I read a bit about spontaneous generation in my biology book for this school year and I thought it was pretty interesting.
Spontaneous generation is basically the idea that life forms can come from non-living substances. The idea of spontaneous generation has existed for a long time, but it really got going with Aristotle in 350 B.C. when he observed that if meat was left out in the open, maggots would appear on the meat. He guessed that the maggots formed from the meat. Thus began the hypothesis of spontaneous generation. Over the years, more and more experiments were performed and all of them seemed to support the hypothesis of spontaneous generation. (Remember that science cannot prove anything).
The experiments on spontaneous generation continued for one thousand nine hundred years. All of them seemed to support the hypothesis. As a result, spontaneous generation became a theory and eventually a scientific law. One such experiment was conducted by Jean Baptist van Helmont. He put a sweaty shirt and wheat in a closed wooden box. He performed the experiment multiple times and each time, there was a mouse gnawing out of the box within twenty-one days. Another scientist of that time, Francesco Redi, argued that Helmont’s experiment was flawed. Redi said that Helmont didn’t know if a mouse gnawed into or out of the box.
Francesco Redi proceeded to perform an experiment wherein he put a few kinds of meat in sealed jars and allowed them to decay. Even after some time had passed, no maggots appeared on the rotting meat. Redi said that this showed that maggots did not form from meat. However, this time, it was Redi’s experiment that was flawed. The scientists of that time said that sealing off the jars cut off the air supply and that prevented maggots from forming. Francesco then changed his experiment. The jars, instead of being sealed, were covered with a fine cloth that allowed air in but kept insects out. Still, no maggots formed. This showed that maggots could not, in fact, form from meat.
But people still wanted to believe in spontaneous generation, even though more experiments were starting to show that it wasn’t possible. Then, microorganisms were discovered. People then thought that microorganisms could spontaneously generate – that is, until Louis Pasteur demonstrated that even microorganisms cannot spontaneously generate.
Think about that: people thought for 1,900 years that living organisms could come from non-living substances, and we look back and think it’s ridiculous. I wonder if there is anything we believe now that will seem ridiculous a few centuries later.
It’s happened before, it’s bound to happen again. The only question is, what are we asserting as true now that is actually false?