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Cosmology, Atomic Theory, Evolution
Classic Readings in the Literature of Science
By William C. Dampier, Margaret Dampier
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
THE BOOK OF GENESIS
Chapter I, and Chapter II, verses 1–3
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.
And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
And the evening and the morning were the third day.
And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.
And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
And God set them in the firmament of heaven to give light upon the earth,
And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.
And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let the fowl multiply in the earth.
And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.
And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.
And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.
And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
The beginnings of science can be traced in Babylonian astronomy and in Egyptian geometry and medicine. In Greece, the genius of a gifted race used the knowledge of Babylon and Egypt as a subject for more abstract thought. The writings of the earlier philosophers are seldom represented by more than isolated fragments, and our knowledge of their work is chiefly derived from references and quotations in later authors. Of these, the most important in the history of thought was Aristotle, who lived from about 384 to about 321 B.C. He had a share in the education of Alexander the Great, who afterwards supplied money to forward Aristotle's researches. Most of his works survive, and contain an encyclopaedic study of the knowledge of his time. Perhaps Aristotle's greatest strength lay in biology, and there we shall meet him again. In astronomy and physics he was less successful. He attempted too much. The true line of immediate advance lay in the more limited but more exact methods of Aristarchus and Archimedes. Nevertheless, both for his own ideas and for an account of those of other Greek philosophers, Aristotle's physical works are of great interest.
Moreover, commentaries on Aristotle were almost the only channel by which the ancient learning passed through the dark ages in Western Europe, and the rediscovery of his works themselves marked the culmination of mediæval thought. It was only at the Renaissance that men began to see that discovery might pass beyond the knowledge of Aristotle, and only with the rise of modern experimental methods that his physics became obsolete; indeed the weight of his authority delayed for a time the acceptance of the new knowledge.
ON THE HEAVENS
(Some freely rendered extracts, based on the literal translation of Thomas Taylor, 1807.)
All men believe that there are gods, and all men, both barbarians and Greeks, assign the highest place in heaven to the divine nature.... For, according to tradition, in the whole of past time no change has taken place either in the heaven as a whole or in any of its parts. Moreover, the name by which we call it appears to have been handed down in succession from the ancients, who held the same opinion about its divine nature which lasts to the present time.
For such reasons, then, we believe that the heaven was neither created nor is it corruptible, but that it is one and everlasting, unchanged through infinite time. Hence we may well persuade ourselves that ancient assertions, especially those of our own ancestors, are true, and see that one kind of motion is immortal and divine, having no end, but being itself the end of other motions. Now motion in a circle is perfect, having neither beginning nor end, nor ceasing in infinite time.
As the ancients attributed heaven and the space above it to the gods, so our reasoning shows that it is incorruptible and uncreated and untouched by mortal troubles. No force is needed to keep the heaven moving, or to prevent it moving in another manner; ... nor need we suppose that its stability depends on its support by a certain giant Atlas, as in the ancient fable: as though forsooth all bodies on high possessed gravity and an earthly nature. Not thus has it been preserved for so long, nor yet, as Empedocles asserts, by whirling round faster than its natural motion downwards. Nor is it reasonable to think that it remains unchanged by the compulsion of a soul, untiring and sleepless, unlike the soul of mortal animals, for it would need the fate of some Ixion (bound for ever to a fiery wheel) to keep it in motion....
The heaven, moreover, must be a sphere, for this is the only form worthy of its essence, as it holds the first place in nature.... Every plane figure is contained by straight lines or by a circumference. The right-lined figure is bounded by many lines, but the circle by but one. But as the one is prior to the many and the simple to the composite, so the circle is the first of plane figures.... Again, to a straight line an addition can always be made, but to a circular line never. Thus once more the line which traces a circle is perfect. Hence if the perfect is prior to the imperfect, the circle again will be the first of figures. In like manner also the sphere will be the first of solids; for this alone is contained by one superficies, while flat-sided figures are contained by many. As a circle is in planes, so is a sphere in solids....
Further still, since it seems clear and we assume that the universe revolves in a circle, and since beyond the uttermost sky is neither body nor space nor vacuum, once more it follows that the universe is spherical. For, if it were rectilinear, there must be space beyond it: a rectilinear body as it revolves will never occupy the same place: where it formerly was it is not now, and where it is not now it will be again, because the corners project....
It remains to discuss the earth—where it is situated, whether it is at rest or moves, and what is its form. With regard to its position, all philosophers have not the same opinion. Most of those who assert that the heaven is finite say that the earth lies at the centre, while those in Italy who are called Pythagoreans hold the contrary. For they say that at the centre of the universe is fire, and that the earth being one of the stars moves in a circle about that centre and thus causes day and night. They also invent opposite to our earth another earth, which they call counter-earth: not investigating theories and causes to explain the facts, but adjusting the facts to fit certain opinions and theories of their own. To many others also it seems that a central place should not be assigned to the earth for reasons not based on facts but on opinions. For they fancy that the most honourable place belongs to the most honourable nature: that fire is more honourable than earth and the boundaries of a space than the region within. But the circumference and the centre they say are boundaries. So that, thus reasoning, they think not the earth but fire holds place in the centre of the sphere. Further still, the Pythagoreans hold that the chief place should be best guarded, and call the centre the altar of Zeus, and thus again assign this place to fire, as if the centre of a mathematical figure and the middle of a thing or the natural centre were of the same kind.... Such as assert that the earth is not situated in the middle of the universe are of opinion that it and the counter-earth also move round the centre in a circle. And to some it appears that many such bodies may move round the centre though invisible to us by the intervention of the earth. Hence they say there are more eclipses of the moon than of the sun, for each of the moving bodies, and not the earth only, can obstruct the light of the moon.... But some say that the earth, being situated in the centre, rolls round the pole which is extended through the universe, as it is written in the Timaeus.
In a similar way there is doubt about the shape of the earth. To some it seems to be spherical, but to others flat, in the form of a drum. To support this opinion they urge that, when the sun rises and sets, he appears to make a straight and not a circular occultation, as it should be if the earth were spherical. These men do not realise the distance of the sun from the earth and the magnitude of the circumference, nor do they consider that, when seen cutting a small circle, a part of the large circle appears at a distance as a straight line. Because of this appearance, therefore, they ought not to deny that the earth is round.... It is indeed irrational not to wonder how it is that a small fragment of earth if dropt from a high place moves downward and a larger fragment more swiftly downward, while the whole earth does not tend downward and its great bulk is at rest. For if, while fragments of earth are falling, some one could take away the whole earth before they reached it, they would nevertheless move downward if nothing opposed them. Hence this question is of general philosophic interest, its consequences seeming no less difficult than the problem. For some on this account hold that the part of the earth below us must be infinite, as Xenophanes of Colophon says, rooted to infinity.... Hence the rebuke of Empedocles when he writes:
The boundless depths of earth, the æther vast,
In vain the tongues of multitudes extol
Who see but little of the mighty all.
But others say the earth floats upon water. This view we consider the most ancient: it is ascribed to Thales the Milesian. It regards the earth as upheld in its place because it floats like a piece of wood or anything else of the same kind.... But water itself cannot remain suspended on high, but must be upheld in its turn by something. Further, as air is lighter than water, so water is lighter than earth. How then can they fancy that what is lighter lies below and supports what is heavier? Again, were the whole earth able to float upon water, this would also be the case with its fragments. But this seems not so, for any piece of earth sinks to the bottom of water, and larger fragments sink more swiftly.
ARISTARCHUS AND ARCHIMEDES
Aristarchus of Samos, who flourished about 280 to 264 B.C., and Archimedes of Syracuse, born about 287 B.C., are the most modern in mind of the Greek physicists. Aristarchus alone directly concerns us here. The Pythagoreans had imagined a fire at the centre of the universe, but Aristarchus was the first to frame in a definite way the theory that the sun is the centre round which the earth and the other planets revolve. This does not appear in the only one of his works which survives, but it is made clear in the extract from Archimedes which follows later.
The application of mathematical reasoning to physics and astronomy, a method which has led to such tremendous results in modern times, is first seen in Aristarchus. The proofs, cast in geometrical form, are unsuited for our present purpose, but we illustrate the method by recording his hypotheses and his propositions.
ARISTARCHUS ON THE SIZES AND DISTANCES OF THE SUN AND MOON
(From Aristarchus of Samos, by Sir Thomas Heath.)
1. That the moon receives its light from the sun.
2. That the earth is in the relation of a point and centre to the sphere in which the moon moves.
3. That, when the moon appears to us halved, the great circle which divides the dark and the bright portions of the moon is in the direction of our eye.
4. That, when the moon appears to us halved, its distance from the sun is then less than a quadrant by one-thirtieth of a quadrant.
5. That the breadth of the (earth's) shadow is (that) of two moons.
6. That the moon subtends one-fifteenth part of a sign of the zodiac.
We are now in a position to prove the following propositions:
1. The distance of the sun from the earth is greater than eighteen times, but less than twenty times, the distance of the moon (from the earth); this follows from the hypothesis about the halved moon.
2. The diameter of the sun has the same ratio (as aforesaid) to the diameter of the moon.
3. The diameter of the sun has to the diameter of the earth a ratio greater than that which 19 has to 3, but less than that which 43 has to 6; this follows from the ratio thus discovered between the distances, the hypothesis about the shadow, and the hypothesis that the moon subtends one-fifteenth part of a sign of the zodiac.
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