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THE THEORY OF THE ORIGIN OF ORGANIC BEINGS BY SPONTANEOUS GENERATION.
THE first chapter of Genesis tells us that God created the vegetable world and the different kinds of animals, and lastly, created a man and a woman. In the account of the Flood it is further said that all men were destroyed on the earth excepting Noah and his family, and that all mankind is descended from the three sons of Noah. How do scientific doctrines concerning the origin of organic life, and the relations of the different organisms to one another, agree with these Biblical statements? And what does biology in particular say to the Biblical doctrine of the unity of the human race 2 I shall have to discuss these points in my next lectures. I begin with the Origin of Organic Beings." We here come to the question, whether organic beings, viz. plants and animals, can be produced only by reproduction from the germs and eggs of other plants and animals, or whether a so-called generatio aquivoca or spontaneous generation, or, as others say, Heterogeny
"Cf. Frohschammer, Das Christenthum, etc., p. 54 (Der Ursprung des Organischen in der Natur). Th. H. Martin, Les Sciences, etc., p. 91 (L'Hétérogenie et l'origine de la vie sur la terre). Huber, Die Lehre Darwins, p. 7. Reinke, Die Organismen und ihr Ursprung (Nord und Süd, vol. xviii., 1881, pp. 201, 213). T. von Nanstein, Das Protoplasma, Heidelberg 1880. Cf. Huxley's speech at the Meeting of the British Associaticn at Liverpool : see Athenæum, 1870, 17th Sept., p. 374.
WOL. II. A.
or Autogony," i.e. the origin of plants and animals without germs and eggs from inorganic matter, is also possible. I will begin by surveying the history of the question; this history is interesting in itself, but it is also important to my object, because it shows that the theologian need not take a side in this question, but that, on the contrary, he may simply leave it to natural science to decide whether spontaneous generation is possible, and really can occur, or has occurred. In the Biblical account of creation it is only said that the origin of the vegetable and animal world must be referred to the creative activity of God, and that God has taken measures for the reproduction and preservation of the species of plants and animals. We are not told how the first organic beings originated, and still less how thenceforth the separate individuals should come into existence; whether all plants should spring only from seeds or shoots, and all animals should come into existence by means of procreation or from eggs or germs, or whether there should be other ways also. The author of Genesis had no reason for entering into such scientific details. S. Augustine,” in his explanation of the Mosaic account of creation, raises the question whether “certain small animals” were also created on the fifth and sixth days, or whether they originated later from putrefied matter. “For,” he says, “many small animals originate from unhealthy vapours, from evaporations from the earth, or from corpses; some also
"On the expression generatio aequivoca, see Huber, Op. cit. p. 11. * D Gen. ad lit. iii. 14, c. Faust, M., vi. 8. De Trin. iii. 8, 9. Peter Lombard, Sent. ii. 15.
from decayed wood, herbs, and fruits. But God is the Creator of all things. It may therefore be said that those animals which spring from the bodies, and especially the corpses of other living beings were only created with them, potentialiter and materialiter. But of those which spring from the earth, or the water, we may unhesitatingly say that they were created on the fifth and sixth days.” This passage from S. Augustine was included in the great dogmatic compendium of the Middle Ages, the Sentences of Peter Lombard, and the schoolmen maintained this view. S. Thomas,' no doubt, protests against Avicenna's theory that all animals could spring without seed from a certain intermixture of the elements, but he does not dispute the fact that certain animals spring from putrefied plants and animals. The Fathers and the schoolmen did not derive this theory from the Bible, but as it was not opposed to the Bible they took it quite naturally from the ancient scientific writers, especially from Aristotle. We know that they not only assert that midges, fleas, lice, and other vermin sprang simply from the earth, but also frogs, serpents, and mice; the eel also, in which Aristotle could find no ovary, was supposed to have originated from slime. Even in the seventeenth century, the learned Jesuit, Athanasius Kircher, gives regular receipts for bringing animals into existence: “Take as many serpents as you like, dry them, cut them into small pieces, bury these in damp earth, water them freely with rain-water, and leave the rest to the spring sun. After eight days the whole will turn into * Q. 71, a. 1; q.72, a. 1.
little worms, which, fed with milk and earth, will at length become perfect serpents, and by procreation will multiply ad infinitum.” You see that theologians made no objection to the generatio aquivoca when it was assumed to a far greater extent than is ever the case now-a-days; and we need therefore certainly not dispute the principle of spontaneous generation from a theological point of view. If organic beings really spring from inorganic matter, we must simply suppose, with S. Augustine,” that God created some substances with the faculty of bringing forth certain classes of plants or animals according to the natural laws given by Him, and under certain conditions foreseen by Him from all eternity. No theologian—and, I think, no philosopher —ought to assert the impossibility of spontaneous generation. The fact that we do not understand how organic beings can spring from inorganic matter, is no proof that it cannot happen; we do not understand many physiological events which undoubtedly occur.” The question whether spontaneous generation takes place among certain classes of plants and animals, is one which can be decided only by means of observation. And the classes of organic beings, among which it was thought that spontaneous generation might exist, have become fewer and fewer under continuous observation, especially since the end of the seventeenth century. The well-known saying, Omne vivum eac ovo, proceeds from the English savant Harvey, who is famous as the
* Quenstedt, Sonst und Jetzt, p. 229. * Aug. De Trin. iii. 9. * Martin, Les Sciences, p. 94.