Re: Death before the Fall
Fri, 13 Aug 1999 13:34:28 EDT

My apologies for the tardiness of this reply.

In a message dated 8/3/99 6:43:46 PM Mountain Daylight Time, writes:

> > 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.

No, it isn't; it is a scientific conclusion based on empirical fact.

> 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.

I agree, but then the concept that the world is round, or that the earth
revolves around the sun, or that air is a form of matter instead of nothing,
or that that vacuum is real, etc., have all at one time conflicted with the
"everyday understanding" of these concepts, yet the scientific truth won out
over "everyday understanding". This is simply another case where science
demonstrates that "everyday understanding" is incorrect.

As for "logical consistency", it is in fact perfectly logically consistent
from a biological point of view to view cell death and organism death as the
same thing, since from a biological point of view it is cellular metabolism
that keeps an organism alive. Besides, "everyday understanding" is not the
criterion by which "logical consistency" is judged, since logic can and often
does contradict "everyday understanding". Take the following syllogism for
example: All elephants are pink; Nellie is an elephant; therefore Nellie
must be pink. According to "everyday understanding" elephants are not pink,
but in fact it is logically consistent to claim that Nellie must be pink
since she is an elephant and according to the syllogism all elephants are
pink. So if "logical consistency" can contradict "everyday understanding",
then "everyday understanding" is not a valid method by which to determine
whether a scientific conclusion is logically consistent.

I am not denying that the nature of death has a valid philosophical component
to it, but what you need to understand is that death is at its most basic a
biological phenomenon. As such, the nature of death will be best understood
from a scientific point of view, not a philosophical one. You should also
remember that Glenn began this thread by describing a specific biological
mechanism that controls when and how cells die, not by describing a general
philosophical principle of what he believed death to be. As such, this has
been a scientific discussion from the start. You are attempting to interject
philosophical arguments into a scientific discussion; this is inappropriate
because in science validity is determined by empirical evidence, and there is
no evidentiary support for the claim that organism life is different from
cellular life.

> 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.

This is irrelevant to the question of what constitutes organism death. The
fact that collections of cells display emergent properties that are not
possessed by individual cells does not invalidate the conclusion that the
collection of cells does not die until the cells themselves die.

> > > > 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).

Again, this is a philosophical distinction, not a scientific one. In
biology, emergent properties occur because the individual cells have some
common property that, when magnified by cooperative interaction, is able to
produce affects that appear to be greater than the sum of the parts. In
other words, the emergent properties exist because the parts possess
properties that are (to use your term) conceptually equivolent to the
emergent property. The heart as an organ acts as a pump because the
individual cardiac cells are able to contract on their own; muscles are able
to move limbs because each cell possesses the molecular machinery needed to
perform mechanical work; the liver as an organ is able to regulate and
participate in digestion because each of its cells are tiny chemical
factories; the brain as a whole can think because each cell possesses the
electrochemical capabilities that make thought possible. The individual
cells may not possess the properties exhibited by the whole organ, but they
must have properties that are conceptually equivolent, otherwise the organ
would not have its unique emergent properties.

> 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.

As I explained above, for an organism to have the emergent property you wish
to define as organism death, its parts must have a conceptually equivolent
property, in this case cellular death. The concepts cannot be distinct,
otherwise massive cellular death would have no affect on organism death. If
the concepts were distinct then organism death would be biologically separate
from cellular death as well. This not only means that an organism should be
unaffected by massive cellular death, but also that an organism could die
without its cells dying. Scientifically we know that these alternatives are
absurd. If cells die, the organism dies; if the organism dies, its cells
die. The two concepts are equivolent; therefore cellular death and organism
death are one and the same.

As such, it would be impossible under any set of biological conditions to
have cell death with no organism death, barring miracles (which is not a
biological condition).

> > > > 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.

Again, all the evidence we have demonstrates that life in general is
conceptually equivolent to the biological processes that produce it.
Otherwise, it would be possible to cease biological processes without
stopping life, or to stop life without stopping biological processes.
Scientifically these possibilities are absurd, because if you stop the
biological processes then life ceases, and if you stop life the biological
processes cease. This is powerful empirical evidence that life and
biological processes are one and the same. Philosophical arguments
concerning conceptualities based on "everyday understanding" do not
invalidate this simple scientific conclusion.

> 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.

Since the concepts of organism life as we currently know them are intimately
tied to the physiochemical laws as we currently know them, different
physiochemical laws would produce a different kind of life from what it is
now. The questions would then be, what evidence is there that life was
different from what it is now at some time in the past; how different was it;
what caused it to change into its present form; and what evidence is there
that such a change ever took place?

> 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.

The evidence we have demonstrates that a different set of physiochemical laws
("machine language") would produce a different kind of life ("wordprocessor")
from what we have now. What evidence do you have that contradicts this?

> > > > 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
> missunderstood?

The mechanism that determines tissue lifespan is built into the genome of the
cells. Tissues stop producing new cells and thus die because the cells stop
reproducing themselves, which is generally the first stage of imminent cell
death. So tissue lifespan and cellular lifespan are intimately tied
together. Making immortal tissue requires making immortal cells, and the
only immortal cells that exist in nature are cancer cells. So making cells
immortal means turning them into cancer cells, which proliferate wildly.

> > > > 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
> > > > Fall?
> > >
> > > See above.
> > >
> >
> > Your above statement does not answer the question because it is based on
> > lack of biological and genetic knowledge. Now that you know it is not
> > possible to make an immortal tissue without also making cancerous
> > 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?

Like what? Simply suggesting that "some more complicated series of changes"
might work is insufficient to support your case; you need to propose what
kind of changes might do the trick, and you need to cite evidence that
supports your claim that these changes could occur and that they would
produce the results you imagine they would. Right now all you are doing is
speculating blindly, but this does not invalidate known scientific fact, and
known scientific fact demonstrates that any such changes would either produce
disasterous results or create a form of life fundamentally different from
what we know it to currently be like.

Kevin L. O'Brien