trusted online casino malaysia
Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

Life in Three Words

My definition of life has it all.

The most recent NASA mission to Mars has raised the question among scientists, "What constitutes life?"

The Curiosity rover, which will set down on Mars next August, is on a hunt for the necessities of life, primarily, water and/or carbon.

But what if life on other planets could exist without either of these? What kind of life would that be? Would we regard it as such? Would it consider us to be “alive”?

As Carl Zimmer explains in a fascinating and brief article at the Txchnologist website, “there’s no good reason to assume that all life has to be like the life we’re familiar with.” He goes on to observe that “Defining life poses a challenge that’s downright philosophical.”

Mr. Zimmer cites one Portland State University biologist who combed the scientific literature for definitions of life, but stopped “after about 300 definitions.”

He notes a recent effort by an Israeli scientist to boil down the common features of 150 definitions of life into a three-word phrase. Edward Trifonov proposes the definition, “self-reproduction with variations.” Mr. Zimmer agrees that that phrase captures much of the essence of what scientists have generally taken for granted. But not all scientists agree. They still want to see things like “molecules” and whatnot to be included.

According to a Harvard Nobel laureate, “Attempts to define life are irrelevant to scientific efforts to understand the origin of life.” Now that’s interesting. We can discover the origins of something even before we’ve defined the precise nature of what we’re seeking to understand?

The more scientists try to reduce the meaning of life to molecules and reproduction, the more they reduce the meaning of life as it has been historically understood throughout the Western world. I happen to think it is possible to define life in a three-word phrase, but doing so requires a rather more open-minded and even metaphysical approach to understanding life than what materialistic science is willing to admit.

But what does that say? It says that if we’re going to look to science as the final arbiter of how we understand what it means to be a living thing, then we’re going to have be content to have a very minimal view of this great privilege and mystery, one that we are only willing to agree on because we are able, on the terms of our definition, to make and manipulate life as we choose.

Isn’t that a bit hubristic, though? To assume that something can only be “alive” if it fits our human definition of life, which we prefer because we can make and manipulate it? Doesn’t that actually put us in the place historically occupied by God? And is anyone in the least concerned about that?

I want to encourage scientists both to continue trying to define life and to keep seeking it throughout the vast cosmos. But I also hope they might open themselves to perspectives on this critical question that don’t require test tubes, electron microscopes, and a raft of PhDs to nod their approval.

If they ever get to such a place, I’m ready to join the discussion. I’m even ready to rise to Edward Trifonov’s challenge of defining life in three words. My definition of life has it all. This definition transcends mere materiality, proffers hope and vision, and makes it crystal clear what real life consists of and looks like. I confess it might appear to be a decidedly anthropocentric view of life, and would seem to exclude other kinds of living creatures, but, given the length of a scholarly paper to argue my point, I think I could make a good case for my definition.

My three-word definition of life?

Knowing Jesus Christ.

Related texts: John 17.3; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Revelation 22

A conversation starter: “If you could only use three words to define life, what would you say?”

T. M. Moore, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

Subscribe to Ailbe Newsletters

Sign up to receive our email newsletters and read columns about revival, renewal, and awakening built upon prayer, sharing, and mutual edification.