Thursday, March 12, 2009

Artificial "Life"?

Scientists believe that artificial life is possible within five years. From the New York Times:
    Laboratories across the world are closing in on a "second genesis" -- an achievement that would be one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs of all time.

    Prof David Deamer, from California University, said although building a new lifeform from scratch is a daunting task he is confident it can happen in five to 10 years.

    He said: "The momentum is building -- we're knocking at the door."

    A synthetic, made-to-order living system could produce everything from new drugs to biofuels and greenhouse gas absorbers.

    Opponents of the controversial research claim the technology could lead to machines becoming "almost human".
I found this story especially interesting in light of Darrell's post yesterday, as well as the recent story of a fertility clinic offering designer babies.

A few things jumped out at me as I read this. First, these scientists must have some kind of God-complex to believe they actually can (or even should) create life. Second, in order to create even a single living cell, they must first start with organic building blocks. So, in reality, they aren't creating anything; they are merely altering existing living material. Third, you and I both know that any "life" generated through these experiments will be held in higher esteem than the human embryos already being sacrificed in the name of science.

Therein lies the irony. On one hand, attempting to "create" artificial life is deemed a worthy cause, and any success would most certainly be heralded as a breakthrough. On the other hand, deliberately destroying human life through experimentation is considered noble because it's for the "greater good," whatever that may be. (As Darrell pointed out, it's very difficult to escape the comparisons with Nazism when discussing these kinds of issues.)

In a worldview that believes it is possible to make moral judgments without an absolute moral standard, these are the kinds of glaring inconsistencies that arise. Sadly, too many people are willing to just live with them rather than try to resolve them.

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