Did Plato influence Charles Darwin?
|January 16, 2009||Posted by Steno under Intelligent Design|
Following previous discussion on the influence that Plato’s Timaeus may have had on David Hume and Erasmus Darwin’s work, I thought it would be interesting to compare a well known paragraph of Charles Darwin’s work On the Origin of Species with a passage in the Timaeus. Spot the allusion to ‘forms’ and the phrase ‘most beautiful.’ Having attended a lecture in the Ian Ramsey conference on Design and Nature at Oxford last year, it was pointed out by Stephen Snobelen that Newton had used similar phrases from Plato in his writing such as ‘form’ and ‘most beautiful.’ It is possible that Darwin was referencing Plato through Newton (hence reference to gravity), but also that it stems from Hume and E.Darwin. Leaving aside the question of how Plato ought to be interpreted I would appreciate comments about how people think Charles Darwin used it.
1st ed. of Origin. “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed [‘by the Creator’ 2nd ed onwards] into a few ‘forms,’ or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless ‘forms’ ‘most beautiful’ and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” [Emphasis added].
Timaeus “And on the one hand, even before this, all things were in a state without reason and measure, but when on the other hand the whole ordering was taken in hand, mastered, fire first, and water and earth and air, holding some trace of themselves, were altogether in truth in a state just as would be expected in the absense of a god; and in so far as this was their nature, he first pattered them with ‘form’ and number. According to his power, god composed them to be ‘most beautiful’ and best from that which they were not – such an account must always be granted by us above all else.” Plato Timaeus 53B trans. Emanuela Bianchi (2006) [Emphasis added].
As noted there is a very strong allusion to the demiurge of the Timaeus in the concluding paragraph of Erasmus Darwin’s work Zoonomia, taken from Hume.
“The late Mr. David Hume, in his posthumous works [Dialogues], places the powers of generation much above those of our boasted reason; and adds, that reason can only make a machine, as a clock or a ship, but the power of generation makes the maker of the machine; and probably from having observed, that the greatest  part of the earth has been formed out of organic recrements; as the immense beds of limestone, chalk, marble, from the shells of fish; and the extensive provinces of clay, sandstone, ironstone, coals, from decomposed vegetables; all which have been first produced by generation, or by the secretions or organic life; he concludes that the world itself might have been generated, rather than created; that is, it might have been gradually produced from very small beginnings, increasing by the activity of its inherent principles, rather than by a sudden evolution of the whole by Almighty fiat. What a magnificent idea of the infinite power of THE GREAT ARCHITECT! THE CAUSE OF CAUSES! PARENT OF PARENTS! ENS ENTIUM!” E.Darwin – Zoonomia.