Spontaneous Generation Defended In "Tradition"!
The problem with reporting an astounding statement on Rosh Chodesh Adar is that people assume that it is a Purim joke. So let me begin this post by assuring my readers that it isn't.
A few months ago, I submitted a letter to the RCA journal Tradition in response to Rabbi J. David Bleich's article regarding spontaneous generation and Anisakis worms. You can read my letter here; the thrust of it was that Rabbi Bleich's refusal to admit to the Talmud's mistaken belief in spontaneous generation seriously hampers his analysis. The new issue of Tradition, which was just released, includes my letter, and an entire article by Rabbi Bleich in response. I will break down my own rejoinder into a series of posts.
The most astonishing part of Rabbi Bleich's article is that he defends the belief in spontaneous generation as being scientifically valid! Although he admits to finding it more plausible to posit that the Sages were not discussing such a phenomenon (which I will explain in another post to be equally implausible), he argues at length for the scientific viability of spontaneous generation.
Rabbi Bleich writes that "any person who has even a passing familiarity with philosophy of science" will know that "Pasteur’s rejection of spontaneous generation is an empirical generalization and hence not logically compelling." In other words, the fact that all creatures that have been studied have been found to reproduce by conventional means does not categorically preclude the possibility that there are other species which spontaneously generate. Well, yes, it is true that we cannot categorically disprove the existence of spontaneously generating creatures. But how someone can raise this as a serious argument is beyond me. After all, we also cannot categorically disprove the existence of werewolves, vampires, leprechauns, or Santa Claus. But no reasonable person will believe in their existence, for reasons that I explain at length in Sacred Monsters.
Rabbi Bleich then claims that there is actual scientific support for spontaneous generation. He first states that "Physicists have demonstrated that a massless sub-atomic particle known as a Goldstone boson can be spontaneously created in a vacuum and do not regard the generation of life in a laboratory as merely grist for science fiction" with a footnote pointing towards the impressive-sounding Path Integrals in Physics; Volume II: Quantum Field Theory Statistical Physics and other Modern Applications. I am not a physicist and cannot comment on whether Rabbi Bleich's description of Goldstone bosons is accurate. However, I do know that the generation of a massless sub-atomic particle has no bearing whatsoever on the spontaneous generation of lice from sweat, mice from dirt and salamanders from fire. Physicists, notwithstanding experiments regarding generating RNA in a lab, would indeed not regard such spontaneous generation of animals as grist for science fiction - they would regard it as grist for fantasy. Even science fiction has to at least have some basis in reality.
Rabbi Bleich continues to state that "Even more strikingly, evolutionists would have us believe that all life on planet Earth arose out of some type of primordial chemical soup." Yes, they would have us believe that theory. Whether it is valid or not is up for dispute; I personally have no opinion on the matter. However, the theory of simple organic molecules evolving from primordial chemical soup and subsequently into rudimentary cellular life provides absolutely no reason to believe in the spontaneous generation of lice from sweat, mice from dirt and salamanders from fire. You might as well say that the metamorphosis of tadpoles into frogs provides evidence for werewolves.
Rabbi Bleich concludes by invoking nishtaneh hateva to account for why we no longer witness spontaneous generation. He insists that "there is no scientific reason to assume that an asexually reproducing species did not exist in talmudic times but became extinct over the course of millennia or that members of that species metamorphosed into sexually reproducing lice through intra-species evolutionary processes." This must be some strange new usage of the phrase "no scientific reason," of which I was previously unaware. In fact, there are numerous scientific reasons which converge to the conclusion that the spontaneous generation of lice, mice and salamanders has never occurred. They are:
The complete absence of evidence for such phenomena, despite extensive attempts to find such evidence;
The fact that such phenomena would run contrary to everything that we know about biology (which is quite a lot);
The fact that the ancient belief in such phenomena can be easily accounted for, due to the lack of systematic study of the natural world in those days.
The fact that situations formerly thought to provide evidence for these phenomena (such as rotting meat "producing" maggots) were shown by Louis Pasteur to provide no such evidence.
I have learned not to be surprised that there are still people who defend the belief in spontaneous generation. What surprises me is that such a view can be presented in a journal published by the RCA.