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Debate: Artificial life

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[http://www.economist.com/node/16163154?story_id=16163154& "A man made life." The Economist. May 20th, 2010]: "Craig Venter and Hamilton Smith, the two American biologists who unravelled the first DNA sequence of a living organism (a bacterium) in 1995, have made a bacterium that has an artificial genome—creating a living creature with no ancestor. Pedants may quibble that only the DNA of the new beast was actually manufactured in a laboratory; the researchers had to use the shell of an existing bug to get that DNA to do its stuff. Nevertheless, a Rubicon has been crossed.[[Image:Artificial life.jpg|left|200px]][[Image:Cell.jpg|right|200px]] It is now possible to conceive of a world in which new bacteria (and eventually, new animals and plants) are designed on a computer and then grown to order." [http://www.economist.com/node/16163154?story_id=16163154& "A man made life." The Economist. May 20th, 2010]: "Craig Venter and Hamilton Smith, the two American biologists who unravelled the first DNA sequence of a living organism (a bacterium) in 1995, have made a bacterium that has an artificial genome—creating a living creature with no ancestor. Pedants may quibble that only the DNA of the new beast was actually manufactured in a laboratory; the researchers had to use the shell of an existing bug to get that DNA to do its stuff. Nevertheless, a Rubicon has been crossed.[[Image:Artificial life.jpg|left|200px]][[Image:Cell.jpg|right|200px]] It is now possible to conceive of a world in which new bacteria (and eventually, new animals and plants) are designed on a computer and then grown to order."
-Dr. Craig Venter, who has been working on synthetic life for a decade, told The Times: "It is our final triumph. This is the first synthetic cell. It’s the first time we have started with information in a computer, used four bottles of chemicals to write up a million letters of DNA software, and actually got it to boot up in a living organism. [...] Though this is a baby step, it enables a change in philosophy, a change in thinking, a change in the tools we have. This cell we’ve made is not a miracle cell that’s useful for anything, it is a proof of concept. But the proof of concept was key, otherwise it is just speculation and science fiction. This takes us across that border, into a new world."[http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/science/biology_evolution/article7132299.ece] +Dr. Craig Venter, who has been working on synthetic life for a decade, told The New York Times: "It is our final triumph. This is the first synthetic cell. It’s the first time we have started with information in a computer, used four bottles of chemicals to write up a million letters of DNA software, and actually got it to boot up in a living organism. [...] Though this is a baby step, it enables a change in philosophy, a change in thinking, a change in the tools we have. This cell we’ve made is not a miracle cell that’s useful for anything, it is a proof of concept. But the proof of concept was key, otherwise it is just speculation and science fiction. This takes us across that border, into a new world."[http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/science/biology_evolution/article7132299.ece]
President Obama responded by tasking the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues with considering the issue and saying in late May of 2010: "It is vital that we as a society consider, in a thoughtful manner, the significance of this kind of scientific development," and that the Commission should consider the measures that societies "should take to ensure that America reaps the benefits of this developing field of science while identifying appropriate ethical boundaries and minimizing identified risks."[http://www.genomeweb.com/white-house-tackles-synthetic-life-ethics] President Obama responded by tasking the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues with considering the issue and saying in late May of 2010: "It is vital that we as a society consider, in a thoughtful manner, the significance of this kind of scientific development," and that the Commission should consider the measures that societies "should take to ensure that America reaps the benefits of this developing field of science while identifying appropriate ethical boundaries and minimizing identified risks."[http://www.genomeweb.com/white-house-tackles-synthetic-life-ethics]
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*'''[[Argument: Artificial life holds major benefits for humanity| Artificial life hold major benefits for humanity]]''' [http://www.economist.com/node/16163154?story_id=16163154& "And man made life." The Economist. May 20th 2010]: "Synthetic biology [...] promises much. In the short term it promises better drugs, less thirsty crops (see article), greener fuels and even a rejuvenated chemical industry. In the longer term who knows what marvels could be designed and grown?" *'''[[Argument: Artificial life holds major benefits for humanity| Artificial life hold major benefits for humanity]]''' [http://www.economist.com/node/16163154?story_id=16163154& "And man made life." The Economist. May 20th 2010]: "Synthetic biology [...] promises much. In the short term it promises better drugs, less thirsty crops (see article), greener fuels and even a rejuvenated chemical industry. In the longer term who knows what marvels could be designed and grown?"
-*'''Artificial life is a profound symbol of man's mastery over nature.''' [http://www.economist.com/node/16163154?story_id=16163154& "And man made life." The Economist. May 20th 2010]: "That ability would prove mankind’s mastery over nature in a way more profound than even the detonation of the first atomic bomb. The bomb, however justified in the context of the second world war, was purely destructive. Biology is about nurturing and growth."+*'''[[Argument: Synthetic biology can help fight climate change and pollution| Synthetic biology can help fight climate change and pollution]]''' Rep. Henry Waxman (Democrat, California), Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a May 2010 hearing on the topic of synthetic biology: "Synthetic biology also has the potential to reduce our dependence on oil and to address climate change. Research is underway to develop microbes that would produce oil, giving us a renewable fuel that could be used interchangeably with gasoline without creating more global warming pollution. Research could also lead to oil-eating microbes, an application that, as the Gulf spill unfortunately demonstrates, would be extremely useful."[http://news.softpedia.com/news/Obama-Congress-Committee-Discus-Synthetic-Biology-143251.shtml]
 + 
 +*'''[[Argument: Artificial life can be tailored for specific needs| Artificial life can be tailored for specific needs]]''' Daniel Gibson, one of the lead scientists creating the first man-made life at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland said, "With this approach we now have the ability to start with a DNA sequence and design organisms exactly like we want."[http://www.fluther.com/85389/artificial-life-a-good-or-bad-idea/]
*'''[[Argument: General statements in favor of artificial life| General statements in favor of artificial life]]''' Pamela Silver, a systems biologist at Harvard Medical School: "I hope the day comes when making genomes is something everyone can do."[http://news.discovery.com/tech/synthetic-genome-life.html] *'''[[Argument: General statements in favor of artificial life| General statements in favor of artificial life]]''' Pamela Silver, a systems biologist at Harvard Medical School: "I hope the day comes when making genomes is something everyone can do."[http://news.discovery.com/tech/synthetic-genome-life.html]
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====Con==== ====Con====
-*'''Synthetic biology driven by profits more than science/humanity.''' Jim Thomas, a member of the Etc Group: "Synthetic biology is a high-risk, profit-driven field, building organisms out of parts that are still poorly understood."[http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/environmentalists--try-to-ban-release--of-synthetic-life--forms-into-the-wild-1981120.html]+*'''[[Argument: Synthetic life driven by profits more than benefits to humanity| Synthetic life driven by profits more than benefits to humanity]]''' Jim Thomas, a member of the Etc Group: "Synthetic biology is a high-risk, profit-driven field, building organisms out of parts that are still poorly understood."[http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/environmentalists--try-to-ban-release--of-synthetic-life--forms-into-the-wild-1981120.html]
 + 
 +:[http://www.countercurrents.org/dsharma230510.htm Devinder Sharma. "Artificial Life Is Simply Not Another Breaking News, It Has Grave Implications for Humanity." Ground Reality. May 23rd, 2010]: "I do not support science and technology to remain outside the control of the society. We cannot allow science to be left to the inside of the board rooms of the corporates. Few people sitting in a board room cannot be left to decide what is good for us. It has gone on for long, and the world is facing the negative consequences through global warming. Synthetic life is a far too serious a threat, and no greenhouse accord can reverse the deadly fallout."
*'''Humans engineered organisms for centuries; synthetic life adds little.''' In a BBC interview, the Nobel prize-winning geneticist Paul Nurse cast doubt on whether synthetic life will add much to current capabilities, pointing out that we already have powerful means to engineer organisms.[http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/edf64e8e-68f4-11df-910b-00144feab49a.html] *'''Humans engineered organisms for centuries; synthetic life adds little.''' In a BBC interview, the Nobel prize-winning geneticist Paul Nurse cast doubt on whether synthetic life will add much to current capabilities, pointing out that we already have powerful means to engineer organisms.[http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/edf64e8e-68f4-11df-910b-00144feab49a.html]
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====Pro==== ====Pro====
-*'''Potential benefits of synthetic life far outweigh risks.''' Craig Venter said to the BBC in May of 2010: “Most people are in agreement that there is a slight increase in the potential for harm but there’s an exponential increase in the potential benefit to society.”[http://www.thenational.ae/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100522/FOREIGN/705219810/1014]+*'''[[Argument: Potential benefits of synthetic life far outweigh risks| Potential benefits of synthetic life far outweigh risks]]''' Craig Venter said to the BBC in May of 2010: “Most people are in agreement that there is a slight increase in the potential for harm but there’s an exponential increase in the potential benefit to society.”[http://www.thenational.ae/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100522/FOREIGN/705219810/1014]
*'''[[Argument: Synthetic organisms unlikely to survive out of lab| Synthetic organisms unlikely to survive out of lab]]''' [http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/21/synthetic-life-playing-god Ken MacLeod. "Humanity will thank heaven that this creator of synthetic life is playing God." Guardian. May 21, 2010]: "Some conjure a scenario where synthetic organisms to which there's "no natural resistance" run amok. This seems misconceived. The biosphere comes up with natural resistance to entirely new organisms every day. Unless deliberately designed for survival, synthetic organisms that are released or escape into the wild will shortly be another organism's lunch." *'''[[Argument: Synthetic organisms unlikely to survive out of lab| Synthetic organisms unlikely to survive out of lab]]''' [http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/21/synthetic-life-playing-god Ken MacLeod. "Humanity will thank heaven that this creator of synthetic life is playing God." Guardian. May 21, 2010]: "Some conjure a scenario where synthetic organisms to which there's "no natural resistance" run amok. This seems misconceived. The biosphere comes up with natural resistance to entirely new organisms every day. Unless deliberately designed for survival, synthetic organisms that are released or escape into the wild will shortly be another organism's lunch."
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*'''[[Argument: Synthetic organisms no greater risk than natural ones| Synthetic organisms no greater risk than natural ones]]''' [http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2010/may/26/synthetic-life-fear David Ropeik. "Synthetic life: Perhaps all we have to fear is fear itself?" Guardian. May 26th, 2010]: "People are generally more fearful of human-made risks, and less so of natural ones. Nature can indeed be red in tooth and claw, but new versions of plants, animals and microorganisms that evolve via Darwinian evolution don't upset us half as much as hybridisation by genetic engineering. That a bacterium can spontaneously evolve into a new version that can resist our arsenal of antibiotics doesn't seem to bother people as much as the possibility that we can now manufacture such mutants." *'''[[Argument: Synthetic organisms no greater risk than natural ones| Synthetic organisms no greater risk than natural ones]]''' [http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2010/may/26/synthetic-life-fear David Ropeik. "Synthetic life: Perhaps all we have to fear is fear itself?" Guardian. May 26th, 2010]: "People are generally more fearful of human-made risks, and less so of natural ones. Nature can indeed be red in tooth and claw, but new versions of plants, animals and microorganisms that evolve via Darwinian evolution don't upset us half as much as hybridisation by genetic engineering. That a bacterium can spontaneously evolve into a new version that can resist our arsenal of antibiotics doesn't seem to bother people as much as the possibility that we can now manufacture such mutants."
-*'''Artificial life can be tailored for specific needs.''' Daniel Gibson, one of the lead scientists creating the first man-made life at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland said, "With this approach we now have the ability to start with a DNA sequence and design organisms exactly like we want."[http://www.fluther.com/85389/artificial-life-a-good-or-bad-idea/]+*'''[[Argument: Remote risks should not hold-up synthetic life| Remote risks should not hold-up synthetic life]]''' [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-jon-lapook/creating-synthetic-life_b_599518.html Dr. Jon LaPook. "Creating 'Synthetic' Life." Huffington Post. June 3, 2010]: "Nobody knows where it will all lead. You can bet your bottom dollar that not all of it will be good but that's been true of just about every human advance."
-*'''Remote risks shouldn't hold-up advances in artificial life.''' [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-jon-lapook/creating-synthetic-life_b_599518.html Dr. Jon LaPook. "Creating 'Synthetic' Life." Huffington Post. June 3, 2010]: "Nobody knows where it will all lead. You can bet your bottom dollar that not all of it will be good but that's been true of just about every human advance."+*'''[[Argument: Synthetic life needs regulation, but should be allowed| Synthetic life needs regulation, but should be allowed]]''' [http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/edf64e8e-68f4-11df-910b-00144feab49a.html John Harris. "Promise and risks from ‘life not as we know it’" Financial Times. May 26, 2010]: "The dangers of making organisms that have never before existed (which already happens every day in biotech laboratories) will always be largely unknowable in advance. This is not a good enough reason to hold back if the expected benefits are significant. But it does mean we need robust regulation and licensing. The message is this: welcome the outstanding science, ensure good regulation in plenty of time and question an international intellectual property regime that can, disastrously, militate against fair access to the fruits of science."
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*'''[[Argument: Artificial life risky if released into environment| Artificial life risky if released into environment]]''' Laura Hake, professor of biology, Boston College, Jesuit Research University, said on BBC: "I think that the synthetic cell that has just been created is a very exciting basic science breakthrough. I have concerns though that there will be a rush to release it into a natural environment. [...] There are many disturbing examples of other types of artificial constructions, like GEO crops and over-use of pesticides, that are leading to very significant problems in the balance that needs to be maintained in our ecosystem - for maintaining a healthy planet."[http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science_and_environment/10138831.stm] *'''[[Argument: Artificial life risky if released into environment| Artificial life risky if released into environment]]''' Laura Hake, professor of biology, Boston College, Jesuit Research University, said on BBC: "I think that the synthetic cell that has just been created is a very exciting basic science breakthrough. I have concerns though that there will be a rush to release it into a natural environment. [...] There are many disturbing examples of other types of artificial constructions, like GEO crops and over-use of pesticides, that are leading to very significant problems in the balance that needs to be maintained in our ecosystem - for maintaining a healthy planet."[http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science_and_environment/10138831.stm]
 +
 +*'''Regulation cannot contain great unknowns of synthetic biology.''' Many things cannot be determined nor regulated regarding synthetic biology. The effects of certain microbes and the possibility of bio-hackers and bio-terrorists are things regulations cannot necessarily contain.
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====Pro==== ====Pro====
-*'''Threat of bio-terrorism is no greater than natural threats.''' While the threat of bio-terrorism "may be significant," according to Ken MacLeod in the Guardian, it's "not in principle greater than those posed by natural organisms" that already exist.[http://theweek.com/article/index/203285/the-worlds-first-man-made-life-form-be-afraid] +*'''[[Argument: Threat of bio-terrorism is no greater than natural threats| Threat of bio-terrorism is no greater than natural threats]]''' While the threat of bio-terrorism "may be significant," according to Ken MacLeod in the Guardian, it's "not in principle greater than those posed by natural organisms" that already exist.[http://theweek.com/article/index/203285/the-worlds-first-man-made-life-form-be-afraid]
 + 
 +*'''[[Argument: Any scientific advance can be abused; synthetic life no different| Any scientific advance can be abused; synthetic life no different]]''' [http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/22/craig-venter-synthetic-life-editorial "Synthetic cells: It's life, but not as we know it." The Guardian. May 22, 2010]: "While it is true that every new process in the physical as in the biological sciences may lead to unanticipated, potentially harmful novelties, it is also the case that, in the end, any scientific advance can potentially be abused for ill as well as used for good."
*'''[[Argument: More good synthetic biologists can outwit malevolent ones| More good synthetic biologists can outwit malevolent ones]]''' [http://www.economist.com/node/16163154?story_id=16163154& "And man made life." The Economist. May 20th 2010]: "Thoughtful observers of synthetic biology favour a different approach: openness. This avoids shutting out the good in a belated attempt to prevent the bad. Knowledge cannot be unlearned, so the best way to oppose the villains is to have lots of heroes on your side. Then, when a problem arises, an answer can be found quickly." *'''[[Argument: More good synthetic biologists can outwit malevolent ones| More good synthetic biologists can outwit malevolent ones]]''' [http://www.economist.com/node/16163154?story_id=16163154& "And man made life." The Economist. May 20th 2010]: "Thoughtful observers of synthetic biology favour a different approach: openness. This avoids shutting out the good in a belated attempt to prevent the bad. Knowledge cannot be unlearned, so the best way to oppose the villains is to have lots of heroes on your side. Then, when a problem arises, an answer can be found quickly."
 +
 +*'''[[Argument: Threat of terrorists engaging in synthetic biology is remote| Threat of terrorists engaging in synthetic biology is remote]]'''
 +
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====Con==== ====Con====
-*'''Artificial life presents risk of bioterrorism.''' Jim Thomas, a member of the Etc Group: "We know that lab-created life-forms can escape and become biological weapons, and that their use threatens existing natural biodiversity."[http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/environmentalists--try-to-ban-release--of-synthetic-life--forms-into-the-wild-1981120.html]+*'''[[Argument: Artificial life presents risk of bioterrorism| Artificial life presents risk of bioterrorism]]''' Jim Thomas, a member of the Etc Group: "We know that lab-created life-forms can escape and become biological weapons, and that their use threatens existing natural biodiversity."[http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/environmentalists--try-to-ban-release--of-synthetic-life--forms-into-the-wild-1981120.html]
 +*'''[[Argument: Artificial life worsens specter of biological war| Artificial life worsens specter of biological war]]''' [http://www.countercurrents.org/dsharma230510.htm Devinder Sharma. "Artificial Life Is Simply Not Another Breaking News, It Has Grave Implications for Humanity." Ground Reality. May 23rd, 2010]: "The day is also not far away when biological warfare will acquire a new meaning, with human, animal and bacterial clones and chimeras roaming the planet. The latest version of Avtar will be a reflection of the more deadly and sinister forms that synthetic life can create. This time, the creator of the world, the ultimate power (if religious scriptures are to be believed) will not come down on the Earth to get rid of this evil force."
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-===Religion: What role does religion play in this debate? ===+=== Playing God/nature: Is artificial life consistent with God/nature? ===
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====Pro==== ====Pro====
- 
-*'''[[Argument: Artificial life rightly questions concept of soul| Artificial life rightly questions concept of soul]]''' [http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fe20100613rh.html "Synthetic life zaps 'the soul'." Japan Times. June 13, 2010]: "The idea of vitalism and the soul — anyway long ignored by most scientists, but which survives among theologians — is now discredited, dead. [...] A century ago, the French philosopher Henri-Louis Bergson stated that there was 'elan vital,' a 'vital force,' that animated living things. You could never take inorganic things (such as DNA molecules) and somehow imbue them with this vital force, Bergson said. [...] Venter's remarkable breakthrough shows that Bergson was wrong." 
- 
-*'''[[Argument: Synthetic biology rightly refutes "divinity of life"| Synthetic biology rightly refutes "divinity of life"]]''' [http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/21/synthetic-life-playing-god Ken MacLeod. "Humanity will thank heaven that this creator of synthetic life is playing God." Guardian. May 21, 2010]: "It's a tremendous achievement of human ingenuity and skill. And there's something wonderfully confirmatory of mechanistic materialism in the building of a genome from chemically synthesised molecules, that genome running a cell, and that cell replicating to a point where no trace of the original cell's cytoplasm is left in its descendants. This lays to rest, with a satisfying finality, the ghost of vitalism – the spooky, whiffy doctrine that there is some essence of life not captured by "reductionist" biochemistry." 
*'''[[Argument: Humanity always "played God"; synthetic life no different| Humanity always "played God"; synthetic life no different]]''' [http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/21/synthetic-life-playing-god Ken MacLeod. "Humanity will thank heaven that this creator of synthetic life is playing God." guardian.co.uk. May 21, 2010]: "But there are no new ethical problems here. Humanity has been playing God with animals and plants since the invention of agriculture, and our domesticated species are already the most prevalent (of their kind) on the planet. Venter has, in a neat reverse application of the precautionary principle, promoted bioethical debate about each step of his programme well before he carried them out." *'''[[Argument: Humanity always "played God"; synthetic life no different| Humanity always "played God"; synthetic life no different]]''' [http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/21/synthetic-life-playing-god Ken MacLeod. "Humanity will thank heaven that this creator of synthetic life is playing God." guardian.co.uk. May 21, 2010]: "But there are no new ethical problems here. Humanity has been playing God with animals and plants since the invention of agriculture, and our domesticated species are already the most prevalent (of their kind) on the planet. Venter has, in a neat reverse application of the precautionary principle, promoted bioethical debate about each step of his programme well before he carried them out."
-*'''Humans wouldn't have to "play God" if God wasn't so unfair.''' [http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/edf64e8e-68f4-11df-910b-00144feab49a.html John Harris. "Promise and risks from ‘life not as we know it’" Financial Times. May 26 2010]: "The claim to have created synthetic life has been characterised pejoratively as playing “God”. This is a poor substitute for an argument. One obvious consideration is that we would not have to play God if the deity herself had not made such an abject mess of things."+*'''[[Argument: Humans wouldn't have to "play God" if God wasn't so unfair| Humans wouldn't have to "play God" if God wasn't so unfair]]''' [http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/edf64e8e-68f4-11df-910b-00144feab49a.html John Harris. "Promise and risks from ‘life not as we know it’" Financial Times. May 26 2010]: "The claim to have created synthetic life has been characterised pejoratively as playing “God”. This is a poor substitute for an argument. One obvious consideration is that we would not have to play God if the deity herself had not made such an abject mess of things."
*'''[[Argument: Synthetic life is part of "God's creativity"| Synthetic life is part of "God's creativity"]]''' Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, the Vatican's chief astronomer and scientific adviser to Pope Benedict, wrote in the Vatican newspaper, L'Obsservatore Romano, in 2008 about the possibility of extraterrestrial life: "Just as there is a multiplicity of creatures on Earth, there can be other beings, even intelligent, created by God. This is not in contrast with our faith because we can't put limits on God's creative freedom."[http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fe20100613rh.html] From this, it can be extrapolated that man creating life is also part of "God's creativity". Why limit God's creativity to exclude acts of man. Are not humans creatures of God and are not their actions (generally) part of God's design? *'''[[Argument: Synthetic life is part of "God's creativity"| Synthetic life is part of "God's creativity"]]''' Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, the Vatican's chief astronomer and scientific adviser to Pope Benedict, wrote in the Vatican newspaper, L'Obsservatore Romano, in 2008 about the possibility of extraterrestrial life: "Just as there is a multiplicity of creatures on Earth, there can be other beings, even intelligent, created by God. This is not in contrast with our faith because we can't put limits on God's creative freedom."[http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fe20100613rh.html] From this, it can be extrapolated that man creating life is also part of "God's creativity". Why limit God's creativity to exclude acts of man. Are not humans creatures of God and are not their actions (generally) part of God's design?
 +
 +*'''[[Argument: Artificial life is a profound symbol of man's mastery over nature| Artificial life is a profound symbol of man's mastery over nature]]''' [http://www.economist.com/node/16163154?story_id=16163154& "And man made life." The Economist. May 20th 2010]: "That ability would prove mankind’s mastery over nature in a way more profound than even the detonation of the first atomic bomb. The bomb, however justified in the context of the second world war, was purely destructive. Biology is about nurturing and growth."
 +
 +*'''[[Argument: Artificial life rightly questions concept of soul| Artificial life rightly questions concept of soul]]''' [http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fe20100613rh.html "Synthetic life zaps 'the soul'." Japan Times. June 13, 2010]: "The idea of vitalism and the soul — anyway long ignored by most scientists, but which survives among theologians — is now discredited, dead. [...] A century ago, the French philosopher Henri-Louis Bergson stated that there was 'elan vital,' a 'vital force,' that animated living things. You could never take inorganic things (such as DNA molecules) and somehow imbue them with this vital force, Bergson said. [...] Venter's remarkable breakthrough shows that Bergson was wrong."
 +
 +*'''[[Argument: Synthetic biology rightly refutes "divinity of life"| Synthetic biology rightly refutes "divinity of life"]]''' [http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/21/synthetic-life-playing-god Ken MacLeod. "Humanity will thank heaven that this creator of synthetic life is playing God." Guardian. May 21, 2010]: "It's a tremendous achievement of human ingenuity and skill. And there's something wonderfully confirmatory of mechanistic materialism in the building of a genome from chemically synthesised molecules, that genome running a cell, and that cell replicating to a point where no trace of the original cell's cytoplasm is left in its descendants. This lays to rest, with a satisfying finality, the ghost of vitalism – the spooky, whiffy doctrine that there is some essence of life not captured by "reductionist" biochemistry."
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====Con==== ====Con====
-*'''Man-made life plays God and nature.''' Instead of allowing life to emerge through natural processes and perhaps by God's will, man is trying to take the initiative on its own. This is highly arrogant and risky. Never before has man attempted to perform life-creating tasks.+*'''[[Argument: Man-made life plays God and nature| Man-made life plays God and nature]]''' Instead of allowing life to emerge through natural processes and perhaps by God's will, man is trying to take the initiative on its own. This is highly arrogant and risky. Never before has man attempted to perform life-creating tasks.
:Professor Julian Savulescu, an Oxford University ethicist: "Venter is creaking open the most profound door in humanity's history, potentially peeking into its destiny. He is not merely copying life artificially or modifying it by genetic engineering. He is going towards the role of God: Creating artificial life that could never have existed."[http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1279988/Artificial-life-created-Craig-Venter--wipe-humanity.html] :Professor Julian Savulescu, an Oxford University ethicist: "Venter is creaking open the most profound door in humanity's history, potentially peeking into its destiny. He is not merely copying life artificially or modifying it by genetic engineering. He is going towards the role of God: Creating artificial life that could never have existed."[http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1279988/Artificial-life-created-Craig-Venter--wipe-humanity.html]
 +
 +*'''[[Argument: Synthetic life will result in an artificial race amidst us| Synthetic life will result in an artificial race amidst us]]''' [http://www.countercurrents.org/dsharma230510.htm Devinder Sharma. "Artificial Life Is Simply Not Another Breaking News, It Has Grave Implications for Humanity." Ground Reality. May 23rd, 2010]: "It is the beginning of a Grave New World. The day is not far away when we will have a parallel form of life, another living race amidst us. Whenever man has tried to imbibe genetic engineering from Gods, as is evident from Ramayana and Mahabharta, the two great Indian epics, he has only turned into an evil force."
*'''[[Argument: Man can't create life, only manipulate it| Man can't create life, only manipulate it]]''' John Haas, President of the National Catholic Bioethics Center on BBC, said: "We don't think you can create life. One can modify and manipulate already existing biological material. No-one [is] able to create life from scratch. There have been claims before that life has been created."[http://debatepedia.idebate.org/en/index.php?title=Debate:_Man-made_life&action=edit&section=4] *'''[[Argument: Man can't create life, only manipulate it| Man can't create life, only manipulate it]]''' John Haas, President of the National Catholic Bioethics Center on BBC, said: "We don't think you can create life. One can modify and manipulate already existing biological material. No-one [is] able to create life from scratch. There have been claims before that life has been created."[http://debatepedia.idebate.org/en/index.php?title=Debate:_Man-made_life&action=edit&section=4]
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*[http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fe20100613rh.html "Synthetic life zaps 'the soul'." Japan Times. June 13, 2010] *[http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fe20100613rh.html "Synthetic life zaps 'the soul'." Japan Times. June 13, 2010]
*[http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2010/may/26/synthetic-life-fear David Ropeik. "Synthetic life: Perhaps all we have to fear is fear itself?" Guardian. May 26th, 2010] *[http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2010/may/26/synthetic-life-fear David Ropeik. "Synthetic life: Perhaps all we have to fear is fear itself?" Guardian. May 26th, 2010]
 +*[http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/edf64e8e-68f4-11df-910b-00144feab49a.html John Harris. "Promise and risks from ‘life not as we know it’" Financial Times. May 26 2010]
|WRITE CONTENT FOR THE "Pro" BOX ABOVE THIS CODE width="45%" bgcolor="#F2FAFB" style="border:1px solid #BAC5FD;padding:.4em;padding-top: 0.5em;"| |WRITE CONTENT FOR THE "Pro" BOX ABOVE THIS CODE width="45%" bgcolor="#F2FAFB" style="border:1px solid #BAC5FD;padding:.4em;padding-top: 0.5em;"|
====Con==== ====Con====
- +*[http://www.countercurrents.org/dsharma230510.htm Devinder Sharma. "Artificial Life Is Simply Not Another Breaking News, It Has Grave Implications for Humanity." Ground Reality. May 23rd, 2010]
- +*[http://blogs.ajc.com/kyle-wingfield/2010/05/21/what-to-make-of-new-artificial-life/ Kyle Wingfield. "What to make of new ‘artificial life’?" AJC. May 21, 2010]
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*[[Debate: Artificial turf fields]] *[[Debate: Artificial turf fields]]
*[[Debate: Artificial insemination]] *[[Debate: Artificial insemination]]
 +*[[Debate: Synthetic life patents]]
==External links and resources:== ==External links and resources:==
*[http://www.economist.com/node/16163154?story_id=16163154& "And man made life." The Economist. May 20th, 2010] *[http://www.economist.com/node/16163154?story_id=16163154& "And man made life." The Economist. May 20th, 2010]
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*[http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/30/opinion/30sun3.html "One Cell Forward." New York Times Editorial. May 28, 2010] *[http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/30/opinion/30sun3.html "One Cell Forward." New York Times Editorial. May 28, 2010]
*[http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-jon-lapook/creating-synthetic-life_b_599518.html Dr. Jon LaPook Medical. "Creating 'Synthetic' life." Huffington Post. June 3, 2010] *[http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-jon-lapook/creating-synthetic-life_b_599518.html Dr. Jon LaPook Medical. "Creating 'Synthetic' life." Huffington Post. June 3, 2010]
 +*[http://news.softpedia.com/news/Obama-Congress-Committee-Discus-Synthetic-Biology-143251.shtml "Obama, Congress Committee Discuss Synthetic Biology." SoftPedia.org. May 28th, 2010]
 +*[http://2020science.org/2009/03/25/are-we-ready-for-synthetic-biology/ Andrew Maynard. "Are we ready for synthetic biology? 2020 Science. March 25th, 2009]
 +*[http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/22/craig-venter-synthetic-life-editorial "Synthetic cells: It's life, but not as we know it." The Guardian. May 22, 2010]
 +
|} |}

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Background and context

"A man made life." The Economist. May 20th, 2010: "Craig Venter and Hamilton Smith, the two American biologists who unravelled the first DNA sequence of a living organism (a bacterium) in 1995, have made a bacterium that has an artificial genome—creating a living creature with no ancestor. Pedants may quibble that only the DNA of the new beast was actually manufactured in a laboratory; the researchers had to use the shell of an existing bug to get that DNA to do its stuff. Nevertheless, a Rubicon has been crossed.
It is now possible to conceive of a world in which new bacteria (and eventually, new animals and plants) are designed on a computer and then grown to order."

Dr. Craig Venter, who has been working on synthetic life for a decade, told The New York Times: "It is our final triumph. This is the first synthetic cell. It’s the first time we have started with information in a computer, used four bottles of chemicals to write up a million letters of DNA software, and actually got it to boot up in a living organism. [...] Though this is a baby step, it enables a change in philosophy, a change in thinking, a change in the tools we have. This cell we’ve made is not a miracle cell that’s useful for anything, it is a proof of concept. But the proof of concept was key, otherwise it is just speculation and science fiction. This takes us across that border, into a new world."[1]

President Obama responded by tasking the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues with considering the issue and saying in late May of 2010: "It is vital that we as a society consider, in a thoughtful manner, the significance of this kind of scientific development," and that the Commission should consider the measures that societies "should take to ensure that America reaps the benefits of this developing field of science while identifying appropriate ethical boundaries and minimizing identified risks."[2]

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Benefits: Are the benefits of artificial life significant?

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Pro

  • Synthetic biology can help fight climate change and pollution Rep. Henry Waxman (Democrat, California), Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a May 2010 hearing on the topic of synthetic biology: "Synthetic biology also has the potential to reduce our dependence on oil and to address climate change. Research is underway to develop microbes that would produce oil, giving us a renewable fuel that could be used interchangeably with gasoline without creating more global warming pollution. Research could also lead to oil-eating microbes, an application that, as the Gulf spill unfortunately demonstrates, would be extremely useful."[3]
  • Artificial life can be tailored for specific needs Daniel Gibson, one of the lead scientists creating the first man-made life at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland said, "With this approach we now have the ability to start with a DNA sequence and design organisms exactly like we want."[4]


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Con

Devinder Sharma. "Artificial Life Is Simply Not Another Breaking News, It Has Grave Implications for Humanity." Ground Reality. May 23rd, 2010: "I do not support science and technology to remain outside the control of the society. We cannot allow science to be left to the inside of the board rooms of the corporates. Few people sitting in a board room cannot be left to decide what is good for us. It has gone on for long, and the world is facing the negative consequences through global warming. Synthetic life is a far too serious a threat, and no greenhouse accord can reverse the deadly fallout."
  • Humans engineered organisms for centuries; synthetic life adds little. In a BBC interview, the Nobel prize-winning geneticist Paul Nurse cast doubt on whether synthetic life will add much to current capabilities, pointing out that we already have powerful means to engineer organisms.[7]
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Risks: Can the risks be contained?

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  • Man-made life poses unimaginable risks "And man made life." The Economist. May 20th 2010: "Have scientists got too big for their boots? Will their hubris bring Nemesis in due course? What horrors will come creeping out of the flask on the laboratory bench? [...] Such questions are not misplaced—and should give pause even to those, including this newspaper, who normally embrace advances in science with enthusiasm. The new biological science does have the potential to do great harm, as well as good. “Predator” and “disease” are just as much part of the biological vocabulary as “nurturing” and “growth”. But for good or ill it is here. Creating life is no longer the prerogative of gods."
  • Artificial life risky if released into environment Laura Hake, professor of biology, Boston College, Jesuit Research University, said on BBC: "I think that the synthetic cell that has just been created is a very exciting basic science breakthrough. I have concerns though that there will be a rush to release it into a natural environment. [...] There are many disturbing examples of other types of artificial constructions, like GEO crops and over-use of pesticides, that are leading to very significant problems in the balance that needs to be maintained in our ecosystem - for maintaining a healthy planet."[9]
  • Regulation cannot contain great unknowns of synthetic biology. Many things cannot be determined nor regulated regarding synthetic biology. The effects of certain microbes and the possibility of bio-hackers and bio-terrorists are things regulations cannot necessarily contain.


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Bioterrorism: Is artificial life safe from use in bioterrorism?

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Playing God/nature: Is artificial life consistent with God/nature?

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Pro

  • Synthetic life is part of "God's creativity" Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, the Vatican's chief astronomer and scientific adviser to Pope Benedict, wrote in the Vatican newspaper, L'Obsservatore Romano, in 2008 about the possibility of extraterrestrial life: "Just as there is a multiplicity of creatures on Earth, there can be other beings, even intelligent, created by God. This is not in contrast with our faith because we can't put limits on God's creative freedom."[12] From this, it can be extrapolated that man creating life is also part of "God's creativity". Why limit God's creativity to exclude acts of man. Are not humans creatures of God and are not their actions (generally) part of God's design?
  • Artificial life rightly questions concept of soul "Synthetic life zaps 'the soul'." Japan Times. June 13, 2010: "The idea of vitalism and the soul — anyway long ignored by most scientists, but which survives among theologians — is now discredited, dead. [...] A century ago, the French philosopher Henri-Louis Bergson stated that there was 'elan vital,' a 'vital force,' that animated living things. You could never take inorganic things (such as DNA molecules) and somehow imbue them with this vital force, Bergson said. [...] Venter's remarkable breakthrough shows that Bergson was wrong."


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Con

  • Man-made life plays God and nature Instead of allowing life to emerge through natural processes and perhaps by God's will, man is trying to take the initiative on its own. This is highly arrogant and risky. Never before has man attempted to perform life-creating tasks.
Professor Julian Savulescu, an Oxford University ethicist: "Venter is creaking open the most profound door in humanity's history, potentially peeking into its destiny. He is not merely copying life artificially or modifying it by genetic engineering. He is going towards the role of God: Creating artificial life that could never have existed."[13]
  • Man can't create life, only manipulate it John Haas, President of the National Catholic Bioethics Center on BBC, said: "We don't think you can create life. One can modify and manipulate already existing biological material. No-one [is] able to create life from scratch. There have been claims before that life has been created."[14]
Geoffrey Lean. "Time for a debate over synthetic life." Telegraph. May 23rd, 2010: "despite some of the wilder hype, Dr Venter has not created life itself, but a new man-made species. He has produced the DNA of an artificial bacterial cell in a test-tube, and then inserted it into the already living cell of a different kind of bacteria, transforming it into the new species. In business terms, the undoubtably stunning achievement is not a start-up but a takeover."
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Pro/con sources

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See also

External links and resources:


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