Paleonet: Darwin's little warm pond

J.Young j.young at
Mon Apr 16 13:19:47 GMT 2007

Ironic isn¹t it that Darwin is widely credited with the notion of life
originating in a warm pond when in fact he was commenting on the reasons why
this type of abiogenesis, was unlikely to have  occurred repeatedly, even if
(³and oh! what a big if!²) it was conceptually possible.

Dr. Jeremy R. Young
Palaeontology Dept.    Tel: +44 (0)20 7942 5286
The Natural History Museum    Email: j.young at
LONDON, SW7 5BD, UK    Skype:jeremyyoungnhm

Join us at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival 4-6th May 2007

From: Roger Thomas <roger.thomas at>
Reply-To: PaleoNet <paleonet at>
Date: Mon, 16 Apr 2007 00:16:58 -0400
To: PaleoNet <paleonet at>
Subject: Paleonet: Darwin's little warm pond

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

The letter was dated 1st February, 1871.

Darwin¹s warm pond

Posted by nsaunders on 14th February 2006

Darwin¹s 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
it¹s worth remembering a few points here. First, the warm pond idea is not a
theory. Darwin¹s 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:
³It 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.²
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 don¹t 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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