'Life is never a material, a substance to be moulded. If you want to know, life is the principle of self-renewal, it is constantly renewing and remaking and changing and transfiguring itself.' (Pasternak, 'Doctor Zhivago')
Organisms are generative systems, i.e. the fundamental characteristic of living things is generative activity in a cycle (life-cycle) of development. Considered chemically, living things are constantly interchanging atoms, groups of atoms and particles; they are made up of compounds on the edge of instability.
All the atoms of our body, even of our bones, are exchanged at least once every seven years. All the atoms in our face are renewed every six months, all our red blood cells every four months and 98% of the protein in the brain in less than a month. Our white blood cells are replaced every ten days and most of the pancreas cells and one-thirteenth of all our tissue proteins are renewed every 24 hours.
Hence life can exist only in a liquid medium. In a solid the atoms are fixed too rigidly into the crystal structure for such vital interchanges to be possible; in a gas, by contrast, the atoms have too little contact.
This generative activity allows organisms to replace parts as they wear out and become damaged, and to continually adjust structure and function to their needs. The wonder of life is that, in the midst of this whirlpool of chemical activity, we all remain the same people.
Organisms are not, however, merely a special kind of physical steady state system. They are homeostatic systems. Like steady state systems they maintain a characteristic and developing form, but unlike steady state systems they are able to do so in changing environments against wide variations in energy input (as, e.g., in hibernation and, extremely, in anhydrobiosis ). In the absence of an adequate energy flow, steady state systems collapse, but various organisms can survive for long periods when dried or frozen. Even more remarkably, brine shrimps can survive for years in oxygen-free water with no detectable metabolism (energy processing) occurring.
If this assessment is correct, then all biological statements will have a fundamental reference to generative activity. This immediately suggests different avenues and directions for research. One particular approach will be described below, not because we know it to be true (there is presently no decisive research available), but to illustrate that alternatives to Darwinian evolutionary orthodoxy are possible, and are being pursued within the biological sciences. Furthermore this approach actually continues a pre-Darwinian (creationist) tradition, so even if ultimately shown to be wrong, it does at least demonstrate that creationist approaches are compatible with scientific research and with theory production and testing.
In this approach it is maintained that biological form is established by the organism itself, not imposed by the environment. It spurs a search for laws of biological development which will determine which organisms, out of the myriad of plants and animals which could exist, are developmentally possible, i.e. can actually develop as viable organisms. It is assumed that the possibilities are very limited, even that they are not much greater than the presently known variety of animals and plants.
That this might seem a very strange suggestion simply illustrates how much our thinking has been influenced by Darwinism. It is actually the normal mode of thinking in other areas of science. For example, planets, meteorites, and comets, cannot be found in every conceivable type of orbit; only conic section orbits - circles, ellipses, parabolas and hyperbolas - occur. These limited possibilities are set by the inverse square law of gravitation.
Changes in biological form will be determined and limited by the pre-existing structure. Interactions which affect development (e.g. gene mutations and environmental modifications) can only trigger those changes which are permitted by the lawful structure of the developing organism. The existing evidence does indeed indicate that gene mutations are actually of very limited types and that their actions do not create, determine or even select the forms. The hierarchy of classes in biological classifications (e.g. phyla, classes, orders, families, genera, species) would then be seen to reflect a hierarchy of kinds of developmental process. Current Darwinian theories of evolution (based on chance and natural selection) would be unmasked as not scientific theories at all, i.e. as not based on well-tested theories of development. On the contrary they would be assuming ideas about development which would then be known to be wrong.
This is an appropriate point at which to mention a significant logical problem with the claim that there are in existence scientific theories of evolution. One of the biggest gaps in modern biological theory is that there is no theory of (embryological) development. The problem, of course, is that if there are no scientific theories of development, then neither can there be scientific theories of evolution.
As noted above, this structuralist approach is an evolutionist development of a pre-Darwinian (or Newtonian ) creationist tradition. In that tradition it was assumed that the natural kinds of animal and plant were both irreducible (i.e. not evolved) and optimally designed. Nevertheless these creationists still assumed that much scientific investigation and theory construction (in embryological terms) was still called for as outlined above. Creationism is not a 'science-stopper' and that common calumny should be dismissed.
Under the dominant Darwinian point of view genes are seen as primary instructions responsible (as blueprint or recipe) for every feature of organisms. All changes (gene mutations) are held to be possible, or even equally likely. Hence the number of forms (actual animals and plants) is held to be theoretically limitless.
Hence, it is easily assumed that there have been innumerable 'wonderfully fine gradations' in the lines of descent and that most organisms (at least 99% - all the 'missing links') must be extinct. However, the evidence points to an opposite conclusion - known living species outnumber those known only as fossils by at least ten to one.
Consequently, scientists hardly look at animal and plant forms at all and morphology, as a scientific discipline, is almost extinct. The majority of today's biologists are really chemists (biochemists and molecular biologists of various specialised kinds). Since the world of biology reflects the dominant ideologies it is vitally important that we develop a thorough critique.
(End of extract)
For more discussion, see the The Biotic Aspect and the discussion by Magnus Verbrugge.
This page is part of a collection of pages containing ideas that are referred to within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.
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Created: 13 January 2002. Last updated: 7 January 2013 links to biotic, biotic.verbrugge, rid unet, .nav.