Does the Miller-Urey experiment tell us anything about how life originated on Earth?

Do the Miller-Urey experiments simulate the early Earth?
The Miller-Urey experiments

There are two problems related to the origin of the first living cell, on atheism:

  1. The problem of getting the building blocks needed to create life – i.e. the amino acids
  2. The problem of creating the functional sequences of amino acids and proteins that can support the minimal operations of a simple living cell

Normally, I concede the first problem and grant the atheist all the building blocks he needs. This is because step 2 is impossible. There is no way, on atheism, to form the sequences of amino acids that will fold up into proteins, and then to form the sequences of proteins that can be used to form everything else in the cell, including the DNA itself. But that’s tomorrow’s topic.

Today, let’s take a look at the problems with step 1.

The problem of getting the building blocks of life

Now you may have heard that some scientists managed to spark some gasses to generate most of the 20 amino acids found in living systems. These experiments are called the “Miller-Urey” experiments.

The IDEA center has a nice summary of origin-of-life research that explains a few of the main problems with step 1.

Miler and Urey used the wrong gasses:

Miller’s experiment requires a reducing methane and ammonia atmosphere,11, 12 however geochemical evidence says the atmosphere was hydrogen, water, and carbon dioxide (non-reducing).15, 16 The only amino acid produced in a such an atmosphere is glycine (and only when the hydrogen content is unreasonably high), and could not form the necessary building blocks of life.11

Miller and Urey didn’t account for UV of molecular instability:

Not only would UV radiation destroy any molecules that were made, but their own short lifespans would also greatly limit their numbers. For example, at 100ºC (boiling point of water), the half lives of the nucleic acids Adenine and Guanine are 1 year, uracil is 12 years, and cytozine is 19 days20 (nucleic acids and other important proteins such as chlorophyll and hemoglobin have never been synthesized in origin-of-life type experiments19).

Miller and Urey didn’t account for molecular oxygen:

We all have know ozone in the upper atmosphere protects life from harmful UV radiation. However, ozone is composed of oxygen which is the very gas that Stanley Miller-type experiments avoided, for it prevents the synthesis of organic molecules like the ones obtained from the experiments! Pre-biotic synthesis is in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. The chemistry does not work if there is oxygen because the atmosphere would be non-reducing, but if there is no UV-light-blocking oxygen (i.e. ozone – O3) in the atmosphere, the amino acids would be quickly destroyed by extremely high amounts of UV light (which would have been 100 times stronger than today on the early earth).20, 21, 22 This radiation could destroy methane within a few tens of years,23 and atmospheric ammonia within 30,000 years.15

And there were three other problems too:

At best the processes would likely create a dilute “thin soup,”24 destroyed by meteorite impacts every 10 million years.20, 25 This severely limits the time available to create pre-biotic chemicals and allow for the OOL.

Chemically speaking, life uses only “left-handed” (“L”) amino acids and “right-handed” (“R)” genetic molecules. This is called “chirality,” and any account of the origin of life must somehow explain the origin of chirality. Nearly all chemical reactions produce “racemic” mixtures–mixtures with products that are 50% L and 50% R.

Two more problems are not mentioned in the article. A non-peptide bond anywhere in the chain will ruin the chain. You need around 200 amino acids to make a protein. If any of the bonds is not a peptide bond, the chain will not work in a living system. Additionally, the article does not mention the need for the experimenter to intervene in order to prevent interfering cross-reactions that would prevent the amino acids from forming.

Now keep in mind that even if you get the building blocks, you are left with the sequencing problem. Like the letters of the words in this blog post, the building blocks of life also need to be put in a meaningful sequence in order to do work in a living system – but that’s another topic for another day.

16 thoughts on “Does the Miller-Urey experiment tell us anything about how life originated on Earth?”

  1. I fell for Miller-Urey as an atheist, because my hero, Carl Sagan, was really pushing it.

    It also never occured to me that the experiment was DESIGNED and interfered with, so that even if the problems you mention in this article were not in play, life origination still required a Mind – on the philosophical presumptions of the experiment itself.


    1. Carl Sagan, who invented the no discredited oscillating model of the universe? I think a lot of people were taken in. They pushed this stuff on Government-run TV to children in the schools.


        1. Now Neil DeGrasse Tyson Cosmos remake demonstrates materialist scientists are storytellers and myth makers about the past and future of science. Get back in your lab’s boys.


          1. His genes just told him to do that.

            BTW, most pro-abort males that I know are misogynist – they are just looking for easy action with no consequences.


  2. Even the reducing atmosphere may be only a myth in Earth history. More and more current studies push back evidence of oxygen earlier and earlier in the history of the earth.

    Which makes the initial setup of the reducing atmosphere to have been a very short time if it ever did occur in our earth history

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thr sad thing is in schools teachers have been reprimanded for pointing out how little the Miller urey experiment proves. In many circles you just aren’t allowed to go after the dogma, even if it is to point out how critical evaluation of all evidence


  4. I don’t think even Miller put much stock in it, especially after a few more years of no progress. Miller’s racemic mixture of road tar goes only to the cleanout trap to be washed down the drain by a lab assistant.


  5. Well and that muller urey result as you say was highly contaminated and dirty. Organic material wouldn’t survive long in 99 percent tar.

    It always comes down to this is some of the best proof they have. So when science disproves atheism you teach this stuff as gospel truth with belief that some day a real experiment will prove their life view

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m a scientific glassblower in the department of chemistry at a top research university in the mid-west United States. I have built one of these for an outside customer but did not see it in action. I got to talk to the customer about all the downsides of using this to prove or theorize about how first life might have evolved. He wasn’t too happy about that since he was an atheist.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve seen some two dozen (or more) follow up experiments on Miller-Urey, and I have to keep thinking 1) they are designed / artificial, and 2) still nobody has actually witnessed abiogenesis.

    Therefore, we just need some bumper stickers:

    Seen Abiogenesis Yet?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Going from the simplest cell capable of reproducing itself to a human being, all by random chance, would be like jumping across the Grand Canyon.

    Going from inanimate matter to that first cell would be like jumping to the moon.

    And how did inanimate matter ever come to regard itself?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Well the basic factors are ability to replicate, information storage, interpretation of information storage, and some way to use and get power in a cell.

    Likely there are a few more minimal characteristics but each one of those four things are almost in the realm of an atheistic miracle. Yet in a brief timespan before any of the premade pieces within the small local region is destroyed they need to have multiple components made.

    It is why atheism must be almost a preconceived idea in order for anyone to accept it easily

    Liked by 1 person

  10. It gets worse. The Law of Cause and Effect states that no effect can be greater than its cause. But life that can reproduce itself is by definition greater than nonlife. Therefore the cause of all life’s beginning on earth cannot be nonlife. Thus the cause of all natural life’s beginning on earth (some 3.8bya) must OF NECESSITY be supernatural.

    Therefore all naturalistic origin-of-life theories fail.


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