Creationists React to Venter’s Breakthrough, Part 4

THIS is another follow-up to Craig Venter‘s announcement that his lab has created a bacterial cell with a synthetic genome. For earlier creationist reactions see Part 1 and Part 2, and then Part 3

We’ve been waiting for this one. It’s from the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids), and posted at their blog. The title is Has Craig Venter Produced Artificial Life?

For this important subject, the Discoveroids are deploying one of their major intellects — Jonathan Wells. We’ve written about him a few times before. For background on this Moonie-creationist, see Discovery Institute: The Genius of Jonathan Wells. Here are some excerpts from Wells’ blog article, with bold added by us.

First he quotes some reactions from the rational world, for example:

According to University of Pennsylvania philosopher and bioethicist Arthur Caplan, “Venter and his colleagues have shown that the material world can be manipulated to produce what we recognize as life. In doing so they bring to an end a debate about the nature of life that has lasted thousands of years. Their achievement undermines a fundamental belief about the nature of life that is likely to prove as momentous to our view of ourselves and our place in the Universe as the discoveries of Galileo, Copernicus, Darwin and Einstein.”

That sounds pretty good! A tad overblown, perhaps, but Venter has done something amazing. Let’s see what Wells has to say:

Whoa! Wait a minute!

What Venter and his team did was to determine the sequence of the DNA in one of the world’s simplest bacteria, use the sequence information to synthesize a copy of that DNA from subunits sold by a biological supply company, then put the synthetic copy of DNA into a living bacterial cell from which the natural DNA had been removed.

Oh. Is that all? Wells continues:

In contrast to Caplan’s exaggerated claims, CalTech biologist and Nobel laureate David Baltimore said that Venter has “overplayed the importance” of his results, which represent “a technical tour de force” rather than a scientific breakthrough. Venter “has not created life, only mimicked it,” Baltimore said.

Mere mimicry of life. That’s nothing — the Discoveroids do it all day long. Then Wells quotes from an article in The Economist:

“Pedants may quibble,” the writer complains, that “the researchers had to use the shell of an existing bug to get that DNA to do its stuff.”

Pedants and Discoveroids. Here’s Well’s stunning conclusion:

Shell? But oh, what an amazing shell it is! And from that shell of life, what discoveries may come? Ay, there’s the rub.

You see, dear reader? The mystery is all in the bacterium’s shell — that’s the new holy grail. Venter hasn’t accomplished anything. He hasn’t even laid a glove on the creationists. As the Black Knight said, “It’s just a flesh wound!”

But we’re left wondering — is that the best the Discoveroids can do? Probably it is, but we expect to hear more from them anyway. They really can’t afford to leave this alone.

Update: Creationists React to Venter’s Breakthrough, Part 5.

Related post: See Nature Doesn’t Need To Think.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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5 responses to “Creationists React to Venter’s Breakthrough, Part 4

  1. longshadow

    Venter’s achievement should not be underestimated. Where the Creationoids once hid behind the “God of the Gaps,” they now cower and throw spitballs from behind the “God of the Bacterial shells” ….

  2. Loathe as I am to agree with Jonathan Wells (or even share the same solar system, but I digress), he’s making a fair point.

    Venter did some remarkable work by synthesising a genome, but the achievement is a triumph of logistics and technology rather than a theoretical breakthrough into how to synthesise life.

    Wells is still a prat though.

  3. As has been pointed out on other blogs, its not the original which is 100% artificial; its the offspring. The offspring cells – shell and everything – are produced entirely from instructions encoded in the artificial DNA. You can argue all you want about whether the first generation of a von Neumann machine really counts as a self-replicator, but the second and third generations seal the deal.

  4. Sour grapes from the Discovery Institute taste sweet.

    It isn’t that the DNA is “artificial”. The DNA is built from the usual Watson-Crick AT GC base pairs. What is important is that the sequence was engineered and that these sequences were able to drive a bacterium to metabolize and reproduce. I think it’s a great breakthrough. Only a decade ago, sequencing a genome was a milestone accomplishment. Now we’re synthesizing them. Granted, these are microbial genomes. Bacterial genomes range in size from 1 to 10 mega base pair in size. It’s cool, because it demonstrates our understanding of the relationship between genes and proteins is getting better.

  5. Wells and other creationists all claim that “life cannot come from non-life” and “Only God can create life.”
    Venter takes “dead DNA” i.e. synthesized by purely materialistic means, puts it in a dead cell minus DNA, and the cell starts replicating i.e. living again – that’s awfully close to life coming from non-life. That Wells and others are complaining about how Venter “plagiarized” the DNA is IMO just done to obfuscate that fact.
    That’s why Well’s putting so much emphasis on “into a living bacterial cell” and “what an amazing shell it is! And from that shell of life,…”
    The magical ingredient can’t be in the DNA anymore, so now it must be in the “shell.”
    They’re all busily moving the goalpost so that they can continue claiming that life can only come from life or God.