“Autogenicity” is an imaginary term in science

Photo: Sir William Harvey, via Wikimedia Commons.

Editor’s noteWe are pleased to present the series to Neil Thomas, Honorary Reader at Durham University, “Why Words Matter: Reason and Nonsense in Science. This is the fourth article in the series. Find the full series so far here. Professor Thomas’ latest book is Taking Darwin’s Vacation: A Long-Time Atheist Explores the Design Issue (Discovery Institute Press).

Words are cheap, and in science as in other contexts, they can be used to cover up and disguise many areas of ignorance. In this series thus far, I have dealt briefly with many of these terms, as I expected them to be already familiar to readers, and because I did not want to elaborate on my basic point.

“just words”

However, I would like to discuss in somewhat more detail a term that is well known enough but whose multiple effects may not yet seem, as it seems to me, to be fully appreciated. This is the historically modern term “spontaneous generation” – meaning the spontaneous generation of life from a group of unknown chemicals that provide a near-magical bridge from chemistry to biology. This term, when subjected to a rigorous logical analysis, I would argue, undermines the idea of ​​what Darwinian evolution generally understands because it is a purely imaginary term that (in my estimation) could also usefully be relegated to the category of “mere words.”

The biggest problem for accepting Darwinism as a self-contained and logically coherent theory is the unresolved mystery of the absolute origin of life on Earth, a topic that Charles Darwin attempted to shake off as, if not completely irrelevant, then as something. Beyond his competence in pronunciation. Even today, proponents of Darwinism will downplay the topic of the origins of life as alien to the topic of natural selection. not. It is entirely grounded in the soundness of natural selection as a conceptually satisfactory theory, and evolutionary science cannot logically come close even to the starting blocks of its conjectures without solving this unresolved problem, as pointed out by the late nineteenth-century German scientist Ludwig Buechner.1

Chicago 1953: Miller and Uri

Darwin famously in a letter speculated that life arose spontaneously in a small, warm pond, but he did not follow intuition empirically. This challenge was left to Stanley Miller and Harold Urey, two much later intellectual envoys in the mid-20th century who made an extraordinary experiment in defiance of previous expert opinions. The remote hinterland for this experiment was as follows. In the seventeenth century, the medical pioneer Sir William Harvey and the Italian scientist Francesco Redi demonstrated the inability to spontaneously reproduce: only life can produce life, a discovery later supported by the French scientist Louis Pasteur in the latter half of the nineteenth century; But the Americans kept working regardless.

Far-reaching theological implications

There is no escaping the fact that the tripartite assertion of the impossibility of spontaneous generation by respected scholars working independently of each other in different centuries has brought with it far-reaching theological implications. For if natural processes cannot explain the origins of life, the only alternative would be a supernatural force that stands outside and above nature but has the power to initiate nature processes. The three distinguished scholars were in effect and tacitly excluded any theory of the origin of life except for the theory of supernatural creation. So it was no surprise that a backlash emerged later against “triple lock” on the issue.

In what was shaping up to become the largely post-Christian twentieth century in Europe, many in the scientific world resisted the impossibility of defending the spontaneous hypothesis on purely ideological grounds. The accelerated secularization trends of the early twentieth century meant that the old and unproven idea of ​​spontaneous generation nonetheless survived as a form of intellectual life support despite abundant evidence of its unviability.

Nowadays, Russian biologist Alexander Oparin and British scientist John Haldane have come forward to revive the idea in the 1920s. The formal experiment to investigate the possibility of spontaneous generation then had to wait a few more decades before the distinguished team of Miller and Urey of the University of Chicago announced in 1953 the procedure intended to test its feasibility under laboratory conditions. The hope behind this now-famous experiment was that Pasteur and Harvey Reddy had erred in imposing the “triple lock” and that the advance of the mid-20th century might discover a solution where their predecessors had failed. If there was an attempt to impose a social/ideological construction of reality on science in line with materialistic thinking, this was the case.

next oneImagining ‘Autogenesis’: Crick, Watson, and Franklin.


  1. To receive Darwin in Germany, see Alfred Kelly, Darwin’s Descent: Darwin’s Generalization in Germany, 1860-1914 (Chapel Hill: North Carolina, 1981).

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