Chapter 4

The Nature of Life

[This topic is discussed in Modes of the Finite, Part 3, Section 1, Chapters 7-9.]

4.1. The basic conclusions

I have been giving hints throughout the preceding chapter about the nature of the living body as opposed to the living body, and it is now time to tie all this together and see if we can come up with an idea of what life is based on the evidence that has presented itself to us.

From what we have seen so far, it is certainly safe to say this:

The basic conclusion

The properties of living beings even at the lowest level function to maintain indefinitely in existence a body which is at so high an energy-level as to unstable physically and chemically.

Growth moves the organism from a lower energy-state to this biological equilibrium; nutrition keeps the organism at this level until enough waste and wear collect in the parts to prevent it; reproduction keeps the form of organization in existence by producing other bodies with this form of organization; and repair acts against damaging acts and even anticipates possible damage and takes steps against it.

4.1.1. Essential superiority

It does not seem open to dispute that the actual energy-level of biological equilibrium is high, and is instability in terms of the physics and chemistry of the body itself, nor that it is an equilibrium and is something "sought" and maintained by the body.

But this leads inexorably to the following:

Conclusion 2

The living body is essentially superior to inanimate bodies.

Another way of saying this is that living bodies have a "greater dignity" than inanimate ones; they are essentially less limited in their reality than inanimate bodies.

At the beginning of the preceding chapter, I said that bodies which have more properties than others are less limited than the others. This seems to be verified in this case at least. Living bodies have all the properties that inanimate ones have (color, mass, size, hardness, etc.), and in addition have nutrition, growth, reproduction, and repair. And these additional properties imply a super-high energy level maintained by the body--which certainly sounds as if they aren't as limited as inanimate bodies.

Given that this energy level is instability even in the living body (because each act gives up energy), then its explanation in terms of physics and chemistry seems impossible. Why would something maintain (as natural) a condition which it is explicitly trying to get rid of (as unstable; i.e. as unnatural and internally self-contradictory)? That is, any physico-chemical system will exist at a high energy level only if it is forced to do so by energy being pumped into it. But the living system not only is not forced into the higher state, it actively seeks the energy that gets it into this state and maintains it.

I am belaboring this point for four reasons: (a) the burden of proof is on the person who holds that living beings cannot be explained with a purely (if complicated) physico-chemical explanation; (b) each of the acts by which the living body gets and keeps its super-high equilibrium seems to be one describable in terms of physics or chemistry; (c) largely because of this, the prevailing mentality is to pooh-pooh those who would contend that life is different from and superior to non-life; and finally (d) it seems to rule out the evolution of life from a non-living environment before it--and yet the geological evidence seems to indicate that this happened.

Whatever the force of these arguments, it is still the case that something can't spontaneously give itself more than it has, which is exactly what the living body seems to be trying to do, looked at in terms of physics and chemistry. Granted, it doesn't add to its energy "by itself," but finds the needed energy in the environment somewhere--so no laws of thermodynamics are violated; but its very "need" for more energy is itself fundamentally inexplicable thermodynamically (because the basic law of thermodynamics, remember, is that bodies tend toward their lowest energy-level).

4.1.2. Evolution revisited

Then what about evolution? This is another of those long stories that need to be shortened.

First of all, the evidence in favor of the actual occurrence of an evolution of species is well-nigh overwhelming. Not only is there a simple mechanism to account for it (interference with the genes and mutant offspring, plus natural selection), but fossil records of forms both different from and similar to those now in existence, and also different forms in strata of different geological age are inexplicable on a "creationist" theory that assumes all to be created more or less at once--unless the Creator was deliberately trying to play a joke on us.

But the biggest argument in favor of some kind of "creationism" is one not mentioned in polite circles nowadays, and which we just concluded to above: living beings are essentially superior to inanimate ones (and, as we will see later, conscious ones are essentially superior to non-conscious living bodies), and how can something raise itself to a level essentially beyond itself?

That is, that the unifying energy has a definite quantity, and a quantity is a limit, then a limit implies that the activity cannot be greater than this limit (otherwise, how is it a limit?). Then for it to do something that implies that it is less limited than its limit is a contradiction in terms. But this is exactly what seems to be the case in living bodies. There is no need to repeat the evidence.

Evolutionists are apt to say to this, "But obviously it happened, which means that it's possible. So what's the problem?" This is like saying, "But obviously bodies fall down, so why make a mystery of it with things like the force of gravity or the warping of space-time?"

The reason for "making a mystery" of it is that if there is evidence that something is impossible and yet it happens, then we have (as we saw in Chapter 1) an effect, and we know that therefore there has to be a cause that makes sense out of it.

And supporting the contention that evolution seems in itself impossible is the evidence I brought up in discussing the subject in the preceding chapter, that a new species has not actually been produced under laboratory conditions by the mechanism that evolution is supposed to use, and that the probabilities against its happening are positively intergalactic, not simply "very great."

How then to explain how physico-chemical systems can get into a stable state that is beyond their limits? It seems that the only possible explanation is that the physico-chemical systems that evolved into the first living organisms are not the total cause of the jump to a higher state of being.

Something that we didn't mention when talking of bodies is that any finite activity (which is an activity with limits, making it less than just "activity") is in itself a contradiction (because all it is is activity--the limit is nothing, but just the fact that the activity doesn't do more--but activity that is less than activity); hence it must be accounted for as finite by the Infinite Act (God). This act by which the Infinite explains the finiteness of the finite is called "creation."

Every limited activity, then, needs God to account for its limitedness; and so God is involved as partial cause in every step in evolution. Supposing there to be a being whose structure would allow it to support a less limited form of organization, then it is possible that God would "lift it beyond itself" to help it do something it couldn't do by itself, but which could be done to it, as it were, by a higher power; and the result would be a body organized in this less limited way.

Thus, evolution would be natural but not self-explanatory. It would be "natural" in the sense of "in accordance with nature under the guidance of Divine Providence and helped by Divine power; but it would not be "self-explanatory," since the lesser cannot account for the greater. Biologists are apt to assume that since evolution happened, it is natural, and since it is natural, it is self-explanatory. Neither follows logically, and there is evidence that in this case the natural cannot be self-explanatory.(1)

If we grant that God has to have a hand in every finite activity, then we can now account for something that evolutionists seem to gloss over: that evolution has been occurring in a direction opposite to what is predictable by the second law of thermodynamics. According to that law, when stated statistically, more organized systems tend toward greater randomness and less organization; but in evolution, less organized and less complex systems develop into systems that are more organized and more complex.

Now the Law is statistical, and so the unlikely does not "violate" the Law. But evolution rests on the fact that at each stage the excessively unlikely occurred (with chances on the order of trillions to one against it), and these fantastically improbable stages form an unbroken chain from the "big bang" at the beginning right up to the present complex living bodies. If at any point the unlikely event didn't happen, the whole of evolution would have ground to a halt right there.

If a person throwing dice throws sixteen thousand twelves in a row, you wouldn't say, "Well, statistically such things can happen," and call it "natural and therefore self-explanatory." You'd start looking at the dice. It could happen, of course, but it's far more likely that the dice are loaded.

And since God has to have a hand in any finite being's activity anyway, then isn't it far more reasonable to form the following hypothesis?

Evolutionary Hypothesis

[This hypothesis is expanded into a whole volume in Modes of the Finite, Part 7.]

God, who is Love, has created the world in such a way that (a) He helps it advance in greater complexity and less limitation when it is capable of supporting this, (b) He shows increasing respect for his creatures by manipulating the chance element in the Laws of their operations, rather than doing violence to their natures even "for their own good," (c) this respect and leaving them "on their own" so far as possible becomes greater the less limited they become and more capable they are of acting on their own, and (d) the direction of evolution is a reflection of God's love on earth, in that creatures grow in ability to act unselfishly.

Thus, we find that inanimate beings act in simple response to outside forces; hence their activity is neither selfish nor unselfish. Nevertheless, what they do in inanimate evolution is unite into more complex systems (the parts giving up their natures and assuming the more complex nature of the new body, as when atoms unite into a molecule) up to the threshold of life.

Living bodies, as far as we have so far seen, are for themselves at the expense of the world around them (because they maintain themselves and destroy the food). But still, they seem to be "cheated" into performing unselfish acts in two senses: (a) there is reproduction, which does not benefit the individual, but preserves the species; and (b) there is the "balance of nature" which means that organisms exploit each other in an ingenious system. Plants, seeking reproduction, use bees for pollination; bees, caring nothing for helping plants, pollinate the plants as they seek the nectar in the flower. The pollinated plant produces a fruit encasing its seed (which happens to have a hard shell). The fruit is attractive to the animal, which eats it instead of the rest of the plant, and digests the pulp, passing off the seed in its feces, so that the seed is fertilized and can produce a new plant. Each is seeking its own benefit at the expense of the other; and each "uses" the selfishness of the other to benefit itself. And all by chance. By chance?

There is something more. Living things show a superfluity which is not in evidence with inanimate objects, where everything happens by action-reaction, cause-effect. Living bodies, having energy "in reserve," can use it for non-necessary functions--and tend to do so, the higher one goes in the levels of life. We already saw that reproduction is not necessary for the organism at all, and if it is "necessary" for the preservation of the species, the species as such is an abstraction. It is simply nice, when all is said and done. Later, we will see that animals could behave just as well if their brains had no consciousness as an "added dimension" of the electro-chemical discharges. And animals tend to play: that is, do acts which do not "perfect" their natures and have no particular purpose, but are a simple overflowing of a kind of joie de vivre. Humans perhaps can survive better because they can think, but they do all sorts of things for the acts' own sake--and for the explicit sake of others' happiness--and these acts are not necessary for anything. That is, as one goes up the scale of life, living beings exhibit greater and greater "giftedness"--which is just what one would expect if the Creator is Love.


Those who hold the theory of evolution do not realize what a powerful argument for the existence of a loving God they are giving. And by the same token, the "creationists" are cutting themselves off from interpreting the Bible in terms of the Bible of the evidence of "his invisible presence from the creation of the world [which] can be seen from what he made by anyone who puts his mind to it." (Romans 1) I should point out that the argument is not conclusive, or perfectly rigorous; but it is certainly suggestive.

4.2. Life

Since we now have some sort of clarification of what it is that makes living bodies different from inanimate ones, we should be able to come up with a definition of "life" as "whatever it is that accounts for the difference." Actually, there are several ways of looking at the difference, and so several different (and complementary) definitions can be given for the term.

First of all, we can say that the life of a body is that body's existence, since when the body dies, we say that the living thing has gone out of existence. And, of course, if life is existence, then life is activity.

And that makes sense, because the difference between a living body and a corpse is that the living body is actively maintaining its biological equilibrium, and the corpse is simply at the lowest energy-level its parts can exist at. Or, as Aristotle said,

For a living being, to be is to live.


If Jesus is God, and God is infinite existence, then when Jesus said, "I am life," referring to himself as God, what he said was absolutely true. As God, he would not be a kind or form of life, but life itself, unqualified.

If the "eternal life" Jesus talked about is God's own life (God's infinite existence), then when he said, as recorded in John 17 "they are to be one thing in me, just as I am one thing in you and you are one in me; they are to be one thing in us" is literally true. Obviously, this life given to us is super- natural (something beyond our nature). But what it means is that we are, in some sense, God Almighty, since to live is to be. We live two lives; we have two acts controlling us: ours and God's, the natural and the supernatural.

And, of course, supernaturally, Paul's contention that we are "one body" is also literally true. The same spirit (infinite act) unites us all, and gives us all the same life, just as the parts of a single body live the same life and are (though different in themselves) only one body.

But we can come up with a better definition of "life" than simply "the existence of a living body," or "the activity of a living body as such." We have seen that the way a living body acts is very different from the way an inanimate one does; and therefore, our definition of life will have to reflect this difference.

DEFINITION I. Life is existence (activity) insofar as it is not controlled by quantity (even if it has a quantity).

This is the definition of life looked at from the point of view of its being super-high energy. The living beings we have seen so far all have quantitative limitations in their unifying activity, but they exist at a level above what would be expected by the limitations, and the form of activity determines what the limitations shall be, not the other way round.

Somehow or other the unifying energy of a living body must be independent of its own quantity and not just of the total energy of the body. The reason is that, from the very beginning, it "knows" what biological equilibrium it is going to have; but this biological equilibrium is a greater quantity than the energy possesses at the moment. Hence, the form of the unifying energy is what determines the quantity, not the other way round, as in inanimate bodies.

It would not be surprising to find that as we examine higher forms of life, we will discover that they are even less bound by quantity, and that the highest form of life of a body is an act that is in itself spiritual.

Thus, there is no easy distinction to make. You can't distinguish "life" from "energy" the way you can distinguish "spiritual activity" from "energy." At least some life involves energy--but it is energy that is not "dominated" by its quantitative limit.

Note that All spiritual acts (as totally beyond any quantitative limit) are automatically forms of life; but not all living acts are spiritual. They "tend in the direction" of spirituality, because they "escape" from material limitation, but they may not totally escape from it and still deserve the title of "life."

Obviously the Pure Activity which is not even a form of activity (God) is Absolute Life by this definition (as we said in the Theological note above), because He is not even limited in kind, let alone in degree.

There seems, then, a gradation in things, and the terminology that belongs with it can be shown in the chart below:



Absolute, unlimited activity (God): Absolute Spirit; Absolute Life.

Pure form of activity: Spirit; form of life

Form of activity which has a quantity but can exist without it (the human): embodied spirit; intellectual (embodied) life; body with a spiritual soul

Form of activity which acts in one respect without any quantitative limit and in another respect must also have a quantitative limit (the animal): immaterial activity; sensitive or immaterial life

Form of activity which has a quantitative limit, but which is not controlled by it: vegetative life

Form of activity which is controlled by its material limit: inanimate activity; pure energy

In a body, therefore, life is biological equilibrium. It is the act which is the super-high energy level the living body maintains.

Note Well

Life is essentially not process or "development"; basically, it is activity in equilibrium.

Life in a body involves processes (to get to biological equilibrium and return there when in imbalance), but the essence of life is to stay the same. Life is activity, to be sure; but fulfilled activity, not activity "headed somewhere." Life is the end, it does not have an end.

The purpose of a given form of life, then is that form of life. It has no "purpose" beyond being the kind of life it is; that would be to say that essentially it is a process, not equilibrium, and the evidence is against this.

DEFINITION II: Life is activity which is in control of itself.

Another way of looking at this is life is internal freedom. The living being controls itself; it is not controlled-- and to the extent it can control itself it is to that extent living.

This takes the other aspect we discovered about the unifying energy of a living being; that what the being is is determined ("decided," if you will) from the top down rather than from the bottom up. Thus the living body, free from its domination by its quantity, determines what its biological equilibrium shall be; and--as we will see in subsequent chapters--the higher you go up the scale of life, the more you find the being in control of its future, so that the human being's genetic structure does not impose a "final purpose" on the person, but only sets limits within which the human spirit is free to determine itself to be whatever it wants.

These two definitions are two sides of the same coin. It is because the living body is not controlled by its quantitative dimension that it can control itself; it is because it has energy "in reserve" that it doesn't have to use to hold itself together that it can send energy into this or that part of itself to activate some parts from within rather than simply responding to outside energy.

At the lowest level, life begins as internally directed activity, and continues, once maturity is reached, as self-sustaining activity. Even at the lowest level, what the living being does as alive is not determined by the energy around it, but from within, and not from the material side of its internal energy, but from the form of that energy.

If we look again at life from the top down, we see the following:


Pure Activity (God): Absolute self-possession, self-domination (absolute freedom), unable to be affected by anything outside itself

Pure spirit: Free to choose which form of activity it is, but must choose to be some form of activity (i.e. cannot be infinite activity); unable to be affected by actions of other beings

Embodied spirit (humans and other intellectual bodies, if any): Not free to choose form of activity, but free to choose which "lifestyle" it is to have within the broad limits imposed by its genetic structure; able to be affected by energy from outside

Immaterial beings (animals): Not free to choose; the basic mature state imposed by the genes; but individual differences due to responses to the environment (trained habits); affected in large measure by external energy

Vegetative life: Not free, but the mature state internally and not externally determined; affected greatly by external energy

Inanimate: Totally controlled by its internal quantity and the energy around it.

But these definitions, in either form, immediately have two senses (at least in bodies) depending on whether you are talking about the living properties (as "nutrition is life") or the unifying energy (as when you distinguish a sleeping being as "alive" and the corpse as "not alive," even though neither of them is performing any particular living properties.)

DEFINITION: Life is the behavior or activities a living being performs as living. It is the properties of life.

That is, in this sense "life" is "living": the overt acts a body is performing because it is alive. In this sense, "living" is seeing, walking, breathing, eating, thinking, and so on.

We have seen four examples of "life-as-property" so far: nutrition, growth, reproduction, and repair. Others are sensation, emotion, thinking, and choosing. "Life" in this sense is the set of acts that can only be performed by living beings because they are alive--or in other words, it is the set of acts that depend on the fact that the body is organized with a form of organization that is at a super-high energy level. And that latter sense, of course, is the primary sense of life.

DEFINITION: Life (primary sense) is the activity of the unifying energy of the body.

That is, life is the basic existence of the body. The body exists as alive (and is not a corpse) when the parts are unified (are interacting with each other) in such a way that it maintains itself at its super-high biological equilibrium.

4.3. The soul

Since the term "soul" is still used, especially in Theological circles, and since resurrecting it in its original significance can be handy, let us make a definition of it as it fits into this approach to philosophy:

DEFINITION: A soul is the form of the unifying energy of a living body. It is the form of life of the body.

Another way of putting this is that a soul is the form of unifying energy of a body, if that form of activity is not controlled by its quantity (or if it controls itself). That simply is the substitution of the definition of "life" for the word "life" in the above definition.

Note well

All living bodies have souls, not just human ones.

Trees have souls, dahlias have souls, dogs have souls, cockroaches have souls, human beings have souls. Human beings, as it happens, have spiritual (and immortal) souls, as we will see--and that is why the ordinary person thinks that other living beings don't have souls at all--but originally, "soul" just meant "whatever is the source of life in something," and applied to all living things.

Note also that only bodies have souls. Pure spirits (if any) are alive, and have forms of life, but their forms of life are not called "souls" because they don't organize a body. Of course, only living bodies have souls; the form of the unifying energy of a hydrogen atom (the internal field) is not called a "soul," because the atom isn't alive; that is, the form of energy unifying the atom is dominated by its matter.

Note thirdly, the soul is what makes the body the kind of living body which it is. That is, as we saw, a body is a certain kind of body when its parts are organized in a certain way; and by definition, the soul is nothing but the way the parts of the living body are organized.

This is why it is useful to have a single term like this. In a dog, the soul is its "dogginess"; in a cat, its felinity; the human soul is the humanity of the human body, the elm's soul is the elmness of the tree-- and so on.

Note fourthly, the soul as such is an abstraction, not a "something." It is the fact that the unifying energy (the behavior of the parts of the body toward each other) is a certain kind of energy (the fact that the parts are behaving in a certain way)--together with the fact that this particular kind of behavior is a living kind of behavior, and so is independent at least to some extent of the energy level of the unifying energy.

Note fifthly, the soul, as the form of life of the body, is the limitation of the body's life to being just this particular kind of life. As a limitation, it itself is nothing at all; it is simply the fact that in this case, all you have is this sort of organization and not some other one. The reality is the activity, not the soul; the soul is simply the fact that this unifying activity is limited in a certain way.

Note sixthly, the reason biologists object to talking about "souls" is partly that most people mean by "soul" the spiritual soul of the human being (and only that), and biologists are understandably nervous about talking about "spirits," because spiritual acts are beyond their field of investigation. Also, when you say nothing more than that the soul is independent of its quantity to some extent, you make them nervous, because biologists as such are not concerned with the implications of living acts with respect to how the body is organized, but in the means the body uses to maintain itself--and these means are largely physical and chemical. "Soul" and "independent of matter" sound "mystical" to them, and they want nothing to do with it.

Still, based on the evidence we have seen even so far, it is impossible to escape this "mystical" conclusion; it is really only a description of biological equilibrium as maintaining in a stable way something that is physically unstable. This is not to say that we should try to force biologists as such to talk about "souls" and "independence from quantity," any more than biologists, who are concerned with the operations of living bodies, should expect any philosopher with any sense to accept a mechanistic view of living bodies, just because the biologists are concerned with the mechanical aspects of the bodies.

It might, however, make the biologists' tasks a little easier if they recognized the basic independence of the living body from its own energy level, because then they would not wear themselves out on the futile quest of trying to explain absolutely everything in it mathematically. Some of the most interesting characteristics of living things, especially in the higher forms of life, are only trivialized by concentrating on their measurable aspect--because they don't depend on their measurable aspects, as inanimate beings do.

I beg one indulgence. Strictly speaking, the soul is the form limiting the activity (and as such does not include the activity). However, since it is such a simple word, and is so cumbersome to say "the unifying energy and its soul" or something like that, I want to use the term "soul" including the activity of which it is the form.

Soul henceforth, except when used in relation to the activity which it limits, will be taken to mean "unifying energy of a certain form."

4.4. Faculties

A final aspect of the organization of the body as a whole is that, in order for the soul to control the body (instead of being controlled by it), it must build subsystems with special functions--subsystems which can be turned on and off and controlled from inside the body (i.e. by the unifying energy).

DEFINITION: A faculty is a subsystem of a living body whose function is to perform one of the living operations (properties) of the body.

That is, a faculty is a set of parts (usually many organs, but it could be many cells united into a single organ) which has its own (sub)-unifying energy; but this subordinate unifying energy is, of course, under the control of the unifying energy of the body as a whole (or under the soul's control).

Thus, the digestive system is the nutritive faculty; it includes, philosophically, not only the digestive but the respiratory system and the circulatory system, since these systems (distinct for purposes of biology) all have as their function the nutrition of the body as a whole. The reproductive system is, of course, the faculty of reproduction. We will see later faculties of sensation and a sort of faculty of thinking and choosing.

The function of a faculty

The faculty is so constructed that it has its own special instabilities when energy is introduced into it, and therefore its own properties as it regains equilibrium.

And since the living body's unifying energy is higher than is needed for simply keeping the parts of the body held together, this internal reserve energy can be sent into one of the faculties, thereby throwing it into instability. It then performs its special act, which, of course, is primarily an act of the body as a whole. Thus, the act in question can be turned on and off without being "triggered" from outside the body. In this way, the unifying energy has control over the body's properties.

For instance, nutrition turns on when the total energy within the body drops below the level of biological equilibrium. The instability in the roots, say, of the plant then makes it absorb food until the energy reaches the proper level, when the act, now in equilibrium, shuts off.

The reproductive faculty initially becomes functional when the organism has grown to or is near biological equilibrium (adulthood). In practically all organisms other than human beings, it operates only at certain times (when reproduction is most favorable, as in the spring of the year) and shuts off at all other times.

The sub-faculty of sight is turned on and off by the opening and closing of the eyes; once it is on, it gets into its special instability when electromagnetic radiation hits the retina of the eye; and this releases energy into the nerves and so to the brain, where the sensation occurs and is integrated with the sensations from the other energy entering the organism; this integrated energy is in turn integrated (by the sub-faculty called "instinct" with the monitoring of the state of the organism), and energy flows through the motor nerves to the muscles, causing the proper response to the environment.

Faculties are, as far as their organization is concerned, complex feedback mechanisms, such as one would find in a computer. The difference between them and the computer's set of "faculties" is that in the living body, the basic control is from the soul, maintaining the particular biological equilibrium through them; while in the computer, the basic control is outside (the operator), and the energy being directed is also totally from outside.

This is not to pooh-pooh the analogy between the organism and its feedback mechanisms and the computer and its feedback mechanisms. The two are very similar, and much can be learned about living bodies' behavior by studying how computers work. The point here is that one should not be bamboozled by the striking similarities into thinking that there is no essential difference between the two.

We will discuss feedback mechanisms in a bit more detail in the next chapter, dealing with sensation, since we will have to prove that the conscious dimension of the sense-act cannot be due to a feedback loop. Which is not to say that sensation doesn't involve feedback loops, but that feedback loops can't account for sensation as conscious.


There had been discussions about life and the soul before Plato, but Plato (400 B. C.) was the first to develop a complex theory of the soul. For him, the soul was a spiritual "something" (a sort of Form or Aspect in his sense of the term) that was "inside" the body directing it as a pilot directs a ship. Since all living bodies had souls (by definition), then he held that the differences were due to the souls of animals and plants being increasingly stifled by the bodies they were trapped in. Presumably, in a new life, they would get to move into a less limiting body--and the goal for the human soul was (by virtuous acts) to escape the body altogether and return to the "world of Forms."

Aristotle (350 B. C.) was the one who called the soul the "primary act of the living body," and (since for him form was act itself, not a limitation of it) the form of the living body as such. The soul, for him, limited the "matter" (the "stuff" of the body) to being "this kind of thing," and the matter limited the soul to being an individual. Aristotle also was the originator of the organic theory of living bodies: that they consisted of different "organs" (Greek for "tools") or faculties by which they had the "power" to do or not do their particular acts. Aristotle defined life as "activity," as we said in the text.

With St. Augustine (400), the Christian interpretation of life took a distinctly Platonic turn. Plato's idea of the soul as spiritual and as (preexisting and) postexisting its stay in the body was congenial to Christianity with its notion of a life after death. St. Augustine dropped the "preexisting" part, and said that the soul was created when the body was, but that it was immortal from then on. It didn't get stuck in another body, but went into a state of happiness or anguish, until the Resurrection, at which time it got back into its proper (but then unchanging) body.

There arose a dispute in the Middle Ages about whether God created one soul in the human being, or whether the human being developed (in the uterus) first a vegetative soul, then a sentient soul, and then the human, spiritual soul was created when the fetal "animal" was capable of supporting thought. (After all, if caterpillars metamorphose into butterflies, this would not be unthinkable.) Since we know what goes on in the uterus now, however, with the organs of extrauterine life developing from the beginning, this "gradual ensoulment" does not account for the data of fetal development any more.

St. Thomas Aquinas (1250) was the one who Christianized the Aristotelian approach to life. He changed Aristotle by introducing existence as the act which (when not limited more or less as we described above) is life; and he called the soul the "substantial form" of the living body (what we called the "form of the unifying energy") and realized that it was the limitation of existence, and that matter was nothing but its limitation-- but he saw its independence, as soul, from its matter. "Matter" for him was not just the quantitative dimension of the act but also, somehow, the "stuff" of the body itself, which got formed into parts. He did quite a bit with the faculties and their operations, much of which is still valid.

Descartes (1600) thought of the "soul" as pure "mind" (i.e. spirit that thought), because of his approach to things based on trying to argue to the world from the contents of his consciousness. No being lower than man, for Descartes, had a soul, because none of them could think. He is really the forerunner of the modern person's idea of the soul as a kind of spirit.

Gottfried von Leibniz (1670), with his notion of "substance" as "internal activity" that produced all its acts purely from within itself without being able to be affected from outside, held that all beings were really "living" in a sense, and "conscious," in fact, in a sense. So really, they all had souls. The ones we call "thinkers" were really conscious; lower forms of life had lower forms of consciousness; and inanimate bodies had the lowest form of consciousness of all--but they were really conscious. The problem with this "unconscious consciousness," of course, is why bother using a term which means the opposite of what everyone thinks it means?

The English who reacted to Descartes and Leibniz (Locke [1670] and Hume [1750]), thought all of this speculation about souls was a waste of time; if you couldn't see it, why talk about it?

Immanuel Kant (1800) got us locked up in our minds, which, based on the practicalities of ethics, he said we had to assume were free and immortal and survived our bodies; but he said that there was no way we could actually know this as a fact. We only assumed it to be a fact (without evidence) to make ethical action make sense.

Georg Hegel (1825) essentially said that we are all developing stages in the mind of God as God tries to understand Himself fully for what He is; God includes us, and we include him within us; all there is is consciousness (Reason), which develops according to a definite pattern, of which we are one stage. There really isn't any material reality as we think of it at all; it is all Spirit, Mind, Idea.

Needless to say, the scientific (and after a while, particularly in this century the philosophical) community reacted against this idealistic speculation, in spite of its enormous brilliance, and would have nothing at all to do with Spirit, Mind, Idea, Soul, or anything remotely "metaphysical." So it developed purely mechanistic "explanations" in a way just as dogmatic as the most adamant Idealist, blinding itself to any evidence that would make it think its explanations woefully inadequate. Science has kept the dogmas "If it happens, it's natural; if it's natural, it's mechanical."

And this is where we are today.


The fact that living bodies maintain a super-high energy-level enables us to say that living bodies are essentially superior to inanimate bodies. This is not contradicted by evolution, since God must cause any finite being to exist; and the evidence from evolution seems to indicate that God, as Love, creates beings that evolve "beyond themselves," and are "lifted up" beyond their previous capabilities when the conditions for their supporting this less limited existence warrant.

Since the living body differs from the corpse in being active, it follows that life must be activity; and what it is is this: activity as not controlled by quantity (even if it has one), or activity in control of itself. Though life is activity, it is not process, but equilibrium, though it involves processes; its tendency as such is to stay the same, not develop.

Life-as-property ("living") are the acts that a living body performs because it is alive; the primary sense of life in a body is the activity of the body's unifying energy.

The soul is the form of life of a body; that is, it is the form (type) of unifying energy when that unifying energy is not controlled by its quantity or controls itself. Strictly speaking, it is the abstraction which is only the kind of unifying energy of a (living) body; but it is also used to include the act, and so it is "unifying energy of a certain form."

Living bodies control their properties by faculties, which are subsystems which can be put into instability by the unifying energy, and which then regain their own equilibrium and as a result perform some specific act. In this way, the living body can "turn its properties on and off" by sending or not sending energy into the faculty in question.

Exercises and questions for discussion

1. If life is not controlled by its quantity, doesn't that mean what living beings do isn't predictable? Then how can there be a science of living beings, since science depends on prediction?

2. If life is existence as in control of itself, then isn't life the same as freedom? Does that mean that trees and dogs and cats are free?

3. If trees have souls, does this mean that there is a heaven for souls of trees after they die?

4. Does a human embryo have a soul of its own, or is it using its mother's soul? What evidence can you give for your answer?

5. What faculties have we seen so far? What is the part of the body that forms the faculty, and what are the properties that it can turn on and off?



1. Note that this particular introduction of God into evolution theory has nothing Theological about it. There is observable evidence (which it is not the place here to give) for an infinite existence, and an infinite existence who from our point of view can be called "absolute love." Religion, based on Revelation, says that God is such-and-such (a Trinity, for example, and also Love); but the fact that religion and observable data say the same thing does not make the observable data "religious." Revelation is not used in this book's remarks, unless it is put in a Theological note.