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May 21 2010
Vatican and Venter

Personally, I think the announcement yesterday about a "synthetic cell" by Craig Venter is "much ado about nothing". All his team did is make a copy of one bacterium's DNA (with a few small changes) and put it into another, closely related bacterium. And guess what, it worked. Big deal! Unless you thought there was something "magical" about DNA in living things, that it was somehow different than the chemicals that make it up, this is not a surprise. And it certainly does not qualify as "synthetic life", but which I would mean starting with only inert matter (not a living cell) and using a DNA sequence entirely created by us without "cribbing" it off of some existing lifeform.

But, if you want to see what the Catholic church has to say about it, see here. Some of what they say makes sense to me. Just like anything new we make and do (new sources of power, new weapons, spy satellites, etc.) we should be guided by ethics and not use these things in ways that devalue human life. Actually, I'm not sure why it would only apply to new things, though. The same is true for old things, including old technologies like a bow&arrow and old books like the Bible. These also can theoretically be misused in unethical ways and we should strive not to. That's good humanist values as well as (apparently) Catholic.

BUT, then they also go on to say things like "only God can create life".

I guess that statement raises TWO questions. First, did God create life? Personally, I don't think so. I don't think there is a "god". But, I understand that some people do think he did and at the moment we are very far from being able to say for sure what the correct answer to that question is. On the other hand, there is the question "Is it possible for humans to create life?" That's much more relevant to what Venter did, and what he's trying to do. This experiment really does not demonstrate it, but it is a step towards being able to answer affirmatively that we CAN create life. So, the statement "only God CAN create life" which appears in the article may soon be easily disproved.

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