Believe it or not, the famous Miller–Urey experiment of the 1950s is still making headlines in the creation–evolution controversy.
In the biochemistry experiment, which took place more than half a century ago at the University of Chicago, graduate student Stanley Miller, adviser Harold Urey, and others ran an electric charge through a mixture of gaseous elements thought to replicate the early earth’s atmosphere. The apparatus eventually produced a small portion of simple amino acids along with carcinogenic tar.
The results may seem underwhelming, but it’s the closest evolutionists have come to demonstrating how even the simplest life-forms could have originated from inanimate matter. For that reason, evolutionary researchers have remained enamored with the prospect of producing life from non-life in the lab—although they’ve since changed their minds about the composition of the early earth’s atmosphere.
In October 2008 we discussed the research of University of California–San Diego biochemist Jeffrey Bada, a former student of the late Miller, who inherited several boxes full of vials from Miller’s experiments. Bada and a team of researchers are continuing to report their analyses of what is inside the decades-old vials—the “dried sludge” that is all that remains of a series of experiments like the one that made Miller famous. (For whatever reason, Miller saved the vials but apparently never analyzed their contents.)
The team found twenty-three amino acids inside the latest set of vials, including six amino acids that contain sulfur. Several sulfur-based amino acids play a prominent role in life, so the finding has excited evolutionists who are still eking hope out of the half-century-old experiments.
What the evolutionists can’t be excited about are the lingering problems with the experiments. For one thing, as we mentioned above, evolutionists disagree about the composition of the early earth’s atmosphere. The scientists believe Miller’s use of hydrogen sulfide in the experiment was pivotal in allowing sulfur-based amino acids to form, but debate lingers over where life on earth could have (supposedly) appeared and whether sufficient hydrogen sulfide would have been present. (Of course, a truly committed evolutionist will point out that simply because life exists, we have sufficient proof that it must have evolved, somehow!)
The team also notes that the experiments produced an equal amount of “left-handed” and “right-handed” amino acids. Although this is taken as evidence that microorganisms did not contaminate the vials, it is also a major obstacle to the idea that life originated through inanimate processes because of the so-called “chirality” problem.
As we’ve written before, there is still a much bigger element of magic than science in evolutionary origin-of-life models. The origin of simple organic molecules is a far cry—and a number of highly unlikely steps—away from even the simplest self-reproducing life-forms powered by RNA. In fact, if anything, the Miller–Urey experiments are a reminder that the organic molecules produced through even carefully controlled laboratory processes are nothing like life.
In a society obsessed with youthfulness, wrinkles are features non grata. For some pet lovers, however, it’s the extensive wrinkling of one breed of dog that makes it so adorable.
Shar-pei dogs are born heavily wrinkled, but the original breed lost this trait as the dog matured. In an ongoing attempt to help shar-peis maintain their youthful folds, breeders have selected for dogs that would carry the wrinkles into adulthood. But while breeders and shar-pei lovers consider the result an aesthetic “success,” researchers now believe this mutation is responsible for what is known as Familial Shar-Pei Fever (FSF)—episodic fevers and inflammation that plague much of the breed.
The biology behind shar-peis’ wrinkles is an excess of a skin component known as hyaluronic acid. While Uppsula University geneticist Kerstin Lindblad-Toh suspected a connection between the dogs’ wrinkles and the syndrome, she did not expect that the same mutation would be responsible for both. Lindblad-Toh’s team studied the DNA of seventeen healthy shar-peis and twenty-four with FSF, locating a region on chromosome 13 that was correlated with increased susceptibility to FSF. Concurrently, the team compared fifty shar-peis with dogs from twenty-four other breeds and identified a region near a gene that codes for an hyaluronic acid-producing enzyme called HAS2.
This region overlapped with the FSF susceptibility region, and it was this location where the researchers found a mutation—duplications of a DNA segment—present in the highly wrinkled shar-peis but not in the other breeds. Moreover, a follow-up analysis of shar-peis showed that the more times the gene is duplicated, the more intense the wrinkling—and the worse the FSF. The relationship isn’t surprising, given that researchers already knew hyaluronic acid stimulates the immune system.
University of Washington geneticist Joshua Akey notes that the study exemplifies the “unintended consequences of selective breeding.” Dog breeders were selecting for the cute wrinkles, yes, but they were also “selecting for shar-pei fever and increasing that in frequency,” he adds. “That’s probably generally true of a lot of traits that were selected for in dog breeding.” The sad story of shar-pei fevers is therefore a reminder of the destructive force of most mutations—even many of those that convey some benefit. Over time, such products of artificial selection as popular dog breeds often remind us that selective forces reduce genetic information rather than adding to it—the opposite of the premise of Darwinian evolution. (For more information, see Did God create poodles? and As I Always Said: “It’s a Mutant!”)
Jesus taught us to pray, “forgive us . . . [a]s we forgive” (Matthew 6:12), and instructed us to “bless those who curse you [and] pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:28). And now, scientists are learning more about the power behind prayer.
In this case, the researchers are quick to emphasize that their studies aren’t testing divine intervention. But in three related studies, scientists at Ohio State University, the University of Michigan, and Vrije Universiteit, found that praying can help individuals “feel less angry and behave less aggressively” in response to provocative behavior.
The experiments tested the effect of prayer on the attitudes of both American and Dutch college students. In one experiment, students were asked to write an essay about an event that had made them feel angry. They were told the essay would be evaluated by an unseen partner, but in reality, all essays were returned with the comment, “This is one of the worst essays I have ever read!”
The understandably angry students were next instructed to read a newspaper story about a student with a rare form of cancer. The students were “asked to imagine how [the student] feels about what happened and how it affected her life.” Then, a random selection of the students were asked to think about the student with cancer, while the remainder were asked to pray about her for five minutes. (The students were not asked about the specific content of their thoughts or prayers.)
Afterward, the students who had been asked to pray for the cancer victim were significantly less angry about the essay than the students who had only been asked to think about the cancer victim. The decrease in anger occurred with those who prayed no matter their specific religious affiliation, church attendance, etc., although “nearly all the participants said they were Christian.”
The other experiments varied slightly, but the principle was the same: exposing at least some of the subjects to a situation or situations designed to incite anger, then asking some subjects to think about—and other subjects to pray about—a specific person or persons. Across the board, those who prayed ended up less angry and aggressive.
Ohio State University psychologist Brad Bushman explained, “We found that prayer really can help people cope with their anger, probably by helping them change how they view the events that angered them and helping them take it less personally. The effects we found in these experiments were quite large, which suggests that prayer may really be an effective way to calm anger and aggression.”
Meanwhile, team member Ryan Bremner, a University of Michigan psychologist, suggested, “When people are confronting their own anger, they may want to consider the old advice of praying for one’s enemies.” Of course, that “old advice” is actually Christ’s command, but nonetheless we’re glad to see experimental confirmation of one of the wonderful “side effects” of prayer.
Evolutionary scientists have spent years—and billions of dollars—searching for Martian life, coming up empty-handed despite their best efforts. Or is the problem their assumption that Martian life would be on Mars at all—instead of, say, Earth?
Although some evolutionists are keen to defend the idea that life originated from inanimate matter on the ancient Earth (see item #1, for example), other evolutionists have promulgated the idea that microbial life may have evolved elsewhere, then hitched a ride to Earth on an outbound meteoroid.
One of the locales of interest to the latter group is Mars. With evidence of a watery past and temperatures more like Earth’s than any other planet in the solar system, Mars is seen by some as a natural candidate for the abiotic origin of life. Scientists are already hoping to find fossils on an upcoming mission to Mars (that’s the title, by the way, of a film that helped popularize the idea that humans descended from Martians). So we shouldn’t be surprised to learn about an expensive new instrument currently in development at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology designed to detect evidence of Martian life.
In fact, the scientists behind the instrument seem to have skipped over the question of whether Mars ever hosted life, for the device is designed to search for Martian DNA or RNA. The project is the centerpiece of the so-called Search for Extra-Terrestrial Genomes (with the name presumably an homage to the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). The scientists hope to find room for their instrument on a future Mars probe, where it would test soil for genetic signatures and analyze any that are found.
Although MIT researcher Christopher Carr admits that it’s “a long shot,” he insists that “we could be related to life on Mars[, s]o we should at least be looking for life on Mars that’s related to us.” Again, it seems to us he has simply presumed Martian life into existence, given his greater interest in whether Martian and Earth life are related.
The same assumption is clear in comments by NASA’s Christopher McKay: “It is not implausible that life on Mars will be related to life on Earth and therefore share a common genetics. In any case it would be important to test this hypothesis.” McKay is even worried about astronauts being exposed to infectious Martian microbes!* But what is clear is that many evolutionists take it on faith that life exists, or existed, on Mars—despite the absence of evidence. Free-thinking and scientific skepticism notwithstanding, the almost humorously named Search for Extra-Terrestrial Genomes shows that these researchers have bought into the evolutionary faith hook, line, and sinker.
We know evolutionists don’t want science educators to be teaching creation in the classroom—but is it wrong to even mention it?
Beau Schaefer, a “longstanding” science teacher in the Chicago area who mentioned creation in the classroom, nearly lost his job in the face of a recent controversy fueled by local “[a]theist activist” Rob Sherman.
Sherman claimed he was “protecting conquered territory” by “remind[ing]” the school district that “creationism in the classroom is undesirable and . . . illegal.” He also insisted that Schaefer had assigned a quiz with questions that would lead students to creationist beliefs—which is in violation of state curriculum rules. But according to one of Schaefer’s students, the science teacher had clearly “explained creationism was not a scientific theory.”
At a school board meeting, parents both supporting and opposing Schaefer showed up. “Why can’t [students] make their own decision? What is the big fear?” one parent asked in the teacher’s defense. Nevertheless, the school district warned Schaefer not to discuss creation again, with the school board superintendent asserting that “the United States Supreme Court and several other federal court decisions have found that creationism may not be referenced or taught in public school science classrooms.”
If the Supreme Court has ruled that creationism can’t even be mentioned in science classrooms, it’s news to us. But it’s no surprise to learn what may be (at least some) evolutionists’ ultimate goal: banning the idea of creation entirely from the public sphere. Beyond having been denied enough information to choose for themselves which view of origins is right, will future students never even know what biological “creation” means?
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