The ‘artificial life’ deception
Evolution can’t help you design artificial life
Published: 28 August 2007 (GMT+10)
Just recently, the media has been buzzing with the possibility of man-made life. Such claims are not new (See Creating life in a test tube? and Will scientists create new life forms—and what would it prove?), and they often seem to be more about creating interest in life without a Creator than about promoting real science (See Did Scientists Create Life, or did the Media Create Hype? and Self-made cells? Of course not!). Some scientists have claimed that they will be able to synthesise artificial life in the next 3–10 years.1
What exactly are they claiming?
Let’s just take this claim apart a bit. Firstly, it claims that scientists will be able to do something. Therefore, they have not done what they’re claiming yet, which in this context implies that they cannot do it yet. To reiterate this, Jack Szostak plainly says, ‘We [the scientists] aren’t smart enough to design things’. Thus, artificial life is something that current human understanding and technology cannot produce. Given the highly complex technology that humans are currently capable of manufacturing, this implies that what they’re trying to make is of an incredibly high class of technology.
Another point implicit in the claim, but maybe not as obvious, is that they are modifying the word ‘life’ with adjectives such as ‘artificial’. Such adjectives imply that they are copying a previously arranged assembly and not creating something completely new. They do not imply that they are improving on the current design. Szostak blatantly said we can’t do that. Furthermore, Mark Bedau, chief operating officer of ProtoLife of Venice, Italy, said,
‘When these things are created, they’re going to be so weak, it’ll be a huge achievement if you can keep them alive for an hour in the lab [emphasis added].’
Therefore, even if they created something, it will be vastly inferior to the ‘real’ or ‘natural’ model for life. Positively, ‘real’ or ‘natural’ life is so superior to our current technology that comparisons are a joke.
Life without God?
Bedau stated, ‘Creating protocells has the potential to shed new light on our place in the universe. This will remove one of the few fundamental mysteries about creation in the universe and our role.’ How do they propose creating artificial life will answer these profound philosophical questions? From the tone of the rest of the article, they seem to think it will prove life made itself. Szostak commented, ‘We aren't smart enough to design things, we just let evolution do the hard work and then we figure out what happened.’ Hang on, just what does that mean—that they’ll assemble the junkyard and let the tornado do the rest? Just one problem, how does life ‘evolve’ from non-life? Any form of selection is out of the question because of what we could call ‘Dawkins’ Dilemma’:
‘The theory of the blind watchmaker is extremely powerful given that we are allowed to assume replication and hence cumulative selection. But if replication needs complex machinery, since the only way we know for complex machinery ultimately to come into existence is cumulative selection, we have a problem [emphasis added].’2
Or perhaps ‘Dobzhansky’s Dictum’:
‘In order to have natural selection, you have to have self-reproduction or self-replication and at least two distinct self-replicating units or entities [therefore] Prebiological natural selection is a contradiction of terms [emphasis added].’
The fundamental problem is that there are a number of steps that must be in place for life to occur, only one of which is complex machinery for replication. These steps cannot arise naturalistically because each step has more information than the sum of the previous steps.3 Moreover, natural chemistry and physics work against producing life, not for it, which leaves us with an ‘unbridgeable abyss’ between naturalistic chemistry and life (See Q and A: Origin of Life).4
Should they actually achieve this goal, what does it mean for creation/evolution? Rather than proving evolution, it is further evidence that life requires a designer and can’t be the result of evolution. In any event, the goal is obviously still some way away given Szostak’s classic admission: ‘We aren't smart enough to design things, we just let evolution do the hard work and then we figure out what happened.’
Note that in saying this, Szostak is guilty of doing the very thing that evolutionists criticize creationists of doing, i.e., invoking a ‘god-of-the-gaps’ (i.e. seeking ‘god’ in the gaps in our knowledge.5 For evolutionists, their ‘god’ in this case is ‘evolution’.) Even granting this baseless accusation, at least the biblical God is far smarter than us who ‘aren’t smart enough to design things’, whereas evolution is a completely blind and mindless process. It doesn’t say much for ‘evolved human intelligence’ if it can’t compete with a mindless process!
In any case, informed creationists falsely accused of invoking a ‘god-of-the-gaps’ mentality have rightly responded by pointing out that which the evolutionists fail to realize—that the design argument is based on what we do know and is clearly perceivable, unless we willingly blind ourselves to it (Romans 1:20, 2 Peter 3:5–6).6
- Borenstein, S., Artificial life likely in 3 to 10 years, Associated Press, August 19 2007. Return to Text.
- Dawkins, R., The Blind Watchmaker, W.W. Norton & Co, NY, pp. 139–140, 1987. Return to Text.
- Williams, A., Life’s irreducible structure—Part 1: autopoiesis, Journal of Creation 21(2):109–115, 2007. He describes five levels of organisation in all living things: (i) perfectly-pure, single-molecule-specific biochemistry, (ii) molecules with highly specific structures, (iii) highly structured molecules that are functionally integrated, (iv) comprehensively regulated information-driven metabolic processes, and (v) inversely-causal meta-informational (information about information) strategies for individual and species survival. ‘Each level is built upon, but cannot be explained in terms of, the level below it. And between the base level (perfectly pure composition) and the natural environment, there is an unbridgeable abyss’ (p. 111). Return to Text.
- Williams, A., Life’s irreducible structure—Part 2: naturalistic objections, Journal of Creation 21(3), 2007 (in press). Return to Text.
- Note that informed creationists do not advocate a ‘god-of-the-gaps’ approach. See, e.g. A wolf among the sheep and 10 dangers of theistic evolution. Return to Text.
- See, e.g., Woodmorappe, J., and Sarfati, J., Mutilating Miller, Journal of Creation 15(3):29–35, 2001. Return to Text.