Life Is

Life is the innate, internal ability to respond to the environment rather than just sit there and be destroyed by it. The flow of information sustains life because it senses the environment and cues the living response. The hand on the hot stove is a reasonable example of this process, but very limiting as a concept because we need the whole of the ecosystem information system to stay alive — in addition to our own nervous system.

Life at any level is maintained by:
1. Flow of energy
2. Recycling materials
3. Flow of information that maintains the balance among all these things.
4. The ability to balance all of the above.

To visualize the flow of information through the whole ecosystem, we need to imagine the functions of the various species of organisms within all the smaller ecosystems that make up the whole. Textbooks often use a pond ecosystem as an example, because it is easier to imagine than a gigantic whole that has no inputs or outputs. Ponds, of course, are in contact with land and air, which helps them to keep their balance. The whole earth has no such buffer to help her maintain herself in space.

But here is the pond, and lets take only four species of organisms. An ecosystem with only four species could not possibly maintain a balance, but let’s pretend.

A water weed
A plant-eating bug
A bug-eating animal
A fungus that eats dead things.

The sun shines on the green water weed. It’s job in the ecosystem is to use the energy from the sun to make organic molecules by photosynthesis. It uses carbon dioxide and oxygen to make organic molecules. It uses the energy contained in the organic molecules, and also the carbon and oxygen, and nitrogen that its roots bring from the bottom of the pond, to make the cells of its own body. The plant also does cellular respiration. So the plant is very important to the life of the pond. It has made organic molecules using energy from the sun, nitrogen from the earth and carbon dioxide from the air. It breathes out more oxygen than it takes in. The plant “knows” how to be a plant because of all its genes that work together to cause all the right functions to happen in the right cells at the right time of its development.

The plant-eating bug eats the plant and uses the energy from the organic molecules, and also the carbon and nitrogen and oxygen to make the cells of its own body. It breathes in oxygen to do cellular respiration and it breathes out carbon dioxide, because all the energy for it to stay alive comes from the process of cellular respiration that breaks down the organic molecules of plant that the bug ate. The animal “knows” how to eat plants and also how to digest them and how to make its own cells because of all its genes that work together to cause all the right functions to happen in the right cells at the right time of its development.

The bug-eating animal eats the plant-eating bugs and uses the energy from the organic molecules, and the carbon and nitrogen and oxygen, to make the cells of its own body. It breathes in oxygen and breathes out carbon dioxide and for all the work of staying alive it uses the energy that was stored in the organic molecules of the bugs that it eats. The behaviors of this animal are also directed by all its genes. It “knows” how to catch bugs and also how to digest them and how to make its own cells because of all its genes that work together to cause all the right functions to happen in the right cells at the right time of its development.

All of these organisms die and defecate, and fall to the bottom of the pond, where the fungus digests the remaining organic molecules, releasing the nitrogen back to the soil and more carbon dioxide into the water. It uses the energy that was stored in the organic molecules to do the work of staying alive, until all or almost all of the organic molecules are broken down and there is no more energy available until some other organisms in the pond defecate or die. Even the fungus “knows” how to do what it does because of the genes that control whatever enzymes and other proteins are produced in its body at the right time and in the right place.

So there are three reasons for explaining this tiny ecosystem to you:

1. Such an ecosystem could not survive for very long because there are not enough different kinds of organisms doing all the jobs. For example, think what would happen if the environmental temperature changed so that species of plant could not survive in that pond. The whole system would crash. The more different species are doing the same or similar jobs, the more likely the pond is to stay alive. This is what Rob Hopkins refers to as “resilience.” It is essential to survival of an ecosystem that it maintain a balance among hundreds of different species that have similar functions but slightly different genomes, so that some of them may be able to survive if the conditions change.

2. Do not imagine that these are the only functions necessary for an ecosystem to survive. Another reason why many hundreds of species are required to do the job of maintaining balance in an ecosystem is that there are many hundreds of different jobs to do. I only listed four basic jobs. Energy flow, recycling of carbon and oxygen and recycling of nitrogen. Many hundreds of molecules need to be recycled, and many hundreds of species are required to ensure the proper flow of energy to every portion of any ecosystem so that the whole may stay alive.

Ecosystems can die.

3. Notice it is the behaviors of the organisms that direct the flow of energy and the flow of materials through an ecosystem. Behaviors of organisms are controlled in large part by the genome of the organism, that is all the genes in the organisms. The gene pool of the organism is all the genes in a particular species. The gene pools of all the organisms and all the species in an ecosystem ARE the flow of information through the ecosystem. Again, Rob Hopkins is correct that the resilience of any ecosystem is much greater, the more variation there is in the ocean of all the gene pools of all the organisms in that ecosystem. Just in case some change happens in or around the ecosystem, if there is a lot of variability in that ocean of genes, then it is more likely that the ecosystem can survive, because it is more likely that some organisms will survive that are required to do all the jobs of energy flow and materials recycling.

This IS evolution.

It is simply silly to argue whether or not evolution exists. Evolution is one of the most important laws of nature, along with gravity and the first and second laws of thermodynamics and the law of cause and effect, that the Creator gave to The Creation so that it can exist. If there were no evolution there would be no life on earth today.

Evolution is NOT survival of the fittest individual within a species. It is survival of a species that helps and does not harm the balance of jobs that are required for the whole ecosystem to stay alive.

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