Autochthonous generation

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Autochthonous generation was a hypothesis of origins in the 19th century. The hypothesis rejected both evolution and creationism and proposed that all species formed separately from each other. It has been considered obsolete by the scientific community for over a hundred years, and only serves as a historical oddity of science.


The word "autochthons" (Greek meaning "sprung from the earth") was advocated by Greek philosophers such as Empedocles and Epicurus who believed in the autochthonous generation of plants, animals, and human beings from the earth.[1]

19th Century[edit]

It was revived in the 19th century as a "third way" alternative to both evolution and creation by thinkers such as Hermann Burmeister, Heinrich Georg Bronn and Carl Vogt who proposed that spontaneous formation of primordial germs from the Earth gave rise to new species.[2] The hypothesis of autochthons endorsed the fixity of species but also rejected supernatural creationism. Those who advocated the view of autochthons believed that a natural process could form species without evolution.

The hypothesis has been discussed in detail in a paper titled Neither Creation nor Evolution: the Third Way in Mid-Nineteenth Century Thinking about the Origin of Species by Nicolaas A. Rupke.[3] It was abandoned in the late 19th century as no mechanism was discovered which could instantaneously form species. The idea of autochthnous generation would be considered pseudoscience today, but was taken seriously in its day as the evidence for evolution was only just being discovered.


  1. Myrto Garani Empedocles Redivivus: Poetry and Analogy in Lucretius 2007, p. 82
  2. Robert J. Richards The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought 2009, p. 22
  3. Annals of the History and Philosophy of Biology 10/2005