Artificial Life

In the beginning was the Original Replicant, floating in a test tube. Then came the Mutants, deformed by harsh ultraviolet rays. They interacted with the Original Replicants to form Hybrids. No, this is not a science fiction novel; it's a description of an experiment conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The characters in the story are artificial molecules designed by chemists in the latest attempt to solve the mystery of life's origin. It was back in the 1960s that we first began to read headlines claiming that scientists were about to conjure up life in a test tube. Biochemists discovered they could mix ammonia, methane, and water, zap it with an electric spark, and create amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. The scientific community was euphoric. No one had ever dreamed of creating even the simplest building blocks of life before. But then things ground to a halt. The amino acids never did form proteins or evolve into a living cell. And critics charged that even the amino acids were obtained only by "cheating"—by rigging the experiment. You see, origin-of-life experiments are supposed to be reenactments of what could have happened in a warm pond on the early earth. The most realistic experiment would be pouring various chemicals into water and mixing them up. But no researcher ever does that, because it doesn't yield anything. Instead, scientists tinker with the experiment at several points. For example, in a real pond, there would be all sorts of chemical reactions—many of them canceling out the reactions the scientist needs. So what does he do? He starts with pure ingredients. That's strike number one. In a natural setting like the early earth, there is no way to purify the starting materials to get the results you want. Origin-of-life experiments often use ultraviolet light to simulate sunlight. But certain wavelengths of light destroy amino acids. So what does the researcher do? He screens them out. Strike number two. In a natural setting you have to deal with real sunlight—in all its wavelengths. The amino acids formed in these experiments are delicate; they easily break down into the chemicals that make them up. So what does the researcher do? He rigs a trap to remove them from the reaction site as soon as they form, to protect them from disintegration. Strike number three. Nature doesn't come equipped with protective traps. Any amino acids that form in nature quickly disintegrate. The problems are so great that some scientists have given up imitating real life and are trying their hand at creating artificial life: man-made Replicants and Mutants, like the experiments at MIT. But even the most successful experiments tell us nothing about what can happen in nature. They tell us only what can happen when brilliant scientists direct and manipulate conditions. So try turning the tables on your friends who are evolutionists. The experiments don't prove life can arise spontaneously in nature. On the contrary, they give experimental evidence that life can be created only by an intelligent agent directing and controlling the process. And isn't that what we Christians have been saying all along?


Chuck Colson



  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary