Intelligent design (ID), the new vitalism
Intelligent design (ID), the new vitalismThe ancient Greeks distinguished inanimate matter from living organisms. The latter move and grow. In those days motion and growth were mysterious. The term "vitalism" was applied. Religions accepted "vitalism" and assumed God(s) to be the agent.
In the 19th century, understanding of metabolism developed and evidence against "spontaneous generation" accumulated. Vitalism waned since it provided no useful explanations and suggested no useful experiments. Surprisingly vitalism survives. It's been disproved for small viruses (chemically synthesized), but prospects for synthesizing a living cell in the near future are dim. While vitalism is philosophically legitimate it's scientifically sterile.
We're confident that biological processes are physical, but the origin of these processes is less obvious. One can synthesize amino acids and small peptides from nonbiological molecules under "prebiotic" conditions. Mutation and selection could originate processes in self replicating "organisms", but how could the most complex processes arise, for example self-replicating systems, or biological coding machinery? The lack of good models for "early evolution" has inspired a new form of vitalism, "intelligent design (ID)", which implies that these innovations are beyond nature. ID appeals to an intellectual yearning for a designer, but like classical vitalism, it's a sterile conjunction of the argument from ignorance with the argument from incredulity.