Evolution in the Greeks#

Speaking a little about biological evolution yesterday, starting the activities of the astrobiology cycle at the Orión Club, the concern about the Greek origin of evolution arose, which is why I took the task of looking for a little and making this brief review.

The first concepts of evolution (not necessarily equivalent to the current ones) of species arise in Greek times associated with the discussion on the primary substance (which those who have already studied philosophy in school will remember that it is the arche), from which everything would be generated.

The arche, was debated between the four elements, substances or basic forms of matter that the Greeks identified to classify it. From these elements or from the combination of them, it was possible to obtain all of nature, including the other elements and life. The four elements are:

  • Fire. Heraclitus was the first to postulate fire as arche.

  • Water. Thales of Miletus was its initial representative.

  • Air. Anaximenes was the father of air as arche.

  • Earth. Xenophanes argued that the origin of nature came from the earth and a changing world.

Empedocles considered that the solution to the question of the arjé was an origin from the 4 elements. The combination of the 4 elements provided the basic characteristics of matter: being cold, hot, dry and wet. Aristotle would also adopt this unifying thought but would differentiate a creative moment from the elements, from which the formed nature is immutable, Aristotelian thesis (thought that would later influence the initial concept of origin in many religions, the creationist thesis).

Probably, the first «modern» concept of biological evolution, far ahead of its time, arose from the thought of Anaximander of Miletus, for whom life must have arisen from the water of beings wrapped in spiny bark, and the sun, evaporating the humidity of the Earth, would promote the migration of these species to move on land (description found in his poem «On Nature»).

Xenophanes, would be one of the first people to observe fossils in rocks and explained their existence by considering that the world went through cycles of mixing water and earth, in which the earth completely dissolved and turned to mud, a moment in which all life died, and later this same cycle of the earth, in its solidification stage, was responsible for leaving exposed the remains of life from the previous cycle. Identifying, in this last one, the first ideas of geological evolution from the observation of fossils.

To know more

  1. Early models of evolution. Biology 106 Course at Clerment College.

  2. Arche. Wikipedia (english version).

  3. History of evolution. Internet Encyclopedia of Phylosophy.