Can Scientists Create Life in a Lab?
Craig Venter led the first privately funded effort to sequence the human genome. Some might think that would be enough to keep a guy busy for a while. Not so. Venter was also trying to be the first researcher to create life in a lab. If you’re interested, here is his own short description of the method he used to do so way back in 2010. [Warning: scientific jargon included] …
This may sound a little scary and bizarre. That’s understandable. And that’s why we should be thankful for people like Fazale “Fuz” Rana of Reasons to Believe (RTB). Fuz was a senior research scientist with Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati before he left his job to join RTB’s scientific apologetics ministry. He was way ahead of the curve back in 2011 when he published his own book on this topic, Creating Life in the Lab. At that time, Rana believed that Craig Venter would be successful at creating synthetic life within 5 years.
That was 12 years ago. From that day to this, the noise about creating “synthetic life” has turned to crickets. Craig Venter retired in 2018.
“Crude, Simple, and Laughable”
If you have some time, listen as Dr. Rana discussed his thoughts on the matter with Greg Koukl back in 2011 on his weekly podcast here. [The interview with Fuz begins at the 57:00 minute mark of the podcast]. Dr. Rana gave a more recent summary of the project in 2018 here. But what’s significant is that not much changed in the meantime. Dr. Rana described Venter’s creations like this:
These things are extremely crude and extremely simple. In a sense, it’s almost laughable to call them cells … even though this is science at its very best. Even the simplest cell is so complex that what these scientists are trying to generate is really a crude facsimile of even the simplest cell.
First, let me say that I greatly respect the mind and ethics of Craig Venter. He was a responsible scientist who included genuine ethicists on his research teams. Some of the “creations” these folks were working on were experiments that could have run amok. But Venter was sensitive to those concerns. That said, I have no idea about his personal ethical beliefs, but I do believe his goals were noble. He led a research team to try to create organisms that could be programmed to clean up oil spills or offer new fuel sources. In other words, Venter took laudable steps to help human beings and improve their quality of life. Contrary to the view that “creating life in a lab” somehow makes one Dr. Frankenstein, there was never any indication that this was an issue with Venter’s team. But that doesn’t mean projects like this don’t need to be monitored in the future.
I bring this whole subject up again because of a discussion I recently had about the origin of life. Many atheistic, Darwinian materialists like to claim that we know how life began on Earth. That’s nonsense, for reasons I talk about here. But instead of just pointing out the pathetic failure of origin-of-life research, I’d like to make the case another way. I want to examine how difficult it is to create so-called “synthetic life” when you already have natural life forms right in front of you!
Let’s be clear. Craig Venter was not animating anything even remotely similar to what you might see walking around in your backyard, let alone your public library. What he was actually doing was reverse engineering a single-cell bacteria.
These synthetic creations were not new life forms. They were nothing but simple, novel constructions that don’t occur anywhere in nature.
Accidentally Affirming Intelligent Design
The reality is that Craig Venter’s team knew the kind of products they were trying to create. In fact, Venter’s preferred technique was to take living organisms and disassemble them. He would then identify the minimal genetic components with which the organism could operate. Using those component parts, he introduced viruses into them to promote protein growth. That is how he obtained his “novel” lifeforms.
Venter’s team consisted of dozens of scientists working tirelessly in pristine conditions. One of their greatest obstacles, Rana noted, was that they were continually having to devise new ways to overcome the destructive tendencies of nature to force their designs to work. Not only so, they were using viruses — which are complex lifeforms themselves — as catalysts in the process.
In other words, Venter’s team utilized teamwork, ingenuity, higher-order thinking, complex design, detailed planning, and pre-existing lifeforms to create the most rudimentary kind of lifeforms. And they did so knowing the end they were trying to reach.
So, no. Scientists cannot create life in a lab. But we’re told we should believe that an undirected, purposeless process like Darwinian natural selection can. We’re expected to believe that such a process can not only produce the same results but that it can also construct creatures that are orders of magnitude more complex. Creatures with minds like the researchers who assisted Craig Venter in “creating life.”
That is more than wishful thinking. It is delusional. And it is a blatant denial of what Venter was really proving — that the existence of even the simplest form of life is a novel demonstration that the level of care and intelligence needed to create life is something that exceeds our wildest imagination.
The futile quest to “create life in the lab” is nothing but a staggering proof of Intelligent Design.
Bob Perry makes his living as a commercial airline pilot, but his passion is to understand, articulate and defend his Christian convictions — and to help others do the same. He blogs at TrueHorizon.org.
Originally published at TrueHorizon.org. Reprinted with permission.