This essay has a total of 2317 words and 10 pages.
Myth or Science
Throughout history there have been many attempts to explain the origin and workings of our universe. Most every culture has their own cosmogony. Nearly every individual has his or her own idea of what our universe is. During our modern era of advanced scientific knowledge, we feel that we have a good grasp on how the universe works. We have our Chemistry and Physics, along with Mathematics, to examine the universe with. Any person educated in these fields will tell you that they know our universe. The point is science in the modern era is thought to be the correct summation of the universe. We think we are right. Does this make everyone else wrong? Those that believe in myth over science, are they wrong? These are some of the questions that I will be discussing in this essay. I will examine the evolution of cosmological thought in Ancient Greece (Pre-Socratics through Aristotle). In doing this, I will show a movement from myth to more science based cosmologies. I will then examine the Buddhist Cosmology, which is somewhat separated from Ancient Greek thought. After all of this, I will examine the question of which is more correct, Science or Myth.
Before continuing a clear definition of “myth” needs to be established. The term myth has multiple meanings. Webster’s II Dictionary, defines it the three different ways. “1. A traditional story that deals with supernatural beings, ancestors, or heroes that serve as primordial types in a primitive view of the world. 2. A real or fictional story that appeals to the consciousness of a people by embodying its cultural ideals or by giving expression to deep commonly felt emotions. 3. A fictitious or imaginary person, idea, or thing.” For the sake of this essay, I would like the second definition to apply to my use of the word myth. The term myth should not be thought of as fictitious or primitive. The possibility for the myth to be real should always be considered.
Some of the earliest known philosophies on the creation of the Earth come from the works of Hesiod. In his Theogony he attempts to explain the creation of the Earth, and all that surrounds him, using myth. In the myth Hesiod anthropomorphizes the cosmos. He tells of “Chaos” being the first to come into being, then he goes on to describe how each of the gods of the cosmos comes in to being. The gods of the cosmos are all related to some characteristic of our universe. They can be physical parts or concepts (similar to Plato’s idea of the forms). For example the line, “Earth first bore starry Heaven, equal to herself, to cover her on every side, and to be an ever-sure abiding-place for the blessed gods.”(Theogony, 126) describes both the act of birth, which is a human characteristic, and physical parts of the universe being gods (Heaven meaning the stars, and the Earth). He also has gods, such as Eros, which represents the concept of Love.
Two main issues the come up during discussions of cosmology are how the universe was created and out of what was the universe created. In the Theogony, Hesiod has the world created out of gods that are human by nature and to create this universe the gods reproduced.
Hesiod’s theories of the universe can clearly be classified as myth, since there is no scientific background for it. The philosophers to follow Hesiod moved slightly away from this. The Pre-Socratics begin to de-anthropomorphize the universe. Even later, in the works of Socrates and Plato, the universe is completely de-anthropomorphized. The Pre-Socratics focus more on what the universe was made of than how it was created. They typically chose a single element that everything consisted of and tried to explain the world according to that element. Sometimes these elements were one of the basic four elements; earth, fire, air, and water. Sometimes they were more abstract such as Anaximander’s theory. “...The principle element of existing things was the aperion... it is neither water nor any other of the so-call elements, but some other aperion nature, from which come into being all the heavens and the worlds in them.”(Hetherington, pg. 58) The Pre-Socratics based their theories on insight and observations. For this reason their theories are both mythical and scientific. Because some of their choices of what the key element is are based on instinctive feelings, they can be considered myth. On the other hand, they support their ideas through observations and experience making the ideas scientific. Science is defined one way in Webster’s II Dictionary to be “Knowledge that is acquired through experience.” The Pre-Socratics were not completely scientific because not everything they theorized was based on experience, but they were not as mythical as Hesiod either.
Aristotle’s concept of the universe was mostly scientific. Since Aristotle was the tutor of Alexander the Great, he had access to a wide variety of cultures. By gathering information from all of these cultures, he was able to analyze the world from a scientific perspective. He came up with four fundamental theses to the universe. 1.) The universe was Geocentric, Earth centered. 2.) The universe contained two separate worlds, one that spanned out to the moon and it was ever changing, and another that was from the moon out that was unchanging and made of the fifth element (ether). 3.) The universe did not consist of any void or empty space within the inner world. 4.) The only motion of the planets was that of uniform circular motion around the center of the universe. More important than Aristotle’s four theses were the scientific methods he used to establish them. For example, in determine that there was no void, Aristotle argues, “If water were twice as thick as air, an object should move through water with half the speed it moved through air. But void with no thickness made such a ratio nonsense; it meant dividing by zero.” (Hetherington, pg. 99)
From examining the history of cosmology in Ancient Greece, it becomes clear that there was an evolution away from myth and towards science. What are some of the reasons of why this could be? A likely answer is that the evolution came about out of an adaptation to the environment. Ancient Greece was a very volatile area to be a part of. Greece was established in an area mainly known for warring. A history of Ancient Greece is mostly a timeline and description of the various types of war that occurred there. Because of this factor, the need for science increased. Aristotle spent his time studying the natural environment. By doing so he could make fairly reliable predictions (some of which we still believe to be true today) of the physical world. If one can predict the workings of the physical wor
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