November 18th, 2006

Modernity: Yearning For The Infinite

Theological Notebook: Talking with Nimoloth on Religion and the Origin of the Modern Sciences

Before going to bed, I saw that nimoloth, my solar physicist friend in Scotland, had tossed out an invitation for me to comment on a question of the history of the development of science/technology and religion. While I work hard to keep up with her entries in physics, I could see where the discussion she was referencing hit a lot of the stereotypes you pick up in the culture and that you end up having to unlearn if, like me, you run off and join the circus guild of historians.

My response ended up developed enough to take me 'til dawn (and past!) and now I'm headin' for my beddin'. But since it was a longer response, I figured it earned the right to be an entry in my own journal on its own merits. I hope I think I made sense when I wake up....

Anyone else have some thoughts? I tried to remain clear on what seems to be just plain simple historical fact and where I'm being speculative.

nimoloth writes:
I have heard it said that without the development of monotheistic religion (such as Christianity and Islam), modern society with all it's technology and ethics would not have developed, implying that we would not be technologically advanced or ethical (if we could even be considered ethical as it is) with a dominant polytheistic religion (e.g Hinduism, paganism).

Now, I'm inclined to think that this view is inaccurate. Consider the technological advances made by polytheistic civilisations such as the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Aztecs, Chinese and many others. Some of their technological feats even now defy understanding. It could even be argued that monotheistic religions set technology and cultural development back, for example in the Dark Ages in Europe when Christianity taught that some of the earlier developments put forth by, for example, the Greeks, was wrong and indeed heretical. The early Church often put it's own, non-scientific, views forward as the only truth (creation in seven days, the Earth being the centre of the universe, etc.). On the other hand, early scholars following and during the dark ages were generally monks, supported by the Church, and they did make some progress, even if some of it was wrong.

I also see no reason why ethics would not have developed in a more or less similar way under a polytheistic religion.

Thoughts, anyone? I expect novak at least has some thoughts on the matter!

These thoughts were brought to you by this post, the letter "r" and the number "1".

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