‘Zoroastrian text that preempted science’s latest discovery’
From Prof Almut Hintze.
Sir, “At the beginning of time Ohrmazd created the world out of his own substance, which is eternal light.” This passage from a Zoroastrian Middle Persian text on cosmology, the Bundahishn, compiled in the 10th century CE but based on much older traditions, reads like a pre-scientific summary of the most recent discovery, made with telescopes in Antarctica, of measurable gravitational waves generated within a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of the second in which happened the birth of the universe 13.8bn years ago. This sensational breakthrough was reported on your front page on Tuesday (“Bicep 2’s ‘ripples’ add muscle to Big Bang”, March 18). The discovery of the gravitational ripples is very exciting indeed, but it should not be forgotten that the Zoroastrian pre-scientific explanation of the origins of the world not only pre-empted this discovery but also viewed it within the larger picture of the origins of the cosmos and of its goal, ideas which scientists are still a long way from verifying in measurable terms.
The recent scientific discovery brings into evidence two points. The first is that, alongside science, it is well worth being aware of the humanities, religious traditions in particular. Second, the study of ancient religious traditions requires great, especially linguistic, expertise in order to access sources that are written in obscure scripts and languages, and such expertise deserves to be valued as much as scientific explorations.
The question of what the primordial light is within which the Big Bang happened is still to be explored – no doubt at an expense of unimaginable size – but pre-scientific answers are already there in religious traditions. One approach does not preclude the other, of course, and both are vital. But in the current climate that underrates and, as a result, underfunds the humanities, it is necessary to be open – and listen – to both.
Almut Hintze, Zartoshty Brothers Professor of Zoroastrianism, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, UK
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From the Financial Times. Wednesday 19 March, 2014. ‘Zoroastrian text that preempted science’s latest discovery’. Prof. Almut Hintze.
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