Answers in Genesis on Arsenic Bacteria Discovery

You already know the news about the discovery of a bacterium that can use arsenic where all other terrestrial life uses phosphorus. See NASA News Release on Alien Life.

A day after the news broke, we were able to report the reaction of the Discovery Institute, in Klinghoffer: The View from Bizarro World. Somehow they thought the discovery was “bad news for Darwinists.”

It doesn’t take creationists long to think about these things, because today we can bring you the reaction from Answers in Genesis (AIG), one of the major sources of young-earth creationist wisdom. It’s the second item in AIG’s News to Note, December 4, 2010 — “A weekly feature examining news from the biblical viewpoint.” (The first item is about their proposed Noah’s Ark theme park.)

As they often do, AIG links to a BBC news article, and then they give the creationist viewpoint. We know the news. A team of biologists, seeking to test the idea that the chemical basis of life may be more flexible than we currently know, set out to look for some life that might use arsenic, which is chemically similar to phosphorus. They chose to search in California’s Mono Lake because the water there is rich in arsenic.

Bingo — they found something they could coax to live on arsenic. This is classic science: hypothesis, prediction, test, confirmation. Lovely stuff.

Let’s step back for a second and think about this. Creationists are forever telling us that life is virtually impossible, and it requires a miracle (or — wink, wink — an intelligent designer) to get it started. Biologists, on the other hand, say that life probably started here by natural means. Not only that, it could have happened elsewhere as well if the conditions were favorable; and (the recently tested hypothesis) perhaps it can happen using a wider range of components than the six elements that comprise life on earth.

It’s obvious that the chemically strange bacteria found in a California lake aren’t extraterrestrial life, but this must be acknowledged: (1) they were predicted to exist if life can form in more-or-less unearthly chemical environments; (2) they were found where they were predicted; and (3) they are evidence in support of the idea that the chemical origin of life is not even close to being an impossible miracle.

This is what has the creationists so upset. It’s worse than the discovery of yet another transitional fossil — even a spectacular one like Tiktaalik. Creationists are getting experienced at explaining such things away. “It’s all a matter of one’s presuppositions, you know.”

But how can they dismiss the undeniable existence of a life form that uses a different chemical structure than we do? This is clear evidence that life isn’t unique to the common conditions here on earth. The implication is that life can probably happen in other places, even in environments not favorable to our chemical composition. That’s a real challenge for the creationists — it’s dangerously close to a flat-out contradiction of their mantra that “Life was uniquely and miraculously created on Earth — and only on Earth.”

After mulling it over for a full day, here’s what the creation scientists at AIG say, with bold font added by us:

[W]hile some may see in the discovery more evidence that “aliens” may be out there (albeit genuine extraterrestrials), it in fact offers less evidence for the possibility of a unique form of life than some scientists had hoped for.

Aside from the fact that we don’t understand AIG’s parenthetical expression, what are they saying? This bacterium is less evidence than some scientists had hoped for. Well, it’s still more than AIG can wave away, because what they’ve said isn’t exactly a killer criticism. Let’s read on:

Further, learning that life can live on a slightly different chemical cocktail does nothing to show that life of any sort can evolve; the two are distinct questions.

Hey — this is the first time we’ve ever seen a creationist admit that evolution is a separate concept from the origin of life. They’re making progress. However, they’re ducking the fact that life now appears to be less miraculous than they’ve been claiming.

Here’s their concluding word on the matter:

Finally, and as we pointed out previously, given that the evolutionary origin of life is a dubious speculation (for creationists) and not well understood problem (for evolutionists), positing a separate form of life that evolved independently would raise more questions than it would answer and only cast further doubt on the evolutionary enterprise.

Huh? It raises “more questions than it would answer”? So what? That’s what’s fun about science. Oh, then there’s their totally unsupported claim that this would “only cast further doubt on the evolutionary enterprise.”

To which we respond: BWWWAHAHAHAHA!!! But thanks for playing.

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

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4 responses to “Answers in Genesis on Arsenic Bacteria Discovery

  1. It is truly amazing that the staff at AiG read such a variety of journals and news articles searching for material to comment on, and yet after all they have read and written about, they understand so little. They completely missed the point of this announcement.

    However, they were clearly very sensitive to the fact that it was reported on positively by the press, so they had to counter it. Notice they didn’t mention that NASA was involved and coordinated the announcement – after all, NASA still has credibility with the public. So they quote a BBC story, and mention Paul Davies who is a somewhat skeptical scientist with respect to our current SETI efforts. Davies advocates searching for a shadow biosphere on earth which, if it exists, would be evidence of a second genesis and thus would vastly increase the probability of life arising multiple times and multiple places. We’ll see how much they quote Davies if he is ever successful.

  2. “than some scientists had hoed for.”

    Typo?

  3. “positing a separate form of life that evolved independently would raise more questions than it would answer”

    In the instant case, it does show that bacteria can evolve, or at least adapt, to a wider range of environments, namely one where phosphorus is scarce and arsenic abundant.

    It also shows that it is possible to substitute arsenic to phosphorus in DNA, RNA and ATP, opening the possibility of life-bearing organic materials in extra-terrestrial arsenic-rich environments.

    But AIG can see nothing of that.
    They worked hard to belittle Lenski’s experiment, as they will dismiss any single scientific discovery in biology, and, in the near future, exobiology.

  4. MarcC says: “Typo?”

    Sure was. All fixed now. Thanks.