Cosmogony (from κόσμος, the world, and γόνος, generation), strictly the science of the origin of the earth. The term is applied also to the various theories of the formation of the material universe. If we except the cosmogony of the Indians (which is for the most part extravagant and even monstrous, although the "Institutes of Menu" speak of a simpler system; see Sir William Hamilton's Asiatic Researches, vol. 5), the earliest profane cosmogony extant is that of Hesiod (in the first part of his Theogony, ver. 116-452), which is delivered in verse, and which served as the groundwork for the various physical speculations of most late Greek philosophers. It differs widely from the notion of Homer (Iliad, 14:200), which is also poetic, and represented the more popular view of the Greeks on this subject. — The first prose cosmogonies among heathen writers were those of the early Ionic philosophers, of whom Thales, Anaximenes, Anaximander, and Anaxagoras were the most celebrated. The theories of the ancients on this subject may be reduced to three; for those of moderns, SEE CREATION; for the view of Ovid (in his Metamorphoses), SEE CHAOS.
"1. That which represents the world as eternal in form as well as substance. Ocellus Lucanus is one of the most ancient philosophers who supposed the world to have existed from eternity. Aristotle appears to have embraced the same doctrine. His theory is, that not only the heaven and earth, but also animate and inanimate beings in general, were without beginning. His opinion rested on the belief that the universe was necessarily the eternal effect of a cause equally eternal, such as the Divine Spirit, which, being at once power and action, could not remain idle. Yet he admitted that a spiritual substance was the cause of the universe, of its motion and its form. He says positively, in his Metaphysics, that God is an intelligent spirit (νοῦς), incorporeal, immovable, indivisible, the mover of all things. According to him, the universe is less a creation than an emanation of the Deity. Plato says the universe is an eternal image of the immutable Idea or Type, united, from eternity, with changeable matter. The followers of this philosopher both developed and distorted this idea. Ammonius, a disciple of Proclus, taught, in the 6th century, at Alexandria, the co-eternity of God and the universe. Several ancient philosophers (as also moderns) have gone further, and taught that the universe is one with Deity. Of this opinion were Xenophanes, Parmenides, Melissus, Zeno of Elea, and the Megaric sect.
"2. The theory which considers the matter of the universe eternal, but not its form, was the prevailing one among the ancients, who, starting from the principle that out of nothing nothing could be made, could not admit the creation of matter, yet did not believe that the world had always been in its present state. The prior state of the world, subject to a constant succession of uncertain movements, which chance afterwards made regular, they called chaos. The Phoenicians, Babylonians. and also the Egyptians, seem to have adhered to this theory." "The Chaldean cosmogony, according to Berosus, when divested of allegory, seems to resolve itself into this: that darkness and water existed from eternity; that Belus divided the humid mass, and gave birth to creation; that the human mind is an emanation from the divine nature. The cosmogony of the ancient Persians is very clumsy. They introduce two eternal principles, the one good, called Oromasdes, the other evil, called Arimanius; and they make these two principles contend with each other in the creation and government of the world. Each has his province, which he strives to enlarge, and Mithras is the mediator to moderate their contentions. This is the most inartificial plan that has been devised to account for the existence of evil, and has the least pretensions to a philosophical basis. The Egyptian cosmogony, according to the account given of it by Plutarch, seems to bear a strong resemblance to the Phoenician, as detailed by Sanchoniatho. According to the Egyptian account, there was an eternal chaos, and an eternal spirit united with it, whose agency at last arranged the discordant materials, and produced the visible system of the universe. The cosmogony of the Northern nations, as may be collected from the Edda, supposes an eternal principle prior to the formation of the world. The Orphic Fragments state everything to have existed in God, and to proceed from him." "The ancient poets, who have handed down to us the old mythological traditions, represent the universe as springing from chaos without the assistance of the Deity. Hesiod feigns that Chaos was the parent of Erebus and Night, from whose union sprang the Air (Αἰθήρ) and the Day. He further relates how the sky and the stars were separated from the earth, etc. The system of atoms is much more famous. Leucippus and Democritus of Abdera were its inventors. The atoms, or indivisible particles, said they, existed from eternity, moving at hazard, and producing, by their constant meeting, a variety of substances. After having given rise to an immense variety of combinations, they produced the present organization of bodies. This system of cosmogony was that of Epicurus. as described by Lucretius. Democritus attributed to atoms form and size; Epicurus added weight. Many other systems have existed, which must be classed under this division. We only mention that of the Stoics, who admitted two principles, God and matter — in the abstract, both corporeal, for they did not admit spiritual beings. The first was active, the second passive.
"3. The third theory of cosmogony attributes the origin of the world to a great spiritual cause or Creator. This is the doctrine of the sacred Scriptures, in which it is taught with the greatest simplicity and beauty. From its being more or less held by the Etruscans, Magi, Druids, and Brahmins, it would seem to have found its way as a tradition from the regions in which it was possessed as a divine revelation. Anaxagoras was the first who taught it among the Greeks, and it was to some extent adopted by the Romans, notwithstanding the efforts of Lucretius to establish the doctrine of Epicurus." Dr. Good, however, shows that this view was far from general among even the most cultivated nations of antiquity, or, indeed, unquestioned by early Christian writers (Book of Nature, p. 27). SEE COSMOLOGY.