Pasteur and Spontaneous Generation

Pasteur and Spontaneous Generation

Louis Pasteur was perhaps one of the greatest scientists of all time. He was the man who invented the purification process known as pasteurization, as well as inventing vaccines.  Born two days after Christmas in 1822, the “father of microbiology” also disproved evolution before Darwin proposed evolution. It is this achievement that will be focused on in this article

While the ideas of evolution were ruminating in the brain of Charles Darwin, the French Biologist, Chemist, and Microbiologist Louis Pasteur were dealing a lethal blow to the theory before Darwin published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or The Preservation of the Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.  Darwin was by no means original in attributing life’s origin to non-life. The idea had officially existed since the time of Aristotle and had been embraced to one degree or another by various members of the Catholic Church and the scientific community ever since.  The essential idea was that life could somehow come from non-life with-in a short period of time.  Darwin’s idea was similar, he just extended the timeline to match that of his ideological mentor Charles Lyell, and proposed a naturalistic mechanism for it.

Pasteur was not the first by far to question spontaneous generation. In fact, opposition to the belief had sprung up as early as 1668 with an Italian names Francesco Redi, an anatomist, and poet, who performed an experiment with rotting meat. The belief at the time was that maggots arose through spontaneous generation in rotting meat. Redi challenged this idea by doing an experiment which proved that flies laid eggs which hatched into maggots.  In 1768, another Italian, a biologist, priest, and physiologist named Lazzaro Spallanzani performed a second experiment which took the idea a step further.  Spallanzani expanded on experiments performed by a supporter of spontaneous generation named John Needham, who boiled broth to kill microbes, then immediately sealed it after boiling. The flasks clouded, indicating microbes.  Spallanzani argued that it was due to the air that entered the flask before sealing.  He claimed that microbes in the air were causing the microbial growth. He boiled broth in a sealed container and no microbes grew.  However spontaneous generation proponents argued that this was due to the lack of air. The argument raged for nearly another century.

Pasteur would be the man to end the debate. In the late 1850s, he became interested in the subject. Looking at Spallanzani’s experiments, he saw a potential to replicate them, with a twist. Instead of a closed flask, Pasteur designed a special, swan-necked flask which enabled air to flow freely into the broth. However, the microscopic particles in the air were trapped by the S-shaped neck of the flask and did not reach the boiled broth. Some of these flasks are still displayed today in a museum in France, microbe-free over one hundred and fifty years later.  They have been sealed to prevent further evaporation now, but for a long time, they sat, unsealed and microbe-free.  Spontaneous Generation was dead.

Pasteur first performed his experiments in 1859 but published them five years later in 1864. Darwin published his book in late 1859.  Pasteur was careful throughout his life not to criticize Darwin’s book. However, he said this about spontaneous generation: “Never will the doctrine of spontaneous generation recover from the mortal blow of this simple experiment. There is no known circumstance in which it can be confirmed that microscopic beings came into the world without germs, without parents similar to themselves.” This was condensed down into what we call the Law of Biogenesis.  This law states that life only comes from existing life. No natural process can create life.

Evolution and spontaneous generation are the same idea in different packaging. Spontaneous generation required short periods of time. Evolution alters this too long periods of time. That is the only difference. Evolution is merely a recycled, re-skinned version of spontaneous generation.  The two ideas both require life to come from non-life.  Adding time merely pushes the problem of life’s origin further into the past, it does nothing to solve it. Evolution proposes a mechanism for change once life already exists, but proposes no way around the Law of Biogenesis. The Law is as solid as it was the day it was written, and no scientific experiment has been done which has challenged its validity.   Pasteur, in destroying spontaneous generation, destroyed evolution as well.  Evolutionists will gladly laud Pasteur for his work against spontaneous generation, but fail to recognize that his seminal work torpedoes their theory as well.




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