Re: Death before the Fall

Mark Phillips (
Sun, 15 Aug 1999 16:06:45 +0930 (CST)

On Fri, 13 Aug 1999 wrote:
> > 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.

I can see where this argument might be going: "Yes it is! No it isn't!!
Yes, it is!!!! No it isn't!!!!!"

If you and I were agreed on the concept of what organism death *is*, then
if appropriate, we could look at science to establish or disestablish your
claim. But I doubt we are even in full agreement about what "organism
death" *is*, thus we need to look at philosophical questions before we
invoke science.

> > 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.

Let's take your example of the world revolving around the sun.

If I spent the time, I could write down two mathematical models. One
which described the motion of the planets in terms of a fixed sun.
Another which described the motion of the planets and the sun in terms of
a fixed earth. Both models would match the scientific data equally well,
because the models would be related to each other by an invertible
mathematical transformation.

So from a scientific viewpoint, both models are equally valid. Why do we
choose the "sun centric" model? Well for philosophical reasons. The
mathematical description of this model is much simpler than the "earth
centric" model. The "sun centric" model is *nicer* in this sense and we
use occam's razor to choose it, occam's razor being a philosophical

Now occam's razor is often a good principle to invoke, but it shouldn't be
confused with scientific necessity. If I had good enough philosophical
reasons for wanting to accept the "earth centric" model, then I would be
perfectly justified in doing so. If you wanted to dispute my view then
you would have to do so on philosophical, not scientific grounds.

Now it just happens to be the case that I do not have philosophical
reasons for wanting the "earth centric" model, so I am quite happy to take
the occam's razor choice of the "sun centric" model. However I do have
philosophical reasons for considering organism death to be not identical
to cellular death.

understanding of animal/human death. You need to therefore either
demonstrate where this understanding conflicts with science, or present
philosophical reasons for rejecting this understanding.

> 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.

Well, it's not entirely clear to me what "from a biological point of view"
really means. But I could possibly accept that for some purposes in
biology, viewing "organism death" to be simply "massive cellular death"
could be a useful perspective. But this does not permit you to
automatically translate such a perspective to other realms, for example,
theology. When making a theological statement like "there was no animal
death before the fall", the biological perspective you propound might not
be appropriate.

> 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.

In your example, "everyday understanding" has nothing to say about the
logical validity of the syllogism, and so you would be right not to judge
"logical consistency" through "everyday understanding", but this is a
different context from the one in which I was arguing.

The point I was making was that it is logically inconsistent to, on the
one hand claim that animal/human death is the same as cellular death, and
at the same time make real use of the more extensive everyday notion of
animal/human death. To be consistent with your position you should refuse
to make use of everyday notions of death, except perhaps in the process
of pointing out that these notions are invalid. I would be very
surprised if you did this, for example I imagine if a good friend died
young, you would be willing to talk of his hopes and dreams dying ---
notions not associated with cellular death.

> 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.

I'm glad you are willing to make at least this allowance. Would it be
then fair to say that your position is really that "the concept of
animal/human death _mostly_ consists of the concept of cellular death"?

> As such, the nature of death will be best understood from a scientific
> point of view, not a philosophical one.

As such, the philosophical component of death should be taken into account
when trying to understand the nature of death.

> 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.

Glenn began this thread by discussing biological mechanisms of cellular
death, arguing first that cellular death is an integral part of life,
necessitating its existence before the fall, and second that therefore the
YECs are wrong to claim there was no death before the fall. The problem
with this argument is that many YECs I imagine (and certainly me if I were
arguing the YEC position) would see the statement "no death before the
fall" as referring to animal/human death, not cellular death. Glenn
himself recognized this in his initial email and argued, unsuccessfully I
believe, against it.

The point in dispute is a philosophical one, not a scientific one, and so
you are wrong to say that this has been a scientific discussion from the
start. Fundamentally it is a theological discussion ("Was there death
before the fall?") and the tools of science and philosophy have been used
to try and tackle the question. It is certainly not a case of me trying
to "interject philosophical arguments into a scientific discussion".
Philosophical questions were at stake right from the beginning. By all
means invoke science where appropriate, but science shouldn't be used to
answer questions that science doesn't address.

> > 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.

And your conclusion is quite different from the claim that "animal/human
death is nothing more than cellular death". You are knocking down a straw

> > 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.

But the emergent property is usually not conceptually equivalent to a
cellular property. For starters the emergent property is "emergent"
whereas the cellular property won't be (or at least, not emergent in the
same way) --- this is a conceptual difference. There may well be strong
relationships between the two properties, but this is different to

> 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.

The concept of cardiac cell contraction is _related_ to the concept of
heart pumping, but the concepts are _different_. It is not enough for a
biology student to read about cardiac cell contraction if they want to
understand the heart. No, they will also read about other concepts which
are exhibited by the heart as a whole. The relatedness of concepts is
different from equivalence.

> > 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.

You are misunderstanding my usage of the word "distinct". I am not using
it in the sense of "totally separate in every way". I am using it in the
sense of "able to be distinguished from", that is, the concepts are not
the same in all respects, there are differences. I would have hoped that
my observation that the "concepts are related" made my usage of the word
clear. Of course massive cellular death has an affect on organism death,
as I have stated many times.

> > 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.

Again, conceptual distinction is not the same thing as total conceptual
independence. Just because life on this planet requires biological
processes --- ie there are relationships between the concept of life and
the concepts of biological processes --- doesn't mean they are
conceptually equal.

> > 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?

It is not clear that _all_ different physiochemical laws would produce a
different kind of life. It is certainly clear that _many_ different
physiochemical laws would, but that doesn't negate the possibility that
there exists a different set of laws which do give rise to the same kind
of 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.
> 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?

Do you really have this evidence? Do you know how many possible
physiochemical laws there are? Do you know how many of them would
definately produce a different kind of life?

When I say "I imagine" such a set of physiochemical laws could exist, I am
really saying that, I have yet to see evidence demonstrating that such a
set couldn't exist, or even that such a set is unlikely to exist.

I will conceed that the clean abstraction levels on computers, are not
nearly so clean in biology. It is easier to imagine a completely
different set of physiochemical laws that gave rise to _similar_ notions
of life, than it is to imagine one that gave rise to _identical_ notions
of life, though I certainly don't rule out the latter.

> > 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.

If science really does demonstrate what you say it does then you would be
correct, but I doubt very much that it does. I doubt that scientists have
been able to conceive every possible physiochemistry, let alone examine
all of their effects.



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