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Evolution - Spontaneous Generation

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Quotation from page 48, The Last Link, by Professor Haeckel:

"I assume that the first Monera owe their existence to spontaneous creation out of so-called anorganic combinations, consisting of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen."

From page 31, The Evolution of Man, by Professor Haeckel :

"The oldest Monera originated in the sea by spontaneous generation. This assumption is required by the demand of the human understanding for causality."

From page 257 of The Riddle of the Universe:

"The old idea of spontaneous generation is now taken in many different senses. It is owing to this indistinctness of the idea, and its application to so many different hypotheses, that the problem is one of the most contentious and confused of the science of the day. I restrict the idea of spontaneous generation to the first development of living protoplasm out of inorganic carbonates."

Given the "first Monera," the "theory of development," "the universal law of substance" and some additional "laws," Professor Haeckel has no further use for spontaneous generation, vital forces or creative energy. Occasionally, however, he indicates lack of certainty that he has fully explained phenomena.

In the following quotation he shows positive assurance :

"Ether is boundless and immeasurable, like the space it occupies. It is in eternal motion; and this specific movement of ether is the ultimate cause of all phenomena" —Page 228, The Riddle of the Universe.

He does not give a specific list of the powers with which this hypothesis endows the ether. Evidently, "ether" includes considerable of what other people mean by "The Creator."

But on additional reflection, "ether" does not seem sufficient to account for all that has been, is and will be. From page 380, The Riddle of the Universe:

"We grant at once that the innermost character of nature is just as little understood by us as it was by Anaximander and Empedocles twenty-four hundred years ago, by Spinoza and Newton two hundred years ago, and by Kant and Goethe one hundred years ago. We must even grant that this essence of substance becomes more mysterious and enigmatic the deeper we penetrate into the knowledge of its attributes, matter and energy, and the more thoroughly we study its countless phenomenal forms and their evolution. We do not know the `thing in itself' that lies behind these knowable phenomena. But why trouble about this enigmatic `thing in itself' when we have no means of investigating it, when we do not even clearly know whether it exists or not? Let us, then, leave this fruitless brooding over this ideal phantom to the `pure metaphysician' and let us instead, as `real physicists,' rejoice in the immense progress which has been actually made by our monistic philosophy of nature."

Without criticising Professor Haeckel personally, for whom the Author has great respect, it is considered important to examine some of these statements just as they stand, allowing that Professor Haeckel might, indeed, be able to reconcile them more than has been done in his published works.

This earth has probably passed through various stages in. its evolution, involving changes in structure, solidity, density, atmosphere, climate, etc. Therefore, it is certainly scientific to consider that under these prior conditions, spontaneous generation may have. been possible.

As defined in the Century Dictionary, a miracle is "An effect in nature not attributable to any of the recognized operations of nature nor to the act of man, but indicative of superhuman power, and serving as a sign or witness thereof; a wonderful work, manifesting a power superior to the ordinary forces of nature."

Hypothesizing other and different conditions from those which now prevail is part of the Evolutionary Theory as a totality. By this margin, "spontaneous generation" escapes being classified as a "miracle." Neither does it make issue with the principle of continuity or uniformity of law, as would seem to be the case upon first consideration.

However, if any scientist claims a possibility of a condition or epoch of such tremendous importance and radical change from laws now in operation as is involved in the hypothesis of life being produced from non-living matter, the way is open for other scientists to make similar hypotheses. Furthermore it is evident that any measure of success in explaining cosmical problems must be pre-ceded by examination of many tentative hypotheses.

Therefore, a scientist who needs the hypothesis of "spontaneous generation" to complete his theory should not seriously object to other scientists supplying various hypotheses for the missing links in their theories. The important part is they are recognized as working hypotheses and tentative theories.

Professor Haeckel does not seem to keep this in mind, for he says on page 258, Riddle of the Universe:

"The hypothesis of spontaneous generation and the allied carbon-theory are of great importance in deciding the long-standing conflict between the teleological (dualistic) and the mechanical (monistic) interpretation of phenomena."

Now as a matter of fact, the conflict is not decided nor can it be decided by the alliance of an hypothesis and a theory.

"Spontaneous generation" appears to some to be a "miracle." If one "miracle" is slipped into the argument, the way is opened for others which may appear equally reasonable. In fact, the development of actual and demonstrable knowledge has not yet reached the stage where the element of "personal equation" can be ignored or eliminated. It would appear possible for some scientists to be as short-sighted or as prejudiced as some theologians. The searcher for absolute truth must avoid being convinced by plausible hypotheses even while he uses them.

"Spontaneous generation" is not proven. The origin of life apparently precedes our knowledge by an illimitable distance. If there was such an event, it occurred long ages ago. If such an event did not occur, life has always existed. Either hypothesis is beyond our powers of comprehension at present. There are many similar problems. It may not be out of place to suggest here that if "spontaneous generation" be admitted as a reasonable hypothesis under other conditions necessitating different laws, then "a future life" is just as reasonable and fully as demonstrable.

Professor Haeckel quotes with approval the statement of the French astronomer Laplace when asked by Napoleon where God came in his system,—"Sire, I have managed without that hypothesis." It would perhaps be well in this connection to quote also the words ascribed to Laplace upon his death-bed, "What we know is little, what we do not know is immense." I have no objection to quoting both and letting them stand as representing his conclusions. It is recognized that there are many serious omissions in his solution of the great mechanical problems of the solar system: See biographical article in The New International Encyclopedia.

Laplace also managed without the -hypothesis of ether. Certainly he never stated that "this specific movement of ether is the ultimate cause of all phenomena." (Quoted from page 228, The Riddle of the Universe.) It is difficult to conceive how this statement of Professor Haeckel can be considered as accounting for the universe or for any considerable portion of phenomena. In fact, he confessed, as already quoted from page 380, that the deeper he penetrated and the more thoroughly he studied, the more mysterious and enigmatic became the problem.

As for asking, "Why trouble about it?" the answer is that it is the proper study for all mankind. "The immense progress" is the result of human investigation and meditation, even though only the outer boundaries of final explanations may be now discerned.

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