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What would it take for a creature to become creationism’s long-sought “intelligent designer?”

clockwork robot
Illustration by Pablo Castaño Norkus

For just a moment, let’s run with the idea that life as we know it was designed by some higher intelligence which put together the basic chemistry for life in an organized and stable form at some time in the ancient past. It’s actually not as hard as it seems if we consider that we already know how to synthetically replicate living things and many of the fundamental principles of genetic engineering needed to make artificial microorganisms.

So imagine a creature that knows what we know and has the tools and resources to make a few colonies of simple, single celled organisms and tweak their genetic development like we would in a laboratory experiment. Early Earth was a terrible place for what we’d call complex life. The high winds, tides as violent as tsunamis and the heat from toxic gases which made up much of the atmosphere wouldn’t allow anything but the toughest microorganism to survive, much less something like an animal. But about 600 million years ago, the planet cooled and calmed down. Oxygen saturated the air. Animal life was now possible and if there was a designer able to play with the chemistry of life, he/she/it could’ve started the evolutionary process as the Cambrian era began and with it, the 80 million year long diversification of life properly known to biology as the Cambrian Radiation.

So far so good, right? We have an intelligent designer obscure enough to be anything. We know how he/she/it could’ve created living things form scratch and we can hypothesize that what we know as evolution is a chemistry experiment on a massive scale. Now we just need some proof that it happened. Test tubes in a 4 billion year old rock formation, a notepad with sketches of a DNA or an RNA strand dating to 3.5 billion years ago or earlier, something to show there was a design process going on around the time life emerged and that there was a single entity doing it all. The same handwriting style on the chemical and biological notes would do the trick. If we can find something similar to that, we’re all set. Or are we?

Most proponents of creationism and its iterations focus all of their attention on Earth and how it became what we see today. But Earth is one of countless planets orbiting trillions of trillions of stars scattered across tens of billions of light years. And that’s only as far as we can see with the help of gravitational lensing. (Thank you Dr. Einstein!) For all intents and purposes, there’s an infinity of other planets out there and if even the tiniest percentage of them house alien life, that makes for billions of alien species. And if life on Earth needed a designer to get started, is an alien world going to be exempt from this requirement or is it going to require a designer to come alive? How does one designer create life on a multitude of planets so far apart that using miles to measure the distance yields a useless number with enough zeros to fill up a computer screen? And how do we collect the same kind of proof on another world to make sure there was a designer and it was the same one that started life on Earth?

None of these questions are too esoteric or too speculative to consider if we accept the idea of an intelligent designer. Alien worlds around other stars are a reality. I’ve written before about a pair of planets orbiting the star Gliese 581 with potentially life sustaining habitats. If we find an alien organism light years away from Earth and can’t find any evidence that the same designer crafted it, the whole idea has to be rethought. If it wasn’t designed by the same designer, does that mean there are multiple designers out there? And if the alien wasn’t designed at all, do we really need a designer or is this designer just an advanced creature that evolved into a curious naturalist who creates artificial life on other worlds as an experiment? What does that mean for our understanding of the origins of life and how evolution is applied on a cosmic scale?

There’s a reason why space and astronomy are so important. What we learn about life on Earth also applies to what we see in the universe and what we’ll find on other planet also applies to us. We’re a part of the universe, not a special place which could have no equal or analog and this is why everything we know about biology will have to remain theories rather than laws. We’d never visit every planet in the universe to either prove or disprove our scientific framework. The best we can do is to come up with collections of facts and see if they apply wherever we go. And the same rule applies to the idea that life requires a designer. Or designers.

# evolution // creationism / designer / scientific method

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