Craig Venter wasn’t lying

Craig Venter is a brilliant scientist who has been working tirelessly to create life in the lab. In recent years he has been really pushing that the event is getting close. It looks like he has made a huge technical step.

Craig Venter has taken yet another step towards his goal of creating synthetic life forms. He’s synthesized the genome of a microbe and then implanted that piece of DNA into a DNA-free cell of another species. And that…that thing…can grow and divide.

Anyone who has worked with DNA for more than 30 seconds can appreciate at least some of the difficulty entailed in such a feat. Most DNA falls apart after a few thousand base pairs using modern molecular techniques of replication. Even with PCR and the use of a high-grade enzyme like Taq, no one sets out to copy something too terribly long. (And depending on what the DNA is needed for, it may only be necessary to replicate a few hundred base pairs – a fairly common event.) So Venter and his team used bacteria and yeast as major components in their synthesis instead. What they created is more or less a copy of a genome of an organism that already exists, but the important aspect here is the transfer of the synthesis into the cell. That’s the major technical feat that’s going to act as the next step in Venter’s quest to create artificial life.

Objective morality

The idea of objective morality doesn’t even make sense. It’s the biggest sham, the most ludicrous game out there. It’s this meme that just falls apart, landing with a thud. It’s just a crashingly bad notion.

There are two definitions of objective which are important here. First, there’s the ultimate sense sort of objective which transcends all life, thoughts, actions, events, etc. Then there’s the second sort of objective which means without bias, without personal preference. For instance, when I say the Tampa Bay Rays are doing really well this year, that’s an objective statement in that there is no input of my team preferences or any such thing. It’s just that they’re a good baseball team right now. This is the same sort of “objective” people tend to want in their journalism.

It’s unfortunate that the two terms get confused so easily and often, but alas, it happens. But with this distinction now in hand, it is possible to move on to the next point.

To say a moral claim is objective is to say there is some sort of ultimate source which dictates it be so. This is always God and it’s a bunch of malarkey to beat around the bush and pretend it isn’t. But this claim is itself a subjective one. Who is deciding that God is an objective source? Of course, within the useless field of theology, it is God who has made the decision, but in reality, people are making the call. They are making the choice to believe their holy books. They are the ones who are interpreting the ‘data’, the ones who are determining truth from fiction. Whether they’re right or wrong is besides the point. What’s important is that even a claim of objective morality is a subjective position.

The next point theists (especially on FTSOS’ Facebook Page) like to make is that this also means science is subjective. Yes, but it only means it in this ultimate sense. Science is still objective in that it is without bias, without personal influence (at least ideally). The sole reason for pointing out the necessary subjectivity of science is to bring about a false equivalence, a favorite tactic of creationists and their theists in arms. Science still remains the most powerful tool for gaining knowledge in the world, and it does so because it objectively analyzes the Universe. To get a little more specific, a double-blind study is objective because no bias can possibly be introduced to the raw data. (Incidentally, that’s why homeopaths never subject their bullshit to such rigors of science.) This doesn’t mean the results of the study are ultimately true – one can always go back to philosophy 101 and ask how anyone even knows any of this is real – but they are true in the operation of the real world. But, I lament, the theist will distinctly and intently drive on by this point.

The interesting point here is when the theist is asked to defend why something is right or wrong. If he’s simply, he’ll just say “because God said so”, relying on his subjective interpretations. But if he thinks he’s clever, he’ll answer with some common basis which goes beyond religion, usually reflecting some ethical theory of some sort. Take the teabaggers. They’re all religious nutbags, but they’ll loosely reflect libertarian ideals (until they become inconvenient, but I digress). Those libertarian ideals say that personal liberty and autonomy is good. Of course, this runs counter to much of what Christianity teaches them, but they’ll still stand behind their reasoning. The reason is that while libertarianism is not a very good ethical theory, it is a defensible one. And more importantly, people think it’s objective morality when they can apply particular situations to the principles of certain theories. For instance, using libertarian principles as a basis, it is possible to say that most taxes are objectively bad. In this instance, “objective” references a particular standard. In other words, when applying X event (taxes) to Y principle (liberty is good), it is possible to reason out a correct answer. Of course, X event may be a great thing according to the principles of another theory. That’s where the subjectivity comes in. It’s still possible to apply X event objectively within a certain construct, but that presumes there’s agreement with said construct.