Scientia est Inconstans
The Mythology of Science

Top Ten Science & Religion

What are the top scientific theories? What are the top religious belief systems? For the purpose of this piece, we shall be ranking both kinds of tradition by the same criteria – the number of years that people have found them useful. We shall only consider theories and religions which are to some degree extant, and the existence of people who uphold a particular tradition (scientific or religious) shall be treated as proof of utility as a matter of expediency.

The number of years stated have been approximated and rounded for convenience, and many of the dates of origin or tracings of lineage are open to dispute.


Top 10 Science

Fields are listed in italics

(1) 2,500 years: Thales (and Anaxagoras), Theory of Ellipses (Astronomy)
(2) 2,400 years: Democritus, Theory of Atoms (Physics)
(3) 2,300 years: Aristarchus, Theory of Heliocentrism (Astronomy)
(4) 2,250 years: Eratosthenes, Theory of Earth’s Diameter (Geography)
(5) 1,850 years: Galen, Principles of Physiology (Biology)
(6) 1,475 years: Li Tao Yuan, Principles of Palaeontology (Biology)
(6) 1,475 years: John Philoponus, Theory of Inertia (Physics)
(8) 1,400 years: Chao Yuan Fang, Diagnosis of Disease (Biology)
(9) 1,125 years: Khindi, Experimental Method (N/A)
(10) 800 years: Maimonides, Psychosomatic Medicine (Biology)

Runners up:

(11) 600 years: Ulugh Beg, Astronomical Tables (Astronomy)
(12) 500 years: Nicolas Copernicus, Observational Astronomy (Astronomy)
(13) 450 years: William Gilbert, Electromagnetism (Physics)
(14) 400 years: Galileo Galilei, Motion of Falling Bodies (Physics)
(15) 375 years: William Harvey, Theory of Blood Circulation (Biology)


Top 10 Religion

Experiences are listed in italics

(1) 30,000 years: Shamanism (Panenhenic)
(2) 6,000 years: Fertility Cults e.g. Ninna in Mesopotamia (Numinous)
(3) 3,900 years:
Canaanite religion/Judaism (Numinous)
(4) 3,800 years: Zoroastrianism (Numinous)
(5) 3,350 years:
Vedic pantheon/Hinduism (Numinous/Contemplative)
(6) 2,950 years:
Kami worship/Shinto (Panenhenic)
(7) 2,550 years:
Taoism (Panenhenic)
(8) 2,525 years:
Jainism (Contemplative/Numinous)
(9) 2,500 years:
Confucianism (Panenhenic)
(10) 2,475 years:
Buddhism (Contemplative)

Runners up:

(11) 2,000 years: Christianity (Numinous)
(12) 1,400 years: Islam (Numinous)
(13) 500 years: Sikhism (Contemplative/Numinous)
(14) 150 years: Baha’i (Numinous/Panenhenic)
(15) 50 years: Discordianism (Contemplative)

Note that many of these religions have other experiences entailed; for instance, Islam has Sufi as its contemplative form, but is primarily focussed on numinous experience. For more on religious experiences, see here.

Disagree on some point of fact or interpretation? Why not share your views in the comments!


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Come on, Chris - Christianity is an extension of Judaism. We get 3,900 years too, dammit!

In which case, why couldn't Islam make the same claim? :) There was no Christianity before Paul, nor Islam before Muhammad. I feel there are significant enough distinctions between the Abrahamic faiths that they deserve to "score" separately. :) Best wishes!

It looks like there was a period (the last millennium B.C.E.) in which circles—and by extension, cycles—were all the rage.

Well, if we are going to say that Christianity is just and extension of Judaism we should try and be honest and say that there are only a few religions really.

Zoroastrianism (Which evolved into Judaism, which evolved into Christianity, which evolved into Islam, which evolved into Sikhism and the Babi Faith, which evolved into the Baha'i Faith.)

And Hindusim (Which evolved into Buddhism, Taoism and Sikhism.)

So if we are going to say that Christianity is just Judaism, then we should say that thre are really only 2 world religions today. Zoroastrianism and Hinduism.

caller #6: an early estimate of pi was available from 19 century B.C.; I think this was just too fascinating to early scholars not to have been applied in every concievable context. ;)

Gerald: I agree that it is pointless to attempt to track back all religions to their earliest influence in order to judge their age, but the Caananite religion seems to predate Zoroastrianism, so Judaism cannot have come from Zoroastrianism - although was almost certainly influenced by it during the Babylonian captivity.

Similarly, Sikhism contains influences from both Hinduism and Islam - it would be an error to equate it with only one of these sources, and if I was forced to I would favour Hinduism over Islam in this place. Similarly, I'm uncertain if Taoism can really be traced to Hinduism. It is fundamentally panenhenic, which makes me suspect this can't be done.

So I suppose if I were to attempt to run everything together in this sort of fashion I would have to end up with five religions. The numinous religions, descending from the fertility cults and including the Abrahamic faiths and Zoroastrianism, the Dharmic religions beginning with Hinduism, the formal panenhenic religions including Taoism, the informal panenhenic religions i.e. Shamanism and neo-Paganism, and modern naturalistic religions/worldviews such as Humanism and other oddities such as Scientology.

Basically, I agree with you but it sounded like fun to try it myself. ;)

Best wishes!

I'd say that you're assuming too much in your ranking, but then I'm the local skeptic :-).

These are ranked by the number of years they've been around. Period. Stating anything about the reason for the longevity is, in my view, speculation. For example, this may not be because people find the theories or belief systems useful, but merely because people find them appealing.

- Peter

So from this I take it that you hold utility in higher regard than aesthetics. I've personally always found appealing things to be useful. ;)

Back soon!

The "merely" was to indicate that I consider an idea being "appealing and/or useful" (a point I should have made clearer - sorry) a more general condition than being "useful" and thus a weaker statement.

Personally I've found things that are useful and appealing (my phone), useful but not appealing (bran flakes), appealing but not useful (various white elephants I have around the house) and neither appealing nor useful (most non-representational art). Note *personally* here - these are my own categories, as befits a discussion on the survival of ideas because *individuals* find them useful/appealing/whatever.

Peter: makes sense to me. Can we think of a word that combines utility and aesthetics into a single term...? 'Useful' seemed like the right word to me when I wrote this, but you have convinced me otherwise. :)

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