In the beginning... imagining the birth of the universe
"Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?" An abundance of myths, religious doctrines and scientific theories have been developed to answer these fundamental questions about the world and man's place in it.
In early times, especially, many societies elaborated cosmogonic myths which gave an account of the origination of the world or the universe. Some postulated a world created from the void by the power and wisdom of an omnipotent and omniscient God; for others creation did not take place ex nihilo but from an already existing substance. Some communities envisaged the world as the offspring of a primordial father and mother; others believed that the created order emerged progressively, like the growth of a fetus. Some creation stories feature prominently in the sacred writings and beliefs of the world's great religions. Traces of others survive in the customs and traditions of many lands and in the symbolism used in arts and crafts. An idea of the prodigious diversity of human response to questions about our origins can be gauged from the sample of creation myths and traditions presented in the following pages
Today scientists studying the behaviour of the universe are proposing new theories and answers to these eternal questions. And like time-honoured myth, modern cosmology is concerned not only with cosmogony but its opposite, eschatology, the end of creation. This issue of the magazine is, then, rounded off with an account of a theory on an expanding and contracting universe which has been developed by a modern cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, and like many ancient myths englobes the birth and also the ultimate destiny of the universe.