Joe Bauman: Science and Spirituality

By Bauman, Joe | Deseret News (Salt Lake City), April 10, 2019 | Go to article overview

Joe Bauman: Science and Spirituality


Bauman, Joe, Deseret News (Salt Lake City)


Editor's note: A version of this was previously published on the author's website.

We humans can experience profoundly spiritual feelings when thinking about celestial objects — and we always have, from the times of the earliest belief systems right up to this minute. But does spirituality have a legitimate place in astronomy?

The sun

The official worship of the sun as a giver of life originated in the deep past. The pharaoh Akhenaten (father of Tutankhamun), who ruled Egypt from 1353 B.C. to 1336 B.C., imposed a new cult of the Aton, the solar disk, as the chief god. Soon after Akhenaten's death, the older religion was restored.

Ancient Greeks imagined the sun as the god Helios, who drove a blazing chariot across the sky daily, east to west. Once, his son Phaeton took the reins, couldn’t control the fiery steeds, and temporarily set Earth on fire. Apollo, son of the chief god Zeus, also was referred to as Helios in Greek mythology.

Also in antiquity, Romans thought of Apollo as the sun god and called the burning sphere Sol. The unconquerable sun, Sol Invictus, was an important deity in the Roman Empire before the conversion to Christianity. The youthful emperor Elagabalus (also called Heliogabalus), who ruled in the years A.D. 218-222, built a temple to Sol Invictus in the capital and tried to appoint him the principal deity.

In addition to the well-known description of the Creation in Genesis, in which the sun, moon and Earth are brought into being, the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Joshua, chapter 10, verses 12-13, places the sun and moon in special context as serving Israel during a war:

"Then spake Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon.

"And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day."

Comets, eclipses and other goings-on

"Ancient Chinese astronomers brooded over solar eclipses and sunspots to divine future events for The Emperor," says a NASA site concerning early studies of the cosmos. "Observatories were the launching pads for exploring the mystical ties between the mundane and the cosmic."

In Hindu mythology, Ketu is Comet, a beloved seer who has a snake body. The Vedas relate that a demon, Rahu, managed by trickery to imbibe a few drops of the celestial ambrosia that conferred immortality. Rahu had a snakelike or fishlike lower body. "However, the Sun and the Moon gods had witnessed Rahu’s deed," notes Patrick Das Gupta of the Department of Physics and Astrophysics, University of Delhi, India. In the article "Comets in Ancient India," he continues, "So, the demon tried devouring them, whereupon Vishnu (a main deity) severed its head by hurling his deadly discus, the Sudarshan chakra, at Rahu."

Since they had just become immortal, the parts of the demon became two living entities, Rahu with the head and Ketu with the bottom. "In the absence of a torso, the Sun or the Moon could not be retained for long after being swallowed by the head Rahu. … That was the way Hindu mythology dealt with the phenomena of eclipses," Gupta wrote.

Stars

Stars are symbols of enlightenment in Zoroastrianism.

Starting around 250 B. …

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