Journal of the History of Philosophy 47 (3):pp. 464-466 (2009)
he history of evolutionary theory is a little bit of a puzzle. Charles Darwin, the author of the Origin of Species in 1859, was the man who made evolutionary ideas reasonable—ideas that were generally accepted—and it was Darwin who provided the major mechanism of natural selection. He was not the first evolutionist, however. For at least one hundred and fifty years, starting with people like the French encyclopediast Denis Diderot, people had been speculating that organisms had a natural origin, from primitive forms. But why did these speculations have to wait this long? It is true that Christianity, incorporating as it did the creation stories of Genesis—what the nineteenth-century English essayist Thomas Carlyle called "Jewish old clothes"—was not going to be friendly towards evolution. But what about the Greeks? Did not they get into such ideas?As a matter of fact we all know that they did, a bit. Empedocles had some fanciful ideas about pieces coming together to make functioning organisms, but these were ideas for which he was roundly scolded by Aristotle. Why? Ernst Mayr, the distinguished, twentieth-century evolutionist, used to argue that Plato was the culprit. Supposedly, the theory of forms precluded any sort of developmentalism. Jellyfish are jellyfish and cows are cows and humans are humans, and that is an end to it. But many have long suspected that Mayr is probably not
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