While I agree that ancient humans couldn't have understood the details of evolutionary the

---
Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

While I agree that ancient humans couldn't have understood the details of evolutionary theory, I certainly disagree that they couldn't have understood a general evolutionary worldview--that the species present in their day had come into existence via transformation from earlier species. A number of ancient Greeks held just such views--Empedocles, Anaxagoras, the Atomists, and the Epicureans (see esp. Lucretius). A few quotes from Lucretius' _De Rerum Natura_ (middle of the first century, B.C.): 4.823-57: "One mistake in this context, which I am determined you should shun and take precautions to avoid, is that of supposing the clear lights of the eyes to have been created in order that we might see; that it is in order that we might be able to take lengthy strides that the knees and hips can be flexed above their base of feet; and again that the forearms were jointed to the powerful upper arms, and hands supplied on either side, as our servants, in order that we could perform whatever acts were needed for living. All other explanations of this type which they offer are back to front, due to distorted reasoning. For nothing has been engendered in our body in order that we might be able to use it. It is the fact of its being engendered that creates its use. Seeing did not exist before the lights of the eyes were engendered, nor was there pleading with words before the tongue was created. Rather, the origin of the tongue came long before speech, ears were created long before sound was heard, and all our limbs, in my view, existed in advance of their use. Therefore they cannot have grown for the sake of their use." 5.156-234: "Now to say that they [the gods] conceived the wish to create a world wonderful in nature for the sake of men, and that for that reason the gods' work is praiseworthy, so that it is proper for us to sing its praises and consider that it will be everlasting and imperishable, and that it is wrong that what was built by an ancient plan of the gods for the sake of mankind, in perpetuity, should ever be disturbed from its foundations by any force, or assailed with words and turned upside down--to elaborate such a fiction, Memmius, is folly. .. Also, from where did the gods get a model for the creation of the world, and from where was the preconception of men first ingrained in them, to enable them to know and see in their mind what they wished to create, and how did they come to know the power of the primary particles and what they were capable of when their arrangement was altered, if nature itself did not supply a blueprint of creation? For so many primary particles have for an infinity of time past been propelled in manifold ways by impacts and by their own weight, and have habitually travelled, combined in all possible ways, and tried out everything that their union could create, that it is not surprising if they have also fallen into arrangements, and arrived at patterns of motion, like those repeatedly enacted by this present world. On the other hand, even if I were ignorant what the primary constituents of the world are, I would still dare to assert, from the very working of the heavens, and to prove from many other things, that the world's nature is certainly not a divine gift to us; it is so deeply flawed. First, of all that is covered by the heaven's vast expanse, mountains and beast-infested forests have appropriated a greedy share. It is occupied by rocks, vast swamps, and sea, which keep the coastlines of the lands far apart. Of nearly two-third of it mortals are robbed by scorching heat and constant falls of frost. What farmland is left nature would use its force to smother with brambles, but for the resistance of human force ... Why do the seasons bring diseases with them? Why is untimely death rife?" 5.837-77: "At that time [in the world's infancy] the earth tried to create many monsters with weird appearance and anatomy--androgynous, of neither one sex nor the other but somewhere in between; some footless, or handless; many even without mouths, or without eyes and blind; some with their limbs stuck together all along their body, and thus disabled from doing anything or going anywhere, from avoiding harm or obtaining anything they needed. These and other such monsters the earth created. But to no avail, since nature prohibited their development. They were unable to reach the goal of maturity, to find sustenance, or to copulate. For we see that creatures need the concurrence of many things in order to be able to produce and spread their progeny. First, there must be food. Second, a way for the procreative seeds in their bodies to flow out, released from their limbs. And third, in order that male and female can have intercourse, they must both have the equipment for indulging in the shared pleasure. Many animal species must have become extinct at that time, unable to reproduce and spread their progeny. For whatever creatures you see breathing the air of life, their kind has from the start been preserved and protected by its cunning, its courage or its speed: and there are many too which have survived by being commended to our protection, thanks to their usefulness to us. ... But those which nature did not endow with any of these advantages, and which were thus unable either to live on their own resources or to perform some service to us in return for which we might allow their species to feed under our protections and be safe, these presumably lay as the prey and pickings of other creatures, all of them hampered by their fateful handicaps, until nature reduced their kind to extinction." It's not Darwin, but it's non-teleological, naturalistic, and contains glimmers of understanding of natural selection. There is, however, nothing to suggest descent with modification here--it looks more like the repeated formation of life from non-life (from the random motions of the atoms). The Epicureans, by the way, developed the primary/secondary quality distinction over a millenium before Galileo did. (Even Galileo rarely gets credit; it's usually attributed to Locke.) Jim Lippard Lippard@CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU Dept. of Philosophy Lippard@ARIZVMS.BITNET University of Arizona Tucson, AZ 85721

---

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank