New Trouble for Wells's "Icon of Anti-Evolution #1"...
By Dave Thomas
Posted September 13, 2005
On the website for Jonathan Wells's book Icons of Evolution, there's a page
titled "Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution."
All are about supposed flaws in the "Icons of Evolution" -- the Miller-Urey
experiments, Darwin's Finches, Horse Evolution and more.
Here is Question #1:
ORIGIN OF LIFE. Why do textbooks
claim that the 1953 Miller-Urey experiment shows how life's building blocks may
have formed on the early Earth -- when conditions on the early Earth were
probably nothing like those used in the experiment, and the origin of life
remains a mystery?
This week, NASA's Astrobiology Institute and Washington University in St.
Louis made an announcement that should, once again, sound the
death-knell for this particular "Icon of Anti-Evolution."
Before discussing the new work, it's worthwhile to review a few points:
As Alan Gishlick points out in his article on the
...Wells's claim that researchers
are ignoring the new atmospheric data, and that experiments like the
Miller--Urey experiment fail when the atmospheric composition reflects current
theories, is simply false. The current literature shows that scientists working
on the origin and early evolution of life are well aware of the current
theories of the earth's early atmosphere and have found that the revisions have
little effect on the results of various experiments in biochemical synthesis.
Despite Wells's claims to the contrary, new experiments since the Miller--Urey
ones have achieved similar results using various corrected atmospheric
compositions ...Even if Wells had been correct about the Miller--Urey experiment,
he does not explain that our theories about the origin of organic "building
blocks" do not depend on that experiment alone.... In fact, what is most striking
about Wells's extensive reference list is the literature that he has left out.
Wells also fails to cite the scientific literature on other terrestrial
conditions under which organic compounds could have formed....
There are other problems with Wells's argument -- Miller got a high yield of
bio-molecules in just a week (think what he could have done with a few hundred
million years at his disposal); perhaps life did not begin in the atmosphere,
but in anoxic or reducing environments like undersea volcanic vents; and so on.
Miller's major breakthrough was that he showed amino acids could form outside
of cells -- not by carefully synthesizing them, as some had done by
then, but simply by mixing naturally-occurring gasses and adding some energy.
Finally, the Miller-Urey experiment is more of an Icon of OOL (Origin Of Life)
than of evolution per se.
So, what's the new work that adds another nail to this anti-evolution icon's
The September 7, 2005 announcement, titled "Calculations
favor reducing atmosphere for early Earth," says
Was Miller-Urey experiment
Using primitive meteorites called chondrites as their models, earth and
planetary scientists at Washington University in St. Louis have performed
outgassing calculations and shown that the early Earth's atmosphere was a
reducing one, chock full of methane, ammonia, hydrogen and water vapor.
In making this discovery Bruce
Fegley, Ph.D., Washington University professor of earth and planetary sciences
in Arts & Sciences, and Laura Schaefer, laboratory assistant, reinvigorate
one of the most famous and controversial theories on the origins of life, the
1953 Miller-Urey experiment, which yielded organic compounds necessary to
evolve organisms.... "Geologists dispute the Miller-Urey scenario, but what they
seem to be forgetting is that when you assemble the Earth out of chondrites,
you've got slightly different gases being evolved from heating up all these
materials that have assembled to form the Earth. Our calculations provide a
natural explanation for getting this reducing atmosphere," said Fegley.
Schaefer presented the findings
at the annual meeting of the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American
Astronomical Society, held Sept. 4-9 in Cambridge, England. The Miller-Urey
experiment featured an apparatus into which was placed a reducing gas
atmosphere thought to exist on the early Earth. The mix was heated up and given
an electrical charge and simple organic molecules were formed. While the
experiment has been debated from the start, no one had done calculations to
predict the early Earth atmosphere.
"I think these computations
hadn't been done before because they're very difficult; we use a special code"
said Fegley, whose work with Schaefer on the outgassing of Io, Jupiter's
largest moon and the most volcanic body in the solar system, served as
inspiration for the present early Earth atmosphere work....
Another Icon of Anti-evolution down -- again. But never
fear -- it'll be back. Like my dad always said,
Creationist arguments are like
ducks in a shooting gallery. No matter how many times you shoot them down, they
just pop right up again.
That reminds me, has this topic come up on the Thumb before? Of
Will Wells correct his book? Don't
hold your breath!
Mr. Dave Thomas is a physicist and mathematician, employed
at a small high-tech testing firm in Albuquerque, NM. He received bachelor
degrees in mathematics and in physics, and a master of science in mathematics,
from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and
Technology, where he was awarded the Brown Medal and the Langmuir Award.
Dave is president of the science group New Mexicans for Science and Reason (http://www.nmsr.org), and also is a Fellow of CSICOP (Committee for
Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal), the publishers of
Skeptical Inquirer. He can be contacted at nmsrdaveATswcp.com (please help
fight SPAM -- replace AT with @)