Who is John Needham: Biography

John Turberville Needham, more commonly known as John Needham, was an English naturalist and Roman Catholic cleric. He was the first clergyman to be appointed a fellow of the Royal Society of London. He is also noted for his theory of spontaneous generation and the scientific evidence he had presented to support it.

Early Life:

Born in London in 1713, John Turbeville Needham was a Catholic and but he did become a priest. He was in fact ordained in 1738, however he preferred to spend his time as a teacher and tutor.

Contributions and Achievements:

John Needham established Académie impériale et royale des Sciences et Belles-Lettres de Bruxelles in 1773 and remained its director until 1780. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1768. He carried out microscopical observations with Buffon in 1748. Needham later conducted a learned correspondence with Bonnet and Spallanzani on the issue of generation.
He faced harsh criticism from Voltaire, because he had tried to establish that tiny microscopic animals, or “anguilles” in his own words, can be developed spontaneously by natural forces, yet in a sealed container. Voltaire, who firmly believed in pre-existing germs, thought that Needham’s ideas could possibly create much controversy as they appeared to endorse materialism and atheism.
Needham also made important contributions to botany and explained the mechanics of pollen.