Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Could Modern Science develop out of a non-religious society?

  1. Apr 30, 2004 #1
    Could a society - that doesn't believe in the spiritual - keep itself together long enough to develop modern science?

    Does society need spiritual beliefs inorder to keep order?

    Does a society need to be 'ordered' to develop modern science?

    I am assuming quiet a few things the question - (expecting them to be questioned.)

  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 30, 2004 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    If you read about the seventeenth century founders of science, some used religious concepts in forming their scientific ideas (Kepler and Newton), and some apparently did not (Galileo and Hooke). The basic breakthrough was the discovery of the laws of falling bodies and orbits and the recognition that the same physics describes both.

    As to whether a civilization can hold together without religion is moot, because no such thing has ever been observed. Religion, like war, is apparently something humans always do.
  4. Apr 30, 2004 #3
    We inherited a yardstick, by which we measure everything. By everything, I mean it. We have, in the past (and in politics, daily), made serious efforts to erase non-standard descriptions of reality. So, all the peoples of this world that lived without religion, have been erased by those that put religion far forward; in Art, Healing, Politics, and Science.

    In the Western tradition, we are particularly guilty of the pretense that we are the only advanced civilization the world has known, the earth societies; those that lived in harmony are overlooked as primitive. In this large machine that is the life web of Earth, the successful indigenous tribes have a world to teach us.

    I think that western religion as structured, is a reflection of ancient dominator society. It is a reflection of abuses of some very lengthy past, and in many cases a form of serious post traumatic stress vested generation after generation. Perhaps there have been many visitors to this world in a past where they seemed Godly, and at the same time left a legacy of slavish, devotion. Slavish devotion comes from, oh, slavery most likely.

    In fundamental societies, the end product of "Religion", is always the pleasure and power of the most powerful male. Association with the most powerful male, gives the next most powerful males and successfully bred females, an edge. So there are a lot of religious traditions that are not even vaguely spiritual or Godly.

    I maintain the victor writes history, so in my way of thinking the most dishonest, and duplicitous tell us the tale of how it was. So the "ungodly", by their book; died because of their ungodliness, and we don't know about them. If this were our current scenario, say, where the most wealthy were the biggest religious posers, no one else exists, or will exist in history, except as annoyances.
  5. Apr 30, 2004 #4
    So you're saying that the use of history to find some constant is pretty useless coz the victor writes the history?
  6. Apr 30, 2004 #5
    I must agree with Dayle, although thanks to the Internet I don't think those in power write the history anymore. Thanks to the ease with which history can be recorded -accurately- and from many perspectives, we are in for an interesting future.

    As for the topic, I think religion is no different from government. Could science develop without government? Probably, but it would be VERY slow and painful, and would be lost many times over. Society is what allows science to advance at an exponential rate, because those who produce the essentials for living can support those who dedicate their time to science. Those dedicated to science can then spread their knowledge to the masses.
  7. May 1, 2004 #6
    I'd come at this from a different angle. At a basic level religion is the externalisation of God, the creation of the concept of God. Until we have externalised God we cannot proceed to externalise everything else. Religion is therefore proto-science and proto-metaphysics, the first step towards third-person science and the objectification of the universe. (Via the Greeks, the Renaissance etc). In the end, dare I say it, I find science and religion pretty indistuinguishable as types of systems of knowledge, varying only in the details.

    For this reason I'd say yes, religion must come before science and set the scene for it.
  8. May 1, 2004 #7
    Intreresting ...

    This assumes that God is Internal first, for God then to be externalised.What do you mean by 'Externalisation' of God and what is an 'Internalised God'?

    Then why has modern science not arisen before? Or why didn't it arise at different places-simultaneously or not?

    I think I'm gettin what you mean 'externalised' ... but not fully. Where does this externalising leave the human being? Does he need to externalise him/herslef before/after externalising God?
    Last edited: May 1, 2004
  9. May 1, 2004 #8


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    I believe Canute to be a Hegelian at heart..
  10. May 4, 2004 #9
    I didn't mean to imply that there is or isn't a god. Just that as self-consciousness develops there is a process of externalisation that goes on, although perhaps 'objectification' might be a better word. I'm not sure I can explain what I mean by this.

    To start with Christianity - the Christian church as it got going taught that God is external to ourselves and must be known via the priesthood. (It is not at all clear that this is what Jesus taught). This separates us from God (or 'the absolute') and eventually leads to the view that we are separate and objective observers of nature, looking at it from the outside rather the inside, (from the idea that knowledge is 'out there' and that we must know things from the outside). This inevitably leads to the natural sciences and away from the views of the Gnostics, Essenes, mystics, Buddhists or of Plato, Anaximander etc. (who argued that 'God' is internal and that therefore true knowledge is not found outside oneself).

    I'm writing this to see if it holds water, not because I think I know! However it seems a common view among cutural historians, who often characterise the Renaissance as an important stage in this externalisation/objectification process, culminating in the 'enlightenment' (ho ho) but now called into question by the observer role in QM.

    Surely science has been done since the dawn of man? Perhaps we ought to define 'science' here. I'll let you do that since it's your thread. :smile:

    I think that to do science one must see the world as object, separate to subject. Only then can one mechanise the whole thing and start treating inter-subjective knowledge as being more important than ones own.

    Religion, if this is the belief in or doctrine of a God separate to ourselves, seems a necessary stage in this process. However I haven't thought this through at all thoroughly.

    Still, I'd say it was no coincidence that the 'enlightenment', the natural sciences and the 'extreme' or 'pure' scientific view developed earliest and fastest in Christian societies. The paradigm was already well-established, and book-orientated theology, with a priestly class of experts, laid the academic foundations for its development.
    Last edited: May 4, 2004
  11. May 4, 2004 #10
    It's very interesting what you're saying. I half agree from my own point of view - one of my reservations about this view is that I have a gut-feeling that it's generalising too much. What would you say on the all externalising the Church couldn't digest e.g. Galileo, Darwin?

    Maybe you're saying that it was a necessary part of the movement towards modern science - although some people may hae found it hard to accept the transition i.e. Galelio presecuters (?)

    "Perhaps we ought to define 'science' here. I'll let you do that since it's your thread."

    Feel free to define science as you like. I havn't really thought of any proper definition yet.

    Where does it leave the other religions? ... starting to feel sorry for them ...

    Also ... would this mean that religion is a sort of pseudo science - and therefore has now lost its usefulness?
  12. May 4, 2004 #11
    Then again ... the question being talked about (my question) generalises quiet a bit aswell ....
  13. May 11, 2004 #12
    I wouldn't say that Gallileo, Darwin forced a paradigm shift on the Church, they just produced ideas that they didn't like, and which were a challenge to their authority. Most (I think) scientists who contributed to the birth of science were Christians. Although the subject matter is different there seems no doubt that the 'externalised' methods of institutional theology, and the view of reality it created, paved the way for the natural sciences, whereas the 'internalised' mystical or gnostic methods contributed nothing, and would not have led to the 'Enlightenment'. But this is just an opinion. I'm no cultural historian.
  14. May 11, 2004 #13


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    There's a book called "Aristotle's Children" which discusses how the medieval Catholic Church, very oddly, became enamored of Aristotle's philosophy and how that philosophy was then developed in challenging ways by churchmen. So that by the time of Galileo there had already been a challenge and response and the safe Aristotelianism of Aquinas had been made official and the disturbing post-Aristotelianism of Scotus, Okham, and Buridan had been rejected. It was this defensive official Aristoltelianism that became the foe of Galileo.
  15. May 11, 2004 #14


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    How can 'a society' "believe" in anything? Surely it's people who do the believing :wink:
    What are 'spiritual beliefs'?
    What is 'modern science'?

    As selfAdjoint already pointed out, in one sense these are unanswerable questions, because there's only one example of 'modern science', and religion (which may or may not have anything to do with 'the spiritual') was part of the environment in which it developed.

    For a different take, consider how aspects of what we might call 'science' developed in very different societies - Mayan, Egyptian, Sumerian, Dravidian, Chinese, Australian, New Guinean, ...

    In at least one case (China), you could argue that 'the state' was essentially agnostic (Confucianism, the 'religion' of the rulers, is hardly a codification of 'spiritual beliefs'). But are the undoubted achievements of ancient China 'modern science' in quddusaliquddus' view?
  16. May 12, 2004 #15
    I am using the terms as their usually understd to mean - and I don't think the vast and beautiful Chinese achivements in science could be termed modern science in it's current. I guess you could argue for the re-definition of the term 'modern science'.

    How much impact did the state have on the progress of science in China? ... my guess is not much -but i dont really know

    I guess no-one can really answer the main question completely convincingly. But we can always take a stab at it :D
  17. May 12, 2004 #16


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Would you mind saying a bit more about what you mean by 'the spiritual' and 'spiritual beliefs'? I still don't really understand what you're getting at.

    Also, you seem to be proposing a two-step relationship:

    spiritual beliefs -> social order -> modern science

    rather than a one-step one:

    spiritual beliefs -> modern science

    So far no one seems to have commented on whether social order is a necessary precondition for 'modern science'.

    Finally, the relationship between 'the state' and the progress of science and technology in ancient China was a complex one; IIRC, Needham http://www.nri.org.uk/scc.htm [Broken] and his co-workers showed that 'the state' both hindered and encouraged science and technology (note that 'the state' is an anachronism wrt pre-16th century China).
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  18. May 12, 2004 #17
    To be honest, I haven't thought about it thoroughly... it was just something to get the conversation going in the general direction. I guess its in a way an old question: why modern science didn't arise in China?....so close but no cigar
  19. May 12, 2004 #18
    spiritual beliefs -> modern science doesn't make sense to me.
  20. May 12, 2004 #19


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    Science is like many far-from-equilibrium systems; it has passed through phases. Religious ideas (heretical ones from the viewpoint of both the Catholics and the Protestants) played a big part in Kepler's and Newton's concept formation. But by the time of Laplace, he could say he "Did not find a need for that (God) hypothesis". For all later physicists, it was axiomatic that you didn't make supernatural assumptions. But see the principle of least action!
  21. May 12, 2004 #20


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Sorry- just thought this was funny.
    I just googled IIRC, thinking it was some association or journal or something ;)
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook