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History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences - Vol. 34, no. 3 (2012)
Article

Ahuva Gaziel, Spontaneous Generation in Medieval Jewish Philosophy and Theology


Abstract

The concept of life forms emerging from inanimate matter spontaneous generation was widely accepted until the nineteenth century. Several medieval Jewish scholars acknowledged this scientific theory in their philosophical and religious contemplations. Quite interestingly, it served to reinforce diverse, or even opposite, theological conclusions. One approach excluded spontaneously-generated living beings form the biblical account of creation or the story of the Deluge. Underlying this view is an understanding that organisms that generate spontaneously evolve continuously in nature and, therefore, do not require divine intervention in their formation or survival during disastrous events. This naturalistic position reduces the miraculous dimension of reality. Others were of the opinion that spontaneous generation is one of the extraordinary marvels exhibited in this world and, accordingly, this interpretation served to accentuate the divine aspect of nature. References to spontaneous generation also appear in legal writings, influencing practical applications such as dietary laws and actions forbidden on the Sabbath.


Keywords

Spontaneous generation, naturalism, creation, Jewish philosophy, Jewish law, Middle Ages


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