This is part of a post that I have been asked to write for the homophilosophicus blog. I have decided that rather than write the whole article at once and post it on both blogs, I will write it in stages here. One reason for this is that I find it easier to write smaller direct posts, and I imagine that many readers will also find this easier to read. The second reason is that I can add details here that would probably be too much for a general audience. Thirdly, I can get feedback as I write. This topic fell naturally into different sections, giving me the idea. The sections in this coloured text are extras for this blog only!
Hinduism teaches that the past is infinite, as is the future. Though there was a creation of the universe and there will be an ultimate destruction, these mark one of many cycles. Many Hindus also believe that there are other parallel physical universes, though Hindu texts are largely agnostic on this. The duration of each cycle is measured in billions of years. The late Carl Sagan, an agnostic astronomer and astrophysicist commented:
But the main reason that we oriented this episode of COSMOS towards India is because of that wonderful aspect of Hindu cosmology which first of all gives a time-scale for the Earth and the universe — a time-scale which is consonant with that of modern scientific cosmology. We know that the Earth is about 4.6 billion years old, and the cosmos, or at least its present incarnation, is something like 10 or 20 billion years old. The Hindu tradition has a day and night of Brahma in this range, somewhere in the region of 8.4 billion years.
As far as I know. It is the only ancient religious tradition on the Earth which talks about the right time-scale. We want to get across the concept of the right time-scale, and to show that it is not unnatural. In the West, people have the sense that what is natural is for the universe to be a few thousand years old, and that billions is indwelling, and no one can understand it. The Hindu concept is very clear. Here is a great world culture which has always talked about billions of years. Continue reading