We're getting close to creating life from scratch. This article is about a team led by Craig Venter, including contributions from UBC and GSC here in Vancouver (Rob Holt is working with me on a project). They are starting with an bacterium that has an extremely small genome, knocking out more genes to get what they believe is the minimum required for life, and inserting the remaining DNA into a microbial "chassis" to see if it will become a viable organism. From the Globe and Mail: Creating first synthetic life form
This is another step on the road to humans taking control of biology as we have engineering and information. In the foreseeable future designing life will be akin to writing software. In other words, intelligent design - for real.
There has been an excellent debate on Science & Intelligent design going on at a conservative web site, The Corner on National Review Online (scroll down a bit if you hit this link). John Derbyshire, resident curmudgeon at NRO takes up the pro-science cudgel. One example:
"To a great many people, Darwin is a bogey-man, a sort
of anti-Christ figure. I suspect that millions of American children
are tucked up in bed at night with the warning that if they are not
good, the Darwin monster will come and eat them up.
To working scientists, this is nuts. Darwin was a great observer of
nature who established a neat theory that explains lots of stuff, and
which, in 150 years of inquiry, no new observations--zero, zip, zilch,
nada, none--have contradicted. That's all. Possibly some
observation will be made tomorrow that contradicts it--an intact bird
skeleton in precambrian rocks, for instance. Then we'll need a
revised theory, as we did in physics 100 years ago when Newtonism
showed cracks. The scientist who develops that revised theory will
then be world-famous, and will enjoy wealth and prestige beyond the
dreams of avarice. He will not be burned at the stake by enraged
Darwinians, any more than Einstein was by enraged Newtonians. Lots of
ambitious young biologists would l--o--v--e to be that guy. None of
them would describe himself as doing his daily research work 'in the
name of Darwin.'
But scientific thinking--dispassionate observation, measurement,
experimentation, and hypothesis-forming--is deeply unnatural for human
beings, and a great many people--most, I sometimes think--will just
never get it, in fact will react violently against it, at any rate
when it is applied to living creatures. To most people, all abstract
thought is really religion, or ought to be. If it doesn't behave like
religion, if a theory's proponents don't behave like evangelists and
theologians, people get mad with them. That is part of human nature,
according to Paul Bloom, and I think he's right; but you can't build
bridges or design drugs by thinking like that, and you can't enlarge
your understanding of the natural world, either--no matter how many
philosophers, theologians, novelists, and historians you hire."