Highlights of the Early History of Biology

Early Ideas of Evolution

GreeksGeocentric Model of the Universe

The Greeks proposed that the earth was the center of the universe.

Geocentric model of the universe.
Bust of Socrates
Sought rational explanation of universe, power of logic. “Corrupted the youth…”
Lived: 469-399 BC              Death of Socrates


Bust of Plato

Perfect form.  Lived: 427-347 BC         Republic


“Father of Biology,” 4 elements, qualities, Scala Naturae, God at top of ladder. Species permanent, fixed, unchanging. Geocentric model of the universe. Alexander the Great was his pupil.   Lived: 384-322 BC  

Galenus, aka GalenGalen:
Greek, founder of experimental physiology, performed dissections apes himself (not by slaves as was the custom) (He dissected apes, and here a pig.) Noted heart anatomy, hand function, no air in veins, “God makes naught in vain”: His purpose could be deduced from structure. Defined bodily fluids, adjust elements to cure sickness, assigned personalities to humors. Lived: 130-200 AD

Role of the Catholic Church

Church embraced Aristotelian view of universe, protected.  Dogma: taught Aristotelean corpus as truth.

Astronomy: Heliocentric Model, Scientific Revolution

Portrait of Nicolaus CopernicusNicholas Copernicus:
De Revolutionibus proposed that the sun was the center of the solar system (heliocentric model: earth rotates on axis, orbits around sun as other planets, explained retrograde motion of planets: Mars retrograde motion) Lived: 1473-1543Heliocentric Model

Portrait of Johannes Kepler


Johannes Kepler:
Developed laws of planetary motion. Lived: 1571-1630


Portrait of Galileo Galilei
Galileo Galilei:

First saw mountains on moon, moons of Jupiter moving around from his notebook. Had to retract for his life, house arrest. Short Bio of his life. Lived: 1564-1642



Portrait of Carolus LinnaeusCarolus Linnaeus:
Swede, botanist, systematized according to flower structure, believed species fixed. Developed system of taxonomy, assigned binomial scientific names: Genera, species. Systema Naturae and Genera Plantarum. Lived: 1707-1778


Portrait of Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon
Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon:

French aristocrat (wealthy at 25 yrs), popularized Natural History, first to suggest that changes occurred over time through degeneration. Lived: 1707-1788


Portrait of James HuttonJames Hutton:
Geologist who suggested in 1795 that the processes which shaped the earth are same today as in ancient times, very slow to act (gradualism). He, with Lyell concluded that it took longer than the 6,000 yrs as chronicled in the Bible, and that change is the normal course of events. Lived: 1726-1797

william-smithWilliam “Strata” Smith:
English surveyor, father of engineering geology. Surveying for canal, noted strata above coal was tilted (support Hutton), but regularity of strata. Could identify strata by particular fossils (1816). Established principle of index fossils. (Made

sea scape underwater with fossils and coral
Ordovician Period

apparent present surface was formed layer by layer over a long period of time.) He constructed a famous map of the fossil deposits in England. (Show local Clermont fossils, Ordovician Period .) He proposed the The Principle of Faunal Succession: Strata on top showed different fauna, generally more advanced. Lived: 1769-1839

Georges CuvierGeorge Cuvier: 
French anatomist, founder of paleontology (paleo- old, ancient, onto-: existing things), studied fossil remains, noted the deeper fossils were more dissimilar to present ones. first to put together mastodon (Mammoths have single set of tusks, mastodons have second set of tusks in lower jaw). He opposed the idea of evolution, but suggested change in species was one of elimination: catastrophism. It is now deduced that less than 1% of species still existed. Lived: 1769-1832

Sir_Charles_Lyell,_1st_BtCharles Lyell: 
Principles of Geology: uniformitarianism: as Hutton: geological processes are same today as in the past, at the same slow rate. The Grand Canyon, for instance was forme by same processes seen today. Lived: 1797-1875

Early Ideas of Evolution

Jean baptiste lamarckJean Baptiste Lamarck:
Naturalist. Studied living and fossil invertebrata named Crustaceae, Arachnidae, annelida. Said heat and electricity caused orgasme in gelatinous bodies. Proposed role of environment in the shaping of species.

In 1801, Progression of the Species:
1) Universal creative principle: striving by individuals altered their composition Each organism yearns to progress to higher evolutionary level.
2) Inheritance of acquired traits: Organisms acquire characteristics from 1iving in a given environment and pass these on to the next generation. Lived: 1744-1829

malthusRev. Thomas Malthus:
Economist, wrote Essay on the Principles of Population. (l798) Noted that population would increase until limited by food supply. Lived: 1766-1834


Image Sources:

Galileo GalileiJohannes Kepler, Nicolaus Copernicus, Galen, Carolus Linneaus, George-Louis Leclerc de Buffon, James Hutton, William Smith, George Cuvier, Charles Lyell, Jean Baptiste Lamarck, Rev. Thomas Malthus

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