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Saturday, 14 April 2007

The Legend of a "Primitive Cell"

I was at the shop the other day when a technician arrived to fine-tune a complicated new piece of equipment I'd purchased. He introduced himself as John. We chatted as he went to work, and it soon became apparent that this was a man committed to materialistic naturalism, and proud of it. Not being of that persuasion myself, I decided I'd try to see just how rational was his attachment to this particular philosophy. I knew what he charged for his time, but I figured that this conversation might just be worth it in eternal value.

"So, do you believe that every cell in your body descended from a single cell that formed at the moment of conception?" He readily admitted that he did. So did I, but this is where our views were about to diverge.

"Do you also believe that the single-celled organism floating in a warm, watery environment that once was you, was itself ultimately descended from a similarly floating primordial single-celled organism, and that all life on Earth has likewise descended from that single primitive cell?" Yes, he admitted that he did, and with as much a sense of the obvious as he had displayed in the first answer he gave me.

"Well, that's very interesting." I responded. "It reminds me of something that happened to me back when I was a boy growing up on the farm. We had dairy cows, and it was my job to go and bring them in from the pasture every time we milked. Well, I didn't exactly have to bring them, I just had to go out there and sort of let them know that it was milking time, and they took it from there.

"You know, it's an interesting thing about cattle; they always walk right behind the cow in front of them, and before long there's a narrow path worn haphazardly through the pasture which they continue to tread until somebody fences it off before it can turn into a gully. Well, this one summer morning I was following the cows in to the barn when I noticed something very odd in the path. It was dark and kind of oval-shaped, and at first I thought it might be a cow pie. And I suppose it might have started off as one. But when I first noticed it, the cows were all carefully stepping around it, which they wouldn't have bothered to do with a cow pie. It was all foamy in the middle and frothy around the edges, and seemed to seethe and bubble as I watched it.

"Well, the cows were halfway to the barn by this time, so I had to leave behind that interesting blob and hurry in to help with the milking. But that evening I looked for it, and sure enough, it was still there--and the cows were all still carefully stepping around it. It looked about the same as when I had first seen it, but it was hard to tell for sure as I could see it still seething and churning before my very eyes. I watched for it every day after that, wondering all the while just what it could be. The cows never stepped on it, and a patch of grass began to grow up around it. By the end of the summer, it was barely visible.

"That was my last summer at home, and in all the excitement of leaving home the next year I kind of forgot about that little black foamy mass out in the cow path. In fact, it wasn't until years later that I thought to go out and look for it, and by then the cow path had been fenced off and was all grown up to weeds. I had a good idea of where to look for it, but it just didn't seem worth the bother. But two years ago when our family farm went up for sale, I decided to track down that spot once and for all. With my dad's help and using some of his old photographs, I was able to pinpoint the spot were it had been, and I headed down there with a shovel and a rake.

"After a few false starts I found the spot and dug it up. I was so amazed at what I found that I put it right in my pocket, and I've carried it with me ever since. Would you like to see it?"

Well, his answer to this third question was just as positive as the first two had been, so I reached into my pocket and pulled out my cell phone. The screen lit up as I flipped it open, and John turned his gaze upward to look straight into my eyes with an expression of pure incredulity.

"Pretty interesting development from a piece of pasture plop, wouldn't you say?"

"BULLoney!" he sputtered. That's a cell phone!"

"Cow pie, what you said, whatever," I went on. "I suppose you could call it a "primitive cell". And it is primitive, all right. It holds more information in it than all of NASA's computers did put together back when they sent Man to the Moon, but that is still a minuscule amount of information compared to what was contained in the one-celled organism floating around in a warm, watery environment that once was you. In fact, it's far more primitive than any one of the trillions of cells in your body right now. It can't repair or replicate itself, and it doesn't contain any information whatsoever on how to make another one just like it.

"Well John, I'm not going to ask you which is more incredible, your Primitive Cell story or my Primitive Cell story. I don't think much of the Argument from Incredulity anyhow. But I do want to tell you one more way you are different than this primitive cell I carry around in my pocket. You see, whenever this cell rings, I know somebody else is trying to get a hold of me. There's never any chance that it's just my cell phone calling up its owner for a chat. But you're different, John. You have a built-in capability of communicating directly with your Designer. And he's listening for your call, John. It's why he made you."

John didn't have anything to say in response to that. His cocky attitude was suddenly gone, and as he turned to try to work out the bugs in my primitive piece of shop equipment, I could see that the intricately designed equipment inside his skull was finally starting to process some very important information.

--with thanks to R. Z., who experienced it, B.K., who related the account, and to D.B., who embellished and published it.

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