JF Ptak Science Books Post 1455
It is uncommon to see the life stages of the life of the Earth depicted in seven stages, seven Earths at seven different epochs, alpha to omega--but it is particularly rare to see them illustrating the fronstipiece of a book, and an antiquarian one at that. But that this is exactly what happened with Thomas Burnet's Theory of the Earth, in the English translation of 1684.1 Burnett was a quietly agitated writer whose underlying viewpoint of the existence of life on Earth and the planet itself was that it was the scourge of millennialism, that the cycle of seven Earths depicted on his book ws the life and death of the planet, all wrapped around the coming kingdom of Christ and teh book of Revelation.
And perhaps the most impressive image on the page is that the Earths of Paradise and the millennium were pretty much the same, perfectly well across from one another on a level plane.
Paradise is self-explanatory; the "millennial" part maybe less so--in Christian thought this is when after Certain Things have happened that Jesus Christ would come back to Earth and reign in a terrestrial kingdom, a heaven-on-earth, for a period of a thousand years. Or more. The eschatology is not clear on this so far as I can tell. It seems as though the Earth is devoid of whatever it is that clogs nature's bowels, as the planet looks remarkably sparse and tentative.
The business end of the image is this: rounding the images clockwise, the first is Chaos; the second, Paradise; the third shows the Deluge; the fourth depicts the present world; the fifth is the Conﬂagration; the sixth is the long-awaited Millennium; and the seventh, and last, the final seal, is the Consummation. So the Paradise/Millennial Earth are figures 2 and 6, and they do look pretty much the same.
And so the Earth is a thing of three distinct periods: the first is the lost Paradise, the fated failure in the fall of man; the second is the world of today with its constancy of ruination and upheaval; and the third, paradise regained (but at a cost). As Kerry V. Magruder points out in his "Global Visions and the Establishment of Theories of the Earth"2 points out in his there are "transitions between these scenes are four ‘Revolutions
of our natural world’, accomplished through natural causes: chaos Noah’s universal deluge, a future conﬂagration, and a ﬁnal consummation when the Earth will be transformed into a ﬁxed star..."
Burnet (1635-1715) poured out his pounding heart into these pages, teaching people about the structure and history of the Earth with little or unsuccessful regard to science--but no matter. (Burnet did try to figure out where all of the water came for the flood, which is a great question. It is impossible for it to come from a natural rain of any sort, and Burnet probably came to the conclusion this the answer for the flood couldn't come from the surface of the Earth. So to keep things in compliance with his faith, Burnet established that the water necessary for the flood came not from the surface of the sphere, but below it, in the hollow Earth which was actually filled with water.) This was a work of structured faith and a belief system, and wasn't seen as much more than that except to the initiated.
1. Telluris Theoria Sacra, or Sacred Theory of the Earth was first published in 1681 in Latin and then again in English in 1684. Latin was after all the language of science. Newton's Principia remember wasn't translated into English
2. ...which appeared in Centarus in 2006 volume 48, pp. 234–257