During the eighteenth century, the specter of atheism was a major concern among many intellectuals in Europe. Many of the leading figures of the period such as François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire refuted atheism at every turn. These debates centered on living organisms, particularly questions about generation. Efforts to explain the process of generation raised biological, religious, and political questions. One popular theory put forward to address the question of generation was preformation, the belief that “germs” had been in existence since (...) God created the world. This chapter first discusses the rise of preformationist thinking in the late seventeenth century before turning to the biological evidence that challenged preexistence in the mid-eighteenth century and analyzing the reaction it triggered among the preformationists. It also examines the work of Voltaire and Denis Diderot to illustrate how the generation debates are linked to the materialism question. The chapter concludes by showing how these controversies about nature and biology became entangled with politics in eighteenth-century France. (shrink)
The Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment series, previously known as SVEC (Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century), has published over 500 peer-reviewed scholarly volumes since 1955 as part of the Voltaire Foundation at the University of Oxford. International in focus, Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment volumes cover wide-ranging aspects of the eighteenth century and the Enlightenment, from gender studies to political theory, and from economics to visual arts and music, and are published in English or French.