Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Origin of life: The live cat vs. the dead cat

Friend Roddy Bullock writes to advise me that his new essay, titled "Life: (More Than) Some Assembly Required" is now posted at ARN's ID Report:

When it comes to creating "life" in any form, the hopeful reports keep coming, tickling the ears with the sizzle, but never showing the steak. Just last month, The Boston Globe ran the headline "Harvard Fuels Quest to Create Life From Scratch" describing the latest research of Harvard's Origins of Life Initiative. And again, if one reads beyond the attention-grabbing headline, one learns that what has actually been created is a machine that can manufacture proteins. This is, of course, quite a feat of intelligent design, but to say, as the article quotes, that "it's a step toward artificial life" because the machine can mimic a ribosome, which is the "key component of all living systems", goes too far. Hey, our dead cat is full of ribosomes. There's no need to design a machine to make proteins, and no reason to believe that if you make them you are any closer to creating real life, much less "artificial life".
About our "dead cat"? Roddy kindly writes,

Thanks to Denyse O'Leary, whose question some time ago has stuck with me: "What's the difference between a live cat and a dead cat?" I used this as the opening line in this essay that explores the "life from scratch" quest and makes a prediction for all those who believe that ID theorists make no predictions. My prediction: "Scientists will never create life from scratch, unless one or both of 'life' or 'scratch' is redefined to a meaningless ambiguity."
Well, if the researchers succeed through intelligent design, they have shown that intelligent design can reverse engineer life. That is all.

The question I raised that evening:

If we assume that current theory is correct, the life of the cat was transmitted through countless generations of previous life forms. When the cat dies, before the decay processes have begun, we have exactly the same animal - but it is no longer alive. What changed, exactly? I mean, we can say that the cat's heart stopped, obviously, so life could not continue. But what precisely cannot continue?

My question is, can life can be seen as "information in motion"? When the information flow stops, that life form is soon scavenged by others, to continue their own lives as information in motion. That view of life would better suit a design interpretation of nature than a random evolution one.
Random evolution is what happens when the cat is dead - in the strict sense that whichever scavengers are drawn to the carcass first consume it. But these other life forms continue as information in motion.

Randomness does not produce intricate information, despite dogmatic insistence by materialists of various stripes.

See also: Origin of life: Latest scenario gives RNA world a boost