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This Week's Scuttlebutt

Whence came this Universe?

Natural disasters, manmade disasters, pogroms, plagues — throughout the centuries, it has often seemed as though chaotic forces are in control. But from time immemorial, we humans have tried to explain the unexplainable, to create structure and order in the world around us. Mythology, cosmology, and astronomy all strive to make sense of this, our universe.

Mythology is that branch of science which investigates the meaning of myths, and the relationship between the myths of different peoples and cultures.
— Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary

According to Indian mythology, the universe's cycles of life and death span billions of years. Shiva, who represents the unending energy of the cosmos, is frequently shown holding a drum and a flame. The drum symbolizes the music of creation and the tongue of flame symbolizes the future destruction of the universe.

In Egyptian mythology, the ocean was the source of life and the dwelling place of the first being, Atun. The earth-god, Geb, floated on the ocean. The air-god, Shu, surrounded Geb. The goddess Nut was held aloft by Shu; the jewels in her dress sparkled in the dark night sky.

In the 4th century B.C., the Greek philosopher Plato postulated that the universe had a stationary earth at its hub and that the planets and stars circled the earth in a huge outer ring.

Aristotle separated the universe into two realms. The earth and moon were in the inner realm of earth, air, fire, and water. In the outer realm, where the sun and stars resided, all was eternal and unchanging. The Moon was the boundary between the two realms.

What is Mythology?
"Parts of mythology are religious, parts of mythology are historical, parts of mythology are poetical, but mythology as a whole is neither religion nor history, not philosophy, nor poetry. It comprehends all these together…."
– Max Muller

Cosmology: the philosophical study of the nature and principles of the universe.
— Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary

During the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican friar, added a Christian slant to the Greek model of the universe. Thomas claimed there was an outer sphere, called the primary sphere, out beyond the moon, sun, planets, and stars. God lived in the highest level of the outer sphere and angels operated the machinery that kept all the spheres moving in their orbits.

In 1543, Copernicus sparked an intellectual bonfire when he proposed that the sun, and not the earth, was the center of the universe.

Rather than undergo imprisonment and torture, Galileo (1564-1642) retracted his arguments supporting Copernicus' heliocentric model of the universe. Nonetheless, Galileo was placed under house arrest for many years. He died in 1642, shortly after being released from house arrest, but his book remained banned until 1835. It wasn't until 1992 that Galileo's conviction was overturned!

Astronomy is the branch of science which studies the universe and all the objects found in the heavens, from stars to planets, from black holes to anti-matter.
— Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary

big bang
Cosmologists now believe that the universe began over 15 billion years ago when an ultradense, ultrasmall bit of matter exploded.

© 1999 Anne Wallingford

Saturday, April 19, 2003 19:15