# Studying science in a world made from gods

Taking inspiration from the elder scrolls, imagine a world that is composed of gods. There are twelve planets, each of which is the body of a god that gave up part of their power to create the human inhabited world. The laws of physics are the 'bodies' of gods that sacrificed their forms completely to form the world, with those gods existing in a state like a coma. The world itself is both forged from the donated 'pieces' of the 12 gods and earth-like, with animals similar to earth. There are two moons, believed to be two minor gods. Humans are the only sentient species and have technology equal to our own. The 12 gods are revered by most cultures, however their names and roles are undefined.

Given all of those are known to humans, how would people approach the study of science? Would there be an overlap of the priesthood and researchers? How would an average person of faith view scientific study?

• "Would there be an overlap of the priesthood and researchers?" -- list some famous scientists of the 17th and 18th centuries. Now look into how many of them were members of the clergy, officially if not actually as practising ministers. Short answer, an overlap of "priesthood" and scientists is plausible enough to have actually happened. Isaac Newton obtained a royal dispensation to be a Fellow at Cambridge despite not being ordained, the rule at the time was you had to be. Jul 26, 2015 at 17:41
• @SteveJessop: +1. There's a strong case to be made for the idea that science (and the Scientific Method) as we know it is a distinctly Christian creation in the first place, modern ideas about the supposed tension between science and religion notwithstanding. Jul 26, 2015 at 18:45
• @MasonWheeler I am inclined to believe that it is a case of more than 95% of the population having no formal education, coupled with the need of the Church of having educated priests that led to the stablishment of Universities. Also, the link you provided blatantly ignores many non-Christian scientifics, abusing the general public ignorance about them; in a quite dishonest argumentation Jul 26, 2015 at 18:50
• @SJuan76: Also, the link you provided blatantly ignores many non-Christian scientifics, abusing the general public ignorance about them; in a quite dishonest argumentation [citation needed] Jul 26, 2015 at 19:01
• @SJuan76 ...so in other words, you haven't actually read the article at all. (Unsurprising, since you posted your "rebuttal" less than 5 minutes after I posted the comment and there's far more than 5 minutes worth of content in it.) If you had, you'd have seen that he acknowledges the contributions of Greek mathematics right in the introduction, and speaks about Islamic contributions, such as algebra, further in, and neither one is particularly relevant to his thesis. Jul 26, 2015 at 19:14

Science would proceed exactly the same as it always does. It isn't a system or a set of rules or anything else, it's a process.

You make predictions and theories about the world, you test those theories to see how true they are, you try to improve them.

That will work just as well no matter how the universe works so long as it is not completely arbitrary.

As to how your researches and priests would react - that's down to how you want to design your world. Priests may embrace research as better understanding the gods, or they may resist it. They may perform it themselves or excommunicate those who perform it. All of these behaviors are possible.

Would there be an overlap of the priesthood and researchers? How would an average person of faith view scientific study?

Historically speaking there was a substantial overlap of ordained clergy and scientists. This is in part because of clerical training being the "obvious" route for intelligent people to get an education of any kind and no doubt also for many other reasons. These days I think both tend to be full-time jobs and therefore logistically difficult to combine.

Without any further information about your hypothetical world, there seems no reason to assume that the same trends couldn't happen if you want them to. And so yes, of course priests can do science if they choose.

As for how those of faith view scientific study -- in my opinion the general trend is that if someone believes something on faith, whether this is religious faith or some other belief not inspired by the scientific study of evidence, then they react badly to science that contradicts it. Occasionally, some people of faith might say that inquiry is of itself disreputable, but I think this is extremely rare. Many (all?) real-world religions hold "finding out stuff that we don't already know" to be a good thing. It's "contradicting stuff that we do already know" that causes tension.

So, if a hypothetical priest believes that the earth is forged from pieces of gods, and it actually is, and evidence of this is scientifically analysable, then clearly there's going to be no conflict there. But if the same priest is dogmatic from scripture that Europe is made from some god's left arm, and scientific inquiry finds that Spain is a gigantic right hand, then there's going to be a conflict between science and that specific claim in scripture. Suddenly this priest faces a crisis of sorts.

Galileo got into trouble with the church, for example, not because the church was absolutely opposed to the scientific method in all situations (it wasn't) but because those people were unable to reconcile heliocentrism with their faith [the story of how that trouble escalated is rather more complex]. This isn't an inherent contradiction between Christianity and science, since there are in fact many Christians (Galileo among them) who see no contradiction at all between heliocentrism and their faith. But the church at the time had stated dogmatically that Ptolemy's system was basically correct, and was not inclined to change its view quickly. In the view of other Christians it shouldn't have done that, and had no basis in Christianity for doing so, but that's what their religion meant to those people at that time. Religions that never offered any firm opinion on the subject have no difficulty with Copernicus's conclusions and therefore wouldn't need to persecute someone like Galileo who built on them.

Assuming a reasonably credulous and uneducated population, the "average person of faith" will therefore view scientific study the way they're told to by their priests, who likely will support investigation that doesn't contradict their faith and have difficulty with results that do. In your example, the faith being basically correct about the relationship between the earth and astronomical objects, is at a massive advantage. The Church of Galileo's time was demonstrably wrong about a number of points on which it had no scientific justification for even offering an opinion. Therefore inconvenient scientific results might be suppressed if they arise, but maybe they won't arise.

On the other hand, if the population is generally somewhat educated and has the means to draw its own conclusions, then those in religious authority will have a much harder time simply "pulling rank" over scientists. Especially if the state is secular and so on. Which is not to say it never happens, but when the reasoning of both parties is available to the general public it becomes harder simply to say, "trust me, I'm a priest, I know all about astronomy, and that heretic with the telescope knows nothing" ;-) Inconvenient scientific results might not be easily accepted, but they can't just be banned.

• Galileo got into trouble with the church, for example, not because the church was absolutely opposed to the scientific method in all situations, but because those people were unable to reconcile heliocentrism with their faith. Actually, it's a lot more complicated than that, but the short version is that Galileo didn't get in trouble for contradicting anyone's faith with science, but for actually teaching bad science and then claiming it had scriptural support. The real story is quite interesting! Jul 26, 2015 at 21:03
• Basically, Galileo believed firmly in Copernicus's model, which was right about heliocentrism but dead wrong about pretty much every other detail. But he taught that Copernicanism was God's own truth, and the Church asked him to produce hard evidence. He couldn't--because it was wrong, among other reasons--but that didn't stop him from teaching it, and being arrogant and tactless enough to insult the Pope (who was supposed to be a friend of his) along the way. That's what really got him in trouble. (That's still the short version. You should read the articles I linked above for the details.) Jul 26, 2015 at 21:09
• Everything always more complicated than that. But the church did not have the right of the science: heliocentrism was formally forbidden by the Catholic church until 1758. The charge was (in part) "holding as true the false doctrine taught by some that the sun is the center of the world", not "asserting a degree of confidence not fully supported by the evidence" :-) And sure, it wouldn't have come to a prosecution if Galileo hadn't upset everyone so badly. The challenge to the authority of the church was far more damaging than the astronomical details. Jul 26, 2015 at 21:09
• Yes, but that has to be understood in context. "False doctrine" doesn't mean "a doctrine that is factually false," but "a doctrine that is not dogmatically true." The church had no dogmatic doctrinal position on heliocentrism--in large part because there was, as of yet, no hard evidence either way--and Galileo was convicted of heresy for claiming that there was doctrinal support for something that he could not provide evidence for. Hence "false doctrine." Jul 26, 2015 at 21:13
• More or less, yeah. Check out the link I posted. It goes into a great deal of depth on the historical and political dimensions surrounding the whole mess, in addition to the science. But it's safe to say that "Galileo was persecuted for teaching heliocentrism" is as much a historical myth as "Columbus proved that the world is round." Jul 26, 2015 at 21:18

You say that the planets are made by gods. Is this testable and provable in some way? Like, if the planet had existed for a finite amount of time, then can they test this and confirm that the age of the planet is as scripture specifies?

Keep in mind that the majority of western scientists in history would have assumed that God created the world in the fashion described in the bible. It's only as people such as Darwin came up with hypotheses that seem more fitting with the observable evidence that viewpoints began to change.

Say, for example, our world was created just five days ago. And that all evidence of age, such as eroded rocks, or even our own memories, was fabricated as-is at the point of creation. That's entirely possible, but not really falsifiable. So it can't be taken seriously in any scientific context.

So, in your elderscrolls-like scenario, Can someone say a prayer to a specific god and receive a blessing? Is this blessing measurable? Can they enact this ritual under laboratory conditions? If so, then their science would encompass their religion, since it is repeatable, measurable, certifiable, falsifiable, etc.

• The gods are people, you know. They wont grant blessings under laboratory conditions (it's not exactly a respectful way to pray) but they can-and do- manifest on earth from time to time. Or they could just throw lightening at anyone who annoys them. Jul 27, 2015 at 9:07