Scientists have created the first ‘artificial life’. This is amazing and awesome news. Hopefully there will be many new and useful applications of this achievement over time.
Already there are strong words of caution from various quarters, suggesting we need to think very carefully about the ethics both of creating life and of the potential risks to the environment if an organism was released. Rightly so. This doesn’t mean the discovery can’t be used – but like many others I think our ethics are lagging significantly behind our science. Here’s a conservative christian perspective, but many non-religious ethicists are also cautious, as the BBC and other news articles show. Here’s a slightly snarky atheist point of view. And there’s a small part of me that says, “Life? Some artificial DNA into a cell equals life? Just what counts as ‘life’, anyway, let alone sentience?”
I’m also expecting both sides of the creation-evolution debate to use this discovery as a weapon. “Aha”, the atheist evolutionists might say, “this shows that life isn’t really all that special. A bit of chemistry and hey presto”. I have to say atheist evolutionists because there are in fact a number of theistic evolutionists, as I write about here, even though the young earth nutters are more vocal.
Whereas, the non-evolutionist creationists will say “It took $40 million and a whole lot of science to create life. All this proves is that intelligent design is needed. Besides, this is far from true biogenesis from non-living matter.” I do think they have a point.
So I say this latest achievement is inconclusive for either side, and award science a big “yay!” and ethics a big “yay!”. I look forward to seeing the progress that both make in future.