Is religion the original primitive science?
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02-06-2013, 03:16 PM
RE: Is religion the original primitive science?
Story time?

I remember being a prophet, like tribal elder. I'm around 'cause I remember how to do stuff, a normal animal prolly just eat this subset... anywho... we're on the plains, on the prowl, me and my primitive tribe.

There's rain, the thunder making the hunters nervous. And lightning strikes. The hunters are not gonna fuck with light from the sky setting shit on fire, the kids are terrified, and the matriarch looks at me like, what's for dinner?

Godditit! I say.

The job of the prophet is to tell a story to calm people's fears. If I didn't calm them peeps' fears, we wouldn't have been able to use fire for we wouldn't have had the name. Fire.

Science is a way better story. In the context of the OP, I would specify, witchcraft is the original science. A prophet is a witch. Undecided

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03-06-2013, 06:59 AM
RE: Is religion the original primitive science?
It may have been the first attempts at explanation, but it wasn't science, or even scientific.

Skepticism is not a position; it is an approach to claims.
Science is not a subject, but a method.
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03-06-2013, 07:29 AM
RE: Is religion the original primitive science?
(03-06-2013 06:59 AM)Chas Wrote:  It may have been the first attempts at explanation, but it wasn't science, or even scientific.

There's... no way it really could have been, though, so I'm not sure that (at the time) can be held against it.
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03-06-2013, 09:34 AM
RE: Is religion the original primitive science?
(03-06-2013 07:29 AM)cjlr Wrote:  
(03-06-2013 06:59 AM)Chas Wrote:  It may have been the first attempts at explanation, but it wasn't science, or even scientific.

There's... no way it really could have been, though, so I'm not sure that (at the time) can be held against it.

How do you mean that?

That it could not by definition? That social/cultural precursors had not developed? That people were too ignorant or stupid?

Skepticism is not a position; it is an approach to claims.
Science is not a subject, but a method.
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03-06-2013, 10:58 AM
RE: Is religion the original primitive science?
(03-06-2013 09:34 AM)Chas Wrote:  How do you mean that?

That it could not by definition? That social/cultural precursors had not developed? That people were too ignorant or stupid?

Thanks for asking, actually, 'cause it's something I've thought about without really having to articulate.

That there was no such social or cultural background for it, is indeed part of it - testing theories, replication of results, isolation of variables; that only came about as an ideal after it started to become possible (necessarily so, of course).

But no, mostly it's just that regardless of what the claims were, there weren't testable in any meaningful way. You need to invent geometry before you can prove that the earth is round!

When you have no data to work with, and no framework to understand it... Mythological or supernatural explanations certainly aren't science by any modern understanding of the term, but they come from the same human impulse, trying to find cause and effect in the world (since causality means predictibility means, ultimately, security). We're talking about people who didn't even know - and had no way, yet, of knowing - that the world WAS explicible by purely natural phenomena. Recourse to (the innately untestable) supernatural is understandable, if still unfortunate, when it's no worse at explanation or prediction than any naturalistic alternative going.
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03-06-2013, 11:46 AM
RE: Is religion the original primitive science?
(03-06-2013 10:58 AM)cjlr Wrote:  
(03-06-2013 09:34 AM)Chas Wrote:  How do you mean that?

That it could not by definition? That social/cultural precursors had not developed? That people were too ignorant or stupid?

Thanks for asking, actually, 'cause it's something I've thought about without really having to articulate.

That there was no such social or cultural background for it, is indeed part of it - testing theories, replication of results, isolation of variables; that only came about as an ideal after it started to become possible (necessarily so, of course).

But no, mostly it's just that regardless of what the claims were, there weren't testable in any meaningful way. You need to invent geometry before you can prove that the earth is round!

When you have no data to work with, and no framework to understand it... Mythological or supernatural explanations certainly aren't science by any modern understanding of the term, but they come from the same human impulse, trying to find cause and effect in the world (since causality means predictibility means, ultimately, security). We're talking about people who didn't even know - and had no way, yet, of knowing - that the world WAS explicible by purely natural phenomena. Recourse to (the innately untestable) supernatural is understandable, if still unfortunate, when it's no worse at explanation or prediction than any naturalistic alternative going.

I will quibble.

I think that primitive people practiced science when they learned how to track animals, track the seasons, and the environment in general. Did they have good explanatory theories for the seasons? No.
It is arguable that they did have good explanations for animal tracking. Humans have been curious and inventive for countless millenia, but religion was never scientific.

Skepticism is not a position; it is an approach to claims.
Science is not a subject, but a method.
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03-06-2013, 05:30 PM
RE: Is religion the original primitive science?
Why would anyone see religion as "primitive science"? The first form of science that we are aware of is philosophy... science used to be called "natural philosophy", and it was philosophy that gave us the scientific method. The only way that religion and science are alike is that they both try to answer questions of current ignorance, but science attempts to explore and hone our knowledge while religion simply assumes it.

I see religion as a primitive law & order, because that seems to be its purpose in pre-civilization tribes today. A moving tribe can't jail people and it's too costly to exclude people from the group every time they mess up, so every tribe has its own religion that describes the punishments that will be given to those that break the rules.

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03-06-2013, 05:38 PM
RE: Is religion the original primitive science?
(03-06-2013 10:58 AM)cjlr Wrote:  When you have no data to work with, and no framework to understand it... Mythological or supernatural explanations certainly aren't science by any modern understanding of the term, but they come from the same human impulse, trying to find cause and effect in the world (since causality means predictibility means, ultimately, security). We're talking about people who didn't even know - and had no way, yet, of knowing - that the world WAS explicible by purely natural phenomena. Recourse to (the innately untestable) supernatural is understandable, if still unfortunate, when it's no worse at explanation or prediction than any naturalistic alternative going.

Yes and no. We can still derive patterns from the observable world, even though this will include superstitious (or "false") patterns as a side effect. Those who get their information from stories rather than these patterns are... and were... going about learning poorly. We have a hindsight bias that makes us think that everybody from the "stupid ages" believed these stories, but it's fairly probable that even then there were people who wanted evidence that they could see and touch.

We have senses, and we always have had them available to learn from. I don't think "recourse to the supernatural is understandable", because we've already been born with the equipment that we need to get knowledge necessary for survival. Those who wish to answer questions that are out-of-reach for their time and place by guessing and assuming (and then becoming certain of their guesses and assumptions) are and always have been a problem for the human race.

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03-06-2013, 07:40 PM (This post was last modified: 03-06-2013 07:52 PM by cjlr.)
RE: Is religion the original primitive science?
(03-06-2013 05:38 PM)Starcrash Wrote:  We have senses, and we always have had them available to learn from. I don't think "recourse to the supernatural is understandable", because we've already been born with the equipment that we need to get knowledge necessary for survival. Those who wish to answer questions that are out-of-reach for their time and place by guessing and assuming (and then becoming certain of their guesses and assumptions) are and always have been a problem for the human race.

The scope of what is answerable was almost unimaginably small, just a few thousand years ago. When there's no possible mechanism for testing, any explanation is as good as another. What's understandable is wanting to have some explanation, no matter how tenuous!

Never revising those explanations is another matter entirely...

(03-06-2013 11:46 AM)Chas Wrote:  I will quibble.

I think that primitive people practiced science when they learned how to track animals, track the seasons, and the environment in general. Did they have good explanatory theories for the seasons? No.
It is arguable that they did have good explanations for animal tracking. Humans have been curious and inventive for countless millenia, but religion was never scientific.

It's scientific, insofar as it might arise from an explanatory desire. Formulating a theory for how/why things happen is a scientific attitude.

The parallel idea, is to have some control over things. A helpless shrug isn't going to make you feel better about next season's rainfall on vital crops, but believing that a prayer and sacrifice might just help is another quite understandable human impulse.


I am thinking more of the primordially old, here, mind; our modern religions were created under very different circumstances (the very oldest reliable jewish and vedic sources being somewhat less than 3000 years old, christianity and islam being considerably younger). And yet (as far as I know) every human culture has some sort of supernatural beliefs. Which, as I was musing, could come from the same desire to explain, predict, and control that did lead to organised philosophy and science some time later. The human brain, after all, being a pattern recognition device with a rather high rate of false positives.

Hmm. If I had a point to start out with, I sure don't anymore...
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03-06-2013, 11:10 PM
RE: Is religion the original primitive science?
(03-06-2013 07:40 PM)cjlr Wrote:  The scope of what is answerable was almost unimaginably small, just a few thousand years ago. When there's no possible mechanism for testing, any explanation is as good as another. What's understandable is wanting to have some explanation, no matter how tenuous!

Never revising those explanations is another matter entirely...

I hate to disagree with you because I don't entirely disagree with you (another "yes and no" answer I suppose), but what I'm saying is that there wasn't "no possible mechanism for testing"... we had our senses. The brain is very good at picking up on patterns (and even sees them when they aren't there, which is why I brought up superstition), and so we had a *somewhat* reliable tool for gaining explanations.

But keep in mind, along with the narrow range of things that we had explanations for was a narrow range of things that we needed explanations for. Have you heard the phrase "the more you know, the more you learn that you don't know"? We didn't understand biology, chemistry, physics, etc. and most of the questions about these areas would require a level of knowledge to even know what questions needed answering. And it still does.

And then there are the questions that one knew to ask. "Where does lightning come from?" says primitive man. Anyone can observe that lightning attends storms, even if you can't directly see the positive and negative charges that drive lightning to occur, so even back then one could say from observation "storms cause lightning". Nobody ever observed a god throwing lightning, so it was silly to ever come to that conclusion. He may have wanted an explanation for why lightning occurs, but that question suggests an answer about intention (thus the answer of religion). There never was intention behind lightning, and only the foolish ever demanded to understand intention behind seemingly random acts. As Michael Shermer puts it, man looked for "agenticity" behind every act, and that search for an intentional agent was a negative bi-product of skills needed for survival, not a real need that had to be answered. I still stand critical of ancient men who created gods to answer questions that couldn't be answered... any question that requires "god did it" for an answer is a question that didn't need to be asked.

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