Quora answer: How has monotheism affected a civilizations’ ability to progress in science?

Sep 11 2011


This is actually a complicated question to answer because so many things are being assumed in the question and the first anonymous response which I take to be the questioners further explanation. However, the question itself does beg for an answer. Is Monotheism a precursor for Modern Science and our progress in it which has changed the world so much? This core question is pretty significant if it were true, that monotheism was a prerequisite. Personally I don’t think this is so. And my evidence for that is that China discovered everything that was available in the Renaissance a thousand years earlier and then forgot them again and again. The real key to progress (or regress, as it may be) is not forgetting and adding various inventions on to each other to produce new inventions. This is something that Indo-Europeans managed to do, and I think the concept of Being, unique to them, has something to do with their success in this regard. I think Being is a precursor. In other words I don’t think it is the semitic contribution of monotheism that is as important. However, there is no doubt that it played a role by supplying through synthesis the idea of the Supreme Being when Monotheism and Ontology are conflated. But these are the contributions of the two nomadic tribes in the Middle East. But there are also the contributions of Egypt and Mesopotamia, which we are just now starting to appreciate, because it had been lost for so long. All of these factors contributed to the foundations of Science through the production of a meta-worldview, which we now live in as the world wide dominant worldview which is quickly supplanting all the others. It could be argued that Science would not be what it is if it did not have to struggle against Christianity. And it is certainly true that Reason defines itself against the superstition of religion. But the fact is that Reason existed in Plato’s academy which lasted for a long time, and through Euclid’s elements persisted to become the core of the educational system in the West. In Euclid’s elements we get a condensation of the knowledge of Being and its relation to rationality. But it took a long time for rationality to show the kind of results in science that would allow it to pull free of religious superstition. But on the other hand, rationality itself fully developed in a Polytheistic society. One could argue that Christianity merely delayed the rise of Scientific culture though the intensification of superstition after the Roman era. The seeds were sown by the take over of the world by Alexander which seeded Athenian Greek culture across the known world. But Romans were not interested in theory, but only practical applications, and when Rome fell apart after adopting Christianity, then the dark ages and general european collapse ensued until the Renaissance when there was a rediscovery of the Classical past in which Reason was given pride of place within a polytheistic context. Thus one could argue that Reason is the child of Polytheism and that it was only with the re-introduction of polytheistic elements during the Renaissance that that Reason could gain a foothold again, as something other than a support to religious superstition. However, it is way more complicated than that, because polytheistic societies like Greece and Egypt, were in fact really monotheistic at core, which we see in Plato and Aristotle where they talk about God and the gods. It was assumed in those societies that there was a Godhead, and that all the gods were merely manifestations of that godhead. So it is not even true that Egypt and Greece were completely polytheistic because they understood well that there was one god behind the various manifestations of that reality behind the appearances of the gods. And so we could make a case for the fact that Greece and Egypt were monotheistic in a sense similar to that of the Semites up until the second destruction of the temple. After that second destruction Judaism purified its Monotheism and that is when radical monotheism with one god and no others entered the scene. But before then it was always assumed that beyond polytheism there was a deeper monotheism. Same is true in Hinduism. Polytheism is itself not pure, but a kind of Monotheism that allows differentiation into gods who manifest the powers of the hidden single Godhead (Brahman) behind all the phenomena of its manifestation in the world as separate powers and attributes which explains why the world is such a mess, where evil came from etc.

So I think this is a question that could have several competing answers and it would be hard to disentangle what the true precedents are for science. Monotheism in this deeper sense can be one of them, but it is not clearly the case.


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