Reasons to Believe

To Infinity and Beyond!

Fifteen years after Toy Story made animation history as the first feature-length computer-animated film, Toy Story 3 hit theatres today. As one of the kids who fell in love with the first movie back in 1995, I am impatient to see the latest adventures of Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and friends, but in the meantime, I’m happy to see Pixar’s eleventh production rack up good reviews.
People recognize high quality work when they see it. Elegant and effective integration of all the necessary components (e.g., story, script, voices, and visual imagery in an animated film) make it obvious that someone invested thought, care, and skill into the production.
William Paley’s famous Watchmaker argument draws a parallel between the craftsmanship of manmade products and the elegance of the natural world. To paraphrase, Paley postulated that if you found a watch on the ground, its precise and intricate workings would indicate that it had a maker; by extension, the precise and intricate workings of nature indicate the hand of a supernatural Creator.
Many people have argued against Paley’s concept, but RTB’s own biochemist, Fuz Rana, suggests that advances in the molecular and biochemical fields have breathed new life into the Watchmaker argument. Most recently, the creation of the first synthetic life-form carries profound implications for arguments in favor of creation, like Paley’s idea.
After almost 15 years of intense study, research, and lab work, last month molecular biologist Craig Venter and team introduced the world to Mycoplasma laboratorium, a synthetic microbe generated in the lab.
In the May 21 episode of the Science News Flash podcast, Fuz summarized the methodology, “They basically took digital information in a computer that describes the genome of a microorganism (Mycoplasma mycoides) and they actually synthesized in the lab—starting with four bottles of chemicals—the entire genome of that organism. [That’s] a little over 1 million genetic letters.”
Yahoo!News notes that “this initial step is more a re-creation of existing life—changing one simple type of bacterium into another—than a built-from-scratch kind.” Still, this work by Venter and his colleagues is an important achievement. It opens up exciting possibilities for the production of biofuels, pollution clean up, and vaccinations. (As with all scientific advances, it will need to be handled with care, both physicially and ethically.)
Naturally, the accomplishment has generated both excitement and concern. In various articles on Venter’s work, Fuz responds to the worry that this achievement argues in favor of evolution. After all, if scientists can create life in the lab, doesn’t that render a supernatural Creator unnecessary to life’s existence? Hardly. In fact, it can be argued that Venter’s work does just the opposite.
“Venter’s team didn’t just rush into the lab and start throwing nucleotides into test tubes and running chemical and enzymatic reactions. Instead, they carefully devised a synthesis strategy,” Fuz points out. The amount of work it took to create M. laboratorium is astounding. Like any other undertaking, it required a lot of preplanning, strategizing, and precise work by some of the best minds in the field.
“Ironically, instead of supporting an evolutionary origin of life, Venter’s efforts demonstrate that life’s beginnings and transformation cannot happen apart from the work of an intelligent Agent,” says Fuz.
Whether it’s an animated movie, a pocket watch, or a synthetic life-form, “things” cannot exist apart from the efforts of a creator. It seems only logical that the same concept would apply to the natural world.
In addition to articles and podcasts, Fuz comments on Venter’s work in his books Origins of Life (coauthored with Hugh Ross), The Cell’s Design, and the upcoming Creating Life in the Lab (available February 2011).