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The most appropriate statement of monotheism is surely the Shema which, as is widely known, is highly related to the Abrahamic faiths. In Chapter 1 of the book "against the gods: the remarkable story of risk", by Peter Bernstein, the author discusses the most intriguing topic of why probability theory was not developed in rigorous scientific form by the ancient Greeks, who nevertheless were instrumental in the development of other aspects of science and mathematics. The development of modern probability theory had in fact to wait for many centuries after that before being developed by Cardano, Fermat and Pascal, as the Wikipedia article mentions.

Related to this topic in particular, the author briefly discusses the meaning of the Greek "Eikos" (defined by Socrates as "likeness to truth", according to the book), and most importantly, the work of Israeli historian and philosopher of science Shmuel Sambursky. (S. Sambursky, On the Possible and the Probable in Ancient Greece, Osiris, Vol. 12, (1956), pp.35-48). According to the book, "Greek dramas tell tale after tale of the helplessness of human beings in the grasp of impersonal fates". The central thesis of this whole line of thought appears to be the contrast in ancient Greek culture between their highly developed concept of mathematical truth and the "messy nature of day-to-day existence". It would therefore appear from this line of reasoning that a belief in a well-ordered universe might facilitate a motivation for the development of probability theory in a more rigorous way.

Given that Greek culture was polytheistic, or perhaps at best henotheistic, would it be too outlandish to conjecture that there exists (even if tenuous) some possible relation between a cultural belief in monotheism (hence a universe that is well ordered and structured and one in which human lives are not "in the grasp of impersonal fates" which seems to be the suggested outcome of ancient Greek polytheism), and the development of modern probability theory?

The question I'm asking here is certainly not new, as many people have observed the role in which monotheistic belief played in the motivation of scientists like Newton. It's just a variant of the same question with regards to probability theory with the really interesting stuff about the ancient Greeks thrown in. (Finally, I'd like to add that in the question title, I'm asking both about personal and cultural or societal belief.)

Thanks.

  • Seems fine to me. Unless there's any other reason you have for wanting to delete this question, we'll just leave it as is for now. – stoicfury Aug 13 '13 at 7:31
  • This is like asking how much of a contribution did human sacrifices made to astronomy. It made as much contribution as any cultural meme that was popular at the time of scientific contributions. Maybe they differ in the amount of difficulty they introduce to the making of such contributions, which aren't helped by the fact that your heart is about to be removed ceremonially or the fact that you have to act rational and are still required to believe in witches, unicorns, giants, angels and demons. – nurettin May 29 '18 at 6:35
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Given that Greek culture was polytheistic, or perhaps at best henotheistic, would it be too outlandish to conjecture that there exists (even if tenuous) some possible relation between a cultural belief in monotheism (hence a universe that is well ordered and structured and one in which human lives are not "in the grasp of impersonal fates" which seems to be the suggested outcome of ancient Greek polytheism), and the development of modern probability theory?

No; the very thought is outlandish. This is just unsupported historical speculation, which is immediately put to the test by the existence of classical Indian mathematics.

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    Yeah, the suggestion here strikes me as something of a reach. It does seem interesting to me though to consider the rule of capital in the context -- markets playing the role of modern Gods distributing fates at random... – Joseph Weissman Aug 19 '12 at 14:32
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Some comments to your question:

  1. Refer to Plato's Timaeus; his view of God and Creation are purely monotheistic. Several thinkers believe that Plato's school of thinking was a precursor to Christianity, and thus proclaims a single, benevolent and ideal superior creature that created the best possible universe. This is all in Timaeus.
  2. Later schools of thought such as the Epicurian, explicitly abolished the concept of fate, or Gods intervening in everyday life. So to single-handedly call the ancients as fate-followers is incorrect.
  3. Christianity (I can assure you on the Orthodox flavor at least) truely believes in fate, to the extent that benevolent God judges our very actions.

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