It is well known that Darwin speculated on what might happen in “some warm little pond”. But it was not until 1929 that J.B.S. Haldane developed a testable hypothesis involving a “prebiotic broth, or primordial soup”. He proposed that organic compounds were made when methane, ammonia and water reacted as a result of energy supplied by ultraviolet radiation. The reaction products were suggested to have accumulated in a “hot dilute soup” in the primeval earth. In this scenario, further reactions led to macromolecules, protocells and then life.
“Backed up by Stanley Miller’s (1953) inorganic synthesis of organic molecules in the laboratory, it seemed to generations of scientists that Haldane’s narrative was basically right, and all that was left was to sort out the details.”
Miller’s experiments became an icon of naturalistic evolution and entered the textbooks with very little critical analysis of the findings. Even recently, Miller’s work was acclaimed in the journal Science. Happily, there are opportunities to get beyond the hype but, as Jonathan Wells showed in his Icons of Evolution, these contributions rarely get beyond the technical literature. William Martin and colleagues have presented a strong case for retiring the primordial soup concept from active service. It has reached the grand old age of 81 and, as a hypothesis, it has not been confirmed. Normally, when hypotheses are tested and found wanting, they are discarded – but we are now overdue for this to happen with the primordial soup. It is “well past its sell-by date”. More here.