2. History

The Greco-Roman world

Although the Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Chinese, and Indians amassed much biological information, they lived in a world believed to be dominated by unpredictable demons and spirits. Hence, learned individuals in those early cultures directed their studies toward an understanding of the supernatural, rather than the natural, world. Anatomists, for example, dissected animals not to gain an understanding of their structure but to study their organs in order to predict the future. With the emergence of the Greek civilization, however, those mystical attitudes began to change. Around 600 BCE there arose a school of Greek philosophers who believed that every event has a cause and that a particular cause produces a particular effect. That concept, known as causality, had a profound effect on subsequent scientific investigation. Furthermore, those philosophers assumed the existence of a “natural law” that governs the universe and can be comprehended by humans through the use of their powers of observation and deduction. Although they established the science of biology, the greatest contribution the Greeks made to science was the idea of rational thought.

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