Evolution in the News - May 2003
by Do-While Jones

Two Silver Anniversaries

Stanley Millerís origin of life paper, and the description of the structure of DNA, were both published 50 years ago.

The scientific world celebrated the 50th anniversaries of two big events recently. One was the discovery of the structure of the DNA molecule. The other was Stanley Millerís origin of life experiment.

Much was written about the DNA anniversary. In contrast, Millerís anniversary passed largely unnoticed. There was, however, a two-page essay about Millerís experiment in the journal Science. The article summary on their web site said:

Modern research in prebiotic chemistry effectively began with a publication of a paper in Science 50 years ago by Stanley L. Miller on the spark discharge synthesis of amino acids and other compounds using a mixture of reduced gases that were thought to represent the components of the atmosphere on the primitive Earth. On the anniversary of this milestone publication, Bada and Lazcano provide an account of the events surrounding the publication of the paper and discuss the historical studies that led up to the Miller experiment.

The last sentence is more significant than it appears on the surface. They wrote a lot about the ďevents surrounding the publication,Ē and we will, too. They also wrote about the history leading up to the Miller experiment. It is what they did not write about that we want to mention first.

The many articles about the 50 years since the discovery of the structure of DNA gave little emphasis to the events leading up to the discovery. Instead, they recounted all the progress in genetics over the last 50 years, which was made possible by this discovery.

We know so much more today about biology in general, and genetics in particular, because of the discovery of DNA. Scientists are turning genes on and off to see what they do. They are transferring DNA from one organism to another. They have cloned sheep. People may disagree about whether or not the things being done in the lab are good, dangerous, moral, or immoral; but everyone agrees that many remarkable things have been done in the last 50 years.

This is in stark contrast to what has happened in the field of the origin of life in the last 50 years. Bada and Lazcano didnít write about everything we have learned about the origin of life in the past 50 years because we havenít learned anything (except why it canít happen naturally). They are no closer to synthesizing life in the lab than they were 50 years ago.

But Bada and Lazcano had two pages to fill, so they wrote about ďevents surrounding the publication.Ē What a story that is! If you thought scientific research was published objectively on the basis of merit, you wonít think so after reading about what it took to publish Millerís paper.

The origin of Miller's experiment can be traced to 1950, when Nobel laureate Harold C. Urey, who had studied the origin of the solar system and the chemical events associated with this process, began to consider the emergence of life in the context of his proposal of a highly reducing terrestrial atmosphere. Urey presented his ideas in a lecture at the University of Chicago in 1951, followed by the publication of a paper on Earth's primitive atmosphere in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Almost a year and a half after Urey's lecture, Miller, a graduate student in the Chemistry Department who had been in the audience, approached Urey about the possibility of doing a prebiotic synthesis experiment using a reducing gas mixture.

After Miller showed the impressive results to Urey, they decided to submit them to Science. Urey declined Miller's offer to coauthor the report because otherwise Miller would receive little or no credit. Knowing that a graduate student could have a difficult time getting a paper like this published, Urey contacted the Science editorial office to explain the importance of the work and ask that the paper be published as soon as possible. 1

If technical papers are judged on merit, why would a graduate student have trouble getting a paper published?

The manuscript was sent to Science in early February of 1953. Several weeks went by with no news. Growing impatient, Urey wrote to Howard Meyerhoff, chairman of AAAS's Editorial Board, on 27 February to complain about the lack of progress. 2

If you want to get a paper published, it helps to have a Nobel laureate put pressure on the editor. But sometimes even that doesnít work. Another week went by, and the New York Times reported that some people at Ohio State had done a similar experiment. Because it is very important to be the first to publish something like this, Miller withdrew the paper from Science and submitted it to the less prestigious Journal of the American Chemical Society. Then Science, not wanting to be scooped by a lesser journal, asked for the article again, promising to make it the lead article. So, Miller agreed, and the paper was published on May, 15, 1953.

Our point is that Millerís paper almost didnít get published because he was ďjustĒ a graduate student, even though it had technical merit. We believe the same sort of bias works against creationists who try to publish in journals controlled by evolutionists.

Finally, the essay ends by saying,

But is the "prebiotic soup" theory a reasonable explanation for the emergence of life? Contemporary geoscientists tend to doubt that the primitive atmosphere had the highly reducing composition used by Miller in 1953. Many have suggested that the organic compounds needed for the origin of life may have originated from extraterrestrial sources such as meteorites. However, there is evidence that amino acids and other biochemical monomers found in meteorites were synthesized in parent bodies by reactions similar to those in the Miller experiment. Localized reducing environments may have existed on primitive Earth, especially near volcanic plumes, where electric discharges may have driven prebiotic synthesis.

In the early 1950s, several groups were attempting organic synthesis under primitive conditions. But it was the Miller experiment, placed in the Darwinian perspective provided by Oparin's ideas and deeply rooted in the 19th-century tradition of synthetic organic chemistry, that almost overnight transformed the study of the origin of life into a respectable field of inquiry. 3

In other words, the ďprebiotic soupĒ theory isnít a reasonable explanation for the origin of life because the Earthís atmosphere never resembled the one simulated in the Miller experiment. The only way to make the experiment relevant is to postulate that such an atmosphere existed on some other planet. Life evolved there, and then hitch-hiked to Earth on a meteorite. Or, maybe there was a small area around a volcano that was similar to Millerís conditions. Obviously, they are grasping at straws to make the experiment support the theory of evolution.

They are overlooking the obvious importance of Miller's work. Millerís experiment helped explain why life could not have originated naturally on Earth. Evolutionists donít want to want to admit that!

Alchemists eventually did enough experiments to convince themselves that one canít turn lead into gold. For the past 50 years, evolutionists have been doing experiments, trying to turn chemicals into living cells. Sooner or later, the evolutionists will come to the same conclusion the alchemists did.

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Footnotes:

1 Science, Vol. 300, 2 May 2003, ďPrebiotic Soup--Revisiting the Miller ExperimentĒ , p. 745 (Ev)
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.