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Part II: Scientific Determinism & Divine Intervention Chapter 2
Evidences of Mechanism
THIS CHAPTER is really little more than a catalogue of the successive victories of the implacable offensive, a record of the steady progress made by science toward reducing all phenomena to mechanism, including the "stuff of life" itself, and even the formation of brain. Consider such a statement as the following from Paul W. Weiss of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, made at a meeting of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington in 1956: (16)
At the moment of its creation or very soon after, each of the millions of cells that make up a living organism seems to know its destiny. It knows whether it will become an eye or a leg or a chicken feather. It knows also how to find and group itself in proper arrangement with other like cells to make up the living fabric of eyes, legs, feathers, skin, and so on. Cells dissociated from the chicken and separated from their original site and from each other, days before feather germs had appeared, got together and made feathers.
Our experiment implies that a random assortment of skin cells that never had been part of a feather, can as a group, set up conditions ‹ "field" ‹ which will then cause members of the group to move and grow in concert and in accordance with a typical pattern of organogenesis.
pg 1 of 17
- Weiss speaks of these cells as though they had a mind of their own. It is possible that they do, (17) but I do not think he would assent to this. He is merely speaking in the "as if" sense of knowing. It looks that way, but in fact it is part of the constitution, the "very fabric of the Universe" as Theodosius Dobzhansky would say, to act as they do. (18) Monod calls this "endowment with purpose or project" teleonomy. It is teleology come in
- 16. Weiss, Paul W., "Cracking Life's Code" in Science News Letter, 5 May, 1956, p.275.
- 17. See "The Subconscious and the Forgiveness
of Sin", Part
IV, chapter 2, in Man in Adam and in Christ, vol.3 in
The Doorway Papers Series, Zondervan Publication.
- 18. Dobzhansky, Theodosius: see his review of Jacques Monod's Chance and Necessity (Knopf, New York, 1971) in Science. vol.175, 1972, p.49, 50.
again by the back door, because there is no other truly descriptive phrase that fits: only it would not do to use the term teleology any more, although Dobzhansky prefers it to teleonomy. The only alternative he feels (quoting Monod) is an absolutely mechanistic view that "leaves nothing in place of that precious bond [that once existed between man and nature] but an anxious quest in a frozen universe of solitude."
I think my own first realization of what mechanism means in respect to living organisms came when I read a book by T. H. Savory, Mechanistic Behaviour and Animal Biology, published in 1936. (19) He described how, if a wasp is cut into three pieces, its decapitated head will still bite, its thorax will still walk about by itself, and the abdomen though without legs or head will still effectively sting whatever touches it in the appropriate manner. And all of this behaviour is, as the author observed, "apparently full of an evident and even formidable purposiveness," which nevertheless cannot possibly be there.
Not long afterward, I happened one day to see the severed limb of a "daddy-long-legs," totally disconnected from the rest of the body, but still trying desperately to walk! It kept up the movement for an extraordinarily long time.
As the years went by, I learned of more and more examples of apparently purposive behaviour in creatures so mutilated that they cannot possibly have had any guiding consciousness. For example, it is possible surgically to disconnect a frog's brain from the rest of its body, an operation called a decerebration. (A slightly different operation which has much the same end-result is termed "decortication." We shall have occasion to refer to the effects of both kinds of operation.) Now, a decapitated frog will still behave with every appearance of deliberate purposefulness in quite complex ways, as though it makes no difference whether it has a mind or not. Purposeful activity can clearly be entirely mindless.
If a drop of acid is placed on a front leg, such a frog will seek to remove it with the hind foot on the same side. If this hind leg is artificially restrained, it will try instead to remove the acid with the opposite hind leg. (20) Here we have all the appearance of minded, purposeful, deliberate activity directed toward an end that is clearly evident to the observer. The frog itself need not have had any previous experience of such a situation. Its
19. Savory, T. H., Mechanistic Behaviour and Animal Biology, Watts, London, 1936. pg.2 of 17
20. Decapitated frog: operation performed by the German physiologist Edouard Pfluger, referred to by A. Koestler, The Ghost in the Machine, Hutchinson, London, 1967, p.175.
activity must therefore be entirely mechanical, since it has no brain to make it consciously purposive. The whole complex performance is reflex and electrochemical in nature.
Experimental decerebration of animals has been conducted for years, and the behaviour of these abused creatures has never failed to amaze those who perform such experiments. A decorticate bird will fly, perch, and even eat if appropriately presented with food. (21) A decorticate dog will run on a treadmill, rise to its feet on the approach of its keeper if lying down, and will accept or reject foods depending upon their taste as though being aware of the difference. (22)
A decerebrate cat, if held upside down and dropped from a height, will turn itself in midair and land on its feet. (23) Such a cat will raise its young, growl when provoked, and purr when pleased. It remains highly responsive to scratchings and other mouse sounds! (24) Like the dog, it will walk around, apparently with purpose, perhaps guided entirely by reflex responses to light and dark objects or to smell. Not a few animals will run around for a surprising length of time with their heads cut off. Even during embryonic development, animals like rabbits can be decapitated and yet continue to develop to full term; growth of the rest of the organism is evidently not interfered with. (25)
Although I cannot now recover the source of my information, I have read of prisoners of war in the Pacific area during World War II who were given a chance to run for their lives and then were decapitated with a sword at the moment they began to run. The victims would take at least a dozen full paces at some speed before crashing to the ground ‹ to the amusement of their captors.
Children may be born without a cerebrum and survive for several years with a responsiveness that gives a powerful impression of conscious awareness, such as following movement with their eyes. (26) Such infants may
21. Decorticate birds: A. J. Carlson and V. Johnson, The Machinery of the Body, University of Chicago Press, 1947, revised edition, p.422. See also W. B. Cannon, The Way of an Investigator, Hafner, New York, 1968, p.121. pg.3 of 17
22. Decorticate dogs: G. H. Bell, J. N. Davidson, and H. Scarborough, Textbook of Physiology and Biochemistry, Livingstone, Edinburgh, 1954, p.860.
23. Decerebrate cat: Sir Charles Sherrington, Man on His Nature, Cambridge University Press, 1963, p.149.
24. Decerebrate cat: H. C. Bazett and E.G. Penfield, "A study of the Sherrington Decerebrate Animal in the Chronic as well as the Acute Condition" in Brain, vol.45, 1922, p.218, 261.
25. Rabbit embryos: A. Jost, referred to in Annual Review of Physiology, edited by Victor Hall , Annual Reviews Inc. & American Physiological Society, Stanford, California, vol.11, 1949, p.33.
26. Decerebrate children: a photograph of such a child is found in figure 46:20 in Textbook of Physiology and Biochemistry, G. H. Bell, J. N. Davidson, and H. Scarborough, Livingstone, Edinburgh, 1954, chapter 46.
still smile and coo when fondled and cry when roughly handled. (27) These tragic creatures are conceived and come into the world like any other baby, so that it would seem as though the laws which God has built into the natural order are such that, regardless of the end-result, the union of the sperm and the ovum under proper conditions will inevitably lead to the development of a living thing, even when that end-result is tragic, i.e., a living object and nothing more. There is strictly nobody at home.
We are therefore led to conclude that a great deal of what we have attributed directly to God's activity in supplying some kind of vital soul, which thereafter acts out its will through the living body, may not always be "soul" at all. It may be simply the action of electrochemical forces, without conscious purpose, fulfilling merely the laws of nature in a strictly mechanistic cause-and-effect manner. In what way such a statement may not altogether apply in the case of human beings will be considered later, but there is much evidence that it is essentially the truth in the animal world below man, in spite of all appearances to the contrary. I do not at all share the appalling vision of Lord Adrian of England who said that "our final goal is to bring human behaviour within the framework of the physical sciences"! (28) That is a frightful goal.
Animal lovers will object at once to this low estimate, and admittedly those animals which associate with man closely, especially dogs, seem to challenge very strongly such a mechanistic view. Yet it must be borne in mind that even some of the most admired characteristics of those lovable animals may be completely abolished by a simple operation. As Fritz Kahn has observed, by severing the olfactory nerves of the dog so that it loses all sense of smell, it becomes quite unable to recognize its own master and in fact loses, as Kahn puts it, all exhibitions of loyalty which are so characteristic of dogginess. (29)
Conscious behaviour seems to be limited to those forms of activity which are not instinctive, i.e., not entirely mechanistic. Human behaviour is superimposed upon behaviour natural to animals only in those areas which are non-instinctive. To the extent that an animal's behaviour is more instinctive, to that extent it is more bound by the rule of law and less open to human influence at the level of consciousness. Domesticated animals are obviously animals in which the dominance of mechanism in behaviour has been reduced by human intervention,
27. Anencephalic children: J. D. French, "The Reticular Formation" in Scientific American, May, 1957, p.56. pg.4 of 17
28. Adrian, Lord, "The Brain as Physics" in Science Journal, May, 1967, p.3.
29. Kahn, Fritz, Man in Structure and Function, translated from German by George Rosen, Knopf, New York, 1960, vol.2, p.605.
and it would be reasonable to suppose that some animals are more susceptible to this kind of intervention.
For example, the dog is clearly more domesticated than the cat; therefore as they are now, after centuries of close companionship with man, dogs are far less dominated by instinct than are cats ‹ even though the latter
have probably been associated with man almost as long as dogs. In other words, it is hard to believe that there is no consciousness of behaviour in cats, but even harder to believe that there is no consciousness of behaviour in dogs. The greater human intervention in the life of the latter has superimposed conscious behaviour upon the unconscious behaviour of instinct to a greater extent than with the former. All that is unconscious behaviour,
in either species, is instinctive and wholly mechanistic. By contrast, it seems highly unlikely that there is any
truly mechanistic or instinctive behaviour in man, (30) though there is plenty of evidence of conditioned reflex activity ‹ activity which is engendered by experience and not encoded in the genes.
It has been pointed out that the best examples of life which are purely mechanistic are to be found among plants. We are familiar with the way in which some plants will keep turning toward the sun throughout the day and will close when the sun goes down. The action is so slow that very few people were aware of it until modern techniques of phase photography made it possible for the viewer to witness the action, which originally took ten to twelve hours, flashed on the screen in a matter often or twelve seconds. To watch a patch of such flowers all open together and turn through perhaps ninety degrees in unison and then close at the same time gives one a powerful impression of purposive activity: and I mean, not merely action with a purpose, but action with a conscious purpose. Yet we know for a fact that all such plant tropisms are chemically governed.
It is the speeding up of the activity and the fact that all the plants are doing the same thing that makes the impression upon the mind, looking for all the world like a group of people watching a tennis match! It seems quite likely that the impression of purposeful activity in some of the very low forms of life may also be due to the fact that we observe it only under a microscope, where magnification gives an apparent acceleration to the activity. One has to be cautious, therefore, about being deceived by appearances, since many living things perform complex maneuvers which are entirely without consciousness yet are nevertheless very similar to
30. Instincts in man: a very useful summary of the current position regarding this is given by H. J. S. Guntrip, "The Bearing of Recent Developments in Psycho-Analysis on the Psychology of Religion" in Transactions of the Victoria Institute, vol. 85, 1953, p.67-80. pg.5 of 17
maneouvers which we can only perform by an act of will ‹ such as following a moving object by turning with it.
Normal plant movements are slow, but there are some that are extremely rapid. Their very speed of response gives an even more lively impression of consciousness of events. The Venus-flytrap, a carnivorous plant which feeds on the protein of captured insects, is a good example. It has leaves so formed that they can close very rapidly on any insects which land on their surface. The insect is then digested by the plant, which secretes a pepsinic chemical for this purpose, very similar to the chemical in the stomach of animals which serves the same purpose. The plant is subject, of course, to the chance falling of inanimate bits and pieces on its leafy trap, but it does not close on such pieces. Study has shown that whatever lands on the leaf must make two specific contacts, spaced from 1.5 to 20 seconds apart before the trap is sprung. (31) Since living things are certain to move after landing, whereas dead things like bits of wood do not move, there is a built-in safety device which prevents the plant from "swallowing" and trying to digest what is indigestible. The trap is sprung within half a second after the second touch! Watching this performance, it is hard to persuade oneself that the response is entirely without conscious direction. But it seems certain at present that plants have no consciousness in the sense that human beings speak of consciousness, and therefore they are not acting with deliberation but entirely mechanistically.
This mechanistic chain appears to start in living things right from the beginning, at the cellular level. We know now a great deal about how the fundamental substance of all living tissue, protein, is manufactured in the cell. It is an extraordinarily complex and beautifully ordered mechanism. Starting from scratch with the basic amino acids, protein is mechanically and systematically synthesized at the rate of approximately one finished molecule in every one and a half minutes. And this is going on simultaneously at billions of sites in the body. It is truly a factory working at capacity. Allfrey and Mirsky observed: "This impressive feat . . . is testimony to the efficiency of the protein synthetic mechanism of the cell." (32) And this process continues hour after hour, year after year, virtually (though not quite) without miscue. The duplication is so accurate, in fact, that the rate of error would correspond to the making of less than a single spelling mistake involving but one letter in the printing of an
31. Venus-flytrap: see Victor A. Gruelach, "Plant Movement" in Scientific American, February, 1955, p.106. pg.6 of 17
32. AIlfrey, V. G., and Mirsky, A. E., "How Cells Make Molecules" in Scientific American, September, 1961, p.82.
entire set of the Encyclopedia Britannica. (33) Jacques Monod himself underscores "the extreme efficiency of the chemical machinery of living things from the 'simplest' to the most complex." (34)
To start this factory in operation and to initiate the process of development of a new organism, there must already be at least one living organism in existence, and in a very large class of living things there must be two. The "marrying" of these two, the sperm and the ovum, can be carried out in a test tube, in vitro as it is termed, almost as successfully as in nature; the whole mechanism is away to a good start even though such a fertilization process is in these circumstances artificially arranged. The two components have only to be brought together, under the right conditions, and fertilization is automatic. Even the human sperm and ovum will under such conditions unite and initiate the process of embryonic development. It is not a mystical union, though it is still surrounded with much mystery. The very fact that such manipulation is possible at all indicates that we are dealing with a mechanism, but it is a mechanism the manipulation of which introduces very serious and challenging questions for the Christian who has hitherto believed that children are the gift of God. It is perfectly true that these in vitro human fertilizations have been carried only a certain distance along the road to full development; and it is true that they leave large moral questions yet unanswered. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that the operation has been performed in the laboratory.
I believe the first successful operation with a human ovum was undertaken by Daniele Petrucci in Italy, (35) who devised an artificial womb in which the resulting embryo lived and grew for twenty-nine days. A second similar experiment was continued successfully for fifty-eight days. He obtained the female ovum by removing it surgically at the right moment and then admitting male sperm, one of which fertilized the egg. In both cases he terminated the experiment for one reason or another and as a consequence caused a furor in his native country. His initial object was to provide organs which, for technical reasons (the weak antigenic properties of embryonic tissue), would be less likely to be rejected by the host if transplanted. The fact is that any scientist who undertakes to induce the generation of life by such a means is going to have to face the possibility of also
33. Watson, James, The Molecular Biology of the Gene, Benjamin, New York, 2nd edition, 1970, p.297. pg.7 of 17
34. Monod, Jacques, Chance and Necessity, Collins, London, 1972, p.65.
35. Petrucci, Daniele, "Producing Transplantable Human Tissue in the Laboratory" in Discovery,vol.22, July, 1961, pp.278-83.
practicing infanticide if his "creation" turns out to be developing in any way along undesirable lines. In 1968-69 Edwards, Bavister, and Steptoe performed similar experiments in England and found convincing evidence that eighteen out of fifty-six human eggs had been fertilized in vitro by the introduction of human sperm. (36)
What may be true of animals, which by manipulation have been brought to full term, may not prove to be true of human bodies, though it is possible that we shall see human bodies coming to birth in this way. I say bodies advisedly here because I believe there is need to take into account certain revealed statements in
Scripture relative to the nature of man as man in contrast to the rest of the animal creation. But to the extent that man has a body which is designed to operate in many ways precisely as the animal body operates, it is
likely that it is subject to the same natural laws and can be treated equally as a mechanism. That there is something more is not in question here, and we shall explore this later: it is only that there is much that is the same. It is this aspect with which biology concerns itself. In scientific research, the ghost in the machine must be ignored if the method is to be successful in dealing with the machine which houses the ghost. As Joseph Needham put it, many years ago: (37)
Mechanism is the backbone of scientific thought in biology, since in science we have to act as if the mechanistic theory of life were true, but we are in no way committed to it as a metaphysically valid statement.
Scientific progress can be made only by those who experiment as if mechanism is true.
This is the methodological basis of all such research. But it does not mean that by demonstrating mechanism we are also necessarily proving that animals are in fact machines and nothing more. Such a statement is very different from reliance on the concept of mechanism as a fertile hypothesis; yet, as Sir P. Chalmers Mitchell put it, a few years after Needham: (38)
If we scrutinize our. generalizations and do not extend them to a class of facts from which they were not derived, we shall find no logical ground to infer the existence of any but physical events in the world of living things. I agree that the phenomena of living things have not yet been fully interpreted in terms of the inorganic. But I note that every positive addition to biological knowledge during the past one hundred years, from the identification of Mendelian factors in heredity, the artificial fertilization of ova, and the other achievements of biochemistry, to Sir Charles Sherrington's explanation of mammalian reflexes, has been a diminution of the residuum to which it is possible to apply vitalistic conceptions.
pg.8 of 17
- 36. Edwards, R. G.; Bavister, B. D.; and Steptoe, P.C., "Early Stages of Fertilization in Vitro of Human Oocytes Matured in Vitro" in Nature, 15 February, 1969, pp.632-35
- 37. Needham, Joseph: quoted by T. H. Savory, Mechanistic Behaviour and Animal Biology, Watts, London, 1936, p.170
- 38. Mitchell, Sir P. Chalmers: quoted by T. H. Savory, ibid., p.xii
It cannot be denied that every advance has only tended to confirm the correctness, from the experimental point of view, of the decision wrapped up in the great "Manifesto" of Ludwig, von Helmholtz and duBois-Reymond when they argued that "all the activities of living material, including consciousness, are ultimately to be explained in terms of physics and chemistry". (39) This statement has been the Apostles' Creed of all the life sciences since that time, and it has proved fruitful as the basis of experimental research.
The concept of mechanism in living things was implicit at least two hundred years ago. In 1785 Lavoisier discovered by experiment that about the same amount of energy was released from a unit quantity of food whether it was burned in the laboratory or metabolized in the body of a man or an animal. His penetrating conclusion was that "life is a mechanical function." (40)
In 1828 Friedrich Wohler synthesized the first organic compound, urea, proving that organic compounds can be constructed out of non-living substances. In 1953-54 Stanley Miller and Harold Urey performed the simple experiment of circulating a mixture of water vapor, methane, ammonia, and hydrogen, all of which gases were believed to have been present in the early atmosphere of the earth, in the presence of a continuing electric spark. They carried this on for one week and by a refined method of analysis found that they had acquired a mixture of amino acids, glycine, and alanine -- the simplest amino acid and the most prevalent in protein, which is the fundamental stuff of living things. The experiment has since been repeated in Germany and in Russia, at Yale, at the Oakridge Laboratory, and by P. H. Abelson in Washington, using different mixtures and always coming up with these organic substances. So this was not a "freak accident". Evidently nature has been designed in such a way that under the proper conditions, some at least of the building materials of living substance will come into being as a natural consequence. This does not prove that life would occur spontaneously, since these substances in themselves are dead. (41) What it does show is that the design of the universe is such as to allow for the appearance of life within the framework of its basic materials.
39. Manifesto: noted by Chauncey D. Leake, "Perspectives of Adaptation: Historical Backgrounds" in Handbook of Physiology, vol. IV, edited by D. B. Dill et al., American Physiological Society, 1964, p.6. pg.9 of 17
40. Lavoisier: Magnus Pyke, "Is Biology Chemistry?" in Discovery, March, 1958, p.98.
41. Shapley, Harlow, in Evolution After Darwin, edited by Sol Tax and Charles Callender, University of Chicago Press, vol.III, 1960, p.77, 78, in a panel discussion on "The Origin of Life", chaired by Harlow Shapley and Hans Gaffron.
Ultimately Miller found as many as five of the twenty mainamino acids present in quite large quantities in the mixture of products from his "atmosphere". Since then, continuing experimentation has shown that probably fifteen or more of the amino acids can be made by very similar methods. This still does not give us living substance, but it is a pointer.
Moreover, continued experimentation has shown that life has tremendous powers of persistence once generated. Living things of very simple nature can be mutilated in extraordinary ways and yet re-organize themselves and, as it were, survive the ordeal. It has been found that if plasmodium of slime mold is allowed to pass through a fine sieve, dividing the organism into very small pieces, it will still re-organize itself on the other side of the sieve and appear once again as viable as ever. (42) If, however, the plasmodium is forced through the sieve, it is apparently not able to survive the ordeal, even though analysis of its substance and structure has not revealed any difference from the substance and structure of the organism which passed through the sieve at its own speed. Thus, at this level life has extraordinary flexibility in surviving mechanical dispersion, a characteristic which one might have expected to find in non-living substance but not where life is concerned.
One more illustration will underscore this observation. Some forms of life are extraordinarily resistant to being killed by freezing. Roundworms have survived in laboratory experiments at temperatures of -450º F. (43) And springtails have revived after three years' freezing in a glacier. The low temperature seems to have no effect on these living creatures than it would have upon the substance of their bodies if it were simply non-living material. During the Chicago Darwin Centennial Celebrations (which were subsequently published in three volumes under the title Evolution After Darwin), in one of the discussions Hans Gaffron spoke about the problem of defining life in the face of this kind of evidence. He said: (44)
One may freeze a cell at such low temperature that every reaction ceases. No one could distinguish this cell from a dead one. To see whether it is alive or has the capacity of being alive, one would have to bring the cell back to normal temperature to see whether it still does what it is expected to do: to grow and, particularly, to multiply. So the essence of life is found in the process of living and not in any constituents of living cells. . . When defrosted, the dead cell will disintegrate and the dormant cell will multiply.
pg.10 of 17
- 42. Plasmodium of slime mold: A. R. Moore, "On the Cytoplasmic Framework of Plasmodium" in Science Reports, Tohukuo Imperial University, Japan, 4th series, vol.8, pp.189, 191
- 43. Living World of Animals, L. H. Matthews and R. Carrington, editors, Reader's Digest Publication, London, 1970, p.242.
- 44. Gaffron, Hans, Evolution After Darwin, edited by Sol Tax and Charles Callender, Chicago University Press, 1960, vol.III, p.72.
Even more remarkable are some experiments reported recently in the journal Science, conducted by Jeon, Lorch and Danielli, (45) who took apart individual amoeba and re-assembled them, not merely re-assembling the parts belonging to each other (the "envelope," the cytoplasm, and the nucleus), but assembling parts from different amoeba. Eighty percent of the re-assembled cells were normal and behaved and reproduced in such a way as to be indistinguishable from cells of the original clone. Either life can literally be taken apart, reduced to its physical components, (46) and re-assembled, or in this particular instance one of the components (the nucleus?) was actually the carrier of the life principle which, not itself having been dismantled into its components, survived the dis-assembly of its environment (the cytoplasm and the envelope). Whatever the explanation, living substance is hardy stuff!
One of the great problems in biology at this level is understanding how one particular cell, the ovum, can multiply and differentiate into other kinds of cells as the embryo begins to lay out the plan of the body and cells become organs. It seems likely that here, also, there is an in-built mechanism which makes it unnecessary to call upon some vital force outside of the cell's own inner constitution. Recent experiments have suggested that the cells themselves do not, as it were, have a "mind" to differentiate appropriately, but do so only in the right context. Cells will develop into a particular tissue or organ if located or re-located in the right position with respect to the other related developing organs.
If part of the tissue of an eye bud is removed and cultivated appropriately, it will develop into a normal eye, though on a smaller scale, as though the cells have some innate instructions so to do; (47) but whether they will develop in this way or not depends upon their maturity. If they have not begun to show the characteristics of an eye bud, they can be removed and transplanted somewhere else and will then co-operate with the surrounding tissue as it is developing into some other organ. Whatever the mechanism is, it is clear that it is very perfectly engineered within the structure of the living cell.
The present view is that it is organization which gives it this tremendous potential for becoming alive and serving its special purpose. The mere reproduction by artificial means of the chemical and physical components
45. Jeon, K. W.; Lorch, I. J.; and Danielli, J. F., "Re-Assembly of Living Cells From Dissociated Components" in Science, vol.167, 1970, p.1626. pg.11 of 17
46. I think the remark of Prof. W. H. Thorpe is apropos: "To be precise, you must know, as completely as it is possible to know, the properties of the individual components before you investigate the resulting properties when they are acting together" (in Beyond Reductionism, edited by A. Koestler and J. R. Smythies, Hutchinson, London, 1969, p.420)
47. Koestler, Arthur, The Ghost in the Machine, Hutchinson, London, 1967, p.131
of a cell would not seem to be the same thing as producing a cell with potential for life and subsequent orderly differentiation. But once this potential has been introduced, from there on the whole process seems to be characteristically a super-refined mechanism. The embryo as it develops appears to be loaded with such self-regulating mechanisms. So strong is this power to re-organize that kidney tissue can be minced up and yet under appropriate conditions will re-organize itself into true kidney tissue. In fact, it has been possible, experimentally, to produce normal embryonic kidneys by mincing, pooling, and scrambling kidney tissues from several different embryos (48). The organizing properties of these tissues survive not only disintegration but also mixing.
It has been known for many years that a heart will continue to pulsate after being removed from the body, provided it is appropriately nourished. What has been recently discovered, however, is that cells have an in-built individual rhythmic pulsing of their own. If a number of these cells, cultivated in vitro, are allowed to associate, though each of them has its own established rhythm they will unite and co-ordinate their pulsing so that they beat in unison. Refined experiments have shown that although the pulse rate of these individual cells is built-in, when they begin to organize themselves into aggregates they will surrender their individuality and adopt the same pulse rate. (49) One has to conclude that in some way the whole mechanism of pulsation, so essential to living things with a circulation, is built-in from the very first cell which initiates the process of formation of that vital organ, the heart.
Perhaps even more extraordinary, in a way, is the finding that the brain itself will continue to "function," at least insofar as the electroencephalogram (EEG) can be recorded from it, even after ii has been removed entirely from its original owner. Some of the EEG tracings obtained in this way from rhesus monkeys have proved to be indistinguishable from those of an animal which is not only alive but wide awake. In some cases, apparently, such brain preparations, if the auditory nerves are left intact, will respond to clicking sounds which would have been of significance to the live animal. (50) In England one medical journal has carried correspondence from animal
48. Weiss, Paul, and Taylor, A. C., "Reconstitution of Complete Organs From Single-Cell Suspensions of Chick Embryos in Advanced Stages of Differentiation" in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, vol.46, no.9, September, 1960, p.17-115. pg.12 of 17
49. Harary, Isaac, "Heart Cells in Vitro" in Scientific American, May, 1962, pp.141-52.
50. Reported from The New York Times Service, 8 June, 1964, under the heading "Bodyless Brain."
lovers who believe that these experiments should be outlawed until we have some way of knowing whether such exposed brains may not in some way be experiencing excruciating pain. Such an event could only be possible, one supposes, if the brain per se was a seat of consciousness in the human sense of the word. At any rate, it seems rather likely at the present moment that these responses and output signals are purely mechanical, i.e., electrochemical, in nature.
Experiment has carried the mechanistic concept even further. Lapham and Markesbery found that single cells teased apart from human embryo brains of varying gestational ages (10-19 weeks), which were available because of surgical removal for the purpose of terminating pregnancy, can be cultivated in vitro and will develop normal brain tissue. (51) These single cells develop the same character as brain cells in the embryo that come to full term in vivo, within what seems to be very nearly the same time period. The authors observe: (52)
The characteristics [of these cultured brain cells] suggest that regulatory mechanisms operate in vitro which influence not only developmental phenomena within cells but also those expressed in the organization of cells to form a tissue with definable architectural relationships.
Similar experiments have been just as successfully conducted by others. (53) Nicholas Seeds of the University of Colorado Medical Center was able to verify in mouse brain cells of embryonic origin the formation of synapses by which nerve cells communicate with each other. (54) Integration as a functioning organism was evidently part of the potential of these individual cells.
Medawar notes that if a leg bone is broken and, due to circumstances, cannot knit properly, it may actually form an articulated joint, a joint which is anatomically almost perfect. Thus Medawar asks: (55)
What better evidence could there be that joints, with all the niceties of their patterns of articulation, are
shaped by use?
Yet they are not so. For all their fitness to mechanical purposes, the patterns of bone and bones are not,
in the first instance (in the embryo) molded by the demands of use; the evidence of remodeling and regeneration
pg.13 of 17
- 51. Lapham, L. W., and W. R. Markesbery, "Human Fetal Cerebellar Cortex: Organization and Maturation of Cells in Vitro" in Science, vol.173, I971, p.829-32.
- 52. Ibid., p.832.
- 53. See Proceedings of National Academy of Science, vol.68, 1971, p.3219.
- 54. Seeds, Nicholas, "A Brain Re-Wires Itself in a Test-Tube," being a note in New Scientist, 6 January, 1972, p.6. See also "Reassembling the Brain" in New Scientist, 6 April, 1972, p.12.
- 55. Medawar, Sir Peter B., The Art of the Soluble, Methuen, London, 1967, p.26.
shows that they could be so, and that under special circumstances they are so; but bones will not develop in an anatomically almost perfect fashion when deprived of innervation or transplanted into positions where they can neither move nor be moved.
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- The explanation usually offered for such characteristics of cellular life is that there is some kind of instruction within the cell, a pre-arranged programme. But obviously these instructions can be changed since cells can be moved and develop differently provided that they are moved early enough. It is conceivable that the message encoded in the cell is such that one kind of development will occur at one stage of its life history and under one set of environmental conditions, and another kind of development at a later period under another set of environmental conditions. Successive cell divisions might involve some loss of instructions with time, but then we have the anomaly or loss of instruction resulting in a development which is increasingly more complex in its character. At present, the whole thing is a profound mystery; yet it is entirely mechanically predetermined to this extent that the end result is predictable to a remarkable degree, provided the conditions of development are sufficiently understood.
The situation is even more confused by the discovery that forms of life such as Drosophila melanogaster and Drosophila simulans, which look so alike that it takes a very clever taxonomist to distinguish between them visually, have nevertheless been found to have extraordinarily large differences in their re-iterated DNA, that is to say in the base material which carries the encoded information which is supposedly determining the form of the adult insect. As Waddington remarked: "Now what this means, why it has happened, how it has happened, we have not yet the beginning of an idea." (56) I feel compelled to point out that this finding creates serious problems for current evolutionary theory because it presupposes a disconnection, in a manner of speaking, between genotype and phenotype. It reflects the problem which the fact of convergence also brings up, since in this case we have animals with entirely unrelated genetic background nevertheless developing extraordinarily similar body structures. Indeed, in the discussion Waddington himself admitted that homology ‹ i.e., similar structure in different animals (which Darwin believed to be evidence of relationship between different species) ‹ may very well have little significance from the point view of the geneticist. As he said, "Personally, I rather doubt if it retains much value." (57) In one quarter at least, doubts are being raised as to whether the
- 56. Waddington, C. H., in Beyond Reductionism, edited by A. Koestler and J. R. Smythies, Hutchinson, London, 1969, p.392.
- 57. Ibid.
information encoded in the DNA really isresponsible for the characteristics of the adult organism. No doubt the two are causally related, but the question is whether, by knowing the DNA message, one could automatically predict the structure and character of the organism that will develop. Polanyi put it this way: (58)
A book or any other object bearing a pattern that communicates information is essentially irreducible to physics and chemistry. . . . We must refuse to regard the pattern by which DNA spreads information as part of its chemical properties [my emphasis].
pg.15 of 17
- There is no question that law governs the growth of cells into organs and these laws can be quite precisely stated up to a certain point. Living tissue, like non-living tissue, is law-bound. Harlow Shapley argues that the whole system is so completely mechanistic, that, to quote his words, "there is no need to explain the origin of life in terms of the miraculous or the supernatural. Life occurs automatically when ever the conditions are right. It will not only emerge but persist and evolve." (59) Long before this, in 1877, Haeckel had said that once the chemical components of a cell ‹ carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and sulphur ‹ are properly united, they produce the soul and body of the animated world and suitably nursed become man". (60)
Presumably God has no need, once having ordained these laws and set them in operation, to superintend every stage in order to maintain the system as a whole. Because there have been certain freedoms built in which allow alternative lines of development, apparently for man to exploit, the future was not predetermined completely from the first. Laplace was not correct when he said that if at some given moment one knew all the laws governing the universe and the precise state of things at that moment, one could predict the whole course of events in the future. But this does not mean that anything happens or ever has happened in a haphazard way. Strict natural law has governed the whole process except where miracle is concerned.
We now know that many of the building blocks of living substance have been constructed to operate mechanistically, and the mechanism can be reconstructed by man. There is no reason to suppose that the rest of the blocks are fundamentally different. If the spark of life can be induced into them from something already
- 58. Polanyi, Michael, "Life Transcends Physics and Chemistry" in Chemical & Engineering News, 21 August, 1967, p.62.
- 59. Shapley, Harlow, in Science News Letter, 3 July, 1965, p.10.
- 60. Ernst Hacekel: quoted by Stanley L. Jaki, The Relevance of Physics, University of Chicago Press, 1966, p.310.
alive, such blocks become part of the stream. Individual cells apparently have built-in capabilities of forming even such complex tissue as heart or brain quite automatically. They do it on their own initiative. Aggregates can organize themselves to form organisms where such organs are needed. Physically taken apart, cells can reconstitute themselves and will re-group into aggregates and carry on as before. And so complex is the potential of cellular organization that a pure mindless aggregate will behave with every appearance of mind control, though the organism so behaving has no brain whatever to support its purposeful behaviour.
Such mechanisms are clearly designed to do these things, and it is absurd to argue, as some scientists do, that complexities of such a nature are fortuitous. This is not a healthy skepticism, it is a form of credulity that is really "without excuse" (Romans 1:20).
In conclusion, the system which God initiated was so perfectly designed as to need no constant attention. It is self-regulating in operation to a surprising degree. Thus the penetration of a spermatozoon into an ovum produces a living organism because this is the way God has appointed the natural law to operate. And because it is a natural law, the effect follows the cause wherever the operation is suitably performed, whether in a glass test-tube or in the body. One cannot suppose that in the latter case God has stepped in to guarantee a fruitful result, whereas in the laboratory the event some way evades His supervision. I think one has to accept the fact that conception, in the final analysis, is a mechanism which will work unfailingly in man as in animals wherever the "rules" are followed. It is simply part of His duly appointed order. It is not in this aspect of procreation that God proffers His "gift." I suggest that the gift of which Scripture speaks in this connection (Psalm 127:3) must come later in the over-all process of the emergence of a new human being. It is not life itself which constitutes the gift, for animals have life by essentially the same processes. It is the spirit given to the body which is the gift of God. One kind of spirit is given to an animal and another kind of spirit is given to a man, and the difference, according to Scripture, is observable in their destiny. The "spirit" of the animal, being derived in some way from its body and being appropriate to it, returns with the body to the dust (Ecclesiastes 3:21). In contrast, the spirit given to man returns to God (Ecclesiastes 12:7). The two spirits are qualitatively different. It is conceivable that the spirit of the animal arises automatically out of the living substance which organizes itself to give it its special pg.16 of 17
form and character. By contrast Scripture seems to tell us that man's spirit is a creation of God (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Its different destiny implies a different origin. (61)
It follows from this, if we are correct, that there is a fundamental difference between man and any other animal ‹ the difference being not so much in the constitution of his body as a living thing, but of his whole being ‹ body and spirit as a person. The possibility must therefore be faced, I think, that while science may yet succeed in bringing to full term a human body generated artificially by the manipulation of sperm and ovum, nevertheless it will lack a truly human spirit. Such a creature would be a fabrication with appalling potential, an un-ensouled hulk, a tragic monstrosity. It is conceivable that we might end up with a human-bodied but animal-spirited monster with terrifying consequences. It would be a kind of ape-man, ape in spirit though man in body and central nervous system, anthropoid but not human. It might even be a creature such as may have occupied the scene prior to the creation of man, only having a body more completely human-like than any supposed missing link so far discovered ‹ endowed with an entirely animal soul being equipped with a spirit derived from or emerging out of its animal body, but with the potential (in terms of intelligence) of a central nervous system equal to that with which man is now equipped.
We are already able within certain limits to "custom build" animals with certain characteristics and even certain types of character. We do this with pets, with horses, and with cattle. And even now a lamb has been brought a long way toward maturity in an artificial womb. In a study which created considerable discussion, (62) Sheldon was able to establish with a high degree of probability that human temperament is either related to or reacts upon or reflects in some way human physique, and it seems almost certain that in the near future men will attempt to engineer individual character by artificially manipulating types of human physique. Leon Kass has predicted with disturbing prophetic insight some of the possibilities. (63) We ought not to be taken by surprise.
61. See further on this, "The Nature of the Soul,"
[Part VI in The Virgin
Birth and the Incarnation,vol.5 of The Doorway Papers Series,
Zondervan Publications] where I have listed from Scripture many passages
which indicate that man is a body/spirit entity, that when a created human
spirit is given to a procreated human body prepared for it, there emerges
what in Scripture is termed the soul of man.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved
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62. Sheldon, W. H., The Varieties of the Human Physique, Harper, New York, 1946. Some fifty thousand individuals were measured and interviewed. These were divided into three physical types, and the correlation between body type and temperament for the three groups averaged 0.80.
63. Kass, Leon, "The New Biology: What Price Relieving Man's Estate?" in Science, vol.174, 1971, p.779-88.