Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Miller Experiment and the Origin of Life

In 1953, at the University of Chicago, graduate student Stanley Miller conducted a famous experiment that allegedly created “life”.  Excited evolutionists and newspapers everywhere announced, “Life has been created!”  While Miller technically did not create life, his experiment did produce the fundamental building blocks of life: amino acids.  According to evolutionists, his experiment confirmed that in the earth's primitive environment, non-living chemicals could form amino acids; and in theory, those amino acids could then come together into proteins and make living cells.  Many evolutionists believed this was a great leap forward in proving the theory of evolution; but how much did the experiment really prove?  Let us examine his experiment and its results, and see what the evidence truly offers.

Stanley Miller in 1999, with his apparatus that "created life"

In his experiment, Miller used an apparatus with two flasks that were connected by glass tubes.  One flask contained a mixture of gases – methane, ammonia, water vapor, and hydrogen – which represented the primitive atmosphere; the other contained boiling water to represent the primitive ocean.  In the first flask, he continually sparked the gases with electricity to simulate the effects of lightning.  Since he knew that the electric sparks would destroy any organic molecules they tried to create, he made a trap at the bottom of the apparatus that would catch any reaction products before they were destroyed.  After about a week, he found a gunky mixture in the trap, consisting of about 98% tar, and 2% amino acids. 

Diagram of Miller's apparatus

 However, there are a number of problems with Miller's experiment.  First of all, Miller conducted his experiment in an oxygen-free environment, because he knew that nothing could form in the presence of oxygen.  This is because oxygen is extremely reactive, and will react with virtually everything it comes into contact with.  Any element in a oxygen-containing environment will become oxidized before it can form amino acids or other compounds.  Yet evidence has shown that oxygen has always been in our atmosphere.  No matter how far geologists drill into the ground, they find oxidized rocks; even at the lowest, so-called “oldest” strata layers (Thomas 

In addition, it was already well-known in Miller's time that amino acids readily form in the right mixture of reducing (or “non-oxygen”) gases. So, Miller's experiment would not have proved anything new unless the conditions in his experiment resembled prebiotic earth (Meyer  Miller himself said, “In this apparatus an attempt was made to duplicate a primitive atmosphere of the earth, and not to obtain the optimum conditions for the formation of amino acids” (Ibid). 

Secondly, Miller's experiment produced both left-handed and right-handed amino acids.   Only left-handed amino acids exist in living things; life could not form with the presence of right-handed amino acids.  In a sense, Miller's experiment actually disproved evolution: it showed that when amino acids are created synthetically, equal amounts of left- and right-handed amino acids are produced; and thus, life cannot form. 

Since his experiment, Miller has hypothesized an answer to this problem.  He speculates that during the development of life, a pre-RNA molecule formed before it evolved into modern-day RNA; or in other words, life molecules somehow formed with both left- and right-handed amino acids, and then evolved into today's life molecules (Henahan  However, until some scientist figures out what such a molecule actually would be, and how it could possibly evolve into RNA, this question remains unanswered. 
Thirdly, even if Miller's experiment did resemble the conditions in prebiotic earth, and even if it did produce only left-handed molecules, it took very high-level intelligence to get there.  The whole point of the experiment was to prove that life could form randomly on its own in nature, without any intelligent assistance, and yet none of the results would have taken place without the careful oversight of Miller, and his science professor, Harold Urey.  For an example, they only used short wavelength ultraviolet light, instead of both short and long wavelength, because they knew long wavelength would destroy the amino acids.  However, in the real atmosphere both types of ultraviolet light would have definitely been present (Meyer  They also had to remove oxygen from the apparatus, as we have seen, and use a trap to funnel out the amino acids before they could be destroyed by the electricity. In nature, there would be no such trap to protect the amino acids.   Later, Miller himself admitted that his own experiment could not happen by chance outside a laboratory (Ferrell 233). 

Even if all these things worked – if the perfect products were obtained, just as they would in nature, without any intelligent intervention – these products would have a long way to go before they could become life.  The next step would be for these amino acids to form proteins, and this would be no easy task.   It would be similar to randomly mixing together letters and expecting them to form words, sentences, and books.  Proteins only function if the amino acids are in very, very specific arrangements.  The chance for getting just 100 amino acids to form a functioning protein is 1 in 10^65 (Meyer  That is 1 with 65 zeros after it!  And remember, a protein can not even form unless all the amino acids involved are left-handed.  The chances of randomly producing only left-handed amino acids for just one small protein is 1 in 10^210 (Ferrell 266).   That is a staggeringly large number.  To put it into perspective...

 10^18 seconds is 10 billion years!

The weight of the earth is 10^26 ounces!

The universe has a diameter of 10^28 inches!

There are 10^80 elementary particles (electrons, protons, neutrons, photons, etc.) in the universe (Ibid)!

Considering these numbers, the chance of 1 in 10^210 is unfathomable.  It is not a possibility; it is an impossibility. 

And then, even after the amino acids formed proteins, the proteins would have to come together into cells.  The least complex cell needs about one-hundred complex proteins (and other things like DNA and RNA) all working close together (Meyer  At this point, chance is not even adequate to explain how impossible this is. 

The evidence offered by Miller's experiment points to one thing: only God could have created life.  When you consider life's most complicated and minuscule details, you will see that chance – even if given billions of years – could never have created it. 


Farrell, Vance. The Evolution Handbook. Altamont, TN: Evolution Facts, Inc., 2001.

Henahan, Sean. “From Primordial Soup to Prebiotic Beach: An interview with exobiology pioneer, Dr. Stanley L. Miller.” October 1996. (accessed 12 May 2010)

 A Question of Origins: Chapter 6. (accessed 12 May 2010)

Meyer, Stephen C. “DNA and Other Designs.” 1 April 2000. (accessed 14 May 2010)

Thomas, Brian M.S. “Ancient Oxygen-Rich Rocks Confound Evolutionary Timescale.” 8 April 2009. (accessed 14 May 2010)