"At the heart of the origin-of-life problem lies a fundamental question: What is it that we are trying to explain the origin of?"
-- Harmke Kamminga
What's the difference between a live cat and a dead cat? This is not a joke, with an answer like "a slightly better world." Seriously, and more specifically, think carefully about what, exactly, differs between a healthy, live cat, and a recently deceased cat, say a young, healthy cat just moments after being deprived of oxygen. Each possesses exactly the same material composition with all the right parts in all the right places. But even though both have exactly the same incredibly complex "stuff" connected up and ready to go, and although each may be separated in their respective states by mere milliseconds, one has something the other has irretrievably, permanently lost. What is it?
"It", of course, is "life", that elusively certain quality that divides all of nature into haves and have-nots, with the distinction being somewhat artificial to scientific materialists--after all, the haves are just a temporary anomaly in the otherwise have-not universe. One recent Science Daily article, for example, touts a "constructal law" that applies evolution "across the board" to explain the living and the non-living alike. That's why materialist scientists find "it" just another conundrum for science to solve by figuring out all the right physical connections among all the right physical molecules, like building the ultimate science project. Believing "life" is simply a big, three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle of physics and chemistry keeps small bands of modern alchemists toiling tirelessly in near obscurity as they seek to transmutate the dead into the living.
Someone should tell them about cats. Because rather than do things the easy way, like merely getting "it" back into an otherwise complete, perfectly suited material housing such as our unfortunate cat, these industrious folks always want to work from "scratch". And to read the headlines that regularly appear one would be convinced that life can be manufactured from scratch, like a perfect pound cake, if one just gets the right ingredients in just so. Can they really do it?
Don't hold your breath. Consider one recent headline touting man-made life, this one boldly claiming in tall black all-caps: LIFE FROM SCRATCH. One would think it's a done deal--life from scratch! Really? Wow! It seems such groundbreaking news would be somewhere other than page 27 of the 31-page January, 2008 edition of Science News, but wow anyhow! Think about it: life from scratch hidden on the last pages of a thin little science rag. Strange, isn't it? The first publication to make such a claim proclaimed it proudly in the beginning. How odd that "The Weekly Newsmagazine of Science" would put this special revelation last. Must be some shaky news. Or shaky science. Or both.
Of course anyone bothering to read beyond the headline hyperbole of this cover-story article (as well as all the puffery in the constant stream of its genre) will quickly discover that scientists are no closer to "creating" life than they are to creating a square circle (and no more likely to realize its impossibility). By the end of the third paragraph, after stating that "scientists are on the verge of creating living cells by piecing together small molecules that are themselves not alive," the Science News article must admit: "The result would be the world's first human-made life forms, synthetic cells made more or less from scratch."
More or less? The "more or less" of this "life creation" is explained: "Some scientists, including [a named scientist] hope to make such a minimal cell by whittling down the genome of an existing bacterium to its barest elements, and then synthesizing that minimal genome." Oh really? So what scientists are on "the verge of" (if anything), is synthesizing the physical molecular structure of a minimal genome. But until scientists can take a dead bacterium with its complete, complex genome, and get life back into it, on what basis are we to believe a manmade "minimal genome" can be made alive? Magic?
When it comes to creating "life" in any form, the hopeful reports keep coming, tickling the ears with the sizzle, but never showing the steak. Just last month, The Boston Globe ran the headline "Harvard Fuels Quest to Create Life From Scratch" describing the latest research of Harvard's Origins of Life Initiative. And again, if one reads beyond the attention-grabbing headline, one learns that what has actually been created is a machine that can manufacture proteins. This is, of course, quite a feat of intelligent design, but to say, as the article quotes, that "it's a step toward artificial life" because the machine can mimic a ribosome, which is the "key component of all living systems", goes too far. Hey, our dead cat is full of ribosomes. There's no need to design a machine to make proteins, and no reason to believe that if you make them you are any closer to creating real life, much less "artificial life".
Here's a prediction for all those who think intelligent design theorists make no predictions: Scientists will never create life from scratch, unless one or both of "life" or "scratch" is redefined to a meaningless ambiguity. Because the truth of the matter, necessarily denied by materialist scientists, is that the design of life is the design of something more than matter. Life, whatever it is, is not merely a product of material ingredients to be concocted from a little of this, that, and the other. Life, as is plain to all but those who choose willing blindness, is something more than a recipe or a formulation of matter. Life is something that invisibly animates matter right up until the moment it departs, leaving the exact same material composition in a condition commonly referred to as death.
Death. The absence of life. And once life departs the physical body only a miracle can reverse the transition even in the most ideal of conditions. What greater miracle must it take to create life "from scratch"? It's strange, then, that the very people who deny miracles are the same people who believe they nevertheless can create life from scratch.
Time will tell if mere mortals can create life from scratch, but one fact is scientifically certain: life was created from scratch the first time. The only reasonable question that science compels but cannot answer is who did the creating? Because one thing scientists are making clear beyond doubt is that successful genesis of life requires an intelligent designer.
Roddy Bullock, a skeptic of Darwinism, is a freelance writer, engineer, lawyer, the Executive Director of the Intelligent Design Network of Ohio (www.idnetohio.com) and is the author of The Cave Painting: A Parable of Science, published by and available from Access Research Network.
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Copyright (c) 2009 Roddy M. Bullock, all rights reserved. Quotes and links permitted with attribution.
Thanks go to Denyse O'Leary as the first one to ask the opening question of this essay. Author of several books, Denyse writes at the Post-Darwinist blog, among other places.
Publisher and agent inquiries welcome.
Kamminga quote: Kamminga, Harmke. Protoplasm and the Gene. In A.G. Cairns-Smith and H. Hartman, eds., Clay Minerals and the Origin of Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-10.
Science News article: http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20080112/bob9.asp
On "constructal laws", see Science Daily, "Can Living and Non-living Follow Same Rules? Unifying the Animate and Inanimate Designs of Nature" (April 30, 2009): http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090428103104.htm (note this article is full of design terminology.)
More tantalizing headlines of "life from scratch":
"Researchers creating life from scratch" http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9005023/
"Building Synthetic Genomes: Life from Scratch?" http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18417061
"Life from scratch?" http://www.astrobio.net/news/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=319&theme=Printer
"Americans Ignorant of Plans to Create Artificial Life" http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,431401,00.html stating: "the exciting field of synthetic biology" and "the field's controversial promise to create life from scratch."
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