Spontaneous Generation and the Catholic Church

“Science has put to rest all sorts of religious dogmas proclaimed by the Catholic Church, including spontaneous generation!”


Spontaneous genera-what?

I had to google SG, and laughed out loud at the idea that the CC professed this as a dogma.

Can anyone please cite any references to the Church professing this?

And what other Catholic dogmas has science “put to rest”?

Spontaneous generation was put forth by Aristotle (it predates him, actually) and remained popular for the next two thousand years. People of all backgrounds accepted it, as did people in the Church. But it was not a theological doctrine or anything.

Isn’t this a big problem for atheists … since if life cannot spontaneously appear out of non-living matter, then it is impossible for there to be any life at all, absent a miraculous act of God?

Umm… maybe it’s someone’s snarky way of referencing God’s creation of the universe. You know… creation ex nihilo. That’d be dogma. :wink:

And science has put this “spontaneous generation” to rest…how?

It seems like science would then actually be affirming spontaneous generation, yes?

Not a historian at all, but I remember being taught what “Spontaneous Generation” was. It was an idea that if, for example, you leave a piece of meat on the table to rot, maggots will spontaneously generate form it. Or that if you leave a piece of bread out, then mold will spontaneously generate from it. Technology wasn’t advanced back then to observe the adult flies laying the maggot eggs, and certainly not to let people view mold spores in the air landing on the bread and germinating.

It only sounds ridiculous out of context. Much as Newtonian physics were eventually superseded but make sense within the limit of what Newton could observe with the technology available to him.

I would like to see which Council decided this and which pope proclaimed it, since apparently it’s Dogma

I am a bit confused here. The Catholic Church would surely not have given creedence to the theory of spontaneous generation as the origin of life?

Spontaneous Generation
Early Earth Environment
It was once believed that life could come from nonliving things, such as mice from corn, flies from bovine manure, maggots from rotting meat, and fish from the mud of previously dry lakes. Spontaneous generation is the incorrect hypothesis that nonliving things are capable of producing life. Several experiments have been conducted to disprove spontaneous generation; a few of them are covered in the sections that follow.

Science believes this theory belongs with flat earth, burying bacon to cure warts, kissing a frog to produce a good man :heart_eyes:

The Catholic Church teaches that God breathed life into Adam and gave his body a soul. Not that a bunch of dust suddenly got up and organised into life.

Now as far as Spontaneous Combustion goes…

“Spontaneous generation or anomalous generation is an obsolete body of thought on the ordinary formation of living organisms without descent from similar organisms.” - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spontaneous_generation

The idea was that mice, for instance, could appear fully formed out of corn without being born of a mother - no fetus, no egg, no genes, just popped out of thin air as fully formed adults.

Seems silly to us but it’s understandable how it may have appeared that way. Thomas Aquinas argued for it, and for a long period of time most people probably accepted the theory until it was disproved.

Well, nothing wrong with being taught “was it was.”

I know right?

Science believes this theory belongs with flat earth, burying bacon to cure warts, kissing a frog to produce a good man :heart_eyes:

Yep. But my understanding is that even scientists at that time endorsed SG.

Spontaneous generation was not seen as being “uncaused.” It was seen as the result of natural (if not fully understood) forces. So it was still caused and not “from nothing.” Generally, it only applied to simple forms of life (mold, bugs, even mice in some cases), not “complex” forms of life like humans.

A crude science. I mean, come on, leave a slice of bread out for a couple weeks. Never let it leave your sight. You’ll get your empirical evidence that nothing comes around and puts the mold there!

This isn’t meant to mock science in the least. Tools have improved over time.

To be sure.

But to get back to the OP, is there any documentation that the Church taught this as dogma?

Or, even, as a doctrine?

Or even professed this as a teaching?


To my knowledge, no. It was a widely spread “scientific” understanding, so those who went through schooling (including clergy) probably learned it, and it may have been cited as an example to illustrate a point, but it was never a Christian theological teaching, or doctrine, or dogma. It was never, say, comparable to even the geocentrism debate, for example.

Ah. Geocentrism.

So the same question: did science overturn the religious dogma of geocentrism?

Or rather, where was geocentrism professed as Catholic dogma?

IMO, it was never dogma. It was something that had to be understood in a theological context, not scientific, and the Church was being conservative regarding overturning it, not necessarily simply opposing it because it was believed to be heresy in and of itself (I speak of the Church, not individuals, and furthermore there were concerns that people were using this new but unconfirmed evidence to claim scripture was simply wrong on all levels). But that’s a separate debate.

By my referencing it, I only wished to say it was never at the “level” as the geocentrism debate. Whatever people feel about that debate, whether empathetic to the Church or not, I think everyone would agree that spontaneous generation was not at that level.

Can you show proof that the Church had this as religious dogma.

It does not parallel the origin of life at all as in Genesis.

I am unconvinced.

The following is worth a look. It’s by a creationist who seems to be a Monsignor, about a priest who maintained that both scripture and Church fathers teach spontaneous generation occurred in the past. He also claims Humani generis forbids ruling that out. Don’t know what to make of him.


Reading through it still, but we need to differentiate between a divine, singular act of God in demanding that something be, and in the idea that some type of mechanism for spontaneous generation continued to persist. Aquinas, for example, did believe in spontaneous generation, but the article you linked before was really just a metaphysical inquiry into God’s power and act and feeding the idea that God as pure spirit can act on material reality. That God can do a “miracle” does not mean that the miracle could be brought about through the normal, intrinsic powers of finite things.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.