ICR: Moving the Goalposts Again

We have previously written about the efforts of creationists to prepare their mindless flocks for the eventual creation of life in a lab. It’s quite amusing to see their gyrations as they prepare for the coming shock.

For example, more than three years ago we wrote Creationists: Moving the Goalposts, in which we said:

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.

Then we discussed the preparations of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) — the granddaddy of all creationist outfits, the fountainhead of young-earth creationist wisdom — for the inevitable day when life would be artificially created. We said:

It would clearly demonstrate that life can be created by non-miraculous means. That alone should shatter the creationists’ claim.

But ICR said, with our bold font for emphasis:

[T]heir 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.

About which we remarked:

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.

ICR also claimed:

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.

Our response to that was:

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.

ICR concluded their rant by claiming that whatever gets produced in a lab, life conjured up by the Creator “would possess minds, wills, and emotions. These three qualities, at least, will perennially resist laboratory-based efforts at duplication.”

So they picked out their fall-back position, and that’s where things were three years ago. But the time when life gets created in the lab is coming closer (see Venter says ‘synthetic life coming’), so ICR is once again preparing their flock for the inevitable. They’ve just posted It’s (Virtually) Alive! Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Scientists made a virtual microbe, complete with dozens of interconnected cell functions.

ICR doesn’t provide a link, but they’re talking about this paper, published in Cell: A Whole-Cell Computational Model Predicts Phenotype from Genotype. If you don’t have a subscription you can read about it at PhysOrg: Researchers produce first complete computer model of an organism. Here’s how it starts:

A team led by Stanford bioengineering Professor Markus Covert used data from more than 900 scientific papers to account for every molecular interaction that takes place in the life cycle of Mycoplasma genitalium – the world’s smallest free-living bacterium. By encompassing the entirety of an organism in silicon, the paper fulfills a longstanding goal for the field. Not only does the model allow researchers to address questions that aren’t practical to examine otherwise, it represents a stepping-stone toward the use of computer-aided design in bioengineering and medicine.

This is the sort of thing that absolutely terrifies creationists. Scientists — real ones, not creation scientists — are closing in on the “mysteries” of life — which creationists have been claiming for centuries are the exclusive and unassailable domain of their supernatural creator. We’ll skip ICR’s description of the virtual cell — it’s a stunning accomplishment, but they don’t think much of it — and jump right to their conclusions at the end:

What does all of this imply for origins research?

First, with so much intelligently-directed effort required to build its virtual facsimile, researchers can rest assured that intelligently-directed effort was likewise required to build the original bacteria. This resists Darwinian doctrines that insist cells arose from nature, not intelligence.

Last, when in some future years bioengineers complete their final draft of the virtual cell, they will only succeed in building something that’s not real. Although it is possible to model how molecules and maybe even whole cells behave, it is infinitely more difficult to assemble actual atoms into their correct positions to build a cell. But somebody did just that.

So there you are. Anything done in the lab requires intelligence — and that proves … well, to creationists it proves something or other. And even when scientists succeed at building artificial life, it won’t be real! Those durned scientists can’t take any shortcuts; they have to start with individual atoms!

It’s like the punchline to that old creationist knee-slapper — “Get your own dirt!” (If you never heard it, Google it.)

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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7 responses to “ICR: Moving the Goalposts Again

  1. Yes, the creationist line used to be: scientists can’t create life in a test tube, so that disproves evolution.

    Now the new creationist line is: scientists can create life in a test tube, so that disproves evolution.

  2. Charley Horse

    Well, humans wouldn’t be here to attempt to create life forms if
    they weren’t first created.
    There, that’s another moving of the goal posts.
    As long as there are creationists–no end in sight–creationists can and
    will move the goal posts. No logic or reason required. Just faith.

  3. The problem of course, is identifying the original designer, the existence of which ICR claims scientists are proving. If one postulates a supernatural designer, one must then explain how that supernatural entity came to be – who designed it and when. This results in an infinite string of supernatural designers as each must themselves have been designed.

    On the other hand, if one claims that the supernatural entity was never created, but always existed. then one must explain how the supernatural material or forces or whatever came together at the beginning of time to create the all-powerful entity. Why is there something (albeit an undetectable something) rather than nothing? And if something so complex and powerful as a god can arise (super)naturally, why cannot much simpler organisms arise naturally?

  4. Ceteris Paribus

    ICR concluded their rant by claiming that whatever gets produced in a lab, life conjured up by the Creator “would possess minds, wills, and emotions. These three qualities, at least, will perennially resist laboratory-based efforts at duplication.”

    What is so supernaturally special about the attributes of “minds, wills, and emotions”? A large part of the software we arm wrestle with every day behaves exactly as if it had been endowed by its creators with generous amounts of the cyber equivalent of all three.

    So let the creationists move the goal posts. But require them to prove that the deity they adhere to isn’t just another cruel joke being played on them by a run of the mill deranged hacker “computer engineer” on the other side of their cubicle partition.

  5. retiredsciguy

    @Ed: Well-stated. Seems to button it up, then, doesn’t it? The natural world is, well, all-natural.

    Too bad there are so many people who feel that others won’t follow the rules of civil behavior unless they “have the fear of God” instilled in them. Are you reading this, Ken Ham?

    John Lennon summed it up well in Imagine, but now we’re getting off-topic.

  6. ….if scientists somehow produce a complex chemical concoction that is specified enough to perform some of the tasks required by real living cells….. it took an intelligent agent to produce.

    Nope. It was done 40 years ago, and doesn’t need intelligent agents.

    The twenty amino acids found in proteins spontaneously assemble into protein-like molecules when dissolved in salt water and gently heated. The only reason these are called “protein-like” is that they are not necessarily the same proteins found in cells today. But, they are in fact proteins. They have also been found to occur nature, for example in lava flows. Sounds just like Darwin’s “warm little pond”, doesn’t it?

    The proteins spontaneously assemble into protocells, with cell walls and all that. And the list of biochemical reactions they spontaneously perform, reactions are carried out by living cells today, is a long one.

    But creos will say that tossing some amino acids into salt water and heating requires intelligence, so I guess those facts aren’t relevant, are they?

  7. Last, when in some future years bioengineers complete their final draft of the virtual cell, they will only succeed in building something that’s not real.

    Building something that’s not real? You mean like a plastic dinosaur with a saddle on it?