The Bible and the Laws of Science: The Law of Biogenesis
Who among us would attempt to deny or ignore the tremendous impact that science has had on our world? Each of us lives in a world that is far better than it would be were it not for the tremendous sacrifices of scientists down through the years. Generations long since gone benefited from, and we today continue to enjoy and benefit from, the fruits of their labors. All that is necessary to understand the debt we owe to science, and to scientists, is to survey the world around us. Science has indeed been our great benefactor. Smallpox has been eradicated. Men have walked on the Moon. Communications have improved drastically. Life spans have increased. And a thousand other similar benefits could be named, establishing our indebtedness to men and women down through the ages who have successfully employed the scientific method.
“Science,” said Harris Rall, “stands for a way of study, and an attitude of mind. To leave theories and prejudices to one side, to bring an open mind and ask only for the truth, to study concrete facts with endless patience, to try to find an order of behavior in the world, as indicated by these facts, to test these findings by experiment and more facts—this is the spirit and method of science” (1936, p. 66). The Oxford Dictionary defines science as “a branch of study which is concerned with a connected body of demonstrated truths or observed facts systematically classified and more or less colligated and brought under general laws, and which includes trustworthy methods for the discovery of new truth within its own domain.” Margaret Balcom has noted that science “is primarily a method for dealing with matter (objects) in action through (1) observation and experimentation, (2) analysis, (3) derivation of a physical law (a concept), (4) prediction in terms of that law. Science is concerned with a given physical system already in operation” (1967, p. 592).
One applies the scientific method by observing and recording natural phenomena. Then a basic generalization (a scientific hypothesis) is formulated, based upon those observations. In turn, this generalization then permits predictions to be made. Through experimentation, the hypothesis is tested in order to determine if the predicted results do, in fact, occur. If the predictions ultimately prove true, then the hypothesis is considered verified. After repeated, numerous confirmations, the hypothesis obtains the status of a theory. The theory, if it passes continued testing through time, eventually graduates to the status of a law. The following chart demonstrates this procedure.
(After Wysong, 1976, p. 41)
David Hull, the famous philosopher of science, noted in his text, Philosophy of Biological Science, that “scientific laws are viewed as reflecting actual regularities in nature” (1974, p. 3, emp. added). In other words, so far as we know, there are no exceptions to scientific laws. Any law which, during experimental testing, did not continue to fit the facts as described in that law, would lose its position as a “law” and be relegated to the status of a theory. Laws know no exceptions.
THE LAW OF BIOGENESIS
In the field of biology, one of the most commonly accepted and widely used laws of science is the law of biogenesis. This law was set forth many years ago to dictate what both theory and experimental evidence showed to be true among living organisms—that life comes only from preceding life, and perpetuates itself by reproducing only its own kind or type. As David Kirk correctly stated: “By the end of the nineteenth century there was general agreement that life cannot arise from the nonliving under conditions that now exist upon our planet. The dictum ‘All life from preexisting life’ became the dogma of modern biology, from which no reasonable man could be expected to dissent” (1975, p. 7). The experiments that formed the ultimate basis of this law were first carried out by such men as Francesco Redi (1688) and Lazarro Spallanzani (1799) in Italy, Louis Pasteur (1860) in France, and Rudolph Virchow (1858) in Germany. It was Virchow who documented that cells do not arise from amorphous matter, but instead come only from preexisting cells. The Encyclopaedia Britannica states concerning Virchow that “His aphorism ‘omnis cellula e cellula’ (every cell arises from a preexisting cell) ranks with Pasteur’s ‘omne vivum e vivo’ (every living thing arises from a preexisting living thing) among the most revolutionary generalizations of biology” (1973, p. 35).
Down through the years, countless thousands of scientists in various disciplines have established the law of biogenesis as just that—a scientific law stating that life comes only from preexisting life and that of its kind. Interestingly, the law of biogenesis was firmly established in science long before the contrivance of modern evolutionary theories. Also of considerable interest is the fact that students are consistently taught in high school and college biology classes the tremendous impact of, for example, Pasteur’s work on the false concept of spontaneous generation (the idea that life arises on its own from nonliving antecedents). Students are given, in great detail, the historical scenario of how Pasteur triumphed over “mythology” and provided science “its finest hour” as he discredited the then-popular concept of spontaneous generation. Then, with almost the next breath, students are informed by the professor of how evolution started via spontaneous generations. Nobel laureate George Wald has commented on this discrepancy as follows:
As for spontaneous generation, it continued to find acceptance until finally disposed of by the work of Louis Pasteur—it is a curious thing that until quite recently professors of biology habitually told this story as part of their introductions of students to biology. They would finish this account glowing with the conviction that they had given a telling demonstration of the overthrow of mystical notion by clean, scientific experimentation. Their students were usually so bemused as to forget to ask the professor how he accounted for the origin of life. This would have been an embarrassing question, because there are only two possibilities: either life arose by spontaneous generation, which the professor had just refuted; or it arose by supernatural creation, which he probably regarded as anti-scientific (1972, p. 187).
Indeed, Dr. Wald is correct. Students do forget to ask the professor how, if spontaneous generation has been discredited, evolution could ever have gotten started in the first place. This point may have escaped some students, but it has not been lost on evolutionary scholars, who confess to having some difficulty with the problem posed by the law of biogenesis. Simpson and Beck, in their biology textbook, Life: An Introduction to Biology, state that “there is no serious doubt that biogenesis is the rule, that life comes only from other life, that a cell, the unit of life, is always and exclusively the product or offspring of another cell” (1965, p. 144, emp. added). Martin A. Moe, writing in the December 1981 issue of Science Digest, put it in these difficult-to-misunderstand words:
A century of sensational discoveries in the biological sciences has taught us that life arises only from life, that the nucleus governs the cell through the molecular mechanisms of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and that the amount of DNA and its structure determine not only the nature of the species but also the characteristics of individuals (p. 36, emp. added).
In recent years, however, some evolutionists have suggested that what is commonly referred to as the “law” of biogenesis is not a “law” at all, but only a “principle” or “theory” or “dictum.” This new nomenclature is being suggested by evolutionists because they have come to the stark realization of the implications of the law of biogenesis—not because contradictions or exceptions to the law have been discovered. It is of interest to note that in nineteenth-century science texts, biogenesis was spoken of as a law. But, of late, that term has been replaced by new terms that are intended to “soften” the force of biogenesis upon evolutionary concepts. A rose, however, by any other name is still a rose, as the adage goes. And there can be no doubt that biogenesis most certainly reflects (to use Dr. Hull’s own words) “an actual regularity in nature,” since there never has been even a single documented case of spontaneous generation! Still, some modern-day evolutionists prefer to use a different term when speaking of biogenesis. One well-known biology dictionary says under the heading of “Biogenesis, Principle of ”—“The biological rule that a living thing can originate only from a parent or parents on the whole similar to itself. It denies spontaneous generation...” (Abercrombie, et al., 1961, p. 33). Others have followed suit. Simpson and Beck, in their text quoted above, stated: “We take biogenesis as a fundamental principle of reproduction from the experimental evidence and also from theoretical considerations” (1965, p. 144, emp. added).
R.L. Wysong, in his classic work, The Creation-Evolution Controversy, commented:
The creationist is quick to remind evolutionists that biopoiesis and evolution describe events that stand in stark naked contradiction to an established law. The law of biogenesis says life arises only from preexisting life, biopoiesis says life sprang from dead chemicals; evolution states that life forms give rise to new, improved and different life forms, the law of biogenesis says that kinds only reproduce their own kinds. Evolutionists are not oblivious to this law. They simply question it. They say that spontaneous generation was disproved under the conditions of the experimental models of Pasteur, Redi, and Spallanzani. This, they contend, does not preclude the spontaneous formation of life under different conditions. To this, the creationist replies that even given the artificial conditions and intelligent maneuverings of biopoiesis experiments, life has still not “spontaneously generated.” ...Until such a time as life is observed to spontaneously generate, the creationist insists the law of biogenesis stands!... How can biogenesis be termed any less than a law? (1976, pp. 182-185).
Moore and Slusher, in their text, Biology: A Search for Order in Complexity, wrote: “Historically the point of view that life comes only from life has been so well established through the facts revealed by experiment that it is called the Law of Biogenesis.” In a footnote, the authors stated further: “Some philosophers call this a principle instead of a law, but this is a matter of definition, and definitions are arbitrary. Some scientists call this a superlaw, or a law about laws. Regardless of terminology, biogenesis has the highest rank in these levels of generalization” (1974, p. 74, emp. in orig.).
Indeed, biogenesis does have the highest rank in these levels of generalization. As Dr. Kirk (quoted above) noted, the dictum “became the dogma of modern biology, from which no reasonable man could be expected to dissent.” Furthermore, it is of interest to turn to the scientific dictionaries and observe the definition of the word “principle” that is being used so often in the current controversy. The McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms, an industry standard, defines principle as, “a scientific law which is highly general or fundamental, and from which other laws are derived” (1978, p. 1268, emp. added). Little wonder, then, some scientists call biogenesis a superlaw, for in a sense, other laws are indeed derived from it (the laws of Mendelian genetics hardly could operate without the fundamental “principle” of biogenesis being correct). If a principle is defined as a law, and biogenesis is spoken of as the “principle of biogenesis,” then what more shall we say? As Kirk himself noted: “The more broadly encompassing paradigms—those from which the largest and most diverse blocks of biological information may be related in orderly fashion—are sometimes called ‘principles’ of biology” (1975, p. 14). In other fields of science besides biology, it is not uncommon to hear scientists speak of established and recognized laws as “principles.” Reference often is made to the “principles” of thermodynamics or the “principle” of gravity instead of the “laws” of thermodynamics or the “law” of gravity. Yet no one calls into question these basic and fundamental laws of science. Even in biology we use such terminology (e.g., we speak of the “principles” of Mendelian genetics), without having anyone question the basic nature of the laws of science that are under discussion.
Why, then, are we suddenly being told that, in regard to biogenesis, the word “law” no longer applies? It did in the nineteenth century. Has it been disproven? On the contrary, every piece of scientific evidence still supports the basic concept that life arises only from preexisting life. Is biogenesis no longer an “actual regularity in nature”? On the contrary, every piece of scientific information we possess shows that it is, in fact, just that—an actual regularity in nature (remember Dr. Simpson’s statement that “there is no serious doubt that biogenesis is the rule, that life comes only from other life...”). Has biogenesis somehow ceased being experimentally reproducible? Not at all. Why, then, does the evolutionist wish us to refrain from calling the law a law? The answer, it would seem, is obvious. If evolutionists accept biogenesis as a law—an actual regularity in nature—how could evolution ever get started? Biogenesis (the law of biogenesis) would represent the complete undoing of evolutionary theory from the ground floor up. Little wonder, then, that some modern-day evolutionists have attempted to scour the dictionary in order to come up with some other word (“rule,” “principle,” “dictum,” etc.) besides law to attach to biogenesis. Regardless of their efforts, and the success or failure with which those efforts eventually meet, one thing is for certain. The “dogma of modern biology, from which no reasonable man could be expected to dissent,” is still biogenesis. J.W.N. Sullivan, brilliant scientist of a generation ago, penned these words, which are as applicable today as the day he wrote them.
The beginning of the evolutionary process raises a question which is yet unanswerable. What was the origin of life on this planet? Until fairly recent times there was a pretty general belief in the occurrence of “spontaneous generation”.... But careful experiments, notably those of Pasteur, showed that this conclusion was due to imperfect observation, and it became an accepted doctrine that life never arises except from life. So far as the actual evidence goes, this is still the only possible conclusion. But since it is a conclusion that seems to lead back to some supernatural creative act, it is a conclusion that scientific men find very difficult of acceptance (1933, p. 94, emp. added).
The law of biogenesis plainly teaches that all life comes from preexisting life, and that of its kind. That is exactly what the Bible always has taught as occurring in nature. In Genesis 1:11-12, recorded by inspiration are these words:
And God said, Let the earth put forth grass, herbs yielding seed and fruit-trees bearing fruit after their kind, wherein is the seed thereof, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, herbs yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, wherein is the seed thereof, after their kind: and God saw that it was good.
The same point is made again in Genesis 1:24-25:
And God said, Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind, cattle, and creeping things, and beasts of the earth after their kind: and it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the ground after its kind: and God saw that it was good.
Other passages throughout Scripture (e.g., Leviticus 11:13-19) continue to stress that life comes only from life, and that “of its kind.” The law of biogenesis states exactly that. This fundamental law of science is the basis for all that we do in biology and biology-related fields—from hybridization research to genetic engineering. Scientists and non-scientists alike recognize the truthfulness of this law, which knows no exceptions. Ask any farmer what he expects to get when he plants wheat seeds, and he will tell you he expects to reap wheat—not corn, or tomatoes. Ask him what he expects to get when he breeds a bull to a cow, and he will tell you that he expects a calf to be born as the result of that union. The law of biogenesis rules supreme in the biological world. From peas you get peas; from tulips you get tulips; from horses you get horses; from dogs you get dogs. That is the law of biogenesis at work. Everything reproduces “after its kind.”
I often have stated that the Bible and true science have the same author—God. This is the God Who cannot lie (Titus 1:2). That being the case, one can rightfully expect God’s book in nature (the world around us) to perfectly coincide with His book, the Bible. The law of biogenesis is just one example of the truthfulness of that statement. While on occasion one may see examples of a conflict between poor biblical interpretation and good science, or between poor science and good biblical interpretation, it never will be the case that good biblical interpretation and good scientific interpretation are at odds. Rightly so. Ultimately, they both share the same Author.
Abercrombie, M., C. Hickman, and M. Johnson (1961), A Dictionary of Biology (Baltimore, MD: Penguin).
Ackerknect, E.H. (1973), “Rudolph Virchow,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 23:35.
Balcom, Margaret (1967), The Christian Century, May 3.
Hull, David (1974), Philosophy of Biological Science (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall).
Kirk, David (1975), Biology Today (New York: Random House).
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms (1978), ed. D.N. Lapedes (New York: McGraw-Hill).
Moe, Martin A. (1981), “Genes on Ice,” Science Digest, 89:36,95, December.
Moore, John N. and H.S. Slusher (1974), Biology: A Search for Order in Complexity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Rall, Harris (1936), Faith For Today (Nashville, TN: Abingdon).
Simpson, G.G. and W.S. Beck (1965), Life: An Introduction to Biology (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World), second edition.
Sullivan, J.W.N. (1933), The Limitations of Science (New York: Viking).
Wald, George (1972), Frontiers of Modern Biology in Theories of Origin of Life (New York: Houghton-Mifflin).
Wysong, R.L. (1976), The Creation-Evolution Controversy (East Lansing, MI: Inquiry Press).
Originally published in Reason & Revelation, June 1989, 9:21-24. Copyright © 1989 Apologetics Press, Inc. All rights reserved.