PLATO AND THE "EIDOS"

Plato (left) and Aristotle (right)

Two Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle had a greater influence on science than any others of that time. Plato (427-327 BC) was preoccupied with geometry and the search for "unchanging realities" that led him to the idea of the "eidos" or fixed and enduring entities of the eternal and unending scheme of Nature. The eidos was reality, and all variations of these fixed entities were as unreal as shadows in a cave.

Plato had four dogmas that had a particularly deleterious effect on biology through the ensuing two thousand years. One was essentialism, the belief in a constant eidos that were fixed ideas, separate from and independent of appearance. The eidos was reality and variations from the eidos were due to human frailty. The second was the concept of an animate cosmos that was a living, harmonious whole, thus later making evolution a disturbance in the harmony. Third, although he was a polytheistic pagan, he replaced spontaneous generation with the idea of a creative power which later led to the creator-god of monotheistic religions.

The fourth of Plato's influential dogmas was his great stress on the soul which also made it difficult to accept evolution, or at least include humans in an evolutionary scheme.

"It has often been pointed out what a disaster Plato's writings have been for biology, but nowhere else as much as for evolutionary thinking."
(Ernst Mayr, 1982, The Growth of Biological Thought)

Thus, throughout the middle ages the overriding concept was essentialism, the idea that each species had a fixed and unchanging essence (= the eidos), and the thought of any species changing into new ones was unacceptable.

It is strange that Creationists think such ancients as Plato or Aristotle had discovered such univeral "truths." It is clear that they had no such god-like insights into the great knowledge of the universe, in fact they were ignorant of those theories that have been estabished by later scientists and their discoveries. To think that ancients were so right is to discard the discoveries by such great scientists as Newton, Einstein, Mendel, and Darwin.

 

 

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