The Principle of Preformism as a Creationist Approach in Immunology and Gerontology

In the 17th and 18th centuries, preformistic ideas were widely held in embryology. Embryological preformists considered already-shaped microscopic creatures of a given species were in ova or spermatozoa. In their opinion, the only increase in size of these creatures occurs in the developmental process.[5] These views were naive, and subsequently, the preformistic conceptions in embryology followed more direct observations.

The preformistic principle is still used, however, either consciously or unconsciously in various spheres of biology. The main point of this principle consists in recognizing that the Creator had put structures into the living creatures primordially which manifest themselves in a given manner. These structures supposedly predetermine the course of various processes. Of course, there are no concrete indications of such structures in the Holy Scriptures. Thus, it would be interesting to analyze how the principle of preformism is seen in some parts of immunology and gerontology.


Antibody formation in an organism and the interrelation with antigens is one of the most important immunological problems. Antibodies are considered to be substances of an albuminous nature. There are sites in their molecules which have highly variable amino acid composition. Owing to these sites, the amount of an antibody with distinct specificity, which is synthesized in an organism, is rather great. One of the main tasks of theoretical immunology was to explain how a corresponding specific antibody is produced against every antigen.

The first elaborate theory of antibody formation was suggested by Ehrlich in 1898.[7] This theory was preformistic, as a matter of fact. Ehrlich supposed that there were primordially various chemical groups of receptors on a cell surface. These structures preexist, but are not synthesized under the influence of antigens. Getting into an organism, an antigen, because of its chemical affinity, combines with a definite receptor. Cells respond to this combination by producing many more of the given receptors, which in turn tear off from the cell surface and circulate in the blood as specific antibodies.

During the first decades of the 20th century, many new antigens were discovered. The preexistence in an organism of antibodies against all the many possible antigens seemed incredible to most immunologists. So-called instructive antibody formation theories started to appear. In 1930, Breinl and Haurovitz suggested their version of the instructive theory. They considered that an antigen played a matrix role to ensure that unique amino acid sequences were assembled in an antibody molecule.[7] Later, in 1940, Pauling supported the instructive idea of antibodies formation. He asserted that antigens served as a model from which antibody molecules acquired specific configuration.

It would seem that the instructive theories answered the question logically as to why corresponding antibodies were produced for an antigen that got into an organism. Nevertheless, they failed to explain many immunological phenomena. In particular, they do not explain why antibodies keep on being produced in the absence of an antigen and why the organism's own proteins usually cause no antibodies to form.

Even more complete versions of the instructive theories didn't satisfy the immunologists any better. In this connection, the preformistic theories of antibody formation began to revive. The main idea of this group of theories suggests that antibodies against all possible antigens have somehow been synthesized continuously. This group of theories is named the "selective theory."

In 1955, Jerne[7] suggested a particular version of the selective theory of antibody formation. He supposed that every cell able to synthesize antibodies produces a wide variety of them. An antigen which gets into an organism finds in this variety an antibody appropriate to itself. An antigen-antibody complex forms that starts up the production of the given antibodies in a large amount. Thus, an antigen does not perform the role of instructor, but one of selection or selector.

In 1964, Burnet published a more complete version of the selective theory for antibody formation.[1] This theory states that all lymphoid cells synthesize antibodies in the form of many clones. Every cell clone originates from one cell which produces molecules of only one antibody version. All of the individual clones together are able to produce antibodies for all possible antigens. The theory, suggested by Burnet, corresponded to many facts of immunology and became universally accepted.

Burnet explained the diversity of synthesized antibodies both by encodedness of this phenomenon in the sex cell genome and by somatic mutations in the cells of lymphoid tissue.[1] It is obvious that encodedness of antibody diversity in the genome of sex cells fully reflects the principle of preformism. It remains unclear, however, if somatic mutations in lymphoid cells play a definite role in ensuring antibody diversity. The attempts to evaluate quantitatively the contribution of somatic mutations has not given an answer which has only one meaning.[4] Besides this, one can likely use the preformistic principle in understanding both the meaning and mechanism of somatic mutations in the lymphoid cells.


There is a large number of aging theories in gerontology. Gerontologists have not come to a common opinion about the reasons for aging. On the other hand, Scripture contains a direct indication of the maximum duration of human life. Man's maximum life span was determined by God to be 120 years, according to one suggested interpretation of Genesis 6:3. This value coincides in a surprising way with the data of modern gerontology.

Having fixed the maximal age as 120 years, the Creator would have to put into the human organism some mechanism that would limit life's duration. Among the numerous aging theories, there are some which consider such a mechanism. To be sure, authors of these theories are usually not disposed to think that such a mechanism was preestablished by the Creator. They connect this mechanism with evolutionary processes in the living world.[2]

There is a theory about programming in the genome of somatic cells for a limited number of cell divisions. It follows from this theory that, having used the limit of divisions, the cells grow old and perish. The entire organism inevitably dies. The conclusion about the genetically determined limited number of cell divisions was drawn from experiments with human fibroblasts.[3] Some data contradict this theory. As it turned out, the limitation in the number of cell divisions are caused not by a special program in the cell genome, but by other factors.[6]

The possibility of a programming which leads to aging is also considered in other aging theories. Such a theory was worked out in detail by Dilman.[2] In his opinion, in the human organism, there is a large biological clock which counts off the age according to the appointed moment of the aging mechanism. This mechanism is located in the hypothalamus which oversees the preservation of constancy in the internal medium of the organism, its homeostasis. The hypothalamus fulfills its regulatory operation by means of the endocrine glands.

The aging mechanism starts when there is a constant increase of the threshold sensitivity in the hypothalamus to the level of hormones in blood. It results in an increase in circulating hormone concentration. These increased levels of hormones cause various forms of pathological states which Dilman called the "normal" aging diseases. These diseases promote aging and in the end lead to death.

The preformism principle is undoubtedly present in the selective theories of antibodies formation. The authors of these theories recognize pre-existence, preformation of synthesis mechanism of many antibodies. These theories conform to the facts better than the instructive theories which do not use the principle of preformism. A subsequent analysis is necessary, as far as the somatic mutations in the lymphoid cells are "causal," which are apparently necessary for synthesis of part of the antibodies. The idea of preformism is also present in aging theories that try to establish which structures in an organism direct its aging processes.

The principle of preformism is universal; it is seen in all biological disciplines. It is one of the methods by which the Creator organized the processes of life. The specific ways in which the performism principle is expressed are various. It will take much work to reveal the mechanisms in the different biological sciences. It is my opinion that a paramount task of biological creationists is to study this matter.

-- References --
  1. [1] Burnet, F. M., Cellular Immunology, (Cambridge University press, 1969).
  2. [2] Dilman, V. M., The Law of Deviation of Homeostasis and Diseases of Aging, (Boston, J. Wright PSV Inc., 1981), 380 pp.
  3. [3] Heyflick, L., The Limited In-vitro Lifetime of Human Diploid Cell Strain, (Exp. Cell. Res., 1965, 37, 3) pp. 614-636.
  4. [4] Max, E. E., Immunoglobulin Molecular Genetics in Fundamental Immunology, (W. E. Paul, New York, Raven Press, 1984).
  5. [5] Needham, J. A., History of Embryology, 1934.
  6. [6] Plisko, A., and Gilchrest, B., Growth Factor Responsiveness of Co-cultured Human Fibroblasts Declines With Age, (J. Gerontol, 1983, 38, 3), pp. 513-518.
  7. [7] Silverstain, A. M., The History of Immunology, (Ed. W. E. Paul, New York, Raven Press, 1984).

    * Dr. Kondalenko is with the Institute for Carcinogenesis Research, Russian National Cancer Research Center, Moscow, Russia.

Cite this article: Vladimar F. Kondalenko, Ph.D. 1993. The Principle of Preformism as a Creationist Approach in Immunology and Gerontology. Acts & Facts. 22 (9).

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