I don't know if there are any answers, and it's a difficult question to answer without precisely defining "philosophy," etc. But I wondered if anyone is aware of any research or even casual musings focusing on this topic.

I think science came first. A chimpanzee or proto-human eating an unfamiliar berry and getting poisoned might be considered a scientist. As humans' brains became more complex and powerful, they began to perceive themselves as part of something bigger - the web of life, or a living planet. That was the birth of spirituality.

But how and when did philosophy and religion enter the picture? I think our ancestors simply took spirituality (or a combination of spirituality and science) and added customs, ritual and dogma to turn it into religion.

Science helps us understand the world around us. Things that scientists haven't yet described or explained fall into the realm of the unknown. Spirituality, religion and philosophy can be thought of as tools that help us understand the unknown; they take us places where science can't go.

At least, that's my perception. So did philosophy evolve after science, or is it more correct to say they evolved together? Or could philosophy even predate science?

Sorry for the long, rambling question, but I'm just searching for literature that explores the relationship between philosophy, science, religion and spirituality and the mechanisms and approximate dates (or chronological order) of their evolution.

If the answer is "no one has a clue," that would be helpful.

  • 3
    Which came first: the chicken or the egg? The answer is that this is a false dilemma. What came first were proto-cultures with undifferentiated aspects we now distinguish, they are studied in ethnography. But for what it is worth, science in a remotely modern sense first appears in ancient Greece c. 5th century BC, after a century of natural philosophy and mysticism (Pythagoreans), and under their direct influence.
    – Conifold
    Apr 5 '17 at 4:22
  • I agree with Conifold. The example of science you give is very far from our modern concept of science, which is methodological.
    – user2953
    Apr 5 '17 at 5:47
  • Cults and myths. Then (irganized) religions and philosophy. Last: science. Apr 5 '17 at 10:10
  • I'm guessing they were all one thing in the beginning and eventually, someone had the idea to categorize them. Apr 5 '17 at 14:17

(As I started writing the answer I realized that I had previously posted several responses with many of the relevant references - so mostly I am just posting links to those questions. I don't want to retype the relevant authors and texts).

I think the pertinent question is not which came first, but when did they separate. As Gonzo and Conifold both pointed out, the starting point was something that included all three.

But even this question is difficult because we still haven't been able to completely separate them. More specifically the question of what constitutes exactly a science is still an open one, known as the demarcation problem.

You say:

I think science came first. A chimpanzee or proto-human eating an unfamiliar berry and getting poisoned might be considered a scientist.

By this account, any organism learning a behavior (as opposed to having genetically programmed innate behavior) is performing science. So a plant that grows in one direction and runs into an obstacle so it starts growing in another direction is performing proto-science too. For your berry consuming homonid to qualify as doing something close the modern concept of science, it would also have to produce a explanatory model and assign some abstract concept to its empirical observations, and for this happen it would have to have a language (or as you say brain complexity). But once you start using such concepts, it becomes hard to classify them as either scientific or religious. An person in ancient Greece observes that the sun moves in a predictable fashion across the sky and uses an abstract entity to explain this. Whether this entity is the god Apollo's Chariot or some mysterious unseen power called 'gravity' is as much a cultural consideration as it is a question of science vs religion. This is why W.V.O Quine famously wrote that the objects of physics and the gods of Homer differ only in degree not in kind. More generally, the fact that we can't avoid referring to unobservable conceptual or metaphysical entities whenever we want to come up with a useful model is one of the main reasons why science is so hard to separate from philosophy and mysticism.

So to recap what Gonzo and Conifold have already said. They all started out as one, then they started to branch out.

If one has to provide a Western historical timeline, then philosophy and religion first separated in ancient Greece, and then science broke off from philosophy in 17th century, with Newton, who was either the last Natural Philosopher, or the first physicist. In the 20th century, some philosophers of science have argued that the separation isn't as obvious as we thought it was post-Newton. While others have claimed that religion are so separated as to be completely non-overlapping (Steven Gould's NOMA concept).

Some past posts which contain relevant references:

See this question Are philosophy and science mergeable today? and this response to the question.

This question Thinkers and scientists opposed to philosophy? and this response.

Also see this question: How would you know if nonobservable entities exist? and this response to it.

On the question of scientists who think philosophy is useless: Why have those scientists who rejected or opposed philosophy, still succeeded? and this response.

For some takes on the relationship between spirituality and science, see this question: Do some of us possess a godsense? and this response to it, as well as William James' Varieties of Religious Experience.

There is also this question: What is the distinction between mysticism and metaphysics? and this response to it.

  • Actually, I thought Aristotle was a renowned scientist as well as a philosopher. I believe he was a pioneer taxonomist. But good answer; lots to think about. Apr 9 '17 at 0:41

In the beginning was philosophy, but it invented religion pretty quickly. The simple, abridged speculative answer is that "at first" consciousness emerged from biology and wondered. Philosophy (love of wisdom: ie wondering about the world (science) and about ourselves (god)) probably came first (in that gods and "truths" [about the world] had to be invented/noticed) and decided it needed a god to explain some of the things it wondered about, and the methods of science to explain others. So they branched off to become their own thing. The question that plagues us now, is whether there is any longer anything for philosophy to do/be, since all (physical science, religion, mathematics, social science, art, linguistics, etc) that used to constitute philosophy, in a progressively specialized" universe, have become their own fachs.

  • Cool answer, but what is a "fach"? Or is that just a typo? Apr 5 '17 at 2:56
  • Thanx. Kinda a creation myth, really, Fach is the German word for something like pocket or compartment. But it has come to be used to signify a "course of study" or "subject of study". As if "Gender Studies" or "African American studies" are new university level fachs.
    – gonzo
    Apr 5 '17 at 3:14
  • Interesting, thx. Apr 5 '17 at 23:52
  • Sorry what about religion like Hebraismì that exist since Abram ? Apr 6 '17 at 15:20
  • @Salvatore Di Fazio See Kings answer. It pretty much fleshes out my "story". Point is, "at first" was [self] consciousness, that is, not only existing "biologically" but "realizing" that we and the world exist. And noticing that say its warm and bright when the sun's out and cold and dark when its not. Which begets wondering about why so and how to cope w/ it. Which is the nascence of what we now call "philosophy"-- wondering about stuff. And from that "evolved" what we now call "science" (sophisticated "common sense") and religion (or metaphysics/why existence rather than nil).
    – gonzo
    Apr 6 '17 at 17:26

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