The Greek Philosopher-Scientists

Scores of deity myths were developed by the religious leaders during what is now referred to as the “Classical” age of Greek antiquity (ca. seventh – second centuries B.C.). Almost every activity that classical Greeks pursued was linked in some way to this god-legend conglomerate of religion.

“Philosopher-Scientists” who emerged during this era of Greek culture (ca. 640 B.C. – ca. 200 B.C.) are indicative of the escalation of the search for knowledge that took place during this very rich historical period of information development. Those who chose to make this their life’s ambition usually did so by building on top of the popular multi-god religious tradition already in place. In fact, the typical “philosopher-scientist” of this highly acculturated society saw himself as being placed above the usual activity of the common religion of the day, skirting out on the fringes of accepted knowledge in order to discover new and unique wisdom about the world around him.

Two of these most well-known Greeks, Aristotle and Plato, stated more emphatically what most of the other, lesser-known “Philosopher-Scientists” believed: that the universe is eternal, that it has no beginning and no end. This belief was fundamental to the Greek mythological beliefs of their classical age and quite different from the fundamental beliefs of another significant culture existing at the same time as well: Judaism, which religiously stated that the universe did have a beginning as well as a Beginner.

Several of these seekers of knowledge stand out because of their stated positions and/or their discoveries:

Early on it was Thales of Miletus (b. Ca. 640 B.C. – d. ca. 560 B.C.), none of whose writings survived, who eventually through history was dubbed “the father of Greek science;” although it is not certain as to his mathematical discoveries, he is credited with having accomplished certain deductive proofs about astronomical and geometrical phenomena. His deductive methods were an early indication that new knowledge was to be sought in some type of methodological, empirical fashion;

Democritus of Abdera (b. Ca. 460 B.C. – d. ca. 370 B.C.) was best known for his theory that all matter could be deduced down to different shapes of constituent atoms (he even used the term “atoms,” and believed them to be eternal, indestructible and unchanging). He also pursued knowledge in physics, astronomy, zoology, botany and the medicine of his day.

Plato (b. ca. 427 B.C. – d. ca. 347 B.C.) was more interested in pursuing pure knowledge for its own sake. He believed that this was the highest religion (far beyond the common polytheistic religion of his time) that one could attain to. His philosophical-scientific discoveries in the areas of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, harmonics and pure knowledge did not place him at quite the same odds that it did with his teacher Socrates as contrasted with the religion of his day, but he was considered to be controversial with more widely accepted norms.

The discoveries and writings of Aristotle of Stagira (b. 384 B.C. – d. 322 B.C.) were more steeped in what he developed as a logical body of knowledge based upon scientific observation of natural phenomenon in the areas that he studied: biology, astronomy, cosmology, attainment of knowledge. His writings reflect a much more organized, methodological and refined system of knowledge accumulation.

All in all, the discoveries, writings and religious-philosophies of these great Greek adventurers depict men who were willing to rise above the commonly accepted religion of their day and venture forth into uncharted, undiscovered territory to brief the known world about its attainable outlook on reality for that period of history.

Quotable Quotes:

Democritus: “Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion.”

“Everything existing in the Universe is the fruit of chance and necessity.”

Thales: “I will be sufficiently rewarded if when telling it to others you will not claim the discovery as your own, but will say it was mine.”


Brinton, Crane, John B. Christopher and Robert Lee Wolff. (1967). The Greeks. In A History of Civilization (Volume One). (pp.45-94), Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Brooke, John Hedley. (1991). Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Levinson, Ronald B. (ed.). (1967). A Plato Reader. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

O’Connor, John J. and Edmund F. Robertson. (December, 1996).Aristotle of Stagira/ Democritus of Abdera/ Plato/ Thales of Miletus. On The Mactutor History of Mathematics archive website (

Schroeder, Gerald. (1999). The Age of the Universe. On the Torah and Science Web Site (

Wheelwright, Philip (transl.). (1951). Aristotle. New York: The Odyssey Press.

Weisstein, Eric W. (1996-98). Aristotle of Stagira/ Democritus of Abdera/ Plato/ Thales of Miletus. On Scientific biography website (

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