Discussion by: BillDixon
Science is now so close to constructing cells capable of reproduction from a feedstock of simple molecules that we have to acknowledge that it will eventually be done. In principle, such cells are just as alive as we are, because evolution could lead from them to something like us, albeit with a very large number of steps and over a long, long time. None the less, we know that evolution can do this.
So shouldn't we stop according a special status to "life"? Isn't it only about as logical as saying that there is something special about flight, and that flying machines have an essentially different character to say, steam-engines? It seems silly to us now, but there was a time when flying machines were considered impossible by many people, because flight was "special". Now we know better, and recognise that there are types and degrees of flight in both the natural world and in man-made machines.
If we make the same change in our attitude towards life, and appreciate that some things are not alive, some only just so, some pretty good and some very amazing, and that it's just a spectrum of degrees of organization of certain types of molecules, that would also go a long way towards removing the hocus-pocus associated with the idea that life is special. It would remove the tendency to view life as being in some way supernatural or implying the need for a supernatural agency, the Creator, who breathed "life" into inanimate matter. It's all the same stuff.
For a time, religious belief depended on the support of the anthropocentric view, that is, that God's existence could be deduced from the fact of the priviliged postion of human beings as something special – "a little lower than the angels". Now, many people infer it from the specialness of life, as being priviliged over inanimate matter. I argue that it isn't. Evolution goes right the way back to sodium chloride, methane and ammonia. These are our ancestors. What do people think?