Re: Death before the Fall

Mark Phillips (
Wed, 04 Aug 1999 10:12:53 +0930

> In a message dated 8/3/99 8:38:25 AM Mountain Daylight Time,
> writes:
> > > I agree with Glenn here. From a biochemical point of view, there is
> > > no difference between the death of a cell and the death of a whole
> > > organism.
> >
> > This is I believe, a reductionist argument. It reduces the concept of
> > animal death, to simply being glorified cellular death. I believe
> > this to be inadequate.
> Perhaps, but there is no empirical evidence to dispute it, nor do
> you seem to offer any. You may be philosophically opposed to the
> idea that organism death and cell death are one and the same, but
> that does not refute this simple scientific fact.

To say that organism death results from massive cellular death is a
simple scientific fact, but to say that organism death and cell death
are one and the same is a philosophical position. As such, science is
the wrong tool for refuting the reductionist argument. I refute it on
the basis of logical consistency. Your claim conflicts with everyday
understanding of animal/human death. If animal/human death is nothing
more than cellular death, then when someone dies one should not talk
of their hopes and dreams dying, for these are not cellular concepts.
Yet I suspect you would be willing to talk in these terms.

> > > In fact, technically speaking, organism death is non-existent.
> >
> > ...which affirms my point. By reducing all concepts of life down to
> > the cellular level, you lose the concept of organism death, or
> > organism life for that matter. An organism is viewed, technically
> > speaking, as just a collection of cells cooperating and interacting
> > together. I think a few things are missing in this view, useful as it
> > is for some purposes.
> There are emergent properties that are characteristic of a whole
> organism and not of its parts, but they are produced by the parts
> cooperating and interacting together. There is no empirical
> evidence that any characteristic of a whole organism is NOT produced
> by cooperating and interacting parts.

These emergent properties are _produced_ by interaction of the parts,
but are conceptually _distinct_ from concepts of the parts (though
there are obviously relationships between the concepts). In the same
way, the concept of "organism death" is distinct from the concept of
"cellular death". Sure the concepts are related. "Organism death"
occurs with massive "cellular death". But the concepts are distinct,
and as such it is perfectly reasonable to consider the possibility of
a world in which there existed cellular death, but no animal death.

> > > Organisms die because their cells die, not because they possess some
> > > force of life separate from that of their cells.
> >
> > The __mechanism__ of organism death is massive cellular death, but
> > there is more to the concept of organism death than just this.
> Philosophically perhaps, if you believe in life as a vital force
> above and beyond biology, but scientifically there is no evidence to
> support this point of view.

I'm not sure I would describe my belief as "life being a vital force",
but I do believe that the concept of human life certainly, but also
animal life in general, is conceptually distinct from the biological
processes which give rise to it. I could imagine there being a world
which had quite a different physics and biology, yet which gave rise
to the same concepts of animal life. I suppose we can get a good
analogy from the computer industry. It is possible to get Wordperfect
for an intel based computer. It is also possible to get Wordperfect
for a DEC alpha. At the wordprocessor conceptual level, both pieces
of software represent the same wordprocessor, with the same look and
feel, the same methods of data entry, the same constructs and so on.
But at a machine code level, the two pieces of software are completely
different, based on two entirely different machine language
instruction sets. So while Wordperfect is entirely dependent on
machine language for its implementation, at a conceptual level it is
distinct from the machine language it is implemented in.

> > > One thing that Glenn did not mention, which applies to your idea
> > > that cells could live and die in balance so that the organism could
> > > live forever, is that the tissues that produce cells also have a
> > > pre-programmed lifespan. The tissue that produce them can replace
> > > dead cells only so many times before it stops replacing them. This
> > > program is separate from that which causes apoptosis, but it is also
> > > tied to development, in that at certain developmental stages certain
> > > tissues turn on while others turn off. This process does not cease
> > > with maturity, but simply enters an extended phase in which the
> > > tissues that keep us alive are the only ones left functional, and
> > > when they start to shut down, the organism dies.
> >
> > It would seem quite possible that pre-fall the pre-programmed lifespan
> > of appropriate tissues was infinite, and that only post-fall was it
> > made finite.
> Genetically this is impossible without also making other connected
> changes. If you tried to make an immortal tissue it would turn
> cancerous; in other words, the same changes that make cancer cells
> immortal also permit them to proliferate wildly with nothing to
> inhibit them, and undifferentiates them so that they all become just
> one type of tissue. The result would be that any multicellular
> organism would simply be one massive tumor.

Of course my biological and genetic understanding is not very advanced
so you could well be right, but there is something about your
explanation I don't understand. Earlier you seemed to be drawing a
distinction between "tissue lifespan" and "cell lifespan". Why would
making _tissue_lifespan_ infinite, necessarily make _cell_lifespan_
infinite, causing them to proliferate wildly --- or have I

> > > So in addition to Glenn's question, I would ask, why did God program
> > > tissues with limited lifespans if there was to be no death before the
> > > Fall?
> >
> > See above.
> >
> Your above statement does not answer the question because it is based on a
> lack of biological and genetic knowledge. Now that you know it is not
> possible to make an immortal tissue without also making cancerous tissue, I
> repeat the question.

Well let me leave my above queries aside and for the moment assume
that you are correct. Above I suggested that God could have caused a
minor modification to tissue lifespan at the time of the fall to bring
about death. Perhaps this wouldn't work, but perhaps some more
complicated series of changes would work?



"They told me I was gullible ... and I believed them!"