I recently was able to obtain a copy of the new book, Creating Life in the Lab, by Fazale Rana. This book is fascinating on two levels. First, it gives a comprehensive review of the state of the art of Origin of Life research and the questions it seeks to answer, such as:
- What is Life?
- How does life operate at its most fundamental level?
- How did life begin?
I liked this quote from Origin of Life researcher Antonio Lazcano, "Life is like music; you can describe it but not define it." But the best definition I saw was "It's alive if it can die!"
Second, this book addresses the moral, philosophical, and religious worldview implications of creating life. Many people have wondered, "Will the creation of artificial and synthetic life-forms mean that there's no need for God, as the Creator?" Dr. Rana's answer is an emphatic "No!" In fact he successfully argues that this work actually provides evidence for the need for a Creator of life.
The Frankenstein quotes that preface each chapter are highly appropriate. Like Dr. Frankenstein, scientists have been obsessed with discovering nature's secrets. Now, it appears that they may be on the brink of cracking the secret of the creation of life. Some of these researchers are even trying to create "life as we don't know it". I think this is very exciting, ... and a bit scary. Will they lose control, like the good doctor, and pay a terrible price, or will we reap the blessing of these new discoveries? Only time will tell whether we meddling in the affairs of God or are just following in His footsteps.
This book describes in detail the two main Origin of Life research approaches: top-down vs. bottom-up. Top-down refers to re-engineering existing lifeforms and bottom-up involves trying to create new life by designing it from scratch. Both approaches are shown to be highly complex and involved, requiring large amounts of time and creativity to successfully execute. From the top-down approach, we have discovered the minimum complexity of a genome. This is about 380 genes, somewhere on the order of 600,000 sequenced base-pairs, that together specify the minimal instruction set required for a living organism. It defies logic to think that all this information somehow formed without any intelligent input.
The existence of an optimal, nearly universal genetic code is astonishing, given that the origin of the genetic code is estimated by Origin of Life researchers at 3.8+/-0.6 billion years ago, while the earliest life on earth is dated at 3.86 billion -- practically the same time! There is literally no time available for any evolutionary process to optimize this code, and yet it exists. The odds of this single optimal code being selected over the 10^70th possible codes is astronomical, without intervention from a Mind.
Convincingly, this book makes the case that, given the required skill, knowledge, and efforts of this endeavor, it is very unlikely that life could have formed from undirected, naturalistic processes. Dr. Rana makes a solid case that instead of providing support for an evolutionary explanation to the Origin of Life problem, we now have solid empirical evidence from the process of developing and studying life in the lab that shows that the creation of life requires intelligent input and rational design.
While this book is technical in places, it should be accessible to most educated readers who are interested in Origin of Life issues. It may push you, but it is worth the effort! This book is a great compliment to two prior books of his, Origins of Life and The Cell's Design. Dr. Fazale (Fuz) Rana has a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and works with Reasons to Believe, a Christian Apologetics ministry.