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19th-century view of Galileo recanting his views before the church.

19th-century view of Galileo recanting his views before the church. Image courtesy History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries.

The clash between religion and science has been getting lots of press recently, what with Richard Dawkins saying the two are incompatible (and that intelligent people must side with science), Sam Harris pushing morality completely out of the religious sphere and into the scientific one, and many creationists opposed not only to evolution but also the Big Bang.  

Recently CHF's own Neil Gussman reviewed  Much Ado About (Practically) Nothing for another magazine, Books & Culture: A Christian Review. Author David E. Fisher, a well-regarded scientist and science writer, enters the science vs. religion fray himself, spending a chapter recounting a debate he had with a Young Earth Creationist many years ago. The encounter obviously still rankles, and for good reason. Henry M. Morris, the creationist in question, completely took out of context a quotation of Fisher’s on dating the earth, and seemingly proved that science could not prove an old earth. Despite pointing out Morris’s mistake, Fisher later heard him making the same argument using the same misleading quotation. The take-away message was that science and religion (or at least Young Earth Creationism) cannot coexist—there is an insurmountable wall between them.

On the other hand, religion and science journalist Steve Paulson assumes that a wall has always existed existed between science and religion—a wall he believes is now crumbling. Except that wall never really existed in the first place. 

So many myths swirl around the connections between science and religion that there’s even a book dedicated to debunking some of them (which we reviewed in Chemical Heritage). Just as Young Earth Creationism is a product of the 20th century, the “wall” is a literary creation of the late 19th century, which assumed a never-ending state of warfare between the two. Both approaches tend to take for granted that the nature of “religion” and “science” have remained unchanged throughout history. Yet one of the best-known scientists of all time, Isaac Newton, shows just how wrong that approach is. Newton’s investigation of nature was as much a religious project as what we today would consider a scientific project.

I’m glad Paulson thinks there is hope for a relationship between science and religion, but the truth is, they’ve always been dating.

Posted In: History

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