Evolution, the Early Church, and Islam
The basic concept of evolution in that present life evolved from lower forms and age of the earth was speculated upon in ancient Greece. This would influence early Christian and Muslim thinkers.
The following has been quoted from Darwin, a Life in Science,
In the centuries immediately following the birth of Christ,
however, something remarkably like a modern view of evolution,
but drawing on Aristotle's ideas and the notion of Nature striving
for perfection, was accepted and taught by some of the founding
fathers of the Christian Church.
Gregory of Nyssa (331-396) taught that the Creation was potential - that God imparted to matter its fundamental laws and properties, but that the objects and completed forms of the Universe then developed gradually, under their own steam, out of primordial chaos.
Saint Augustine (353-430) painted an even clearer picture. He taught that the
original germs of living things came in two forms, one placed by
the Creator in animals and plants, and a second variety scattered
throughout the environment, destined to become active only
under the right conditions.
He said that the Biblical account of the Creation should not be read as literally occupying six days, but six units of time, while the passage `In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth' should be interpreted:
As if this were the seed of the heaven and the earth, although as yet all the matter of heaven and of earth was in confusion; but because it was certain that from this the heaven and the earth would be, therefore the material itself is called by that name.
Augustine likens the Creation to the growth of a tree from
its seed, which has the potential to become a tree, but does
so only through a long, slow process, in accordance with the
environment in which it finds itself.
God created the potential for the heavens and earth, and for life, but the details worked themselves out in accordance with the laws laid down by God, on this picture.
It wasn't necessary for God to create each individual species (let alone each individual living thing) in the process called Special Creation. Instead, the Creator provided the seeds of the Universe and of life, and let them develop in their own time.
In all but name, except for introducing the hand of God
to start off the Universe, Augustine's theory was a theory of
evolution, and one which stands up well alongside modern
theories of the evolution of the Universe and the evolution of
life on Earth.'
His views were influential throughout the Middle Ages, and followed by such important thinkers as William of Occam (in the fourteenth century) and, most importantly, by Saint Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century.
Aquinas simply quoted Augustine's teaching on the subject of the Creation and the interpretation of Genesis; but as he was one of the highest authorities in the Christian Church at the time, and has been one of the most influential since, this amounted to an official seal of approval for the idea that God had set the Universe in motion and then rested.
This is Deism 101. While the writer of this is an atheist and excludes any concept of God for the reason he's an atheist, evolution does not disprove God nor even deals with the subject. With my science background, why am I not an atheist? Because science hasn't answered or can't answer many questions. There is still much we don't know, even about humans. While I am an evolutionist, I can see HOW the process worked for the most part. I've been shown no mechanism why it works as it does. The question is still open.
Did the Latin West really even understand Greek ideas on science or even Christianity itself? Augustine the true father of Western Christianity and father of Protestantism seemed unsure. (His works were mainly in Latin.) He never mentions this in The Confessions, his self biography I read in college. He lived almost exclusively in Italy and what is today Algeria.
The church wasn't stupid in the least. One factor someone pointed out was a problem with paper! As silly as this sounds, this was a crippling blow when Egypt fell to Islam the source of papyrus was cut off. Very expensive and hard to get, I think this could be big factor in what is seeming low levels of learning.
During the Scholastic period universities did study nature but it rapidly became apparent that the facts didn't jive with Scripture. Thomas Aquinas did strive to use reason as proof of revelation, in my opinion he totally failed. It worked only as long as the church could control how it was used.
See Deism and Reason
In a full thousand years, however, from the time of Augustine
to the time of William of Occam, there had been virtually no
progress in Christian Europe in thinking about the origins of
living things - just as there had been virtually no progress of
any kind in Europe during those Dark Ages.
It was in the Arabic world that science and philosophy made progress at that time, and one side-effect of this was that for a time the Christian Church rejected the Augustinian view of evolution, for no better reason than that it drew on Aristotle's teachings, and Aristotle was held in high regard in the Muslim world, perceived then as a bitter opponent of Christendom.
Islam had no problem with reason/science at all as long as the conclusions didn't conflict with revelation. (They didn't deal with Original Sin as such.) Augustine knew of Aristotle, I'm sure others did as well.
Aristotle was translated into Arabic early in the ninth century,
and his works had an enormous impact on the flowering of
science in the Muslim world in the centuries that followed.
To give just one example of how far ahead the Arabs were of their Christian contemporaries at that time, here is a passage from the philosopher Avicenna (980-1037), on the origin of mountains:
Mountains may be due to two causes. Either they are
effects of upheavals of the crust of the earth, such as
might occur during a violent earthquake, or they are the
effect of water, which, cutting for itself a new route, has
denuded the valleys, the strata being of different kinds,
some soft, some hard.
The winds and waters disintegrate the one, but leave the other intact . . . It would require a long period of time for all such changes to be accomplished . . . but that water has been the main cause of these effects, is proved by the existence of [fossil] remains of aquatic and other animals in many mountains.
Avicenna did not realise that the other mechanism he describes,
upheaval of mountains involving earthquakes, could also explain
how the remains of fish come to be found high in the mountains
today - because the rocks from which those mountains formed
used to lie at the bottom of the sea.
But, writing a thousand years ago (and some nine centuries before Darwin), he highlights two of the key elements that, as we shall see, were to set Darwin himself thinking along the lines that were to lead to his theory of evolution.
The first is an echo of Aristotle's ideas about the evolution of life - that gradual processes, of the kind we can see going on today, are all that you need to explain how the world got to be the way it is.
The second, which goes hand in hand with the first, is that a very long time indeed is required to explain all the changes that have occurred on our planet to make it what it is today.
When scientific thinking in Europe began to make progress
once again in the sixteenth century, many of the ideas from
which it developed came from the Arab world.
In many cases, the original Greek texts of the ancients survived only because they had been copied into Arabic, and were later copied into Latin and then other languages.
So it is no surprise to find Giordano Bruno, who lived from 1548 to 1600 (and ended up burnt at the stake for heresy because of his support for the idea that the Earth moves round the Sun) imbibing a mixture of Arabic and Greek ideas, arguing for gradual changes in Nature rather than sudden cataclysms, and being led to the conclusion that the Earth must be much older than the few thousand years implied by a literal interpretation of the chronology in the Bible.
Bruno was murdered for heresy even when the church knew he was right. Let's be clear what this is really about, Original Sin. Paul invented the concept based on what is in Judaism a minor event. They never interpreted Adam/Eve as Paul did. With no literal Adam and Eve, no Original Sin, no need of a risen savior-god to save us from "sin." All we have is Jewish sect, which is all it should have been. Jesus message is valid without Original Sin, Paul and Christianity are dead without it.
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