Biogenesis and the Birth of Modern Science by Narasimha das

June 28, 2021 in Articles by Damaghosa dasa

Biogenesis and the Birth of Modern Science

By Narasimha das

The ancient Greeks, specifically the renowned philosopher Aristotle (384 B.C – 322 B.C.), believed that living things were spontaneously generated from non-living matter.

Aristotle was a naturalist who loved to observe animals and nature while taking long walks through the country. He noticed that ponds were full of various species, such as fish, frogs and tiny swimming insects. Later, in the summer months, many of these ponds would dry up and appear to become lifeless mud sinks or totally dry beds. But when the rains came, the same dry beds would fill up again with aquatic life. He wondered how all this life became regenerated. After pondering this puzzle for a long while, he finally concluded that earth itself had the power to generate life spontaneously under certain conditions. Observing the life cycles of insects on land, he came to similar conclusions: that rotting meat, animal fur and other nonliving matter had the potency to generate various forms life under specific conditions.

Aristotle was considered one the greatest thinkers of his era, so naturally his published findings circulated to nearby Arab countries, and gradually such misleading ideas spread west to European nations. Such misinformation gradually evolved into a system of superstitions and beliefs that were taught in school texts on biology and medicine.

Due, perhaps, to the liberating influence of the advent of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu on Earth (1484-1532), Europe started to slowly emerge from the Dark Ages. During the Dark Ages people had no idea how or why deadly diseases like the black plague were spread. City people would pass stool and urine in buckets and then throw it out their townhouse windows, yelling a warning to pedestrians, “Loo!” (This is how the term “loo” came to mean toilet or latrine.) Some streets were, at times, ankle deep in human excrement. Surgeons had no idea of any need for cleanliness. In fact, doctors would often wear their most filthy clothes to perform surgeries with unwashed scalpels, just as field workers and street cleaners would wear filthy clothes for their work, saving their clean clothing for social affairs. Thus, many patients would “mysteriously” die shortly after even routine surgeries.

William Harvey (1578-1657) became famous for his discovery that blood circulates through the body in veins and blood vessels. In one of his writings, he mentioned that it was possible that insects may lay eggs that were too small to be seen with the naked eye. The glimmer of light from this suggestion inspired and motivated another early scientist, Francisco Redi (1626-1697), to investigate further. Soon he became convinced that the prevailing theories of his day were ill-conceived. He demonstrated through experiments that life was not be generated spontaneously from non-living matter and that such conjectures had no basis. His controlled experiments involved sterilization through heating and various means of sealing containers and then comparing these with non-sterilized open containers of the same organic substances. He boldly propounded his views that life was generated not spontaneously from dead matter but from living organisms, some that were too small to be seen with the naked eye or laid eggs too small to be seen.

People of his day were stunned by this fantastic new theory. Aristotle had been highly regarded in the West for many centuries as one of the greatest thinkers and naturalists of all time. People wondered, “How could Aristotle have been so wrong?”

To prove his theory, Redi devised several interesting experiments to demonstrate that life comes from life. These experiments were literally the birth of modern sciences, specifically biology and medicine, which relies on controlled observations and experiments to demonstrate the truth or fallacy of theories like Redi’s and Aristotle’s. Redi’s experiments gave rise to modern-day knowledge regarding food preservation through sterilization, and sanitation through disinfecting. He had demonstrated in many of ways that life is generated only from other living things and that non-living matter had no power to generate life on its own. Scientists then began forming groups for the sake of exchanging their findings derived through various means of experimentation and observation. Redi and his followers strongly propounded their new understanding known as biogenesis, which establishes that life arises only from previously existing life and not from non-living matter.

A breakthrough came when a humble lens grinder, Antonio Van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723), refined his art with the help of a renowned spectacle maker. He learned how to grind a precision magnifying lens and how to achieve further magnification by stacking lens in a tube. In this way he created the first known microscope. With his microscope he was able to observe microbes for the first time, and this led to many new discoveries. At first other scientists were doubtful about the existence of microbes because they were unable to match the precision and power of Leeuwenhoek’s microscopes.

Soon Leeuwenhoek’s discoveries of microbes were verified by other scientists, yet many scientists clung to their belief that microbes themselves were spontaneously generated from non-living substances. Aristotle had taught that non-living substances can create life under certain conditions, and this widely accepted belief had been around for centuries. Long held beliefs die hard.

Despite clear evidence supporting biogenesis, many scientists challenged the idea for another 150 years. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, a member of the French Academy of Sciences, Dr. Pouchet, published a compelling book that attempted to reaffirm the idea that micro-organisms were spontaneously generated from non-living matter. His book was highly lauded by scientists worldwide.

Dr. Pouchet’s findings did not go unchallenged for long. Louis Pasteur read Pouchet’s book and wrote to him explaining several discrepancies in his methods, findings and conclusions. Pasteur was considered one of the top scientists of his times, especially in France, and he is still considered one the most important scientists of the modern age. Pasteur strongly refuted Pouchet’s ideas through a series of experiments and debates. The scientific community and general public were divided in their opinion on this issue. Many challenges and counter-challenges went back and forth and gave rise to varieties of experiments under careful controls.

Both Pouchet and Pasteur were experts in conducting experiments, and their efforts created the modern era of controlled experimentation and observation. They both refined and adjusted their experiments to demonstrate their theories, and this went on for several months or even years under the scrutiny of a special commission appointed by the French Academy of Sciences. At first the Commission was divided in its opinion, but finally they accepted Pasteur’s conclusions and bestowed upon him the Academy Award for science (circa 1865). This was a high honor like the Nobel Prize, and people worldwide recognized Pasteur as the one of greatest scientists in the world. Louis Pasteur became widely popular, and Pouchet faded from the limelight.

Pasteur’s controlled experiments and observations proving biogenesis and disproving spontaneous generation led to many new breakthroughs in medicine (such as surgeon using sterilized tools and masks), food preservation, disease control, general sanitation, and other fields. He had proven that life comes from life and not from non-living matter. Without his discoveries through controlled experiments, Europe especially might have remained much longer in the dark ages of superstition, myth, and foolish conjectures.

But the new age of enlightened science in the realm of biology did not last long. Biological sciences suddenly embraced the darkness of superstition yet again after the publication of The Origin of Species by the infamous Charles Darwin (1809-1882), a clever pseudo naturalist propped up by atheists and agnostics to challenge the idea of God and religion through the use of wild speculation under the guise of scientific observation. Darwin himself doubted his own hypothesis, which was more outlandish than many prior superstitions. Darwin’s ideas have led to the now popular belief among scientists and academia that microbes were originally generated from non-living matter and gradually evolved to higher life forms spontaneously due to accidental genetic mutations and the process of “natural selection”. Thus, modern biology embraced a dark superstition that is as foolish as any myth that came before.

Although biological sciences have continued to improve in research methods and technology, with applied knowledge leading to advancements in medicine, ecology, and genetic research, including the creation GMOs, thus far no one has been able to create even one living microbe from non-living matter. In fact, no great scientist or laboratory can even repair and make grow one broken grain of rice. Discoveries regarding the mind-boggling designs and complexities of living organisms and their interrelationships with other super-complex living organisms should have caused unbiased scientists and thinkers to reject Darwin’s ideas as preposterous. Instead, these foolish ideas are still being vigorously defended and promoted by cultish academia and atheistic social and political activists.

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has often pointed out, in his many books on Vedic scriptures, that Darwin’s flimsy hypothesis regarding the origin of species and evolution has no basis in scientific theory and cannot be demonstrated by experimentation or observation. It is unfounded and flies in the face of common sense. Yet due to a deviously calculated system of indoctrination in academia and media, school kids, like those from the dark ages, are taught this foolish conjecture in the name of science.

The Vedas, a vast compendium of scriptures from ancient India, offer a more reasonable and consistent explanation regarding the origin of species. According to Vedic scriptures, such as Srimad-Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita, God, the supreme living being, creates superior living beings, known as prajapatis, and empowers them to populate various planets with various grades of species. It is logical to accept that superior beings can create progeny of equal or inferior nature through sex or other powers.

It is a scientific fact that living things create other living things. Srimad-Bhagavatam and other Vedic scriptures teach that God, the original and supreme person, has endowed each species with amazing abilities to survive and adapt in varieties of changing conditions on Earth. Vedic evidence never suggests, however, that species evolve from chemicals and morph into new and better species through a series of magical comic-book mutations. Great sages from every culture and every age have concluded that God is the designer and creator of all that exists. He is known as the cause of all causes and the basis of all reality.

It is reasonable to accept the consensus of scriptural conclusions that the wonders of life and the cosmos were created by the omnipotent, omniscient and wonderful Supreme Personality of Godhead. It is reasonable to accept that a living organism, composed of gross and subtle matter, is animated by the consciousness of a spiritual soul, the living force. It is quite illogical, however, to believe that chemicals and chemical reactions produce life and consciousness when all practical evidence points to the opposite: chemicals and complex chemical reactions and all forms of life are created by living beings.

In the Kali Yuga, there is no science for the liberation of consciousness as effective as Krishna consciousness and careful chanting of the Holy Names of God. Modern science, by its very nature, is full of ignorance, illusion and doubt. Lord Krishna’s material energy is very difficult to understand and overcome. God’s power of illusion forever overwhelms everyone who fails hear from authority and chant the Holy Names of God.

O son of Pritha, know that I am the original seed of all existences, the intelligence of the intelligent, and the prowess of all powerful men.” (Bhagavad-gita As it Is, 7.10)

This material nature is working under My direction, O son of Kunti, and it is producing all moving and non-moving beings. By its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again.” (Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 9.10)

Those who are thus bewildered are attracted by demoniac and atheistic views. In that deluded condition, their hopes for liberation, their fruitive activities, and their culture of knowledge are all defeated.” (Bhagavad-gita As it Is, 9.12)

Those miscreants who are grossly foolish, lowest of mankind, whose knowledge is stolen by illusion, and who partake of the atheistic nature of demons, do not surrender unto Me.” (Bg. 7.15)

This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.” (Bhagavad-gita As it Is, 7.14)

Related article– “Sankhya: The Yoga of Analysis”