IN SEARCH OF A LEGAL
DEFINITION OF LIFE

By Bhakta Eric Johnson
Edited
by Kailasa Candra dasa

Any person who considers himself a free-thinking individual and conscientious human being has at some time considered what life is and when it begins. Such a consideration becomes unavoidable in determining a mother's "right" to abort her unborn child.

It is practically impossible to avoid the two opposing viewpoints of this hotly-debated issue. On one hand, we have the religious fundamentalists with their rigid faith in an unseen creator God, Who has given the inalienable right-to-life for an ill-defined entity commonly called the soul. On the other hand, we find those people who feel that life should be determined on the basis of scientifically observable phenomena. Although this latter group may appear to be more objective and enlightened, they inevitably base their arguments on various popularly-held "scientific" theories--such as the "big bang" and Darwinian evolution.

The very reason an idea remains a scientific theory (as opposed to a scientific fact) is that either it has not yet been verified or that it is impossible to verify. Modern science considers verified meaning to be what can be accepted on the basis of some tangible, observable phenomena. There is obviously no possibility of our materially observing what happened at the time the universe began. Therefore, any conceptions derived from such unverifiable theories are also based on some type of pseudo scientific dogma.

The laws of nature, after all, are acting on everyone--whether we believe there is a God or not. It behooves us to determine what is just and factual on the basis of something observable and understandable to any person of sound mind.

The founding fathers of the United States conceived of this country as a free democracy and a government of laws rather than men. It was therefore called a democratic REPUBLIC, the idea being that truth and rights should be determined on the basis of higher philosophical principles--in accordance with nature's laws--and not on the changing, arbitrary views of the loudest, the strongest, or the biggest.

Life is a very observable phenomena. Unfortunately, our legal system is currently unable to formulate any kind of definition based upon a commonly agreed, observable, and understandable phenomena. The shouting match over abortion is a mockery of our legal system. The question of what life is and when it begins is not something to be decided on the basis of sentimental public opinion. It is the DUTY of the philosophers, the jurists, and the scientists to come up with a definition in accordance with observable principles of nature. Such a definition--free from any kind of dogma--can then be understood by the general mass of people, despite the fact that they do not commonly think in terms of such principles.

A common experience in life is trying to create order out of chaos--and to maintain that order. In fact, for practically every person, life generally refers to his or her struggle to acquire various necessities, luxuries, and states of well being. These are obtained according to higher or lower standards of order. A person who is unable to keep his life in order is a failure. Parents consciously try to train their children to avoid becoming such a person. The head of any household is considered the leader because he or she is constantly aware of maintaining the family with food, shelter, protection, monetary income, transportation, education, etc. It is not that these arrangements will automatically create themselves or even maintain themselves. The natural course of arrangements, without constant attention, inevitably deteriorates. Parents sometimes call this phenomena "checking on the kids."

Indeed, anything that we refer to as living is engaged in either creating or maintaining some sort of arrangements to acquire the necessities of life. Animals generally require eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. Plants require at least moisture. When such struggle ceases, and when the bodily organic compounds built on the basis of such struggle deteriorate, we commonly say that the body is no longer living. Or we say that it is dead.

The measurement of the order or disorder of a particular situation is defined in scientific terms by something called "entropy." The tendency for any unmaintained material arrangement to naturally deteriorate is one of the foundational precepts of modern physics and chemistry--the second law of thermodynamics. Stated succinctly, it says that the entropy, or disorder of the universe, is always increasing. Physicists, chemists, and especially parents, however, can never pay enough attention to this principle. In layman's terms, it is referred to as "Murphy's Law."

Besides the practical, common-place application of paying the light bills and phone bills, entropy and the second law of thermodynamics are observable in nature when something like perfume is spilled. Once no more is spilled, the smell--which was initially quite strong--gradually decreases to the point where it is no longer noticeable. Chemically speaking, the molecules of the perfume are suspended in the gaseous air and chemically react with our nostril membranes. The intensity of the reaction in our nostrils falls below the level at which we can notice it. What has happened is that the compacted collection of scent-producing molecules, in the form of the perfume liquid, has become dispersed into the apparent chaos of the gaseous air mixture.

Without the unwavering, all-encompassing application of this second law of thermodynamics, we would cease to breathe. The intrinsic quality of material things to disperse or fall apart prevents all the air molecules in a given room from suddenly compacting in a certain place, thereby leaving a vacuum elsewhere. Any type of vacuum will fill up automatically. This is another way of understanding the universal principle of this second law.

At this point, we can begin to define the phenomena of life. We all accept that material things are composed of tiny atomic particles which interact by combining, breaking apart, and colliding according to certain laws. These laws are fixed. We call these atomic particles and structures "dead matter." Without the presence of something we shall (at this point) call "the living force," dead matter is inextricably bound to and limited by these laws. One of the most prominent of these laws is the aforementioned tendency to chaos, i.e., the second law of thermodynamics.

It is our hypothesis--stated at this point in broad terms--that it is the symptom or quality of what we call life to reverse the natural tendency of dead matter to disperse and become chaotic.

Take, for example, the seed of a plant. Upon being placed in the proper soil and moisture conditions of dead matter, the living force of the plant begins to extract needed molecular compounds from the chaos of the soil and thus builds the stem and, later, the leaves of its body. In the animal kingdom, this ordering tendency is extended beyond the creation of a body to the creation of nests or burrows. These dwelling places are nothing but maintained arrangements of dead matter created, again, from disorder or chaos. We human beings further refine this process by creating machines from dead matter. Without periodic maintenance by the human living force, such machines, being composed of only dead matter, fall apart into--dysfunctional chaos.

Living organisms are generally dependent upon dead matter for nourishment, as opposed to the life of the things they eat. Although most living beings eat or take in food composed of live cells, any life in the cells of the food is destroyed in the digestive process of the eating organism. In this way, what is actually taken into the circulatory system of the eating organism is simply matter. We can therefore understand that the life of the eating organism is not something acquired from the life of the things it eats. We can also observe that the higher we go up on the food chain, the greater we will find the order-creating ability of the organism.

It is the unfortunate tendency of fertile brains to take some small fact and expand it to the point where it obscures everything--up to and including the entire cosmos. It is extremely difficult to explain how life could have at one time originated from some accidental or chance chemical combination. The two phenomena, life and chemicals, are diametrically opposed. The "primordial soup" of chaotic chemicals (which is, again, only theorized to have been the origin of everything) would be the state toward which any current arrangement of chemicals is now developing.

The question which therefore must be asked is, "Which way are we going?" Either the cosmos is becoming more ordered or it is becoming less ordered. Only the CHEATING BRAIN will take shelter of contradiction nowhere currently observed and say that, at one time, the order or the universe was increasing--but it is now decreasing. Since all of our observations lead us to accept that the order of dead chemical arrangements tends to decrease, we should reject the idea that life, or order, originated by some chance combination in a disordered "primordial soup."

The molecular structures of even a one-celled creature are complex. Such structures randomly combining in a primordial universe--where disorder is always increasing--is completely illogical. There is no observable demonstration of this. Even if we accept such an unreasonable event to have happened, what is it that kept the chance chemical combination of "life" from again returning to the initial state of primordial chaos? If we further accept that such "life" maintained itself, what are the chances of it developing the ability to reproduce a new order, in spite of the surrounding tendency towards chaos? If we continue in this way, is it plausible that such reproducing "life" then evolves into a more complex form--which also reproduces (despite the surrounding tendency towards disorder) and maintains ad-infinitum? What are the chances of this?

We might as well believe some drunk when he says that everything is his dream, and that he is the only one who actually exists in the world. And where is any remaining evidence of the original "primordial soup?" How did the "primordial soup" originate? What set off the original "spark" which triggered the creation of life? At the present moment all of these questions provoke only irrational and absurd answers.

Faced with these colossal contradictions, we can only conclude that the big-bang-primordial-soup-Darwinian-hypothesis of creation is implausible. The hypothesis that there is a Supremely Powerful God, Who created and supervises the universe is logical, especially in comparison to the primordial soup disorder-to-order hypothesis. Either hypothesis involves the acceptance of something inconceivable to material observations, but one is far more rational than the other.

Over and above all of these conclusions, we have the concrete fact that scientists have yet to even come close to creating life from dead matter--even the most rudimentary form of life. Until such proof is actually presented, there is no reason such theories as the "big bang" and "primordial soup" should be given any more status than science fiction.

Despite all of these arguments, contradictory theories have been widely propagated as factual in our modern educational system. Widespread acceptance of such theories has rendered modern "thinkers" helpless in being able to distinguish how life--outside of untenable theories--actually defines itself. If we accept as fact the proposition that dead chemicals have inconceivably come to life at a certain point, we are then faced with the dilemma of determining when the chemicals are dead and when the same chemicals are alive. The same chemicals, after all, are present both in the body which has "died" and the body we consider to be "alive." This bewilderment is further compounded when we try to determine whether or not the life of an unborn fetus belongs to its chemicals or whether its chemicals (and their "life" ) are just part of the mother's chemicals. As a result of such bewilderment, we have the current legal morass wherein the month of "life" supposedly begins in some advanced stage of pregnancy.

The real cause of all this bewilderment and ignorance is the fact that practically everyone has FOOLISHLY accepted various theories, shot through with bewildering contradictions, and has called this "education." Logically, if one begins with something contradictory and bewildering, any result which is based upon that initial assumption can only be more contradictory and bewildering. If we begin a mathematical calculation with an error, we can add, multiply or do anything after that, but the end result can only lead to error. Forcing students to accept unreasonable contradictions can only encourage them to overlook logic. Such stupidity is not the goal of real education.

Still, we only see what we want to see. This bad habit allows some small fact to distort our entire perspective. The intelligent, first-class scientist avoids this tendency by realizing that the real enemy to uncovering truth is his own faulty presuppositions. Findings which contradict his expectations will be given preference over those which encourage his suppositions. Why? Because he wants to avoid the pitfall of superficially finding only what he initially hoped to find. He consciously tries to assume as little as possible about his results. The inferior scientist, on the other hand, assumes that he could never be wrong. He thinks that his theories, at the smallest evidence, are proven correct. Conversely, in order to avoid the pain of being embarrassed, he allows anything which opposes his convictions to be discarded.

For example, suppose a child wants a new radio. He wants a new radio, so he is not motivated to find out that the old radio in the basement is working. He turns on the power switch, and, when he hears no sound, immediately concludes that the radio is broken. The unbiased mother, on the other hand, does not accept that conclusion. She feels that the child deserves to have a radio, but, at the same time, wants to avoid spending money on something the child is likely to break or have stolen. She checks to see if the unit is plugged in and, if it is, whether or not the electrical outlet is functioning. She may even go to the extent of taking the unit into a shop before declaring it useless. The unmotivated attitude of the mother is clearly more likely to determine the actual condition of the radio.

In the same way, if we want to try to understand life and its origins, we must first examine our personal prejudices. How are they influencing our choice of theories and expected results? For example, if we have conclusively decided that God and the soul cannot exist, we may likely theorize that life is merely a product of chemical combination We will ignore how the same chemical processes won't work when the body is dead, even though all the chemicals that were present when the body was alive are still there. We will ignore how even the most foolproof medicine cannot always save someone. We will stubbornly insist that scientists will one day create life by building DNA molecules in their laboratories--despite limitless past failures in such efforts.

The more discriminating inquirer must question the basis of his theory when faced with inherent contradictions and failures surrounding it. He will try to determine how serious he actually is in trying to understand life and its origins. He will introspectively examine himself to determine if he actually is more interested in finding truth or in merely forming a theory.

For those who are inwardly trying to avoid the truth of their own failures (by surrendering to a domineering "spiritual" leader and his followers) no argument challenging their faith is given any consideration. As stated previously, the facts and forces of nature are acting on everyone. Life exists and comes about in the same way for everyone, independent of whether we believe or do not believe in God. If we want to form a legal definition of life acceptable to everyone, we will have to consider the points of contention according to the forces and truths everyone knows are present, not according to some brainwashed propaganda by a cult of fanatics.

The conception of a God or soul is not contrary to honest, objective, scientific research. The determination of spiritual existences may not be possible for the vast majority of people at the present time. Simply because we cannot see, touch, hear, or sensually experience something does not necessarily mean that it does not exist. It may be that we have just not developed instruments sensitive enough to perceive that phenomena. Without a converter and a transmitter we cannot experience radio waves or the earth's magnetic field with our gross bodily senses. If we cannot sensually know something directly, we should be honest enough to admit it. We should openly say that we cannot currently demonstrate if there is a soul or God.

The phenomena of life is taking place in an overall environment or universe of dead matter. We can consider this earth planet to be a kind of thermodynamic system. Radiant energy from the sun is being transmitted into the earth's atmosphere at a tremendous rate. According to the sun's position in the sky at a particular place, the weather conditions are varying roughly according to the seasonal cycle of winter, spring, summer, or fall. Except near the poles, the day and night cycle repeats approximately every twenty-four hours. The dead matter of earth reacts according to this twenty-four hour cycle, along with longer seasonal cycles. According to certain specific conditions of radiant energy, temperature, humidity, type of atmosphere and soil, each species of the phenomena of life will propagate, reproduce, and maintain itself. Some species are alive only a few moments. Others live for thousands of years.

Humans are required to accept some sort of seed from their parents in order to come into existence. Without this, life would be coming from dead matter. We have already refuted this MYTH . We defy anyone to present an example of a child coming into existence without a female parent organism. Even the incipient bodies created from parents consist of vastly complex organic molecules.

Any living body is taking in various chemicals and energy in the form of food, water, air, and sunlight. These are being broken down and/or transformed into organic chemical compounds that will build or nourish the cells of that particular living organism. At the same time, other cells of the body are dying and the chemicals that formerly made up those cells are leaving the greater organism through some sort of waste removal system. Over a certain time span (approximately seven years in human bodies), all of the cells of the body will have died and been replaced by new cells. Even when some cells don't die, the chemicals that make up the cell are constantly changing as they pass through the cell membrane.

Therefore, we cannot define the "life" of the particular organism at any given time to be the chemicals or dead matter that make up the cells of its body. Water is constantly evaporating through the skin. Old skin cells are constantly flaking off. When we blow our nose, urinate, or pass stool, the remnants of thousands of dead cells leave the body. A certain percentage of whatever is eaten or drunk becomes converted into living tissue. Oxygen molecules from the air are entering our bloodstream with every breath. We can also see the body changing from youth to old age. All of this involves massive changes of chemicals. The body of the old man is difficult to identify as the infant he once was in the crib, because the chemical constitution of each of these stages of life is different.

Chemically speaking then, "life" is quite elusive. When asked what his thoughts were now that he was arrested and going to be executed, Socrates replied, "First you will have to catch ME."

When someone dies, we all say "He's gone." But what is it that we consider now gone? All the chemicals that made up the (formerly) living organism are still present; they are not gone. It is the cause of the process that is gone! We all commonly say "my" body. Who is the I saying "my," if the body is the life itself?

The chemicals, even of a living body, are always dead. The chemicals may temporarily become combined in this or that organic cell structure. At all times, however--whether before, during, or after their use--they, in and of themselves, are always dead. Only the employment of those particular chemicals by the individual organism makes them appear alive. Scientists have yet to demonstrate anything to the contrary. Despite countless failures, no one has been able to create a living thing by simply combining chemicals.

It is irrational to conclude that the mental, emotional, and physical manifestations of life are merely products of chemical combinations. The chemicals supposedly causing those manifestations are, after all, constantly coming and going from the body.

Some describe life as a type of unseen field, which temporarily utilizes some chemicals and rejects other chemicals. The evidence of the existence of this field is its ability to convert the chemicals of dead matter into order within its own body. This field is therefore not something that can be defined in terms of the periodic table of elements. This does not mean that this field should remain relegated to an inconceivable category, however. Just as we have studied and learned the properties of unseen electrical and magnetic fields, we should now attempt to come to a similar understanding of the properties of what we call this unseen life field.

For instance, any child can be convinced that it is the unseen field of a magnet that causes iron filings to assume an orderly pattern. The filings themselves are NEVER identified to be the magnetic field itself. In this way, we can see that most people already accept the concept of an invisible field capable of affecting tangible arrangements. Some attempt has already been made by parapsychologists to describe or photograph this field (its aura) by using Kirlian Photography. The aura may be connected with the psychological qualities of desire and will within this field.

We have proposed that the actual living force behind chemical manifestations of life is not definable in mere physical and/or chemical terms. Accepting this, we cannot necessarily say that the properties of the life field must be bound by the laws of matter as we now know them. For example we cannot necessarily expect that such an individual life field is unable to exceed the speed of light. Indeed, there are indications that the life field can travel at tremendous speeds. Evidence of this is presented in studies of the speed of invisible, telepathic thoughts communicated around the world. Neither can we definitely say that two such non-chemical fields cannot occupy the same physical location.

This brings up the psychological quantities, which appear to be outside the laws of chemical phenomena. It is well known that the parameters and laws governing such quantities are very difficult to describe, according to any type of mathematical model. The answer to this difficulty should be obvious: continuing to limit the phenomena of life within the realm of chemicals has outgrown its usefulness.

Even if the properties of the non-chemical life field are still largely unknown, they can be discerned by rational conclusions about this life field. Laws may be, for the most part, concerned with the way things manifest in the physical world--but law is not limited to this. Non-chemical qualities, such as motives, are well-accepted in the language of civil law.

Lawyers will often analyze a situation according to what can and what cannot be concluded, based on the available evidence. Often the realization that previously assumed conclusions no longer apply enables lawyers the chance to piece together the actual occurrences leading to a certain event. The burden of proof is on those who assert that two non-chemical fields (such as mind and life) cannot occupy the same physical location. After all, many autonomous parasitic worms and bacteriological organisms occupy the intestines of larger living organisms. Stated succinctly, life is that non-chemical field, descending from a reproducing chain of reproductive entities, which can be observed to be creating order from the chaos of dead matter.

This definition does not require anyone to make a distinction between humans and non-humans. Such distinctions, based solely on the whims of theological hierarchy, are not based on anything observable. Such distinctions are also quite irrational and egocentric. Most human beings, after all, are solely concerned with the same animal necessities of eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. In fact, though we may disguise them with so many affluent refinements, the actual human engagements are similar to those of animals. This definition of life, therefore, emphasizes an all-inclusive understanding of the rights of ALL living beings.

The chemicals composing the bodies of the mother and the child are never alive in themselves. The chemicals are only being temporarily utilized by the life fields of those entities. It is not necessarily impossible for two such non-chemical fields to occupy the same physical location. They may therefore be acting conjointly and simultaneously to build and maintain their bodies from the chemicals they mutually utilize. What sustenance is provided through the umbilical cord by the mother organism becomes substantially transformed and ordered by her digestive and breathing capabilities. The fetus, however, is further transforming that sustenance and building and maintaining the living tissue of his or her own body. The fetus can therefore be observed to be converting the chaos of dead matter to form his or her body JUST LIKE EVERY OTHER LIVING THING IS DOING!

The fetus is certainly descending from a chain of reproductive entities. Therefore , the fetus is an autonomous living entity from the moment this fetus is able to build living tissue from the dead matter supplied by the mother. This event begins functioning from the moment of conception. The zygote is therefore entitled to be protected by the laws of society. It is clearly a living but unconscious being sleeping within the "house" of his or her mother's body.

It cannot be said that the fetus is dead simply because it does not move. The fetus has the potential to move. In contrast, once the ordering of matter by the living being ceases, there is no chance that body will ever move again. Therefore, as long as the fetus is growing or creating bodily tissue from the raw materials supplied by the mother, only the ignorant will say that it is dead. The "movement" definition of life is vague, insufficient, and ultimately contradictory to the second law of thermodynamics.

The presence of precise order in the revolutions and orbits of various planets in a universe which is constantly moving towards disorder indicates the presence of some extremely powerful living being or beings maintaining this order. Such order is not caused by a series of accidents.

Many people dismiss the existence of a Supreme God--superior to all other controllers--simply because He cannot be seen. But even on earth, many people, during their entire lives, never meet their representatives or presidents. In past decades, many such civilians never even saw a picture of their governmental controllers. A sane person, even if he has no specific knowledge of it, will conclude that there must be a government in a country when he sees vehicles following certain standards and traffic lights. Business conducted on the basis of an accepted currency is also further evidence that there must be government maintaining order in the region. Powerful yet subtle universal controllers can similarly be inferred.

The conception of life as an ill-defined spiritual soul has been replaced by a so-called non-dogmatic conception. The "outdated" soul conception supposedly relied too strongly on something inconceivable. But what was put forward as the more enlightened, scientific understanding demanded a very irrational type of faith. It was based on theories which could never be proven. Besides this deficiency, these theories contradict basic observable laws of nature. The result of all this modern "scientific" dogma is that the current legal definition of life is bewildering, contradictory, and unsatisfactory. It is also immoral and unethical.

The dogmatic "scientific" conception needs to be replaced. This will free the legal system from bewildering ramifications of unprovable, contradictory theories of life. Government should institute a clear definition of life based upon what is rational and ultimately legal:

Life is that non-chemical field, descending from a reproducing chain of reproductive entities, which can be observed to be creating order from the chaos of dead matter.

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Quotes from the books of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada are copyright by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust