If evolutionists want to end the arguments all they have to do is, get their brilliant heads together and assemble a 'simple' living cell. --creationist comment, 2007Somehow, I doubt that the simple living cell assembled by Venter and colleagues will end the arguments. (Discussion at Pharyngula and elsewhere.) First, we're still a ways from making a working cell "from scratch." Venter's group used an existing cell, minus its DNA. It probably won't be too long before well be able to fill that gap (if anyone wants to bother), using membranes, ribosomes, etc. made in the lab without the use of living cells. But I'd be very surprised if we succeeded in designing and making life in the lab without using information from existing life within the next 50 years. Venter used the complete DNA sequence from another bacterium. But even if he'd designed the whole genome from scratch, the idea of using DNA as the hereditary material would be "borrowed" from existing life.
Are we smart enough to invent a totally new form of life? A computer virus that mutates in response to selection imposed by spam filters might qualify. So might a self-reproducing robot. In both cases, they would need special conditions (availability of computers or robot parts) to reproduce, but that's true of most living things. Could we design a life-form that could reproduce and evolve without using any materials produced by existing life-forms? Not anytime soon, I bet.
Could we, instead, create the conditions under which such a new life-form would arise and then evolve? For example, suppose we set up a thin metal plate with billions of cell-size holes through it (dimensions chosen so that macromolecules would have more chance to interact with each other than if they were floating in a large volume of water), then manipulate the chemical conditions on the two faces to provide a potential source of chemical energy. Throw in some of the organic molecules we know can arise from nonliving processes, and wait. Or something like that.
Making life that way would be much more of a challenge to creationism than any extension of Venter's approach. Because, suppose we do eventually design and create life from scratch? What would that prove? Our creationist commentator seemed to think it would disprove the hypothesis that life was created by a god. But I would draw the opposite conclusion. If we ever design and create life from scratch, without copying any aspect of the design of existing life, surely someone with superhuman intelligence -- I'm giving this hypothetical god the benefit of the doubt here -- could have done the same thing. In other words, we would have shown that a god could have created life on Earth. Whether one actually did is another question.
Similarly, if we ever produce a new life-form by creating conditions that favor its evolution, but without a detailed design for what we want the new life-form to be like, that will show that life could have arisen without any intervention by an existing intelligence. Again, whether that's what happened the first time would remain an open question.
One corollary to Clarke's Third Law ("any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic") is that any sufficiently advanced technology makes its practitioners indistinguishable from gods.