Frightful Hurdles

Like any good religion, secular naturalism holds its own view of the origin of life. Its adherents believe that, several billion years ago, in a warm, moist world, inorganic natural compounds coalesced into the first self-replicating molecules, leading to the rise of the first simple life forms sometime afterwards. This process, originally termed chemical evolution, has more recently been referred to as abiogenesis. Darwin himself entertained this notion in his later years, declaring in a letter to Joseph Dalton Hooker that life may have originated in a “warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, lights, heat, electricity, etc. present, so that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes.”(1) 

This idea of life originating within fetid, primordial ooze has permeated the collective consciousness, and through subtle indoctrination, the idea has become acceptable on many levels. Even for many of those who do not inherently accept it, such an origin seems at first perfectly reasonable. Like the oft-ignored distinctions between macroevolution and adaptation, the primordial sludge origin requires an adequate examination to understand the terrible barriers against it.

Looking at the issue at its most basic level first, we can draw direct comparisons between the process of abiogenesis and the archaic notion of spontaneous generation. In centuries past, it was common for people to assume that life of various kinds originated from specific substances rather than being the product of breeding. For instance, maggots were believed to have arisen from rotting meat and rodents from unattended wheat or bread. These cases, of course, seem ridiculous given what we know today. Maggots come from eggs laid by flies in rotting meat, and mice and rats are not the product of bread or wheat but rather were likely observed only feeding on it. Though the mainstream consensus of days past was that spontaneous generation was a proven, observable phenomenon, it was demonstrated by Francesco Redi in 1668 as false, and in the following years other influential researchers confirmed or otherwise supported Redi’s findings.

If spontaneous generation is such a patently ludicrous concept, repeatedly proven false by science, and dictated by good sense as foolish, why then is the notion being popularized today by serious researchers under the title abiogenesis? Ask any secular scientist their opinion of spontaneous generation and they will certainly attack the notion with vicious condemnation. Ask their opinion on abiogenesis and you are quite likely to see a dramatic turnaround, with the notion being spoken of with reverential dignity and no small degree of awe. Yet, are the two not essentially identical, with the differences being subtle at best? Ultimately, both describe natural processes which give rise to new life from substances that are clearly different than their product, and in the case of abiogenesis, it comes back to the warm, fetid ponds of a world aeons past.

The fact of the matter is that a great many people have been introduced to the ‘primordial soup’ hypothesis – many accepting it at face value – through the singular promotion of the famous Miller-Urey Experiment in popular media and textbooks.(2) As it is told, in 1952, researchers Stanley Miller and Harold Urey conducted a test whereby, through the simulation of anticipated “early Earth” conditions (namely an atmosphere composed of greater concentrations of methane and lower concentrations of oxygen), inorganic elements were compelled to form organic compounds, including amino acids, themselves the components of proteins, and therefore life itself. The implications of the experiment were dramatic, wide reaching, and wildly popular, especially in secular circles. Soon enough, the findings were used as confirmation that inorganic materials, under the right conditions, could spawn life. The certainty of those claims, like so much else promoted by the mainstream, hid a deeper truth…

In reality, the Miller-Urey experiment did produce some intriguing results, but those were not what were reported by the propagandists of the time, or even since, for that matter.

The setup for the experiment was essentially a closed gas apparatus, filled with a combination of methane, ammonia, hydrogen, and water vapor. That mixture, kept under constant boil, was struck with 60,000 volt discharges to simulate lightning. Finally, as the gases continued through the circuit, they passed through a condenser, cooling and collecting in the bottom. Soon enough, the experiment seemed to yield results, including the production of stains within the system and the precipitation of solid materials.

The results of the subsequent analysis were intriguing. The gaseous component of the experiment produced primarily carbon monoxide and nitrogen,(3) while the dominant solid was in fact a form of tar, a deadly, carcinogenic material containing concentrations of cyanide and similar toxins. That first test however yielded no trace of life, and after some modifications, the experiment was performed again.(4) 

Eventually, Miller’s experiment yielded minute traces of simple amino acids, primarily glycine and alanine. In subsequent years, others have attempted to replicate, or otherwise build upon, the results of the Miller-Urey experiment using hundreds of variations, but each ultimately produced extremely limited concentrations of amino acids, and even then, less than half of the amino acids necessary for life were ever produced. The remainder – missing from all yields of all such experiments to date – require much more complex synthesis conditions to form.(5) Without the full range of necessary amino acids, proteins could not be generated, and if proteins could not form, then cells could not be manufactured. Amino acids are critical beyond compare, the very base components for life, and to ignore their absence, or at best their limited presence, is tantamount to deception.

Despite the paucity of the experiment’s results, both in terms of the concentration and diversity of yielded amino acids, mainstream researchers of the day, educators, and the popular media, embraced the findings as confirmation that life could have arose naturally on the early planet. In many cases, such affirmations continue to this day, and though many of the details involved in those initial tests have since been altered or replaced in favor of something else, the Miller-Urey experiment remains a touchstone for naturalistic origins. Even so, aside from the surprising lack of biological components yielded by the experiment, other issues should raise concerns about the “success” of the experiment, and the worth of its nigh-endless promotion by the powers-that-be.

First, at the time of the experiment, researchers, including Stanley Miller, believed that the early Earth was largely devoid of oxygen, and this notion was thusly reflective in their experimentation. This, of course, was based on not only preconceived notions about just what the environment of those early millennia were like, but also because oxygen would be quite detrimental to biological activity, retarding the development of organic compounds, or otherwise destroying those that may have somehow managed to form. Free oxygen in the early atmosphere would have been disastrous for abiogenic efforts, and thus it made sense for researchers, such as Miller, to eliminate it from his experiment.

In truth, there is abundant evidence that oxygen was present during that time. In fact, oxidized materials dating (according to mainstream timescales) some 3.8 billion years in age, including accumulations of hematite and red jasper, attest to this. What should be somewhat unsettling for the naturalist is that such ages actually predate the proposed origin of life by as much as 300 million years! How could life arise naturally under such conditions? As one commenter said, ““… the accepted picture of the earth’s early atmosphere has changed: It was probably O2-rich with some nitrogen, a less reactive mixture than Miller’s, or it might have been composed largely of carbon dioxide, which would greatly deter the development of organic compounds.”(6)

Second, the structure of contemporary amino acids, and the biosystems that subsequently interact with them, seem to contradict the findings of the Miller-Urey experiment. Amino acids, for instance, are examples of chiral molecules, and as such, each amino acid can be found in two distinct forms. Though each variation is chemically identical, the structure between the two forms changes, with each existing as a mirror opposite of the other. A good reference for this phenomenon can be seen in one’s hands, as the right hand is essentially identical to the left, yet constructed to face the opposite direction. In fact, chirality is often referred to as ‘handedness.’

Concerning the inherent chirality of amino acids, and other biomaterials, life as we know it with very rare exceptions is designed to interact with very specific chiral orientations. In particular, nearly all amino acids utilized in proteins are oriented to the left, while other biopolymers and carbohydrates are oriented to the right. Deviations in these orientations typically are either inactive and useless, or potentially toxic and lethal.(7) 

3.03 Chiral Molecular Structure of an Amino Acid
Figure 3:03 -Chiral Molecular Structure of an Amino Acid

Interestingly, the Miller-Urey experiment yielded equal quantities of both right- and left-oriented amino acids. Here again, in spite of supporters’ assertions that the experiment demonstrated the feasibility of naturalistic creation, the actual results produced only a toxic sludge of tar with limited instances of amino acid production, half of which themselves were either lethal or ineffectual for life due to their chiral orientation. Even the conditions that precipitated those disappointing findings were flawed, again omitting adequate oxygen from the system’s contained atmosphere.

Even more is the fact that the concentrations of organic material – produced naturally through interactions like those within the experiment – needed to potentially give rise to life would be ludicrous. Harold Urey speculated that the oceans of the ancient Earth must have been made up of as much as 10% of such organic material.(8) To put that in perspective, that much organic material would be equivalent to 100 times greater than modern American sewer water.(9) Concentrations that high would be impossible to achieve naturally!

Conditions for a naturalistic origin would have had to have been beyond perfect, with any deviation in temperature, pH level, energy exposure, and other factors precipitating disastrous effects. Even the light from the sun itself would be cataclysmic for any unprotected amino acids, and lacking free atmospheric oxygen – as Miller and his ilk suggested – there would be no protective barrier to shield those amino acids from the deadly sunlight.

In all cases, the Miller-Urey experiment adjusted for such threats, closely monitoring conditions and implementing specific radiation traps and other measures. Without the careful observation – indeed intervention – of someone attentive, the experiment would have yielded far different results. Even so, beyond all of the environmental conditions necessary to build amino acids in the atmosphere of the early Earth, far greater problems resided in the subsequent steps on the path to life…

Notes & References

  1. Priscu, John, “Origin and Evolution of Life on a Frozen Earth,” National Science Foundation
  2. Wells, J., “Icons of Evolution,” Regnery, Washington, 2000
  3. Lahav, N., “Biogenesis: Theories of Life’s Origin,” Oxford University, New York, 1999
  4. Miller, S.L., “Production of some organic compounds under possible primitive earth conditions,” American Chemical Society, 77:2351–2361, 1955
  5. Bergman, Jerry, “Why the Miller–Urey research argues against abiogenesis,” Journal of Creation 18(2):28–36 August 2002
  6.  Flowers, C., “A Science Odyssey: 100 Years of Discovery,” William Morrow and Company, New York,pg. 173, 1998
  7. Jamali, F., Lovlin, R., Corrigan, B.W., Davies, N.M. and Aberg, G., “Stereospecific pharmacokinetics and toxicodynamics of ketorolac after oral administration of the racemate and optically pure enantiomers to the rat,” Chirality 11(3):201–205, 1999
  8. Urey, H., “The Planets: Their Origin and Development,” Yale University Press, New Haven, pp. 153, 1952
  9. Bergman, Jerry, “Why the Miller–Urey research argues against abiogenesis,” Journal of Creation 18(2):28–36 August 2002

– This was an excerpt fromRemnants of Eden: Evolution, Deep-Time, & the Antediluvian World.” Get your copy here today. God bless! –

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