What Was Empedocles Theory of Evolution?


Vincent White

Empedocles, a Greek philosopher and scientist who lived in the 5th century BC, proposed one of the earliest theories of evolution. According to Empedocles, all living beings evolved from four basic elements – earth, air, fire, and water. He believed that these elements combined in different proportions to create all living organisms.

The Four Elements

Empedocles believed that the four elements were eternal and unchangeable. He thought that everything in the universe was composed of these four elements. Earth was associated with solidity and stability, air with motion and changeability, fire with warmth and dryness, and water with coldness and wetness.

Evolution by Natural Selection

Empedocles believed that evolution occurred through natural selection. He suggested that organisms were not created fully formed but instead evolved over time through a process of trial and error. Those organisms that were better adapted to their environment survived and reproduced while those that were less well adapted died out.

Love and Strife

Empedocles also believed in two opposing forces – love and strife – which he thought were responsible for the creation of new organisms. Love brought together the four basic elements to form new organisms while strife separated them again.

  • Love:
    • Brings together the basic elements
    • Creates new organisms
    • Makes living beings grow
  • Strife:
    • Separates the basic elements
    • Destroys existing organisms
    • Causes diseases and decay

Criticism of Empedocles’ Theory

Empedocles’ theory of evolution was widely criticized during his time and for many centuries thereafter. His belief that organisms evolved through natural selection was considered radical and went against the prevailing religious beliefs of the time.

Moreover, his theory did not explain how variations arose in organisms or how new traits were passed down from one generation to the next. It was only with the advent of modern genetics in the 20th century that these questions could be answered.


Despite its limitations, Empedocles’ theory of evolution was a groundbreaking idea that challenged the prevailing beliefs of his time. His belief in natural selection and opposing forces influencing evolution were prescient ideas that would later be developed by other scientists such as Charles Darwin.

Empedocles’ contributions to science and philosophy continue to inspire new generations of thinkers even today.