Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Galileo, Galileo, Galileo and his telescope

Sometimes religion unwittingly mocks itself. The history behind the Islamic star and crescent emblem is quite funny due to the irony. The star has been imagined as planet Venus. In 1610 Galileo was the first to use a telescope to observe planet Venus and notice that it goes through phases like our moon, from this Galileo worked out that Venus must be orbiting the sun and therefore the 140 CE Ptolemaic geocentric model was an illusion and the 1543 Copernican heliocentric model was real life.  For centuries the Islamic astronomers had been holding to the Ptolemaic model of the Earth at the centre of the solar system. How is it that the Coran failed to point them toward the idea of the Sun at the centre ?
Divine revelation failed to help. If the Coran or Babble had drawn pictures of Venus as a sphere with images of its phases then that would have been a bit of a miracle, pre telescopes. However Aristarchus of Samos proposed a heliocentric model in 200 BCE that seems to have been mostly ignored.

           Mohammad is claimed to have flown to the seven heavens on his trusty Buraq and Jesus also is said to have flown up past the clouds. Why did they not take a close look at Venus on the way past ? Perhaps they were both short sighted and needed glasses but didn’t know how to make them ? Mohimmad backed the wrong horse.

 The Islamic crescent is imagined as a phase of the moon. However they have drawn a distorted/fictional crescent which extends past the poles- with the points of the crescent reaching about 2 o'clock and 4 o'clock This has happened because they have taken a lazy way out;  using a smaller circle to draw the internal curve. Even if they had used a larger circle it would have given a closer approximation, the illuminated area needs to stop at the poles. I wonder if the astronomers and mathematicians during the Islamic golden age would have been able to draw a more accurate crescent moon using trigonometry ? Are there any ancient accurate drawings ? (The crescent on the modern flag of Singapore is closest to real life)

It is also funny that the star and crescent have close association with religions and cults more ancient than the Islam or Christianity:
 From Wikipedia:

During the 1950s to 1960s, the star and crescent symbol was re-interpreted as a symbol of Islam or the Muslim community.

It has been associated with the Moabites (14th or early 13th – 6th century BC), as the symbol or symbols appear on what are thought to be Moabite name seals. Crescents appearing together with a star or stars are a common feature of Sumerian iconography, the crescent usually being associated with the moon god Sin (Nanna to the Sumerians) and the star (often identified as Venus) with Ishtar (Inanna to the Sumerians). However, in this context, there is a third element often seen, that being the sun disk of Shamash.

The star and crescent was also the emblem of Mithradates VI Eupator. “His royal emblem, an eight rayed star and the crescent moon, represented the dynasty’s patron gods, Zeus, Stratios, or Ahuramazda, and Men Pharmacou, a Persian form of the native moon goddess.” Other scholars have suggested that the star and crescent are more directly related to the cult of the god Mithra. Ustinova associates the star and crescent motif attested in a number of finds in the Bosporan Kingdom (which date from the 5th century BC to the 1st century AD) with the cult of Mithras, and indicates the star and the crescent together constituted the emblem of Pontus and its kings, asserting that it was introduced to the Bosporus by Mithradates and his successors, where it is attested on coins, locally produced jewelry and other objects. She suggests that this emblem indicates “the possibility of an earlier association of the Pontic dynasty with the cult of mounted Mithra. Mithra in fact must have been one of the most venerated gods of the Pontic Kingdom, since its rulers bore the theomorphic name of Mithradates […] although direct evidence for this cult is rather meager.”

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