Creation, Evolution, and the Environment

Anaximander maintains that human beings were originally created from animals that were of a different species. He reasons that the other animals are quickly able to find their own food, but humans alone need a long period of nursing, and if they had been like that from the beginning, they could not have survived (Plutarch frg. 179). More specifically,  Anaximander asserts that humans were first formed among fish, but, having developed like dog sharks and become able to help themselves, they then came out of the sea and took possession of the land (Plutarch, Table Talk 730e).

At Panopeus in central Greece there is a small building made of unbaked brick, and in it there is a statue of Pentelic marble, which some say represents Asclepius, others Prometheus. In support of their claim, the latter group point to two rocks lying in the ravine, each big enough to fill a cart. These rocks are the color of clay, not earthy clay, but rather such as is found in a gorge or a sandy stream. They smell just like human skin, and people say that they are the remnants of the clay from which Prometheus molded the whole human race (Pausanias, Guide to Greece 10.4).

Some people think that everything has its origin in atoms and void. This idea is wrong, but it causes no actual wounds, or tumors, or distracting pain (Plutarch, On Superstition 164f).

According to Aristophanes, as recorded by Plato at Symposium 190c, there were originally three types of human beings, male, female, and androgynous. People were originally round, with their back and sides forming a circle. They had four hands, four feet, one head with two faces, four ears, two sets of private parts, and so on. They could move very quickly, forwards or backwards, rolling along on their eight limbs. The gods were afraid of their strength, and considered annihilating them. But Zeus said: “I think I have a plan that will allow humans to continue living, but will weaken them and make them less disorderly. I shall cut each of them in two, making them not only weaker, but also more useful to us because there will be more of them to offer sacrifices. But, if they are still insolent and refuse to live peacefully, I’ll split them again, and they’ll hop about on one leg.”  After saying this he cut humans in two, the way apples are split for pickling, or eggs are sliced with a hair.

The creators of the human race knew that we would not exercise restraint in drinking and eating, and that our gluttony would make us use up much more than was reasonable and necessary. So, to prevent acute diseases from destroying us, bringing the mortal race to a rapid end before it had achieved anything, the creators, foreseeing what would happen, made what is called the lower belly as a receptacle for superfluous food and drink, and they wrapped the entrails round and round, to ensure that our food did not pass quickly through and quickly force the body to request more food. That would have caused insatiability, making the whole human race, because of gluttony, an enemy to philosophy and the Muses, unresponsive to the most godlike element in our nature (Plato, Timaeus 72e).

Empedocles was wrong when he said that many of the characteristics of animals are a result of accidental occurrences in the course of their development, as for instance when he claimed that the backbone is the way it is because it happened to be broken down [into vertebrae] when the fetus twisted about [in the womb] (Aristotle, Parts of Animals 640a).

It is an observable fact that human beings are, in general, getting smaller, and that very few people are taller than their parents. This is because the cycle of the ages is now approaching a period of great heat, and that exhausts the fertility of our semen … Nearly a thousand years ago, the great poet Homer constantly lamented that people were physically smaller than in former times (Pliny, Natural History 7.73).

The Stoics maintained that, when the planets return to their original alignment, the universe will be destroyed in a great conflagration, and then everything will happen again in exactly the same way as before. Socrates, Plato, every person will exist again, with the same friends and fellow citizens. The same things will happen to them … and every city, village, and field will appear again just as before. This restoration of the universe does not happen just once; it recurs ad infinitum (Nemesius On Human Nature 38). Chrysippus, the third head of the Stoa, concedes that there may be slight variations; birthmarks and freckles may not reappear the next time round (Logic and Physics frg. 624). The Peripatetic philosopher Sosigenes calculated that it takes 648,483,416,738,640,000 years for all the heavenly bodies to return to their original alignments, completing a “perfect year” (Proclus, On Plato’s Republic 2.23).

Are we not to suppose that there have been all sorts of climate changes, during which it is likely that animals have changed in very many different ways? (Plato, Laws 782a).

Xenophanes says that the land was once mixed with the sea. … As proof of this, he points out that shells are found far inland and on mountain tops (Xenophanes, frg. 33).

It is said that Vesuvius used to rumble once every hundred or more years, but that this has been happening with much greater frequency in more recent times. People assert that, whenever the volcano happens to belch forth ash, the region is sure to flourish with crops of all sorts. The air on the mountain is very light and more conducive to good health than anywhere else in the world. Doctors have been sending consumptive patients there for very many years (Procopius, On the Wars 6.4).

Now there are huge cities where once there were not even a few cottages. … We are a burden to the earth, and scarcely have sufficient resources to sustain us; the essentials for life are in shorter supply, there are protests everywhere, and nature no longer provides us with what we need. Plagues, famine, wars, and earthquakes should actually be regarded as a solution to the population crisis, a culling of the rampantly increasing human race (Tertullian, On the Soul 30).

People with weak constitutions – most city dwellers and practically everyone who is keen on literature belong in this category – need to monitor their health more carefully than other people, so that by taking precautions they may compensate for the deficiencies in their physical well-being, or in their environment, or in their activities (Celsus, On Medicine 1.2).

Sores of all kinds heal very quickly near copper mines (Pliny, Natural History 34.100).