The Celebrity of Artifical Life

Some celebrities seem to be famous for being famous. But most people in the spotlight have achieved recognition through talent and hard work.

If there is a scientist who is famous because he is famous, it just might be molecular biologist Craig Venter. It seems the press covers his every move—just because he is Craig Venter. Yet even though he attracts attention for his celebrity, the acclaim Venter receives has also been hard-earned.

Venter has made headlines for:

  1. directing the first team to sequence the entire genome of an organism;
  2. heading up Celera Corporation, the private company that competed with the public effort to sequence the human genome;
  3. overseeing efforts to use genomics techniques to catalogue the microbial diversity of the oceans;
  4. spearheading the progress made towards developing the first synthetic organism, dubbed Mycoplasma laboratorium

Recently, Venter and his team announced the successful development of the full methodology necessary to create a synthetic life-form. They demonstrated the utility of this approach by generating a synthetic genome in the lab from four bottles of simple chemicals and then transplanting the man-made genome into the microbe Mycoplasma capricolum. As a result they transformed this microbe into a synthetic version of the closely related bacterium Mycoplasma mycoides.1

Of course, this announcement elicits a number of safety, ethical, and theological concerns. Chief among these has to do with the need for a Creator. If scientists can make life in the lab, is a Creator necessary to explain life’s origin? Doesn’t this scientific accomplishment mean that life could have readily originated on early Earth through some means of chemical evolution?

The bottom line response: not at all.

Unwittingly, Venter’s work provides the most compelling evidence for intelligent design so far. To create a microbe that relies on synthetic DNA, the research team had to develop a clever strategy and then execute it through the use of careful and detailed laboratory manipulations. In other words, the creation of life in the lab came about only through the actions of intelligent agents, among the best minds in the world. By extension, this means it is reasonable to conclude that life on Earth required the work of a Mind to originate.

Venter’s most recent accomplishment sets the stage for even more exciting advancements to come. It won’t be long before his team will use this new methodology to make several different types of synthetic microbes, each with a unique set of nonnatural capabilities.

When this happens, the cameras will be focused on Venter once again. And sharing the spotlight with this celebrity scientist will be the case for intelligent design.

For those interested in details on Venter’s work, I’d recommend listening to the May 21, 2010 episode of the Science News Flash podcast in which I describe Venter’s latest accomplishments and its implications for the Christian faith.

Also, if you would like to read more about the background information on Venter’s work, check out these previous TNRTB articles: “The Case for Intelligent Design” part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4, and “Eating the Elephant Bite-by-Bite”.

Endnotes:

1. Daniel G. Gibson et al., “Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome,” Science (2010), advanced online, DOI: 10.1126/science.1190719.

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