What is the Vedic perspective on the creation of artificial life?
Question: What is the Vedic perspective on the genome pioneer Craig Venter’s claims of creating artificial life?
Answer: Let’s see what Venter actually did:
- Determined the sequence of the DNA in one of the world’s simplest bacteria,
- Synthesized a copy of that DNA from components sold by a biological supply company,
- Replaced the natural DNA in a living bacterial cell with this synthetic DNA.
Now we need to remember that DNA is not life. It is simply a sequence of biological codes storing the instructions for building proteins.
So, speaking analogically, Venter has certainly not created the complete computer; he has just replaced one chip with another in a pre-existing computer. That’s why Caltech biologist and Nobel laureate David Baltimore stated that Venter has “overplayed the importance” of his results; he “has not created life, only mimicked it.”
What if scientists someday use the biochemical components to create the entire cell? Would that amount to creating life? No, because that would just be like making the computer, not the person who would use the computer. Although reductionist scientists would have us believe that there is no such “person” and that life is just a product of bio-chemicals, living systems behave in ways fundamentally and inexplicably different from nonliving objects. Nonliving objects are created, deteriorate over time and eventually meet with destruction. Living systems exhibits three additional features: maintenance, growth and reproduction. A living human hand, if cut, can clot and heal itself; the most state-of-the-art artificial hand, if cut, cannot clot or heal itself. The simplest unicellular organism can grow; the most sophisticated computer cannot. The most primitive living systems can reproduce; even the most advanced robots can’t.
No wonder Boston University bioengineer James Collins candidly admitted the scientific ground reality: “Scientists don’t know enough about biology to create life.”
What do scientists not know about life? What gives living systems their remarkable properties of maintenance, growth and reproduction? The soul, which the Bhagavad-gita explains, is the source of life. The soul is eternal and can never be created. The Gita (13.33-34) also points out that the soul remains distinct from the body it animates, as does sunlight illuminating the universe or air pervading space. So, when a part of the body is changed, the soul remains unchanged, just as when a component in a computer is changed, the computer-user remains unchanged. Thus, in Venter’s experiment, the soul animating the bacteria remained unchanged when the DNA within that bacteria was changed.
To summarize, Venter’s attempt at creating artificial life is a failure – both in practice (he did not create life) and in principle (the soul, the actual source of life, can never be created).