Precursors to
Modern Astronomy

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 the cosmos. We could find examples from other cultures, but you see the flavor of these stories.

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 validity,, 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:
  1. A dependence on quantitative observations.

  2. Explanations in terms of theories that are subject to observational confirmation, and that are formulated in logical and mathematical terms.
Thus we will find that modern Astronomy is really a particular instance of applied physics.

Next   Back