TRILLIONS OF LIVING CELLS SPEAK THEIR MESSAGE (C. 1958)

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Excerpted from The Evidence of God in an Expanding Universe, edited by John Clover Monsma. New York: G.P. Putman’s Sons, 1958

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By Russell Charles Artist, Biologist and Botanist

B.Sc, Butler University, M.Sc, Northwestern University, Ph.D., University of Minnesota. Graduate study at University of Zurich, Switzerland. Professor at Frankfurt-on-the-Main, Germany, College for several years; since 1953 Professor and Head of Department of Biology at David Lipscomb College, Nashville, Tenn. Member of Academies of Science of In­diana, Tennessee, and Texas. Author of several biological monographs.

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Elodea is a genus of aquatic plants often called the waterweeds. It is also widely used as aquarium vegetation.

To observe living cells is an amazing experience. Mount the tip of a leaf of the little water weed Elodea under the microscope and bring it under the high power objective. A most beautiful and well-ordered manifestation of life appears. Each of the cells shows a magnificent structure. The leaf at the tip of the plant generally has a thickness of two layers of cells, but by focusing sharply the outlines of indi­vidual cells can be seen in optical section. Each cell seems to be a unit in itself, each apparently capable of carrying on its life activities independently of others like itself. The walls of the cells, separating one cell from another, are rigid and un­changing. The entire leaf is made up of many hundreds of such cells, overlapping each other like the bricks in a masonry wall.

Often the nucleus can be faintly seen, a dull grey body bulging out into the central vacuole of cavity of the cell but held within a thin ribbon of cytoplasm extending around the innermost edge. Next to the cell, we know, a thin and very delicate membrane exists. It cannot under ordinary circum­stances be seen for it is pressed very tightly against the wall by the pressure of the water or cell sap within the cell. When the slide is flooded with strong salt water, however, the membrane becomes clearly visible, for as the water is drawn outward the contents of the cell shrink within the membrane. We then say the cell has been plasmolyzed.

But there is movement here, tool And movement such as one would hardly believe to exist in a plant leaf seemingly so rigid from the outside. Around the very innermost edge of the cell, in the thin cytoplasmic film, are minute green bodies called chloroplasts. They are not actively propelling them­selves like some microscopic animals but are floating along like tiny boats in a stream. It is this watery protoplasm which is itself alive and moving. Here, then, is truly the physical basis of life in motion. In this particular plant the moving of the chloroplasts seems to be a manifestation, a visible means of detection, of one of the general characteristics by which we recognize life—movement!

The force or forces which are at work to cause this moving stream of protoplasm we do not know certainly, nor can we in the present state of our knowledge even attempt to explain the phenomenon adequately. But it is seen here and there in the world of living things, both in plant cells and in animal cells. This phenomenon is called protoplasmic streaming or, by some, cyclosis, especially in Elodea where a cyclic stream­ing of the living protoplasm is made visible to our eyes by the motion of the green plastids in moving around and around just inside the wall of the cell.

Morphology of a naked lobose amoeba.

Now place a drop of the protozoan culture containing the organism Amoeba on a warmed microscope slide and the same amazing streaming of the protoplasm may be seen. The animal does not swim; neither does it passively float in or on the drop of water—it actually and literally flows! Unlike the plant cells this bit of naked protoplasm which is the animal itself has no rigid wall but only a thin limiting membrane, so that as it flows it changes shape and develops extensions of the body. Because of some fancied resemblance to a foot, these extensions of the body—first thrust out in this direction and then in another—have been called pseudopodia or false feet.

Under high magnification actual particles of matter can be seen flowing out into the false feet as the animal moves along. Two regions of different density of protoplasm can be recog­nized: an inner more hyaline or watery mass almost con­stantly in a state of motion and an outer, semi-solid or jelly­like, mass completely encasing the former. Some scientists believe that these two densities help to provide for the movement, the outer plasmagel squeezing in upon the watery plasmasol causing it to flow out into the pseudopodia (false feet). Others believe that it is merely due to surface tension.

This is a common phenomenon witnessed by students every year in beginning biology courses, yet we cannot tell them why it occurs. Even if we should accept the former theory as to the nature and cause of amoeboid movement (the solation and gelatin of the protoplasm) we still must admit that we know virtually nothing about the metabolic processes of the cell which would cause it.

Here, then, are two widely different kinds of cells; one from a green plant, the other an individual animal organism. Each is, in many respects, a simple cell or unit. The amoeba has been called by many zoologists the most primitive of all animals, and, indeed, the streaming of its protoplasm is the simplest of all the means of locomotion in the animal world. Elodea, though a small flowering plant, has cells that are not markedly differentiated as in many other plants. Surely we can say they are simple cells. Yet each is a highly organized system, performing the necessary and intricate functions of life in its own way and at the same time making visible to our senses by the streaming of the protoplasm one of the com­monest attributes of life. Each cell performs these activities with a precision that by comparison makes the running of even the finest watch a clumsy affair.

Speaking of watches, to be sure, there are many fine watches made, some even with self-winding devices, which, when once started, keep the time-piece running by the move­ment of one’s arm. Now, it cannot be demonstrated success­fully that such a precision instrument as a watch came to exist by accident, that is, without the mind and hand of the craftsman, nor that, even in the self-winding type, it began without someone setting it in motion. When we ask concern­ing the living cell: “How did this microscopic but amazing functional unit come to have its present form?” or “How was it set in motion?” we are confronted with formidable, even insuperable, difficulties in trying to account for its beginning and, for that matter, its continued functioning, unless we maintain with reason and logic that an intelligence, a mind, brought it into existence. This Mind, this Supreme Intelli­gence, as contrasted with unthinking Matter, is God.

It must be admitted that there are, to be sure, external and a-biotic forces in the environment which seem to affect the streaming of protoplasm in cells. Certain researchers report that a variety of stimuli, such as temperature, perhaps light, or osmotic pressure (pressure due to differences of concentration) influence the solation and gelation of the living substance, but they are as quick to assert that stream­ing, especially cyclosis (circular motion), goes on continu­ously in many cells in the absence of any apparent external stimulation. Therefore, it seems to be at least in part under the control of the protoplasm itself. There appears to be more to this cell than just the response to outside stimuli.

Even if we were some day to unveil the present mystery of this streaming matter and come to understand the living cell more perfectly, we should only be following with our own intellect a greater Mind that set it in motion in the beginning and kept it operating.

In this connection we also know that an enucleated cell, in which the nucleus has been removed by microdissection, soon dies; all attempts to maintain it end in failure. The organizer of the cell is gone—the cell cannot continue to live. Just so the Organizer of the universe is necessary to the creation of a cell—and to the minds of reasoning men search­ing for a first cause.

Not just because I do not at present know or understand this phenomenon of protoplasmic action of the cells am I driven to the conclusion that God exists. Certainly, many use the argument that because science does not know, therefore we must accept God. I am not using this argument. Even if we were some day to unveil the present mystery of this streaming matter and come to understand the living cell more perfectly, we should only be following with our own intellect a greater Mind that set it in motion in the beginning and kept it operating.

Many theories have been brought forward in the attempt to derive living cells from inanimate matter. Certain investi­gators are claiming that life has originated through the protogene, or through viruses, or through an aggregation of large protein molecules, which may leave the impression that at last the gap between the lifeless and the living has been spanned. Actually it must be admitted that all attempts to produce living matter experimentally from inanimate matter have failed utterly.

Furthermore, it is not by direct evidence that the one who denies the existence of God proves to a waiting world that a fortuitous aggregation of atoms and molecules is life, capable of maintaining and directing itself as do the cells described here. Not at all. He accepts this as a belief. It is his private interpretation of the facts visible to us all, that an accidental concourse brought the first cell into being. But this is to accept an even greater miracle than to believe that Intelli­gence called it into being!

I maintain that each of these single cells (each a system so intricate and delicate that its complete functioning has so far escaped our study), and all the billions of them on this earth, definitely present a justifiable inference—one of Mind, or Intelligence, or Thought, which we call God. Science both admits and accepts this inference.

I believe firmly that there is a God.

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