- List All


  • Web   The Point

Blogroll

+ Theology/Religion + Culture + Marriage & Family + Politics + Academia + Human Rights
Christianity Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Religion Blogs - Blog Top Sites
Link With Us - Web Directory



« Rationalism or Smuggling? | Main | Bullwinkle Beware! »

August 23, 2007

Scientists on the verge of creating life

If you thought it couldn’t be done—well, think again. According to a recent release, scientists are confident that they will create artificial life within a decade. If you wonder what they mean by “create” and what they mean by “life,” Mark Bedau, chief operating officer of ProtoLife of Venice, Italy, explains that researchers will make a cell “from the basic chemicals in DNA.” This “protocell” will have

- A container, or membrane, for the cell to keep bad molecules out, allow good ones, and the ability to multiply.

- A genetic system that controls the functions of the cell, enabling it to reproduce and mutate in response to environmental changes.

- A metabolism that extracts raw materials from the environment as food and then changes it into energy.

Sounds like a mighty tall order to me, even if you believe that life is nothing more than a bag a chemicals in the right quantities and right configuration. Come to think of it—wouldn’t it be a whole lot simpler to start off something with all the ingredients in place, like a dead biological cell and figure how to bring life back into it?

Anyway, it is hoped that once this cell is created, Darwinian evolution will take over to produce cures for diseases and solutions to vexing problems like toxic waste and greenhouse gases. As Jack Szostak of Harvard Medical School put it, "We aren't smart enough to design things, we just let evolution do the hard work and then we figure out what happened.”

One can imagine that in a bygone time, "God" would have occupied the space that "evolution" occupies in that sentence. But that was long time ago, as Mr. Bedeau suggests, "This will remove one of the few fundamental mysteries about creation in the universe and our role."

Except, where all those chemicals came from in the first place, and how they ended up in “just right” proportions in “just-right” conditions for a “just-right” period of time to produce that primordial cell.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c635553ef00e54ece2e008833

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Scientists on the verge of creating life:

Comments

Dennis Babish

What is interesting about all of this is the claim that life was created by random events and yet scientists are "Designing" a cell to create life.
Hmmm seems like they are showing that Intelligent Design is real and evolution isn't.
Why not simply put these chemicals in a jar and let evolution randomly create it for them. :D
God must be laughing heartily in Heaven over this one.

Patricia

Give it up. God is the creator, not scientists or whackos.

Matt

it's hoped evolution will take over to produce cures for things?

Why would they need to create life for that to happen? Wouldn't you be as good or even better off putting some bacteria in a jar and hoping evolution will turn it into a cure for cancer? Actually you'll probably be better off because you didn't waste your time creating life only to hope for something magical to happen to it afterwards.

Tara Bauer

Even if scientists are able to create life, all they are doing is proving the exsistence of God. It's like an analogy.
The scientists are like God, making their/His creation. They are proving that there has to be a higher power/being with high intelligence in order for there to be life.

Regis Nicoll

You're right Matt. If the objective is to develop cures and solutions to man's technical problems, then starting with living organisms and seeing what evolution comes up with would be the way to go. That's why I believe the real aim is "[to] remove one of the few fundamental mysteries about creation in the universe and our role." That "mystery" being God, of course.

Regis Nicoll

As Both Dennis and Tara indicate, this unveiled effort to keep an intelligent Designer out of the narrative of life, does little but demonstrate the need for an intelligent agent to meticulously design, control and coak the process every strep of the way. In short, if they ever do "create a self-sustaining, replicating cell" (which I highly doubt) they will only prove what they set out to disprove.

Sy Hoekstra

I see the irony of the designer in these experiments, but it's not that simple. Scientists are trying to prove that life could form from a chemical reaction under certain conditions, which they have not yet done. If they can prove this, It proves an assumed point of a larger argument. An atheist would claim that the chances of life forming chemically on its own are very slim, but still existent. If they can show that life can be formed under certain conditions, then they need only calculate the chances of these conditions coming about on their own. They're banking on the fact that the chances will be more than one in the number of planets in the universe.
Also, it should be noted that until Christians come up with an alternative scientific model for human development, it is simply unhelpful to science for Christians to just poke holes in what everyone else is doing to attempt to understand the universe and how it works. So even if atheists draw unwarrented conclusions from the chemical creation of life in a lab, it would be great to know how it happens. We shouldn't just say God did it, so we don't have to worry about it. I'm not sure if anyone here is actually saying that, but it's worth noting.

Al Johnson

Sy states: "...until Christians come up with an alternative scientific model for human development, it is simply unhelpful to science for Christians to just poke holes in what everyone else is doing to attempt to understand the universe and how it works."

For those of us who are very comfortable with the Genesis account of creation, it seems a bit odd to attempt to construct an 'alternative scientific model for human development.' What alternatives would you suggest one start with, other than our Creator?

In my view, it is not in the least unhelpful to 'pole holes in what everyone else is doing' when there are gigantic leaps of logic, stupendous assumptions, and irrational 'rationale' that need to be pointed out to the ones proposing abject nonsense in the name of science. I don't need to come up with another theory, if your 'theory' is implausible; I simply need to point out the flaws in the logical progression from erroneous assumptions to ridiculous conclusions based on pure speculation and supposition.

Laughing Boy

First, I think Sy's comments have some value. But Christian scientists (e.g. Francis Collins) are not saying "God did it" and walking out of their labs.

Second, regarding the statement, "They're banking on the fact that the chances will be more than one in the number of planets in the universe."

This assumes that life is abundant on other planets, and as far as I know, of all the planets we have adequate data on the possibility is still zero. Also, a chance of only one-to-the-number-of planets-in-the-universe assumes that there are no other variables to be considered on each of those planets. Of course, if Earth is any indication, there are millions (conservatively) of other variables per planet impacting each chemical interaction.

Some scientists (e.g. Eugene V. Koonin) are now throwing up their hands in frustration of naturalistic explanations of origins and are positing the multiverse theory and an infinite number of galaxies and planets so the odds of any event are 1 in 1!

Sy Hoekstra

Yeah,Laughing boy, that's all true. What their trying to do is find the exact conditions underwhich life could be formed, including as many variables as they can come up with. The point is just to show that it can be done, then they'll get to the chance calculating, which will hopefully address your concerns. And FYI, we have only discovered slightly over 200 planets outside our solar system, and they've already found one that they think has good conditions for life. This is of course one out of 200 or so planets. There are billions in the universe by the most conservative estimates.
And Al, it should be noted that the Genesus acount of creation is a narative, not a scientific model. It doesn't say, "Then God did combine molecules of carbon and water to create man and woman. Man and woman he did combine them; and he said it was good." I am perfectly satisfied with the Genesus account as a story that I believe to be true. As a scientific model for human development, it's probably the worst I've ever seen.
Now, I have no problem with you pointing out flaws in other people's arguments, so long as you consider the evidence, and try to conclude something else. We should try to understand God's creation, not just tear down those who are generally doing a much better job at it then most Christians.

James

Scientist can do all they want to create life, they should only remember to create their own raw materials for the new life the create and not use up Gods materilas

labrialumn

It is always helpful to show the problems with hypotheses, models and paradigms, even if one doesn't have an alternative.

But Christians actually do have several competing alternatives.

They won't be creating life in the BIblical sense, if they were successful, because the cell is a machine. It isn't until you get to animals with "the breath of life" at least the chordata or higher, that you have life in that sense.

At any rate, they will fail. A mere lipid membrande with random nucleic acids in it won't produce a working von Neuman replicator any more than a blank hard drive will produce an operating system.

Sy, you miss that the narrative you dismiss is the one by the Experimentor.

Sy Hoekstra

What are these competing scientific models for human development?

Steve (SBK)

Sy, you said:
"If they can show that life can be formed under certain conditions, then they need only calculate the chances of these conditions coming about on their own. They're banking on the fact that the chances will be more than one in the number of planets in the universe."

I'm not sure what the last sentence in that quote means. Do you mean they're 'hoping that the chances...' or 'they trust in the known fact that the chances...'? I take it the idiom 'banking on the fact' to be the second meaning, but you likely, from the context (i.e. the word 'will'), meant the first.

In any event, a posteriori knowledge of the facts indicates that life did indeed come about on at least one planet. So why do they need to come up with the chances of that happening if they know it's equal to (or greater than) one in the number of planets in the universe?
I assume there are more reasons (usually resting on a priori assumptions) than calculating that fact.
In the end, all this effort will show that life only comes from life or intelligent intervention (the irony - as pointed out).
If you were a materialist, and you saw all life as chemical interactions, you would (have to) conclude that all things (including yourself) come about by mere chemical reactions if given the right conditions (time + chance). Other explanations (e.g. mind) would need to be ignored because of your worldview. The pursuit isn't pointless because you're attempting to prove your pointlessness.

I don't see myself as 'trying to poke holes' in scientific pursuits, but to try and see (which I don't yet) how scientific pursuits/assumptions fill the (metaphysical) hole that already exists. From one worldview, it's noble investigation; From the materialist worldview, it's mere busy-work till the chemical reactions in "your" body stop working together.

Sy Hoekstra

Steve, I agree. The pointlessness of science from a materialist world view is clear to me. My guess is that a materialist pursuing science is only doing so because they personally enjoy it. That's probably as far as it goes.
As for the calculations, what they want to discover is the conditions underwhich life can be chemically formed. Then calculate the chances of this happening on its own. Once they know this number, they hope that they will be able to claim that it is not far fetched to imagine life forming on one of the billions of planets in the universe with these odds. In other words, they are designing life themselves to then investigate whether or not life could come about without design. This may seem non-sensical on its face, but it would be impossible to investigate the possibility of undesigned life without first creating life to see how it works.

Lee

"Come to think of it—wouldn’t it be a whole lot simpler to start off something with all the ingredients in place, like a dead biological cell and figure how to bring life back into it?"

Hmmm - Mary Shelley cautioned us about this in her book Frankenstein, back when the scientists were merely passing electricity through frog legs to make them twitch.

It is not difficult to imagine a popular cautionary tale about creating cells and letting them evolve. What's Michael Chrichton up to these days?

Scientists, blinded by humanistic positivism, have this bad habit of forgetting that anything could ever go wrong...

Steve (SBK)

Thanks Sy - for some good explanatory notes.

As an aside (for some reason my spidey-sense is tingling), would you say that the requirement for creating something before investigation of the undesigned probabilities rests in the biological sphere? Or all science?

Sy Hoekstra

Steve,I personally wouldn't say any of that just because I believe in a designer. I would imagine that a materialist would think that was reasonable, but I can't say for sure. It seems logical though. It would be hard to calculate the probability of something being formed without a designer if you didn't know how it was formed. It also seems logical that that would apply to anything, biological or not.

jason taylor

"Yeah,Laughing boy, that's all true. What their trying to do is find the exact conditions underwhich life could be formed, including as many variables as they can come up with. The point is just to show that it can be done, then they'll get to the chance calculating, which will hopefully address your concerns. And FYI, we have only discovered slightly over 200 planets outside our solar system, and they've already found one that they think has good conditions for life. This is of course one out of 200 or so planets. There are billions in the universe by the most conservative estimates.
And Al, it should be noted that the Genesus acount of creation is a narative, not a scientific model. It doesn't say, "Then God did combine molecules of carbon and water to create man and woman. Man and woman he did combine them; and he said it was good." I am perfectly satisfied with the Genesus account as a story that I believe to be true. As a scientific model for human development, it's probably the worst I've ever seen.
Now, I have no problem with you pointing out flaws in other people's arguments, so long as you consider the evidence, and try to conclude something else. We should try to understand God's creation, not just tear down those who are generally doing a much better job at it then most Christians."

The reason it doesn't work as a scientific treatise is that that is not what it is intended to be. Different styles of writing communicate or describe different things.

For instance this is one of the few lines of poetry I have written that I wasn't somewhat embarrassed by:


'Tis cold and tis windy at the harbor to day

And here it is in analytic format:

There is extremly low temperature combined with a large ammout of atmosphereic turbulance at the maritime vehicles service facility.

These two styles say exactly the same thing. However the first, being more descriptive gives more information then the second for the analytical mode is best for providing precision which there is little need for and would be of little benefit in this case. Therefore if you hear the first it will tell you more. In other cases you need the analytical format.

However neither is lying. Both are saying the same thing in different ways. Likewise the Genesis account is not untrue because it is not given in scientific format.

The comments to this entry are closed.