Chain of being

Charles Bonnet“Between the lowest and the highest degree of spiritual and corporal perfection, there is an almost infinite number of intermediate degrees. The succession of degrees comprises the universal chain. It unites all beings, ties together all worlds, embraces all the spheres.”
Top: Charles Bonnet and his 1764 statement about the existence of a "chain" connecting all beings. [5] Right: a depiction of Ramon Llull's 1303 “chain of being”, or scale of intellect, as he called it, rocks to humans.
In science, chain of being (TR:91) or scala naturae (Latin), aka "golden chain" (Homer, c.750BC), "scale of being" (Robinet, 1761), "great chain of nature" (Stewart, 1789), or “scale of natural things”, refers to scales, ladders, steps, or chain-linked depictions connecting matter "continuously" (see: continuity theory) up through humans, as shown below, from rocks to plants to animals to people:

Llull (great chain)

In c.760 BC, Homer, in his Iliad (8.19), spoke about a "golden chain" that dropped mortal kinds to earth from the heavens above; it was propagated by the Stoics as an allegory of the divine nature of life; it was dismissed by Lucretius:

“For, as I think, it was no golden chain that dropped mortal kinds from heaven above.”
Lucretius (55BC), On the Nature of Things [18]

A proto-concept of the existence of a natural scale or unbroken chain is also said to trace back to the ideas of Plato and Aristotle. Swiss natural philosopher Charles Bonnet, shown below, influenced by the monad ideas of Gottfried Leibniz, is the first to make an actual scale (1745) and step depiction (1783) and to describe the successive degrees of development as being chained together.

In 1932-33, German-born American philosopher Arthur Lovejoy, gave his Harvard lecture series turned book The Great Chain of Being, shown below (left), the first and its seems only historical book on the subject, which accounts the rise and fall of the once dominate theory of the enlightenment, its fall-off attributed to Descartes' dualism, the romantic movement, Darwin's evolution theory, and modern physics, supposedly, Einstein's relativity theory, in particular. [15]

In the period 3100BC-300BC, Egyptian scholars, whose apex seems to have been the mind of Egyptian polymath Imhotep
(2635-2595BC), promulgated a number of cyclical "proto-chain of being" theories, most of which historically anchored in the Heliopolis creation myth, according to which land (earth) arose out of a flood (water) from which the sun (fire) burst forth, albeit each conceived as the gods: Geb (root of "geocentric"), Nun (suffix of "Abraham" and "Brahma), Ra (middle root of "Abraham" and "Brahma"), respectively, out of which humans were eventually self-engendered, which culminated in the clay creation myth, which became re-written into the story of Adam (clay) and Eve (breath) or life from divine spirit breathed into clay. Much of the Egyptian philosophy, to note, was also wrapped up in astrology and the observable cyclical movements of the sun, moon, and stars. The following gives 1963 book cover, by Thomas Burgoyne, depicts a semblance of an idea of how the Egyptians conceived of cyclical-like chain of being, the snake being what, at the end of each day, or creation cycle, swallowed the sun, from which it was re-born the next day, according to their Geb-based flat earth theory, humans fitting vicariously into this scheme via resurrection and or afterlife theories:

The Great Chain of Being (1933)The Light of Egypt (1963)
(Lovejoy, 1933)(Burgoyne, 1963)

Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus (c.624-c.546), who is attributed by Aristotle to have been the first philosopher in the Greek tradition, was the first to initiate the study of Egyptian philosophy of nature, by himself traveling to Egypt; a "study abroad" method followed by most of the Greek philosopher in the years to follow, Pythagoras, Democritus, and Plato, in particular, all studied in Egypt, whereby many of the basic principles of Egyptian philosophy, science, and mathematics, were absorbed into Greek thought, e.g. three element theory (earth, fire, water), which later became "four element theory" (and then four element and two force "standard model" theory), derived from Heliopolis creation myth; the dualism of life vs non-life, based on the clay creation myth, i.e. clay (dead) vs spirit-imbibed clay (alive); the theory of the soul, modified by Aristotle into his "three soul theory" (see: Aristotle on the soul) (Ѻ), the latter topic of which has vexed geniuses continuously: from Plato, and his "split soul theory" (Ѻ), up through Goethe (see: Goethe on the soul), James Maxwell (Ѻ), Thomas Edison (Ѻ), Einstein (see: Einstein on the soul), Werner Heisenberg (Ѻ), and John Neumann (Ѻ); see main: geniuses on the soul. (Ѻ)

Aristotle | Natural scale | 330BC
In c.330BC, Aristotle outlined some type of “scala natura” or natural scale, giving some type of vertical distinction among the layers of existence. [13] The following is rendition of Aristotle’s scale from Charles Singer’s 1931 A Short History of Biology: [14]
Natural scale (Aristotle)
(add discussion)

Llull | Scale of intellect | 1303
The following is Ramon Llull's scale of intellect, connecting earth with the abode of god, from Liber de Ascensu et Decensu Intellectus, showing organized bodies, including fire, in the main scale, depicted as a scale: [16]

Ramon Llull's scale of intellect (labeled)
Here, interesting, we see one of the first "rock vs human" comparisons, in this case in regards to intelligence.

Bouelles | 1512
The following shows Charles de Bouelles 1512 linear order of nature diagram, from his Physicorum Elementorum: [16]
Bouelles 1512
The bottom of the scale shows everything originating from earth (terra), water (aqua), air (aer), and fire (ignis), aka the four element theory.

Maillet | 1732
In 1732, Benoit de Maillet completed Telliamed, his surname “de Maillet” in reverse, based on manuscripts written in the previous ten years, albeit published posthumously in 1748, in impartial form, and full form in 1755, wherein he posited, based on the fact that iron rings of ancient moored ships now sat in the desert in the ruins of Memphis, that the earth could not have been created instantaneously, as the Bible decreed, but rather was 2 billion years old, based on the datum that the sea was receding at a rate of three inches per century, and that all land creatures originally derived from sea-based human-like creatures. [1]

These types of ideas, supposedly, are found represented, without citation, in Francesco Soldini’s 1776 De anima brutorum commentaria, as shown below: (Ѻ)

Maillet evolution

Maillet proposed that life began in the water in the form of minuscule seeds that joined together to create all aquatic forms, from which all terrestrial and winged creatures were then derived. In his opinion, all plants and animals would have analogous examples among the aquatic specimens. Some of Maillet’s account of things are found in the first three volumes of Buffon’s Natural History.

Bonnet’s scale of natural beings | 1745
The following is Swiss natural philosopher and evolution-coiner Charles Bonnet’s 1745 “Idea of a Scale of Natural Beings” (IDÉE D’UNE ECHELLE Des Etres Naturels) or “Idea of a Range of Natural Ones”, depending on translation, wherein he seems to trace the evolution or metamorphosis of humans back to the four elements, or specifically earth, air, fire, and at the bottom what he calls “matières plus subtiles” or "more subtle materials", or finer matter, in 52 steps, degrees, or categories: [1]

Charles Bonnet chain of being
The following is a 28-step English translated version of Charles Bonnet’s chain of being from his 1764 Contemplation de la nature: [6]
Bonnet chain of being 1764
The following is a artistic step-wise type chain of being from Charles Bonnet's 1783 Works of Natural History and Philosophy: [4]

Bonnet chain of being 1783

In 1761, Jean Robinet, in his Of the Nature, the first volume of five (the last volume completed in 1768), sought to outline an sort of pan-rationalism themed evolutionist scale of being philosophy. In his Of the Nature, Volume Two (1763), he began to attack the category divisional aspects of Charles Bonnet's chain of being and his attempt to “divide the different orders which constitute the scale of being” into the following four classes:

1. Inorganic
2. Organic but inanimate (i.e. plants)
3. Organic and animate, but without reason (i.e. animals)
4. Organic, animate, and rational (i.e. humans)

Robinet viewed this four-part classification divide as an outright denial of continuity, because it credited some classes with possession of certain traits or positive attributes, which the others absolutely lack

Hermann | 1783
The following is Johann (Jean) Hermann's 1783 mineral to so-called table of animal affinities, from mineral region (bottom) to vegetable region (near bottom) to animal region (bulk of page) to homo (top): [16]

Johann (Jean) Hermann's 1783

Lamarck | Origin of animals diagram | 1809
In 1809, Jean Lamarck, in his Philosophie Zoologique, gave the following tree depicting the origins of animals: [16]

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1809)

Darwin's origin of species tree | 1837
See also: Darwin on higher and lower
The following is English naturalist Charles Darwin's 1837 personal notebook origin of species evolution tree diagram, according to which species A, B, C, and D have evolved by the process of "natural selection" (or "evolution" as he began to call in in 1872) from species one or branch one: [7]

Darwin evolution tree (1837)
The text from Darwin’s personal notebook accompanying the diagram reads: [8]

I think, case must be that one generation then should be as many living as now. To do this & to have many species in same genus (as is) requires extinction. Thus between A & B immense gap of relation. C & B the finest gradation, B & D rather greater distinction. Thus genera would be formed. — bearing relation to ancient types with several extinct forms.”

Darwin | Origin of Species | 1859
The following is Darwin's 1859 tree of life from his Origin of Species: [16]

Tree of life (Darwin)

Darwin's origin of species tree + warm pond origin of life hypothesis | 1871
The following, to the left, is the famous 1952 Miller-Urey experiment, shown adjacent to is English naturalist Charles Darwin's 1871 hypothesis concerning the origin of life, in other words what comes before "point 1" on his origin of species tree diagram, which of course is the weakest link in his evolution theory, this eventually becoming the primordial soup model of the origin of life: [10]

Warm pond (labeled)In a famous 1871 letter to English botanist Joseph Hooker, Darwin made the suggestion that the origin of life, i.e. the forerunner to point one on his tree diagram, occurred as follows: [10]

“The original spark of life may have begun in a warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, lights, heat, electricity, etc. present, so that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes.”
Miller-Urey experiment

Haeckel's man from amoeba diagram | 1874
The following is German physician-zoologist Ernst Haeckel’s evolution of man from amoeba diagram, illustrated by modern and fossil species: [3]

Haeckel human pidegree

1 Amoeba
1a Asexual reproduction (amoeba dividing)
2 Sexual reproduction (cell with spore)
3 Multi-cellular organism (early embryonic stage)
4 Muliticellular organism with three germ layers (blastula)
5 Organism with primitive mouth (gastrula)
6 Planaria
7 Worm (leech)
8 Primitive chordate (tunicate larva)
8a Adult tunicate
9 Lancelet
10 Jawless fish (lamprey)
11 Cartilaginous fishes (shark)
12 Australian lungfish
13 South American lungfish
14 Aquatic reptile (plesiosaur)
15 Early amphibian (labytinthodont)
16 Modern amphibian (newt)
17 Reptile (iguana)
18 Monotreme (platypus)
19 Marsupial (kangaroo)
20 Prosimian (lemur)
21 Monkey (langur)
22 Ape (orangutan)
23 Ape-man (Pithecanthropus)
24 Modern human (a Papuan)

Of note here we see the prototype of a the organic | inorganic origin of life divide forming, namely the amoeba (first form of life) | inorganic matter (parts of amoeba) conceptual demarcation. A fuller reading of Haeckel's works, however, are in order here, being that Haeckel was an adherent to German polymath Johann Goethe's human chemical theory, which has in its structure an unbreakable chain model stretching downward from the human reactions to the test tube reactions. As German materialist philosopher Bartholomaus von Carneri (1821-1909) commented, in a 26 May 1876 letter to Haeckel, on one of Haeckel's recent publications: “I was full of jubilation at the clarity with which you pass from chemical elective affinity one side into the realm of life and on the other into the realm of mechanics.” [11] Hence, Haeckel is not easily dismissed as an "amoeba = first origin of life" theorist. Beyond this, Haeckel's also has his plastidule theory, a type origin of life theory similar to German polymath Gottfried Leibniz' monad theory, both of which are intricate and require further digression.

Haeckel | Tree of life | 1879
In 1879, Ernst Haeckel, in his The Evolution of Man, published the following "tree of life" depiction of man's origin: (Ѻ)

Tree of life (Haeckel)

Satirical Darwinian man from chaos diagram | 1882
A satirical 1882 depiction “man is but a worm” depiction of Charles Darwin’s 1859 theory of evolution, showing man evolving from monkey, which evolved from a worm, which evolved from "chaos", all overlayed on some kind of times meter, with Darwin (representative of father time) and some other man: [2]

Evolution view (1882)

Reid | 1882
In 1882, American religious-minded science philosopher H.A. Reid published the following spiritually-extended Linnaean three kingdom stylized so-called “synoptic calendar of creation”: (Ѻ) (Ѻ)
synoptic calendar of creation

Reid’s spiritually topped ladder was introduced following discussion of creator-based “first cause”, Herbert Spencer, along with the assertion that a “real atheist” is a phenomenal impossibility, and that the existence of god is an eternal fact; the calendar introduced so to show how the “discoveries, deductions, and logical sequences of modern science supplement and conform to what has been revealed in the Bible.” (Ѻ) Here, to note, in some ways, we are reminded of the theories of Pierre Teilhard (1936).

Sparks | 1932
The following is the amoeba to man section of John Spark's 1932 histomap: (Ѻ)

amoeba to man (Sparks)

(add discussion)

Ham | 1975
In 1975, Australian-born American creationism evangelist Ken Ham, in his science classes, and later books and publications, began to use the phrase “molecules-to-man evolution”, which he conceptualizes as follows below, in a polemical way, in debate, recently popularized in the 2014 Ken Ham vs Bill Nye debate, as a way to stump the evolutionist on the origin of life question, among other conundrums, e.g. mind-from-matter, and so on:

Molecules-to-man evolution (life)

Lewis | General biology | 1992
The following is a basic evolution diagram, from the 1992 biology textbook Life: Beginnings of Life, Animal Life, Plant Life, Evolution of Life, Behavior and Ecological Life, by American geneticist Ricki Lewis (Ѻ), outlining the so-called "beginnings of life" from chemicals (CO2, N, O2, etc.), heat, and light, which is the textbook used by American pre-engineering student Libb Thims, while taking his first biology course at Washtenaw Community College, Michigan: [12]
evolution diagram (chemicals to humans)
This scenario, of how soon-to-become chemical engineering student Thims went from the above 1992 “chemicals + heat and light → life” evolution model to “chemicals + heat and light → powered animated chemicals” (2014), along the way jettisoning the concept of "life" as defunct the way Einstein jettisoned the concept of "ether", might be akin to how chemical engineering student Linus Pauling in 1917, at Oregon Agricultural College, was being taught the John Dalton version of the "hook-and-eye bonding method" (see: history of chemical bonding theory) and how, after learning the basics of modern physics, this early 20th century teaching of archaic methods is what supposedly drove Pauling to write the now famous 1939 textbook On The Nature of the Chemical Bond, supplanting hooks and eyes with quantum mechanical hybridized bonding orbitals, thereafter becoming the "bible" of modern chemistry.

On 20 Dec 2015, Clifford Pickover relabeled and tweeted (Ѻ) the above diagram with the equation:

Polymerization + Love = You

as follows:
Pickover equation (diagram)
(add discussion)

Blackmore-Troscianko | Consciousness | 2003
The following are artistic renditions of the "great chain of being", by artist Jolyon Troscianko, from the from Susan Blackmore’s 2003 Consciousness: an Introduction, wherein the matter-energy to spirit-soul evolution conceptualized chain of being versions of Pierre Teilhard (1936) and Ken Wilber (2001) are cited: [17]

Great chain of being (Jolyon Troscianko) slime.jpg
Here, we see the first link in the chain of "being" originating in an "origin of life" conceptualized "slime mold" or protozoa-like blob; which, not doubt, seems to be the generic model many 21st century people have in their mind. The following, from the same source, shows a fish-to-human lineage, from the above great chain of being branching diagram, by Troscianko:
Great chain of being (Jolyon Troscianko) fisth-to-human
Compare this to Australian-born American creationism evangelist Ken Ham’s term “molecules-to-man evolution”, recently popularized in the 2014 Ken Ham vs Bill Nye debate.

Thims' molecular evolution table | 2005
The following is American electrochemical engineer Libb Thims' 2005 molecular evolution table (left), showing molecular formulas for each main entity in the decent backwards down the evolution scale: from the human (human molecule) to the hydrogen atom and below to fermions (matter) and bosons (energy), the same evolution table in poster format explained in a 10-min 2008 video summary (right):

Evolution table

Shubin | Pond scum model | 2008
The following is American paleontologist Neil Shubin's 2008 pond scum chain of being model:

pond scum evolution diagram (2008)

Here, to note, we are reminded of Stephen Hawking’s 1995 description of humans as “heated chemical scum”. (Ѻ)

Thims' human evolution timeline video | 2009
The following is American electrochemical engineer Libb Thims' 2009 "Human Evolution Timeline | Big Bang to Present" video, a sound animated remake of the Hmolpedia side-scrolling 2009 evolution timeline:

Thims' Hmolpedia human evolution schematic | 2009
The following is American electrochemical engineer Libb Thims' 2009 Hmolpedia evolution article depiction of evolution (synthesis) as a series of coupled chemical reactions starting from the hydrogen atom mechanistically connected up through the reaction formation of the human molecule:

Evolution flow chart

Wikinotes | Chain of being | Biology | 2012
The following shows a generic inorganic-to-organic conceptualized chain of being as taught in biology: (Ѻ)

Chain of being (biology 2012) labeled

Thims | Hydrogen to human | 2012
The following is American electrochemical engineer Libb Thims' 2012 Hmolpedia elective affinities problem diagram:

Elective affinities problem
The following is a 2015 hydrogen-to-human diagram:

Desire (hydrogen to human)


Thims' great problem of natural philosophy diagram | 2012
The following is American electrochemical engineer Libb Thims' 2012 Hmolpedia great problem of natural philosophy diagram:

4.5 BYA
nebular hypothesis (labeled)
Great problem of natural philosophy

Defunct models | Smithsonian tree of life diagram | 2013
The following is a 2013 Smithsonian Institution "tree of life" diagram made in theme of Darwin's 1837 origin of species notebook diagram sketch, the problem with this diagram is that it situates a hypothetical "origin of life" as the start of the tree, which, being that the theory of life is a religious theory, is inconsistent with modern science, chemistry in particular, which as English physiologist Charles Sherrington pointed out in 1938 "does not know the word life" (see: defunct theory of life): [9]

Smithsonian tree of life diagram (2013)
The above diagram, in short, is the point where god came down and touched the chain at one of its mechanism links, i.e. mythology.

Shubin | 2013
The following, below right, is Neil Shubin's 2013 "big bang to human molecule" diagram, from his The Universe Within, wherein he employs the Sterner-Elser human molecular formula (2002), as compared to his earlier walking fish to human model, as outlined in his 2008 Your Inner Fish:

Shubin mindset jump

A modified variant of this "big bang to human molecule" diagram, to note was used in Libb Thims' 2015 Zerotheism for Kids class.

A point to note in this historical development of ideas is that a certain amount of deanthropomorphism has occurred. One does not, in modern scientific terms, speak of the hydrogen atom as a "being" (an anthropomorphism) or as being "alive" (a religious theory) or as having a dualism "spiritual + corporal" composition (a religion/science blend concept), but rather as a bound state of one proton and one electron attached via photon exchange force interactions. This logic scales up to the human molecular level, albeit one that requires a great deal of conceptual language reformulation. Also, in stead of "chains" we now correctly speak of "coupled" chemical reaction mechanisms.

The following are related quotes:

“It was in the eighteenth century that the conception of the universe as a ‘chain of being’, the principles which underlay this conception – plenitude, continuity, gradation – attained their widest diffusion and acceptance. The faith in speculative a priori metaphysics was waning, and the Baconian temper (if not precisely the Baconian procedure), the spirit of patient empirical inquiry, continued its triumphant march in science, and was an object of fervent enthusiasm among a large part of the general educated public. There has been no period in which writers of all sorts — men of science and philosophers, poets and popular essayists, deists and orthodox divines — talked so much about the ‘chain of being’, or accepted more implicitly the general scheme of ideas connected with it, or more boldly drew from these their latent implications, or apparent implications. Addison, King, Bolingbroke, Pope, Haller, Thomson, Akenside, Buffon, Bonnet, Goldsmith, Diderot, Kant, Lambert, Herder, Schiller — all these and a host of lesser writers not only expatiated upon the theme but drew from it new, or previously evaded, consequences; while Voltaire and Samuel Johnson, a strange pair of companions in arms, led an attack upon the whole conception. Next to the word ‘nature’, the ‘great chain of being’ was the sacred phrase of the eighteenth century, playing a part somewhat analogous to that of the blessed word ‘evolution’ in the late nineteenth.”
Arthur Lovejoy (1933), The Great Chain of Being (pgs. 183-84)

1. Bonnet, Charles. (1745). Treatise on Insectology or Observations on Aphids (Traité d'insectologie ou Observations sur les pucerons) (pg. #). Publisher.
2. (a) Article. (1882), “Article” (full size), Punch’s Almanack (Dec. 6, 1881).
(b) Darwin, Charles. (1881). The Formation of the Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms. Publisher.
3. Haeckel, Ernst. (1874). Anthropogenie oder Entwicklungsgeschichte des Menschen (image). Publisher.
4. Bonnet, Charles. (1783). Works of Natural History and Philosophy (Œuvres d'histoire naturelle et de philosophie) (image). Publisher.
5. Bonnet, Charles. (1764). Contemplation de la nature , Vol. I, 27. Trans. Stephen Jay Gould, Ontogeny and Phylogeny (1977), 23.
6. Bonnet, Charles. (1764). Contemplation de la nature (image). Publisher.
7. Jeremy. (2009). “Charles Darwin Was a Designer”,, Feb. 15.
8. The Human Evolution Tree –
9. The Tree of Life – Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
10. Darwin, Charles. (1871). “Letter to Joseph Hooker”, in: The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Including an Autobiographical Chapter, Vol 3. (pg. 18). John Murray.
11. Di Gregorio, Mario A. (2005). From Here to Eternity: Ernst Haeckel and Scientific Faith (pg. 389). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
12. Lewis, Ricki. (1992). Life: Beginnings of Life, Animal Life, Plant Life, Evolution of Life, Behavior and Ecological Life (Figure 2.4: "panorama of life on earth over time", pg. 17). Wm. C. Brown Publishers.
13. Arnopoulos, Paris. (1993). Sociophysics: Cosmos and Chaos in Nature and Culture (pg. 39). Nova Publishers, 2005.
14. (a) Singer, Charles. (1931). A Short History of Biology (scala naturae, pgs. 39, 227, fig. 18) (Ѻ). Publisher.
(b) Scala natura –
15. Lovejoy, Arthur. (1933). The Great Chain of Being: a Study of the History of an Idea. Transaction Publishers, 2011.
16. Ragan, Mark A. (2009). “Trees and Networks Before and After Darwin” (Ѻ), Biology Direct, 4:43.
17. (a) Blackmore, Susan. (2003). Consciousness: an Introduction (great chain, 209-10). Publisher, 2013.
(b) Illustrations (Consciousness: an Introduction) –
18. Lucretius. (55BC). On the Nature of Things (translator: Frank Copley) (pg. 55). W.W. Norton & Co., 2011.

External links
Great chain of being – Wikipedia.

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