More on the Myth of the Conflict Between Science and Christianity

Over at the always interesting The Thinking Christian, he also (apparently independently) undertook a discussion of the relationship between science and religion in a couple of posts entitled Is Christianity Opposed to the Pursuit of Science? Part I and Part II. In Part II, he notes the following:

Let's start with where this whole idea began. Surprisingly to many, it wasn't with Galileo or Copernicus. It wasn't even with the Enlightenment. Two highly regarded historians, David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers, reveal that the supposed war between science and Christianity was a 19th-century invention. This "war" had a lot to do with the personal agendas of two men, Andrew Dickson White and John William Draper. Lindberg and Numbers concentrate primarily on White:

"Some of the bloodiest battles, White believed, had been fought during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the period of the so-called Scientific Revolution, when powerful church leaders repeatedly tried to silence the pioneers of modern science. Nicolaus Copernicus, who dared to locate the sun at the center of the planetary system, risked his very life to publish his heretical views and escaped 'persecution only by death.' Many of his disciples met a less happy fate: Bruno was 'burned alive as a monster of impiety; Galileo tortured and humiliated as the worst of unbelievers; Kepler hunted alike by Protestants and Catholics.' Andreas Vesalius, the sixteenth-century physician who laid the foundations of modern anatomy by insisting on careful first-hand dissection of the human body, paid for his temerity by being 'hunted to death.' The latest victim in the protracted war on science, said White in an obvious reference to his own experience, was a certain American university, denounced from pulpit and press as 'godless' merely because it defended scientific freedom and resisted sectarian control. White no doubt felt that [as] its president, [he] too deserved to be ranked among the martyrs of science for the persecution that he had endured."

. . .

"Such judgments, however appealing they may be to foes of 'scientific creationism' and other contemporary threats to established science, fly in the face of mounting evidence that White read the past through battle-scarred glasses, and that he and his imitators have distorted history to serve ideological ends of their own. Although it is not difficult to find instances of conflict and controversy in the annals of Christianity and science, recent scholarship has shown that the warfare metaphor to be neither useful or tenable in describing the relationship between science and religion."

To be more specific,

"If Copernicus had any genuine fear of publication, it was the reaction of scientists, not clerics, that worried him. Other churchmen before him- Nicole Oresme (a bishop) in the fourteenth century and Nicholas of Cusa (a cardinal) in the fifteenth - had freely discussed the possible motion of the earth, and there was no reason to suppose that the reappearance of this idea in the sixteenth century would cause a religious stir."

I encourage everyone who expressed interest in this topic to read what Mr. Gilson wrote in his blog. Very interesting.


Tom Gilson said…
Thanks for the encouraging word, BK. Your work on this has been really helpful to me, too!

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