Here’s some exciting news: Artificial life likely in 3 to 10 years. It is exciting but not surprising at all — but of course we’re going to be able to assemble entirely artificial life forms soon. It’s just a particularly complicated kind of chemistry, and it’s more of a deep technical problem than anything else. I wouldn’t be quite so specific about the date — there are also all kinds of surprises that could pop up — but I’m optimistic, and I think the overall assertion is supported by the increasing rate of accomplishment in the field.
But of course, in addition to the usual suggestions from interested followers of science that I should mention this cool article on the blog, I’ve gotten a few from creationist complainers (Already! See what my email is like?) Expect to hear more outrage from the religious right as this story develops in the coming years, which might be a good thing … they’re going to have to spread themselves thin to fight all the interesting work coming out of biology, and evolution won’t be the only target anymore. Anyway, here’s one of my creationists, expressing his unhappiness in odd directions.
The story is so ridiculous, that I had several immediate thoughts:
First, why are scientists so fascinated with “starting” life, when they seem so oblivious to the loss of fully functioning beneficial designs every day. (Put on your evolutionists hat here for a second, cause this one makes even more sense if your an evolutionist, and I will explain why in a moment).
We’re interested because it’s part of the process of basic science, first of all, and is a way to examine and test explanations for the origin of life. Eventually, it may have very practical uses as a way to engineer simplified, minimal, or optimized systems for biosynthesis. We also all have this fantasy of being able to laugh maniacally over a vat, shouting, “It’s ALIVE!”
The comment about this argument making sense to an evolutionist is funny, since it turns out his following argument makes even less sense from an evolutionary perspective than from his brain-damaged fruitbat perspective.
Every day millions of children are aborted and disposed of, their tiny neurological and immune systems forever lost to the universe. Man preoccupies himself with tinker-tots while daily disposing of healthy, fully developed systems. Now, if you are an evolutionist, the chances of a beneficial mutation resulting in, for example, a cancer resistant immune system, or an immune system capable of defeating even the least virulent viruses, are astronomical. The value of these mutations to the genetic information of human beings, however, is potentially species-saving! Even the remote possibility of humanity “evolving” a more efficient or stronger heart, immunity to Alzheimer’s disease, or cures to a host of ailments, would suggest that we never abort a child, under any circumstances.
Let me make this even funnier to you all: this is from a creationist who regularly sends me email claiming that beneficial mutations are impossible and have never been documented, now claiming that we must end abortions because one of those fetuses might just bear an adaptive mutation. The argument is nonsensical anyway; the human race is currently experiencing a surplus of interesting recombination events and novel mutations, with a huge amount of extant diversity, and we don’t really have a way to assess them all anyway. And somehow, I’ve gotten this impression from other bits of this lovely fellow’s email rants that if the “species-saving” mutation arose in the child of a poor Palestinian or African woman, for instance, he wouldn’t be rushing to see his blood line commingled with hers.
What this has to do with his anti-biotech sentiment is a mystery, too. It’s not as if every artificial microorganism is going to be built from parts extracted from a dewar of frozen embryos, after all. Building an artificial mycoplasm will have no effect on the abortion rate.
This is the same argument used by environmentalists to argue against any environmental consequence that might have the effect of causing the extinction of even one species.
These “scientists” are quick to warn that these plants insects, and viruses cannot be killed, lest we risk their extinction, and the loss to humanity of vital cures, potions, drugs, etc.
Uh, no, it’s not the same argument. Aborting a few fetuses from a thriving population that is growing faster than the environment can support them is not equivalent to driving a species to extinction, nor is the diversity within a single species equal to the diversity between species.
These same scientists figuratively stumble over mounds of dead children which represent potentially fully realized mutations to man’s problems in their rush to create a few cells that they claim are “life”, with nary a comment on the ecological, environmental, and biological risks of wanton abortion! Up to their necks in the ooze of their own petri dishes, they voice no outrage to what may be the needless end of humanity- the inadvertent loss of a species-saving mutation through abortion-on demand!
If anyone is really concerned about the loss of human potential, they should be doing more to help the desperately poor and the residents of underprivileged nations, where the loss of life is greatest. Every human being is unique, and it’s simply silly to focus on aborted fetuses as if they are the repository of all the biological novelty in our species. It just isn’t a serious concern for humanity.
As for ecological, environmental, and biological risks — we’d be better off with many more abortions, and with more universal, voluntary birth control. We do not have a problem of not enough human beings, we have the problem of an excess.
Oh, but it gets better!. Because these tinkers have no clue to what end this “life” they hope to create will serve. You see, even the ignorant “evolution” has a purpose, to wit: “fitness.” To the evolutionist, mutations are jumbled together to make species more fit, and if the converse were true the mutation is tossed upon the garbage pile of evolutionary history as serving no purpose. This artificial life is being created for no specific purpose, but in the hope that it will someday be exploited by man to serve a purpose. The quotes of the scientists are stunning in their naivete:
By M. L. Donohew
Aug. 20th, 2007
Sorry, but that’s how he ended it, with a dangling colon. I don’t think we’re missing much, judging from the incoherence of what came before. I don’t quite understand what he means in that sentence beginning “To the evolutionist”; his words don’t make much sense, and what there is doesn’t fit with evolutionary views. And of course artificial life is being created for a purpose. To answer the question of whether we can do it. To drive further advances in biotechnology. To test models of chemical evolution. And hey, if we already knew all the answers to all the questions this technology would generate, there would be no point in doing it.