Science in Christian Perspective



The Principle of Growth As An Obsession

From: JASA 6 (December 1954): 8-9.

Let us imagine a cold night in November. As the temperature falls the surface of the lake begins to change from liquid to solid, the ice becoming thicker as the night becomes colder. Although a test might not reveal a perfect proportion, it may be said that the amount of ice varies indirectly with the temperature. In other words the growth of this is determined definitely and solely by external conditions.

Could we make a similar statement to describe the "growth of living things? At first it seems to one that he may say so, if he is careful not to beyond certain optimum conditions. A plant, for instance a bean plant, grows faster with an increase in temperature but it should not be much warmer than 100 degrees F. Temperature, however, is only one factor, for water must be available in the ground, yet not enough to keep oxygen away from the roots. There must be a plentiful supply of nutrient substances such as nitrates, potash, and phosphoric acid, although here again all over supply does not cause added growth. In addition to these growth factors there should be no parasites within the plant nor animal predators upon it.

It is evident that the growth factors affecting the bean plant are more numerous than those which determine the thickness of the layer of ice. But every one recognizes that living things are more complex than inanimate matter. Accordingly it may seem that

all growth is regulated simply by surrounding conditions, if we consider that the factors should be in

balance; in other words, that the law of the ice governs the bean also. It is characteristic of our age to formulate a law which functions in physics or chemistry, then to say that there can not be any variant rule in any realm. As stated by the Christian Professional Men of Greece in their book ' "Toward a Christian Civilization," our age is noted for its negation.*

But before we decide about the regulation of growth, let us return to our bean plant and observe the growing pods. We may think, "The more water and sunshine, the longer grow the pods"; but none of them grows longer than eight inches. Within the pods, seeds are growing, each containing an embryo plant, which may be seen easily by splitting the seed open. As we look at the plant from day to day the pods seem to go into reverse, right in the middle of the optimum growing season. The pod itself loses its green color, the embryo plants cease their growth, and the seeds not only cease growing but even shrink as they give off water to become mature. The control comes from within the bean plant, not from the en-

* Christian Professional Men of Greece; Towards a Christian Civilization, p 27 ff; Athens, Damascus Pub. 1950

vironment; for on another branch the pods still are growing.

We can not simplify the problem by saying that seeds cease to grow because they have come to the end of their way. They are not at the end but in the middle of the way. The bean embryo is at a very intermediate stage, having one root, two leaves, a bud, and stored food. It goes into a dormant stage and if the bean reaches the soil the dormancy is broken by moisture and warmth, the embryo resumes growth and becomes a plant.

Another example of the above principle is a horse; which increases in size according to the amount of feed eaten until it is about two years old, then remaining,  the same size, even if it eats an abundant amount 0 f feed. While living things are influenced by the environment, yet they rise above this influence and control their own metabolism. Inanimate things such as icicles, stalactites, deltas, and snowdrifts have no inner control but grow simply by creation, adding layer to layer whenever the environment supplies new material. Human knowledge tends to accrue in similar fashion. Not that knowledge itself is like lifeless objects but its manner of piling up after being discovered is similar. This is in contrast with living things, for they do not increase beyond their limits even with unlimited time or environment.

The events of the past three hundred years have caused western people to feel that growth is wellnigh universal; a general upward-trending principle which enables each new institution and each new generation to start at the highest point reached by its predecessor and work its way upward from that point. I use the word feel advisedly, for this idea that improvement is innate is simply felt. When we stop to think the matter through we are convinced that our examples of improvement are only special cases.

In western Europe and North America, material well being has increased remarkably during the last three hundred years. Our facilities for travel,- infomation, clothing and processed foods are such that our lives are much more rapid and less difficult than those of our ancestors. The change has been brought about by the industrial and agricultural revolutions, which in turn depended upon the discovery of new lands and a wider exploitation of natural resources. These changes have affected our thinking unconsciously, obsessing our minds with the idea of growth.

As stated above, the material progress of western Europe and North America is but a special case. In most parts of the other continents, comprising the greater part of the area of the world, work goes on at the same pace it has kept since the dawn of history, depending upon the muscles of men and beasts rather than upon steam and electricity. This progressive area is limited not only in space but also in time, for three hundred years is but a small fraction of the time which man has lived upon the earth.

Furthermore, we can not be certain that material progress will increase in the future in view of the problems which it faces. Take, for instance, the problem of labor-saving machinery turning men out of employment. In the past, men so affected have found employment in other industries, which were expanding. These industries could expand because new raw materials were discovered and new markets were opened among people who had few markets of their own. But can we expect industry to expand indefinitely when the area of the earth is a fixed amount? It is like the financial problem of a cemetery which depends upon the sale of lots to pay for its upkeep. When all of the lots are sold it ceases to have an income, and the public has to formulate another plan for its maintenance.

Having discussed the negative ideas that growth is not a universal upward tendency, and that in living things it is limited not solely by lack of favorable environment, let us turn to its positive guidance. In plants, animals, and persons, growth is directed by genes, which are tiny particles in the nucleus of each cell. The method used by these determiners has not yet been worked out in all details, but we know that they cause the secretion of enzymes and hormones and direct the circulation of the latter to the proper part of the organism. It has been proved definitely, however, that when genes are formed for a new generation they do not tend to be larger or more complex than those of the former generation, but tend to maintain a common base level.

Modern research on growth gives no basis for the idea of the nineteenth century evolutionists, that new generations of organisms tend to be larger and more complex than former generations. Indeed this idea seldom is formulated in words but is an assumption upon which the postulated rise from Amoeba to man is based. It is characteristic of scientific theories that they are based upon assumptions; and if one accepts this first step, the following steps seem logical.

A fair statement of the belief of evolutionists is the following, by Parker and Haswell: "The plant- and animal-worlds have been evolved by a gradual process (,i' development, in the course of which the higher forms have originated from the lower." ** Some statements by other authors emphasize other words such as change or struggle, but whether an evolutionist stresses growth or not, he had to assume it when he agreed that our present animals developed from a tiny mass of protoplasm.

It is true that evolutionists recognize some changes which result in loss of structures; but according to their theory the changes which result in gain in struc ture are the more significant; else they could not postulate a progression from Amoeba to man.

As discussed above, the present author believes that this postulated increase in size and structure has not been observed but is taken by analogy from juvenile stages of plants and animals, and from modern industrial progress. It may not be expressed, nor even thought through; yet strongly felt because of the temper of the times.

Growth in inanimate matter is but a simple affair, being a resultant of the forces in the environment, which may tear down as well as build up. Growth of human knowledge also is a process of accretion, tending to accumulate an ever larger stock pile. Living organisms, however, comprise a distinct and advanced class. Their guidance and control of growth convince us that they are not accidental assemblages of atoms which happened to be made up of the right proportions of carbon, nitrogen and the rest, but they are autonomous entities. Apart from creative activity they would not be here.

** Parker, T. J. and Haswell, W. A.; Textbook Of Zoology, Volunle II, p. 624; MacMillan, 1921