All ancient advanced civilizations (China, Central America, Mesopotamia, . . .)
treasured some form of astronomy-astrology (in those days there was not a clear
distinction between the two).
Ancient Creation Stories
Ancient civilizations had epic stories
concerning the creation of the cosmos. These
creation stories often have similar features: the Universe was created from a
dark void, and then shaped and ordered. Another common feature is that
whatever was "home" for the particular culture was assumed to the the center of
We could find examples from other cultures, but you see the flavor of these
- The Hebrews: the Universe was created by God in 6 days, beginning from a
- The Greeks: Originally there was formless Chaos; this was followed by
gods who brought order to the cosmos and fought among themselves to control it.
- India: Originally there was neither form nor substance; Father Sky and
Mother Earth conceive the gods, who shape the earth (sex among the gods is
another common feature of creation stories).
- Egypt: The Universe is a large rectangular box with Egypt at
the center. The Sun-god Ra rode around the celestial river once a day, and
star lamps were suspended from the top of the box.
Astronomy and Astrology
Astrology was born in these stories: the attempt by humans to understand
and to influence their destiny through patterns among the stars and planets
that were supposed to have influence on our lives.
Astrology is not science, and has absolutely no evidence to support its
but it gave birth to modern astronomy. Even only 400 years ago it was common
for astronomers to be astrologers too. Many giants in
the development of modern astronomy payed the bills by casting
horoscopes for patrons, even as
they were simultaneously laying the foundation for
a new world view that would leave no place for
astrology and related hokum.
Characteristics of Modern Astronomy
The ancients knew much phenomenology about the heavens, but their ideas about
what was responsible for the observations
were often strange by present standards. Modern
astronomy is characterized by two features that distinguish it from the
astronomy-astrology that came before it:
Thus we will find that modern Astronomy is really a particular instance of
- A dependence on quantitative observations.
- Explanations in terms of theories that are subject to observational
confirmation, and that are formulated in logical and mathematical terms.