Creationists: Moving the Goalposts

THE highly esteemed creationist website of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) is making preparations for the inevitable day when scientists announce that they have created life in the lab.

It has long been a creationist claim that life is such an incredibly amazing, utterly impossible phenomenon that it couldn’t have occurred by natural processes. Only a supernatural agency could have created it. Indeed, the “failure” of Darwin to explain the origin of life — something he never attempted — is frequently cited as a “defect” or “weakness” in the theory of evolution.

However, numerous scientists have been working to artificially create living material out of non-living chemicals. See Synthetic life. When the deed is finally accomplished, how will the creationists react?

No, they won’t admit that they were wrong. Creationists never do that. Instead, they will deploy some of the arguments that we see in this article at the ICR website: Scientists Seek Second Genesis. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

The invention of a synthetic life form is a dream shared by many scientists, and they are beginning to see it as a possibility that is achievable within a decade. New Scientist magazine stated that “engineering a second genesis would…broaden our view of life” by bringing an alternate version of what evolution supposedly accomplished “3.5 billion years ago” when it made the first living cell. A “second genesis” could also presumably lead to the invention of novel molecules that could solve “practical problems.” But would it provide proof of an evolutionary origin for life?

This is the article they’re talking about: Second Genesis: Life, but not as we know it . As for the AIG question, “But would it provide proof of an evolutionary origin for life?” we can confidently say this: It would clearly demonstrate that life can be created by non-miraculous means. That alone should shatter the creationists’ claim. (And yes, we know that the term “evolutionary origin for life” is erroneous. The origin of life is an issue of organic chemistry, not biology; but to creationists, everything they don’t know or don’t like is “evolutionary.”)

Let’s read on:

The researchers’ goal is to construct “an entirely new form of life unlike any that exists today.” But their quest has instead served to clearly demonstrate the specified complexity of life. Each new technical breakthrough in the laboratory shows that the biological processes necessary for basic life required skill and genius to construct. These studies are methodically revealing the utter inadequacy of the raw laws of chemistry and physics to accomplish the technical feats required to produce and maintain viability.

Oooo! Specified complexity! That sounds important — except that it means nothing. And in what way does producing synthetic life reveal “the utter inadequacy of the raw laws of chemistry and physics to accomplish the technical feats required to produce and maintain viability”? Nothing done will be contrary to the laws of chemistry or physics. Yes, it’s difficult. But lab researchers don’t have nature’s luxury of millions of cubic miles of ocean and billions of years to play with. If one wants to rush things along, it’s bound to be difficult.

We’ll skip some accounts of difficulties the researchers have encountered, and pick up what the article has to say about it:

These examples illustrate the principle of irreducible complexity, that certain whole systems must be formed intact if they are to have any functionality. Trying to develop them piecemeal does not work. Nor has there been a successful demonstration of unaided nature solving the various technical challenges that these scientists are trying to overcome by manipulating, making, and supplying the right parts in the right environments in the right amounts and at the right times.

Amusing, isn’t it? No, mere lab difficulties don’t “illustrate the principle of irreducible complexity.” Nor has it been demonstrated that trying”to develop them piecemeal does not work.” It’s difficult work, but there’s no justification for claiming it’s impossible. Those engaged in such work predict that they’ll accomplish their goal within a decade, according to the New Scientist article that AIG cited. Didn’t they read it?

Here’s more from AIG, and now you can see how they’re running away from the inevitable:

And even if scientists somehow produce a complex chemical concoction that is specified enough to perform some of the tasks required by real living cells, they will only have succeeded in proving that life-by-nature alone was not possible — it took an intelligent agent to produce.

Yes, it will take the work of intelligent people, but people aren’t gods. If mere men can accomplish such a thing, it will be a clear demonstration that no supernatural agency is required. The creationists know this, or at least they dimly sense it. But they can’t admit it. Here’s the end of the article:

Although the physical machinery of a self-replicating, metabolizing, artificial cell is conceivably reproducible — albeit by massive human exertion — the non-physical aspects found in much of animal life is not. The Creator made sure that creatures whose “life of the flesh is in the blood” would possess minds, wills, and emotions. These three qualities, at least, will perennially resist laboratory-based efforts at duplication.

Now they’ve completely moved the goalposts. We may create life, but there’s always “minds, wills, and emotions.” Those will be the next “proof” of the creationists’ claim that supernatural agencies are necessary for our existence.

It’s the God of the gaps argument. As Einstein once said:

To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with the natural events could never be refuted, in the real sense, by science, for this doctrine can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot. But I am persuaded that such behaviour on the part of the representatives of religion would not only be unworthy but also fatal. For a doctrine which is able to maintain itself not in clear light but only in the dark, will of necessity lose its effect on mankind, with incalculable harm to human progress… .

– Albert Einstein, Science and Religion

But don’t worry about the creationists; they’ll always have gaps to exploit. When life is created in the lab — by mere men — they’ll be ready. They’ll fall back to their next line of defense — “minds, wills, and emotions.”

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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8 responses to “Creationists: Moving the Goalposts

  1. John Phillips, FCD

    it took an intelligent agent to produce.

    And they still won’t get, or refuse to get, that their ‘argument’ falls apart because ultimately, it’s simply turtles all the way down.

  2. John Phillips says:

    And they still won’t get, or refuse to get, that their ‘argument’ falls apart because ultimately, it’s simply turtles all the way down.

    But it takes more faith to believe in evolution than to believe in turtles all the way down.

  3. “I, for one, welcome our newly-minted overlords.”
    (I was thinking about the gray-goo scenario, and that phrase popped into mind. – I’ll try to be more relavent in the future.)

  4. John Phillips, FCD

    Damn clever those turtles :-)

  5. And even if scientists somehow produce a complex chemical concoction that is specified enough to perform some of the tasks required by real living cells, they will only have succeeded in proving that life-by-nature alone was not possible — it took an intelligent agent to produce.

    Oh, really? So, arguing analogously, does the fact that scientists managed to produce synthetic diamonds in a laboratory prove that naturally formed diamonds are impossible? That God is running a diamond foundry deep in the bowels of the earth, operated by defrocked angels in lab coats pounding coal into diamonds?

    Does the fact that scientists can create Fulgurites in a laboratory prove that Fulgurites found in natural are in fact all made by the Intelligent Lightning Bolter?

    Well, to a Creationist, I suppose that argument would be deemed persuasive.

  6. Longie says: “So, arguing analogously, does the fact that scientists managed to produce synthetic diamonds in a laboratory prove that naturally formed diamonds are impossible?”

    Your examples are too exotic. How about burning hydrogen to produce water? Surely this proves that water has a supernatural origin.

  7. retiredsciguy

    The creationists write,
    ” The Creator made sure that creatures whose “life of the flesh is in the blood” would possess minds, wills, and emotions. ”

    What? A bacterium has a mind, a will, and emotions? Or do the creationists consider human beings to be the only form of life on earth?
    I wonder what kind of emotions a carrot feels when I bite into it? Or a walnut? Both are still living, because if I stick either in the ground, it will grow anew.
    Geez, Curmy, how can you stand reading this crap day in and day out? It needs to be done and I salute you for doing it, but aren’t you the least concerned for your sanity?

  8. retiredsciguy says: “Curmy, how can you stand reading this crap day in and day out? It needs to be done and I salute you for doing it, but aren’t you the least concerned for your sanity?”

    Too late to worry about that. Much too late!