Spontaneous generation is an obsolete body of thought on the ordinary formation of living organisms without descent from similar organisms. Typically, the idea was that certain forms such as fleas could arise from inanimate matter such as dust, or that maggots could arise from dead flesh. A variant idea was that of equivocal generation, in which species such as tapeworms arose from unrelated living organisms, now understood to be their hosts. Doctrines supporting such processes of generation held that these processes are commonplace and regular. Such ideas are in contradiction to that of univocal generation: effectively exclusive reproduction from genetically related parent(s), generally of the same species.
The doctrine of spontaneous generation was coherently synthesized by Aristotle, who compiled and expanded the work of prior natural philosophers and the various ancient explanations of the appearance of organisms; it held sway for two millennia. Today it is generally accepted to have been decisively dispelled during the 19th century by the experiments of Louis Pasteur. He expanded upon the investigations of predecessors (such as Francesco Redi who, in the 17th century, had performed experiments based on the same principles). However, the experimental difficulties are greater than people might think, and objections from persons holding the traditional views persisted. Many of these residual objections were routed by the work of John Tyndall, succeeding the work of Pasteur. Ultimately, the ideas of spontaneous generation were displaced by advances in germ theory and cell theory.
Disproof of the traditional ideas of spontaneous generation is no longer controversial among professional biologists. Objections and doubts have been dispelled by studies and documentation of the life cycles of various life forms. However, the principles of the very different matter of the original abiogenesis on this planet — of living from non-living material — still are under investigation.
Famous quotes containing the words spontaneous and/or generation:
“Our spontaneous action is always the best. You cannot, with your best deliberation and heed, come so close to any question as your spontaneous glance shall bring you.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882)
“But it is fit that the Past should be dark; though the darkness is not so much a quality of the past as of tradition. It is not a distance of time, but a distance of relation, which makes thus dusky its memorials. What is near to the heart of this generation is fair and bright still. Greece lies outspread fair and sunshiny in floods of light, for there is the sun and daylight in her literature and art. Homer does not allow us to forget that the sun shone,nor Phidias, nor the Parthenon.”
—Henry David Thoreau (18171862)