When asked what makes the difference between a good hockey player and a great one, Wayne Gretzky replied (I’m paraphrasing): A good hockey player skates to the puck; a great one skates to where the puck is going to be.
One of our goals at Reasons To Believe is to skate to where the apologetics puck is going to be. We want to anticipate scientific advance before it happens. That way we can equip Christians with a ready response when a breakthrough does occur.
In February, Baker Books will publish my latest work, Creating Life in the Lab. The book tells the story of scientists’ efforts to create artificial, nonnatural, novel single-cell entities in the lab. Anticipating their success, I explore how their research may impact Christianity.
Though it seems like science fiction, the quest for artificial life will soon reach its goal. In 2010, biologist Craig Venter’s research team announced the development of a methodology for generating synthetic bacteria unlike any that exists in nature. Other investigators have successfully used genetic engineering techniques to modify microbes, giving them novel metabolic capabilities. Biologist Jack Szostak of Harvard University heads up a research team on the cusp of “creating” (starting with simple chemical compounds) protocells that manifest many of life’s key properties.
The creation of life in the lab will usher in a biotechnology revolution with unimaginable potential benefit for humanity. Applications for medicine, agriculture, and industry will radically transform the world. But this potential advance also raises troubling questions. Are these artificial life-forms safe? Are human beings trying to “play God”? Is it ethical to make artificial life?
For many Christians, the most troubling question is theological: If life can be assembled in a lab, is God necessary to explain life’s existence? Some scientists assert that if we can make life, then there is nothing special about life. Our creative ability lends credence, they suggest, to the idea that life evolved from nonliving matter on Earth’s surface.
I disagree. In Creating Life in the Lab, I show that, rather than validating an evolutionary explanation for life’s origin, work in synthetic biology will unwittingly demonstrate that life must come from the work of an intelligent Agent. By working our way to where the puck is going to be in the synthetic biology arena, we have poised Christian apologetics to score an important goal in the case for the Creator.