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“Made from Scratch”??

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As you read this article from the Washington Post, ask yourself how far such research would get without enzymes and a host of other materials “borrowed” from existing life-forms. “From scratch” properly should mean “made only with chemicals available in a realistic prebiotic environment.” That’s not what we’re dealing with here. And even if we were getting back to chemicals available in a realistic prebiotic environment, could the same be said for the investigator inteference of Craig Venter and his colleagues? Wouldn’t it be safer to say that they are acting as intelligent designers and not as mere accelerators of existing blind evolutionary processes?

Synthetic DNA on the Brink of Yielding New Life Forms
By Rick Weiss | Washington Post Staff Writer | Monday, December 17, 2007; A01

It has been 50 years since scientists first created DNA in a test tube, stitching ordinary chemical ingredients together to make life’s most extraordinary molecule. Until recently, however, even the most sophisticated laboratories could make only small snippets of DNA — an extra gene or two to be inserted into corn plants, for example, to help the plants ward off insects or tolerate drought.

Now researchers are poised to cross a dramatic barrier: the creation of life forms driven by completely artificial DNA.

Scientists in Maryland have already built the world’s first entirely handcrafted chromosome — a large looping strand of DNA made from scratch in a laboratory, containing all the instructions a microbe needs to live and reproduce.

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Comments
the way I read nochange is that reproduction is statistically unlikely and needs help from intelligence in order to make it likely. The entropy books may be balanced but that doesn't mean we have any right to assume that a machine could reproduce itself without outside help.ari-freedom
December 19, 2007
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More simply, to paraphrase Morbo: "Thermodynamics do not work that way!"Corey
December 19, 2007
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nochange Food isn't without order. The dead meat you reference has some order - less order than live meat to be sure but not much less if it's fresh. The process of digesting it decreases that order as it's broken down into simpler components. Some of the simpler components are then reordered into living tissue while most of the bulk is excreted out the other end of the digestive tract with far less order than when it entered. There is no net change in entropy. The flaw in your argument is you didn't consider the increase of entropy in the food as it is digested which balances the decrease in entropy of the newly formed living tissue. Another point is you seem to be saying that entropy cannot ever decrease in an open system. This is not true. Decreases in entropy are probabalistic. It's not impossible for order to flow from lesser to greater across a given boundary it's just unlikely. Order tends to flow from greater to lesser across a boundary. Statistical mechanics describes the probabilties involved. For instance, it's theoretically possible to melt a gold watch, shake the molten metal as it cools, and have it reform into a gold watch again. It's just so statistically unlikely that it's practically impossible. Darwinian evolutionists tend to discount the enormous statistical improbability and focus on the theoretical possibility saying - in effect - that given enough time and chance the seemingly impossible is possible. What they say is true and if the universe's size and age were infinite then they have a valid point. Unfortunately for them the universe, as far as we know (and even more so for the fraction of it that is the sun and earth) is not infinite in either age or size. The opportunities for time and chance are thus bounded and by all reasonable statistical measures it just isn't big enough or old enough for time and chance to have any reasonable possibility of overcoming the odds in creating life from non-living matter. The fallback position when they realize this and are determined to expel intelligence is panspermia (life, or some rudiments of it) formed outside the earth where there was more time and space for chance to operate. When they further realize that still isn't enough they start blathering about an infinite number of universes. That said, where the probabilities in thermodynamics are seemingly defied is when intelligent agency enters the picture. For instance, the laws of thermodynamics for all practical purposes prohibits a space shuttle from forming by chance alone in a finite universe. Yet a whole fleet of them has been flying for decades. Intelligent agency routinely makes the practically impossible actually happen. An evolutionist might tell you that the earth isn't a closed system and order is imported from the sun and that's how life was able to form. Maybe so. But absent intelligent agency would there be cities and computers and the library of congress? Granted that sun's energy was requisite to the formation of these things but so was intelligent agency. Leave everything else the same and the sun's energy by itself is not enough. The odds against the chance formation of computers and libraries and cities in a finite universe such as ours are simply too remote for chance alone to have any reasonable possibility of producing that kind of order. Yet it exists. The key element in why they do indeed exist is intelligent agency. The hallmark of intelligence agency is discerned through statistical probability. When something is observed that statistical probability predicts shouldn't exist in a finite universe such as ours (like a space shuttle or a living cell) then the action of intelligent agency is indicated. This is where Dembski comes in. He's got a PhD in statistical probability. His mathematical analysis of the situation is over my head so I seldom if ever comment on it. I'm a retired computer hardware/software engineer. Abstract math makes my eyes glaze over so I defer to his expertise beyond this point but as a design engineer I, more than anyone who isn't a design engineer, realize that complex machines dont' design and build themselves out of thin air. That's simply preposterous. DaveScot
December 19, 2007
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I've tried to stay out of this as long as possible but curisosity has overtaken my will to resist. In regard to whether or not bacteria are machines or some life force exists it just strikes me as odd why so many people are quoting the Bible as a scientific refrence. Now Personally, from what I know of the Bible, of Kabbalah, psi research, and mysticism in general, I support the existence of a life force that permeates the universe. To me it makes sense that there would be a force through which God tools around with living things. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy greatly reading news and opinion on the cutting edge of seperating materialism from science from UD but it just seems weird that so many ID supporters would quote the Bible as a scientific refrence. Establishing ID as a legitimate science and saturating talk on ID with Biblical quotes doesn't seem to go together in my opinion.UrbanMysticDee
December 18, 2007
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I'm not really sure if that's a fair assumption to make.Corey
December 18, 2007
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you understand something when you can actually build the machine. Not by simply stating that a bacteria is a machine and giving a storyari-freedom
December 18, 2007
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Well, we're those machines, and we understand how thermodynamics allows these processes to happen in livings systems.Corey
December 18, 2007
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corey if they were so understood then we'd have machines that eat and then copy themselves while at the same time, continuing to function. nochange could be more helpful by giving a formalism but he is not really helpful by going off on cancer and ruling the universe.ari-freedom
December 18, 2007
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Nochange #50:
*This* will be where we will make breakthroughs that materialists will fail at. *This* is how we will bring our science to the forefront. By defeating diseases like cancer. Then the materialists will have to take us seriously!
I'm a materialist and I have trouble taking YOU seriously. Seriously.Daniel King
December 18, 2007
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"and yet somehow we create more order in our bodies." That is, through well understood processes.Corey
December 18, 2007
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Corey, Exactly! Breaking down food *does* create more disorder, and yet somehow we create more order in our bodies. That is clearly breaking a law of thermodynamics. To understand that, we *have* to defeat this materialistic science. I can't help wondering if understanding cancer will be a part of this process. After all, cancer is just a break down of order in our bodies. If we can understand the energy source that allows us to break the laws of thermodynamics, we can understand how to defeat cancer (after all, cancer is merely following a thermodynamic law). *This* will be where we will make breakthroughs that materialists will fail at. *This* is how we will bring our science to the forefront. By defeating diseases like cancer. Then the materialists will have to take us seriously!Nochange
December 18, 2007
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Breaking down food even creates more disorderCorey
December 18, 2007
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Atom, What you’re writing is ridiculous. If it were true, then for each bit of turning food into human you’d have to have a corresponding change of our DNA into garbage.
I don't follow your argument. When information is copied (from a template to another material), we don't double the amount of information. If my body applies inherent information to another substrate (say food, or what have you), I didn't just increase the information content. Two copies of a newspaper don't have twice as much information. I think you're missing that subtlety. To be honest, I don't get your whole food argument either way. Our body breaks down food into component parts (no net increase of order), it then uses pre-existing information templates to build what it needs (again, no net increase in information, since we're using a template). Where is this increase in order you're seeing?Atom
December 18, 2007
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As wikipedia says: "In sciences such as biology and biochemistry, however, the application of thermodynamics is well-established, e.g. biological thermodynamics."Corey
December 18, 2007
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Atom, What you're writing is ridiculous. If it were true, then for each bit of turning food into human you'd have to have a corresponding change of our DNA into garbage. There's no free lunch, remember! Every decrease in entropy has to have a corresponding increase somewhere else. If what you're saying is correct, you'd have to have an increase in entropy of the information/genetic content for each decrease in entropy of turning food into a person. We'd essentially be eating ourselves apart. Clearly that doesn't happen. That's why we're violating the second law of thermodynamics (hence the requirement for a life force to keep things moving along).Nochange
December 18, 2007
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nochange wrote: They are increasing the amount of order in the system - oh you mean an increase in the amount of CSI when something reproduces.ari-freedom
December 18, 2007
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descreases* = decreases transforations* = transformationsAtom
December 18, 2007
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Nochange, The 2nd Law isn't violated in human organisms. Even if we're not talking about heat specifically (which the 2nd law does) and are extending the underlying concepts to all types of order (as Graville Sewell does with his Sewell's Law), then we can demonstrate that the laws are not violated, since the total amount of order either remains constant or descreases. In humans, we already come pre-loaded with information; the egg and sperm together with the host (mother) contain all the necessary information to "unpack" the human. The same with food transforations: our molecular machines have the information to do the transformations. So the information/order doesn't necessarily increase and the second law says that the amount of order can only remain constant or decrease.Atom
December 18, 2007
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ari, Here's the thermodynamic problem (I'm going to assume that you really don't understand this, and aren't being sarcastic): When a human eats something (a plant, a dead piece of meat) they are turning that something into human tissue, into human energy, etc. They are increasing the amount of order in the system (making the dead meat into organized brain tissue). Now take a pregnant woman, she's turning the food she's eating into a brand new human. That's thermodynamically impossible (to go from disordered, to higher order). For this to be possible requires some kind of life force. I believe that God provides us with this life force, but clearly here at Uncommon Descent, we are supposed to respect all opinions, so I'll try to be open-minded, and think that the aura readers at various new age events are also able to see the energy force that keeps us alive, and allows us to break the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Does this extend to lower organisms? I think it has to, but clearly the level of energy force required is not as serious as the energy required to organize a human brain. Just because science hasn't detected it yet doesn't mean it doesn't exist. They'll find it as soon as they take off their materialist blinders. Bob O'H, Thanks. That's what I meant.Nochange
December 18, 2007
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Jstanley, Thanks for clearing that up for me, I was a bit fuzzy on that. Though I don't read the Bible as a science text, I do believe that Genesis has more than earned its respect by correctly predicting the creation of the universe as well as correctly predicting the creation of time itself. No other philosophy in the world even dared predicting that event.bornagain77
December 18, 2007
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DaveScot, Re:
I’d bet dollars against donuts that there’s no mysterious “life force” in bacteria which prevents the artificial construction of one from non-living components. Bacteria are machines that operate entirely on known electro-chemical and mechanical principles just like any other machine.
At risk of propounding the untenable, and indeed, wholly indefensible notion that the first chapter of Genesis might be able to inform science, I'd note the following: Although everyone talks about "the seven days of creation," there's nothing like it in the Bible. In fact, there are only three occasions recounted there when God "created" (Hebrew bara, Strongs #H1254): 1:1 ("In the beginning God created [bara] the heaven and the earth"); 1:21 ("And God created [bara] ... every living soul"); and finally 1:27 ("So God created [bara] man in his own image..." c.p. John 4:24, "God is spirit"). Note that "the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit" in Verse 12, before God created soul life in Verse 21. Hence, Genesis posits three categories of life on earth: 1) Growth life, made up wholly of the physical elements created in 1:1 (no "mysterious life force" needed here); 2) Soul life shared by all higher-order animals (debates regarding the nature of the mind, consciousness, and intelligence go here); and 3) Spirit life which is unique to mankind (nothing suffices here but knowledge revealed by God). Biblically speaking, plants and microbes have growth life, animals have growth life plus soul life, and human beings as originally designed had growth life, soul life plus spirit life. Body-soul-spirit.jstanley01
December 18, 2007
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I didn’t make any ad hominid attacks,...
Would that be calling someone an ape? As opposed to the ad homonym attack, which only sounds like an insult. :-) Bob (FWIW, I guess you meant ad hominem. I had to look it up first though!)Bob O'H
December 18, 2007
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"From scratch" is misleading and even more it's not the first time long functional strings of DNA have been artificially assembled from simple codon snippets. A few years ago researchers assembled a functional polio virus genome using mail-order DNA snippets and a written sequence obtained from a real polio virus. The problem in the past has been that the artifical assembly process is error prone and the longer the sequence being constructed the more likely a catastrophic error is in it. The error rate is merely being reduced by improved equipment and process controls so longer error-free DNA strings become feasible. The "from scratch" part is really misleading. Nature is being heavily plagiarized. No one has solved the problem of predicting how a protein will fold and what biological activity it will have given nothing but its coding sequence. None of these artificial life experiments have used proteins designed from scratch. They are all using proteins that were found in nature and the biological activity of said proteins was discovered through reverse engineering rather than designed from scratch. It's equivalent to stripping down a fully loaded Cadillac until you have a go-cart. The go-cart wasn't designed by you but rather is simply the result of trial and error - stripping parts from it until you can't remove anything else and still have a functional self-powered vehicle. You can strip tons of components like windows, doors, radio, dashboard gauges, and power steering but you can't take away axles, wheels, motor, throttle, steering, brakes, and frame. That said I'd bet dollars against donuts that there's no mysterious "life force" in bacteria which prevents the artificial construction of one from non-living components. Bacteria are machines that operate entirely on known electro-chemical and mechanical principles just like any other machine. The only difference is we don't know how these machines were designed or who did the initial design and assembly. All machines where the origin can be positively determined are the result of intelligent agency. I have little doubt that if and when the origin of biological machinery can be positively determined it will be found to also be a result of intelligent agency - complex machines don't self-assemble from random collections of component parts. Anyone that actually designs complex machinery knows this and most thinking individuals who don't engage in the design of complex machinery easily intuite it. DaveScot
December 18, 2007
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It certainly isCorey
December 17, 2007
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corey it's one thing to study but it's another thing to actually design a machine that reproduces itselfari-freedom
December 17, 2007
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Reminds me of Dawkins recently saying something stupid like “we’re just another form of animal so we should all be vegetarians” in the same breath as admitted he eats meat. What hypocrisy! And if he’s right, he shouldn’t eat pineapples because we share a common ancestor with the pineapple, don’t we?
As well, wouldn't that suggest that nature gives no selection advantage to predators? Or if it does, then it works enough in nature. If nature works with like creature eating like creature, what is Dawkins proposing that would be so much better? It's a "wha???" proposition.jjcassidy
December 17, 2007
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I didn't make any ad hominid attacks, and I take offense to you calling me an elitist materialist when I'll I've done is come here to help find the truth, whatever it may be. I hope that others here don't agree with you when you tell me to get lost. More importantly, I hope they don't agree with you about thermodynamics. Thermodynamics in living systems has been studied for a long long time. It works.Corey
December 17, 2007
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nochange, why don't you just explain what the thermodynamics problem is?ari-freedom
December 17, 2007
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Corey, Clearly *you* don't understand thermodynamics and are just a troll come here to muck about and cause trouble. Clearly you're just another elitist materialist. If you really had something substantial to say, you'd say it, instead of your ad hominid attacks. Why don't you go back to one of your blogs where you all think you're smarter than people who actually do work for a living. I understand thermodynamics. I've read lots of basic science, and I use science in my work. So, respectfully, get lost.Nochange
December 17, 2007
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Magnan...shamanic healing? These esp abilities are outside the realm of normal experience. We can identify with design and intelligence because we see it in action every day.ari-freedom
December 17, 2007
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