What Defines an Organism? Biologists Say 'Purpose.' | The Institute for Creation Research
What Defines an Organism? Biologists Say 'Purpose.'

David Queller and Joan Strassmann, evolutionary biologists at Rice University, recently proposed a new way to describe what makes an organism a unified whole. They defined an organism as an entity made up of parts that cooperate well for an overall purpose, and do so with minimal conflict. But how do parts like these get together, and where does purposeful behavior come from?

When considering the human form from the perspective of Queller and Strassman’s hypothesis, “all the body parts, from the macro level (arms and legs) to the micro (cells) work nicely together with very little conflict.”1 And this is what makes each human a single “organism.”

Based on this pattern, the researchers have concluded that such entities as honeybee colonies are also “organisms.” This is because all the bees, as individual parts of the system, work together for an overall purpose with a maximum of cooperation and a minimum of conflict. This stands in contrast to man-made cities, which, while requiring cooperation, are “far too full of conflicts.”1

Thus, these biologists described organisms not in terms of the degree of relatedness of their parts, nor what those parts are―whether biochemicals, cells, bodies, or individuals within a colony. Rather, they defined organisms based on the degree of unity of those parts and the relative absence of conflict between them.

Whatever they are made of, each part of an organism “seems to know its place, taking on a specialized duty that contributes to the survival of the whole.” In this context, even a symbiotic partnership between multiple species, like the bobtail squid cooperating with bioluminescent bacteria,2 could be seen as an organism.1

But defining organisms based on an immaterial attribute like “unification for a purpose” exposes a conflict between the researchers’ theory of origins and their findings. In their technical report published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, they stated, “All organisms originated from groups of simpler units that now show high cooperation among the parts and are nearly free of conflicts.”3 So, on the one hand, they presumed that all organisms came about through purposeless laws of chemistry and physics (on which simple-to-complex evolution is supposedly based), and on the other hand, they observed extremely well-organized and purposeful entities in the living world.

If organisms came from purposeless beginnings, then why do they show signatures of purpose? In other words, how could such obvious purpose have come from anything other than a purposive agent? Perhaps this dilemma is the reason why researchers like these authors recognize that “a major task is to explain such cooperative entities.”3 And that task promises to be impossible if conducted strictly within a paradigm that arbitrarily omits a purposeful entity as an origins option right from the start.

It is apparent from the very definition of “purpose” that motive and intellect underlie its existence. The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines purpose as “the action or fact of intention, an aim.”4 All the parts of an organism work together―with dazzling efficiency―to live and reproduce. That these purposes were the result of intention and not the result of natural laws is strikingly plain.

Viewing organisms in terms of their organizational plan instead of the structure of their parts is innovative and refreshing, but it also calls for innovative and refreshing views of origins. This evidence, interpreted straightforwardly, agrees with the conclusion of one of Job’s accusers (who at least got this right): “Speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the LORD hath wrought this?”5

References

  1. What is the meaning of ‘one’? Rice University press release, November 9, 2009.
  2. Sherwin, F. 2005. Creation, Corruption, and Cholera. Acts & Facts. 35 (11).
  3. Queller, D. C., and J. E. Strassmann. 2009. Beyond society: the evolution of organismality. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Science. 364 (1533): 3143-3155.
  4. The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Vol. 2. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 2421.
  5. Job 12:8-9.

* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research.

Article posted on December 10, 2009.

The Latest
CREATION PODCAST
The Secrets of the Cell | The Creation Podcast: Episode 29
Cells are the basic organisms of life and in some groups they are organisms. What is a cell? What goes on inside of a cell? Did all life come from a...

NEWS
Fossil Footprints Fit Flood Ice-Age Model
Anthropologists Thomas Urban (Cornell University) and Daron Duke (Far Western Anthropological Research Group) recently found preserved human footprints...

NEWS
Deep-Sea Lobster Microbiome
Research continues regarding complex and amazing microbiomes found on or within a variety of creatures.1 The microbiome is a microbial community...

NEWS
"Massively Exciting" Fossil Find
Now this is exciting: “Geologists have found the fossil of the earliest known animal predator. The 560-million-year-old specimen is the first of...

NEWS
Copulation Didn't Kill the Frogs, the Flood Did
Evolutionary scientists recently studied 168 frog fossils from central Germany, concluding that the frogs all drowned while aggressively mating. They claim...

CREATION PODCAST
What Can We Learn From Fossils? | The Creation Podcast: Episode...
Is evolution seen in the fossil record? Why are fossilized terrestrial animals found buried with marine creatures? What conditions were needed to form...

NEWS
Be Not Deceived: Spiritually Train to Overcome Secular Science...
Thorough instruction and discipline are the hallmark qualities of a strong military training program. Well-trained soldiers can think on their feet, adapt...

CREATION.LIVE PODCAST
Jurassic World: Dominion - Fun Movie, Bad Science | Creation.Live...
Covered in feathers, running faster than cars, and living in cold climates...these are just a few of the ideas introduced in Jurassic World: Dominion....

NEWS
CET Model in Plants Is Clearly Seen
Plant scientists have known for decades that plants aren’t just static entities. The half-million or more species of plants in the world display...

NEWS
Half-Billion-Year-Old Fossil Brains?
Once again, a recent and remarkable fossil discovery has been made challenging evolutionary theory. A strange arthropod (i.e. a radiodont) has been found...