Time Traveling in Their Minds

Scientist priest Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk explains that a recent scientific achievement in the news was not so much the creation of life as a rebuilding of a fundamental component, citing a Princeton microbiologist:

“Every cell is a microcosm of life, and neither the Venter team nor anybody else has come close to recreating the cell from scratch. If anything, the new report underscores how dependent biologists remain on its encapsulated power. Bonnie L. Bassler, a microbiologist at Princeton, said, “They started with a known genome, a set of genes that nature had given us, and they had to put their genome into a live cell with all the complex goo and ingredients to make the thing go.”

What’s interesting about some responses, though, is the authors’ eagerness to dispel that which one can assume they’ve already managed to disprove to their own satisfaction:

Nevertheless, a number of commentators have managed to miss the point. Bioethicist Art Caplan, writing on the Scientific American website, suggests that Venter’s “synthetic cell” dispels the notion that life “is sacred, special, ineffable and beyond human understanding.”
Faye Flam muses in a similar vein in the Philadelphia Inquirer: “What’s shocking about the new organism isn’t that it breaches a boundary between inanimate matter and life, but that it shows that no such boundary exists. Life is chemistry.” Her article gets even more outlandish when she suggests that chemicals “have the power to assemble themselves into organisms — even complicated ones that can contemplate their own place in the universe…”

You know, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anybody claim that scientists could not possible learn to build cells from scratch. There are plenty of reasons to worry about the quest to do so — philosophically and practically — but the probability that it could be done is not seriously in dispute. No doubt, the likes of Caplan and Flam have long expected that day to come and have already drawn their conclusions about material and spiritual life.
It’s an odd thing, that in acknowledging miracles and mysteries, religious people tend not to be concerned about mankind’s peeks into the machine, while those who seek to make a religion of disbelief often seem desperate to declare the matter proven, even as they clearly believe that it already has been.

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