I had rather believe all the Fables in the Legend and the Alcoran than that this Universal Frame is without a Minde. — Lord Bacon
In the introduction to his recent book, The Origin of the Earth (Cambridge University Press, 239 pp.), Dr. W. M. Smart, of the University of Glasgow, makes it clear that science, because of the limitations imposed upon it by scientific procedure and tradition, presents only one aspect of the drama of creation, and he draws a striking parallel to illustrate this shortcoming:
A great work of pictorial art could be analysed by the scientist in terms of chemical constitution, atomic and molecular structure, the laws of physical optics and all the rest; he might reduce Beethoven's Fifth Symphony to a collection of mathematical formulae in the theory of vibrations; in neither case would his interpretation be more than bare bones, incomplete and unsatisfying.
The scientist, he points out, thinking as a scientist, fails to see any motive or guiding intelligence behind the structure and mechanics of the universe. He plays the game, according to the rules, and sets aside the promptings of his intuition as a matter of private opinion, as yet unproved. A few great men have risen above these restrictions and dared follow where their intuition leads, but these are few. Dr. Smart questions whether the growing accumulation of facts and theories has advanced the understanding in this respect, beyond the poetic opening of the Book of Genesis.
The author describes concisely and graphically the mechanics and structure of the solar system and presents the evidence of geology and astronomy upon which the age of the earth is calculated. He then takes up each of the creation theories presented by science, from the Nebular Hypothesis of Laplace to the present day.
In summing up, he concludes, that all the theories proposed up to date as to the mechanism by which the Solar System has come into being fail to carry conviction. "The achievements recorded in the previous chapters have been many and even on occasions spectacular and certainly beyond disparagement; nowhere, however, have we touched the greatest topic of all — man's place and destiny in this marvelous creation." Considering the universe as a stage, we have learned much about its "construction, properties, lighting, etc.," but nothing of the actors or of the one who wrote the play.
Dr. Smart, in The Origin of the Earth, writes for the men of today, standing as they do at the threshold between two ages. Having reviewed the speculations of science as to the earth's origin, he looks for a greater and more spiritual understanding in a synthesis of knowledge, yet fails to see the significance contained within the lore of our forefathers, a tradition now obscured with superstition and poetic fancy, yet with gems of truth still gleaming through the mass.
The mystery and beauty of the universe is far greater than any man's opinion of it, and while every decade sees new discoveries alter and enlarge previous conceptions, only a point of view which satisfies the religious, philosophical, and scientific aspirations of mankind can interpret these discoveries in their full significance.
In all periods of history inquiring minds have searched for an explanation of the earth's origin. According to the spirit of the times the religionist, the philosopher, and the scientist have sought, each within his own intellectual sphere, for an acceptable theory explaining the nature and origin of the Solar System and its members, the sun, moon, and planets. Each student in turn has contributed an important part to human knowledge. Thus it is that, limited by the Zeitgeist of the period, many of the theories and traditions speak, in the phraseology of myth, of an emanational unfolding from inner realms; others credit the creation to the act of an extra-cosmic God, and today we read among other theories of the chance approach of a wandering star disrupting the substance of the sun, thus bringing the planets to birth.
It is only in our western civilization, however, that the beginning, or, in religious circles, the creation of the world out of nothing is taught. Always, among the ancients the creation myths refer to the rebirth, or rebeginning, of the universe or world out of a condition of chaos, a state of pre-existing, formless matter, in other words the refuse, of a previous planetary imbodiment.
In the Apocryphal book, "The Wisdom of Solomon," 11-17, we find this doctrine referred to:
For thine all-powerful hand
That created the world out of formless matter.
The learned Alexandrian philosopher, Philo Judaeus, taught that God is the soul of the world, and that the earth and the stars are animate beings. According to Philo, the world we know is a later copy of an elder spiritual creation, he holding, as did most of the ancients, to an emanational unfolding from spiritual to physical conditions through a series of stages.
A thoughtful study of the opening verses of the Book of Genesis, especially when compared with the commentaries contained in the Talmud, shows clear reference to a state of chaos preceding the creation. A further comparative study of classical tradition shows a basic system of cosmology underlying the ancient creation myths, not only in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, but in India and the regions of the far north as well. That these traditions were often expressed in the form of allegory does not mean that they did not contain profound truth. Far otherwise, for they contain the very keys science is searching for today.
It is therefore to be regretted that men of science, in writing of the origin of the earth, so often misrepresent or ignore the ideas of their forefathers.
As an example, Dr. Smart, in referring to the philosophy of India, says, "According to the Upanishads, man's soul has passed through — will continue to pass through — an endless series of changes, with the implication that terrestrial time is infinite in the past and infinite in the future." The latter deduction is not quite correct, as terrestrial time and the globe itself were understood to be but stages in a series of planetary imbodiments. It was the indwelling spiritual monad which was beginningless and without end in an eternity of evolution.
In contrast to the vast sweep of Indian thought, Dr. Smart cites the famous date of creation which Archbishop Ussher gravely pronounced, assigning the creation of heaven and earth to the year 4004 B.C., a date to which later theologians added hour and day, setting the instantaneous beginning of all things at 9:00 a.m., October 23rd, 4004 b.c. We may smile at the foregoing, but our descendants may smile at some equally unfounded pronouncements of today.
Periodic evolution and involution, the majestic outbreathing and inbreathing of the universe, was the theme which underlay all ancient accounts of creation, and while the form in which these traditions have come down to us has suffered from errors in translation and misleading commentaries, the basic pattern can still be distinguished.
However distorted and misunderstood they may be today, the cosmology of the Greeks and Romans shows creation proceeding through three stages.
The first stage, known to the Greeks as Chaos, referred to the unformed and unorganized condition in which the substances of a previous planetary imbodiment rest until a new impulse awakens its sleeping consciousness. It is a state of spiritual being which to us is darkness.
The second stage, known as Theos, had reference to the forming of the ethereal earth as monadic centers began to gather hitherto nebulous material about the spiritual heart of the world to be.
The third stage, or Cosmos, from the Greek word kosmos — order — was the condition in which we find the world today, fully manifested as a physical globe.
One broad distinction separates the speculations of today from the cosmologies of the past. The former offers for our consideration a universe of chance without guidance or purpose, and fated for a catastrophic end. The latter postulated a universe which is a living organism infilled throughout with spiritual and divine forces and intelligences.
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There are two kinds of histories. There is the history of events and this belongs to the mind. And there is the history of the heart — of real humanity — of countless lives, of unknown (to the mind) numberless individuals. Such a history can never be used, judged, quoted or studied by the mind, for it is written in the same context as that in which it is possible to say with active understanding: "Our Father Hallowed be thy Name . . . " — John G. Peck