Science and theology in conversation

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By: Fritz Olivier, Ph.D., D.Min.

Today, science presents life as a problem of evolution. Findings of paleontology, embryology, physiology and genetics all support theories of synthetic evolution, which explains the development of life as process that implies the generation of diversity (i.e., mutations) and a mechanism of selection of organisms adapted to a given environment (Darwinian selection) How can we explain that life is not an extra-material principle? How does the human function? And how should we understand « divine » notions, notably that of the « Spirit » in his act of revealing itself to human for his growth, with the help of science as rational instrument of revelation?

The approach

Ancient and recent history bears witness to a permanent conflict between human of science and human of faith. These conflicts were, first, the basis of extreme dissension; and second, essential to facilitate the enrichment of theology and elicit fundamental questions that necessarily accompany the interpretive process of evolving doctrine and scientific practices. And if, as well, these conflicts were precipitated by a fear of discovering the truth, of a lack of trust in reason, thereby revealing the complexity of the beauty of creation, today the sciences contribute tools to theologians that allow them to accept or reject, on rational basis, all form of absolutism about creation. Sciences are now here to stay, not as an obstacle to faith, but as an opportunity to free it from all restraint.

The research and reflection herein below are based on the hope that a dialogue is possible that does not marginalize scientific truth or theological truth. And when there is absence of explanation from one or the other, one must transcend oneself, which requires intellectual discipline, which could include an immediate rebuttal of a scientific pronouncement for an adoption of faith that would lead one to follow reason temporarily into the domain of meaninglessness. If for many, this is waste of time, for others, it is a hope of discovering new experiences that can, in the context of space and time, contribute to demonstrating through “construction” that a scientific-theological articulation is thinkable.

The work that follows consists of: (1) a look at the development of “life” through a process that implies a generator of diversity (mutations), and a natural selection process of organisms adapted to a given environment (Darwinian selection); (2) an analysis of “divine” notions, notably those of the “Spirit” in its revelation to mankind for the latter’s growth, with the help of science as a rational instrument.

1. Development of life: The course of theories of Evolution

It is the dream of all biologists to be able to answer definitively the eternal question: “What is life?” And so it goes with the question of life as well as of time. “If not one asks me, I know; but if someone asks for an explanation, and I try to explain, I don’t know.” [1]Augustin, Confessions, Book XI chap. XIV. Science has made much progress during the past few decades, and it will continue to pierce the secrets of life, including the most intimate – such as reproduction. It furnishes tools useful to making modifications in the domain of heredity, the genome of human organisms. The dream of the biologist is sometimes transformed into techniques of genetic genius and, in the eyes of some, into a threat for the future of humans as well as biosphere.

In his book Vital Dust, Christian de Duve defines life as the most complex phenomenon known to this day. Science does its best to contribute a rational understanding of truth. It is thus in this context that he tries to retrace the four billion years of history of life on Earth, “from the first biomolecules to the human mind and beyond” (p. xv), in several stages:

(1) The /age of Chemistry, which explores the universal aspect of the origin of life.
(2) The Age of Information as a universal mechanism that reveals the arcane knowledge of the molecule and other biological agents.
(3) The Age of the Protocell, which brings understanding of the progressive assemblage of cellular organization.
(4) The Age of the Single Cell, which brings understanding, on the one hand of evolution and the diversity of bacteria, and on the other, of the transformation of the latte.
(5) The Age of Multicellular Organisms in the progressive space that microorganisms occupy in the waters of the Earth.
(6) The Age of the Mind which appears at the last stages of evolution, leading in several million years to the conversion of primates to humans.
(7) (7) The Age of the Unknown which continues to grow, whatever the nature of its future development.

De Duve believes that all living organisms come from two groups of substances that are at the origin of all forms of life: proteins or amino acids, and nucleic acids or nucleotides. It is thus possible to reconstruct the entire tree of life from using as source information available chemical properties. The cytochrome. C, for example, which is a protein composed of approximately 100 amino acids, is an element of oxygen for many living things. It varies for the monkey, as well as other animals, in cereals, yeast, etc. It is thus an indispensable proof coming from the same ancestral origin as other species. While the data are not easy to verify with integrity in many cases, they nonetheless allow us to appreciate to what extent the origin of living things began “by a progressing branching of the tree of life.” [2]De Duve, Christian. Vital Dust: The Origin And Evolution Of Life On Earth. (New York, N.Y.: Basic Books, 1995), p. 4.

Bacteria are the simplest form of life. We encounter them, on the one hand, in stromalite rocks of different kinds in many regions of the world and can date them back 3.5 billion years; on the other hand, they are also found in microfossils, where they left their imprint in the mud, which then became rock over time. It is possible, continues de Duve, that these early life forms developed about 3.8 billion years ago, now of cloud and gas condensation on Earth, with dust some 4.5 billion years before. Two schools of thoughts believe that it is not difficult to date the origin of life because: (1) life is an improbable phenomenon; and (2) it is also the product of chance.

De Duve makes a theory when he states that it is possible life began several billion years ago. When there is assumption, there is no proof. To construct upon arguments that not proved or that imply work is still required to arrive at such a final determination is, in my opinion, hazardous. So, the results will be also as well as the “scientific logic” that will run its course through the expose. And when the latter arrives at conclusions to dazzle and excite neophytes, it is nonetheless true that the conclusion is pure speculation. However, I do not disagree that we have not yet arrived at explaining how the first cell appeared from a physio-chemical point of view, although many indicators and fragments of knowledge demonstrate that such a “reduction” is possible.

During the Age of Chemistry, the six biogenetic elements of the symbolic formula CHNOPS include the organic components of everything that breathes. This acronym can be read as: (C) Carbon; (H) Hydrogen; (N) Nitrogen; (O) Oxygen; (P) Phosphate; and (S) Sulphur.

 

Human evolution. From monkey to businessman and computer user. Cartoon vector characters evolution human, ape and ancestors illustration

The Earth did not sufficiently cool some four billion years ago for water to condense at the surface. While there was no oxygen in the atmospheric surface, the appearance of the latter as well as the source of hydrogen and molecules of phosphate on the Earth are still debated. Even if chemists believe that the origin of life began in a cold environment, geochemists believe otherwise. For the latter, these most ancient organisms are living bacteria found even at volcanic temperatures up to 230 degrees F. [3]Deduve, p. 17.

The Earth received at least 25% solar energy during the Prebiotic period until today. Life developed because there was water on the Earth. This confirmation is made possible thanks to the research of Stanley L. Miller , [4]Stanley Miller’s classic paper was published in Science 117 (1953): 528-29 who experimented, with the help of several chemical products, on how storms grew inside a scaled glass The results demonstrated the presence of several amino acids and other organic molecules that we typically find in living organisms. Similar amino acids and other molecules were found in the meteorite that struck Murchison, Australia, en 1969. That proves further “that organic compound can survive the scorching crash of celestial bodies through the atmosphere.” [5]Deduve, p. 20.

However, the formation of proteins on the way to life rests problematic. Several scientists believe that the formation of proteins “must have been preceded by ribonucleic acid (RNA) derived from the oxyribononucleic acid (DNA).” However, it is confirmed today that for RNA to exist, it needs to help of proteinic enzymes. Two American researchers, Thomas Cech [6] For information on ribozymes, see T.R. Cech in Sci. Am. 255, no. 5 (1986) : 64-75 and Sidney Alman, proved the contrary for the former, joined by chemist Walter Gilbert [7]W. Gilbert in Cold Spring Harbor Symp. Quant. Biol. 52 (1987): 903 RNA enzymes, or ribozymes, are at the origin of catalytic work of known proteins under the name of “RNA World,” which are at the origin of the first cellular structures. Peter Nielson, [8]PNA is described in papers by D.Y. Cherry et al. In Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA who attracted considerable attention to his research with a molecule named PNA (Peptic nucleic acid), is not entirely clear in demonstrating in what manner the latter functions with RNA molecules.

De Duve wonders if chance is at the origin of RNA molecules in the Prebiotic world, perhaps research trying to reproduce early synthetic reaction in the laboratory will succeed? If biologists believe that evolution and progress are at the origin of change, de Duve rather pleads in favor of an argument that is much more conformist.

During the Age of Information, from generation to generation, living organisms reproduce as a photocopy of their genes to form the genome, or genotype, which is etched onto molecules of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). The latter is transformed into RNA, which is more versatile than DNA. The genetic codes are the principal agents of enzymes whose cells and organisms are proteins with an alphabet of 20 amino acids, as opposed to the four-nucleotide alphabet of RNA and DNA. This transfer of information is called traduction, where the totality of the equivalencies that conduct it form the genetic code through chemical processes. [9]De Duve, Christian. Vital Dust: The Origin And Evolution Of Life On Earth . (New York, N.Y.: Basic Books, 1995), 57.

It is possible that the first RNA molecules contain other bases, contained in the following abbreviations: ATP, or UMP, A, G, C and U. The combination AGCU allows us to formulate complementary relationships in chemical existence between A and U, on the one hand, and G and C, on the other. In these relationships, the T (thiamin) replaces the U of DNA, and at the same time controls all the sources of information coming from nucleic acids as well as the multi-dimensional structures of its flat molecules, which govern the hydrogen bond in bio-molecular interactions. “Two hydrogen bonds exist between A and U (or T). There are three between G and C which thereby make up the stronger of the two pairs.” [10]De Duve, Christian . Vital Dust: The Origin And Evolution Of Life On Earth . (New York, N.Y.: Basic Books, 1995), 58. These associations mean that the two chains are aligned in an anti-parallel orientation with phosphate at one end and ribose at the other, and vice-versa. The latter two form the banisters of the staircase facilitating, perhaps, reproduction.

This type of scenario was demonstrated several times in the laboratory, and the conclusion is that a gene appears, that of an RNA molecule, in reaction with amino acids capable of reproducing. Such an attachment with the latter has engendered a quantity of energy supplanted by the ATP coming from thioether bonds. De Duve believes that it is difficult to explain the origin of reproduction and of genetic code without assuming degrees of specificity between amino acids and RNA molecules.

With regard to the Age of the Protocell, divergent points of view on the part of some scientists would lead to the conclusion that the formation of primitive cells are the consequence of cosmic events that were sown and led to the origin of life. However, several other scientists believe in the cellularization of membrane structures due to the effects of solar energy. Others find it simply unacceptable that the origin oflife began in a previous structure.

All living cells are enveloped in a plasma membrane in a tissue of qualified as amphiphilic, of which one part is hydrophilic and on the other hydrophobic. For the former, the molecules of water are subjected either to the negative or positive pole, as opposed to polarized molecules. For the latter, hydrophobic substances currently exist under the name of exclusive lipids of molecules of water attached by electrostatic attractions. In the presence of water, phosphor-lipids produce biliary lipids forming closed sacks impervious to water, allowing the cells to develop and receiving proteins from biliary lipids “into a helical rod called an a-helix.” Ibid., p. 92.))

Exposed to ultrasonic vibrations, biliary vesicles are formed as well as primitive cells that die immediately afterwards to accept hydrophobic peptides The latter, progressing to give birth to a double membrane composed of gram-negative bacteria preceding gram-positive organisms, the membranes reproduce through the accumulation of preexisting components. It is sufficient that a membrane appears once in a history of life for it to reproduce once and for all.

The fragility of biliary phospho-lipids curtailed the ability of photocells to resist exterior aggressions to adapt to different environments. Thus, the photocells build extra-cellular structures in the construction of carbohydrate building blocks giving rise to the appearance of the mechanism joining sugar molecules together in saccharides as reserves, together called sugar of disaccharide composed of glucose and of fructose. To survive, photocells reject waste material by pore through holes caused by biliary lipids. Among the substances transported to the interior as well as the exterior of photocells are found in great numbers ions led in two directions, depending on the opposite charge while the environment of the membrane remains neutral.

De Duve believes that whatever the mechanism of encapsulation, a cell must necessarily reach a point “where import just suffices for maintenance and repair.” [11]Ibid., p. 97. It is thus impossible to imagine other growth, unless the cells become asymmetrical where only a little information does not allow us to understand the mechanisms controlling this phenomenon.

He adds later that there is a difference between universal, ancestral organisms and primitive ancestral, which existed well before. The latter cannot necessarily share: (1) the same organic properties because of its convergent evolution; (2) unique properties through gene transfer because of the opposition of horizontal and vertical genes from generation to generation; (3) organic properties missing due to loss during the evolution of the tree of life and that require a particular treatment.

It is in 1970 when Carl Woese [12]Ibid., p. 113 reveals that the extension of bacteria is found in two groups, one called archaebacteria, which include many characteristics, and the other eubacteria. Grouped under the heading of procaryotes, they don’t have a true niche. And further, eucaryotes date back around three billion years instead of one and are the same age as procaryotes.

Additionally, there is a division of belief as to the development of evolution from the tree of life in which, for diverse reasons, several authors favor a prokaryotic root. For Mitchell Sogin, [13]Ibid., p. 114 the common ancestor was the primitive cell named the progenote, which was found in the line of procaryotes. De Duve believes that the ancestral cell itself constructs its molecules with the appropriate energy, whatever the ambient milieu, and is typical of the procaryote, which is difficult to recognize today.

Exploring the seed that was at the origin of life, de Duve explores the seed that was at the origin of life. For him, water is the unique means which brought about life because it possesses two indispensable elements to the construction of the carbon-containing molecule, hydrogen and oxygen. Also, in the evolution of the world, RNA is the logical result of these factors. Chance thus plays a preeminent role in the map of the photocell to a common ancestor in all its aspects.

No one can confirm that life exists in other parts of the universe, even if the history of life on Earth is not necessarily unique. Johanne Von Newman, a famous Hungarian American mathematician, devised the first “cellular automaton” in the emergence and evolution of living organisms. “These models have highlighted conditions under which order can arise out of discord through fluctuations that take place randomly until the system becomes caught in a network of interactions that drive it toward a dynamically organized configuration in which it settles.” [14]Ibid., p. 121.

During the Age of The Single Cell, de Duve adds that it is probable that the common ancestor of all living things is a bacteria. The latter reproduces rapidly in a period of 20 to 30 minutes, as opposed to a growth period of 24 hours for a plant or an animal cell. Bacteria reproduces a second time before the first one is finished, doubling its DNA and constructing at the same time proteins in all RNAs essential to their activities. During the time it takes for two eucaryotic cells appear, a bacteria cell can produce up to a trillion cells among several billion mutations due to replication errors. It is difficult to understand the strategy of the evolution of bacteria, continues de Duve. He believes that adaptation is at the origin of individual circumstances.

When an organism is exposed to a macro-molecule or antigen, it responds by creating antibodies or lymphocytes, which are proteins that neutralize immediately. Lymphocytes are programmed, creating several million genes. When the human being ceases to grow, most of his cells no longer divide. They retain their capacity to repair wounds, for example. Several cancerous transformations are due to the alteration of genes that are essential to factors of growth. When there is a change in temperature, ancestral cells react. While the procaryote of the archaebacterial type adapts to a temperature as high as 230 degrees F, no thermophilic eubacteria can survive temperatures above 170 degrees F. Salad oil is liquid at a warm temperature but congeals in the refrigerator. It is the same for butter, lard, etc.

While eubacteria progress in the world, archaebacteria remains confined in warmth, where it adapts very well. The former gave rise to chlorophyll for the evolution of phototroph to the point where oxygen was produced. “When oxygen made its appearance, life had no defense against these poisons and a major holocaust threatened … [V]ictims probably were legion, but a few survivors emerged to people the world with new forms of life, thus turning an impending catastrophe into a major source of innovation.” [15]C.R. Woese in Sci. Am. 244, no. 6 (1981): 98-122, and Microbial. Rev. 51 (1987): 221-71.

 

Stem cell treatment and biology as a multicellular embryonic concept or adult organismas a symbol for cellular therapy as a 3D illustration.

During the Age of the Multicellular Organisms, bacteria exist today and emerge in colonies. Myxomycetes, organisms at the origin of heterotopic cooperation with eucaryotes, are unicells like amoebae. Cells of myxomycetes become spores through sexual reproduction when there is a lack of food. Each cell gives birth to a sister cell in the sense that they remain together. In most cases, they are different because of mutations, and thereby do not have the same genes. This is why at the age of puberty, for example, a girl develops pronounced breasts, and the boy grows facial hair. The human body includes several trillion cells, but some two hundred types of cells. Since, with evolution, genes are altered, “The changes that produced a mouse, a whale, or a human from their common mammalian ancestor, or even a fish, a frog, or a mammal from a primitive vertebrate, must largely result from mutations affecting pattern-controlling·genes.”

De Duve believes that the declaration of Ernest Haeckel, an early enthusiastic disciple of Darwin, in which animals, in the course of their embryonic development (ontogeny) go through several successive stages of evolution (phylogeny), appears completely valid Certain cells, such as ancient choanoflagellate families, which are monoflagellated heterotopic, were born (from the bottom of a food collecting tunnel.” [16]Ibid., p. 188. Trichoplax adherents, member of the placozoa family, itself comes from the diploblastic group, which his part of all known forms of ancient animal life. I believe that although what Haeckel states is not provable, the probability can have nothing to do with reality. As, up until now, we cannot prove the veracity of the facts, but only contribute additional theories. I believe it also reasonable to add that it is possible that each species can just as well have been born as a unique entity and “have nothing to do with evolution.” However, scientific research is not an insignificant approach to truth. It is
correlative to a reduction and to objectivity. fu certain situations, pure and simple objectivity pose significant ethical problems, in particular if human dignity is in question.

In the human body, the coelom is a hollow double-walled sheath that is adjacent to mesodermal cells. The latter form the peritoneum, which envelops the abdominal viscera, and the pleura around the lungs. The cells joining the alimentary canal vary and form several other organs (glands that manufacture digestive enzymes, discharging them into the canal through ducts.

The history of life is both vertically complex and varied on a horizontal plane. A cross section of the tree of life over a period of 400 million years allows the identification of a variety of bacteria of all types, without taking into account “many kinds of protists, an abundance of algae, some primitive mosses and fungi, a variety of sponges, coextinct, and, sprouting from what we now know to be the main truck, a number of primitive fish.” [17]lbid.,p.214.

“In the beginning, biosynthesis exceeded biodegradation and bacterial life progressively covered large surfaces of the Earth with thriving, self-sustaining colonies.” [18]Ibid., p. 216. In this way they fostered the mutant forms which had lost their ability to sustain autotrophic forms, these subsequently becoming heterotrophs, as revealed by the stromalite. The latter are types of pseudo-organisms made up of different types of cells via a system of self-regulating circuits. Thus, the tree of life developed in close relationship with the autotrophs and heterotrophs in order to foster the equilibrium of the biosphere. The biosphere subsequently became matter and energy, so that the oxygen produced by the·phototrophes, or upper layers encrusted with organisms, was used up, at the same time causing the carbon dioxide, nitrogen, nitrate and other constituent minerals to be replenished. Without life the planet would not be as it is today, and this is the explanation for the plentiful presence of water.

During the Age of the Mind, the first humans, called Australopithecus afarensis, discovered during the 1970s and dating back more than 3.5 million years, show indications that they walked on their two feet (bipedalism). The latter fact plays an important role in the origin of the human line. Indeed, the human species appeared at around six million years through a process of evolution giving rise to Homo (a Latin word meaning “man”) and became the ancestors of today’s chimpanzees. “Between the nearest ancestor we share with chimpanzees and us, more than 300,000 generations have come and gone.” [19]De Duve, Christian. Vital Dust: The Origin And Evolution Of Life On Earth. (New York, N.Y.: Basic Books, 1995), 232.

A team of German, Netherlands and American researchers established that the structure of the brain of a chimpanzee is very different from that of a human brain, which is the principal distinction between the two species, which are so genetically similar. This work targeted understanding why the chimpanzee and man are so different physically and mentally, yet the two species have 98.7% of their genetic sequence in common. “To understand the differences between humans and chimpanzees can enable us to better encapsulate the genetic bases and predisposition to illnesses that seem to affect men but not chimpanzees,” explained Ajit Varlci, of the University of California at San Diego, co-author of the study with Svante Paabo; of the Max-Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology at Leipzig (Germany). Among the maladies that strike man more often, Mr. Varki cited aids, Alzheimer’s, cancer and malaria. Chimpanzees, if they become sero-positive, only rarely contract smallpox. And malaria affects them only minimally, he added. According to researchers the two species are distinguished by significant differences in the number of genes and genetic expression rather than in the structure of the genes. For Elaine Muchmore, of the University of California, the study establishes that the differences between man and the chimpanzee are much more complex and significant than researchers had thought up to now.

“Many people have spoken of the differences, having a tendency to oversimplify things. The human brain is a very, very complicated organ, and this study showed that,” she declared. The study of cerebral tissues revealed the similarities between the chimpanzee and the macaque, whose cerebral characteristics differ greatly from those of humans. For man, important and rapid changes in genetic expression of the brain have taken place, and man has accumulated these mutations, thus accelerating his advancement over his close cousin. As for blood and hepatic tissues, however, the levels of genetic expression in man resemble more those of the chimpanzee than of the macaque. And the mutations in the model of genetic expression of the macaque and that of man and the chimpanzee appeared at approximately the same speed, a finding like others in the evolution of the two species, according to the researchers. Scientists have observed a similar tendency when they have gone beyond genes to examine differences in proteins located in the brain, discovering an important difference in the levels of proteinaceous expression between man and chimpanzee. Genetic and proteinaceous expression include the way encoded information in genes is activated in the brain, then converted to proteins for numerous cellular functions. [20]http://www/afp.com/reviews/2002/04/07/chretien.htm

A find led researchers to believe that a woman in Africa is the maternal origin of everyone about 200,000 years ago. From a sampling of several subjects, analyses have shown that sperm cells do not produce fertile mitochondria, which is a property of the female egg cells. With evolution, linguists believe that it is possible that this ancestor was born with a genetic flaw where the larynx moved deeper down the neck. Such a state could also affect the sexual physiology of the woman, giving rise to a man through this unique modification.

As to the origin of the brain, we encounter neurons that are body cells taking care of all the necessary functions for the maintenance of cell life. They do not exist in plants but are found in animals. The brain has as a function to collect information, and what we do is determined by genes. De Duve adds that we are virtually identical to the chimpanzee, and that the difference is that the period of gestation is different, probably due to a gradual slowing of development that allowed the brain to develop further.

De Duve believes, it is in the brain that human thought is located. The latter, which generates ideas, is also the locale of the conscience. The human mind is both a product of evolution and an epigenetic history, “holding self throughout an individual’s lifetime.” [21]De Duve, Christian. Vital Dust: The Origin And Evolution Of Life On Earth. (New York, N.Y.: Basic Books, 1995), 248. It is thus through neuron events transmitted to the brain that we become conscious and participatory. In this way, reasoning becomes an integral part in the experience and richness of what we express. It is also through the brain that the mind functions because the two are inseparably linked, and it is through the brain that we can evoke an active conscience.

References

References
1Augustin, Confessions, Book XI chap. XIV.
2De Duve, Christian. Vital Dust: The Origin And Evolution Of Life On Earth. (New York, N.Y.: Basic Books, 1995), p. 4.
3Deduve, p. 17.
4Stanley Miller’s classic paper was published in Science 117 (1953): 528-29
5Deduve, p. 20.
6 For information on ribozymes, see T.R. Cech in Sci. Am. 255, no. 5 (1986) : 64-75
7W. Gilbert in Cold Spring Harbor Symp. Quant. Biol. 52 (1987): 903
8PNA is described in papers by D.Y. Cherry et al. In Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA
9De Duve, Christian. Vital Dust: The Origin And Evolution Of Life On Earth . (New York, N.Y.: Basic Books, 1995), 57.
10De Duve, Christian . Vital Dust: The Origin And Evolution Of Life On Earth . (New York, N.Y.: Basic Books, 1995), 58.
11Ibid., p. 97.
12Ibid., p. 113
13Ibid., p. 114
14Ibid., p. 121.
15C.R. Woese in Sci. Am. 244, no. 6 (1981): 98-122, and Microbial. Rev. 51 (1987): 221-71.
16Ibid., p. 188.
17lbid.,p.214.
18Ibid., p. 216.
19De Duve, Christian. Vital Dust: The Origin And Evolution Of Life On Earth. (New York, N.Y.: Basic Books, 1995), 232.
20http://www/afp.com/reviews/2002/04/07/chretien.htm
21De Duve, Christian. Vital Dust: The Origin And Evolution Of Life On Earth. (New York, N.Y.: Basic Books, 1995), 248.

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