Science in Christian Perspective



Theological Aspects of Mechanists Views of the Oyigin of Life *
Covenant College and Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri

From JASA 10 (March 1958): 5-8.

There are few portions of the Bible which have come in for continued question in our modern age as have the first two chapters of Genesis. Although in many other passages God is referred to as the Creator, the Creator of all things, of man and beasts, of all things in the heavens, earth and seas, etc., yet here only is given the details of God's working. The view has been usual until recently that God created the matter of the world out of nothing, that then He shaped it into its present form, and then in succession created the various forms of plant and animal life out of existing matter, finally creating man from existing matter by a special creative act. This view is reviewed, for example, by Charles Hodge (Systematic Theology, II, p.26 ) and denominated by him the "commonly received and Scriptural doctrine." Hodge discusses at some length the theory that life arose by a chance association of atoms and forces and condemns it, quot ing against it not only Scripture, but also some leading scientists of his day, e.g. Huxley. Hodge has much in his discussion (ib. p4 ff.) that we may utilize today.

The Scriptural argument against spontaneous generation is partly exegetical and partly derived from the general Scriptural principles, In the exegesis of Gen. 1 and 2, it appears clear that the author meant to imply that life was the product of God's explicit command. God gave these fiats on the successive days of creation and then ceased from creating. Evidently

*Paper presented at the Twelfth Annual Convention of the American Scientific Affiliation, Beverly Farms, MA, August, 1957.

God's providential government which continues is of a different order from his work of creation which stopped. Furthermore, God arranged that the organ isms that He had created should propagate themselves, and He Himself enunciates the principle that life shall come from life. That living things arose by creative fiat rather than by natural law or by chance seems to be taught by the circumstance that the Bible and especially these chapters speak of creation as a never repeated thing. Rev. 10:6 links with the creation of the heaven, the earth, and the sea, the things also that are therein. Exegetically, there is not a hint that the creation of life is a repeated or repeatable act brought about by physical and chemical law.

Hodge's argument runs deeper. It concerns the nature of life. If the accidental or providential as sociation of atoms and forces produced life, and if life results today upon a similar association, then life is purely mechanical. It matters not whether the original creation be ascribed to God's purpose or not. If in the origin of life God worked through second causes alone, then life and its reactions are as mechanistic as the wheels that spin in our factories. If we can manufacture life as we can manufacture motors, then living organisms are but machines. Then the instinct that sends a bird south in the fall or the thing that makes a dog wag his tail when you pat his head are but physico-chemical reactions no dif ferent in kind from the inevitable and predictable reaction resulting from putting sodium in contact with water.

Now we do not for a moment deny that life in cludes the physical. God made living organisms from the stuff of the earth. They operate in accordance with natural laws, but there is a freedom and a con sciousness even discernible in animals which is most difficult to explain on mechanistic grounds. The eye of a horse receives images on the retina in ac cordance with physical law. But somehow that image is transmitted to the animal brain where it apparently means something. "The ox knoweth his owner." At the sight of one man on the sidewalk a dog will come running in delight. Another man in similar clothes, and of similar build will bring out the dog with a growl. The difference is somewhere in the dog's consciousness. The dog does not focus two cameras; he sees. And sight is mental. Animals re act to burns and injuries in so similar a manner to our own reactions that we surely can say that they feel pain. Machines can have a heat indicator which will stop them when their bearings overheat. It seems elementary to declare that pain is different from this; pain is a state of consciousness.

I would not wish to overemphasize the similarity between animals and men. But we can not altogether discount these similarities either. Animals appear on observation to possess a freedom of self-determination analogous to our own. Hunffer has in it, of course, an element of the mechanical and chemical. But what shall we eat? And why should we deprive ourselves of the choicest for the benefit of another organism which happens to be related to us by ties of blood or marriage or love? Yet animals, in a measure, also do this. Animals constantly show the marks of conduct which we are conscious of being due to self-determin ation in ourselves. Such phenomena are in no measure true of inorganic materials. What is the thing that so differentiates? What is life? 

One characteristic of all life is self -propagation. This is marked out in the Genesis account as the peculiar characteristic that God gave to his creatures so that He would not have to continue giving creative fiats for each succeeding generation. God could, presumably, have arranged otherwise than He did. But He ordained that plants and animals should propagate and rocks and rivers should not. Propa gation is perhaps one of the most marvellous ar rangements of our universe. How handy it would be if Plymouths could beget Plymouths and if you could cross your Ford with a Cadillac! But it can not be. Again, we freely admit that there is some thing of the mechanical in procreation. Chemical hormones, osmotic processes, all have their work to do. Certain disturbing factors like arsenic or automobile accidents can stop the process completely. But is it conceivable that it is all mechanical? that we, if we had an infinitesimal biological assembly line, could plant in a germ all the factors which could cause that germ to grow, divide repeatedly, produce cells of various kinds in just the right places so that there should result a tiger with parallel black stripes - never looking like a cross-word puzzle and never having teeth on his back, but only in his jaws? With almost infinite ability and skill, would not the limit of our ability be to produce a lifeless cell and after that must come the fiat - Now live!

Certain constituents of our bodies have been long known and easily synthesized. Salt is a common chemical, easily made and necessary to life. The amines and hydro-carbons are more complex. It was a mile stone when urea was synthesized, which does not oc cur in nature except as the product of life. Still, urea is merely a lifeless chemical. So are protein molecules. True, mere chemicals sometimes exhibit movement as we know from study of colloids and from the Brownian movement of gases, etc. It is possible that protein molecules may be synthesized or that they were synthesized in nature just before God's fiat creating life. They still are but the stuff of life. The assumption back of much of our experi menting today is that when complex molecules are made they will be found to be alive. Thus to believe is to make the whole mechanistic assumption. And it is an assumption totally unproved. It is quite anti thetic to the Christian position. In the fairy story, Cinderella could gather the mice and the pumpkin, but it took the fairy's wand to produce from these the tearn and golden coach. Our laboratory technicians hope to assemble the stuff and then hope or even expect to get results without the Creator's miracle working power. Complexity is not life. An intricate calculator is not a mind, though it may be called a brain. Polypeptide formation is not ipso facto creation of life, and to assume that it is, is not proper for scientists nor legitimate for Christians.

Hodge quotes Tyndall to say that materialism is absurd only if matter be thought to be in contrast to Spirit, whereas rather matter and Spirit should be thought of as "two opposite faces of the same great mystery." On this view of hylozoism, Hodge remarks, "If you only spiritualize matter until it becomes mind, the absurdity disappears. And so do materialism, and spontaneous generation, and the whole array of scien tific doctrines. If matter becomes mind, mind is God, and God is everything. Thus the monster Pantheism swallows up science and its votaries." (ib.p.9) The point is that if consciousness, rationality, and freedom are illusions, then rational conclusions, be they theological or scientific, have no validity, If the brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile, then the organism boasting a brain has no ability to investigate the liver or make any pronouncements upon its operation. If we reason ourselves out of rationality, it is time that we stopped and checked our reasoning.

Ocean tides and automatons do not engage in research and they who engage in research are not automatons.

There is a further assumption in the current expectation that life can be created in the laboratory. It is the assumption of the truth of biological evolution. It is not presumed that in ancient times a fortuitous concourse of atoms and forces produced a tiger burning bright in the jungles of the night. Rather ' they produce, a prototype of a living cell which finally became a living cell or cells frorn which all present life has evolved. In this theory, so-called threshold evolution or progressive creation, in which God created the main forms of life leaving them to differentiate, will not do. All must have evolved from verv elemental forms of life.

This too, is an assumption which I for one, am not willing to make. It has responsible scientific opposition and I believe it is contradicted by the Bible. The mechanics of such evolution are still a mystery. We were assured by Dr. Tahmisian at our meetings in Chicago last summer that he could find no evidence at all that mutatiorrs can be responsible for the origin of species. His witness can not be discounted, working as he continually does with the effects of radiation on life, there at the Argonne laboratories. Other such testimonies could be given. The paleontological record after years of the most intensive research still evidences great gaps between the species. Doubtless much here remains to be learned. Particularly in the field of the alleged evolution of man recent discoveries bring into serious question the confident assertions of a generation ago. The appearance of ancient but quite modern forms, like Swanscombe man and Kanjera man, and the appearance of numerous specimens of Carmel men with many modern features despite their alleged antiquity has upset the old neat progression from brute to man so regularly set forth in reconstructed models in most of our museums. The recent new approach to Neanderthal man, whose stooping and brutish reconstructions have long been standard, is most interesting. The old view is now said, I believe, to have been due to the prejudice and ignorance of the researchers. We may well remind ourselves that this is a field in which prejudice runs wild and our knowledge of the earth's life in the distant past is not so great but that we should be able cheerfully to admit some ignorance of its details. At the very least, it should be said that the paleontological record does not show an abundance of intergrading forms between the various species forcing us to hold that all life originated from elementary cells. The evolutionary tree in all of our textbooks consists largely of twigs on hypothetical branches stemming from an inferred trunk.

Numerous of the other earlier arguments for evolution are not now so much emphasized. The blood tests, the arguments from vestigial organs, the declaration that the embryo repeats the history of the race - these arguments are apparently recognized to be deficient either in fact or in significance. The one main argument remaining, appears to be the one f rom similarity. If similarity proves relation, then all life is descended from one source, for certainly all organisms are built on a similar plan. Hands arc like paws, arms are like wings, skin with hair bears real resemblance to skin with feathers and with scales, fish are like reptiles, and even vertebrates are like invertebrates. In biochemical processes all animals have real similarities, and in reproductive arrangements, plants have real relations with animals. If similarity proves relation, there is an end of the matter.

But as I understand it, there are numerous cases where similar organs are claimed to have originated independently, without a common ancestral basis. One of these more often referred to, is the eye of the cuttlefish and the eye of the vertebrates. In this case, apparently a considerable degree of similarity in a complex organ is not claimed to be due to common origin. If such a significant exception be allowed, it seems that the whole argument from similarity is brought into question. Similarity there is, to be sure, but its explanation is obscure, Creation on a similar plan might as well be the answer.

Specifically these problems come to the fore in the topic of the creation of man. This subject is rather beyond our alloted time of discussion, except to remark that the mechanists find no stopping place from the original germ to the most educated German. The Bible, on the other hand, gives such emphasis to the creation of man as a special act of God, and is so specific in saying that Eve was created from a portion of the body of Adam, that the classic view of Biblebelieving Christians has been that no tour de force of theistic evolution may here be admitted. Man, according to the Bible, " was formed by the immediate intervention of God." His body "did not grow; nor was it produced by any process of development," (Hodge, ib. p.3). In addition to his chemical constituents which he shares with the earth and his principle of life which he shares with plants and animals, he is possessed of a soul or spirit which was created especially by God and which returns to the spirit world at death.

The words for soul and spirit in both Hebrew and Greek are constantly interchanged. The word nephesh "soul" in the Hebrew is often just the reflexive pronoun meaning the person. These words are applied to animals as well as men to refer to the principle of life in them, (Lev. 24:1.8, Gen. 1:21, 9:10, 7 15, Eccles. 3:19, and Rev. 8:9) except that pneunia "spirit" does not appear in the New Testament to be applied to animals. For this and other reasons some have held to the view of trichotomy, that animals have bodies and souls like men, but only men have spirits. This view I reject on exegetical grounds which do not concern us now, hut it does give the idea expressed above that there is a kinship in life between animals and men, both differing from the world of the inorganic. The blood, the life, of both animals and men  was sacred (Gen. 9:4f). Man's earthly life was sacred as well as his immortal life (Mt. 10:28).

For these reasons I, for one, deny that life can or will be made in a laboratory.