Miller-Urey Spark Discharge Experiment Resurrected
Technicians provide detailed instructions how to spark gases to make amino acids without causing explosions in the lab.
PhysOrg published a press release from the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JOVE) titled, “A 21st Century Adaptation of the Miller-Urey Origin of Life Experiments: A safe approach to investigating how organic molecules could come about from inorganic compounds.” The article includes a video with a step-by-step instructions for adding ammonia, methane and nitrogen safely to water in a flask and sparking it with a Tesla coil, then retrieving the products for spectral analysis. Listed in the products is a racemic mixture of a dozen amino acids.
The public may not have heard that the experiment is dangerous:
“Miller was hesitant to encourage people to repeat the experiment due to the risk of inducing an explosion,” said Parker, explaining why his lab chose to publish their version of the experiment in JoVE’s signature step-by-step video format. “Often times, after reading a methods description it may not be fully clear how a certain research task was carried out,” he said, “…Therefore, this article was written to inform interested researchers how to conduct the experiment safely, in part, by giving precise instructions on evacuating [ignitable gasses like oxygen, methane and hydrogen from] the reaction apparatus before initiating the spark.“
A simplified procedure was designed at the University of Georgia then shown on video. Assisting the design was one of Miller’s students, Jeffrey Bada, who went on to continue origin of life experiments at Scripps. Earlier, Bada had also retrieved and analyzed some of Miller’s original samples (PhysOrg, 3/21/11).
As usual, the article links the spark-discharge apparatus to ideas about life arising spontaneously from chemicals, the so-called “building blocks of life.” It states, “The Miller-Urey experiment was a pioneering study regarding the abiotic synthesis of organic compounds with possible relevance to the origins of life.” Later experiments noted a number of problems with it, however (see 5/02/03), including an unrealistic mixture of starting gases (12/03/04), causing Miller to modify his apparatus substantially in later experiments (10/31/02). Not even Bada believes it was relevant to the origin of life (6/14/02), though he looks back at the Miller experiment as useful for having turned primordial soup research into a “respectable science.”
Problems notwithstanding, the Miller-Urey experiment had a profound psychological effect on millions of students (it is still illustrated in many biology textbooks). In the book and film The Case for a Creator, for instance, Lee Strobel described how hearing about this experiment in high school effectively switched off any lingering belief in God and turned him into an atheist (see segment on YouTube). Biologist Jonathan Wells dealt with problems in the experiment in his book Icons of Evolution (see review on Evolution News & Views, June 2011). Today’s origin-of-life researchers don’t play with sparks very often. They battle between two opposing camps – “metabolism-first” (2/15/07), which looks for cyclic reactions mainly at deep sea vents, and “genetics first” (1/26/08) which theorizes an “RNA world” becoming more information-rich over time, only later co-opting proteins. Sixty years after Miller’s experiments, origin of life research still faces daunting problems (12/31/13).
What’s wrong with explosions? They should welcome an explosion in the lab. Evolutionists love explosions: the big bang, meteor impacts, the Cambrian explosion… just think of all the energy dissipation that could fuel the emergence of organization within the apparatus.
One striking thing that becomes apparent in the video is the high degree of intelligent design required to run the spark-discharge experiment. The lab technician (a glazed-eyed student with all the personality of a robot) has to read meters, measure ingredients, and turn stopcocks in a specific order. He uses highly purified distilled water. Everything must be sterilized before use. How realistic is that? It’s a living illustration of the old cartoon with the scientist in the white lab coat saying, “If I can only create life here in the lab, it will prove that no intelligence was necessary to create life in the beginning.”
The only good that could be done with a resurrection of the Miller experiment would be to expose it for the fraud it is. The narrator should point out all the flaws, by saying, “Of course, Miller chose the wrong gases; few scientists believe today that methane, ammonia, and hydrogen were present on the early earth; but if more realistic gases are used in the experiment, no amino acids are produced, and if any oxygen is present, products are rapidly destroyed.” The narrator should add, “It is obvious that a great deal of care and design is required to get the products. We use distilled, purified water here. The early earth, by contrast, would have been a messy place.” He could point out the dilution problem (inability to concentrate the ingredients in a single place), the chirality problem (see our online book ch. 3-4), the toxic cross-reactions, the lack of genetic material, the lack of a membrane, and all the other aspects that make the experiment completely irrelevant to spontaneous generation.
That’s what should be done. Instead, this article perpetuates the myth that the Miller experiment somehow informs the origin of life on earth by unguided chemical processes. Sixty years have now passed since this fraud was foisted on the media (5/02/03), and the evolutionists still want to milk it for all the propaganda value they can get out of it. Why not? It’s just one more “useful lie” in their arsenal for deceitfully preaching atheism under the mask of science. Strobel was disillusioned when he learned how useless the Miller experiment was in later years (YouTube). We should be dis-illusioned, too, about evillusion. Being freed from illusion is an eye-opening experience.