Spam from M____ J____, PhD, declares that evolution is spontaneous generation. Dr. J____ suggests that the “Theory of Evolution is nothing more than a contemporary repackaging of the long discredited medieval alchemists’ Theory of Spontaneous Generation.”
We need not look as far back as the medieval or to alchemy for belief in spontaneous generation, the idea that life could arise de novo from non-life. There remained at least some belief in on-going spontaneous generation of microorganisms into the 19th century. Biology books describe the important role of Louis Pasteur in the 1860s in discrediting ideas of spontaneous generation. Pasteur’s experiments showed that broth sterilized to kill microorganisms would remain free of microorganisms unless the broth was opened to the environment, allowing microbial contamination. Pasteur inferred that only existing microorganisms give rise to new microorganisms in reproductive processes. Spontaneous generation as a biological phenomenon has been discredited for well over a century.
I say spontaneous generation was discredited rather than falsified, because it would take us a long time to test all pieces of non-life and combinations of nonliving materials to see whether they could be transformed into life. On an everyday basis, however, we don’t expect gold to become goldfinches, silver to become silverfish, or coal to reincarnate as dinosaurs.
Although Dr. J____’s spam is typical creationist misinformation, his attempt to link evolution with spontaneous generation is a queer mismatch. The “theory of evolution”—as it is familiar to biologists—doesn’t really encompass the origin of life from non-life. The principles of biological or organic evolution apply only to living organisms that have the property of heredity. Evolution only happens in living biological systems that reproduce and pass genetic information from parent(s) to offspring. For a biologist, evolution is not the transformation that occurs at the beginning of life, only the series of transformations that occur among populations of living organisms that share the property of heredity.