From an obscure notion, the belief that there was only one god - the God - became the exclusive belief system of the Roman Empire and then ultimately engulfed over half of the planet. There were certainly political, social and religious factors for both the meteoric rise and the staying power of the conviction that a single, supreme, omniscient deity ruled the entire Universe. We suggest that there were also scientific reasons behind this cultural transformation.
Ptolemy developed a mathematical system to predict planetary position. Astrologers created tables based upon the system. The Roman population and subsequently Western civilization became inculcated with the implicit logic behind this astronomical system due to regular exposure to astrology. The subliminal effect of the regular use of Ptolemy’s tables could easily have resulted in three beliefs. 1) There is only one god, i.e. monotheism vs. polytheism. 2) This god is omnipotent, impersonal and transcendent. 3) Everything is predetermined.
Over the millennia, the religious belief in monotheism morphed into scientific monism. Rather than God, one absolute set of deterministic mathematical laws rules a rational Universe that consists solely of Matter. Although prevalent, this simplistic monistic mentality has some major flaws. The evidence suggests that we instead exist in a paradoxical Poly-verse consisting of the interaction between multiple logically consistent Universes.
At the beginning of the Common Era about the time that Augustus became the first Roman Emperor, the humans belonging to the vast diversity of Mediterranean cultures worshipped a variety of gods. Polytheism was the norm. Indeed the human race as a whole embraced the notion that there were multiple gods.
There were certainly examples of monotheistic philosophies. For instance, the Egyptian Pharaoh, Akhenaton, had attempted to establish an exclusive monotheistic system, but the Egyptians quickly reverted to their traditional gods upon his death. The Hebrew tribes worshipped a single god, not because other gods didn’t exist, but instead because he was a jealous god. Competing cultures engaged in battle to determine which war god was most powerful, not which was the true god.
Three centuries into the Common Era, the situation reversed completely. After the Christian God presumably enabled him to win a crucial battle, Constantine the Great embraced monotheistic Christianity and then established it as the state religion of Rome1. From that pivotal time onward, with only a few minor reversals, monotheism supplanted polytheism in the broad expanse of Western civilization. Monotheism became the norm.
What factors transformed the Romans into a monotheistic population?
Some argue that centrally organized empires enforce and employ monotheism as a means of maintaining social control over a large population. Yet the enormous Chinese Empire never relied upon monotheism and a single religion to maintain control of their populace. Further the Islamic rulers of India’s Mogul Empire did not require their polytheistic Hindu population to adopt monotheism. Indeed the Mogul’s Golden Age ended when a Muslim zealot became emperor and attempted to force the Hindus to convert to Islam. While enforcing a single monotheistic religion upon an empire or even a small country for more effective social control was certainly the norm in Western civilization, especially Europe, for millennia, this technique doesn’t seem to be a significant factor in other empires. Rather than monotheism, many Empires including early Rome, China, both ancient and modern, and the Soviet Union relied upon emperor or party worship to maintain order and subservience amidst the multiplicity of cultures.
We can imagine that Constantine and the subsequent emperors did employ an exclusive Christian religion as a means of crowd control. Yet these Roman rulers did not create this monotheistic religion as a political tool, as perhaps had Akhenaton. Rather, Constantine took advantage of an existing social structure. Ever since the beginning of the Empire, Roman citizens of all ranks, but especially the under-classes, had been joining the Christian religion in increasing numbers. Monotheism was not the religion of the ruling class, but instead emerged from the bottom of the society. What factors enticed the Roman population to voluntarily abandon their rich pantheon of traditional gods for a single, somewhat austere, God?
In his book Constantine and the Bishops, H. A. Drake suggests that Christianity provided a sense of community in an increasingly impersonal Roman empire2. Banding together around a belief in a single god could certainly engender a sense of belonging not possible with a multiplicity of deities. The same author goes on to point out that the leaders of the early Christians were elected rather than appointed or hereditary as in the pagan sects. This democratic process acted to empower an increasingly powerless citizenry. These factors would certainly be appealing attractions, especially to the under classes in the growing Roman Empire.
In addition to political and social reasons, many people frequently espouse the notion that primitive polytheistic humans naturally evolve into civilized monotheistic humans with exposure to these supposedly more sophisticated beliefs. They argue that monotheism is inherently more reasonable than polytheism.
What leads people to this belief? Why is a one deity more logical than a plurality of deities? In fact, there are many instances where the belief in a single omniscient God leads to many logical contradictions that are avoidable with a polytheistic stance. Let us consider an example.
While there are many, sometimes exceedingly violent, disputes over his exact nature, the single God of the western world is frequently characterized as just, benevolent, all-powerful, loving, all knowing, and omniscient. Many of these features are potentially contradictory. For instance, if God is both loving and all-powerful, why does he allow the subjugation and even massacre of innocent people? With disease, pestilence, warfare, untimely deaths, and torture a consistent feature of the human experience, it almost seems illogical to assign perfection to any deity. Believing that there is some kind of perfect Divine Plan behind the slaughter of women and young children is a stretch. It is hard to attribute benevolence to an omniscient, all-powerful deity after the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one.
It is much easier for a polytheistic stance to accommodate the diversity of our emotion-packed lives. Just as in the human world, gods have competing spheres of influence. No single god is held accountable for the whole shebang. Indeed rather than a single law, most of us divide our world into different compartments, each with their own set of rules, e.g. relationships, nutrition and politics.
Why then would the citizenry of Rome and then the world take up this somewhat unreasonable stance that a single omniscient God is responsible for the whole mess? Why does this stance seem more reasonable? Could it be that the belief in monotheism is modeled after scientific findings regarding the nature of the Universe?
In addition to political, social and religious reasons, we suggest that there were also scientific factors that persuaded an increasing number of Roman citizens to abandon their traditional inclusive polytheism and convert to an exclusive monotheistic religion. Science could easily have provided the logic behind the nature of the Christian God. We point to the math/astronomy/data complex supplied by Ptolemy. Is it possible that monotheism seemed more reasonable than polytheism because of the implicit logic behind the Ptolemaic system?
Our intention is to pose some plausible answers to the following questions. Why and how the Ptolemaic astronomical system reinforce and stabilize the religious belief in monotheism, more specifically that there is one God with one law that rules the Universe? How did a monotheistic religion morph into the prevalent modern belief in scientism with its one law that rules a single universe? Finally what are the flaws and limitations of this monistic model?
In the second century of the Common Era in the midst of the Roman Empire’s Golden Age, Claudius Ptolemy published his influential Almagest. In this work, he set out a system for predicting planetary position. This same time period witnessed the raw beginnings of Christianity.
The Ptolemaic system employs mathematics as a matrix for the motion of all celestial objects. While prior mathematical system were able to encompass many planets, Ptolemy was the first to create a Math/Astronomy matrix that encompassed all the planets that are observable to the naked eye, as there were no telescopes back then. The ramifications of employing mathematics to predict all heavenly motion were huge. This insight exerted a ripple effect on religion, philosophy and science that has extended to modern times.
A dynamic heliocentric system eventually supplanted Ptolemy’s geometric geocentric system. However, it is impossible to overestimate the influence of Ptolemy’s achievement on science, philosophy and religion. This influence, while substantial, was not always direct and indeed frequently subliminal.
In the prior article, Ptolemy & the Paradigms of Science, we examined how certain foundational beliefs of the scientific community probably derived from constant exposure to the Ptolemaic system. 1) The natural order is accessible to human reason. 2) Mathematics is the symbolic language of this order. 3) Elegant simplicity is a feature of Nature. The preceding statements are based upon direct inferences from the known fact that Ptolemy’s mathematical system was able to predict planetary position.
Ptolemy’s influence upon philosophical thought and religious beliefs are indirect and could easily be challenged as mere speculation. However there are some compelling reasons for this position. Although Ptolemy was neither a philosopher nor a theologian, his scientific discoveries had major theological and philosophical implications.
Religion regularly informs Science and Science informs Religion. In this case, the arrow points from Science to Religion. As is frequently the case, humans make inferences from scientific discoveries regarding the nature of the universe that have profound religious implications. For example, witness the proliferation of books linking quantum behavior to Eastern religions.
In this case, the implications of Ptolemy’s astronomical discoveries ultimately transformed human conceptions of the world on a grand scale. In the subsequent centuries after the publication of the Almagest, we suggest that the Ptolemaic system both undermined the prevalent polytheistic worldview and supported the development of a monotheistic religious perspective. In the subsequent millennia, we further suggest that his mechanistic view of the firmament inevitably led to or contributed to the notions of both religious predestination and scientific determinism.
Ptolemy was not a philosopher. Instead his discoveries worked on subliminal levels to transform society. How could the non-verbal realm exert such a major transformational effect upon human culture?
The logical structures of our neural system derive from the implicit logical structure of our surroundings3. Logic in this case refers to relationships between the components of a system. The logical structure of any process that we engage in on a regular and repetitive basis will inevitably infiltrate our implicit belief system – personal logical structures that we are barely aware of.
In this case, Western civilization from Rome onwards became inculcated with the implicit logic behind the Ptolemaic Math/Astronomy matrix. After regularly observing the Ptolemaic system in action, the culture’s collective unconscious applied the implicit logical structure of the system to their conceptions of the divine and human world. This brand new type of logical structure transformed human culture in many ways.
How was Roman culture exposed to Ptolemaic Logic? Did people really come in contact with the Ptolemaic system enough to make a neurological difference? Scientific discoveries are frequently known only to the select few. Why would Ptolemy’s discoveries be any different? Why would the working classes have an exposure to the precise logic of his mathematics? Let’s see why.
Astrological considerations were a major driving force in astronomical discoveries. From the raw beginnings, astrology was based in direct observations of the firmament. Weather was problematic. Ptolemy’s Almagest solved this problem by transforming astrology into a table-driven form of divination. As long as they possessed a table of ephemeris, i.e. planetary positions, astrologers could practice their trade anywhere.
Included in Ptolemy’s work are what he called Handy Tables. These were the first planetary ephemeris. They spread rapidly throughout the Roman empire, continued through the Byzantium Empire and from there into Western civilization and modern times. For example, Ben Franklin’s popular Poor Richard’s Almanac published in the 18th century included planetary ephemeris with aspects.
Due to these tables, earlier forms of observational astrology became obsolete. The relative ease of computing planetary position well into the future transformed the divination of the heavens into a universal style. Rather than a multiplicity of traditional practices, nearly all cultures shifted to the single system of astrology made possible by Ptolemaic astronomy.
Weather was no longer a factor in astrology. Even if an individual was born in a location where the sky was frequently obscured, an astrologer could plot a horoscope based upon birth-time and make predictions regarding personality Armed with an ephemeris, a diviner could plot planetary progressions that supposedly revealed future patterns, no matter what the weather. No longer was it necessary to observe the sky for divine signs.
Astrology was equally universal. This practice was not limited to a particular type of person as it is today. Until relatively recently, virtually all classes of society, e.g. kings, peasants, scholars, and scientists, believed that the heavens revealed future patterns.
This was especially true of astronomers, who were almost always astrologers during this extended period of time. This included Ptolemy on one end through to Kepler on the other. According to his letters, Kepler, the initiator of the Physics of the Heavens, was just as proud of his astrological predictions as he was of his amazing astronomical achievements.
Due to the constant need for horoscopes and knowledge of planetary progressions, astrologer/astronomers regularly generated new ephemeris. The widespread practice of astrology must have exerted at least a subliminal effect upon the participants, which was nearly everyone in Western civilization for over 1500 years. This sometimes daily and universal engagement with astrology inculcated Western civilization with the implicit beliefs, i.e. the logic, behind the Ptolemaic system.
What were the implicit assumptions behind the process? To better understand, let us re-examine the ephemeris in more detail. Humans generated these tables of numbers via mathematical calculations. While the predictions regarding, for instance, the location of Mars in the sky might not have been exact, they were certainly good enough to make astrological projections.
Without really thinking about it, everyone came to understand that the heavenly firmament did not behave randomly, but instead predictably. In other words, the behavior of the heavenly bodies was predetermined. Further mathematics revealed the patterns of this predetermined behavior.
This mathematics, while a bit complicated, was based upon simple assumptions – spherical heavenly bodies move in circles at a constant velocity about a fixed Earth. Rather than a multiplicity of rules, these simple assumptions applied to all heavenly bodies, not just a few. It quickly became apparent that one mathematical system that was based upon just a few assumptions revealed the patterns of the entire firmament, not just a part.
Further the assumptions embody elegant simplicity. Perfect spheres move in perfect circles at a constant speed. Humans had presumably solved a huge mystery regarding the cosmos and the solution was based in a type of perfection. It became evident that the heavens behave in an orderly fashion that is accessible to human reason.
These were irrefutable facts. Virtually no one could really challenge these assumptions as they resulted in virtually perfect predictions that were regularly employed on a daily level. While the constant velocity and perfect circles have since been disproved, the general assumptions remain intact.
Armed with these facts, priests, scientists and philosophers naturally began making some relatively obvious inferences that continue to influence our thinking to this day. We’ve mentioned three of the explicit scientific inferences. 1) The natural order is accessible to human reason. 2) Mathematics is the symbolic language of this order. 3) Elegant simplicity is a feature of Nature.
Philosophers and theologians make inferences based upon their knowledge of reality. The subliminal effect of the regular use of Ptolemy’s tables could easily have resulted in three inferences. 1) There is only one god, i.e. monotheism vs. polytheism. 2) This god is omnipotent, impersonal and transcendent. 3) Everything is predetermined. Let us see how these inferences might have emerged.
In the Ptolemaic matrix, one mathematical logic applies to the entire system. Multiple systems do not compete for dominance. Further the mathematical logic is precise, not messy or ambiguous.
This logic is entirely different from the logic of the polytheistic mythology of the pagan world. In the Roman Empire prior to Ptolemy, the citizens believed in the existence of multiple gods, each with their own personality and sometimes differing agendas. Homer’s Iliad provides an excellent example. One goddess supports the Greeks and another supports the Trojans. Although Zeus is the head god, he has regular conflicts with Hera, his wife.
Even the monotheistic seeming Jews did not deny the existence of other gods. Their one god commands that they only worship him, not because there are no other gods, but because he is a jealous god. Similarly, jealous wives demand monogamy, not because they don’t believe in other women, but because they don’t want their husbands spending their sexual attentions on someone else.
It is easy to imagine that the singular logic of the heavens would inevitably erode the notion of competing gods. Further the abstract predictability of the planets would undermine the belief that the gods have differing personalities. In short, the irrefutable Ptolemaic logic wears down the multiplicity of agendas and duties associated with polytheism.
The firmament’s singular logic instead translates into one god with one law – monotheism. The parallel structure is apparent. Just as one math rules one firmament, so does one god rule one Universe. In brief, the absolute laws that determine heavenly behavior derive from an absolute God – monotheism.
Ptolemaic System: One Math rules One Firmament
Religious Inference: One God rules one Universe
Further Ptolemy’s mathematics of the heavens is impersonal and abstract rather than personal and active. Again this logic erodes the notion of divine intervention and supports the notion of an impersonal and even transcendent god. Just as the laws are not human, neither is the god that created them. Both are absolute.
Ptolemy: Mathematics of Heaven is impersonal & abstract
Religious Inference: Absolute God is impersonal & transcendent
The striking parallel logic even extends to the Bible. Ptolemaic mathematics reveals the absolute laws that rule the heavens. The Bible reveals the divine laws that govern human behavior. Indeed the Christian God is frequently referred to as the Law.
Ptolemaic system: Mathematics reveals the absolute laws of the heavens.
Christian community: Bible reveals God’s absolute laws of the Universe.
(Note: Although deriving from the Jewish religion, the Christian notion of God and the Bible is quite different. While the Hebrews worshipped Jehovah because he was the god of their extended tribe, the Christians maintained that He was the only God – monotheism. Further while the Jews debated the meaning of Old Testament, Christians believed that the Bible was absolute Word of God.)
The Ptolemaic system could have also contributed to the rise of the belief in religious predestination and then ultimately scientific determinism. These are strange notions seeing as how most of us believe and act as if we have the ability to make choices. Indeed each of us spends considerable time agonizing over making the right decisions in order to maximize pleasure and minimize pain.
However, due to constant exposure to planetary ephemeris, the Mediterranean population became aware of a simple fact. Celestial Behavior is predetermined. The religious inference was straightforward: Human Behavior is predetermined by God – Religious Predestination.
Ptolemaic System: Celestial Behavior Predetermined
Religious Inference: Human Behavior Predetermined
If this one God knew where the planets would be at any point in time, by extension, he also knew what his Creation including humans would do at any point in time, past and future. Just as every star in the heavens was under his sway, so was every blade of grass, every grain of sand and every strand of hair. By logical inference, not necessity, His omniscience controlled everything.
Religious monotheism gradually morphed into scientific monism. Mathematics replaced divine law and scientific determinism replaced predestination. How did this transformation occur?
As the centuries turned in to millennia, it became a widely accepted scientific fact that material behavior, just like the heavenly bodies, is mathematically predetermined. Indeed this understanding is the basis of our technological wonderland. This insight led to a seemingly logical inference. If the Universe is composed exclusively of Matter, whose behavior can be determined mathematically, than all behavior, including living behavior, must be mathematically predetermined. By extension, choice is an illusion.
Despite an abundance of contrary evidence, many great thinkers, i.e. theologians, philosophers and scientists, began to entertain the notion that we live in a mechanistic Universe. Depending upon persuasion, God, a Prime Mover, or the Big Bang set things in motion at the beginning of time. If there is a God, He merely watches as events play out, like a pinball player.
Scientific Fact: Material Behavior is Predetermined.
Inference: All Behavior is Predetermined – Scientific Determinism.
Although the inference is the same, an abstract, impersonal mathematics has replaced God in this model. Scientists don’t require any kind divine force in their mathematical equations that explain material behavior. Many intelligent people made the inference that God is an unnecessary hypothesis. (Certain 21st century scientists have taken this position a step further, positing that even matter is an unnecessary hypothesis with respect to mathematics.)
Scientific Mindset: Mathematics replaces God, as unnecessary hypothesis
Although the reasoning is certainly sound, not all reasonable conclusions are true. Indeed recall that the Ptolemaic system, despite its astronomical efficacy, was based upon flawed assumptions. Foremost of these was the notion that all heavenly bodies revolve around a fixed Earth that lies at the center of the Universe. In similar fashion, despite science’s technical efficacy, the inferences of the scientific mentality could also be based upon a flawed assumption, namely that our Universe consists solely of Matter. Let us examine some of the flaws on the monistic mindset, whether religious or scientific.
The Ptolemaic system conclusively established that a determinsitic mathematics can accurately represent the firmament’s behavior. One implication of this fact is that we live in a logical Universe that humans can understand through mathematics. Indeed, physical scientists have established beyond a reasonable doubt that this statement is incontrovertibly true regarding the behavior of Matter. Many infer that Living Behavior could also fall under the sway of a determinsitic mathematics.
Ptolemaic Fact: Deterministic Mathematics reveals Celestial behavior
Scientific Fact: Deterministic Mathematics reveals Material Behavior
Scientism Inference: Deterministic Mathematics can reveal Living Behavior.
But is the Universe really logical? Is Living Behavior really subject to a deterministic mathematics? Rather than living in a strictly logical Universe, could we instead inhabit a paradoxical one?
The Ptolemaic system implied that there is but one truth. Newton’s unification of the Heaven and Earth under one set of mathematical laws provided substantial validation for this hypothesis. Then came Maxwell, who united electricity and magnetism under the Newtonian roof. At the beginning of the 20th century, all signs pointed to the notion that there is but one truth in a single Material Realm.
But then scientists uncovered a new world in the interior of the atom. The truths of this quantized Subatomic Realm were diametrically opposed to the truths of the continuous Atomic Realm. The undisputed existence of this new realm of existence inflicted a fatal blow upon the one truth model. Einstein was so disturbed that he spent the final decades of his life in the unsuccessful attempt to resolve the many logical contradictions between the Atomic and Subatomic Realms. The monistic notion that we live in a completely rational Universe was forever undermined.
How do we resolve this seemingly paradoxical situation? What is the replacement for monism?
In 1931, Kurt Gödel derived a logical proof that has a bearing on these questions. Gödel’s Theorem consists of two complementary propositions that refer to logical systems, e.g. mathematical.
1) If a system is logically consistent, then it must be incomplete.
2) If a system is complete, then it must contain paradox.
The theorem illustrates that an individual system can be logically consistent. Both the Atomic and Subatomic Realms seem to belong to this set of logically consistent systems. Unfortunately, at least according to Gödel’s Theorem, both of these systems must be incomplete.
Atomic Realm = Logically consistent, yet incomplete, system
Subatomic Realm = Logically consistent, yet incomplete, system
Indeed they are. While the two realms of existence interact, neither contains the other. The Atomic and Subatomic Realms have different components, e.g. atoms and molecules vs. electrons and photons. Further, a unique type of mathematics, i.e. Newtonian Mechanics vs. Quantum Mechanics, is employed to describe the behavior of each realm.
Isn’t it possible to join the two logically consistent realms under a single all-inclusive roof? The Material Realm is the name we give to the union of the Subatomic and Atomic Realms. According to Gödel’s Theorem, if the Material Realm is complete, it must contain paradox, i.e. logical contradictions. Indeed it does. For instance, space is continuous in the Atomic Realm, while it is quantized in the Subatomic Realm. These are mutually exclusive states.
Material Realm = Atomic Realm x Subatomic Realm
Due to its paradoxical nature, the Material Realm is just a mental construct whose main, if not only, efficacy is descriptive. Rather than a single monist view of Matter, it is far more useful to view the Subatomic and Atomic as separate yet interactive Realms of Existence. Rather than a polarity, the two realms are unique. For instance, space and time have contradictory characteristics on the interior and exterior of an atom.
Are the Material Realms of Existence the only logically consistent, yet incomplete, systems? Probably not. My research indicates that the Universe actually consists of at least 3 interacting realms, rather than a single Material Realm. We suggest that there is a Living Realm of Attention in addition to the Subatomic and Atomic Realms The justification for this hypothesis is that each realm of existence consists of a unique set of components that is ruled by a unique set of mathematical laws. While consisting of differing components and mathematical laws, a similar dynamic architecture unites the three realms in a single set.
While the others are inert, the Realm of Attention is unique to living systems. Just like the Material Realms, the Attention Realm is logically consistent, yet incomplete. To provide a more complete description of living behavior, the Attention Realm must be combined with Atomic and Subatomic Realms.
Attention Realm = Logically consistent, yet incomplete, system
While a potentially complete system, the Universe is filled with logical contradictions, (paradox). For instance, space and time in the Living Realm are elastic, while they are either continuous or quantized in the other realms.
Universe = Complete, yet logically inconsistent (paradoxical), system
Due to its inherently paradoxical nature, the Universe is also a mental construct without much efficacy. Due to differing mathematics and components, it is far more instructive to study each realm separately rather than attempting to seek unification. Rather than a single monistic view of the Universe, it is far more instructive to view the Subatomic, Atomic and Attention as separate yet interactive Realms of Existence.
These three realms are mathematical in nature. Could there be other realms of existence that resist an exclusively mathematical explanation, for instance art and music? Could each of these realms be logically consistent internally, yet incomplete? Are logical contradictions (paradox) the result when generating a more complete whole?
Demanding logical consistency from the whole (a complete system) has many drawbacks. For instance, the belief in a single, exclusive Material Universe excludes a vast array of phenomena from consideration. For instance, we must ignore, or pretend that music only exists as a biochemical phenomenon.
Since it is riddled with paradox, should we even refer to the whole as a Universe, as this implies a type of unity? Rather than a logical Universe, is it possible that a more fruitful conceptual model is a paradoxical Poly-verse, consisting of the interaction between many logically consistent realms of existence? On the most basic level, could this Poly-verse consist of the interaction between three realms: the Subatomic, Atomic and Attention?
Paradoxical Poly-verse = Interaction between Logical Realms of Existence
Poly-verse = Subatomic x Atomic x Attention
1 Many consider the turning point to be the Council of Nicaea in 323 CE.
2 H. A. Drake, Constantine & the Bishops, The John Hopkins University Press, 2000
3 There is a consensus among neuro-linguists that humans form abstractions for understanding their world through their relationships, e.g. sensory of otherwise, with their environment. These abstractions are based in conceptual, not literary, metaphors. Witness how we employ metaphors from our day-to-day life to explain meaning, e.g. the farmer with his agricultural metaphors. On a grander level, neural linguists are in agreement that the scientific community understands reality through sight’s set-based logic.