanism. These changes lead to the animal's death which is not so much inevitable as "caused." Contributing to this starvation process is the change in jaw structure which hinders or totally inhibits feeding. It is a divinely appointed and highly complex arrangement to guarantee a continuously freshened stock of the species. The male is similarly affected because the same loss of appetite occurs as a consequence of the migration into fresh water, and it ends up as emaciated and worn out as the female. As far as is known, both male and female die as a consequence of this rugged experience, and it is believed that no single salmon ever spawns twice, nor do the males twice make the exhausting journey to fertilize her seed. (40) Mortality of the individual is a secondary effect of the process of perpetuation of the species, not something inherent in the fish's life per se.
Death is a post-reproductive phenomenon and preventing reproduction would probably postpone the individual's death. Even here, then, death cannot be said to be altogether "natural" or inevitable. Thus death is "required" for two reasons: to make allowance for change in animal form and to prevent over-crowding. But if, in the original scheme of things, God did not plan to change man into some other kind of organism through the course of time, and if over-crowding was not going to occur because, as each one became spiritually mature, he would be lifted out of and transferred to a higher sphere of life, death would be quite unnecessary. It only serves purposes which for unfallen man would not need to be served. And we now know that such a complex creature as man could have enjoyed true physical immortality. For cells of even very complex tissues, such as mammalian liver, have the power of almost unlimited regeneration.
Moreover, even after a human being has "died," a great part of him is still living, and were it not for the breakdown of some critical factor in some particular component of the organism as a whole, there is no reason why he might not have gone on living far longer.
40. Encyclopedia Britannica, 1953 edition, under "Salmon." pg.19 of 22
What this critical factor is, we still do not know. But its failure, the failure of a small percentage of the cells in some segment of the whole, brings about the ruin of the whole, just as the failure of an ignition system brings a car to a dead stop though the rest of the car is in perfect shape. Man's death is not due to a wearing out of the whole, but a failure in some critical component. Alan Harrington put it this way: (41)
Men do not die all at once but rather succumb to clinical, biological, and then cellular death, in that order. Clinical death arrives first, confirmed by the cessation of heart beat and breathing. Within five to eight minutes deterioration normally sets in, culminating in biological death . . . a state from which resuscitation of the body as a whole is impossible by currently known means. . . Finally, in cellular death, all the cells degenerate, suffering irreversible damage.
The situation is complicated. Plant protoplasm seems quite clearly capable of endless continuance. So do unicellular forms of life. They can be killed, but they are not subject to natural death. Many higher invertebrate forms seem equally immune to senescence. Death appears to be a necessary "ingredient" of the web of life in order to allow for change so long as such change is part of God's plan for the total economy of Nature below man. And it is also necessary that death intervene so long as forms multiply. This again is in order to prevent over-multiplication, unless there is some other way of limiting population growth for any particular species. But we know by implication from a number of passages of Scripture that God does have an alternative for man, and we shall explore this alternative in the third chapter of this present study. For man is now in a very special condition relative to all other forms of life. He is a fallen creature indwelling a poisoned body, a "corrupted" flesh, which is not the body he began with at the time of his creation. So his situation is unique. He may well have been a true immortal, possessing a protoplasm that was as deathless as the tree or the amoeba, but now his body has lost that capacity for endless continuance. Yet he has not entirely lost it, for one part of his constitution has retained the potential of immortality. Generation after generation he dies and sleeps with his fathers and his body returns to the dust, but there is one tiny fragment of the original Adam which he carries in himself and can pass on to his descendants through each succeeding generation.
We have already observed that while the offspring of the higher multi-cellular forms bury their parents, unicellular forms leave no
41. Harrington, Alan, The Immortalist, Random House, New York, 1969, p.246. pg.20 of 22
dead unless they are actually killed. Thus any single-cell form of life is inherently immortal: and because the human ovum is also a single-cell form of life, it, too, shares this inherent immortality. That is to say, within the female human body resides a fragment of immortality still.
When fertilized by the male sperm this unicellular organism, the seed, provides for its own immortal continuance by a specialized process of growth in the female body. As soon as a certain number of cells, like itself, have been reproduced by cell division, probably 16 according to our present understanding, a change suddenly takes place in all but one of these cells. One cell continues to multiply unchanged and the 15 other cells begin to differentiate and develop into the various tissues and organs of the body. (42)
The multi-cellular body which thus results thereafter becomes a vehicle for the housing of the cells which did not change. These continue for a while to reproduce themselves until, in the newborn infant female, each ovary is believed to contain about 70,000 of them. (43) When the time of puberty has come, one of these seeds is presented at the appropriate time for fertilization, so that a second generation may arise. The process is repeated in each new generation, thus continuing not only the line of vehicles or bodies but also the line of the seed. As we pass back through history from each generation of mothers and grandmothers, to great-grandmothers, and so right back till we come to Eve, we are not quite at the beginning of things, for Eve was taken out of Adam. So what we now look upon and refer to as the seed of the woman was, for one brief moment in history, the seed of the man. This unbroken chain of immortal substance from Adam through Eve to Mary was one day to be brought to life uniquely by the Holy Spirit to become, quite literally, a Second Adam.
A. S. Pearse, in his General Zoology, summed up this process when viewed purely from the biological point of view: (44)
Through a series of divisions, a germ cell gives rise to a body or soma -- and to new germ cells. The latter, and not the body, give rise to the next generation.
August Weismann referred to this phenomenon as the continuity of the germ plasm, and it is inherently a continuity of immortality. The
42. Nelsen, Olin E., Comparative Embryology of the Vertebrates, Blakiston, Toronto, 1953, p.114f. pg.21 of 22
43. Edwards, R. G., "Babies Created in the Laboratory?" quoted in New Scientist, November 11, 1965, p.392.
44. Pearse, A. S., General Zoology, Henry Holt, New York, 1930, p.379.
body, which is the vehicle for this process, is, for reasons which are not yet understood, subject to mortality. But it houses a stream of immortality. Kenneth Walker put it this way: (45)
In "The Theory of the Continuity of the Germ-Plasm," published in 1885, Weismann showed that at a very early period the fertilized ovum (which later becomes the embryo) separates into two parts, a somatic part and what Weismann called a propogative part. The somatic half grows into the body of the new individual, while the propogative half forms only the germinal epithelium or reproductive glands. A clear and very early division is therefore made between the cells which are to form the body and those highly specialized cells which become the sex glands and eventually give rise to the next generation. A man's body is doomed to die, but in a way his reproductive cells are immortal, for they will live on as his children, his grandchildren and their descendants. Even though more than 99.9% of the man will perish, the remaining fraction of him will continue to live so long as his descendants multiply.
All that the somatic cells, which form the main bulk of his body, are really called upon to do is to provide a refuge in which the immortal cells within him can find temporary lodging and sustenance. It is a little bit discouraging to our self-esteem to be looked upon only as useful wallets for conveying the valuable germ-plasm down the ages. . . .
It is clear therefore that not all of man's physical immortality was lost. A little still remains, one small fragment of himself, immortal as was his whole body before he sinned. But as we shall see, it is not in the man that this fragment remains, but in the woman, who, though taken out of the man at the beginning, was in some way constituted differently.
45. Walker, Kenneth, Meaning and Purpose, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1950, p.63.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved
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