purpose, the creatures, it is urged, having been suitably
formed by the operation of chance, survived; otherwise
they perished, and still perish.” 51
This merely describes the adaptation of a species to
changing circumstances. Indeed, this is also an important
element in Darwin’s theory, but hardly exclusively so.
Adaptation of species may be noticed by any keen observer
and Empedocles should be credited for this; but this does
not make him a proto-Darwinian. Adaptation of species is
not unique to Darwinism, but shared by scholars of any
For Empedocles the ‘trial-and-error recombinations’
belong to the initial phase of chaos after the fall into
mortality, but when everything is sorted and recovered
things continued as ‘normal’. This should not be confused
with ‘natural selection’ in the Darwinian sense. 52 This phase
of alleged ‘evolution’ was not evolutionary in character,
but the pieces of a puzzle coming back together again. For
Empedocles this was not a random creation of life, but a
divinely53 guided recovery process from a fall into mortality.
In sum, there is no evolution in Empedocles, naturalistic
or theistic. He merely proposed a temporal phase of
discontinuity in the cosmos, to which mankind fell victim,
but has since recovered from sufficiently to be in reach of
immortality and divinity again.
This journey through the philosophies of Thales,
Anaximander, and Empedocles shows that they did not
propose any theory of evolution, naturalistic or otherwise.
The available evidence even argues against the idea
that the pre-Socratic philosophers advocated biological
adaptation within a species. While it can be argued that
their philosophies contain building blocks54 that, as such, are
also used in modern evolutionary concepts, 55 these ‘blocks’
are not unique to evolutionary concepts. Classical authors
should be carefully considered in their textual, philosophical,
and historical context.
2. Bergman, J., Evolutionary naturalism: an ancient idea, J. Creation 15( 2): 77–80,
August 2001; p. 70.
3. The publications that are often relied on to establish a link between evolutionary
theory and Greek philosophy were not written by classical scholars, but by
doctors of science. This is particularly true for the foundational publication in
this regard by Dr H. F. Osborn, From the Greeks to Darwin, MacMillan, London,
1908. Osborn’s field was paleontology and anatomy. Interestingly, he was not a
Darwinist and held the view that mutations and natural selection play no creative
role in evolution and became a proponent of organic selection. In creationist
circles the debate has been carried by natural scientists as well, and not by
classicists or philosophers, e.g. Dr Bert Thompson’s History of Evolutionary
Thought, Star Bible & Tract Corp, Fort Worth 1982. (See also Bergman, ref. 2.)
5. Aristotle, Metaphysics 1.983b.
6. Diogenes Laërtius, Βίοι καὶ γνῶμαι 1.27: Ἀρχὴν δὲ τῶν πάντων ὕδωρ
ὑπεστήσατο, καὶ τὸν κόσμον ἔμψυχον καὶ δαιμόνων πλήρη.
7. Osborn, H.F., From the Greeks to Darwin, Macmillan, New York, p. 6, 1908.
8. Xenophanes (c. 576–480 BC) would later recognize fossils as remains of sea
life, taking this as proof that the seas formerly covered the earth, and that water
was the element from which the earth emerged. See Richard D. McKirahan,
Philosophy before Socrates: An introduction with texts and commentary, 2nd edn,
Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis, p. 65, 2010. See also Hippolytus, Refutation
of All Heresies 1. 14. 4–6.
9. Aristotle, Met. 983: ἀεὶ γὰρ εἶναί τινα φύσιν ἢ μίαν ἢ πλείους μιᾶς ἐξ ὧν γίγνεται
τἆλλα σωζομένης ἐκείνης.
10. See Aristotle, On the Heavens 294a28, Metaphysics 983b20.
11. Aristotle, Met., 983b: εἰσὶ δέ τινες οἳ καὶ τοὺς παμπαλαίους καὶ πολὺ πρὸ τῆς
νῦν γενέσεως καὶ πρώτους θεολογήσαντας οὕτως οἴονται περὶ τῆς φύσεως
ὑπολαβεῖν: Ὠκεανόν τε γὰρ καὶ Τηθὺν ἐποίησαν τῆς γενέσεως πατέρας, καὶ
τὸν ὅρκον τῶν θεῶν ὕδωρ, τὴν καλουμένην ὑπ᾽ αὐτῶν Στύγα τῶν ποιητῶν:
τιμιώτατον μὲν γὰρ τὸ πρεσβύτατον, ὅρκος δὲ τὸ τιμιώτατόν ἐστιν.
12. Couprie, D.L. and Pott, H.J., Imagining the Universe, Apeiron: A Journal
for Ancient Philosophy and Science 35( 1): 47–59, 2002; pp. 50–51. See also
Couprie, D.L., Heaven and earth in ancient Greek cosmology: from Thales to
Heraclides Ponticus, Springer, New York, 2011; p. 105: “In two texts it is said
that the earth is like a column of stone, and in the third it is said that the earth
is cylindrical-shaped, its height being one-third of its diameter.”
13. See Gregory, A. Anaximander’s Zoogony; in: Rossetto, M., Tsianikas, M.,
Couvalis, G., and Palaktsoglou, M. (Eds.), Greek Research in Australia:
Proceedings of the Eighth Biennial International Conference of Greek Studies,
Flinders University June 2009, Flinders University Department of Languages—
Modern Greek, Adelaide, pp. 44–53, 2009.
14. Darwin also suggested the requirement of a large diversity of ammonia and
phosphoric salts, and considered the presence of light, heat, and electricity a
prerequisite. See Peretó, J., Bada, J.L., and Lazcano, A., Charles Darwin and
the Origin of Life, Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres 39( 5):395–406,
15. Aetius v. 9.4: Ἀναξίμανδρος ἐν ὑγρῷ γεννησθῆναι τὰ πρῶτα ζῷα φλοιοῖς
περιεχόμενα ἀκανθώδεσι, προβαινούσης δὲ τῆς ἡλικίας ἀποβαίνειν ἐπὶ τὸ
ζηρότερον καὶ περιρρηγνυμένου τοῦ φλοιοῦ ἐπ’ ὀλίγον χρόνον μεταβιῶναι.
16. Pseudo-Plutarch, Stromateis 2. See Campbell, G. L., The Oxford Handbook
of Animals in Classical Thought and Life, Oxford University Press, Oxford,
p. 240, 2014.
17. See Gregory, A., Anaximander: A re-assessment, Bloomsbury Academic,
Sydney, p. 52, 2016.
18. Ps. Plut. Plac. 1.3: ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸ ποιοῦν αἴτιον χρὴ ὑποτιθέναι οἷον ἄργυρος οὐκ
ἀρκεῖ πρὸς τὸ ἔκπωμα γενέσθαι, ἂν μὴ καὶ τὸ ποιοῦν ᾖ, τουτέστιν ὁ ἀργυροκόπος
ὁμοίως καὶ ἐπὶ τοῦ χαλκοῦ καὶ τοῦ ξύλου καὶ τῆς ἄλλης ὕλης.
19. Cf. Hippolytus, Refutatio Omnium Haeresium 1. 6.
20. Diogenes Laërtius, Βίοι καὶ γνῶμαι 1.27: τὸν κόσμον ἔμψυχον καὶ δαιμόνων
21. Bosworth Burch, G., Anaximander, the first metaphysician, The Review of
Metaphysics 3( 2):137–160, 1949; p. 157–158.
22. Συμποσιακά—Quaestiones convivales.
23. Plut. Quaes. Conv. 8. 8.4: ὑπολαβὼν δ᾽ ὁ Νέστωρ ‘τῶν δ᾽ ἐμῶν’ ἔφη ‘πολιτῶν
ὥσπερ Μεγαρέων 32 οὐδεὶς λόγος: καίτοι πολλάκις ἀκήκοας ἐμοῦ λέγοντος, ὅτι
ἀεὶ οἱ 33 τοῦ Ποσειδῶνος ἱερεῖς, οὓς ἱερομνήμονας καλοῦμεν, ἰχθῦς οὐκ ἐσθίουσιν
ὁ γὰρ θεὸς λέγεται φυτάλμιος. οἱ δ᾽ ἀφ᾽ Ἕλληνος τοῦ παλαιοῦ καὶ πατρογενίῳ 34
Ποσειδῶνι θύουσιν, ἐκ τῆς ὑγρᾶς τὸν ἄνθρωπον οὐσίας φῦναι δοξάζοντες 35, ὡς
καὶ Σύροι: διὸ καὶ σέβονται τὸν ἰχθῦν, ὡς ὁμογενῆ καὶ σύντροφον, ἐπιεικέστερον
Ἀναξιμάνδρου 36 φιλοσοφοῦντες: οὐ γὰρ ἐν τοῖς αὐτοῖς ἐκεῖνος ἰχθῦς καὶ
ἀνθρώπους, ἀλλ᾽ ἐν ἰχθύσιν ἐγγενέσθαι τὸ πρῶτον ἀνθρώπους ἀποφαίνεται, καὶ
τραφέντας ὥσπερ οἱ γαλεοὶ 37 καὶ γενομένους ἱκανοὺς ἑαυτοῖς βοηθεῖν ἐκβῆναι
τηνικαῦτα καὶ γῆς λαβέσθαι. καθάπερ οὖν τὸ πῦρ τὴν ὕλην, ἐξ ἧς ἀνήφθη,
μητέρα καὶ πατέρ᾽ οὖσαν, ἢσθιεν, ὡς ὁ τὸν Κήυκος 38 γάμον εἰς τὰ 39 Ἡσιόδου
παρεμβαλὼν εἴρηκεν οὕτως ὁ Ἀναξίμανδρος τῶν ἀνθρώπων πατέρα καὶ μητέρα
κοινὸν ἀποφήνας τὸν ἰχθῦν διέβαλεν πρὸς τὴν βρῶσιν.
24. Refutatio Omnium Haeresium I. 6.7: Τα δέ ζᾦα γίνεσθαι <εξ ύγροῦ>,
ἑξατμιζομένου ὑπό του ἡλίου, τὸν δὲ ἂνθρωπον ἑτέρῳ ζώῳ γεγονέναι—
τουτέστιν ἰχθύι—παραπλήσιον κατ’ ἀρχάς. See Marcovich, M. (ed.), Refutatio
Omnium Haeresium, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, p. 65, 1986.