Darwin’s warm pond

Darwin’s warm pond theory tested.

Rather preliminary and perhaps not well designed experiments suggest that the chemistry of volcanic pools is not conducive to abiogenesis. I think it’s worth remembering a few points here. First, the warm pond idea is not a theory. Darwin’s major work described the origin of species, not the origin of life. In many of his writings he very honestly indicates that in his time, problems such as the origin of life or matter are too difficult to tackle. The warm pond idea is an idle speculation written in a letter to Joseph Hooker in 1871:

“It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are now present, which could ever have been present. But if (and oh! what a big if!) we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, &c., present, that a proteine (sic) compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter would be instantly absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were found.”

Nevertheless, this short passage stuck in the collective consciousness and led to the notion of primordial soup, the Urey-Miller experiments and so on. Sure, abiogenesis is one of the big questions, but I don’t think this is the way to go.