Everyday observations suggest that certain organisms are spontaneously generated: mushrooms appear suddenly on lawns and manure heaps, the still pond becomes coated with green slime, parasites manifest themselves in animal guts. Spontaneous generation was therefore a widespread belief in most cultures, and it persisted in Europe until the 19th century. We now explain such phenomena in terms of eggs and spores too small to be seen with the naked eye, but such eggs and spores were matters of speculation until microscopes developed into useful instruments.
‘Spontaneous generation’ is really two hypotheses, not one. Abiogenesis is the alleged production of life from matter that is not and never has been living. Heterogenesis is the alleged production of (new) life from matter that was once living or associated with life but is now dead or detached from life, such as corpses or manure. We will need to distinguish between abiogenesis and heterogenesis1 in some parts of this chapter, but mostly we can ignore the distinction and merely write ‘spontaneous generation’.
KeywordsIntestinal Parasite Spontaneous Generation Microorganism Growth Catholic Priest Intestinal Worm
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