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Faith is defined as a belief in God based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof. Religion and science can be seen to oppose one another due to conflicts between people of those practices. In my world, I have a polytheistic technocracy that has joined those opposing forces. Rather than religion competing with science, religion is science.

The universe is considered to be god itself, master of a grand design. The laws of that universe ( law of gravity, relativity, therodynamics, etc), are viewed as smaller deities under the main god. There are numerous gods who control the laws of the universe and define how it works. When humans study the processes and come to understand more through scientific research, these "gods" reward then by revealing themselves through that knowledge. New gods are constantly being discovered as scientific knowledge grows. As old theories are updated or replaced, that particular god doesn't die, but becomes better understood. This creates a polytheistic pantheon of gods, some of which are equal to each other or subjected to a higher god. All of which is under the main deity, the universe.

This religion worships a higher power that values scientific achievement and discovery. It claims no moral authority of right and wrong, but supports progress. In this way, it eliminates faith by making dogma depend on testing theories and experimentation.

Every religion needs a way to define good, or a set of principles to adhere to. As a religion that values research over morality, this can be a problem. I need to refine this concept to appear more acceptable as a religion than a philosophy in order to make this vision complete. How can I get this done?

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    $\begingroup$ Reminder to close-voters: The problem cannot be fixed if the OP is not made aware of it. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Apr 11 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ That being said, I think I could provide a satisfactory answer to the question How could I get this done?, but the other requires analyzing your entire premise and deciding for myself what needs to change/improve. That makes (at least half) this question primarily opinion-based. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Apr 11 at 14:10
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    $\begingroup$ Sigh... the whole "religion and science hate eachother" trope gets old, especially given the very large number of famous scientists (past and present) who have believed in God.... $\endgroup$ – conman Apr 11 at 17:54
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    $\begingroup$ @conman I did say "can" be seen to oppose one another, not that they necessarily have to. $\endgroup$ – Incognito Apr 11 at 17:56
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    $\begingroup$ We call this Darwinism. More people treat it like faith than like science. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Apr 11 at 21:00

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"Good" or "right" is always subjective and depends on the viewer. Your religious concept already contains concepts of good and bad, right and wrong, but certainly not all of them are in alignment with our current moral standards.

People in Europe and North America agree that democracy is "right" and any form of dictatorship is "wrong". People in ancient China agreed that an empire with a wise emperor was "right" and people governing themselves was barbarism and thereby "wrong".

A few quite obvious concepts of moral for your religion include:

  • Truth is right, lying is wrong. People would be taught from very young age and much more rigorously not to lie, not even a tiny bit. Every lie is a sin and needs to be confessed to a religious authority. That could lead to behavior that seems extreme to us, like people rather bluntly saying the truth and apologising for it than telling a white lie like "I was stuck in traffic jam" or "you look fabulous today".
  • The end justifies the means. If scientific progress is the highest religious goal and no creature enjoys special protection as "God's creation", then any kind of experiments on animals and humans are "right" and hindering progress by not experimenting is "wrong". The use of drugs and stimulating substances would be morally "right" almost without regards to physical damage to the body, as long as they enhanced the mental capabilities.
  • Education over labour. Wasting your time with laborous work and not having the chance to progress science in any way is a punishment comparable to exclusion from church. Labourers would be lowest in social status, but the society would also face problems in agriculture, construction or manufacturing because of the lack of labor forces.
  • Mental disabilities degrade someone to an infidel, maybe even subhuman... Killing people with mental disabilities (either due to a birth defect or an accident) might be the morally right action in that religion.

What you need to do is distance yourself from our current moral standard. Write down objectively logical means to progress scientific understanding as much as possible while ignoring any morality and current religions. Then exaggerate them to appear religious.

What would people do? What would they not do that seems natural to us? Think about examples from history (the Nazis did some sick experiments without any regard to moral) and science fiction, like Vulcans from Star Trek, crazy scientists or rampant AIs.

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    $\begingroup$ Upvote for considering wider implications beyond what many people would regard as 'good'. The mental disabilities degrading someone to an infidel is a logical implication that adds nuance and gives it something like a flaw when looked through by our own worldview. Likely to happen considering totally different morals. $\endgroup$ – Piomicron Apr 11 at 18:17
  • $\begingroup$ Great answer, especially the third point - a society of career students will starve if no one is encouraged to conduct the basic maintenance functions such as growing food. Which means that practitioners of this faith may be a minority who will be relying on members of other faith/s to perform those functions possibly... $\endgroup$ – KerrAvon2055 Apr 12 at 6:00
  • $\begingroup$ You have my upvote, however I disagree with your second bullet and partially disagree with a third one. Let me elaborate on this in my answer though (unless I find one that is closer to my idea). $\endgroup$ – Ister Apr 12 at 9:33
  • $\begingroup$ How technologically advanced is this world. One could posit such a religion arising from the automation of all “labor”. Sort of like Logan’s Run, but substituting thinking for hedonism as the outcome of having all basic needs met by machines. $\endgroup$ – John Hascall Apr 12 at 10:21
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    $\begingroup$ as addition to 3: Theory of Practice. So theoretical physics and stuff like that could be pretty advanced, but practical engineering would be propably be lower in status and thus lacking. Knowledge itself would be the value, and the question "what's it good for?" be secondary, even mundane. $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Apr 12 at 17:24
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This seems to be the key sentence in the question: "It claims no moral authority of right and wrong, but supports progress.".

So "good" can be defined as that which advances progress, and "bad" that which hinders it.

And that's where the "moral authority" actually does reside in this world. What is the definition of "progress"?

In our real world, we have competing definitions of progress:

  • One group wants to build a factory to produce inexpensive essential goods that will help raise the quality of life for everyone. For them, building the factory is progress.

  • Another group campaigns to ban the industrial techniques that make that factory possible, because the process results in significant pollution and long term ecological damage. For them, preventing the factory is progress.

Or in the proposed world, perhaps:

  • Someone wants to perform an experiment that, while it will result in the deaths of thousands of people, will almost certainly provide amazing new knowledge. This is obviously a source of progress.

  • There exists an individual that will eventually develop a new theory that will provide amazing new knowledge. This is obviously a source of progress.

The thousands of people in the first case are almost certain to contain an instance of a person from the second case.

Should the experiment be allowed? That is a conflict that the authorities must resolve

They get to define what "progress" means.

They are a de facto moral authority.

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    $\begingroup$ And more simply, as soon as the value judgement ("progress" or whatever else) is determined and is acted on ("supported") they have positioned themselves as a moral influencer at the very least. You won't be able to escape it. $\endgroup$ – Ranger Apr 11 at 14:13
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    $\begingroup$ And thus, we witness the birth of ultra-orthodox scientists who will always look for progress no matter the consequences, and protestant scientist who will balance human and natural costs against progress value... $\endgroup$ – Josh Part Apr 11 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ Within the context of this reality, IMO there's an obvious starting point to define progress: That which advances and expands human understanding of the pantheon. The reason being, these gods are already described to value, and reward via deeper revelation, such advances. So in that regard, human life is valuable only to the extent that it serves as the vehicle to make human knowledge possible. The kill-thousands-to-learn-more scenario would be A-OK because knowledge is sure to increased; while the 2nd bullet is a non-issue because eventually a replacement genius can show up. $\endgroup$ – JDM-GBG Apr 12 at 10:09
  • $\begingroup$ @JDM-GBG: a replacement genuis showing up might be slower, so ultimately worse for progress. Even without a moral value of human life, there's tremendous value in humans as tools to achieve your goals, so doing things that stunt their ability or willingness to help can still end up looking like a bad idea. $\endgroup$ – Ben Millwood Apr 14 at 13:38
  • $\begingroup$ @BenMillwood, good thought but it's an extrapolation. One could argue that progress is progress, whether it's fast or slow -- so what does the speed matter, to immortal gods? They're already bought-in to a longterm, multigenerational effort anyway (unless knowledge is to max-out within a single person's lifetime). $\endgroup$ – JDM-GBG Apr 19 at 21:14
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“Why are we talking about this good and evil? They're just names for sides. We know that.” ― Good Omens: Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

Good is us and evil is them. It's a fundamental throughout the ages. Good is what we want to do and what we want you to be and do. Evil is what we want you to not be and not do.

A classic example of this is that "killing is evil" but many manage to also hold "the death penalty is good" in their heads without the doublethink upsetting them at all.

Put simply, you follow the tenets of the religion, if you do you are good, to do otherwise is evil.

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    $\begingroup$ This. 'Good' and 'Evil' are relative constructs that can (and have throughout history) meant very varied things. In the OP's example, 'good' would be defined as 'furthers scientific progress', whereas 'evil' would be 'hinders scientific progress'. I expect they would have very interesting opinions on Dr Mengele... $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Apr 11 at 15:08
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think it is necessary to make it political. I'm sure you could come up with an example or a way of explaining that doesn't insult people who happen to hold to one particular political belief. $\endgroup$ – conman Apr 11 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ @conman, when looking at doublethink like this it's always going to be offensive to someone, you have to have quite a strong attachment to something to be able to accept it's fundamental contradictions $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Apr 11 at 19:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Separatrix I think you missed the point. You've effectively called everyone who believes in the death penalty stupid. Per recent polls, that happens to be just over 50% of the USA. With all of human history available, surely you can come up with an example/explanation that doesn't insult ~150 million people? I actually agree with your answer - I think your chosen example distracts from it. $\endgroup$ – conman Apr 11 at 20:12
  • $\begingroup$ @conman, I'm not calling them stupid, If I wanted to call to do that I'd have done so directly, I'm that type. Doublethink requires a real deep seated strength of belief and character to know that both these things are true, when they're apparently contradictory. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Apr 11 at 20:35
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Consider ripping off most of early Taoism.

Even a brief introduction to Taoism is well beyond the scope of this answer, but to speak very briefly about the points which may be of interest to you:

  • Taoist ethics are concerned less with doing good acts than becoming a good person who lives in harmony with all things and people.

  • Taoists thus always do what is required by events and their context, but they only do what is required, no more.

  • The constant and unmistakable teaching of the Tao Te Ching is that humans are indeed capable of intervening in life's events, but the evidence of life, which humans constantly ignore, is that such intervention is destructive to all involved, and that we therefore have a moral duty to refrain from taking such actions.

(The above points taken from a good BBC article on Taoism.)

A different article contrasts early Taoism from later developments:

The Taode jing and Zhuangzi were not interested in promoting specific moral virtues, and were critical of the idea of regulating society with standards of behavior. According to these texts, to emulate nature and "do without doing" (wei wu-wei), and to harmonize oneself with Tao, will lead naturally to behavior that is genuinely virtuous. "Drop humanity, abandon justice/ And the people will return to their natural affections".

It's probably not exactly what you're looking for, but I think it may provide a good starting point.

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In my view, you cannot.

Religion is (next to other things) first and foremost a value system.

To have values, you have to call some things bad and some things good.

It doesn't matter if you call them "helpful" instead of good, what matters that they are better than the other thing.

Claiming one thing is better (or more ethical) than another is claiming moral authority.

Every teaching is claiming to know something that another beeing does not know (yet). If the teaching is on an ethical subject, it has to claim moral superiority to justify teaching it to the other beeing.

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One solution would be to include philosophy under these scientific gods. Just as physical laws are governed by the fictional gods of your universe, moral laws and causality can be governed by such beings/principles and the knowledge they bring about.

For example, there could be a Utilitarian god of morality who enlightens the masses as to good and evil in the sense of what good an act will have in reference to specific desired outcomes. Then there'd be a Virtue Ethics god, a Consequentialist god, a Hedonist god (the Epicureanist understanding having displaced the Cyrenaic one), etc.

These gods won't dictate particular actions as morally sinful--(e.g. they won't say "killing is a sin")--rather they will approach morality from their respective philosophical approaches. The Hedonist god would suggest to the psychopathic follower that if murder brings him/her pleasure, then it is morally right to kill so long as doing so will not eventually bring them negative consequences (such as being arrested or being killed in the attempt). A Consequentialist god would admonish its adherents to minimize actions whose consequences cannot be foreseen, as they would be culpable for undesirable outcomes regardless of their intentions.

In other words, they would teach values and principles rather than proscribing specific actions.

They could all fall into a harmony, or they could be viewed in opposition. Or both.

In any event, these gods would be the result of research and coming to a complex understanding of how things affect one another. Sociological studies would have a great impact on what is considered moral: For example, if research shows that those who engage in a particular gratuitous act are less happy over time than those who those who abstain, the hedonist view of the morality of indulging in that thing would change. As studies reveal negative social consequences, Consequentialists would reapprise their views on whether doing such a thing is moral.

The religion would handle morality as it handles all knowledge.

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  • $\begingroup$ If I understand OP correctly, god is universe and laws of physics are lesser gods. It's not that there is some additional personification of those gods or something. Actually the same religion could be applied on Earth. $\endgroup$ – Ister Apr 12 at 10:15
  • $\begingroup$ Whether the gods are actual beings or rather just principles revered as such, the result is the same. Apply the same principles to ethics and philosophy as are applied to science. $\endgroup$ – Michael Apr 12 at 10:21
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You mentioned that the universe is considered the the highest god. This gives you the option of introducing lesser "gods" that seek to end the Universe. Concepts like Entropy that seek to remove all usable energy from the Universe and DarkEnergy which threatens to reap the Universe apart might be seen as bad. Inefficient use of energy helps Entropy so people who are not efficient with energy are labeled as bad people.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ah, but entropy can be useful, and is heavily studied, theorized about, experimented with, and tested in a scientific manner - and today, we call that progress. Unless you have a thing against strong encryption algorithms, the possibility of quantum computing, etc. Same can be said of researching dark matter/anti matter, etc. Under the questioner's premise, holding someone back or obstructing research in these areas would be "bad". $\endgroup$ – ivanivan Apr 12 at 2:20
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A religion that doesn’t teach divine-command morality can still promote any other definition of right or wrong from moral philosophy. For example, they could be Utilitarians, who hold that their metaphysical beliefs are true, and that “good” means “good for people.” They could follow the teachings of a revered sage they consider to have been the wisest person in history and the most worthy of emulation, but not divinely inspired per se. They might believe their moral precepts can be deduced from “natural religion” and observing how the universe works, and does not come from revelation. They might not necessarily claim to have all the answers on what morality is, beyond the things that everyone who counts can agree on.

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Simple Hedonism - striving for maximization of pleasure - could be a guideline for that kind of religion. This doesn't contradict progress, empirically proven by how much technology is harnessed for hedonist means these days; neither will it necessarily promote violent or oppressive behaviour since defensive reactions incurred would contradict a hedonist ideal without any need of moral judgement.

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In most religions there are two main areas that make you a better person - following the rules defined by god(s) and being closer to gods through worshipping them (the latter is usually somehow required in the former but that's not necessary).

It is very difficult not to follow laws of physics however I'll get back to that later in my answer.

What is important is to be closer to the god and since god is the universe to be closer to it you need to understand it better. In other words, science, especially those of physics (and subsequently mathematics), chemistry and to a lesser extent biology are paths leading to the god. So learning will be an extremely important part of everyone's life.

This way scientists will have a position of combined scientists and priests in our world. They will be most revered ones as they lead others to the god. Also teachers will be of an extreme importance and very high in the social status. Of course not everyone will be able (or even willing) to follow such path, someone will have to do the "regular" work, but in all they do, they will be trying to use to the best of the knowledge gained so far. So for example if a constructor creates e.g. a bridge or a building they will be utilising the knowledge to show how well they understand the laws of physics. The building using to a stretch various laws of physics will be treated as "most beautiful". On the other hand if there is an overstretch and a building collapses it will be considered one of the heaviest sins. The same will be with everything else.

For everyone it will be a moral requirement to devour part of their time to gain more knowledge just like nowadays those who believe should devour some of their time to a prayer. And in exactly the same manner some will follow and some won't.

In general you may assume two main threads and two largest fractions of the church. Those who want to preserve everything and "just" understand the god better to align with it (Preservers) and those who say that as the god reveals its mysteries in form of knowledge we are entitled and even obliged to use it (Progressers). As a result you will have different good/bad values. And a frame for a conflict.

Obliging to the laws of nature (not only physics) will be considered the good (for both fractions). It will also mean that changing the state of things (e.g. pollution) will be cnsidered bad. Trying to bend rules of nature will be considered bad for Preservers but good for Progressers (unless it's bend too far causing to fail still obliging the rules). Unlike in some religions we face (for instance Christianity), there will be nothing about doing the Earth subjected. On the contrary it will be adapting to the nature that is valued most. Yet the Progressers will see it as adapting to a greater nature of the whole universe.

It gets tricky in terms of things which we naturally consider good or bad. Any life form is a materialisation of physics and as such should be protected in its natural state. E.g. there will be no such thing as ZOO as this is against the nature. On the other hand life extension will be a huge moral debate - on one side will be Preservers who will claim that it is changing the nature, on the other Progressers who will say it's the best use of knowledge and as such presentation of better understanding of the god itself. Similar heated discussions will be regarding many topics that we have in ethics and philosophy now. For example - does a free will exist or are all our actions determined only by god (this will not be by Preservers and Progressers, you will find supporters to each option in each main branch of the religion). As we know some particles can seemingly randomly appear and disappear. Does it impact our free will? Is it really random and or maybe somehow either controlled by the god or being actual impact of our free will on the god?

Scarifying a single person to protect many will be considered an act of good. Also scarification to gain more knowledge will be considered an act of good (e.g. our Maria Sklodowska-Curie will be sort of a martyr). On the other hand pure wasting of peoples or animals life will be considered bad and against the god.

I think you have an overall view.

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Why not the same way pluralistic societies determine good and bad, that is by debate and agreement.

good and bad are not completely stable or consistent even within the same religion they change with time even in religions that do claim absolute moral authority. If the religion does not claim absolute authority then really it has to be either relying on consensus based morality or going full hedonistic. the latter is unlikely however because large societies need rules to operate. As a society we agree murder is bad but not every society did, what is different well a lot of debate (and the introduction of literature) and people realized dead people have many downsides so maybe lets not make dead people when we don't have to. You may want to look up the enlightenment to see how a focus on reason led to a consensus based moral system. Basically if absolute morality does not exist then we can't be sure what we are doing is actually good, so all moral positions are in flux and constantly being tested just like scientific stances and the best method available to keep testing morality is a free exchange of ideas. This leads to other ideas like maybe not killing people just becasue you disagree with them, and making sure people actually can speak freely.

As a side note your religion is not going to be very stable in the long term, unless your universe really is run by gods. Encouraging science will create something similar to occam's razor, many will quickly discard the idea of thinking of the fundamental forces of the universe as gods because it doesn't make their predictions any more accurate. "I have no need of that hypothesis".

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