To many intellectuals such as Celsus, the whole idea of a ‘Creation myth’ was not only implausible but redundant. During this period in Rome, a popular and influential philosophical theory offered an alternative view. This theory – an Epicurean one – stated that everything in the world was made not by any divine being but by the collision and combination of atoms. According to this school of thought, these particles were invisible to the naked eye but they had their own structure and could not be cut (temno) into any smaller particles: they were a-temnos – ‘the uncuttable thing’: the atom. Everything that you see or feel, these materialists argued, was made up of two things: atoms and space ‘in which these bodies are and through which they move this way and that’. Even living creatures were made from them: humans were, as one (hostile) author summarized, not made by God but were instead nothing more than ‘a haphazard union of elements’. The distinct species of animals were explained by a form of proto-Darwinism. As the Roman poet and atomist Lucretius wrote, nature put forth many species. Those that had useful characteristics – the fox and its cunning, say, or the dog and its intelligence – survived, thrived and reproduced. Those creatures that lacked these ‘lay at the mercy of others for prey and profit . . . until nature brought that race to destruction’.
Catherine Nixey The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World