Paleonet: Darwin's little warm pond

Roger Thomas roger.thomas at
Mon Apr 16 04:16:58 GMT 2007

Bjoern:  Many references to this famous quotation on the web.  Here 
is one.

The letter was dated 1st February, 1871.

Darwin's warm pond

Posted by nsaunders on 14th February 2006

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 

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.

Roger D. K. Thomas
John Williamson Nevin Professor of Geosciences
Chair, Department of Earth and Environment
Secretary, The Paleontological Society

Department of Earth and Environment
Franklin & Marshall College
Pennsylvania 17604-3003

FAX:    717-291-4186
Office telephone:  717-291-4135
Home telephone:   717-560-0486
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