When can the theory of evolution be traced back to, before Darwin?

Contrary to popular assumption, Darwin is neither the founder nor the originator of the idea of evolution. 

Rather, there were many intellectuals who preceded him in this approach. Some examples are:

  • Benoit de Maillet (1656-1738) 

In his book ‘Telliamed’, Maillet proposed a system of life and universe which is considered the first scientific-oriented approach to explore the issue of the origin of life, which contradicted and denied the common belief at that time about the creation of the Earth and universe by the omnipotent God. At that time, the term ‘transformism’ was used, as the term evolution had not yet been coined. 

  • Denis Diderot (1713-1784) 

Denis Diderot, a French scientist and philosopher, contributed to driving the scientific community to the materialistic and evolutionary approach regarding the origin of life through a number of works, such as: The Skeptic’s Walk and Letter on the Blind, as well as many others. In his works, Diderot developed his materialist philosophy and arrived at startling intuitive insights into biology and chemistry. For instance, in speculating on the origins of life without divine intervention he foreshadowed the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin, putting forth a strikingly prophetic picture of the cellular structure of matter.