historical figures in evolution

Evolution Before Darwin: Benoit de Maillet.


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Benoit de Maillet (1656-1738)

Maillet was born in France and grew up with a grandfather who used to say that during his lifetime, he had seen the sea level dropping considerably. This fact undoubtedly influenced the adult Maillet, who remained passionate about natural history while working in Egypt as a diplomat. He used to observe the geology of the Earth, and this convinced him that the story was much older than what religions tell. He developed a theory of evolution, which he did not dare to publish under his name. What he did was attribute it to an Indian philosopher named Telliam (Maillet spelled backward). He suggested the Earth was two billion years old and originally completely covered with water. The water level decreased one meter every thousand years and allowed mountains to appear. He said that when the mountain sun dried, plants and grasses started growing.

The air at the time must have been very humid, so flying fish tolerated being out of the water for long periods. These fish used their fins to move around on land. The fins eventually became legs. From those fish with legs appeared the animals and then humans, around 500,000 years ago. The general reaction to this theory was terrible. The public accused him of putting pagan ideas into the mouth of an Indian. Voltaire did not support him, even though he knew Maillet’s ideas were already in the minds of many.

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