spontaneous generation

noun

: a now discredited notion that living organisms spontaneously originate directly from nonliving matter
A difficulty that we have forgotten lay in the widespread belief in spontaneous generation. Aristotle had written that flies, worms, and other small animals originated spontaneously from putrefying matter.Daniel J. Boorstin

Examples of spontaneous generation in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Eventually, spontaneous generation theories died. Christina Couch, Smithsonian Magazine, 26 Sep. 2022 In the 6th century BCE, Greek philosophers proposed that life arose from nonliving matter – and that was the prevailing view until thousands of years later when Louis Pasteur conclusively disproved the theory of spontaneous generation in 1859 with his famous swan-neck flask experiment. Sian Beilock, Forbes, 31 Jan. 2022 Exploring a number of case studies—including the controversies over continental drift, spontaneous generation, and the theory of relativity—Strevens shows scientists exerting themselves intellectually in a variety of ways, as smart, ambitious people usually do. Joshua Rothman, The New Yorker, 28 Sep. 2020 His descriptions and enumeration of microbes seemed to support the idea of spontaneous generation of life (in pepper infusions no less!), the idea that organisms could be formed from dead or nonbiological sources without any obvious parental lineage. Paul Falkowski, Discover Magazine, 29 Apr. 2015 Others were the product of imperfect observation, such as Lamarck’s theory that acquired characteristics could be inherited or the theory of spontaneous generation. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 22 Dec. 2020 In fact, cells that generate their own cilia without centrioles or deuterosomes already have a name: de novo, basically meaning spontaneous generation. Caroline Delbert, Popular Mechanics, 30 Dec. 2019 By the late 19th century, writes Encyclopedia Britannica, scientists had ceased to believe that, for instance, cheese could spontaneously generate mice, but spontaneous generation at the microbial level was still accepted. Kat Eschner, Smithsonian, 13 June 2017 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'spontaneous generation.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1665, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of spontaneous generation was in 1665

Dictionary Entries Near spontaneous generation

Cite this Entry

“Spontaneous generation.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/spontaneous%20generation. Accessed 3 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition

spontaneous generation

noun
: the coming into existence of living things directly from lifeless matter instead of from other living things

Medical Definition

spontaneous generation

noun
: a now discredited notion that living organisms spontaneously originate directly from nonliving matter

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