On Earth theocracies have been very reluctant to accept scientific progress, for instance the Catholic church, which dominated Medieval Europe, had a very hard time accepting Copernicus's, Galileo's and Kepler's theories on planetary motion, and after the Muslim conquest of Egypt, in 642 AD, caliph Omar ordered what was left of the library of Alexandria to be destroyed with the justification:

»If those books are in agreement with the Quran, we have no need of them; and if these are opposed to the Quran, destroy them«

(or rather Wikipedia claims that some sources say so)

Therefor I was wondering if it is possible to make a realistic timeline, in which a theocracy first comes to dominate an earth like planet, before any industrial revolution can happen, and many years later this theocracy develops a working Alcubierre drive.


Definition of theocracy

Meriam Websters defines a theocracy to be

government of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided

However I will also assume that the leaders of this hypothetical theocracy do believe in their religion (that is, the religion was not created as a hoax to fool the people).

Definition of global dominance

When I say that my hypothetical theocracy gains »global dominance« before any industrial revolution can happen, I do not mean that they have to take over the entire planet by force, I only mean that they gain such a dominant economical and political position, that no other nation on the planet has the resources to invest in scientific and technological development.

The reason that i want this form of »global dominance« to be a part of this hypothetical question, is that if it was not, then the Theocracy would simply be able to steal the technology of the other civilizations on the planet.

Developing Alcubierre Drive

Firstly i must assume that the Alcubierre Drive is possible, which requires that it is possible to create and contain so called exotic matter, which is particles with negative mass and therefor negative energy – something that modern science has neither proven to be possible nor impossible.

Furthermore, when i say »developing the Alcubierre drive, i also mean that this hypothetical theocracy must develop both the Alcubierre drive, all the technology and science necessary to do, and the scientific knowledge to travel through space themselves (in other words, they did not steal or receive the technology from a conveniently bypassing alien, or from other civilizations on their home planet).

Question definition

To sum up: my question is what events would most realistically need to take place, in order for a theocracy to develop the Alcubierre Drive by itself, based on the previously defined assumptions.


As Secespitus correctly points out, this specific question does look rather opinion based, since we (as i briefly mentioned) don't know if Alcubierre drives are possible, and what developing them will require; (that is why i made sure not to ask for any specifications of how long this timeline would take).

Of course i could have simply avoided having to assume that the Alcubierre drive is possible by asking for a realistic timeline for a theocracy developing advanced technology, however I still asked about the Alcubierre drive in particular both because it would require very advanced science (including all that we know now) and will (if possible) require a lot of investments in a technology which might not work at all.
Therefor this question is rather about what it would take for a theocracy to make such investments in science, rather than whether or not the Alcubierre drive is possible.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Currently this looks opinion-based to me. We don't know if an Alcubierre-Drive is possible. This means we don't know what kind of technology you would need to create one. Therefore we cannot give a timeline for developing an Alcubierre-Drive. Plus it's hard to say how a certain culture / government would handle something like this. Or are you stating that your society know how to create everything and you are asking how long it would take until it's used together? (Still opinion-based as the degree to which they listen to their specific "bible/quran/..." is unknown) $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Mar 6 '17 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ Possible is spelled with a 'b' not a 'p'. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Mar 6 '17 at 15:14
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Related: Are there any ways to allow some form of FTL travel without allowing time travel? $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Mar 6 '17 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ "Therefor this question is rather about what it would take for a theocracy to make such investments in science". What investments? Discovery and production of unobtanium? You've just substituted one impossible request for another. Please think about the implications of your starting assumptions. $\endgroup$ Mar 6 '17 at 17:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Secespitus of course its opinion based, its fantasy not science. $\endgroup$
    – montelof
    Mar 6 '17 at 22:07

The assumption that theocracies cannot develop scientifically is false.

In general, religious leaders are only opposed to scientific progress when it undermines the specific principles of that religion. The specifics will vary from one religion to the next and between various possible histories, but overall, science made great strides under both the Church and the Ottoman Empire, and research was often funded by religious authorities with the context of coming to a better understanding of God's world and generally improving the lives of people within the nation. (And making weapons to fight its enemies, of course.)

The only places where there was conflict was in the specific instances where a particular scientific discovery happened to oppose principles that the particular religions considered as truth, and while these instances are often held up as examples (Galileo and Darwin being the most prominent) they are very rare. Leave out or slightly modify the conflicting scriptural verses (mostly those dealing with creation and cosmology, which are among the less important aspects of most religions), and there is no reason why they would come into conflict at all.

So I would say, provided that said theocracy did not happen to follow a religion that happened to have specific fundamental beliefs that were in opposition to discovering the principles necessary to create an Alcubierre drive, they would take... exactly as long as anyone else. If they were a conquest-focused or proselytizing religion? Possibly faster, since they'd have a specific motive for wanting to spread beyond their homeworld.

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Imagine Jehova's Witness in space. "We come in peace. And also to tell you of our Lord and Saviour." Good luck trying to close the door on them when they're in geostationary orbit and sending ads to your mass-media networks. $\endgroup$
    – Cronax
    Mar 6 '17 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ Science made great strides under the Ottoman empire? That's news to me. Links? $\endgroup$ Mar 7 '17 at 18:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @SerbanTanasa This would be a good place to start. $\endgroup$ Mar 7 '17 at 19:03

Technological progress is driven from marginal investments at the technological possibilities frontier. In a theocracy as anywhere else, the key issue holding up progress is not theology but the perverse incentive systems riddling any bureaucratic organization - be it a company, a world government or a church: the people in power like the status-quo, and any change to the status-quo can become a threat to their power, so they do not have a strong incentive to take risks and try new things:

Beware, you who seek first and final principles, for you are trampling the garden of an angry God and he awaits you just beyond the last theorem. Sister Miriam Godwinson, "But for the Grace of God"

However, one can easily imagine a specialist class eventually (it could be decades, it could be millennia) emerging within the framework of the bureaucratic institution that is relatively nimble and open to new ideas: think DARPA within the US government and the Jesuits within the Catholic Church.

The righteous need not cower before the drumbeat of human progress. Though the song of yesterday fades into the challenge of tomorrow, God still watches and judges us. Evil lurks in the datalinks as it lurked in the streets of yesteryear. But it was never the streets that were evil. Sister Miriam Godwinson, "The Blessed Struggle"

Basic research could come to be seen as a religious duty -- and far greater resources could be allocated in a theocracy towards reading the "mind of God" than inside a short-term-oriented capitalist society.

A cost-effective way to warp space has obvious benefits that cannot be ignored by any society with a positive growth rate forever.

At atrociously high energy states, the properties of matter change subtly and new miracles become possible. The Plasma Accretion process is now dangerous and difficult to control, but its products will soon become commonplace in our society. Sister Miriam Godwinson, "The Lord Works"

Obviously this may generate some resistance.

And what of the immortal soul in such transactions? Can this machine transmit and reattach it as well? Or is it lost forever, leaving a soulless body to wander the world in despair? Sister Miriam Godwinson, "We must Dissent" - Accompanies the Secret Project "Bulk Matter Transmitter"

Once life is confirmed to exist on other worlds, it could be considered a religious duty to spread the light of wonder to the alien heathens, or even if life is not found, colonization could be considered a religious imperative.

Go through, my children! The time of miracles is upon us. Let us cast off sin and walk together to the Garden of the Lord. With God's mercy we shall meet again on the other side. Sister Miriam Godwinson, "Last Testament"


They can develop it in $0$ years:

  1. Receive science from the future
  2. Use science to build an Alcubierre driver
  3. Use science to synthesize exotic matter
  4. Go back in time using Alcubierre drive to step 1 and give yourself science (see https://physics.stackexchange.com/a/247048/40394)
  5. Come back to the present
  6. Enjoy your Alcubierre drive
  • $\begingroup$ According to this source an Alcubierre-Drive would not be able to allow time-travel into the past, only the future. I am not an expert on this topic. Can you state your source for the past time-travel theory? Plus this looks like a normal time-travelling paradoxon, which is probably not what OP had in mind with this question. $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Mar 6 '17 at 13:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Secespitus where does it say that on that page. According to this, it can. $\endgroup$
    – PyRulez
    Mar 6 '17 at 14:03
  • $\begingroup$ The second picture shows a summary where it says that travelling to the past is not possible. Your source states that "To answer your question: any FTL drive can be used to create closed time-like loops. With these you can travel back in time, but you get stuck in a loop." Being stuck in a loop doesn't sound very useful. But again, I am not an expert on time-travelling. It would be nice if you could edit your answer to reference your source anyways. $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Mar 6 '17 at 14:09
  • $\begingroup$ This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. - From Review $\endgroup$
    – James
    Mar 6 '17 at 14:35
  • $\begingroup$ @James where did it come from? Question is about time frame, and the very first sentence is direct answer, with explanations following. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Mar 6 '17 at 15:01

The answer could vary a lot depending on the underlying tenets of the faith that has achieved the global theocracy. It could go from the range of likely never to as fast as an Alcubierre Drive could be built. Religions are quite capable of making rapid advances in science and technology, especially if their underlying religious beliefs require it.

If they believe that space is the playground of evil and must be avoided, they will shun space exploration and never develop the drive. If they believe that investigation into physics more complicated than Newton is heresy and that quantum mechanics is a mockery of Odin's goodness and predictability they will again never develop the drive.

If however they have a faith based requirement to spread the faith, that has been interpret as a god given requirement to explore and colonize space with as many humans as possible they would develop space technology as fast as possible. Another tack would be if extraterrestrial life was found, say we received a clear signal from a far away star; if the religion required that we either convert our alien brothers to the truth or destroy the blasphemous demon spawn the society would again deploy all planetary resources into research into space travel.

How quickly this could be accomplished is going to be total speculation since we don't know how long it would take; for example we are only 10-20 years away from net energy fusion reactors, unfortunately it's been that way for more than 50 years.


About the same time as everyone else

Contrary to popular belief religions and theocracy don't have anything against scientific Discovery and development. The only problem they have is when scientific Discovery violates their interpretation of Doctrine.

Indeed some of our greatest scientists have been deeply religious. Rene Descarte, Isaac Newton even Copernicus who was imprisoned for his scientific discovery by the Catholic Church.

So as long as you're theocracy doesn't find any scientific discovery to be violating of Doctrine ( or at very least if it does has skill theologians you can explain why it doesn't) then should develop at the same rate technologically as everyone else

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ How is it different from this answer? And if it's not, why to post again? $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Mar 6 '17 at 15:42
  • $\begingroup$ Post of the answer after reading the question I hadn't gone and read every single answer already givenot my bad $\endgroup$ Mar 6 '17 at 17:01

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.