|Babylonian cuneiform containing the trapezoid formula|
Credit: M. Ossendrjver/British Museum
The great thing about science is that it works.
It works because it is firmly rooted in reality and so is reproducible and repeatable. This means that no matter who is doing it or when, or what the cultural setting is, done properly, the result should be the same.
The same can be said of mathematics, of course. It doesn't matter how many times you do the maths, who does it or when, the answer will be the same providing the maths is done correctly.
You can't say the same for religion. Religion is not reproducible or repeatable and it depends exactly on who is doing it, when and in what cultural context. This is because religion is not founded in reality and has no testable evidence. No two newly discovered cultures, discovered by Europeans as they spread around the world in the Middle Ages were found to have the same religion. No disconnected cultures ever had the same god(s), the same forms of worship, the same beliefs in what those gods could or couldn't do or what pleased them and what displeased them.
And yet they all believed them and could give 'reasons' for those beliefs.
This means that, even when a body of science or mathematics is lost altogether for any reason, we will eventually rediscover it and it will give the same answers. This fact was made particularly powerfully last January when Babylonian cuneiform expert, Mathieu Ossendrijver, of Humboldt University in Berlin, discovered that ancient Babylonians had not only devised a mathematical technique previously thought to have been developed by 14th century scholars at Merton College, Oxford, UK, but that they had used it to accurately predict the position of Jupiter.
The idea of computing a body’s displacement as an area in time-velocity space is usually traced back to 14th-century Europe. I show that in four ancient Babylonian cuneiform tablets, Jupiter’s displacement along the ecliptic is computed as the area of a trapezoidal figure obtained by drawing its daily displacement against time. This interpretation is prompted by a newly discovered tablet on which the same computation is presented in an equivalent arithmetical formulation. The tablets date from 350 to 50 BCE. The trapezoid procedures offer the first evidence for the use of geometrical methods in Babylonian mathematical astronomy, which was thus far viewed as operating exclusively with arithmetical concepts.
Ancient Babylonian astronomers calculated Jupiter’s position from the area under a time-velocity graph
Science 29 Jan 2016: Vol. 351, Issue 6272, pp. 482-484 DOI: 10.1126/science.aad8085
Copyright © 2016, Copyright © 2016, American Association for the Advancement of Science. Reprinted with kind permission under licence #3940720463761
|Marduk, patron god of Babylon|
And astronomers using these 'modern' techniques arrive at the same answers that the Ancient Babylonians arrived at, even though the world had forgotten their method and had to wait 1400 years to rediscover it.
Yet we only know of the Ancient Babylonian religions and gods because of the written records they left us. There is nothing we can rediscover in the form of real evidence we could use to reconstruct and rediscover their religion other than what they recorded. It would have been entirely impossible for 14th-century Merton College scholars to arrive at Ancient Babylonian religion from first principles, yet they arrived at their maths and used it to arrive at their knowledge of the movement of planets. And it was the same!
Science works; religion doesn't. Science deals with reality; religion deals with the unreal.
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