Chapter 2

The living body

But the living being which now existed was in itself the exact opposite of love. Since it lost energy with every act it performed, because of its internal tendency as material to return to its ground state (which would kill it), it now needed to replace this energy from the environment, to replace worn-out parts, and to fend off energy which would tend to destroy it. Hence, far from being something which gives itself up to any energy impinging on it from its surroundings, it closes itself off from energy not useful to its development and maintenance, and at the same time seeks out and absorbs energy that it needs, destroying other molecules and even other living bodies in the process.(1)

The living body, then is essentially selfish, or for itself at the expense of its environment. It will use anything in the environment which can serve in some way to maintain it, and it will defend itself against anything which can in any way destroy it. It seems that life, this higher stage created miraculously by the love of God for his universe, does not reflect its creator at all, and acts in direct contradiction to the way its creator acts.

But as it happens, the very tendency of a living body to maintain itself at the expense of its environment is used, insofar as the environment itself consists of living bodies, to effect the cooperation of all the living bodies. The tree produces a nut, which is harvested and buried by the squirrel, which is not planting trees but merely seeking to have nuts available during the winter; but it does not use all the nuts it planted, and so the tree proliferates through the predation on it by the squirrel. The excrement of the squirrel also serves to replenish the chemicals in the ground which the tree needs to absorb. And so on. Any book on ecology can show how marvelously the living bodies in a given area use their users in just such a way that by chance all benefit and can maintain not only individual but population equilibrium.

And this is what I was referring to when I said that God "cheats" the natural tendency of the living being. It is still for itself at the expense of the environment; but living beings have filled the environment (by chance) in such a way that all prosper. This cooperative selfishness is itself all but a contradiction; and it is so incredibly unlikely in itself that it forces itself on the attention of those who observe it, and even those whose minds are unwilling to admit a creator rhapsodize about how wonderfully chance (disorder) and the laws of probability order things when there are enough chances available--not noticing that the tendency of the laws of probability is away from systematic interaction rather than toward it.

There is also another aspect of the living body which is not perfect selfishness. Since it maintains a super-high, but definite, energy level (its biological equilibrium), it frequently absorbs more energy than will put it in exactly this condition, and so it must get rid of this excess by doing something that is not necessary for its existence. Living bodies, then, exhibit activities which are not strictly necessary for their existence, and which further are not the result of being acted on (at the moment) by outside energy. They play, or do gratuitous things. Since at any moment they can take in energy to replace the energy they are losing, they can afford to be prodigal with their activity, and so many of their acts make more sense in terms of joie de vivre than in terms of self-maintenance in the face of a hostile environment.

So in spite of the fact that any ecology is a jungle, with everything preying on everything else, it is also a monastery, with everything giving to everything else, and a playground, with everything disporting itself in the abundance of its existence. The birds' songs by which they threaten others soothe our ears and are sung even when there are no others to threaten--or even ears to soothe.

Reproduction is an interesting aspect of living bodies. The simplest reproduce merely by dividing, doing not much more than imitating the self-reproducing inanimate molecules from which they emerged. But very soon, in order to reproduce, the organism must meet with a different member of its own kind, so that the union of the two can produce another of the same form but with different individual genes, thus at once preserving and modifying the form of life.

The modifications allow the individual living bodies to fit into different ecologies, and at the same time reproduction serves to preserve the form of life even though the material nature of the body prevents, in our changing world, eternal existence; its tendency toward ground-state equilibrium eventually wins over the soul's attempts to fight it, and the organism dies. But it has before this reproduced other individuals of its own kind, and so the soul exists still, though limited to different degrees. In this sense, reproduction is for itself, though not for the individual; it is for the form of organization, which is to some extent free of its embodiment.

But as far as the individual is concerned, this for-itselfness has nothing to do with it. The individual living body does not benefit in the least by the creation of another body which has the same type of unification; it even loses energy and parts of itself as it does this, though of course by nutrition it quickly replenishes from the environment what it has lost. Hence, the very act that preserves life beyond the individual body turns out to be an act most like the creative act of God: not a giving up of oneself for the sake of another, not a sacrifice, but a purely gratuitous act which is neither of benefit nor loss for the agent. In preserving the species, the living individual performs an act of love, a clear reflection of the love of its creator for his universe.

And in performing this act, it goes outside itself to another of its own kind, simultaneously establishing solidarity with its own kind and affirming that the act is for itself in preserving the form of life and going beyond itself into another or allowing and even enticing another to invade itself so that something can emerge other than itself. I said in analyzing this characteristic of life in Chapter 6 of Section 1 of the third part 3.1.6 that it was very mysterious. It becomes, I think, less mysterious when one puts it in the context of the dialectic of love. Since the living being is in itself the opposite of love, it would not be surprising, if my thesis is true, to find that God has turned the tables on it and made one of its most significant self-preserving acts an act of love.

As to the evolution of living bodies, the differentiation of individuals that occurs in reproduction does not result in the emergence of new kinds of living bodies, but the preservation of the species; the variation is only within the limits of the species, and never passes beyond it. It is only when the genetic molecules are destroyed by chance events such as heat or cosmic radiation that monster births occur; and the overwhelming majority of these are such that they either cannot live at all, or cannot live to maturity, or cannot reproduce if they do.

But once again, the event which is possible but incredibly improbable occurs, and the destructive interference with the genes by the environment produces an organism which is better adapted to the ecology and which can reproduce with some living being in its vicinity, resulting in offspring different from the grandparents. Eventually either through further mutations or the variations in genes from the parents, the offspring several generations later can no longer reproduce with those from which their ancestors sprang, and a new species is formed.

Wallace and Darwin thought that this occurred through tiny changes (indeed, how could reproduction take place if the change was drastic and produced only one organism, as it would?); but there is not only no evidence of this, it is also impossible, since many adaptations, such as the eye, are so complex that the intermediate organisms would be maladapted for thousands if not millions of generations.

There is really no satisfactory mechanism to account for how it is possible for one species to evolve from another, a fact which has led to the "creationist/evolutionist" controversy, with each side totally and dogmatically repudiating the other. But since the conception of every living body even from its natural parents is a miracle that needs God's direct intervention, because it is the lifting of the material beyond its own materiality, is it too much to expect God to use mutations to produce a body capable of supporting a different soul? He seems to be at the same time manipulating chance so that this occurs and living beings in one sense evolve out of each other, but in another sense are merely the conditions under which God populates the planet with the vast variety of species which we see, and the still vaster variety of species which no human being will ever see, as every explorer to a rain forest will testify.

Thus, the species which emerge do so under the conditions of the environment; they emerge by modifications of their parents, and in reference to the ecology to which they are adapted or not; and God does not prevent the numerous mutations which result in monsters that cannot survive. Once again God is respecting the reality of his creatures and not simply foisting diversity and greater freedom from limitation upon them, but lifting them beyond their own capacity and opening up possibilities that they can take, but which they have no particular innate drive to take.

I said in the early discussion of evolution in this book, in Chapter 5 of Section 1 of the third part 3.a.5 that the natural tendency of living bodies was conservative and against evolution; evolution occurs, not because of a Bergsonian élan vital, but because of destructive interference with the species as it exists, and goes directly counter to its tendency to maintain itself and adapt to differences in the environment with as little change as possible. So even here in living bodies, we find constructive destruction. Advance, not surprisingly, occurs in spite of the living body, not through it, because it is for itself, not for future beings; and so God once again cheats, using now the destructive tendencies of nature to bring about greater complexity and lesser limitation.



1. There is a question that arises here. As we saw in discussing fallenness in Chapter 5 of Section 4 of the third part 3.4.5, the condition of mankind finds its most rational explanation in something akin to what Genesis relates about the first man. But, as I have pointed out elsewhere, God is eternal, and so time is meaningless to him. My hypothesis here is that God made the actual evolution of the universe (at least the part in which man is involved) contingent upon the decision of the first man; and the destruction of living bodies by other living bodies is a result of this fall, not something that would have occurred had the first man not rejected God. Carnivorous animals can thrive without eating meat; and so it is conceivable that, had the first man not sinned, they would not in fact have eaten meat.

My hypothesis states further that one of the functions of the New Adam, Jesus, was to restore the natural world to its original state if he were accepted by the Jewish people. I think Isaiah's prophesy of the lion lying down with the lamb and so on would literally have come to pass. But the Jewish people and their Gentile overlords--the whole world, in other words--rejected Jesus, and so the world continues with suffering and evil in it until the Second Coming, when every tear will be wiped away, and there will be a new heaven and a new earth.

But this is really Theology, and so I leave it for this brief footnote as a mere speculative philosophical hypothesis.