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I've been doing some research for a cosmology series and I'm struck by how many physicists and philosophers, from Newton to Einstein, had a notion that the Universe should be static and eternal. Why was this view so widespread?

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    $\begingroup$ Because that is what it looked like, to the naked eye or through telescope. Unchanging, except for minute events here and there. A natural surmise was that on a grand scale it is at equilibrium, static. Subtle observational effects of galaxies moving weren't confirmed until Hubble in 1929. The time scale of expansion turned out to be far greater than the scale of historical observations which suggested the equilibrium. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Jul 27, 2020 at 21:56
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    $\begingroup$ "Eternal" removes awkward problems with beginning/end (what was before/after) and causes. Eternal and non static implies some kind of (eternal) recurrence. So there seems to be really good a priori reasons for the preference of an eternal and static universe. $\endgroup$
    – sand1
    Jul 28, 2020 at 9:21
  • $\begingroup$ @sand1 .... at least from an emotional point of view. $\endgroup$ Jul 29, 2020 at 12:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Thomas more likely many early folk thought it was static and eternal, rather than "should be" which implies evidence to the contrary that they disliked. $\endgroup$ Jul 29, 2020 at 12:05
  • $\begingroup$ The scientific principle states that one shouldn't make any unnecessary hypothesis. If the Universe looks static why should one believe it to be otherwise? $\endgroup$
    – Leo
    Aug 8, 2020 at 11:08

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Personally I'm surprised that this is the case given that for hundreds of years Europe was Christian and the biblical Genesis quite matter of factly said that the universe was created. It's strange that this didn't factor in their speculations about the universe and its history.

Still, it's understandable. After all, if the universe was created then it would have been created all at once and it's difficult to see just how that can be the case when the universe appears spread over such an enormous scale. One way around this, which LeMaitre took, is to suggest that the universe was created as a kind of cosmic egg, which cracked open (symmetry breaking!) and which then expanded. But then one has to imagine the whole, vast expanse of the universe compressed into something very small and compact and that also beggars the imagination.

No doubt that's why astronomers took the simplest, safest and most cautious option and just declared the universe to have been as it always was. Undoubtably this was easy to do since the sky at night, apart from the sun and the moon doesn't appear to change very much from year to year and in fact was taken as the epitome of a permanent and changeless divine sphere: the supralunary as opposed to the sublunary, so to speak.

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