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Polytheism was a common form of religion in ancient times. People believed that different gods lived and controlled various parts of nature (ie the sun, the moon, thunderstorms), and praying to these gods gave them a sense that they had control over their lives.

In modern and scientifically advanced societies, polytheism is not regularly practiced. It seems that the most prominent religions today either circle around one omniscient god (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) or no god at all (atheism, Buddhism). My reasoning behind this is that we have scientific evidence that explains most of the natural processes to us (like the water cycle, the rotation of the earth around the sun, etc.), but the one question we can't answer is where we came from, hence the one god that created everything.

I need a reason why a scientifically advanced future society would begin to worship multiple gods again. Does anyone have any good ideas for why this would happen?


NOTE: My original idea is something that veers from the current Catholic idea of saints. Each saint is a patron of something different, and people pray to them to pray to God on their behalf. Maybe sometime in the future, this idea gets warped and people begin to pray to the saints as individual gods?

I am not completely satisfied with this idea though, and would love to hear other ideas.

NOTE 2: Kingledion pointed out that Hinduism is a modern religion that is semi-polytheistic. From my vague understanding of Hinduism, the belief is that there is one god that takes on many forms (see here). I suppose I was looking for a truly polytheistic religion and not some blend between monotheism and polytheism.

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    $\begingroup$ What does scientific advancement have to do with belief? $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jan 11 '17 at 19:31
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    $\begingroup$ How would your society argue against an atheist who claims there are 0 gods? The answer to that question typically starts to suggest where the holes are in the society without religion, and one can then follow those holes to arrive at your answer regarding which religion they will use. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jan 11 '17 at 21:15
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    $\begingroup$ The simple answer is because they have been scientifically proven in your world. $\endgroup$ – Devsman Jan 11 '17 at 21:35
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think that the current dominance of monotheism has anything to do with scientific enlightenment - after all, the dominance began over a thousand years ago when people were no more scientifically-englightened than they were in Greek and pre-Christian Roman times - in many cases less so. The two dominant religions in our contemporary world are dominant because of the cultures that practice them, and their military, economic, political and cultural power. $\endgroup$ – Matt Bowyer Jan 12 '17 at 15:59
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    $\begingroup$ I have a question for the mods: If this is world building, where we help people build their worlds, shouldn't philosophical discussion on said question be allowed in comments as opposed to chat, as the comments help bring out factors that help the OP determine how their world works? If so, leaving the comments in place allows for others who come to this posting see the chain of logic that leads up to a determination. $\endgroup$ – NZKshatriya Jan 15 '17 at 4:04

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This community could, for example, worship specific scientific concepts.

Let's say, that they know the equations governing the curvature of space-time (General Relativity). Present day scientist say, that is a working model of many phenomenon, verified by experiment, mathematically consistent... So they accept it as true (or at least as a very useful hypothesis). But, in many branches of physics, they are trying to discover always more and more fundamental theories, explaining the lesser ones with the minimal amount experimentally set variables. (for example elementary particles.)

But in the scientipolyteist culture, laws would be stated to be true due to their own God. Doing scientific research would be considered sacred activity. The more elegant and broadly valid is a theory, the more powerful is it's God. The God of Newtonian Mechanics, ensuring the validity of it, would rule over the Demigod of Kinetic Gas Theory, but be subject to the Goddess of Relativity. Some of the chief theologians would suspect, that an even more powerful entity, The God of the Theory of Everything exists, while others would claim, that the Quantum Lord is to be worshipped at the first place.

And so on in chemistry, biology, psychology, mathematics ...

Especially beautiful and exciting phenomenon would be viewed as the blessing of the given god to those, who are wise enough to understand the theory in question.

Of course, their names won't be derived from the present day names of the scientific concepts, but would be true personal names, just like they would be personified. The God of Evolution might would be imagined as cruel but wise, the God of Cosmic Inflation as secretive and patient, while the the Quantum Lord as unpredictable and cunning, the Goddess of Mathematical Proof as a benevolent but strict mother, rewarding good proofs but punishing incorrect ones. The God of Calculus would be helpful and friendly, but also quick to rage, and smash you with unsolvable integrals. The God of Protein Synthesis would be freak and punctual, making mess from the smallest mistake.

The research centers would be the churches and monasteries, and new ideas would be placed on altars and written into encyclics, instead of scientific journals. Peer review would be replaced by synods. This would be useful for the society, since there would be no need to maintain both scientific and religious institutes.

The Gods will have family and emotional relationships with each other, making easier for students to understand the dependencies and links between the concepts. The spouse of the Quantum Lord will be the Electromagnetic Lady, their son will be the Lesser God of Photons, while their daughter the Goddess of Heisenberg Schrödinger Atomic Model, whose vassal will be the Demigod of the Periodic Table. And so on...

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  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, it would be interesting to see a universe where each god was responsible for part of the universe, like people do in open source software projects for example. One god could have created the geometry of spacetime. Another could have created most of the fermions. Another one could have created most of the bosons. Another god could have tweaked the particles' responses to fundamental forces, in hopes of creating an environment friendly for evolution of life. Yet another one could keep himself busy playing with the boundaries of the system, e.g. by creating black holes. $\endgroup$ – Sigma Ori Jan 13 '17 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ Possible too. But these goods would have to cooperate a lot, to make the universe liveable. $\endgroup$ – b.Lorenz Jan 13 '17 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ I like this. I feel like some of the fundamental forces currently not fully understood would lend themselves well to gods, like the gods of Electromagnetism, Gravity, whichever god was responsible for setting the speed of light, the one who decided the properties of the elementary particles assuming that model holds up, etc. You could definitely work some good old fashioned mythology in there, same as it was a long time ago, stories to explain things we don't understand yet. $\endgroup$ – Jason C Jan 15 '17 at 2:36
  • $\begingroup$ Like speed-of-light god had the fastest... horse or something, and that's how fast it ran, and so he said the fastest thing in the universe will move that fast, because he always wanted to be #1, or... whatever. $\endgroup$ – Jason C Jan 15 '17 at 2:41
  • $\begingroup$ Worshiping certain scientific concepts. A la the Guild from Dune, where Mathematics was everything. $\endgroup$ – NZKshatriya Jan 15 '17 at 4:13
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Why does Hinduism not meet your requirements?

From Hinduism.SE, neither the monotheistic nor polytheistic labels properly fit Hinduism. You can read the various answers yourself; some answers say it is strictly monotheistic, some say it is both, some say it is neither.

However, from an 'outsiders' perspective, one in which all religious practice can be classified as atheism, monotheism, polytheism (aka, Victorian-era social science), Hinduism fits pretty clearly into the polytheism label.

If Hinduism does infact meet your requirements, then India today is basically the country you are talking about (though there are plenty of Muslims and other religious minorities in India).

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    $\begingroup$ Exactly what I was thinking. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jan 11 '17 at 17:48
  • $\begingroup$ This is a good point. Apparently the concept of god in Hinduism varies from person to person. I'm definitely going to read into this more. I can't believe this didn't occur to me. -facepalm- $\endgroup$ – Faulkner Jan 11 '17 at 17:57
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    $\begingroup$ Shinto is another example of a polytheistic religion that would meet the OP's requirements. $\endgroup$ – ckersch Jan 11 '17 at 21:33
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah japan has both a high number of atheists and a high number of polytheists. $\endgroup$ – John Jan 12 '17 at 1:20
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    $\begingroup$ @HC_ They've launched space probes and have nuclear weapons. There are several Indian Hard Science Nobel winners indicating that they are on the forefront of the sciences. How much more advanced do you want? $\endgroup$ – kingledion Jan 13 '17 at 22:02
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Because God or Gods are actually real.

Just because some people assume in our modern world that objective proof is lacking, does not prove (or dis-prove) the existence, or lack thereof, of a God or Gods. Also, in your proposed society, there may be reasons for faith, or even proof(s) discovered which are not available to a modern-day type society.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Jan 15 '17 at 5:34
  • $\begingroup$ Being unable to prove something rather proves that you can't prove that proposition. $\endgroup$ – Bob Jarvis Jan 15 '17 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ Also they could have or have had ample irrefutable empirical evidence of the deities. If some of your long dead ancestors rise from the dead to compete with each other in athletic disciplines and partake in philosophical debates with modern scholars, a giant sky-face appears on all your planets and announces with a booming voice without any apparent explanation, it is quite likely that this will bear some impact on the theological ideas of the general populace. $\endgroup$ – Eleshar Jan 15 '17 at 21:15
  • $\begingroup$ Also if the aforementioned entities are able to simply disintegrate your beautiful fleets of powerful interstellar ships, turn your planet-spanning cities to ash and visit the populace with murderous plague when they are denied worship, I suspect this would incentivise even the staunchest techno-progressist atheist to some sort of theological thought. After all if you kill a god and have a temerity of a god, who can say you are not a god? $\endgroup$ – Eleshar Jan 15 '17 at 21:23
  • $\begingroup$ @BobJarvis It can also mean that you are simply lacking evidence, or the means, methods, and/or technology for a proper test, not necessarily that it cannot be proven or disprove. $\endgroup$ – nijineko Jan 16 '17 at 17:42
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Lio Elbammalf beat me to it, but maybe I can expand his answer a little bit.

As he said, multiple gods don't have to refer to natural forces... For example, in Ancient Greco-Roman mythology you did have the god of thunder (Zeus / Jupiter), the god of the seas (Poseidon / Neptune), the god of fire (Hephaistos / Vulcano) and the goddess of crops (Deméter / Ceres), but you also had the god of war (Ares / Mars), the goddess of wisdom (Athena / Minerva) and the goddess of love (Aphrodite / Venus).

What does your society value? Even on a highly scientific society, there are abstract and subjective things that are valued and that fall beyond the realm of pure Science. Those things are not valued the same by all people, so multiple gods appear.

So people are highly advanced scientifically... but some use their technology for conquest, others for cultural flourishing, and others to attain the maximum of hedonic pleasure. So, the first ones may worship a god that embodies war and conquest, like Mars. The others would worship, respectively, an Appollo and a Bachus.

Are there ideological disputes on your highly scientific society? Why not create gods to worship that embody the political parties at play? Capitalism versus Socialism? A god of Money that rivals with a god of Kingly Power!

What about death? "Oh, they are so scientifically advanced that they won't believe on an afterlife!" Really? Is this afterlife scientifically provable? Maybe there will be a Hades somewhere to be worshipped too! And if there is a Hades, why not a goddess of Life?

On the long run, there would have to be an Athena-like goddess that would embody Reason.

So many gods to chose from!


Also note that you are implying a theology that relies on a "god of the gaps" kind of argument. Meaning, the gods were imagined to answer phenomena for which there was no scientific explanation at the time, and as long as people fill the gaps on scientific knowledge, the religion will retreat back and back.

But theology is more sophisticated than that. Many religions believe in God, not because they don't know how to explain things, but because the explanation is so beautiful and complex, that it must imply a god. If there are natural laws, there must be a lawmaker or a lawgiver. If there is orderliness on the universe, maybe it's because there is a watchmaker behind it, fine tuning it. The medievals knew how to predict the orbits of the planets, but that didn't stop them from imagining that the planets were pushed by the angels.

Just, instead of a single watchmaker, make those people worship several of them. B. Lorenz's answer shows you how you can do this.

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    $\begingroup$ Your mention of an Athena-like goddess made me think of the Cult of Reason during the French Revolution. Granted, the Cult venerated Reason as an abstract concept, not a goddess; but maybe if its founders hadn't been such dedicated atheists, they might have let veneration turn into worship. $\endgroup$ – DLosc Jan 13 '17 at 6:36
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    $\begingroup$ @Tonny: You're absolutely right. But allow me a correction: Albert Einstein was not a devout christian. He was a theist of sorts, that called "God" to the "fundamental laws of nature". He despised organized religion and the idea of a personal God. He was a theists, nonetheless. If you want a devout christian from the same time and field of expertise as Einstein to prove your point, it should be Father George Lemaître, that formulated the Big Bang Theory. $\endgroup$ – Pedro Gabriel Jan 13 '17 at 21:06
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    $\begingroup$ @PedroGabriel Ouch... Facepalm... Somehow I got Lemaitre and Einstein mixed up. (Must be the lack of sleep... The little one has teething problems and has been keeping us awake the last few days.) Einstein had a very liberal Jewish upbringing and became a theist later in life. $\endgroup$ – Tonny Jan 13 '17 at 21:16
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    $\begingroup$ @PedroGabriel All I really know about the Cult of Reason is from Wikipedia, but: "Unlike Robespierre's Cult of the Supreme Being, Hébert's cult [of Reason] rejected the existence of a deity." I'm sure your second point is quite accurate, in that the people in charge didn't believe that the religious trappings meant anything. They did believe in the philosophy that the Cult taught, though. $\endgroup$ – DLosc Jan 15 '17 at 21:46
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    $\begingroup$ @NZKshatriya Yes, they are very close. I used the word "venerate" to mean "honor or respect deeply, without taking the honored person or thing as an actual deity." For example, in Catholicism one "venerates" the saints but "worships" only God. On the other hand, the English word "worship" has been used with both meanings in the past. One might have to read the writings of the revolutionaries in the original French to parse out exactly what they meant. $\endgroup$ – DLosc Jan 15 '17 at 21:58
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Others have described the optimistic scenario: i.e., in this world gods are real, and people are right to believe in them.

But there is also the pessimistic scenario: There's a buck to be made promoting one god or another, and people are gullible. This could be true even in a society that respects science and technology.

Here on Earth in the 21st century, there is just as much nonsense on the Internet as there is truth, and there's no reason to think that some alien civilization would be any different. And if believing in various gods works for people, then that's what they will do.

Just look at homeopathy. It's utter nonsense, and yet we as a society throw away billions of dollars a year on it.

Take a basic tendency toward belief that these people (and humans) have, and add to that a few nice, big, fancy temples that inspire awe. Add to that a regional aspect to various deities that encourages jingoism, and even a third-tier god will have some rabid fans.

Maybe these people believe in their gods because that is just what they evolved to do. And then there are others who stand to profit from it and promote it.

They would suffer from the same cluster of biases and misperceptions that cause people to fall for various forms of pseudoscience in our culture, such as confirmation bias, pareidolia, cultural pressures, etc.

TL;DR: It's all about the big temples. Love 'em....the National Cathedral in Washington D.C.....AT&T Stadium where the Dallas Cowboys play.... these things are so amazing, there must be a higher power!

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding, Jeffrey. Comments on this site are 'ephemeral', meaning they can be deleted over time to clean up the site. If you think your comments are a valuable part of the answer, you should edit your answer and add them in. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Jan 12 '17 at 3:57
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Japan.

The native religion is known as Shintoism, and is essentially an ancient polytheistic religion which, until relatively recently, also included a God-Emperor. Buddhism is also widely practiced there, and many people in practice follow what you could call a hybrid Shinto-Buddhist religion. However, people tend not to actively practice their religion much and consider themselves agnostic (despite practicing many religious observances).

If you want a devout following for your story, you would need to write some sort of Shinto revival into the story. The difficulty is exporting it from Japan (unless you want your story set in Japan, of course).

Edit: Of course, if all you wanted was evidence that it is plausible for a scientifically advanced future society to follow a polytheistic religion, this is it.

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By your own reasoning... every unexplained phenomenon suggests a god. Therefore...

The Pantheon of Unknown

I am the god of Dark Matter who binds the galaxies together, eternally opposed by the god of Dark Energy who drives the galaxies apart.

I am the god of Sentience. I awaken thought from base matter, for, behold, it turns out thought is more than Turing-complete computation.

I am the hermaphroditic god of Wave/Particle Duality. Without me, all things would be either one thing or another.

And I, greatest of them all, am the god of the Next Question. Pray to me each time you think your Standard Model is complete, and I will reveal your next great mystery.

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    $\begingroup$ The god\goddess of Wave\Particle Duality also handles Gödel incompleteness for all statements that can be both true and false within a given logic framework. Also, he/she is the omnibenevolent-omnipotent deity who nonetheless allows evil to exist. Quite a busy entity! $\endgroup$ – SRM Jan 12 '17 at 16:17
  • $\begingroup$ I could not help but read each of these in booming or strong god like voices. lol $\endgroup$ – paqogomez Jan 13 '17 at 17:29
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You ask "why a scientifically advanced future society would begin to worship multiple gods again". The simplest answer:-

Because they never stopped worshipping multiple gods

There is no inherent advantage to monotheism over polytheism. It does not provide a better explanation of why the world works as it does, where we came from, or where we go when we die. Whilst monotheism happened to become the dominant form of religion in Western Europe and the Middle East, this was by no means inevitable. Polytheistic Germanic tribes demolished the monotheistic Roman Empire. Polytheistic Nordic tribes came close to ruling England, which would have had profound consequences for European history. The Mongol Empire which ruled most of Europe and Asia for some time allowed full religious freedom, but Genghis Khan himself was a polytheist (or possibly a pantheist).

As scientific understanding improves, the "god of the gaps" syndrome inevitably appears, except in this case of course it would be "gods of the gaps". Eventually any religion would be left in the situation which all rational religious people are today. They believe in the existence of their god(s), and they believe that their religion contains the truth about souls and an afterlife, but they do not believe that their god(s) will make any direct intervention in the world. (Yes, this does mean that belief in religious miracles is irrational, by the definition of rationality. Sorry, not sorry.)

The current state of religion, and its inevitable future, is that it is a social construct. It provides a framework for people to interact, and possibly some guidance on morality, but which religion anyone happens to follow is an artifact of historical happenstance. Think of it like the British monarchy - it exists because this is how the country was traditionally run, and it has a great depth of history, but ultimately it does not have any real effect on people's lives and it could be removed without any serious impact. If a world dominated by a polytheistic religion reached the same social point as us, it is inevitable that scientific and moral thinking would place that polytheistic religion in the same context as we currently place our monotheistic religions.

Of course, today there are religious leaders who through various means have been pulling people back to monotheistic religions. This is often not a good thing, because those religious leaders often have ulterior motives which are generally bad for their followers (Jim Bakker for an example of simple greed, or Jim Jones or David Koresh for rather less healthy examples). Also frequently these groups' beliefs conflict with scientific evidence, which can create unnecessary social divisions.

And of course there are a number of places in the world which are run by religious police. The history of post-Reformation and post-Enlightenment Western Europe shows that this is unlikely to continue forever, although inevitably it will take time for this to run its course, and the results will not be pretty. The actions of ISIS are fundamentally no different from the actions of the Inquisition.

In general though, today religion is less significant to people's daily lives, and this trend is only likely to continue. It seems unlikely that religion will ever completely die out, but the downward trend is visible and indisputable. With this in mind, your polytheistic society will inevitably follow the same trend. People will continue swearing "Loki!" when they hit their thumb with a hammer, but they won't literally believe in Loki's existence.

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Your question presupposes that scientific advancement and believe in god(s) are exclusive concepts. No doubt, this is a widely popular conclusion. However, atheism, and the absence of god in our universe, are not the intellectual high ground theories they claim to be.

First, science is no closer to disproving the existence of gods than it is to proving the existence of gods. We have no stronger data today on the validity of atheism than we did 1000 years ago. Our understanding of natural systems has evolved enough that we can push the sources of causation in the forces around us further and further back. This process has made people doubt, time and again, the accuracy of religion in understanding the nature of our universe.

First, it was a god that caused storms, then it was the weather, then it was the pressure differences of hot and cold air, then precipitation etc. If you continue on this pattern, atheists claim, you will eventually eliminate god from the question. However, the truth of the matter is that the more we have learned, the less we understand. These perplexing questions have gotten deeper and harder to explain scientifically rather than easier. It is clear beyond all doubt that our universe is a highly complex system far beyond anything we could create ourselves even on the smallest of scales.

Mankind is a god if its world. We create machines, tools and processes to achieve specific goals. Nature is replete with such machines, tools, and processes as well. The only difference being complexity. Our most complex systems are still monumentally simplistic compared to nature's most simple systems. We are perfectly content with priding ourselves as creators of our systems, yet we seem very reluctant to assign the possibility of a creator to nature's systems despite their awe inspiring complexity. If you magically appeared on earth far after mankind is gone, you would immediately know that a car is not some random assortment of atoms. It is a machine. The same exact statement could be made about trees though the tree will be far harder to dissect and understand due to its complexity.

Atheists, like Richard Dawkins, are followers of a religion as well. To believe there is no god or to believe there is a god are both beliefs lacking in scientific rigor. Both sides make statements they cannot back up. As such, it is natural for a modern society to have religions based on beliefs of all kinds.

There still could be a god of trees, water, stars, etc. Science has no proof that there isn't. Indeed, these systems could be managed by a force (deity) that ensures they happen when, where, how and why they should. We can issue burden of proof on whichever side is convenient, but the reality still shows that anybody who takes a stand is wrong until proven otherwise. Unlike science, religion makes no professional claims about being scientifically accurate, so the onus of proof is not a prerequisite.

It is entirely reasonable that a highly advanced society has belief in gods. The foundation of their believe may differ as too do their perceived sources of divine expression, but they would have developed such a religion for many reasons. Two such reasons are 1) They are still not close to disproving a god, and the forces at work have made such beliefs convenient and popular. 2) Perhaps they have proved the existence of gods though the form of those gods may not be at all what is familiar to us. In both cases, the compatibility of scientific achievement and religion is perfectly achievable so long as the background is sufficiently developed.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hi, Mattimus, welcome to Worldbuilding Stack Exchange. I'd recommend editing out everything but the last paragraph; most of it seems irrelevant to the question at hand. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Jan 12 '17 at 22:57
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps I am incorrect from a new poster standpoint to disagree, but how does this not reflect the question? His question explicitly pertains to the real world incompatibility of religion and science. I'm trying to provide a foundation for why such compatibility is plausible. I will edit if it does not meet the criteria. I'm just trying to see how the last paragraph would have any context otherwise. Is the issue that my response applies both to monotheism and polytheism rather than just polytheism? $\endgroup$ – Mattimus Jan 12 '17 at 23:20
  • $\begingroup$ I edited out some of the specific counter arguments and made the explicit references to multiple gods governing multiple systems more apparent. Thanks for your feedback. Let me know if you have other concerns. $\endgroup$ – Mattimus Jan 12 '17 at 23:30
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If your society is thousand years advanced from us and their technology is helping them heavily , they can put their faith in it's creators. For example in Brave New World their god's name is Ford because Henry Ford has found the assembly line, so they can produce humans in great masses. Just implement the same idea to other areas as well.

  • In Alan Turing we trust, who gave us computers.
  • In Hippocrates we trust , who gave us modern medicine.
  • In Einstein we Trust, who gave us unlimited energy(nuclear)
  • In Steve Jobs we Trust, who gave us.. you know.. things

Your community thousand years advanced means that they don't have enough information for these people, so their life is mystery to them. That way they can not humanize them easily.

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As you said, the disappearance of multiple gods as we advanced was because they were gods of things we began to understand. I think rather than gods of material, calculable things you would need, instead, gods of more philosophical/abstract things.

Gods of different emotions, Gods of ideas, creativity, luck. There have been gods of these things in the past but they were also gods of crops and rain and so forth.

I think there is always a part of us that wants there to be reasons behind these things too but we can't see it.

Basically you want Gods of things that can't be fully rationalized.

This could work for the saints, for example, if you said they each represented certain aspects of human emotion and were said to translate them for the one god. So if you told a certain saint of your troubles in love he would know all the was to know of understanding that emotion and translate it for the God who is so distant from humans.

This way they could deviate into their own separate deities as time goes on.

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  • $\begingroup$ This sounds eerily like some future evolution of Catholism. $\endgroup$ – Harlemme Jan 11 '17 at 20:52
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    $\begingroup$ Just because it has something to do with saints, it's not Catholism. The religion outlined above is clearly not Christianity. $\endgroup$ – b.Lorenz Jan 11 '17 at 21:47
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    $\begingroup$ “The disappearance of multiple gods as we advanced…” What we are we talking about, here, exactly? And what exactly do we mean by “advanced”? Are you arguing, for instance, that contemporary India or Japan is less advanced than say the Kingdom of Judah ca. 950 BC? Or even that Judah ca. 950 BC was more advanced than Assyria or Egypt? $\endgroup$ – David Moles Jan 11 '17 at 23:16
  • $\begingroup$ Yes it is VERY different from Christianity. I was just commenting about the whole system of the saints and their purposes...How it seemed similar to the Catholic system, like the patron saints. $\endgroup$ – Harlemme Jan 12 '17 at 4:48
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidMoles I agree that the sentence on its own does sound like that. I tried, however, to outline what I meant in the rest of that sentence. Compare the religions that disappeared to those which survived and you will see that the ones that disappeared have gods of much more physical phenomena that we came to understand. $\endgroup$ – Lio Elbammalf Jan 12 '17 at 15:36
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They could view much of there mythology as metaphors or a incomplete man's interpretation of the workings of a God.

"We once belived that Zeus threw down lightning to destroy his enemies, but know we know that actually Zeus creates negative and positive charges in the air in order to make lightning. "

So the gods would still be associated with the forces of nature but know it would be understood that they do so using the natural laws of the universe. It could even be argued that they created theses natural laws.

This belief would not impede on science in fact study how the gods run the universe could even became a sacred act.

In general religions do not impede on scientific discovery, they impede on scientific discovery that contradicts there understanding of doctrine. When this happens they either claim that a scientific discovery must not be true or they change there understanding of doctrine to fit this new modle.

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My reasoning behind this is that we have scientific evidence that explains most of the natural processes to us (like the water cycle, the rotation of the earth around the sun, etc.), but the one question we can't answer is where we came from, hence the one god that created everything.

The monotheisms you list were all first practiced by people who (for the most part) simultaneously believed that the Sun rotates around the Earth. So I don't think it's true at all to say that people are monotheistic because they're scientific. Over a millennium passed in Europe between mass conversion to Christianity under Constantine and mass conversion to heliocentrism "under" Copernicus. Even longer until Newton "explained" the motion that Copernicus and Kepler described. So we mustn't imagine that we don't have a separate Sun god because Copernicus (or even Aristarchus) removed the need for one. The reasons for monotheism, and for it succeeding over polytheism in the societies where that has happened, lie elsewhere.

So from the POV of fiction I don't think you have anything to worry about on this score. If you want to explain why a previously monotheistic society switches to polytheism then that will indeed take some explaining, but it's not science that's in the way, it's the fact of a strongly ingrained social tradition changing.

Personally I'd go for some combination of multi-culturalism, synthetic religions (in both senses of the word), and wildly heterodox "personal spirituality" outside the supervision of a strict religious hierarchy, as capable of explaining pretty much any and all religious practices you want to write.

Or take the example of Constantine, and say that society converted to polytheism because a charismatic leader came to power on the back of support from and for a particular religion, and establised that as the state religion for all or most of the known world. Empire may be unpalatable, but it isn't unscientific!

But this then turns the question into, "how can a society change its religion?, or "why do scientific socities practice any religion at all?". Your specific question, I think, is about an obstacle that doesn't really exist, so all you need to do to answer it is remove the obstacle from your fiction.

Even working from the position that monotheism is successful because it's correct, which I don't hold myself but I know many people do, I think one could interestingly describe a scientific and monotheistic society that becomes polytheistic because the majority is gravely in error and falls to temptation and deceit. They could be worshipping demons and false idols, after all, and still believe themselves to have a truly polytheistic religion.

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1. Social Sciences influence religion

One possibility that I don't think has been proposed: A scientific understanding of the social nature of humans, combined with a continued belief that God(s) created humans in his/her/their image, might lead people to the conclusion that God must be multiple. That is, if a single human-type omnipotent being existed, your society might believe that that Being would inevitably create peers to stave off human-type loneliness. (This basic human need for companionship1 is apparently the plot of a current movie2; science in first link, spoilers in second.)

2. Religious syncretism3

Alternatively, religious tolerance and cultural relativism could lead to a situation where various religions, including monotheistic ones, have been amalgamated into a single pan-theistic religion, where multiple gods from multiple faiths are now given credence.

This would be especially likely if the culture is fairly cosmopolitan—for example, if humanity split off into space colonies that lost track of one another for a while and developed individual religions, but is now once again reunited through the miracle of fft travel and/or communication.

Under this scheme, perhaps not all individuals worship all the gods equally, but they acknowledge all gods' validity even while being most devoted to a particular god or set of gods.

Note that this is not that different from how some religions have dealt with competing philosophies over the centuries—e.g. ancient Egyptians incorporated deities4 from neighboring pantheons, early Catholicism allegedly co-opted some Pagan deities5 as Saints, Islam considers Jesus6 to have been a prophet, and many modern Americans agree to some sort of sentiment equating various religions7.


1 "The Dangers of Loneliness" Psychology Today 2003
2 "The Passengers' Trailers All Hid a Twist that Ruins the Movie from the Start" Forbes 2016
3 "Religious Syncretism" Wikipedia
4 "Ancient Egyptian Deities: Origins" Wikipedia
5 "Christianization of Saints and Feasts" Wikipedia
6 "Jesus in Islam" Wikipedia
7 "What Americans Believe About Universalism and Pluralism" Barna Group 2011

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Planets are gods

this one is a bit out there. Say that somehow all planets are sentient beings and can telepathically communicate with the populations living within their magnetosphere.

You can describe away earth's monotheistic religions by explaining that was the planet directing humans but once they leave earth and discover more then each planet would be a diety, if to a small portion of the population.

This would probably continue until we discover how they are sentient and spread across the universe, or the death star starts to blow them up.

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The gods represent differing ideals

Your question relies on the notion that societies believe in gods to explain natural phenomena that they cannot explain. While this has been one function of religion, it is hardly the only one; in fact it is probably the least important of the reasons religion exists. (This theory, that religion exists primarily to explain unexplained phenomena, may have been started during the Enlightenment period specifically to discredit the need for religion in modern times.)

The primary function of religion is to organize society, to symbolize its ideals and goals beyond the base drives of the individual. By its very nature, science cannot be used to determine fundamental goals, it can only help determine the best means of accomplishing those goals once they are decided already.

A society may not necessarily have uniform goals or ideals; different people may opt for different views of right and wrong. These different sets of ideals and values can be represented by different deities.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes, although I would add that religion is only one aspect of a spiritual tradition, and not the original one. Spirituality, and the traditions around it such as the understanding of spirituality as a god(dess) pantheon metaphor, serves other purposes even without religion. Religion and modern rationalization both tend to distance us from the awareness of self and our connection to the universe that spirituality can provide, which is the original and continued need for it. $\endgroup$ – Dronz Jan 15 '17 at 18:32
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Because gods exist.

In your setting, you can choose to have a religion that has been objectively demonstrated to be true. Final Fantasy XV provides a recent example of a story with modern technology and gods who are very active and widely revered. Pokemon is a setting with futuristic technology, and many of the legendary Pokemon could be reasonably described as gods. C. S. Lewis wrote a space trilogy about a man who travels to different planets in the solar system and comes face-to-face with major angels and demons on his adventures.

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My reasoning behind this is that we have scientific evidence that explains most of the natural processes to us (like the water cycle, the rotation of the earth around the sun, etc.), but the one question we can't answer is where we came from, hence the one god that created everything.

I don't believe that to be true.

That monotheistic religions dominate some regions today is because a single Abrahamic religion dominated some regions thousands of years ago. (Remember, Christianity, Islam, Judaism have a common origin.) I don't see that it has anything to do with science; it's just how our cultures happened to develop.

For the same reason, I see nothing preventing a different society developing differently, essentially just out of pure chance. Indeed, several advanced societies on Earth are "still" dominated by polytheism.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm sad to be only the first one to upvote this... we seem to be a very backward people in terms of understanding our own religious and ideational history. $\endgroup$ – Dronz Jan 15 '17 at 18:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Dronz: Indeed. Westerners have a habit of assuming that the way we do things now is somehow the result of "evolving" or "developing", and that all aspects of Western culture are therefore, by their very nature, superior and more "advanced" to all other hypothetical cultures. It's bigoted, it's offensive, and it's ludicrous. $\endgroup$ – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 13 '17 at 11:36
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Lots of great comments here and very interesting debates. Being advanced or not in science doesn't take away the existence of god(s) persay. The society is highly advanced but that doesn't take away from the fact that they are highly advanced because of multiple god influence. What if there really is a god of war, a god of water, a god of the sun, of death. By these gods' work, the society has been able to advance to a point of enlightenment and was able to communicate with the gods.

This is counter intuitive because we have always read in every myth and lore that the gods did not want us to know they exist. What if your set of gods DO? What if your set of gods want to play sim city and develop a society that becomes so advanced and so perfect that they are able to communicate and comprehend the intelligence of the gods? What if these gods' goal was to "cultivate" a society to super intelligence so that this society can help the gods solve a complex issue that they are stuck on? Or even more simply, what if this enlightenment and technology allows this said society to see the gods walking around as every day people and the society in turn treats them as if they just saw their favorite celebrity walking down the street? Massive temples and places of worship would still be created to come see their favorite god and in turn these gods heavily interact with the society?

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If science were to simultaneously start uncovering undeniable proof of intelligent design (a.k.a. the babelfish) while also uncovering proof of the plurality of the creator, such as contradictory physical laws; they might conclude that they not only live in a created universe, but that there are multiple, conflicting Creators, or that then single omnipotent Creator is schizophrenic.

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  • $\begingroup$ But you could also interpret the babelfish as proof of there being no deity, because no god would have made such an obvious hint without being more blatant with other stuff. $\endgroup$ – RedSonja Jan 12 '17 at 8:52
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    $\begingroup$ So that god is Sithrak, then ? $\endgroup$ – Evpok Jan 14 '17 at 10:48
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I understand your point that as we grow to understand our physical universe, the gods created by our ancestors to explain that lack of understanding are no longer worshipped. Though I'm no expert, I suspect our Roman and Greek ancestors stopped worshipping their pantheons because their all-too-much-like-us gods (beings of power but no better moral, ethical, or psychiatric capabilities) not because of scientific advancement per se, but because they rebelled against gods having a reputation for destroying rebels and discovered that nothing happened....

As for modern polytheism, you can look to the Mormons, who believe not only in three gods (the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost, as separate individuals), but that individuals worthy of exaltation become gods themselves, godhood being the ultimate inheritance.

And finally, to answer your penultimate question, a scientifically advanced society would worship any god (one or many) for which there was measurable proof of existence. From that perspective your question has no reasonable answer, since religion is a matter of faith rather than proof. (It's worth noting, however, that many people today have worship-level faith in science, not being able to prove for themselves that anything they're told by "experts" (aka, "prophets") is true. From this perspective, our scientifically advanced society is already polytheistic.)

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    $\begingroup$ The idea that "religion is a matter of faith rather than proof" is rather modern - it was forming exactly as our understanding of reality increased, and religion had to pull back because its answers were flat out wrong. But read the Old Testament - it's all about scientific experimentation and explaining the reality of the world. You worshipped a god because you expected a return on your investment, just like a worshipper of Ceres expected to get better yields from his worship (and sacrifice). "Faith" is just the latest argument that is by definition impossible to disprove. $\endgroup$ – Luaan Jan 12 '17 at 11:49
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Because the gods are real, and scientific endeavors stumbled upon them. Some kind of past breakthrough revealed beings which in turn were awakened to your civilization's efforts. These beings have revealed themselves as gods, having perhaps performed miracles and revealing themselves to those individuals that attempt to reach their glory through scientific endeavors. Scientists might then become heralds of the word of these "gods". You can easily leverage this from multiple angles, depending on your own ideas.

For reference, similar, although unique ideas can also be encountered in the following amazing works of fiction:

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What's stopping them from doing so? We're a fairly advanced scientific culture, yet we still worship a single god. The Bible makes reference to a creation myth that's demonstrably false (or else God has a really twisted sense of humor), yet we haven't stopped believing in it. Why should it be any different for multiple gods?

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A scientifically advanced civilization would come to bridge the gaps between what is considered the metaphysical versus the physical. This gap would be bridged by advancements within the field of quantum mechanics. However, science would ultimately reach its limits in truly explaining reality and what we would be left with would be theories, or schools of thought, which explain specific phenomenon. The true reason behind why none of the theories will ever coalesce into a unified theory would be because reality is an abstraction. That is, everything contained within reality (including us) would simply be manifestations of the abstraction which is reality. Therefore, certain boundary conditions would always apply which would make it near-impossible for us to determine certain truths without any degree of certainty. What can a piece of software ever know of the physical world? Can code exist, or have any meaning in air? Of course, not. Similarly, we would only have theories, which would get very close to certain "truths," but at the same time, nowhere near it, as we exist in a "closed system," outside of which, our understanding and even existence is meaningless. Therefore, the only solace would be reliance on the various aspects of "God."

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” -Arthur C. Clarke

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  • $\begingroup$ ... and the "various aspects of" God/universe/divinity are why polytheism is useful. We can already see this happening in modern efforts to reclaim pre-Christian gods. It's also evident in Christianity itself in the form of all the saints, mother Mary and Mary Magdalene, etc. $\endgroup$ – Dronz Jan 15 '17 at 18:35
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It depends on how your advanced civilisation interacts with the world. One way of looking at it is that polytheism is often linked to a sense of place. Zeus's manifestation at Olympia was different to his manifestation at Dodona. Many places seem to have been numinous before the god that we associate with them (such as the latecomer Apollo at Delphi). In Europe many caves, springs, wells etc. were associated with saints, who took over the holy nature of the place from the previous gods. You could argue that many Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox holy places have much to do with a kind of polytheism (i.e. dedicated to someone/thing holy that is not the single God itself.) That is why Wahabis are deeply suspicious of veneration of place, and have flattened so many of the holy places, such as the prophet's mother's house and why Isis fighters blow up Shia saints' shrines. I think it is quite plausible that an advanced civilisation could have a deep regard for its holy places, long after they saw the gods as the reason for things happening, and any god associated with these places may well be venerated as an embodiment of the place, and whatever story was associated with it.

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Because polytheists won the war

The only reason Judeo-Christian religions are associated with modern society is because Western Europe developed superior military technology and was able to spread its ideology, converting pagans at the end of the sword.

If polytheists had been better at war, their belief system would have dominated the world instead.

Neither system is inherently "better" or "more modern." It is simply a matter of numbers.

In the future, there could be another war, and it could turn out differently.

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    $\begingroup$ Christianity triumphed over the pagan Roman Empire while being on the wrong side of the sword. Your statement doesn't hold to reality. $\endgroup$ – Pedro Gabriel Jan 12 '17 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ No. The Roman Empire tried to use the sword to squash Christianity. When Constantine converted, Christianity was such a phenomenon on the Empire, in spite of persecutions, that the emperor had to deal with it anyways. Constantine published an edict of religious TOLERANCE, that included Christianity for the first time. Either way, religious persecution to christians would reappear with Emperor Justinian, the Apostate. Later, when Christianity became the oficial Roman religion, the Empire was scarce decades from its fall, with its military power significantly weakened. $\endgroup$ – Pedro Gabriel Jan 12 '17 at 18:26
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    $\begingroup$ Also, Christianity spread outside of the Roman Empire, to rivals of the Roman Empire, where Constantine's swords would never reach. Armenia and all the barbarism tribes, except the Lombards, to name a few. $\endgroup$ – Pedro Gabriel Jan 12 '17 at 18:28
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    $\begingroup$ No, I do not agree that populations that were under the influence of en edict of tolerance were forced to convert at the tip of the sword. Nor do I agree that religion is dependent on who has the most power: that's an insult to every person that suffers religious persecution in the world. But I agree that this comment section is not the proper place to debate this. $\endgroup$ – Pedro Gabriel Jan 12 '17 at 20:21
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    $\begingroup$ No, the true insult is to pretend that religious minorities disappeared because they simply changed their mind. An edict of tolerance was passed not because the emperor didn't have anything better to do with his time; he was solving a problem of violence that threatened the stability of civilization. And there was no such edict for the Spanish in South American or the British and French in the North America, where . pagans were wiped out by those who were capable of greater violence. $\endgroup$ – John Wu Jan 12 '17 at 21:56
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Because we live in a Virtual Reality.

Through decades of advancement in Quantum Physics, we conclude that computer processes reside within the very fabric of our universe - humanity decide a simulation extremely likely.

Post breakthrough, humans start to draw up mechanisms on how such a system might work. Through further investigation, it is thought, our simulation is governed by a series of AI's - each handling a unique process, such as; gravity, weather, cell-division, etc.

Based on our new understandings we start to revisit age-old questions, eg. why do placebo's work? Why is it that through believing one can recover from ill-health, they do? In actuality, micro processes are at work, sculpted by relevant AI's. Prayer (faith, belief) is thought to be nothing more than a filtering system. It helps prioritise tasks amongst vast calculations.

In other terms - prayer resembles pull, push requests. By default, the program works perfectly. But through observational nodes within (or rather 'life') re-factoring from the inside out becomes the most efficient framework for improvement.

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What if this civilization had experienced some sort of event, cosmological in origin, that proved (or seemed to) that our entire universe was the purposeful creation of a group of seemingly all-powerful, omniscient extra-dimensional beings?

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Deities in a scientifically advanced society would mirror knowledge of specific disciplines. One deity may be a brain surgeon, another a lawyer, another an astronaut, another a story teller, etc. They will be the ultimate masters in their discipline and even have supernatural capacities. Each will have their angels. Each will have a nemesis, a devil, with an army demons.

Each deity has something unique to offer. Lower beings, when they can't get what they want will need to ask the deity that can give what they need.

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Because the definition of "gods" changes.

As time goes on, people could think less and less that "religion" revolves around gods and religions that were created in ancient times, and more and more around intellectual property that was created more recently.

People have an attachment to beloved characters from TV shows, cartoons, books, etc., enough that fandoms have evolved around several of them. This has only become more and more prevalent since the rise of the internet.

Although it's a bit of a stretch, one could say that conventions for various fandoms can act as religious gatherings where the followers of that "religion" meet up to strengthen their faith and have a good time with each other. Although these fandoms aren't considered religions in the present day, perhaps in the future they will be, and at that time the beloved characters could be more than cultural icons.

They might be worshipped as gods. For example, Dr. Who could be the God of Time Travel, Twilight Sparkle the Goddess of Friendship, Captain Kirk the God of Freedom, Bugs Bunny the God of Comedy, Reinhardt as the God of Safety, etc. Although it sounds crazy now, people in the future might look up to beloved cultural icons and "worship" them like the ancient ones worshipped their gods.

A futuristic scientifically advanced community would still have a culture and several cultural icons, which may be who they worship as their gods.

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protected by Community Jan 12 '17 at 22:47

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