is the nature of life?
Today we are gradually
learning to accept the Oparin-Haldane hypothesis that life is only a special
and complicated property of matter and that au fond there is no difference
between a living organism and lifeless matter. 1
was made for God, the body for the spirit, and the world for the body:
the world that it might be brought into subjection to the body, the body
that it might be brought into subjection to the spirit, and the spirit
that it might be brought into subjection to God.
How do we define life?
There are at least
two different perspectives on what is life. One is rooted in chemistry,
the other in theology. The theological position acknowledges the
chemical nature of life, but it describes life to also have a very significant,
spiritual nature. That spiritual nature is expressed only in part through
the conduit of our chemical being.
By contrast, the strictly
secular perspective recognizes only the chemical nature of existence. The
secular perspective acknowledges nothing other than what is measurable or
material. This materialist perspective limits its definition of life to
only that which some believe slowly evolved from lifelessness. Hence from
the very start the secular perspective forbids free
inquiry and has essentially foreordained its own conclusion.
our judgment of the true nature of life a basic premise that must be accepted
on faith, or is there evidence to support one of the two previous positions?
The Bible's position
is that we have been created with souls that will live forever even after
our present bodies have died. The Bible further states that this spiritual
aspect of existence is presently unseen by us. Thus, in terms of supporting
the believability of the Bible, the appeal to empirical studies as direct
proof of this position is limited.
The ultimate proof
of a spiritual dimension is actually the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jesus set forth the spiritual aspects of life and, as partial proof of who
he was and that he knew what he was talking about, promised to return from
the dead and did (examined here).
So if he was resurrected, then his teachings about life can be considered
-- WHY IS DEFINING LIFE IMPORTANT?
It is important to determine
which description of the nature of life is most accurate, regardless of
difficulty, because it is through our concept of life's nature that we interpret
the world around us. This appraisal includes whether or not we believe the
Bible to be from God. Ultimately, the biblical view of life and the secular
view go back to their respective premises that God either does or does not
exist. On that basis, this is the section perhaps least likely to help
most readers determine the believability of the Bible. For that reason,
questions about the nature of life may not be examined as exhaustively as
their profound importance otherwise demands.
Life according to science.
A UNIVERSAL PROPERTY OF ALL MATTER?
Darwin did not rule
God out of being the first cause behind evolution. However, the religion
or worldview known as humanism, centered around belief in Darwinian evolution,
flatly rejects God's existence. Some
proponents of this view of life have reasoned that life is a whole whose
significance is essentially no greater than the sum of its parts. Arthur
O. Lovejoy reflects such thinking in what he calls the principle of continuity.
The principle of continuity
states that there is nothing present in a living being that was not already
present in the atomic components from which it came. Lovejoy concludes
that if there is such a property as life, then even the atoms themselves
must contain a proportionate degree of it. This is basically how Ponnamperuma's
logic led him to conclude that life is no more than a peculiar property
of matter. Other humanistic scientists similarly categorize life to be some
strange accident of nature (Jacques Monod), or not much more than
a self-replicating system (Francis Crick).
-- CREATED IN LABORATORIES?
Crick reflects Lovejoy's
thoughts about life as a universal property in writing,
demonstrating that a rudimentary living system can evolve from a purely
chemical nonliving one should strengthen our feeling of unity with nature
in the broadest sense, meaning with the atoms and molecules of which all
materials on the earth are made. 2
The experiments to which
Dr. Crick looks forward have not occurred, although much attention has been
given to the 1953 Miller-Urey experiment. Of this, Scott Huse writes,
In their experiment,
water vapor, ammonia, methane, and hydrogen were subjected to spark discharges,
and simple amino acids were synthesized. Although this experiment demonstrates
conclusively that organic compounds can be artificially made, such products
do not even remotely approach the synthesis of life. 3
Stephen Meyer has since
pointed out that their assumptions made about the early atmosphere are no
longer justified. The experimenters created a far more ideal environment
for amino acid creation than ever occurs in nature by removing any oxygen
and any long-wavelength UV light, as both quickly degrade amino acids. Nevertheless,
Arthur C. Custance
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. 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. 4
science were to succeed in creating all the proteins and other chemical
combinations that are used by living organisms, could we consider this to
Merely to assemble
the components does not give us a living substance unless something else
is added. The components themselves, even when all are present and ordered
and arranged in the correct manner, do not constitute life. They constitute
the housing but not the occupant, the framework but not the animation.
A moment's thought makes this obvious: when a body has just died, for
a few seconds at least, the organization remains even though animation
is gone. It is a vast oversimplification to say that life is 'nothing
but' physics and chemistry. 5
-- THE PROPERTY OF ANIMATION
Of course, if physics
and chemistry are the only tools with which an investigator is using to
determine what constitutes life, it is only natural that the answer will
be a physiochemical one. However, as Rene Dubos insightfully points out,
The mechanical definition
of human life misses the point because what is human in man is precisely
what is not mechanical. 6
This thought also reflects
the findings of Hans Gaffron who, like Custance, takes special note of the
factor of animation:
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. 7
-- THE PROPERTY OF CONSCIOUSNESS
Another property of
human life, less obvious than animation, is that of consciousness. Thinkers
like Lovejoy who claim that everything is living, often also conclude that
everything is conscious. (This is not dissimilar to the beliefs embraced
by gaiasophy; the belief that all things are but holistic manifestations
of a single spirit-entity.)
Consciousness, the quality
of being self-aware, allows us to delay or check our responses from what
might be reflex or instinct. Some call this ability free will. However,
many actions, in spite of their appearance, are not always products of conscious
thought or volition (e.g., Edouard Pfluger's consciousness experiments
on decapitated frogs). 8
In summary, here is
what various sciences have indicated about the nature of life:
- The estimated probability
of a self-replicating molecule arising by chance is 1 in 1040,000.
- At least some of
the building blocks of organic material, in which life can be housed,
have been formed artificially in laboratories,
- Yet, neither that
material nor any other material gives any indication of the animation
referred to as life.
- Thus it seems the
"essence of life is found in the process of living and not in any constituents
of living cells" 7
- Consciousness, or
self-awareness, exists within man.
Life according to the Bible.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOURS?
The Bible has little
to offer in the way of scientific qualifications over the mechanics of life.
Scripture's concern for life is not "How does it work?", but is more along
the lines of, "Now that you've got it, what are you going to do with
Because the Bible does
not dispute our physiochemical existence, the scientific views on this need
no rebuttal. The Bible instead introduces an additional dimension of existence
outside the scope of repetitious experiments. The ultimate proof of this,
once again, is Christ's resurrection from the dead. But until we examine
the resurrection claim,
we shall at present simply overview the Bible's presentation of life's dual
Scripture states that
God is the author of all life. He not only created the world, he created
life to fill the world. God created humanity and bestowed us with a unique
Then God said,
"Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them
rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the
cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps
on the earth... male and female He created them. (Gen. 1:26,27 NASB)
Although we have been
made in God's image, we are not his equal. Just as a penny is not equally
significant to the great president whose likeness it bears, we reflect only
a tiny fraction of the nature and person of God. The characteristics we
possess include a spirit which will exist forever, the capacity to make
moral choices, and the potential for spiritual growth or decline.
The Bible frequently
uses blood to symbolize life as Scripture explains,
For as for the
life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life. (Lev. 17:14
This is why the sacrifice
of Christ's life on our behalf is often simply referred to as the blood
For the life of
the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to
make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the
life that makes atonement. (Lev. 17:11 NASB - emphasis mine)
Christ uses the same
symbolic terminology to instruct us that we need to be indwelt with his
Spirit and have his mindset to truly have life:
Truly, truly, I
say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood,
you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood
has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:53,54
-- THE QUALITATIVE ASPECT
The Bible's most frequent
use of the term life is that of a certain quality of life. Though
all of humanity was made in the image of God, and whose spirits will live
eternally, the phrase "eternal life" is mostly used to refer to our positive
continuance and spiritual growth in God's love and presence; both now and
after our physical death:
And this is eternal
life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom
Thou hast sent. (John 17:3 NASB)
To this quality of eternal
life not all will attain as is indicated:
And many of those
who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life,
but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2
Again, all spirits will
exist eternally, but not all will live in the manner that is antithetical
Eternal life is available
to us through faith in Christ's atoning death on our behalf. Because this
is the only way into God's presence, such life is synonymous with Christ
I am the resurrection
and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies. (John
Life also has a dimension
in which our lives, from the position of being put to death through willing
subjection to Christ's teachings, are actual expressions of the living God:
If anyone wishes
to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow
Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses
his life for My sake shall find it. (Mat 16:24,25 NASB)
I have been crucified
with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and
the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God....
(Gal 2:20 NASB)
What is the chief end of man?
ACCORDING TO HUMANISM
The strictly empirical
view of the purpose of life, such as those put forth by Humanism, and the
biblical view are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Humanism and atheism
generally object to the idea that life has any purpose other than what an
individual might subjectively assign to it. The absence of absolute purpose
is by no means every non-Christian's point of view, but those who consider
themselves irreligious might reflect on the following statements.
These perspectives are
the logical extensions of the no-God/no-Bible premise:
[Man's] origin, his
growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and beliefs, are but the outcome
of accidental collocations of atoms: that no fire, no heroism, no intensity
of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave...-
all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain,
that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. 9
The entire term of
humanity is but a minute episode in a scarcely longer history of life
on a cooling planet which for the most of its existence knew no life at
all. ... In no one knows what time, though it will be soon enough by astronomical
clocks, the lonely planet will cool, all life will die, all mind will
cease, and it will be as if it had never happened. That, to be honest,
is the goal to which evolution is traveling, that is the 'benevolent'
end of the furious living and furious dying... All life is no more than
a match struck in the dark and blown out again. The final result... is
to deprive it completely of meaning. 10
-- ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE
By contrast, life according
to the Bible is of great significance and, in one sense, is profoundly simple.
The Westminster Confession, which is chief among various summaries of Protestant
interpretations of biblical doctrines, summarizes that our chief end is
to glorify God. God created humanity in order that he might love
us and share with us his glory. He also created us so that we might love
and glorify him in return. To this end, we were created as a freely acting
creatures with no overriding compulsion to return God's love.
The Bible closes with
glimpses of the future; glimpses which reveal another purpose to life. The
Bible foretells that the universe will come to an end in which all of creation
will be destroyed. In a final judgment based largely on the events which
ensued on earth, those who rejected Christ will pass into eternal punishment,
and those who believed in Christ will pass into a new heavens and a new
earth (Rev 21:3,4).
It is very interesting
to observe how a professor of theoretical physics, Paul Davies, also arrives
at the conclusion of a possible end to the universe simply by the following
If the universe has
been designed by God, then it must have a purpose. If that purpose is
never achieved, God will have failed. If it is achieved, the continuation
of the universe will be unnecessary.11
According to the Bible,
life does have a purpose. That purpose is to please God. How we know what
pleases him is by studying those things he has revealed to us about himself.
Those revelations are the writings of the Bible.
Have prophecies of the Bible ever come true?
life on other planets totally destroy the Bible?
Where did the earth come from -
the biblical scenario