Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

A conjecture on Greek-based biology before 1800 C.E.

  1. Nov 18, 2013 #1
    This conjecture does not include Descartes (1596 C.E.-1650 C.E.), Carolus Linnaeus (1707 C.E.-1778 C.E.), and others who preceded 1800 C.E. evolutionary biologists.

    I have often wondered how the history of biology might have turned out differently without the contributions of the Darwin family and other natural biologists of the 1800s, and Gregor Mendel (1822 C.E.-1884 C.E.) and other geneticists, and the 1920s synthesis of the two sources. And yet, perhaps it would not have turned out all that differently…

    First, a quick review of Ancient Greek biology:

    Empedocles and the pre-Socratic Atomists may have contributed ideas that constitute an early basis for chance-like processes of transformism.

    Plato’s (427 B.C.E.-327 B.C.E.) writings opposed this transformism. His long creation myth, Timaeus, in dialogue form, presented an account of a Craftsman (demiourgos) who fashioned the cosmos and its living being, patterning them after eternal archetypes or forms.

    Aristotle (384 B.C.E.-322 B.C.E.) wrote authoritative works on biology. In his view, the soul (psyche) in the case of living beings provided the formal, final, and efficient cause of life (De anima II: 415b 10-30). Aristotle sided against a historical origin of the world, and agreed with an eternity of world history. The soul-as-form (eidos) was to be considered permanent and not changing over time, except for local adaptations in "accidental" properties.

    Aristotle may have been more committed to the eternity of the three main "genera": plants, animals, and humans (De generatione animalium II. 731b 32-732a5). When Aristotle's texts were recovered in the late Middle Ages, assumptions were made as to Aritotle's additional views on fixity of species. When reconciled with the theology of creation, the eternity of species had to be denied. (Biblical creation conflicted with eternity of species by citing a creation date for the origin of all species.)

    Aristotle's biology ranked living organisms in a hierarchy:
    At the bottom was lifeless matter, transitioning slowly to living matter.
    Above lifeless matter was ranked the vegetable kingdom. Although living, it appeared lifeless compared to animals. Then the vegetable kingdom slowly transitioned to the animal kingdom.
    The animal kingdom emerged gradually, starting with the lowest animals. The progression continued from the simple to the more perfect. Animals transitioned through apes to man, the highest stage, and the end and aim of the whole progression.
    Man's kingdom is the culmination of the ranking of the living organisms.

    Now, the topic of my question is:
    Would it have been possible to work within the realm of later reverence for Ancient Greek biology, and still develop evolutionary biology? Aristotle was a supreme biologist who compiled a large amount of observations and categorized them. He analyzed the limbs of animals with logic and his reputation is well known. I suspect that a non-Biblical interpretation of Ancient Greek biology could have developed either an improved science of biology by 1800 or evolutionary biology with a different history and entailing other sources, events, and discoveries.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 18, 2013 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    It took a long time for scientists to overcome Aristotle's ideas and erroneous theories about the physical world so that a proper scientific method could be developed. I suspect the same could be said about biologists trying to make sense of a hypothetical Aristotelian biology. Aristotle is rightly celebrated for his breadth of study and the adoption of an empirical philosophy, but some of his ideas, especially in the physical sciences, were whack.
  4. Nov 18, 2013 #3


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    A good place to end.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook