Origin of Life

Theories and evidence for chemical biopoieses

Darwinism and the origin of life: the role of H.C. Bastian in the British spontaneous generation debates, 1868-1873.

Entrez PubMed: "Henry Charlton Bastian's support for spontaneous generation is shown to have developed from his commitment to the new evolutionary science of Darwin, Spencer, Huxley and Tyndall. Tracing Bastian's early career development shows that he was one of the most talented rising young stars among the Darwinians in the 1860s. His argument for a logically necessary link between evolution and spontaneous generation was widely believed among those sympathetic to Darwin's ideas. Spontaneous generation implied materialism to many, however, and it had associations in Britain with radical politics and amateur science. Huxley and the X Club were trying to create a public posture of Darwinism that kept it at arm's length from those negative associations. Thus, the conflict that developed when Huxley and the X Club opposed Bastian was at least as much about factional in-fighting among the Darwinians as it was about the experiments under dispute. Huxley's strategy to defeat Bastian and define his position as 'non-Darwinian' contributed significantly to the shaping of Huxley's famous address 'Biogenesis and Abiogenesis.' Rhetorically separating Darwinism from Bastian was thus responsible for Huxley's first clear public statement that a naturalistic origin of life was compatible with Darwin's ideas, but only in the earth's distant past. The final separation of the discourse on the meaning of Brownian movement and 'active molecules' from any possible link with spontaneous generation also grew out of Huxley's strategy to defeat Bastian. Clashes between Bastian and the X Club are described at the BAAS, the Royal Society, and in the pages of Nature and other journals."

Strick J. Darwinism and the origin of life: the role of H.C. Bastian in the British spontaneous generation debates, 1868-1873. J Hist Biol. 1999 Spring;32(1):51-92.

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