Chance, Guidance, and Freedom in Evolution
The idea of evolution, of transformation of one kind of organism into another, certainly antedates Darwin. Before scientific biology appeared, even the weirdest stories of transformation were often credited (see page 166). In classical antiquity, the creation myths of Anaximander, Empedocles, and Lucretius fancied that living beings arose from very different progenitors and from inanimate matter (page 111). H. F. Osborn ( 1857- 1935) and others claimed that Aristotle was also an evolutionist, since he maintained that nature advances from the inanimate to the animate, and from less perfect to more perfect creatures (page 224). It is not, however, certain whether Aristotle meant this advancement as a concrete historical event, or only as a part of his more general philosophical view that a vital force, a soul, gives a recognizable actuality and "form" to potentiality and "primary matter." Aristotelian views were taken over by medieval philosophers and theologians, particularly by St. Thomas Aquinas, who did not interpret them in any recognizably evolutionist sense. On the other hand, Descartes ( 1596- 1650) and Buffon ( 1707- 1788) apparently did arrive at evolutionist views of nature. But in their day such views were regarded as subversive, and Descartes and Buffon accepted the dictates of authority and were in no mood to risk their privileged positions. They saw fit to disguise their views as mere amusing paradoxes or idle play of the intellect. Maupertuis ( 1698- 1759), Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles, 1731- 1802), Goethe, and several others mentioned in Chapter 10, approached the problem of evolution in various ways. The possibility that the world of life might be a product of evolution was, indeed, "in the air" when Charles Darwin started his work.