World riddles and natural wonders Part III.

(Published in GralsWelt special issue 11/2003)


Myths and Philosophy
Almost all religions contain ideas about the world, its beginning and sometimes also about its end. Such ideas have been handed down from ancient times by Egyptians, Babylonians, Chinese, Greeks, Indians, Jews, Sumerians and many others, whose religious traditions by no means stood for themselves, but were mutually beneficial.

We usually know little about the origin of such myths; it is almost impossible to separate what was revelation, observation, or fantasy. Sometimes we are astonished when facts we are familiar with today are described correctly; even if in a simple language that was understandable to the people of the time. One might almost get the impression that a modern cosmologist, if he returned to this windy time, would not be able to convey much more to the people of that time.

The cosmologies of Christianity and Islam developed from a combination of Old Testament revelations and Greek thought.

“Neither nothing nor being was then; was not the air space nor the sky above it…. Neither death nor immortality was then ... In the beginning darkness was hidden in darkness; all of this was unrecognizable flood. The vital that was enclosed by the void, the One, was born by the power of its hot urge. At the beginning of this came the desire for love, which was the first seed of thought. Searching in the heart, the wise men, through thought, found the bond of being in nonbeing.
Her guideline was stretched across it. Was there a bottom, was there an up? There were inseminators, there were expansion forces. Below was the instinct, above was the granting. Who knows for sure where they came from, where did this creation come from? The gods came afterwards through the creation of this world. Then who knows what it has developed from? What this creation developed out of, whether He made it or not - he who is the overseer of this world in the highest heaven knows it alone, unless he does not know either. "
   World creation song of the Rig Veda (8, p. 14).

The return of the same
When looking at the world, the fact of continuous repetition comes to mind. Day and night, summer and winter, the movements of the moon, the sun, the planets, run in a seemingly eternal cycle in which neither a beginning nor an end can be seen.

As astute observers, the ancient Greeks recognized many astronomical facts, the confirmation of which was reserved for later centuries (spherical shape of the earth, size of the circumference of the earth, precession movement of the earth's axis, first approaches to calculating the distances from the sun and moon, etc.).

But they were primarily concerned with the structure, i.e. the structure of the universe, less with its beginning or even with its end, about which hardly anything could be said with the possibilities of ancient Greek philosophy.

In the beginning God created heaven and earth ...

Quite different is the biblical story. The ancient Jews were less interested in the structure of space and - unlike the ancient Greeks - were not outstanding astronomers.

In return, they passed on a story of creation that was the basis of Christian understanding of the world until the 19th century. In this context it is irrelevant to what extent these old Jewish ideas were anticipated by older cultures, which often knew their own myths about a creator god. For us, the fact is important that a development story came into our cosmological worldview through the Bible, which has dominated for centuries.

The first lines of the Old Testament tell of an act of creation, the beginning of our world, which was thus subject to development, as well as the creation of man. The end of the world and the future of man remained open.

The New Testament then declared the mission of Jesus to the redemption of mankind as a necessary consequence of the Fall, and spoke of the end of the world. In the Bible a wide arc spans from the beginning of everything created (in Genesis, the First Book of Moses, the beginning of the Old Testament) to the end of the world and the Last Judgment (in the Apocalypse, the Great Revelation, as the last book of the New Testament).

The earth, at the center of the world, became the scene of the drama of humanity from the Fall to the Last Judgment.

This biblical view of the world could easily be combined with the astronomy of the ancient Greeks. Even the Copernican Revolution and the New Science, natural science, fundamentally changed the astronomical conception of the structure of the cosmos, but until well into the 19th century, little more was known about the origin of the world than is already in the Bible.

The age of the earth
Various scientists calculated the age of the earth using biblical chronology. Including none other than Isaac Newton (1643-1727), who saw himself as a devout Christian and took biblical revelations seriously.

Most famous is the date calculated by Archbishop James Ussher (1580-1656) who wrote in 1650:

"At the beginning God created heaven and earth, which according to our era must have been during the nightfall on October 23rd in the year 710 of the Julian calendar (4004 BC)."

Up to the end of the 18th century, even enlightened scientists had nothing more to say about the age of the earth and the creation of the earth than the Bible.

The first doubts about the reliability of the Genesis sowed in 1785 the Scottish natural philosopher James Hutton (1726-1797), who in his "Theory of the Earth" (Theory of the Earth) assumed that the geological changes of the earth's surface, such as erosion of mountains or Relocations of rivers, at all times due to the same natural forces and therefore occurred at the same speed as today.

This topicality principle was then further elaborated - by the geologist Charles Lyell (1797-1875), a friend of Darwin's - into one of the most important working hypotheses of geologists. From now on there were the proverbial “geological time periods”, the age of the earth had to be hundreds of millions of years, and the biblical chronology became untenable.

In the middle of the 19th century, physicists then tried to use radiation laws and the law of conservation of energy to calculate the age of the earth.

Assuming that the earth began as a glowing, molten body, it took about 20 million years for it to cool down to its present temperature. The sun, on the other hand, had to be much younger (or originally much larger) if it gained its energy, which it continuously radiated into space, through contraction, through comet impacts or even through combustion.

This contradiction could only be resolved in the middle of the 20th century, when nuclear reactions in the interior of the sun or in the interior of the planets were recognized as sources of energy.

Only now could one dare to try to estimate the age of our earth or the universe with the methods of natural sciences and to arrive at a picture of the development of the universe.

The expanding space
One of the most important astronomical discoveries of the 20th century was the realization that space is expanding and that the further away the galaxies, the faster they move away from us. Since then, every cosmogony *) has to take this Hubble effect (Edwin P. Hubble, 1889-1953) into account.

Although there have always been attempts to explain the increasing redshift of their spectrum with the distance of the stars, other than by the expansion of the universe, the image of the expanding universe has hardly been seriously questioned until today.

The Big Bang
When the universe expands, one might think that it used to be smaller than it is today. If the escape speed is known, then you can calculate back to a time when space was only a tiny space bubble, the size of a soccer ball or a golf ball or just a pinhead.

Outside of this mini-universe there was nothing, the temperatures inside it were gigantic. The American physicist George Gamow (1904-1968) made this idea known in 1947. His theory of the big bang showed how the assumed, unimaginable temperature of the first thousandth of a second gradually developed into an overheated plasma from which electrons, atoms and finally stars were formed.

The steady state cosmology **)
The astronomers Hermann Bondi and Thomas Gold, later supported by Fred Hoyle, could not make friends with the big bang hypothesis and around 1948 developed the image of an expanding universe in which new galaxies are continuously emerging, whose matter is formed out of nothing. Perhaps the matter can also disappear again, for example in black holes. The process of the birth of the galaxies would therefore proceed so slowly that it cannot be observed. But the universe remains the same for all time, it has always looked the way it does today and will remain so in the future. There would be no beginning and no end.

How did the world come about?
The sometimes heated discussions between "steady-state" and "big bang" cosmologists had subsided quite a bit by 1960, and it was believed that they knew the origin of the world in principle:

Until 10 or 20 billion years ago there was nothing, not even an empty space. Then a tiny space bubble formed spontaneously, filled with such an enormous amount of energy that it expanded at the speed of light, giving rise to hundreds of billions of galaxies, each with a hundred billion suns, and also gave these unimaginable masses the impulse with which it was move away from each other for an unknown time. This theory can even be reconciled with the Bible: “God said: Let there be light. And there was light " (Genesis 3).

And how will the development continue? A much-noticed extension of this hypothesis assumed that the expansion of the galaxies slowed down and perhaps even reversed due to the mutual attraction. After the universe has reached its greatest extent, it would shrink again, and finally the innumerable billions of galaxies would merge with one another in an implosion beyond our imagination.

That would be the final end of our universe and perhaps at the same time the beginning of a new one. With a period of 80 or 100 billion years, Big Bangs would follow Big Bangs. Every “big bang” would be the end of an old and perhaps at the same time the beginning of a new universe.
So far it has not been possible to decide on the basis of measured data whether we live in an “open” universe that continues to expand indefinitely, or in a “closed” one that will contract sooner or later and ultimately collapse.

The new cosmogony
Up until the beginning of the 20th century, astronomers and philosophers alike saw something absolutely fixed in space, i.e. the arena in which the celestial bodies move.

Then this simple picture of space and time began to falter and Hubble's expanding universe and Einstein's theory of relativity became the basis for the world models of the 20th century.

To what extent today's ideas apply can only be clarified by observations that reach far into space, i.e. show galaxies billions of light years away in the state that was there when the light left these galaxies. As valuable as this glimpse into the past of the universe may be, it is associated with great methodological difficulties, e.g. the correct determination of the distance to extremely distant objects. Much is uncertain here, and some recent observations cannot be reconciled with world models that have hardly been questioned for decades.

Lately attempts have been made to close the gaping gaps between theory and reality with hypotheses that answer some questions, but create uncheckable, fantastic ideas.

A theory published in 1980 by the American Alan H. Guth requires z. For example, immediately after the Big Bang, before the formation of matter, the universe expanded gigantically in a tiny period of time, from microscopic to astronomical dimensions. Guth explains this hypothesis with special properties of the primordial vacuum, which spontaneously produced particles.

According to Guth, today's observable universe was originally a tiny spot in space-time in a material cosmos. From Guth's hypothesis it is concluded that besides our world (many?) There can or even must be other worlds; an assumption that could evade any examination by the means of natural science. Some scientists even suspect that a new universe can emerge from a black hole.

Recent measurements suggest that a mysterious “dark energy” is causing space to expand ever faster. Accordingly, it would continue to grow indefinitely and ultimately consist only of bizarre, cold bodies that are far apart from each other.

It is becoming more and more difficult to reconcile the observed data with each other, and accordingly the speculation about phenomena that no one will ever get to see proliferate. The boundaries between physics and mysticism become gliding ...

At the beginning of the 20th century, astronomers knew little more about the creation of the world than the Bible. This was followed by unimagined insights into the structure of the universe, the type, structure and life cycle of stars, which expanded our picture of the cosmos.

Well-founded theories of how the world came about now seemed possible. The common big bang hypothesis emerged. In order to reconcile this with more recent observations, theoretical cosmologists then had to accept hypotheses towards the end of the 20th century that, at least for the time being, cannot be proven any more than the history of creation in the Bible or the myths of other religions. The question of how the world came into being is open again.

It remains to be seen whether and when improved methods of observation will provide the basis for an incontestable scientific cosmogony, or whether we will have to be content with the revelation that a Creator created this world.

Continued Part IV.

*) Cosmogony = The doctrine of the origin of the world.
Cosmology = The study of the structure of the universe.
**) Steady state cosmology = theory of the continuous new creation, describes a stationary, balanced universe.

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