UNINTELIGENT DESIGN, a.k.a. EVOLUTION
The preceding article reported on what is a monumental event in the history of science, namely, the creation of a wholly new species in nature, one never before seen on Planet Earth, and most notably, one created by purely artificial means; the enormously complex and original genetic arrangement (code) for the new species wholly designed by a computer program. This article concerns not this new life form, but instead, two of the reactions that I encountered from readers responding to the article.
Each of the responses fully surprised me. I felt that I should share them because they strike me as representative of a type of thinking currently underlying much of this country's attitude toward science, and no doubt, embody why this country's present role as a leader in science and technology is certain to diminish, perhaps drastically, in the very near future to come.
The first surprising reaction that I encountered regarding last edition's article was a question from a staunch, "young earth" creationist who believes that the world, indeed that the entire universe, is in the neighborhood of six thousand or so years old. As the preceding article reported, nearly a half of all Americans agree with this individual. Yes, it is true. This person is not alone. Most amazingly, nearly half of the population of this country embraces a ‘young earth’ (as has also at least one prime minister of the country of Australia), which is to say, that an enormous segment of the country believe that the earth -- and correspondingly, the rest of the universe along with it -- are less than ten thousand years old. Because we live in a democracy, this number (the fraction, “nearly one half,” not the integer, “ten thousand”) should both serve to astound and frighten anyone with any stake in tomorrow.
This first question that a reader posed was to point out a glaring omission that I had made in the article, namely, failing to mention the specifics about the new species that had been "synthesized". (I did not even include its name.) I guess that I was so overwhelmed by what science had accomplished --- commandeering evolution to the point of designing an entire gene sequence of a new species from just four jars of inanimate chemicals -- that the specific details of this first ever life form of its kind did not command my attention adequately. Moreover, the fact that four non-living chemicals could be "animated" irrefutably demonstrates that life is fundamentally a "shape" (albeit an ever changing one) rather than a "substance," the latter being what I am led to conclude that many, if not most, believe.
Needless to say, creating life artificially starkly demonstrates the human capacity, albeit by scientific means alone, to introduce wholly new living systems into the world which would probably never have come about through the natural means of evolution, and thereby introduce altogether ‘new’ (novel) information into a universe that otherwise would exclude it. Likewise, it irrevocable demonstrates that creating a new species is not the exclusive realm of a “creator” endowed with such powers, but that natural processes alone, human invention among these processes, can do the very same thing, and do so without the use -- or need -- of any supernatural or extra-natural participation. This flatly contradicts and hence obviates any “need” for an intelligent “agent” in creating new species; though it does demonstrate in the clearest physical terms possible, that an intelligent agent (like a human) armed with the right tools (like an appropriately programmed computer coupled with the other necessary elements of the technology) can indeed intelligently design life. And, if a human can do it, that is, turn inanimate material into living systems, then, given the enormous size of universe’s laboratory, the temporal durations allowed, and the vast number of possibilities included (by virtue of the choices LACKING intelligence: evolution is an example of UNintelligent design), surely nature can do the same, by the same purely natural means as we use in our ‘intelligent’ design of artificial life, but of course, UNintelligently (that is, without foresight). The spectacular power of evolution (again, UNintelligent design) is demonstrated by the fact that it yielded the design that would itself ultimately design the machinery that gives the necessary push or pull to an asteroid so that it not otherwise end three and a half billion years of fruitful biological evolution by striking the earth.
If artificial life is interpreted as being substantiation for Darwin's Theory of Evolution, then, logically, this leads to it being a contradiction to the idea that all life was intelligently designed originally in nature, since Darwin’s Theory of Evolution contradicts any such idea. It is this point, that intelligent design by a human contradicts the possibility for intelligent design in the origin of ordinary species, that must have prompted the question of including specific details for the organism created artificially: the intelligent design of life created artificially would "prove" that nature's life forms could be designed unintelligently (which is what evolution is, design without foresight). It is irony that artificially created but intelligently designed life would demonstrate the validity of the principles underlying its antithesis, the Theory of UNintelligent Design, which is otherwise known as the Theory of Evolution.
So, for the sake of anyone else who may themselves have wondered exactly what kind of new life form it was that science created artificially (see links to the story and video below), this new species is presumably a single celled organism, appearing as a green, translucent, gelatin, coating the bottom of a small, glass dish; in appearance, nothing particularly notable in the least. Even according to its developer, J. Craig Venter, it is capable simply of growing and reproducing, and little else, although this leaves one wondering just what “else” must it do to be alive “like” we are?
The second question made with respect to creating life artificially came from an unexpected source, a well educated individual, familiar with biology, and who undoubtedly embraces evolution, yet still wishes to incorporate divine, supernatural participation into the natural processes of life, despite there being no demonstrable basis for it. The question, or perhaps I should say instead, the point that this person made was that creating life artificially leaves said life "without a soul," whatever that means. Growing and reproducing being all that is necessary for being alive (not to mention all that is necessary for eventually evolving into intelligent organisms also) means that a soul is clearly not necessary, or more precisely stated, empirically demonstrable as an actual physical distinction in anything in nature.
In the face of the enormous mountain of evidence supporting evolution, one can exclude extra-natural participation of any kind from the mechanics of species creation itself and thereby confine the question purely to life’s genesis alone, biogenesis. (It should be mentioned that the term “life force” has no scientific meaning.) Explanations for biogenesis can be demonstrated (if, in nothing else, in the extraordinary durability of their lipids, which can last hundreds of millions of years).
This leaves only a single avenue for incorporating the divine into life: distinguishing artificially created life from "real" life by the presence or absence of unobservable phenomena, like for example, the untestable presence or absence of a "soul." That is to say, that depending upon how the chemistry was accomplished determines whether a "soul" (whatever that means) will be present or absent in an organism. Conveniently, “exclusion of a soul” from an otherwise intelligent organism excludes said exploitation of the organism from any moral considerations, allowing any abuse of any artificially engineered living anything, because even though it is alive, assertion alone can determine that it is not “really” so, irrespective of the fact that it is.
This kind of thinking is not new at all, especially in religion, particularly in the Abrahamic religions. It is an assertion that allows the "righteous," by virtue of “having a soul that embraces an assertion as a basis for natural truth,” to visit any evil upon those who do not share their opinions about natural phenomena. It need only be asserted that synthetically engineered life is not “sentient” (again, whatever that means) and can hence be treated as if it were merely an inanimate object that cannot “really” feel even though it reacts identically to organisms that do, is not “really” alive, and hence deserves no more than a rock would in questions of moral consideration.
Throughout history, this idea has provided justification for the powerful to rob, enslave, and murder those who are not. Indeed, even in present day America, this notion enjoys strong support, given those Americans believing that the earth has been around for less than ten thousand years (nearly half of all Americans) believe in a “soul” that they believe religious creation accounts include.
It is illegal to teach any form of creationism as science in public schools, even if it is renamed, however erroneously, using valid scientific terms such as “irreducible complexity,” or “intelligent design.” The reason for this policy is that creationism has no basis in observation, and therefore is no form of science in any way insomuch as genuine science unambiguously excludes belief and opinion as a basis for anything other than conjecture. To the contrary, creation is flatly based on a belief in mere assertion alone, which is the substance of its doctrine; and the assertion of doctrine is NEVER science.
The founders of this country built the separation of church and state into our Constitution. They were aware of what religious doctrine does: organize one people (the faithful) against another (the nonbelievers). Luckily this country, at least for the moment, maintains separation of church and state despite so many Americans wishing otherwise. Luckily, at least for now, the court accepts scientific evidence over any religions testimonial, and in so doing, upholds that particular constitutional cornerstone of what remains of a free nation. It will cease to do so should enough people forget how important science is in enriching the living experience, attributing science’s miracles to religious sources, at the expense of the very thing that provided the very technology that allows religious enterprise to command such power in the world.
Though they may claim otherwise, purporting to promote science, no institution promoting creationism exists for the sake of promoting any kind of real and genuine science. To the contrary, these institutions exist to encumber scientific advancement, and in no small part, are leading to the decline of a nation that should stand as the best hope for the future: our country now produces far fewer scientists than it did in recent history. As a consequence, Americans are much less educated than in the recent past. That is to say, our teachers themselves are now less educated so that fewer of them understand evolution as did before. For those who embrace creationism, perhaps this is cause for rejoicing. However, there is hardly a more certain way to hasten the decline in the quality of life in this country, and moreover, erode to democracy itself, than by the promotion of teaching creationism as science. Democracy REQUIRES an educated public or it becomes dysfunctional.
To see the YouTube presentation on the subject of this article, the first artificially created species ever, simply log into the following and play: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IyAOepIU6uo&NR=1&feature=fvwp) ...OR, log into www.chongonation.com, click on "Free Education" from the top of the home page and search for "Synthesizing Life," under the section on the Theory of Evolution.