In my last post I looked at a review (pp 417-9) by anatomist and palaeontologist Richard Owen of a book by William Carpenter about the Foraminifera, a single-celled organism with shells or tests (internal shells). Carpenter had argued that the multitude of Foraminifera species had descended from one or a few primordial forms. Owen thought he recognised in this the influence of Darwin, who had proposed in Origin of Species that all living things had descended from one or a few primordial forms, into which life had been breathed by ‘the Creator’.
Owen saw in Darwin’s appeal to divine action a departure from the scientific method, which in his view demanded, or at least gave preference to, explanations from natural processes only. While admitting that the Foraminifera underwent reproduction, he believed that they were also being spontaneously generated from dead organic matter through the action of a vital force. ‘Mucus’ was converted from a ‘passive’ to an ‘active’ state, from ‘snot’ to ‘sarcode’ by means of the conversion of the operation of a ‘polar’ force – an analogy being drawn with magnetic phenomena – from an ‘attractive’ to an ‘assimilative’ or ‘vital’ mode (418, col.3, 419, col. 1):