The theory of evolution is often credited to Charles Darwin, but it had its own history, abridged here from the Wiki page that goes into greater detail.
Anaximander (610-546 BC) proposed that animals and humans could descend from other types of animals. He proposed that animals first lived in water, then spent part of their time on land, and that the first human was a child of a different sort of animal. (Were primates known to Greeks?) He argued that through random intermixing everything turned out as it would have it it were on purpose, compounded in a suitable way.
Two hundred years later, Plato (428-348 BC) believed that all things, not only living things, were made once by supernatural forces. Ernst Mayr called him “the great antihero of evolutionism.” Plato’s work greatly influenced modern Christian ideas along the same lines (see below).
Plato’s student, Aristotle (384-322 BC) agreed that animals were designed for a purpose and attempted a hierarchical “Ladder of Life” or “Chain of Being” according to relative complexity and function which led to the concept of “higher organisms.”
Zhuangzi (4th century BC) denied the stability of species and suggested living things developed differing attributes in response to differing enviornments.
Titus Lucretius Carus (100?-50 BC) described the development of the cosmos and all living things through naturalistic mechanisms, nothing supernatural in his poem, “On the Nature of Things.” Howeer, other Romans held that Nature was designed for a purpose.
This cartoon says it all.
The Bible (Genesis)
Tradition holds that Moses (1391-1271 BC) was the author of Genesis and the creation story that begins it. If true, Moses would have written Genesis some 3000 years after it had happened according to modern evangelical Christians and Rev. Ussher. Modern scholars date the authorship of Genesis to writers contemporary with Anaximander (610-546 BC, mentioned above). Genesis 1 states that the cosmos was created on the first and second days, plants appeared on day three, the sun and moon on day four, birds and water creatures on day five. On the sixth day livestock and wild animals were created along with male and female humans. Genesis 2 is a distinctly different account. It begins with an earth devoid of plants and rain. God created man from dust, planted a garden in Eden and put the man there. God created plants and four rivers flowing out of Eden, including the Tigris and Euphrates (modern Iraq). God formed wild animals and birds so man would not be alone. Then God created woman out of the man’s rib. So, two distinctly differing accounts here, a inconsistency conveniently overlooked by modern Creationists.
Augustine of Hippo (4th century AD) wrote that the creation story in Genesis should not be taken literally and “that forms of life had been transformed slowly over time.”
In the middle ages Christians considered the universe perfect with no empty links in the chain and no transformation from one form to another, in accordance with Genesis. Thomas Aquinas held that all creation was the result of determination.
Early Muslim Writers
Al-Jahiz (9th century AD) wrote the Book of Animals, where he described a struggle for exhistence and the effects of environment on an animal’s chance for survival. His work influenced more modern writers of the 16th century.
Ibn Khaldun (1377) wrote that humans developed from the world of monkeys in a process that was both transformational and endless.
Pierre Louis Maupertuis wrote of natural modifications during reproduction accumulating over the course of many generations producing new races and species. By this time scientists were seeing the evolution of embryos from simple cells to newborns.
G. L. L. Buffon held that all manner of felines had a common origin and that the 200 known species of mammals had arisen from as few as 38 forms.
Denis Diderot wrote of a constant process of experimentation, trial and error to arrive at new forms.
Erasmus Darwin published in Zoönomia (1796) that “all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament.” His Temple of Nature (1802) described the rise of life from minute organisms to the modern gamut of variety.
Late 1700s and 1800s – we started reporting on fossils
Georges Cuvier (1796) described extinct elephants, effectively ending the debate on whether or not a species could go extinct. However, by noting that Egyptian cat mummies were no different than cats of his era, he held that species did not change through time.
James Hutton (1788) described geological processes that could only have taken place over millions, not thousands, of years.
By 1840 the geological timescale was becoming clear with the work of Charles Lyell.
Strata with fossils were the result of the Biblical flood according to that crowd (overlooking the fact that there were untold numbers of strata different in different parts of the world, not just one catastrophic layer, and not all the product of being underwater). The patterns seen in simple and complex creatures and those of a developing embryo were considered products of divine design.
Charles Darwin’s ideas were influenced by those of these earlier thinkers. His ideas on natural selection influenced all later writers.
Stone tools were found in association with extinct animals, putting to rest the idea that humans appeared in all their glory only a few thousand years earlier. More primates were discovered in Africa and they were compared to humans. Archaeopteryx was discovered in the 1860s and was touted as a link between birds and reptiles.
Gregor Mendels laws of inheritance sparked studies in genetics that continue to this day.
G. G. Simpson (1944) showed that the fossil record demonstrated irregular and non-linear patterns.
Niles Eldridge and Stephen Jay Gould (1970s) proposed long periods of stasis punctuated by relatively brief periods of rapid change.
In the 1990s computers were employed to develop family trees from matrices of taxa and characters. These helped link forms that, at first, did not appear to nest together.
In 2010, ReptileEvolution.com combined, for the first and (so far) only time, hundreds of reptiles in order to bring together and discover the interrelationships of several dozen smaller studies. Ridiculed and shunned, it still remains the only study of its size to look at the gamut of the Reptilia (and the Pterosauria in a separate study).
As always, I encourage readers to see specimens, make observations and come to your own conclusions. Test. Test. And test again.
Evidence and support in the form of nexus, pdf and jpeg files will be sent to all who request additional data.