"We are bits of stellar matter that got cold by accident, bits of a star gone wrong."

- Sir Arthur Eddington

"Cogito ergo sum."
(I think; therefore I am)

- Rene Descartes

"The purpose of man's life...is to become an abject zombie who serves a purpose he does not know, for reasons he is not to question."

- Ayn Rand

"We are materialists and atheists, and we glory in the fact."

- Mikhail Bakunin

"Here we are in this wholly fantastic universe with scarcely a clue as to whether our existence has any real significance. No wonder then that many people feel the need for some belief that gives them a sense of security, and no wonder that they become very angry with people like me who say that this is illusory."

- Fred Hoyle

"Nature has no principles. She furnishes us with no reason to believe human life is to be respected. Nature, in her indifference, makes no distinction between good and evil."

- Anatole France

"Once the religious mumbo jumbo surrounding the term 'human' has been stripped away…we will not regard as sacrosanct the life of each and every member of our species, no matter how limited its capacity for intelligent or even conscious life may be."

- Peter Singer, professor of bioethics, Princeton University



What is the nature of life?

Today we are gradually learning to accept the Oparin-Haldane hypothesis that life is only a special and complicated property of matter and that au fond there is no difference between a living organism and lifeless matter. 1

- Cyril Ponnamperuma

The spirit was made for God, the body for the spirit, and the world for the body: the world that it might be brought into subjection to the body, the body that it might be brought into subjection to the spirit, and the spirit that it might be brought into subjection to God.

- Hugo St. Victor


11.1 How do we define life?

There are at least two different perspectives on what is life. One is rooted in chemistry, the other in theology. The theological position acknowledges the chemical nature of life, but it describes life to also have a very significant, spiritual nature. That spiritual nature is expressed only in part through the conduit of our chemical being.

By contrast, the strictly secular perspective recognizes only the chemical nature of existence. The secular perspective acknowledges nothing other than what is measurable or material. This materialist perspective limits its definition of life to only that which some believe slowly evolved from lifelessness. Hence from the very start the secular perspective forbids free inquiry and has essentially foreordained its own conclusion.

Is our judgment of the true nature of life a basic premise that must be accepted on faith, or is there evidence to support one of the two previous positions?

The Bible's position is that we have been created with souls that will live forever even after our present bodies have died. The Bible further states that this spiritual aspect of existence is presently unseen by us. Thus, in terms of supporting the believability of the Bible, the appeal to empirical studies as direct proof of this position is limited.

The ultimate proof of a spiritual dimension is actually the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus set forth the spiritual aspects of life and, as partial proof of who he was and that he knew what he was talking about, promised to return from the dead and did (examined here). So if he was resurrected, then his teachings about life can be considered validated.


It is important to determine which description of the nature of life is most accurate, regardless of difficulty, because it is through our concept of life's nature that we interpret the world around us. This appraisal includes whether or not we believe the Bible to be from God. Ultimately, the biblical view of life and the secular view go back to their respective premises that God either does or does not exist. On that basis, this is the section perhaps least likely to help most readers determine the believability of the Bible. For that reason, questions about the nature of life may not be examined as exhaustively as their profound importance otherwise demands.

2 Life according to science.


Darwin did not rule God out of being the first cause behind evolution. However, the religion or worldview known as humanism, centered around belief in Darwinian evolution, flatly rejects God's existence. Some proponents of this view of life have reasoned that life is a whole whose significance is essentially no greater than the sum of its parts. Arthur O. Lovejoy reflects such thinking in what he calls the principle of continuity.

The principle of continuity states that there is nothing present in a living being that was not already present in the atomic components from which it came. Lovejoy concludes that if there is such a property as life, then even the atoms themselves must contain a proportionate degree of it. This is basically how Ponnamperuma's logic led him to conclude that life is no more than a peculiar property of matter. Other humanistic scientists similarly categorize life to be some strange accident of nature (Jacques Monod), or not much more than a self-replicating system (Francis Crick).


Crick reflects Lovejoy's thoughts about life as a universal property in writing,

Reproducible experiments demonstrating that a rudimentary living system can evolve from a purely chemical nonliving one should strengthen our feeling of unity with nature in the broadest sense, meaning with the atoms and molecules of which all materials on the earth are made. 2

The experiments to which Dr. Crick looks forward have not occurred, although much attention has been given to the 1953 Miller-Urey experiment. Of this, Scott Huse writes,

In their experiment, water vapor, ammonia, methane, and hydrogen were subjected to spark discharges, and simple amino acids were synthesized. Although this experiment demonstrates conclusively that organic compounds can be artificially made, such products do not even remotely approach the synthesis of life. 3

Stephen Meyer has since pointed out that their assumptions made about the early atmosphere are no longer justified. The experimenters created a far more ideal environment for amino acid creation than ever occurs in nature by removing any oxygen and any long-wavelength UV light, as both quickly degrade amino acids. Nevertheless, Arthur C. Custance generously concludes,

Evidently nature has been designed in such a way that under the proper conditions, some at least of the building materials of living substance will come into being as a natural consequence. This does not prove that life would occur spontaneously, since these substances in themselves are dead. What it does show is that the design of the universe is such as to allow for the appearance of life within the framework of its basic materials. 4

If science were to succeed in creating all the proteins and other chemical combinations that are used by living organisms, could we consider this to be life?

Custance continues,

Merely to assemble the components does not give us a living substance unless something else is added. The components themselves, even when all are present and ordered and arranged in the correct manner, do not constitute life. They constitute the housing but not the occupant, the framework but not the animation. A moment's thought makes this obvious: when a body has just died, for a few seconds at least, the organization remains even though animation is gone. It is a vast oversimplification to say that life is 'nothing but' physics and chemistry. 5


Of course, if physics and chemistry are the only tools with which an investigator is using to determine what constitutes life, it is only natural that the answer will be a physiochemical one. However, as Rene Dubos insightfully points out,

The mechanical definition of human life misses the point because what is human in man is precisely what is not mechanical. 6

This thought also reflects the findings of Hans Gaffron who, like Custance, takes special note of the factor of animation:

One may freeze a cell at such low temperature that every reaction ceases. No one could distinguish this cell from a dead one. To see whether it is alive or has the capacity of being alive, one would have to bring the cell back to normal temperature to see whether it still does what it is expected to do: to grow and, particularly, to multiply. So the essence of life is found in the process of living and not in any constituents of living cells. 7


Another property of human life, less obvious than animation, is that of consciousness. Thinkers like Lovejoy who claim that everything is living, often also conclude that everything is conscious. (This is not dissimilar to the beliefs embraced by gaiasophy; the belief that all things are but holistic manifestations of a single spirit-entity.)

Consciousness, the quality of being self-aware, allows us to delay or check our responses from what might be reflex or instinct. Some call this ability free will. However, many actions, in spite of their appearance, are not always products of conscious thought or volition (e.g., Edouard Pfluger's consciousness experiments on decapitated frogs). 8

In summary, here is what various sciences have indicated about the nature of life:

11.3 Life according to the Bible.


The Bible has little to offer in the way of scientific qualifications over the mechanics of life. Scripture's concern for life is not "How does it work?", but is more along the lines of, "Now that you've got it, what are you going to do with it?"

Because the Bible does not dispute our physiochemical existence, the scientific views on this need no rebuttal. The Bible instead introduces an additional dimension of existence outside the scope of repetitious experiments. The ultimate proof of this, once again, is Christ's resurrection from the dead. But until we examine the resurrection claim, we shall at present simply overview the Bible's presentation of life's dual physical-spiritual aspect.

Scripture states that God is the author of all life. He not only created the world, he created life to fill the world. God created humanity and bestowed us with a unique quality:

Then God said, "Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth... male and female He created them. (Gen. 1:26,27 NASB)

Although we have been made in God's image, we are not his equal. Just as a penny is not equally significant to the great president whose likeness it bears, we reflect only a tiny fraction of the nature and person of God. The characteristics we possess include a spirit which will exist forever, the capacity to make moral choices, and the potential for spiritual growth or decline.


The Bible frequently uses blood to symbolize life as Scripture explains,

For as for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life. (Lev. 17:14 NASB)

This is why the sacrifice of Christ's life on our behalf is often simply referred to as the blood of Christ:

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement. (Lev. 17:11 NASB - emphasis mine)

Christ uses the same symbolic terminology to instruct us that we need to be indwelt with his Spirit and have his mindset to truly have life:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:53,54 NASB)


The Bible's most frequent use of the term life is that of a certain quality of life. Though all of humanity was made in the image of God, and whose spirits will live eternally, the phrase "eternal life" is mostly used to refer to our positive continuance and spiritual growth in God's love and presence; both now and after our physical death:

And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent. (John 17:3 NASB)

To this quality of eternal life not all will attain as is indicated:

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2 NASB)

Again, all spirits will exist eternally, but not all will live in the manner that is antithetical to death.

Eternal life is available to us through faith in Christ's atoning death on our behalf. Because this is the only way into God's presence, such life is synonymous with Christ himself:

I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies. (John 11:25 NASB)

Life also has a dimension in which our lives, from the position of being put to death through willing subjection to Christ's teachings, are actual expressions of the living God:

If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it. (Mat 16:24,25 NASB)

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.... (Gal 2:20 NASB)

4 What is the chief end of man?


The strictly empirical view of the purpose of life, such as those put forth by Humanism, and the biblical view are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Humanism and atheism generally object to the idea that life has any purpose other than what an individual might subjectively assign to it. The absence of absolute purpose is by no means every non-Christian's point of view, but those who consider themselves irreligious might reflect on the following statements.

These perspectives are the logical extensions of the no-God/no-Bible premise:

[Man's] origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms: that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave...- all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. 9

- Bertrand Russell

The entire term of humanity is but a minute episode in a scarcely longer history of life on a cooling planet which for the most of its existence knew no life at all. ... In no one knows what time, though it will be soon enough by astronomical clocks, the lonely planet will cool, all life will die, all mind will cease, and it will be as if it had never happened. That, to be honest, is the goal to which evolution is traveling, that is the 'benevolent' end of the furious living and furious dying... All life is no more than a match struck in the dark and blown out again. The final result... is to deprive it completely of meaning. 10

- Leslie Paul


By contrast, life according to the Bible is of great significance and, in one sense, is profoundly simple. The Westminster Confession, which is chief among various summaries of Protestant interpretations of biblical doctrines, summarizes that our chief end is to glorify God. God created humanity in order that he might love us and share with us his glory. He also created us so that we might love and glorify him in return. To this end, we were created as a freely acting creatures with no overriding compulsion to return God's love.

The Bible closes with glimpses of the future; glimpses which reveal another purpose to life. The Bible foretells that the universe will come to an end in which all of creation will be destroyed. In a final judgment based largely on the events which ensued on earth, those who rejected Christ will pass into eternal punishment, and those who believed in Christ will pass into a new heavens and a new earth (Rev 21:3,4).

It is very interesting to observe how a professor of theoretical physics, Paul Davies, also arrives at the conclusion of a possible end to the universe simply by the following reasoning:

If the universe has been designed by God, then it must have a purpose. If that purpose is never achieved, God will have failed. If it is achieved, the continuation of the universe will be unnecessary.11

According to the Bible, life does have a purpose. That purpose is to please God. How we know what pleases him is by studying those things he has revealed to us about himself. Those revelations are the writings of the Bible.



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NEXT: Have prophecies of the Bible ever come true?

See also:

Would discovering life on other planets totally destroy the Bible?

Where did the earth come from - the biblical scenario

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Our treatment of life, and of one another, is ultimately directed by our belief about life; its nature and purpose if any.

This section compares the different beliefs aobut life between those who believe it to be a purposeless accident, and those who believe it to be the result of intentional design.

2. Life according to science
3. Life according to the Bible
4. What is the chief end of man?