The Rise Of The New Spontaneous Generationists [Excerpts]
Just three centuries ago spontaneous generation was embraced as a reality that seemed to agree well with scientific observations. It was thought that organisms could appear in their fully mature form without any initial development from young to adult. As one review summarized: "Many sensible biologists believed in spontaneous generation- the idea that new life could form from decaying matter. It explained the existence of internal parasites of the human body such as tapeworms, which had no free-living counterparts, and the numerous 'animalcules' and 'infusoria' (microbes) that were revealed by the microscope but which had no clear origin" (The Science Book, Ed Peter Tallack, Published in 2003 by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, UK, p.90).
The 17th century physician Jan Baptista van Helmont became a proponent of spontaneous generation when, by putting two leaves together in putrid conditions, he generated 'long eels' (later found to be hyphae of fungal growth; (Christopher Wills and Jeffrey Bada (2000), The Spark of Life- Darwin and The Primeval Soup, Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p.2). Subsequent claims of spontaneously generated frogs and rats from mud and garbage mounds were quick in coming (Christopher Wills and Jeffrey Bada (2000), The Spark of Life- Darwin and The Primeval Soup, Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p.2; Cornelius Hunter (2001), Darwin's God, Evolution and the Problem of Evil, Brazos Press, A division of Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, pp.96-97). For the burgeoning amateur scientist there was even a recipe for how to generate life- take a dirty garment, add some wheat, let it ferment for a few hours overnight and watch mice spontaneously form. Of course today we may humor such stories, relegating them to nothing more than interesting quirks in the history of scientific discovery.
In 1859, which just happened to be the year Darwin published The Origin Of Species, [Louis] Pasteur devised an ingenious set of experiments using long-necked flasks filled with boiled organic infusions (Ref 7). By opening these flasks at different altitudes, Pasteur found that dirty city air contaminated them much more readily than the air high above in the French Alps (Ref 7). In effect Pasteur had shown that microbial growth depended not on some miraculous instantiation of 'animalcules' and 'infusoria' but on the seeding of his infusions by something carried in the atmosphere (Ref 7).
Pasteur's results brought a decisive victory to a centuries-old debate although, much to his chagrin, there were still those who for a while maintained a staunch allegiance to their long-held theory (Ref 7). Nevertheless today the term Spontaneous Generation has taken on a broader meaning. The school biology text book Of Pandas And People, for example, uses the term to encompass the popular view that life originated billions of years ago from some yet-to-be-defined concoction of prebiotic compounds.
In effect evolutionists have today replaced 17th century incantations of life-generating garbage mounds with wild suppositions of how life might have originated naturally in the silts of our earth. As perhaps the most outspoken of the new crop of Spontaneous Generationists, zoologist Richard Dawkins had this to say on the matter: "Before the coming of life on earth, some rudimentary evolution of molecules could have occurred by ordinary processes of physics and chemistry. There is no need to think of design or purpose or directedness. If a group of atoms in the presence of energy falls into a stable pattern it will tend to stay that way. The earliest form of natural selection was simply a selection of stable forms and a rejection of unstable ones. There is no mystery about this. It had to happen by definition" (Ref 9, p.13).
Dawkins has yet to clarify the factual details of a purely naturalistic prebiotic evolution. After all, prebiotic simulation experiments have repeatedly demonstrated the requirement for investigators to guide reactions to a desired end (Ref 8, p.56).