According to Jeffrey L. Bada, marine chemist and origin-of-life researcher, "Stanley Miller was the father of origin-of-life chemistry. And he was the leader in that field for many decades [. . .]. It was the Miller experiment that almost overnight transformed the study of the origin of life into a respectable field of inquiry." From there, it entered the textbooks - and although the academic world moved on in its thinking, the textbooks never ceased to present Miller's findings as a major milestone in the quest for a natural origin of life. This research was analysed by Jonathan Wells in his Icons of Evolution and the textbooks were shown to have selectively reported the research and to have almost completely omitted reference to any of the academic critiques of Miller's work.
New tests on old samples reveal new reaction products but nothing to advance the "life assembled itself" paradigm (Source here)
Miller devoted his research activity to building on his 1953 foundations - but without a lot to show for it.
But Miller's ultimate goal, the creation of a living organism in a test tube, eluded him and other researchers. "Making the amino acids made it seem like the rest of the steps would be very easy," he said in a 1996 interview with Reuters. "It's turned out that it's more difficult than I thought it would be". (Source here)
Miller thought he was looking for the "little trick" that would allow amino acids to self-assemble further, but after a life-time's work might have concluded that a paradigm shift was needed. Other researchers developed the concept of self-assembly, notably Sidney W. Fox - the champion of "microspheres". Whereas Miller needed a wet atmosphere to form amino acids, researchers making proteins (forming peptide bonds between amino acids) needed localities that were dry. Miller himself saw the weaknesses of locating the action near a volcanic vent. It might be dry, but the heat energy would prohibit further self-assembly:
More recently, some scientists - such as German chemist Gunter Wachtershauser - have argued that life was more likely to have originated near submarine vents in chemical processes catalyzed by metals. "I have a very simple response to that," Miller said. "Submarine vents don't make organic compounds; they decompose them," because most of the crucial compounds are unstable at high temperatures." (Source here)
Jeffrey Bada, who was once a student of Miller, inherited Miller's archive of materials produced by his many experiments. With others, Bada used modern, more sensitive equipment to analyse the reaction products. He reports finding many new reaction products at levels too low to be detected by Miller, and particular attention is focused on the volcanic experiments.
"We identified 22 amino acids and five amines in the volcanic experiment, several of which had not been previously identified in Miller's experiments. Vials from the other two experiments were also reanalyzed and found to have a lower diversity of amino acids. The yield of amino acids synthesized in the volcanic experiment is comparable to, and in some cases exceeds, those found in the experiments Miller conducted."
A critique of the findings can be found here and here and a more broadly-based assessment is here.
To be realistic, most people in the academic world have moved on. They are looking elsewhere - in many different directions. This blog has drawn attention to some of the challenges and unsolved problems here and here, notably the total inability of researchers to move beyond chemistry to address the information content of all living things.
Rather than rehearse these arguments again, it might be more effective to draw attention to a recent debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox at Oxford's Natural History Museum. Melanie Phillips was there and asked Dawkins some probing questions. Among the responses was this:
"Dawkins told me that, rather than believing in God, he was more receptive to the theory that life on earth had indeed been created by a governing intelligence - but one which had resided on another planet. Leave aside the question of where that extra-terrestrial intelligence had itself come from, is it not remarkable that the arch-apostle of reason finds the concept of God more unlikely as an explanation of the universe than the existence and plenipotentiary power of extra-terrestrial little green men?"
It is now apparent that the hypothesis of "life assembled itself" is bankrupt. Most Origin-of-Life researchers realise this and acknowledge that they are dealing with an indescribably low probability occurrence. Some are prepared to move the problem away from planet Earth to some galactic haven where this improbable event actually occurred - leading eventually to intelligent life and their subsequent seeding of life on Earth. Those who are sympathetic to pangenesis, apparently including Richard Dawkins, at least recognise the problems for abiogenesis theories. I ask - when will this message get a proper place in the textbooks? How long will students be told that important discoveries are just around the corner? Why are students not being fed the truth about what abiogenesis research has actually achieved?
The Miller Volcanic Spark Discharge Experiment
Adam P. Johnson, H. James Cleaves, Jason P. Dworkin, Daniel P. Glavin, Antonio Lazcano, Jeffrey L. Bada
Science 321, 17 October 2008: 404. | DOI: 10.1126/science.1161527
Miller's 1950s experiments used, besides the apparatus known in textbooks, one that generated a hot water mist in the spark flask, simulating a water vapor-rich volcanic eruption. We found the original extracts of this experiment in Miller's material and reanalyzed them. The volcanic apparatus produced a wider variety of amino acids than the classic one. Release of reduced gases in volcanic eruptions accompanied by lightning could have been common on the early Earth. Prebotic compounds synthesized in these environments could have locally accumulated, where they could have undergone further processing [. . .]
Berardelli, P. Did Volcanoes Spark Life on Earth? ScienceNOW Daily News, 16 October 2008
Pease, R. New spark in classic experiments, BBC News, 16 October 2008
Phillips, M. Is Richard Dawkins still evolving? The Spectator, 23rd October 2008
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Evolution has become a favorite topic of the news media recently, but for some reason, they never seem to get the story straight. The staff at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture started this Blog to set the record straight and make sure you knew "the rest of the story".
A blogger from New England offers his intelligent reasoning.
We are a group of individuals, coming from diverse backgrounds and not speaking for any organization, who have found common ground around teleological concepts, including intelligent design. We think these concepts have real potential to generate insights about our reality that are being drowned out by political advocacy from both sides. We hope this blog will provide a small voice that helps rectify this situation.
Website dedicated to comparing scenes from the "Inherit the Wind" movie with factual information from actual Scopes Trial. View 37 clips from the movie and decide for yourself if this movie is more fact or fiction.
Don Cicchetti blogs on: Culture, Music, Faith, Intelligent Design, Guitar, Audio
Australian biologist Stephen E. Jones maintains one of the best origins "quote" databases around. He is meticulous about accuracy and working from original sources.
Most guys going through midlife crisis buy a convertible. Austrialian Stephen E. Jones went back to college to get a biology degree and is now a proponent of ID and common ancestry.
Complete zipped downloadable pdf copy of David Stove's devastating, and yet hard-to-find, critique of neo-Darwinism entitled "Darwinian Fairytales"
Intelligent Design The Future is a multiple contributor weblog whose participants include the nation's leading design scientists and theorists: biochemist Michael Behe, mathematician William Dembski, astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, philosophers of science Stephen Meyer, and Jay Richards, philosopher of biology Paul Nelson, molecular biologist Jonathan Wells, and science writer Jonathan Witt. Posts will focus primarily on the intellectual issues at stake in the debate over intelligent design, rather than its implications for education or public policy.
A Philosopher's Journey: Political and cultural reflections of John Mark N. Reynolds. Dr. Reynolds is Director of the Torrey Honors Institute at