I attended a lecture on the history of Astronomy and Mathematics, and I was somewhat puzzled by how scientific the early Greeks were. Yes, I am aware that they have many of the greatest mathematicians and astronomers, and were known for the rigor in philosophical thinking. However, if even centuries later we have Newton sometimes using God in his explanations, how come there wasn't more prominence of Greek religion in their studies?

I imagine that there was a large disconnect between the scientific community and the common people (as is discussed a bit here), but what about the role of religion and mythology inside the scientific community itself?

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    $\begingroup$ Is God ever mentioned in Newton's Principia, or his mathematical work? (I don't think so). It is another matter that Newton also wrote on religion, but this was strictly separate. $\endgroup$ Nov 13, 2022 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexandreEremenko, according to the lecturer, when someone asked Newton if he was afraid that Earth would ever get out of orbit, he answered of course not, because if there ever was a risk of that happening God would give it a little touch. $\endgroup$ Nov 13, 2022 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ It does not matter what Newton said. (We have no way to know what Archimedes said). What does matter is what they wrote. $\endgroup$ Nov 14, 2022 at 4:17
  • $\begingroup$ God is mentioned in the Principia, in the General Scholium. $\endgroup$ Nov 14, 2022 at 9:46
  • $\begingroup$ In conclusion, the answer is NO. Ancient Greek astronomy was a mathematical discipline, without "religious" aspects; also later astrology (see Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos) was treated as a mathematical discipline. $\endgroup$ Nov 14, 2022 at 10:42

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It seems that Greek astronomy could at least in its earliest times occasionally be mixed with mythology if not also religion.

Thus, from Michael Hoskin (1997) "The Cambridge Concise History of Astronomy" (p.19):--

"When we come to study the earliest Greek attempts to make sense of the universe, we find that our sources are fragmentary in the extreme. What little we have owes much to the custom of Aristotle (384-322 BC), of citing his predecessors before demolishing them. It seems that alongside the mythologies inherited from earlier times, there gradually emerged a speculative interest in the natural world, which led to efforts to make sense of nature - rather than to attempts to answer quantitative questions, such as led to the columns of numbers on the Babylonian tablets. But what we would recognize as a mature, predictive science of astronomy was to develop only in the Hellenistic era, when these two approaches, the Greek and the Babylonian, merged."

Thus, according to this historian, mythological elements in Greek astronomy had been present at so early a date that little of their thought has survived, but these elements were being replaced even as early as the 6th-c. BC by ideas of 'impersonal laws':--

"Anaximander (c.610-c.545 BC), also of Miletus, attempted to explain the form of the heavenly bodies in the context of his vision of worlds constantly coming into being from the Infinite, only to perish and be reabsorbed into the Infinite. If we can rely on accounts written many centuries later, he thought of the stars as wheel-like condensations of air filled with fire, with openings through which flames were discharged. The Sun was the highest (that is, most remote) of the heavenly bodies, with the Moon next below it, then the 'fixed' stars (those unchanging in their positional relations), and finally the planets. The Earth he believed to be a cylinder, on one of whose end surfaces lived mankind; it rested in the middle of the universe, remaining where it was because it had the same distance from everything. The limitations of this cosmology are evident, but a fundamental shift had occurred: earlier mythologies had been replaced by a nature in which an impersonal law was at work."


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