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Monotheism and the emergence of science

  1. Mar 21, 2006 #1
    I am doing this research paper. In it, i will argue that monotheistic religion help promote the emergence of science. Do you have any ideas on this topic? Any nice links? research papers from periodicals? books?
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  3. Mar 21, 2006 #2
    Rather vague, but in my opinion monotheism did away, over time, with mysticism and simple explanations. For example, in greek mythology they could explain famine, drought, wars, etc., by the wrath of gods. You don't know what causes it? Make a god and blame it on him. However, with monotheism, and specificly the Abrahamic religions, the purpose of god was not only to explain natural phenominon. The turning point for this was the advent of Christianity, when people like the apostle Paul developed, for the first time in religion, theology. This practice argued the metaphysics and legality of religion, and during the rise of christianity theology became the sole focus. This placed the emphasis, not on natural phenominon, but on the afterlife and metaphsyics. Without mysticism to explain science the way was open for true science to emerge.
    If you want books about the subject, I don't know any on that subject. If you want books about the time, I suggest Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas. Also, the very complicated, legallity of theology lent itself to critical thinking, which managed to keep alive the old writings of Aristotle, Plato and other Greek works.
  4. Mar 21, 2006 #3


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    Maybe you could focus on the development of church architecture. Or you could say how monotheism relates to conquering and colonization, and an understanding of siege weaponry, and navigation and buoyancy laws. If you could make something up about monotheism causing feudal lords and the concentration of wealth, which leads to the leisure to perform scientific research, that would work for you. Be sure to mention Mendel. I really don't think you have a tenable premise overall.
  5. Mar 21, 2006 #4


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    That might be a stretch.

    Think of Aristotle - (c. 384 BC – March 7, 322 BC) who studied with Plato (c.427–c.347 BC). Science, or rather critical thinking was already beginning, but Greek society was polytheistic (the Olympian gods - Zeus, Hera, etc of the Greek Pantheon).

    Even the Egyptians had some rudimentary science, and many polytheitic cultures had some form of arithmetic.

    Rather, perhaps one could look at the mindset or thought process which is necessary to develop science and see if that type of critical thinking supports a monotheistic perspective.
  6. Mar 21, 2006 #5
    Gods in the Sky by Allan Chapman
  7. Mar 21, 2006 #6
    All valuable insights, thank you.

  8. Mar 21, 2006 #7
    Of course, the opposite might also be argued. The Romans adopted monotheism as the classical age was in decline and critical thinking didn't really begin to re-emerge until the age of enlightenment, which was basically a rebellion against the monolithic group think enforced by the church. Thinking is a function of distinguishing among variety.

    The logical problem with monotheism is that the absolute isn't one, it's zero. So a spiritual absolute would be the element out of which we rise, not an entity from which we fell.
  9. Mar 22, 2006 #8
    One of the great events in human history happened when the Gutenberg Bible merged with the Protestant Reformation. Since that time, billions of Bibles have been printed. The need for such a large number of Bibles resulted from the belief the common man should be properly informed about a monotheistic god by reading the Bible, which provided a compelling reason why the common man must be taught to read. This event helped produce a large number of literate people who slowly began to learn more about the world,and produced a much faster and superior way to exchange ideas. Prior to Gutenberg and the Protestant Reformation, knowledge was reserved for the elite and all progess was slow. Since this event, knowledge,including advances in science,has been accelerating at an ever-increasing rate.

    Without this need for all to become literate to read the Bible and properly worship God, we, and our science, might still be in the 16th century.
  10. Mar 22, 2006 #9


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    "Theology and Modern Physics" Peter E. Hodgson Ashgate Science and Religion Series 2005 ISBN 0-7546-3623-2

    It is Hodgson's thesis that the emergence of the scientific revolution was a direct product of the Judeo/Christian/Islamic culture of Europe at the time.

    From the 'blurb':
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2006
  11. Mar 22, 2006 #10
    As is well known, there are potentially any number of facts to support any argument one wishes.

    Monotheism is a fundamental stage of intellectual, social and civil evolution. Given that Eastern societies developed any number of technological innovations, without being monotheistic, not to mention the foundation of western thought that originated in pan and polytheistic societies, it requires a serious myopia to argue monotheism is the source of scientific purpose. As an organ, the brain is a navigational tool and the most technologically successful societies were those which required a significant degree of hardship in order to survive, but not an overwhelming amount. Science and technology are a product of solving specific tangible problems; irrigating land, building boats, clearing land, fighting enemies, etc. This intellect is than applied to problems lacking clear solutions, such as explaining the existence of life, honoring the dead, etc.
    Other then its central premise, today's monotheistic religions are little more then narrative story-telling. The most observant monotheistic traditions are not the most innovative, given their usually strict adherence to past concepts.
  12. Mar 22, 2006 #11
    The reason monotheism is fundamental, but not universal is because it represents half the conceptual model, that of the unit, while eastern philosophies tended to promote the process side of the equation.
  13. Mar 23, 2006 #12
    Kant, nor anyone here, has said that it is the source of science and learning. The question was if it helped promote it, not created it. Since that is the case, a better look would not be at the creation of the science, but at how it was spread. Did monotheism help its progress? If so, why? I personally think it does, and offered my opinion as to the reasons why, and others too have been very helpful in answering the question.
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2006
  14. Mar 23, 2006 #13

    Les Sleeth

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    I don't see the relationship between monotheism and science. What distinquished science from all other epistomologies was the addition of experience to the formula. One hypothesizes somehing and then tries to set up situations where what has been hypothesized can be observed. I suppose it might be that monotheistic culture created some stability which in turn allowed clearer thinking, but that helped lots of things, and so doesn't seem particularly specific to science.

    My guess would be that practical-minded thinkers understood that just because something can be thought doesn't make it real, and so finally realize they needed to "see" (i.e., observe) if reality was as had been theorized before continuing with endless speculations.
  15. Mar 23, 2006 #14


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    With all due respect Les, I think you are missing a point here. The Chinese civilization had lots of respect for and practice with experience. Read Needham's great Science and Civilization in China, especially Volume 2, which demonstrates the practical and empirical side of Chinese thought.

    To contrast, in Europe in the 11th century nobody looked into the sky at night because Theory told them it was unchanging. The Chinese emperors, on the other hand stationed five keen eyed observers to watch the heavens every night; four to look in the cardinal directions and one to look straight up. They were looking for whatever changes might occur, to be interpreted by the soothsayers for the emperor's benefit, and woe betide any one of them who missed a clue!

    Which civilization do you think discovered the Nova of 1086 that became the Crab Nebula? Yet which one produced Galileo and Newton?

    This little story is just to suggest that empiricism isn't all there is to science, and the role of theory is more important, conflicted, and contingent than many accounts would imply.
  16. Mar 24, 2006 #15


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    Actually, I'm kind of fond of Hegel's idea as to how the rise of monotheism may prepare the ground for science (for the interested reader, it is basically his chapter "Unhappy Consciousness" in the "Phenomenology of Spirit" leading up to the section "Reason"):

    1. In the belief structure of monotheism, divine "essence" is basically sucked out of nature and gods intimately connected with it, and that "essence" is postulated as a single God, immeasurably far removed from "nature", which is thereby rendered a godless, desolate place.
    No longer can the "divine" be intuited in a stone, a tree, or in the play of light on water, as was possible in the polytheistic/animistic mindset, everything surrounding humans seems abandoned, left to its own fate.

    (2. Essentially, the yearning for the divine and mind's inability to perceive the divine in its immediate surroundings produces the despair called "unhappy consciousness")

    3. However, by leaving nature to its OWN fate, i.e, as being subject to (godless) laws of its own, a mindset becomes possible in which we may study "Nature as it is", a mindset that is rather ridiculous if you have the conviction that sprites and spirits at any time might wreak havoc on the so-called "patterns" you might observe in Nature (a conviction monotheism did away with).
    Now, such patterns become regarded as Laws of Nature, rather than just accidental existences mainly persisting only due to the lack of spiritual interference.

    That is, monotheistic dualism between the worldly and the otherworldly can be regarded as a painful intellectual catharsis, in which the human mind matures so that it can finally observe "Nature as it is" (i.e, the scientific mindset).
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2006
  17. Mar 25, 2006 #16
    I was trying to understand what meaning you were conveying with the above statements. (I am familiar with the works of Schelling and Hegel)

    My attempt to understand it resulted in the following: the absolute is 'The Asolute' which is conceptually similar to an omnipotent creator God. The notion of "isn't one, it's zero" is the Buddhist concept of Nirvana.

    I could not tell if we 'rise' from the resurection of Christ or 'fall' from grace in the Garden of Eden or of some combination of Hinduism and Budism.

    It seems to me you are writing 'feel good' poetry instead of good philosophy. Maybe you could help me understand a little better.
  18. Mar 25, 2006 #17
    SIX IMPOSSIBLE THINGS BEFORE BREAKFAST: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief
    by Lewis Wolpert

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/printFriendly/0,,1-534-2087237-534,00.htm l

    CV of Lewis Wolpert

    http://nobelprize.org/medicine/articles/wolpert/cv.html [Broken]

    Articles written by Lewis Wolpert

    http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/list.php?author=2121&issue=517 [Broken]

    unfortunatelly dont have the book, however, suggesting that "belief is evolutionary advantage" is rather interesting thought to me .

    perhaps not exactly on the topic of "monotheism and the emergence of science" but rather on the topic of "brain development and belief" but those are closely related as is sicence and tools making i would think.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  19. Mar 25, 2006 #18
    You're right, I don't read philosophy, generally I read physics. If you want to look up the concept of top down vs. bottom up, check out complexity theory. It's one of the defining concepts of the new business models of the last fifteen years. Check out the Santa Fe Institute;

    http://www.santafe.edu/index.php [Broken]

    Here is an extended version of my own thoughts;


    As for that last reply, it does sound a bit new age, but professionally I break and train race horses for a living, so I spend my life getting inside horses heads and it rubs off on occasion.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  20. Mar 26, 2006 #19

    Les Sleeth

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    I agree with your point about the importance of a culture’s theoretical foundations, but it seems to back up my argument too. I’d say the theoretical foundations for Western science were established by the Greeks. That foundation included a passion for philosophy and the search for truth. Those two ideals encouraged the continued search for some epistemology which “worked.”

    After a couple of thousand years of unsubstantiated speculation, it was the empiricists who broke the philosophical monotony of proposing interesting ideas but with no means to test the actuality of them. Today the best science theory is that which can be put to the test of observation; in fact, it is a common criticism of nascent theories, such as string theory, that they lack enough observational data to support the theory.

    Getting back to the question of this thread, since our theoretical foundations descended from the Greeks who, as you know, were not monotheists, I still can’t see that monotheism per se has contributed much to the development of science. Of course, I don’t think paganism had anything to do with either (I am assuming we are talking about the personal belief in one God, and not the effects of religion). I see our search for spiritual truth and the search for effective rational tools as two distinct realms that developed independently.
  21. Mar 26, 2006 #20
    Monotheistic religion has developed in spite of the many inquiring minds of scientists through the ages. Science does well to tolerate differing views, like religion, because in each view there is the probability of a truth that may or may not lend itself to one of the goals of science which is studying the truth about nature.

    The only way I can see monotheistic religion helping promote the continuation of scientific endevours is because the religion did not satisfy the many questions about nature. So, naturally, people continuously turned to hard science in search of the answers.
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