Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902)

"Omnis cellula e cellula" (where a cell arises, there a cell must previously have existed). (1858)

Leading Prussian scientist, the founder of cellular pathology and a leader of German anthropology. Virchow was a major advocate of the cell theory and published an influential theory that cells arose from each other in a continuous series of generations ("Omnis cellula e cellula"). He opposed spontaneous generation and carried out experiments in the 1850's to show that nematodes do not arise spontaneously. A moderate leftist and a materialist, Virchow opposed evolution on the grounds that it was speculative, dependent upon spontaneous generation, and a thinly-veiled justification for revolutionary politics. A speech on this topic at an 1877 scientific meeting in Munich had international repercussions. He argued that all variation was pathological, and therefore that apparently distinct fossil humans (including the original Neandertal skeleton) were merely diseased individuals. These anti-evolutionary views on anthropology were presented at an 1887 meeting in Vienna. Virchow's greatest opponent was his former student Haeckel. Virchow's evolutionary and anthropological views had an indirect influence on Boas and his school.


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