Any chucklehead with half a brain knows who came up with evolution: Charles Darwin. Most people even know the background story: Darwin went on a five-year voyage aboard the HMS Beagle to the Galapagos Islands, discovered some mismatched finches, then, bam! We have The Origin of Species and decades of ill-informed debates at IHOP.
Remember everyone, it's just a theory, and God planted dinosaurs in the Earth to fuck with you.
Except That ...
Before Charles was even born, his own grandfather was preaching evolution -- in verse.
Not only was Charles' grandaddy Erasmus a philosopher, a botanist, an inventor and awesome at wearing ringlets ...
... but also he was one of the first intellectuals to speculate that all life came from one origin. But unlike some people, he didn't just go out and write a world-changing treatise. Erasmus instead chose to express his brilliance in the form of poetry. Check it:
Organic life beneath the shoreless waves
Was born and nurs'd in ocean's pearly caves;
First forms minute, unseen by spheric glass,
Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass;
These, as successive generations bloom,
New powers acquire and larger limbs assume;
Whence countless groups of vegetation spring,
And breathing realms of fin and feet and wing.
The book that poem came from introduced the three-boobed woman centuries before Total Recall.
BAM, it's evolution, baby! And in 1802, seven years before his grandson was born and 57 years before The Origin of Species. That's like Albert Einstein's great uncle coming up with the theory of relativity, but using the art of shadow puppetry to express it. And Erasmus wasn't done there. He also came up with a little something we like to call natural selection:
"The final course of this contest among males seems to be, that the strongest and most active animal should propagate the species which should thus be improved."
And just to prove that he was the pinnacle of the species, he fathered 14 children.
Not to mention the notion that all life came from a single organism:
Would it be too bold to imagine, that in the great length of time, since the earth began to exist, perhaps millions of ages before the commencement of the history of mankind, would it be too bold to imagine, that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament, which THE GREAT FIRST CAUSE endued with animality ...
No, Erasmus! It would not be too bold! Unless you don't like science, then yes, it is too bold. The point is that while most grandchildren inherit watches and government bonds from their grandparents, Charles Darwin inherited the beginnings of a paradigm shift.
And one hell of a political cartoon shitstorm.
If there are two things we know about space, one is that the Earth orbits the sun, and another is that no one can hear you scream when you're attacked by an extended rape metaphor. As we all learned in school, we have Nicolaus Copernicus to thank for that first one.
And maybe the second one, too, if we interpret his wild stare correctly.
He was a 16th-century mathematician, astronomer, physician, translator, artist, cleric, jurist, diplomat, economist, military leader and all-round know-it-all. And in his book De revolutionibus orbium celestium, Copernicus set out to prove not only that was he terrible at catchy titles, but also that the Earth orbited the sun.
A Greek mathematician named Aristarchus came up with the heliocentric model a few years prior to Copernicus. And by "a few" we mean 1,800.
And by "came up with" we mean "put his coffee cup down in a fortuitous place."
The problem is that much like your college roommate's insistence that he totally joined a gang when he was in high school, the evidence is pretty lacking. As in, we don't have Aristarchus' actual theory. What we do have are snippets in his citations, and references to Ari's controversial theory from the other big thinkers of the day, like Plutarch and Archimedes.
And the way in which they mention Aristarchus leaves no doubt that the idea was that of a heliocentric model: "The sun, like the fixed stars, remains unmoved and forms the center of a circular orbit in which the earth revolves around it." Not only was Aristarchus the first guy to put forth the theory, but also there's plenty of evidence that Copernicus was familiar with it, specifically that Big C referenced Aristarchus' work then edited out that name drop in later versions, so as not to detract from the "originality" of his own theory.
If Aristarchus was Tupac, then Copernicus was every rapper in history.
So why does Copernicus get all the glory and Aristarchus get all the nothing? For one thing, Aristarchus' theory was dismissed from the get-go for not putting Earth at the center of the universe, but also for not accounting for the movement of the stars. After all, if the Earth is moving and the stars are standing still, why couldn't we see them sliding across the sky like intergalactic hockey pucks? (We can't see it with the naked eye, is the answer.)
More importantly, Aristarchus gave us a model and Copernicus gave us math. The difference between the two is the difference between a kid concocting a robot unicorn out of Play-Doh and a robocryptozoologist giving us the mathematical proof that it exists.
Aristarchus got this crater named after him, while Copernicus got an even bigger crater and a cool new element.
For those of you too far past your geometry days to remember, the Pythagorean theorem was that one equation you couldn't get away with not learning. If the SAT's could make hot, passionate love to a mathematical concept, this would be it.
We can almost smell the #2 pencils and Ritalin now.
Why? Only because the Pythagorean theorem is one of if not the most important concept in all of mathematics. And from its name, it's pretty damn easy to figure out who was the first person to realize that it existed, to use it and to prove it, right? It was Pythagoras, of course!
We know our math, but we sure have difficulty with pattern-spotting!
Ancient Indians, Egyptians and Babylonians were using "Pythagorean triplets" (common sides of a right triangle) to construct their buildings since about 2,000 B.C., whereas Pythagoras "discovered" his theorem around 550 B.C. In fact, the Babylonians also seemed to have a bit of a love affair with the right triangle, seeing as how they actually had rules for generating Pythagorean triplets and wrote down hundreds of the suckers.
Don't believe us? Here they are. You read ancient Babylonian, right?
But hey, there's still something special about being the first to write a proof for a theory, right? Well, many mathematicians believe Pythagoras didn't do that, either. It turns out that a Chinese mathematical text called the Chou Pei Suan Ching has a geometric proof of the Pythagorean theorem that may predate the Greek thinker. So, to recap, Pythagoras gets full credit/hate for a theorem that he wasn't the first to use, discover, document or prove. Man, the ancient Babylonians and Chinese just don't get any breaks.
Still, the Chou Pei Suan Ching-ean theorem doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it?
You can visit Eddie's website here.
For more firsts that were here before us, check out 11 Modern Technologies That Are Way Older Than You Think and 6 Depraved Sexual Fetishes That Are Older Than You Think.
And stop by LinkSTORM to check out some B.C.-era Egyptian porno.
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