Remember learning about Louis Pasteur? Just before his time, many people believed maggots popped into life wherever meat was left out. They didn’t understand the connection between them and flies. They still thought wine fermented on its own, never thinking about yeast.
Belief in life just popping into existence without a parent is called Spontaneous Generation. Back before Jesus’ day, the Greeks and Romans already believed in it. It has never been observed and we now know it can’t happen.
But many scientists still believe it did happen, at least once, somewhere in the universe!
Scientists know people won’t take them seriously talking about spontaneous generation, so they changed the name of their belief. Now they prefer to call it “abiogenesis” which means non-life beginning.
Is abiogenesis really different? No. Which is why you don’t have kids’ books describing it. Instead you read about life after it already existed.
Miller Urey Experiment
Sometimes, books will talk about an experiment scientists did back in the 1953. They say it proved you can get the building blocks for life when things are just right.
That’s not really true. To get the results they were hoping for, the scientists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey carefully controlled everything:
- The amount of light was kept low
- The temperature was kept just right
- The ingredients in the experiment were carefully purified
- No one today thinks they used the right ingredients
- Most of the chemicals formed were deadly
After all this, they did get some amino acids (what proteins are built from).
Why is the most famous experiment for abiogenesis 60 years old? So many things couldn’t work in the real world, some scientists have switched to just using computers in “virtual laboratories”.
Others have decided life didn’t start on earth and are looking to outer space for answers. In the past few years, scientists have started searching meteorites for the building blocks of life. They are even finding some real extra-terrestrial amino acids. But they don’t like to point out one important thing
Just because you have an amino acid, doesn’t mean you can start new life.
Many amino acids aren’t used by any life forms on earth. We know all of those can’t help explain abiogenesis. Even with the right kinds your work isn’t done.
Getting amino acids to combine themselves into something like a protein is a huge task. In the real world, there are a lot of things which would stop amino acids from building anything fancier.
Even if they did, everything alive uses only half the amino acids produced by non-living reactions. Here’s how it works: amino acids are kind of like your hands; they have all the same parts but are mirror images. Cells almost only use the “left-handed” ones. But, there is always an even mixture of both outside of cells.
Any protein trying to form wouldn’t be able to separate out all the “right-handed” acids and couldn’t form properly. Even if one could somehow form, just one protein doesn’t come close to what you need for a “simple” cell.
The truth is, if you had a perfect environment with everything a cell needs to survive in just the right amounts…
You still couldn’t bring it to life
A dead body isn’t going to come back to life, even with all the parts in place, once the life is gone.
Only life can create life.
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. Genesis 2:7
They Aren’t About to Give Up, Though:
- 2008: Biologists Attempt to Create New Forms of Life (AiG discussion)
- 2009: RNA “precursors” created in the lab (ICR discussion)
- 2010: “synthetic life form” created (CMI discussion)
- 2011: Still studying the Miller Urey experiment (ICR Discussion)
- 2014: Formation of life’s building blocks recreated in lab (New Scientist- all the same problems are left as with the Miller-Urey experiment except for more acceptable ingredients)
Why the Miller–Urey Research Argues Against Abiogenesis
Surveys of textbooks find that the Miller-Urey study is the major (or only) research cited to prove abiogenesis. Although widely heralded for decades by the popular press as ‘proving’ that life originated on the early earth entirely under natural conditions, we now realize the experiment actually provided compelling evidence for the opposite conclusion. It is now recognized that this set of experiments has done more to show that abiogenesis on Earth is not possible than to indicate how it could be possible. This paper reviews some of the many problems with this research, which attempted to demonstrate a feasible method of abiogenesis on the early earth.
Contemporary research has failed to provide a viable explanation as to how abiogenesis could have occurred on Earth. The abiogenesis problem is now so serious that most evolutionists today tend to shun the entire field because they are ‘uneasy about stating in public that the origin of life is a mystery, even though behind closed doors they freely admit that they are baffled’ because ‘it opens the door to religious fundamentalists and their god-of-the-gaps pseudo-explanations’ and they worry that a ‘frank admission of ignorance will undermine funding’.1
Abiogenesis was once commonly called ‘chemical evolution’,2 but evolutionists today try to distance evolutionary theory from the origin of life. This is one reason that most evolutionary propagandists now call it ‘abiogenesis’. Chemical evolution is actually part of the ‘General Theory of Evolution’, defined by the evolutionist Kerkut as ‘the theory that all the living forms in the world have arisen from a single source which itself came from an inorganic form’.3
Another reason exists to exaggerate abiogenesis claims—it is an area that is critical to proving evolutionary naturalism.4 If abiogenesis is impossible, or extremely unlikely, then so is naturalism.5,6,7,8
Darwin recognized how critical the abiogenesis problem was for his theory. He even conceded that all existing terrestrial life must have descended from some primitive life-form that was originally called into life ‘by the Creator’.9 But to admit, as Darwin did, the possibility of one or a few creations is to open the door to the possibility of many others! If God made one type of life, He also could have made many thousands of different types. Darwin evidently regretted this concession later and also speculated that life could have originated in some ‘warm little pond’ on the ancient earth.
The ‘warm soup’ theory
Although seriously challenged in recent years, the warm soup hypothesis is still the most widely held abiogenesis theory among Darwinists. Developed most extensively by Russian atheist Alexandr Ivanovich Oparin (1894–1980) in his book, The Origin of Life, a worldwide best seller first published in 1924 (the latest edition was published in 1965).10 Oparin ‘postulated that life may have evolved solely through random processes’ in what he termed a biochemical ‘soup’ that he believed once existed in the oceans. The theory held that life evolved when organic molecules that originally rained into the primitive oceans from the atmosphere were energized by forces such as lightning, ultraviolet light, meteorites, deep-sea hydrothermal vents, hot springs, volcanoes, earthquakes, or electric discharges from the sun. If only the correct mix of chemicals and energy were present, life would be produced spontaneously. Almost a half century of research and millions of dollars have been expended to prove this idea—so far with few positive results and much negative evidence.11
Genes require enzymes in order to function, but genes are necessary to produce enzymes.
Oparin concluded that cells evolved first, then enzymes and, last, genes.12 Today, we recognize that genes require enzymes in order to function, but genes are necessary to produce enzymes. Neither genes nor cells can function without many complex structures such as ribosomes, polymerase, helicase, gyrase, single-strand-binding protein and scores of other proteins. Dyson concluded that Oparin’s theory was ‘generally accepted by biologists for half a century’ but that it ‘was popular not because there was any evidence to support it but rather because it seemed to be the only alternative to biblical creationism’.13
The Miller-Urey research
Haldane,14 Bernal,15 Calvin16 and Urey17 all published research in an attempt to support this model—each with little, if any, success. Then, in 1953 came what some then felt was a critical breakthrough by Harold Urey (1893–1981) of the University of Chicago and his 23-year-old graduate student, Stanley Miller (1930–). Urey came to believe that the conclusion reached by ‘many’ origin-of-life researchers that the early atmosphere was oxidizing must have been wrong; he argued instead that it was the opposite, namely a reducing atmosphere with large amounts of methane.18
Their ‘breakthrough’ resulted in front-page stories across the world that usually made the sensational claim that they had ‘accomplished the first step toward creating life in a test tube’.19 Carl Sagan concluded, ‘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.’20 The experiment even marked the beginning of a new scientific field called ‘prebiotic’ chemistry.21 It is now the most commonly cited evidence (and often the only evidence cited) for abiogenesis in science textbooks.22
The Miller-Urey experiments involved filling a sealed glass apparatus with the gases that Oparin had speculated were necessary to form life—namely methane, ammonia and hydrogen (to mimic the conditions that they thought were in the early atmosphere) and water vapour (to simulate the ocean). Next, while a heating coil kept the water boiling, they struck the gases in the flask with a high-voltage (60,000 volts) tungsten spark-discharge device to simulate lightning. Below this was a water-cooled condenser that cooled and condensed the mixture, allowing it to fall into a water trap below.24
Within a few days, the water and gas mix produced a pink stain on the sides of the flask trap. As the experiment progressed and the chemical products accumulated, the stain turned deep red, then turbid.25 After a week, the researchers analyzed the substances in the U-shaped water trap used to collect the reaction products.26 The primary substances in the gaseous phase were carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen (N2).27 The dominant solid material was an insoluble toxic carcinogenic mixture called ‘tar’ or ‘resin’, a common product in organic reactions, including burning tobacco. This tar was analyzed by the latest available chromatographic techniques, showing that a number of substances had been produced. No amino acids were detected during this first attempt, so Miller modified the experiment and tried again.28,29
In time, trace amounts of several of the simplest biologically useful amino acids were formed—mostly glycine and alanine.30 The yield of glycine was a mere 1.05%, of alanine only 0.75% and the next most common amino acid produced amounted to only 0.026% of the total—so small as to be largely insignificant. In Miller’s words, ‘The total yield was small for the energy expended.’31 The side group for glycine is a lone hydrogen and for alanine, a simple methyl (-CH3) group. After hundreds of replications and modifications using techniques similar to those employed in the original Miller-Urey experiments, scientists were able to produce only small amounts of less than half of the 20 amino acids required for life. The rest require much more complex synthesis conditions.
Oxygen: enemy of chemical evolution
The researchers used an oxygen-free environment mainly because the earth’s putative primitive atmosphere was then ‘widely believed not to have contained in its early stage significant amounts of oxygen’. They believed this because ‘laboratory experiments show that chemical evolution, as accounted for by present models, would be largely inhibited by oxygen’.32 Here is one of many examples of where their a priori belief in the ‘fact’ of chemical evolution is used as ‘proof’ of one of the premises, an anoxic atmosphere. Of course, estimates of the level of O2 in the earth’s early atmosphere rely heavily on speculation. The fact is, ‘We still don’t know how an oxygen-rich atmosphere arose.’33