Caution: Organs at Work - Part III: The Liver

A single-celled organism is like a microscopic island of life in that it can get what it needs to live through its plasma membrane from the surrounding water in which it is suspended.  All of the genetic material in the DNA of a single-celled organism contains enough information to keep it alive and allows it to reproduce.  When it comes to questions about the origin of life, the first problem that needs to be solved is how the basic building block of life, the cell, with its complex machinery came into being?  It is the rare person who understands cellular biology well enough to defend themselves from evolutionary biologists who claim that the irreducibly complex systems within the cell that allow it to live and reproduce came about solely by chance and laws of nature alone.             
In contrast, the human body is usually surrounded by air and consists of trillions of cells, most of which are not in direct contact with its environment.  Yet, the cells of the body need many of the same chemicals to survive as does the single-celled organism.  Rather than being like a microscopic island of life, surrounded by water containing what it needs to live, the body is like a huge land mass where each cell is separated from the environment by other cells.  So how do the cells of the body get what they need?     

The human body is a multi-system organism made up of many different organ systems which together brings in, delivers and controls the chemicals its cells need to live.  In other words, the different organ systems do for the body what a single-celled organism can do on its own.  This means that each cell needs the other cells of the body to survive.  Based on our understanding of how life actually works, all of the genetic material in the DNA of our cells must contain not only enough information for them to survive and reproduce but also for the body as a whole to survive and reproduce as well.  When it comes to questions about the origin of life, after explaining how the cell came into being, the next problem that needs to be solved is how multi-system organisms (like us) came into being.

When Darwin proposed his theory and implied that there was just one or a few life forms from which it had descended, not only did he not know about the genetic information needed for single-celled organisms to survive and reproduce, he also didn't know that each cell in a multi-system organism contains the same complement of genetic information but only uses part of it to do what it is supposed to do to keep the body alive.  So, inherent to this question of the origin of life is how single-celled organisms, through the gradual development of intermediates, acquired new genetic material that anticipated the extra-cellular needs of multi-system organisms like us. 

Amoebae can get the chemicals they need to live from the water surrounding them but clinical experience teaches that the human body needs properly working respiratory and gastrointestinal systems and a cardiovascular system with enough blood pressure and blood flow to obtain and transport the chemicals it needs to its trillions of cells.  In addition, it also needs different hormonal and neurohormonal systems to keep them under control.  So, how did all of these organic systems come into being while allowing transitional life forms to survive within the laws of nature each step along the way?  As opposed to hiding behind the obscure intricacies of cell function, evolutionary biologists cannot hide behind what is obvious to anyone who has experienced illness and knows what it takes for death to take place.  Being multi-system organisms ourselves, with intellects that are ordered to the truth, by using the clinical knowledge of how the body works and how it dies, it is possible for most people to defend themselves from the neo-Darwinian idea that the complexity and diversity of life has come about by chance and the laws of nature alone.  Let's start right from the beginning.                  

Man: The Multi-System Organism

Each person comes into being when the sperm of their father joins with the egg of their mother to form a one-celled new human being, called a zygote.  Half of the DNA in the nucleus of the zygote comes from the father and half of it comes from the mother.  The DNA in the nucleus of each of the body’s trillions of cells is the same.  Within a few days the zygote doubles several times, going from one, to two, to four, to eight, and then to sixteen or more cells, becoming what is called an embryo.  The embryo migrates and then nestles into the lining of the mother’s uterus and becomes connected to her body through the placenta and the umbilical cord.  At this stage the new human being is unable to live outside of its mother’s uterus because, unlike the single-celled organism, it cannot provide itself with, and control, the chemicals it needs to live.  This placental connection allows the developing embryo to receive the chemicals it needs while the mother's body maintains control of them to keep her baby and herself alive as well.  Over the following weeks, the cells of the embryo, grow and develop into the different organ systems of the body and is then called a fetus.

In the embryo, all of the cells look alike and all they do is grow and multiply.  But as these cells develop into the organs and tissues of the body that will perform their own specific functions, they start to look very different from each other.  This process of development is called differentiation.  There are over two hundred different types of cells in the body which together make up its different organ systems and tissues.  Each cell has been programmed by this process of differentiation to use only what it needs from the DNA in its nucleus to perform its job within the body.  It takes about nine months before the fetus has developed well enough so that it can safely live outside the uterus.  Here are a few examples of what the cells of our different organ systems do to keep our other cells, and us, alive.

The cells of the respiratory system work to bring in oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide.  The cells of the gastrointestinal system work to bring in water, salt, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals.  The cells of the cardiovascular system work to deliver these chemicals to where they are needed in the body.  The cells of the nervous system tell the body when to breathe, drink and eat and also make it possible to do so.  They make us aware of our surroundings, allow us to think and give us the ability to be physically active.  The cells of the bones give support and protection to the organs and also provide a framework for the muscles so we can move about and handle things.  The cells of the kidneys take care of metabolic waste products and balance the body’s water and chemical content.  The cells of the skin provide a barrier to protect the body from ultraviolet radiation, chemicals, physical injury and microbes in addition to making it aware of its environment and helping it control its core temperature.  The cells of the endocrine system help the body control many aspects of its metabolism and the cells of the reproductive system allow for new human life.  

If you really think about it, and not blindly believe the imaginings of evolutionary biologists, you will come to realize that for human survival, altogether, the organ systems of the body are irreducibly complex because if any one of them were to be absent or not working properly then individual and/or species survival would be impossible.  The last two articles showed that heart and lung function are not only irreducibly complex but also have natural survival capacity in that to keep us alive within the laws of nature their functional capacity must meet objective numerical benchmarks.  If the cardiac output is too low (causing inadequate blood pressure and blood flow) or the lungs cannot bring in enough oxygen and get rid of enough carbon dioxide (causing diminished cellular energy and a build-up of acid in the blood) no matter what evolutionary biologists tell you about how it is that you are alive, medical science can tell you that you are as good as dead.  This article will look at the liver and some its functions and in particular how they impact the function of other organs which together are needed for individual survival and continuation of the species. 

The Liver   

Next to the brain, the liver is the most versatile organ, and is estimated to perform over five hundred different tasks.  Since the liver is capable of regeneration and has a large functional reserve it usually requires a loss of more than eighty percent of its function for the symptoms and signs of chronic liver disease to take hold.  It is the liver that handles the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats for the energy and nutrient needs of the body, produces numerous different proteins for specific tasks and, using enzymes, chemically breaks down drugs, hormones and other substances so the body can maintain control of its chemical environment.  Evolutionary biologists are good at imagining how an ultra-complex organ like the liver could have come into being by just talking about how it looks but not how it actually works within the laws of nature to keep the body alive.  But real numbers have real consequences and by looking at how just ten of the liver's five hundred different functions affect other organ function within the body this article will show what would have happened to our earliest ancestors without any one of them.  Evolutionary biology claims that life came about by chance and laws of nature alone so it must explain how transitional organisms survived as the liver gradually acquired each of these vital functions while macroevolution was taking place. 


Since the body is made up of matter it must follow the laws of nature.  Those laws demand that its cells have enough energy to work properly.  Just as a car engine with the help of oxygen releases the energy it needs from gasoline, so too the cell, using specific enzymes and oxygen, releases the energy it needs from glucose and other chemicals like fats and proteins in a process called cellular respiration.  The liver is involved in making sure that the cells receive both glucose and oxygen to get the energy they need.

Glucose is the main source of energy for the cells of the body and the liver is able to store about a day's worth of energy in the form of glycogen.  The liver is also able to provide other sources of energy by converting some proteins into glucose and producing certain fats and chemicals called ketone bodies.  Since the brain cannot store glucose it is totally dependent on the liver's ability to provide it with enough fuel for energy in between meals, during exercise and fasting overnight.  It also provides this energy to the rest of the body during these times as well.  Clinical experience teaches that without the liver being able to perform this function, unless our earliest ancestors could provide themselves with around the clock supplies of glucose, human life would have been impossible. 

Oxygen is brought into the body by the lungs and is placed inside the blood.  However, the laws of nature state that because oxygen does not dissolve well in water, the body needs something in the blood to efficiently transport oxygen so it can meet the metabolic demands of its cells.  The innovation the body uses to perform this task is a protein called hemoglobin which contains iron which is produced in the bone marrow by developing red blood cells.  The liver produces a hormone called hepcidin which controls the absorption of iron from the gastrointestinal system because too much can be toxic causing multi-organ failure and death.  In addition the liver not only stores iron so it can be used in the production of hemoglobin but also produces a special transport protein called transferrin that carries iron in the bloodstream to where it is needed in the body.  Clinical experience teaches that if the liver had not been able to perform all of these iron related functions human survival would have been impossible. 


The cells, which make up the organs and tissues of the body, receive what they need to function properly from the blood within the circulation.  The heart must pump the blood with enough pressure behind it to flow to and perfuse the tissues well enough to give all of the cells what they need to function properly.  One of the main factors that affect the cardiovascular system's ability to perform this function adequately is the blood volume.  If there isn't enough blood within the arterial system, then no matter how well the heart pumps, not enough of it will reach the cells in the tissues and multi-organ failure and death with take place.      

The liver produces albumin which represents over sixty percent of its protein output.  One role for albumin is to transport minerals like calcium and magnesium, fatty acids and other lipids, and steroid hormones like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone in the blood so they can travel where they are needed in the body.  But another very important function for albumin is to maintain the blood volume by keeping enough water within the circulation. 

As blood enters the arterial side of the capillary under pressure and moves to the venous side, water is naturally pushed out of the circulation through the pores within the walls of the capillary and into the interstitial fluid (like soft boiled potatoes through a ricer).  Since albumin cannot escape from the circulation through the walls of the capillary, it applies an osmotic pull back on the water trying to leave which acts as a counterbalance to the hydrostatic pressure pushing the water out.  The degree of osmotic power applied by albumin to pull back on the water trying to escape from the circulation is directly related to how much albumin is in the blood.  When the liver doesn't produce enough albumin, more water tends to move out of the circulation into the interstitial fluid which reduces the blood volume.  The normal albumin level is about 3.5 - 5 units and a level below 2 units usually results in a significant drop in blood volume and the abnormal collection of fluid in the lungs, abdomen and legs resulting in diminished blood pressure and poor tissue perfusion.  In fact an albumin level below one unit is incompatible with life.   Clinical experience teaches that if the liver had not been able to produce enough albumin, or any at all, that human survival would have been impossible.

Besides albumin and other transport proteins the liver also produces most of the clotting factors as well.  Hemostasis is the process by which the body prevents itself from bleeding, something that would have been vital for the survival of our earliest ancestors.  Damage to the blood vessel wall triggers the muscles surrounding it to close down as much as possible and the platelets in the blood passing by to stick together to form a soft plug to cover it up and try to limit blood loss.  But for many injuries this is not adequate to achieve hemostasis and the clotting factors must swing into action to produce a fibrin clot strong enough to permanently seal the defect, stop the bleeding and allow healing to take place.  When the clotting factors are released from the liver into the blood they are inactive and do not interact with each other unless they encounter a damaged blood vessel.  This is very important because if fibrin clots were to inappropriately form within normal blood vessels they could block blood flow and lead to poor tissue perfusion, multi-organ damage and death.  When the clotting factors encounter a damaged blood vessel, and the platelet plug trying to seal it, this triggers them to interact like dominos to form a fibrin clot in a process called the coagulation cascade.  When the liver isn't making enough clotting factors the body is prone to spontaneous bleeding which can be life-threatening if it occurs in the brain or the gastrointestinal system.  Clinical experience teaches that if the liver had not been able to produce enough of each of the clotting factors, human survival would have been impossible. 


The liver helps the body break down red blood cells and using enzymes chemically converts hemoglobin into bilirubin.  It then takes bilirubin and joins it with cholesterol and other chemicals to produce bile.  The liver sends the bile into the intestine to help it absorb fats and with it fat soluble chemicals like Vitamin A (for vision) Vitamin D (for the bones) and vitamin K (for the clotting factors).  Clinical experience teaches that if the liver had not been able to produce enough or any bile, not only would fat absorption, vision, the bones and clotting would have been impossible but so would have been human survival as well.  


Everyone knows that calcium is needed to make strong bones and that the body needs to have enough Vitamin D to help make this happen.  But what most people do not know is that Vitamin D first has to be activated before it can do its job in the body and since it doesn't dissolve well in blood it needs to be carried in the blood.  The liver not only produces a special transport protein that carries Vitamin D in the blood it also starts the activation process as well.  Clinical experience teaches that if the liver had not been able to perform the Vitamin D related functions human survival would have been impossible.


Another important job for the liver is to convert ammonia, a highly toxic byproduct of protein metabolism, into urea, so it can be released from the body through the kidneys.  This requires five specific enzymes working together in what is called the urea cycle.  When the liver isn't working properly it may allow ammonia, and other toxic substances that it usually metabolizes, build up in the blood causing a condition called hepatic encephalopathy.  In its milder form this manifests as irritability, poor attention, anxiety and insomnia.  But if the ammonia level rises very high, this can progress to imbalance, lethargy, confusion, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, coma and death.  Clinical experience teaches that if the liver could not have adequately converted ammonia into urea, human survival would have been impossible.


The liver helps protect the body from infection by killing invading microbes and other cells and also produces complement.  Complement consists of over thirty proteins that when activated work together to help the immune cells fight infection more efficiently.  Just like the clotting factors, the complement proteins are inactive when they are released by the liver into the blood and when they encounter microbial infection this triggers them to interact like dominos to aid in the immune defense of the body.  Clinical experience teaches that without the liver being able to help the body to fight infection human survival would have been impossible.


As noted above, the liver produces albumin which transports different chemicals within the blood throughout the body and specific ones for iron (transferrin) and Vitamin D as well.  But it also makes Thyroid Binding Globulin (TBG) which carries thyroid hormone throughout the body.  Thyroid hormone is very important for human life and affects the metabolism of every cell.  Clinical experience teaches that if the liver had not been able to produce this specialized protein for thyroid hormone human survival would have been impossible. 


The liver breaks down (detoxifies) various chemicals, enzymes and hormones, which impacts almost every aspect of the body’s metabolism.  In accomplishing this task the liver is able to limit the metabolic effects of hormones like insulin to just a few minutes allowing the body to maintain moment to moment control of its metabolism.  Clinical experience teaches that without this liver function human life would have been impossible. 


When it comes to trying to understand how human life came into being, we are now entering the credibility zone.  For in trying to explain how the liver could have evolved while allowing the body to live within the laws of nature, evolutionary biologists are faced with a Catch-22 situation.  This article has looked at only ten of the over five hundred functions the liver performs and more importantly how they impact not only other organ function within the body but also human survival as well.  In other words, without each of the functions of the liver, none of the other cells of the body can function properly and vice versa since the liver is dependent on them as well. 

1. The gastrointestinal system may bring in the carbohydrates the liver needs for energy, but if the liver is not able to store them so they can be used for energy between meals, during exercise or an overnight fast then human survival is impossible. 

2. The lungs may bring in the oxygen the liver needs for energy, but if the liver is not able to produce the protein to transport iron within the blood, then hemoglobin is not produced, not enough oxygen is transported in the blood to meet the body's metabolic needs and human survival is impossible. 

3. The bone marrow may make cells that with the plasma form the blood which the heart pumps to the liver to feed it, but if the liver is not able to make albumin to maintain the blood volume or

4. the clotting factors to prevent life-threatening blood loss from trivial injury, then human survival is impossible. 

5. The gastrointestinal system may start to digest the fats the liver needs to make cholesterol and other lipids, but if the liver is not able to produce bile then these fats and the fat-related vitamins needed for vision, the bones and clotting are not absorbed and human survival is impossible. 

6. The bones may protect the vital organs, including the liver (ribs and vertebrae), from physical injury, but if the liver is not able to produce the protein to transport Vitamin D in the blood or begin the process of Vitamin D activation then calcium metabolism and bone growth is negatively affected and human survival is impossible. 

7. The gastrointestinal system may bring in the amino acids the liver needs to make its own proteins, but if the liver is not able to convert ammonia (the toxic by-product of protein metabolism) into urea then human survival is impossible. 

8. The immune system may produce different cells and proteins to help protect the liver from infection, but if the liver is not able to produce complement then the body is not able to adequately defend itself from infection and human survival is impossible. 

9. The thyroid gland, under the control of the hypothalamus and pituitary, may produce thyroid hormone to help maintain the right metabolic rate of liver cells, but if the liver does not produce the transport protein to carry thyroid hormone in the blood then all of the cells of the body, including the ones in the liver, will not work properly, making human survival impossible. 

10. The various hormonal systems may help control the different aspects of the body's metabolism to allow for proper liver function, but if the liver is not able to breakdown these hormones to limit their duration of action then moment to moment metabolic control is lost and so is human survival.         

The universal human desire to know the truth requires us to go beyond just describing how life looks, as evolutionary biology does, by digging down deeper to understand the actual mechanisms behind how life works within the laws of nature.  The various functions of the liver are irreducibly complex, because without any one of them life is impossible.   But clinical experience teaches that that just isn't enough to explain how life came about.  As this article and others have shown, the body must take control to follow the rules imposed on it by the laws of nature because when it comes to life and death real numbers have real consequences.  And to do this the body must have natural survival capacity, an inherent knowledge of what those numbers should be and be able to do the right things well enough at exactly the right times to stay alive. 

For the liver this means at least being able to store enough energy, make the right amount of iron available to produce enough hemoglobin, make enough albumin and clotting factors to maintain enough blood volume, make enough bile so as to be able to digest and bring in enough fat and fat soluble chemicals , make enough proteins to transport enough Vitamin D and activate it as well to have strong enough bones, convert enough ammonia into urea to prevent toxic build-up in the body, produce enough complement to help the immune system defend well enough against infection, make enough proteins to transport enough thyroid hormone so all of the cells of the body have the right metabolic rate and breakdown hormones fast and well enough so the body can maintain moment to moment control of its metabolism.      

Not only does life need the information present in its DNA to make everything it needs to come into being, it also needs other information to allow it to survive within the laws of nature as well.   As Stephen Meyer stated in The Information Enigma, the cause in operation that drives life is information, particularly digital or typographic information that experience tells us comes from a mind and not a material process.  It is indeed unfortunate that evolutionary biologists, who claim to know the truth about how life came into being, and control what students are taught about it, do not seem to understand this most fundamental of principles.


Be sure to catch all of the articles in Dr. Glicksman's series, "Beyond Irreducible Complexity."

Howard Glicksman M. D. graduated from the University of Toronto in 1978. He practiced primary care medicine for almost 25 yrs in Oakville, Ontario and Spring Hill, Florida. He now practices palliative medicine for a Hospice organization in his community. He has a special interest in how the ethos of our culture has been influenced by modern science’s understanding and promotion of what it means to be a human being.

Comments and questions about this article or any of the previous ones are welcome.

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Copyright 2016 Dr. Howard Glicksman. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

August 2016