Skip to main content

The Relationship Between the Origins of Life on Earth and the Possibility of Life on Other Planets: A Nineteenth-Century Perspective

Part of the Advances in Astrobiology and Biogeophysics book series (ASTROBIO)

Abstract

In this chapter we examine how, during the second part of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, assumptions about the origins of life were specifically linked to the development of theories of evolution and how these conceptions influenced assumptions about the possibility of life on other planets. First we present the theories of the origins of life of Charles Darwin (1809–1882) and Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) and underline how they were linked to the knowledge of physical and chemical conditions of environments. These two examples lead us to think about the relationship between the origin of life, evolutionary biology, and geology, particularly the uniformitarian principle. An important point is the extension of the comprehension of terrestrial conditions of emergence and evolution of life to other planets. We claim that there was a sort of extended uniformitarian principle, based not only on time, but also on space. Second, after a brief look at panspermia theory, we compare two examples of assumptions about life on other planets. The French astronomer Camille Flammarion (1842–1925) and the French biologist Edmond Perrier (1844–1921) presented views that consisted in complex analogies between life on Earth and life on other planets. We analyze how they used neo-Lamarckian biological concepts to imagine living beings in other worlds. Each planet is characterized by a particular stage of biological evolution that they deduce from the state of living beings on Earth. The two scientists explained these different states with neo-Lamarckian principles, which were based on environmental constraints on organisms. Therefore these descriptions presented a sort of history of life, including the past and the future. We claim that their assumptions could be some intellectual exercises testing neo-Lamarckian theories. Moreover the description of human beings on other planets, and particularly the Martian epianthropus presented by Perrier, were complex utopias, which finally spoke about us and about an ideal future.

Keywords

  • Nineteenth Century
  • Spontaneous Generation
  • Ideal Government
  • Epistemological Obstacle
  • Important Common Characteristic

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Buying options

Chapter
USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-35983-5_5
  • Chapter length: 11 pages
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
eBook
USD   129.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • ISBN: 978-3-642-35983-5
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
Softcover Book
USD   169.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Hardcover Book
USD   179.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)

Notes

  1. 1.

    On this community, see Loison (2011).

  2. 2.

    He notably tested his own theory of instinct.

References

  • Arrhenius, Svante. 1908. Worlds in the Making: The Evolution of the Universe. London: New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Calvin, Melvin. 1961. Chemical Evolution. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Darwin, Charles. 1985. The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London: Penguin Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dick, Steven J. 1982. Plurality of Worlds: The Origins of the Extraterrestrial Life Debate from Descartes to Kant. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dick, Steven J. 1996. The Biological Universe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Flammarion, Camille. 1862. La pluralité des mondes habités. Paris: Gauthier-Villars.

    Google Scholar 

  • Flammarion, Camille. 1884. Les Terres du ciel. Paris: C. Marpon et E. Flammarion.

    Google Scholar 

  • Flammarion, Camille. 1892. La Planète Mars et ses conditions d’habitabilité. Paris: Gauthier-Villars.

    Google Scholar 

  • Loison, Laurent. 2011. Qu’est-ce que le néolamarckisme ?: Les biologistes français et la question de l’évolution des espèces. Paris: Vuibert.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lyell, Charles. 1830. Principles of Geology. London: John Murray.

    Google Scholar 

  • Perrier, Edmond. 1911. La vie dans les planètes. Paris: Edition de la Revue.

    Google Scholar 

  • Raulin-Cerceau, Florence. 2006. A l’écoute des planètes. Paris: Ellipses.

    Google Scholar 

  • Spencer, Herbert. 1898. The Principles of Biology. London: Williams and Norgate.

    Google Scholar 

  • Thomson, William. 1872. “Address of Sir William Thomson (President).” British Association for the Advancement of Science, Edinburgh, Report1871. London: John Murray.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tirard, Stéphane. 2006. “William Thomson (Kelvin), Histoire physique de la Terre et histoire de la vie.” In Pour comprendre le XIXe siècle Histoire et philosophie des sciences à la fin du siècle, ed. Jean-Claude Pont, 297–306. Geneva: Olski.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tirard, Stéphane. 2010. “Origin of Life and Definition of Life, from Buffon to Oparin.” Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres 40(2): 215–220.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tirard, Stéphane. 2011. “Spencer et les origines de la vie. La double induction comme méthode.” In Penser Spencer, ed. Daniel Becquemont and Dominique Ottavi, 81–95. Paris: Presses Universitaire de Vincennes.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Stéphane Tirard .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Copyright information

© 2013 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Tirard, S. (2013). The Relationship Between the Origins of Life on Earth and the Possibility of Life on Other Planets: A Nineteenth-Century Perspective. In: Vakoch, D. (eds) Astrobiology, History, and Society. Advances in Astrobiology and Biogeophysics. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-35983-5_5

Download citation