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I remember as a young man discovering the results of the Miller-Urey experiments of the 1950's. As you may recall, they claimed that the rudiments of life had been formed automatically by nature in the bottom of a test tube by merely shooting electical sparks into a closed beaker of gases that were thought to simulate the early atmosphere of the earth. Imagine that! The origin of life explained! At least as a start. Probably it would not be much longer and science would fill in the rest of the details. Or at least so it seemed at that time.
Nor was I the only person persuaded. Carl Sagan crowed for many:
"The Miller-Urey experiment is now recognized as the single most significant step in convincing many scientists that life is likely to be abundant in the cosmos. (Quoted in Origins: A Skeptic's Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth. R. Shapiro)
Of course many others felt the same.
"The Miller-Urey experiment assures us of what we had suspected for a long time: that one can bridge the gap between the inanimate and the animate and that the appearance of life is essentially an automatic biochemical development that comes along naturally when physical conditions are right." (Astronomer Harlow Shapley, to a televison audience, as quoted in Evolution after Darwin, S. Tax, ed, 1960.)
Today this experiment is presented prominently in our schools and our culture. It is no doubt still persuading many every day.
Yet we are not hearing what the scientists themselves are saying who are involed in this line of "origin of life" research. Today those scientists recognize that the Miller-Urey experient is fatally flawed. Other experiments have also been tried. They also have failed to provide the desired answers. It is said that today's researchers in the field are in a "paradigm crisis". They do not even have a reasonable model around which they can form some kind of consensus.
So, because of the critically important philosophical implications, because of the centrality of this particular experiment (and the decades of more elaborate experiments that were inspired by it), and because of the utter illusion of its success - I will try to go into detail.
I am getting most of this material from the book "Of Pandas and People". That book has often been praised highly by intelligent design supporters and for good reason. It is very well checked, double checked, confirmed for accuracy and tested in the classroom. It is very persuasive and I recommend it highly. It requires careful attention to read but it is still quite accessable if you take it slowly. (Will be available at: Seekerbookssometime in the early summer, as we revamp the site.)
Because the book is so controversial in the view of its opponents I would like to quote for you its opening page:
Of Pandas and People went through an evolution of its own. The book's Project Chairman and Academic Editor, Dr. Charles B. Thaxton supervised the review and revision process through many drafts. Over an extended period of time, the manuscipt, either in part or in its entirety, was sent to scores of reviewers with very diverse perspectives. In addition, the book was used during its development for two years in a public school district in field test form, and feedback was taken into account in further revision. Although the manuscript was nearly always under review by someone, there was a general cadence to these reviews, which came in three basic rounds. First came a round by scientists engaged in teaching and research, then a second round by scientists. Many hundreds of valuable criticisms and suggestions were offeed, from readers holding evolutionary views as well as others in general agreement with the authors. Upon publication of the first edition, additional valuable comments became available from a wider scientifically informed readership. Our genuine thanks to the following ..."
There follows a list of 42 individuals with very impressive academic credentials.
I think anyone giving this book a serious reading will come away thoroughly disallusioned with Dawinism. But now on to the details.
In the 20th century our knowledge of the chemistry of life became much much more advanced than in Darwin's day. In 1924 the Russian biochemist A. I. Oparin proposed a way in which chemicals might possibly - unaided by outside itelligence - form the first rudiments of life.
Next a nobel prize winner in chemistry enters the picture. Professor Harold Urey (who won the prize in 1934) had a laboratory at the University of Chicago and was interested in these origin of life questions. In 1952 his undergraduate student, Stanley Miller, began the now famous experiments that attempted to experimentally verify the proposals of Oparin.
In describing the detailed 7 assumptions I will be following Of Pandas and People pages 41-58.
1. Assumption: "There was little or no oxygen in the earth's early atmosphere."
Miller filled his closed test tube apparatus with the gases methane, ammonia, hdrogen and water vapor - and no oxygen. This may seem only a detail but it is of major importance.; Today the earth's atmosphere has 21% oxygen. If the early atmosphere had only 1% oxygen the process that occurred in Miller's test tubes would not have occurred in nature.
Think of rust. Oxygen combines with minerals to turn them into something else. Oxygen stops these processes of Miller. While there has been considerable debate on the oxygen content of the earth in those early days, the consensus, including authoritative opinions, now holds that the early atmosphere contained so much oxygen that Miller's early assumptions are invalid. (However, you don't get told this if you are being "taught" by our schools today. You get misled instead.)
A minor point. Miller ran 50,000 volts of spark into his test tubes. Any oxygen present would have caused an explosion. Happily for his laboratory, Miller had carefully extracted all the oxygen from his test tubes before the simulated lightening was turned on.
2. Assumption: "The simple organic compounds formed in the soup were somehow preserved, so that the energy that caused them to form did not also destroy them."
It is necessary to put energy into the system to make the life compounds form. In the real world that energy might have been supplied by lightning bolts, ultraviolet light from the sun, cosmic rays, heat (perhaps from volcanoes) and even radioactivity. But here is the problem. That same energy that makes the compounds form also makes them disassemble.
Miller solved this problem. He removed the compounds from the bottom of the apparatus after they formed. But in the real world ... for situations requiring much time for the proper probabilities ...? Was he introducing "intelligence" - an act of God - into the experiment?
"We can see that Miller's experimental design was faulty, The trap [to collect and remove the good stuff] used in his apparatus did not realistically correspond with any reasonable protective mechanism presumed to have existed on the early earth."
3. Assumption: "Enough biological compounds were reserved for combination with the "right" molecules (rather than being tied up by reacting with useless moleculs) to form the large molecules useful to life."
Explanation: It would be useful to save up the "good stuff" so it could be combined as needed later. But that doesn't happen. The good combines with the bad and the ugly and is not available in usable form when needed for later stages.
4. Assumption: "Uniform Orientation. Only "left-handed" or L-amino acids combine to produce the proteins of life, and only the "right-handed" or D-sugars reacted to produce polysaccarides, or nucleotides."
This issue is clearer when you appreciate the 3-dimensional appearance of the molecule. The amino acids formed in Miller's experiment were 50% of the right kind (left handed) and 50% of the wrong kind (right handed). This is not what is needed for life. No one knows why but life demands exclusive handed-ness for various compounds. That is not what Miller's experiments produced.
5. Assumption: "Simultaneous Origins. The genetic machinery that tells the cell how to produce protein and the protein required to build that genetic machinery both orignated gradualy and were present and functioning in the first reproducing protocells."
Background: Amino acids join together to form proteins. DNA is made by protein.; But there is a very tight circle here. DNA is used to construct new proteins. (Through RNA, DNA contains the necessary information on how to make the very complicated proteins. But DNA is made of proteins! Which came first the chicken or the egg, that is, which came first, the DNA or the protein. This is a very striking problem. It is worse the more it is studied. For details see Of Pandas and People.
6. Specified Complexity. "The highly organized arrangement of thousands of parts in the chemical machinery needed to accomplish specialized functions orginated gradually in coacervates or other protocells."
The problem here is that one can mathematically calculate the degree of improbability of these molecules being in the right place at the right time. As a result you find statements like "This number is so enormous that there has not been enough time during the conventionally acepted age of the universe (15 billion years) to try every combination in an attempt to find the specific combination of one protein!" When one notes that much more than only one protein is needed then this assumption of Oparin is astronomically improbable.
7. Assumption: "Photosynthesis. A chemical system called photosynthesis, the process of capturing, storing, and using the energy of sunlight to make food, gradually developed within coacervates."
You see, these lucky early objects that will reproduce - need food. There was no food chain then. There was not photosynthesis where the food chain begins. Relative to photosynthesis: "There is no experimental evidence to support the view that such a complex process developed by presently known natural means. In fact, the step-by-step formation of such a complex energy-processing system is highly improbable, even over billions of years."
Indeed these are many scientific details that go beyond our everyday experience. If you read Of Pandas and People it will help greatly. Read it slowly and thoughtfully.
For a summary of the origin of life experiments I turn to Klaus Dose, a prominent evolutionist who wrote as follows in 1988:
"More than 30 years of experimentation on the origin of life in the fields of chemical and molecular evolution have led to a better perception of the immensity of the problem of the origin of life on Earth rather than to its solution. At present all discussions on principal theories and experiments in the field either end in stalemate or in a confession of ignorance." Klaus Dose, "The Origin of Life: More Questions Than Answers," Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, Vol. 13, No. 4, 1988, p. 348.
Perhaps even more telling is the response of Cricks, the co-discoverer of DNA. He understood well the problems involved. His solution to these perplexing problems - life arrived on earth as bacteria from elsewhere in the universe.It shows his level of desparation to resolve the problems that seemed so insolvable. But of course, the question is not how did life arrive on earth but how did life arrive anywhere.
After all this science we might enjoy a little poetry - actually, in this case, a little scripture:
Psalm 19:1-4 The heavens tell of the glory of God. The skies display his marvelous craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or a word; their voice is silent in the skies; yet their message has gone out to all the earth, and their words to all the world.
My own conclusion: This doesn't make sense. The origin of life experiments utterly fail in the laboratory to answer questions on the formation of life. Darwinism has been tested in the laboratory and failed. What is taught to our children is nonsense. To merely let our children see a glimmer of the scientific issues is almost instantly characterized as religious fanaticism. Lawsuits are instigated and the constitution of the US invoked - all to block this informaton. And why? Because - detailed as these scientific facts are - they have enormous implications. Those implications argue against the materialitic view of life. They favor a spiritual, respectful view of nature, of ourselves, potentially of our purpose, and our place in the universe.
This article was written by Reed Wood Carson, founder of this website and Theosophy Foundation of Georgia.