July 7, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

Origin-of-Life Researchers Caught Playing With Toys

A “virtual primordial soup” cooks up life in a computer program in a “toy universe,” according to reporter Leslie Mullen at Space.com.  She wrote, “The power of computer processing could one day solve the riddle of life’s origin.
    EvoGrid is “a computer creation concept that would be a digital version of the primordial soup,” wrote Mullen.  It was “dreamed up by a group of international advisors and Bruce Damer, the founder of a research company that creates 3-D spacecraft and mission simulations for NASA and the space community.”  When he’s not simulating real space missions, he’s “constructing a model of a ‘toy universe’, which has approximate properties of the early oceans on Earth.”
    Mullen’s comment that computer processing could one day solve the origin of life seems counter-intuitive.1  Aren’t computer processors built by intelligent design?  Actually, Damer is dreaming of two versions of EvoGrid:

Damer envisions two possible versions of Evogrid: a hands-off “Origins” version, and an experimental “Intelligent Designer” edition that would allow people to tinker with the simulation.  Damer says the ID edition of Evogrid could include a “miracle module” that would allow users to play God in their attempts to create proto-life.  The Origins edition would be the focus of the science, however, with strict controls to shield the experiment from any guiding human influence.

That may be too late.  He has visions of expanding EvoGrid into versions tuned for astrobiology and SETI.  He did not explain how a programmer can do tuning without any guiding human influence.  But he didn’t stop there; he wants biologists of the future to translate his digital organisms into real creatures.  Then he wants to create cyber-physical life forms that can colonize other planets.
    Building real animals from toy models, though, may be a hard task for unguided processes.  Damer seems to understand that to a point.  “Life is more than the sum of its parts, and you can’t just throw the necessary chemicals together and expect a life form to emerge,” he said.  Mullen didn’t want to leave it there.  “However, researchers are hard at work trying to recreate all the biochemical steps necessary to synthesize a kind of proto-life in the lab, so perhaps this possibility is not too far over the horizon.”  And why not?  Mullen speculated that “other intelligent civilizations in the universe probably harness the power of evolution to solve difficult problems.”

1.  The origin of life being envisioned is naturalistic – a chance product of physics and chemistry.

Using intelligent design principles and calling it evolution should be a crime.  Calling evolution a power that can be harnessed makes Mullen a repeat offender.
    Did you notice that the “Origins” version of EvoGrid (that is, the “science” version as opposed to the “ID version”) also has a Miracle Module?  Damen snuck it in under cover.  It was required.  Without it, the computer would just sit there and rust.  He plays EvoGrid like a theremin (an old musical instrument the soloist plays by moving his hands in the air).  He can claim he has his hands off, but while he is engaged in hand-waving, his ID vibes are controlling everything the computer is doing.
    We hate to spoil the fun by revealing the secret during the magic show, but the audience deserves to know it is a magic show, not a science show.  These self-deceived teachers need to leave Toyland and get back to work.  Their toy should not be called EvoGrid, but just GRID – Growth Requires Intelligent Design.

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