The Elements of Evolution (30) Spontaneous Generation

Spontaneous Generation

Although the Copernican revolution deposed humans from being the cosmic center of all of God’s creation, humans nevertheless remained the pinnacle of God’s works. Natural philosophy positioned science and religion in close harmony, with the remarkable design so clearly manifested in creatures great and small being seen as evidence of God’s hand. ~ Roger Lewin

In 1688 Italian physician Francesco Redi demonstrated that flies laid eggs that developed into maggots which begat flies. This and other such proofs eventually dispelled spontaneous generation as spawning life. But it was a long time coming.

Until the mid-19th century, the widespread belief was that, while large creatures reproduced by sex, small organisms could arise spontaneously from mud or organic matter. Folklore suggested that large dead animals decomposed to smaller ones.

It was not until the end of the 19th century that spontaneous generation was entirely abandoned. The experiments of French microbiologist Louis Pasteur and Irish physicist John Tyndall were compelling. Tyndall disproved spontaneous generation by showing that putrefaction did not occur in dust-free air. Pasteur founded the science of microbiology in showing that “germs” caused disease. He then invented pasteurization and developed vaccines for several diseases, including rabies.