In the first part of this response, I mentioned a few of the arguments atheists use to discredit theists; For the most part, their contentions lack evidence and their convictions are just as religious as any Sunday morning Christian. We are not fooled.
Now that the groundwork has been laid, let’s ask the question the article brings up: Did the scientists indeed create life in the laboratory; Was this a precursor to artificial intelligence? I know this may seem surprising, considering the way the article words it, but the answer to both of these questions is no.
First of all, the idea of a true AI has already been demonstrated to be untenable. John Searle demonstrates this with his famous thought experiment: Imagine a native English speaker who knows no Chinese. He’s locked in a room full of boxes. Each is covered with Chinese symbols (a data base of sorts). At his disposal is a book of instructions for manipulating the symbols (a program). Imagine that people outside the room send in other Chinese symbols, which, unknown to the person in the room, are questions in Chinese (input). Now imagine that by following the instructions in the program, the man in the room is able to arrange and pass out Chinese symbols which happen to be correct answers to the questions sent in (the output). The program does enable the person in the room to pass the Turing Test for understanding Chinese. However, he still doesn’t understand a word of Chinese.
Searle goes on to explain that the man in the room is similar to a computer. While computers can process information at an incredible rate, they don’t have the capacity to think about what they process. True “Artificial life” shouldn’t just produce inputs and outputs. In order for it to be what most consider real, it must have independent thoughts about those inputs and outputs; Or more precisely, this AI must participate in a function found only in humans: the use of second order mental states.
Second order mental states are essentially thoughts about thoughts; It would be impossible for a machine to do this. A machine can evaluate evidence and determine probabilities concerning various outcomes. That, however, is hardly a second order mental state. Now, in time, machines, androids, or some other type of AI could become so anthropomorphized that they are barely distinguishable from humans. Once again, this is not a true artificial intelligence, but rather the result of very clever and careful programming.
Back to the article. While there are some very intriguing uses for the molecular science mentioned in the article, this is in no way creating life. Essentially, this is more like the photocopying of a cell. In a nutshell, the process includes: Taking existing DNA, sequencing it, rebuilding and programing it, and placing the DNA into an existing live cell and watching it grow. It isn’t anything new and it only acts according to how it was programmed. Now, it’s not my intention to diminish this fascinating work, but in no way does this article describe creating life; After all the hype is stripped, it merely describes how scientists can rearrange existing life.