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So in my world, ghosts are definitely a thing that exist, so therefore something at least like a soul must exist. It's fairly common knowledge, albeit most people don't know a lot about them, only that they generally aren't nice and if they linger too long, they get very powerful.

There are also spirits (which might be renamed later) that are basically consciousnesses who can split from their body (or around their body if the body is small and relatively portable). These are well known. Their method of coming about used to be well known but is not commonly known anymore (still known to some though). The method is that sometimes when attempting to create something magic through mixing preexisting magics with other objects, sometimes something would turn out to be conscious. This was usually the case when an emotional component is involved, such as sacrificing an object with strong emotions tied to it and/or an intellectual component, such as a book.

People are aware that there are other worlds (or something along those lines) as well since it is literally possible to walk off the edge of the world and scavenge for objects (there's an entire job focused around it). However, they can only guess about the nature of these other worlds, and otherworldly magic doesn't really translate, and technology levels are too low for them to know what to do with machines, plus anything solar powered will be wonky at best if it's not taken to a farmer, and if it isn't waterproof, forget it. Also, it is entirely possible for people to fall from one world to another, though this world loses far more people that way than it gains.

No one knows for sure if there is an afterlife. Populations are generally small and scattered, but originated from a far more united population.

Sorry this is complicated, but does anyone have any idea what kinds of effects these factors would have on religious beliefs?

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closed as too broad by Mołot, Azuaron, SRM, James, Aify Feb 24 '17 at 22:20

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Near duplicate: How would society react if the existence of a god was scientifically proven? worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/10017/… $\endgroup$ – SRM Feb 24 '17 at 5:39
  • $\begingroup$ What exactly does "if it's not taken to a farmer" mean? How would giving a device to a person of a specific profession have any impact on it working? $\endgroup$ – SRM Feb 24 '17 at 5:50
  • $\begingroup$ Not really the questions do share some similarities but not that many $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Feb 24 '17 at 5:50
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    $\begingroup$ You should provide more information: are these religions with which your readers are familiar? Or are they invented for your world? That, i think, would be quite important, and attempting to answer this question prior to that clarification would be downright silly. Sounds like an interesting world — when will we be able to choose our players, and what system will you use? :-) $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Feb 24 '17 at 11:26
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    $\begingroup$ It depends on the religion. Could you please clarify? $\endgroup$ – Pedro Gabriel Feb 24 '17 at 12:49
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Not much as far as religion goes.

Most religions have other worlds (Heaven, Mount Olympus, the nine realms, and so on), ghosts, spirits, magic (or something similar) as part of their doctrine. Those that don't now would probably change slightly to include it. Atheism may exist after such a discovery, but it would be much different then what we think of Atheism today: atheists tomorrow would probably be more like deists or the Sadducees than like atheists of our world.

Science and philosophy, on the other hand, would be much different. In ancient times, there was little difference between the study of the physical world and the study of spiritual and mystical concepts. Chemistry was just magic witch craft and trying to study the mysterious force that pulls all things down (gravity) was just the same to them as trying to study the afterlife (which all ancient culture took for granted was real in some form or another). Astrology and astronomy were one and the same. It wasn't until the Age of Enlightenment that these concepts differentiated.

In your world, the Enlightenment still happens but it doesn't divide the supernatural from the natural; instead, it just creates a better method of studying both. Scientists would be studying magic and ghosts in the hopes of understanding even a little bit of what life-after-death is like. They would also study these things in the hopes of finding new technologies, much like scientist of today try to understand quantum physics or dark matter.

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  • $\begingroup$ Arg! Why do people continue to use the word “philosophy” like that! I use it to denote a ‘love of wisdom’, whereas most people use it to describe some nebulous pondering of metaphysics. Anyways, +1 nevertheless. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Feb 24 '17 at 11:31
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    $\begingroup$ @can-ned_food because philosophy is also a school of thought and pondering. "A particular system of philosophical thought." is one the definitions. Even though the root greek word literally means "love of wisdom", that isn't how it is defined or used today. Like we don't say, I philosophy. You would say that someone's philosophy on life is not correct. Doesn't mean someone's love of wisdom on life is not correct, it means your thinking on life is all off. $\endgroup$ – ggiaquin16 Feb 24 '17 at 21:49
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    $\begingroup$ @ggiaquin Or yours: By my way of looking at it, everyone should practise philosophy. Because they don't, because they think it is something that only intellectuals do — and often the lazy or shiftless kinds, at that, — the world is in such a rotten state like it is right now. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Feb 25 '17 at 5:31
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Many religions do not necessarily equate ghosts with souls. Also, the supernatural and the religious may be related, but they don't necessarily become the one thing. In a world where human consciousness survived in a spirit form, these would be simply seen as spirits of the afterlife. As their becoming more powerful and dangerous this sounds like the dangerous kinds of spirits or ghosts in some Asian supernatural traditions.

Indeed there are religious traditions where the body has multiple 'souls', for example, the ancient Egyptian religion. The existence of ghosts will form the basis of ideas of what existence beyond the grave is like, and if the religion allows for multiple 'souls', then ghosts could be only one of those 'souls'. (The word "souls" has been place in inverted commas to distinguish it from "souls" as we conceive of them.)

If this world has some form of awareness of other worlds, no matter how imprecise, once more this concept will feed into the ways they might believe in other worlds where the gods might dwell, which is common enough for many human cultures, places of the afterlife (heavens, hells, valhallas, paradises, even worlds where people are reincarnated to live the next phase of their existence), worlds for different spirits and 'souls', and possibly simply worlds where ghosts go after they're finished here on this world's equivalent of Earth.

In a world where ghosts are real and there is the distinct but imprecise knowledge of the possibility of other worlds these concepts will furnish a rich basis for the creation of remarkably diverse and creative range of concepts involving spirits of all kinds and 'souls' of all imaginable kinds. Religions, naturally, will be strongly influenced by these concepts and employ them in various ways for the propagation of their beliefs.

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I agree provable phenomena eliminates the supernatural by definition, but not that it eliminates the religious. Over time much has moved into the real realm, as other answers provide good examples, but these things do not remove the greatest driver of religion--the need to answer WHY. Bring forth real aliens, ghosts, and measurement of the other human or non-human energy bodies, and we will still build a religious belief in attempt to understand why those things, along with ourselves, exist in the first place, as well as to provide a framework within which we can allow ourselves to justify our actions within our real world.

The world religions will gradually adapt the new knowledge into their tenets of belief, just as the level of religious understanding of individuals practicing these religions will change, for some more dramatically than others, depending on how much of a part religion plays in their life experience.

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This doesn't really hurt religion in my opinion. If anything proof of souls might make MORE people start believing it is all true out of fear (even if ghosts and super natural activity doesn't directly correlate with religion). From our standpoint, we tend to tie in supernatural with religion via exorcisms and what not.

Souls may prove that there is an after life, but that doesn't directly prove that God may exist. It just helps the cause that when a religion says if you don't pray, you will go to hell. You may actually go to hell because afterlife is now proven to exist and thus adds fear element as stated above and force people to start praying and going to church again.

Existing of other worlds or species doesn't hurt religion because one can easily argue that God has multiple planets which he has populated with his creations. I don't recall of any, at least catholic teachings, that stated we have to be the only species that God created. Someone please correct me on that though if I am incorrect as it has been a while since I picked up a bible or went to church.

So in the end, I don't believe this will hurt religion but only has the potential for religion to exploit the findings as a way to bring in more people.

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That which is provably real is not supernatural, nor religious

Your question is flawed in that it assumes that if the things which we consider supernatural now are proven to be real, then they continue to be supernatural and mysterious, and that they would then give fuel to those that reference the supernatural, and would give credit to them.

I would instead claim the opposite: that which is provably real deprives the religious of authority.

What if for instance there was a claim that we had mysterious waves about us, vibrating at various frequencies and energies. The claim is that these waves cannot be seen with the naked eye, cannot be heard by the ear... in fact no human sense will ever be able to pick up on these mysterious waves.

And what if then, one day, someone proved the existence of these waves?

Well... that is exactly what happened when Heinrich Hertz performed an experiment that proved the existence of electromagnetic waves — i.e. the basis for electricity and radio — which had hitherto only been claimed by people like James Clerk Maxwell in the form of his equations.

Would you now — today — consider electricity and radio as magical and proof of any kind of religious claim? Or would you consider it mundane and not in the least supernatural? This is of course a rhetorical question: there is nothing supernatural about that which powers the device you are now reading this very text on, nor the means by which the text was transmitted there.

Yet were we to demonstrate this to, say, for no particular reason: a teenage carpenter's son that lived 2000 years ago in bronze age Palestine... and while we were at it showed this young boy that we can never be infected by the pox, that we can drive leprosy from a person's body, and that we can hear the voice and see the image of someone that is not even there, but in another place, up to thousands of leagues away... that by the touch of a rod on metal we can melt it through the power of harnessed lightning... then this person would surely say that we have provided them with evidence of supernatural miracles.

The reason that the religious keeps referring to the supernatural is that it gives them the power to claim what these things are, without anyone being able to discredit them. As long as these phenomena are supernatural, only the religious can claim to have any kind of knowledge or discernment of them, which grants them authority.

But things that are real can be examined and proven to be real by anyone with the help of the scientific method. And reality does not give an iota about your religious beliefs or ideologies. Reality does not need anyone's permission or approval to be real. It just is anyway.

So how would this affect the world religions?

In the same way that it always happens, in a manner somewhat similar to the Kübler-Ross model:

  1. Denial. The religions will deny the truth of the claims (see heliocentrism, evolution) and just flat out say it is not true.

  2. Anger. Then they will angrily denounce any such claims to be evil or heretical, and persecute the adherents (see Galileo, the Scopes' Trial).

  3. Bargaining. When they cannot ignore the proof any more, they will attempt to reverse engineer their previous claims to fit the reality of the situation (see Intelligent Design).

  4. Defeat. They will be defeated in the Open Discourse, and the consensus will be that that which is provable takes precedence of scriptural authority (see for instance Kitzmiller vs Dover Area School District).

  5. Conceding. And finally they will attempt to shrug it off and laugh it away and trivialize the fact that they have had their claims demolished (see Pope Francis), but will still claim that even after this, they are ready to be infallible all over again.

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  • $\begingroup$ Typical atheist rant from a person completely oblivious to theology answering a question about religion. $\endgroup$ – Pedro Gabriel Feb 24 '17 at 12:51
  • $\begingroup$ @PedroGabriel Oh yes? What is your argument here? Is it perhaps that you have some special revealed knowledge of the supernatural that I do not have access to? Or that I have simply not understood the nature of the supernatural, and that your understanding of the supernatural is the right one? If that is your argument: go on, I heartily welcome you to say it. :) $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Feb 24 '17 at 12:59
  • $\begingroup$ @PedroGabriel Jokes aside, and talking deadly serious business: religious institutions have all throughout history of mankind exerted power over people. Claiming special knowledge and/or wisdom, the religious have either explicitly or implicitly imposed their opinions onto other people, believers and unbelievers alike. ISIS, the Israel-Palestine conflict, the catholic church constantly interfering with matters of contraception and women's health so mention just salient examples. The only argument they have for this is "our belief and understanding of the unprovable gives us authority". $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Feb 24 '17 at 13:17
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    $\begingroup$ I disagree with you regarding the creationist on an evolution thread, but since that is your posturing, then down-vote withdrawn. Unfortunately this is not the venue for a debate about this topic, because of WSE rules. I'm sorry if I was harsh, but still think that my analogy was apt. I don't agree with muslims or confucians or even atheists, but I wouldn't dare answer a question about Islam, Confucianism or Atheism on behalf of people of those backgrounds, particularly with arguments from their detractors. Again, I'm out. Sorry, Michael. Sorry WSE moderators. Best regards $\endgroup$ – Pedro Gabriel Feb 24 '17 at 14:43
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    $\begingroup$ @PedroGabriel No need to be sorry. Difference in opinion is the friction that creates warmth here. We only need to keep it from overheating. :) $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Feb 24 '17 at 14:44

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