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Historically Speaking November/December 2005 Science and Religion: A Forum ALFRED NORTH WHITEHEAD ONCE CLAIMED THAT "THE future of civilization depends upon the way the two most powerful forces ofhistory, science and religion, settle into relationship with each other. " Judgingfrom the ways that many public intellectuals, journalists , and even some historians have treated the interaction between science and religion, ourfuture may be quite dim. Theperception that science and religion, especially Christianity, have been engaged in centuries ofconflict remains robust,fueled by the ongoing controversy over evolution andrepeatedreferences to historical episodes like the Galileo Affair, the Huxley-Wilberforce Debate, and the Scopes Trial. How do we account for the persistence of the science-and-religion-in-conflict trope in the light ofscholarship that has all but demolished the notion ofafundamental antagonism between two monolithic forces: science and religion? To help us sort out these matters, we 've asked William R. Shea, who holds the Galileo Chair at the University ofPadua, to assess the historical relationship between science and Christianity. We 've also invited twoprominentAmerican historians ofscience, RonaldNumbers and EdwardLarson, to respond to Shea, who concludes theforum with a rejoinder. This forum was supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. Assessing the Relations between Science and Religion William R. Shea We inhabit a present-tense culture. Only when we grasp that some historical event has been understood in a variety ofways do we come to realize that our current viewpoint is not necessarily anchored and cemented in hard facts. In the 17th century Protestant reformers used the Roman Inquisition's condemnation of Galileo for teaching that the Earth moves to deal a blow to the claims ofthe papacy. One hundred years later the secular Enlightenment turned the Galileo Affair into a stick to trounce Christianity in general, and by the 19th century it had become a battleaxe to shatter any kind ofreligion. Those who shared this antireligious view believed that progress was only possible ifthe human mind was liberated from the trammels of religious creeds and made to rely exclusively on science, the embodiment of rationality. No characterization of the relationship between science and religion has proved more seductive and tenacious than that of conflict. Indeed, the two classic works on the subject are entitled History of the Conflict between Religion and Science ( 1 824) and A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896). The former, which passed through twenty editions and was translated into nine languages, was written by the chemist-historian John William Draper, who saw Christianity, and especially Roman Catholicism, as the archenemy of science. "The history of Science," he wrote, "is not a mere record of isolated discoveries; it is a narrative of the conflict of two contending powers , the expansive force ofthe human intellect on one side, and the compression arising from traditionary faith and human interests on the other."1 The author of the second work, Andrew Dickson White, was equally convinced that war was inevitable. As the first president of Cornell University, White was dedicated to creating a center ofhigher knowledge free from the constraints of religious creeds. In an age when the American establishment was still largely Protestant, this generated opposition, and White came to see himself as another Galileo battling the arrayed forces of obscurantism. In his view, the Yankee divines who objected to his plans behaved like the Italian clerics who had persecuted Galileo. White was confident that he would overcome, and, more importantly, he nurtured the hope that this would be during his lifetime and not after his death like Galileo. Both Draper and White acknowledged that the historian must enter into the minds that he studies and that this requires an appreciation of the ideas, ambitions, and prejudices of the past. What they failed to grasp is that this can only be achieved if the historian is critically aware of his own ideas, ambitions, and prejudices . Self-knowledge is difficult at all times, but Draper and White had swallowed whole a view that made it impossible for them to exercise self-criticism. They believed that the scientific method ushered in by the Scientific Revolution provided them with a way of understanding not only nature...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6438
Print ISSN
1941-4188
Pages
pp. 6-8
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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