The creatures sent not only storm, hail, deluge, or gentle rain and fair weather, but also an invisible entity which made its presence known whenever our ancestors imagined a dead relative, dreamed of a ferocious beast that gratefully disappeared when they woke up, or the scent of a flower that wasn’t there. In other words, the powerful imagery of our ancestors’ mind was associated with another form of a mighty invisible creature — a force or a spirit — that was present everywhere. This force exists in almost all societies. In the South Sea Islands, they call it mana; the Latins experienced numia in sacred groves; Arabs felt that the landscape was populated by the jinn. (See here page 4.)
Priests Were Scientists Were Priests
Communication with the creatures was not the task of ordinary men and women. Only the brightest and most devoted members of society were chosen to communicate with the idols, and they received the support and encouragement from the rest of the community. These were the first generation of priests.
With large resources pouring in, the priests erected magnificent temples, in which to congregate, to communicate with gigantic statues of their gods, to meditate, and to pass on the content of their experiences to each other and to the next generation of priests.
As the temple statues were only representations of the creatures in the sky, the priests inevitably turned their attention to their sources as well: they found it necessary to look at the heaven with an inquisitive eye and follow the motion of objects on which their gods were presumably riding. The first priests were also the first astronomers. (See here for the connection between religion and astronomy in ancient Egypt.)
The degree to which priests emphasized celestial observation depended on the importance they attached to the two features of their belief: the statues or the spirit (mana, numia, jinn). This emphasis varied from region to region. In Egypt and Babylon, for example, celestial observations were an integral part of the religion, to the point that later, the temples in these two countries became the Mecca of knowledge for the ancient Greek scholars such as Pythagoras.
The knowledge accumulated in the temples heralded two different destinies for the humans’ intellect. On one hand, the Greeks took the astronomical findings from Egypt and Babylon, stripped them from their religiosity and turned them into theoretical astronomy as well as abstract geometry, trigonometry, and mathematics. (See here for an account of how Eudoxus studied astronomy in Egypt.)
Greeks initiated the separation of science from religion.