Thursday, November 11, 2010

Better Science and Intelligent Design

Junk science is a two way street. Christians have engaged in it at times but so have those who oppose any non-material cause for the universe. Neither side does their cause any favors when they posit bogus or defunct theories to buttress their a priori assumptions and wishes. The following is from Kairos Journal and takes popular myths about primordial gases to task for being -- junk.

Primordial Gas: The Miller-Urey Experiment

In December 1952, a graduate student at the University of Chicago, Stanley L. Miller, and his supervisor, Harold C. Urey, conducted an experiment that not only shook the world but sought to re-create it. They shot electricity through an atmosphere they claimed was akin to that on primitive earth and created amino acids—the building blocks of life. When the Miller-Urey experiment was published in Science on May 15, 1953, it captured the imagination of Darwinian evolutionists by suggesting that life arose on earth by spontaneous reactions.1

Until the mid-1800s, scientists thought organic chemicals could only form by the actions of living things. However, Wöhler’s synthetic creation of the organic molecule urea by heating inorganic minerals in 1828 heralded a century of similar synthesis, culminating in 1913 with Löb’s chemical synthesis of the amino acid glycine. In 1922, a Russian scientist, Oparin, argued that cellular life was preceded by a period of chemical evolution. These chemicals, he argued, must have arisen spontaneously under conditions existing billions of years ago.2

Following Urey’s early work on the chemical events associated with the origin of the solar system, Miller approached the Nobel laureate about the possibility of doing an experiment using a reducing gas mixture. In 1952, Miller had designed an experimental test for Oparin’s hypothesis, and he enlisted Urey’s help to perform it. They discharged electric sparks into a mixture of gases thought to resemble the primordial atmosphere (hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, water vapor, ammonia, and methane). From the water receptacle designed to model an ancient ocean, Miller recovered high yields of amino acids—the building blocks of proteins, seen as the first step to making life.

However, although the Miller-Urey experiment is treated as a watershed moment in the history of evolution, the current scientific consensus is that the atmosphere of primitive earth was not like the one Miller created in 1952.3 As Philip Abelson, a geophysicist with the Carnegie Institution, concluded in 1966: “What is the evidence for a primitive methane-ammonia atmosphere on earth? The answer is that there is no evidence for it, but much against it.”4 It is unlikely that there was much if any hydrogen in the primitive atmosphere because it would have escaped into space, and in an accurate atmosphere the only organic compounds created would be formaldehyde and cyanide—hardly conducive to life.

Curiously, although the experiment has little ongoing scientific significance, it is still prominently featured in biology textbooks thereby creating the impression that life’s origin has been solved. Biologist Jonathan Wells may be right to conclude, “[T]his is materialistic philosophy masquerading as empirical science.”5 The Miller-Urey experiment did not create the recipe for life, and any who suggest that science has explained how life began are on shaky ground. Belief in the sovereign Creator takes no such leap of faith.



S. L. Miller, “A Production of Amino Acids under Possible Primitive Earth Conditions,” Science 117 (May 15, 1953): 528-529.


Jeffery L. Bada and Antonio Lazcano, “Prebiotic Soup—Revisiting the Miller Experiment,” Science 300 (May 2, 2003): 745-746,


A fascinating and helpful summary of the issues is contained in the foreword by leading biologist, Dean Kenyon (who moved from being a leading advocate to a leading skeptic of biochemical evolution) to a seminal intelligent design work, Mystery of Life’s Origin by Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, and Roger Olsen (New York, N.Y.: Philosophical Library, 1984), cited in Thomas Woodward, Doubts about Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), 44, 85-86.


P. H. Abelson, “Chemical Events on the Primitive Earth,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 55 (1966): 1365-1372, quoted in Lee Strobel, The Case for a Creator (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 37.


Quoted in ibid., 41.

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