Unraveling Reality {15} Life’s Story

Life’s Story

“However many ways there may be of being alive, it is certain that there are vastly more ways of being dead.” ~ English evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins

Biology defies physics. Science has no accounting for how life can exist. Quite simply, we accept what cannot be denied. Here are a few stories of the miracle we call Nature.

Vitalism

“It is not necessary to ask whether soul and body are one, nor generally whether the matter of each thing and that of which it is the matter are one. For even if one and being are spoken of in several ways, what is properly so spoken of is the actuality.” ~ Aristotle

The principle of vitalism states that living organisms possess a fundamental force which distinguishes them from inanimate matter. This vital coherence of consciousness is sometimes called a soul.

The idea of vitalism is prehistoric. Ancient Egyptians wrote of vitalism. 2nd-century Greek anatomist Galen, the most accomplished medical researcher in antiquity, held that vital spirits were necessary for life.

In embracing the concept of souls, vitalism underlies most religions. A quixotic inquiry in Christian theology has been pinpointing the superiority of humans: elucidating qualities that make man unique, such as being the sole possessor of a soul, thus justifying man’s destructive dominion over the Earth.

Vitalism lost its vitality from the mid-17th century: crushed by the inexorable movement toward mechanistic matterism that defined the Scientific Revolution. The idea of a spark of life was abandoned, supplanted by a religious belief in reductionist chemistry, wherein life was merely a peculiar molecular combination.

(Matterism is the belief that matter fundamentally defines reality.)

“The chemistry of life is distinguished by being both highly ordered and far from thermodynamic equilibrium.” ~ Dutch physicochemist Rogier Braakman & American physicochemist Eric Smith

For well over a century, ambitious chemists have repeatedly tried to reproduce life’s origination. All they ever got was organic muck.

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Not all scientists have subscribed to the absurdity that life is mere mechanism.

“The organizing principle, which according to an eternal law creates the different essential organs of the body, and animates them, is not itself seated in one particular organ.” ~ Johannes Peter Müller

In the mid-19th century, German physiologist Johannes Peter Müller integrated chemistry, microscopic investigation, and comparative anatomy to study physiology. Müller’s 1840 magnum opus – Elements of Physiology – explained in detail bodily mechanics. The book had an overarching theme: the presence of a soul renders each organism vibrantly whole. Müller argued that perception of sound and light demonstrated that living organisms held a life energy for which physical laws could never fully account.

19th-century French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur expressed that living organisms possessed “irreducibly vital phenomena.”

Vitalism is despised by matterists, who also refuse to acknowledge that the order inherent in Nature demonstrates a coherent force.

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Every cell in the human body repairs about a million DNA errors a day. Within one year, 98% of the atoms in an animal body or plant are replaced. Nonetheless, consistency coheres.

The positive energy that characterizes life is neither random nor automatic. There must be intelligent interaction in all the atomic shuffling and molecular maintenance that bodies require. As tardigrades illustrate, this coherence cannot be based in matter.

 Tardigrades

“There are many things that sound crazy that organisms, like tardigrades, actually do.” ~ American biologist Roger Chang

Tardigrades are tiny, nearly translucent aquatic animals found all over the world. Tardigrades are commonly known as water bears.

Though tardigrades arose over 600 million years ago, well before arthropods, they have a physiology similar to larger animals that evolved much later. Water bears have muscles, a complete digestive system, a brain and nervous system.

Tardigrades are tough: able to withstand extreme heat (125 °C), freezing (–272 °C), desiccation, and even survive the rigors of space. They do so via miraculous adaptations.

In preparation for drying out, a water bear curls into a ball, termed a tun. Then a tardigrade preserves itself as a dry husk: nothing more than a tiny pearl of powder.

“When a typical cell dries out, its membranes rupture and leak, and its proteins unfold and aggregate together, making them useless. DNA will also start to fragment the longer it is dry. Since water bears can survive drying, they must have tricks for preventing or fixing the damage that cells like ours would die from.” ~ American biologist Thomas Boothby

Tardigrades rehydrate and return to activity within a few minutes to a few hours. A tun may be dormant for decades and come back to life.

Tardigrades have a unique genetic ability to create proteins which preserve cells during desiccation. These proteins encapsulate the molecular components of cells in glasslike matrices to preserve them, keeping them intact.

Adding water melts the preservative proteins, allowing cellular revitalization. But what kept a tardigrade alive in the meantime?

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Tardigrades are not alone in being able to reconstitute themselves from lifeless matter. The well-studied microscopic roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans can be frozen for decades, and yet, within minutes of thawing in a drop of warm water, again begin squirming, eating, and reproducing as if nothing had happened. Siberian roundworms, frozen for 42,000 years, were thawed out and came back to life.

We all know the term suspended animation. What we do not understand is how animation can be suspended, at least not if life is matter.

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Biologists have documented countless instances of life adapting to resource opportunities and changing environmental conditions. Adaptation indisputably has an aim.

Evolutionary theorists studiously ignore this obvious teleology (goal orientation) by using the vacuous phrase “natural selection” about evolution. Such facile deflection points out the central problem of science based solely on factual evidence: empiricism can offer no explanation for how life, consciousness, or adaptive evolution are possible.

“Nature is not embarrassed by difficulties of analysis.” ~ French engineer and physicist Augustin Fresnel