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November/December 2005 Historically Speaking Response to William Shea Edward J. Larson William Shea explains how the Galileo affair has served over the past 350 years as the principal evidence supporting what he describes as the "seductive and tenacious" view that conflict or warfare has characterized the relationship between science and religion. I certainly don't know as much about Galileo as Bill Shea does, and I readily accept the historical significance that he ascribes to the Roman Catholic Church's persecution of the Italian scientist. He concludes his essay on the hopeful note— hopeful that is for us pacifists and conflict-avoiders—that recent developments in the sociology, philosophy, and history of science, coupled with postmodern reassessments of religion, point toward the demise of the warfare thesis and its replacement by a more contextualizedview. "Historians may no longer be avengers," Shea concludes, "but they should be allowed a modest plea in favor of understanding and tolerance." I'm all for understanding and tolerance. Indeed, I rank them high among the spiritual and secular virtues. But I'm not so sure that very much has changed in how historians and scientists view either the Galileo Affair in particular or the relationship between science and religion in general. Like Shea, I'm not talking about an actual war between science and religion as if mental constructs can fight like countries do, marshalling armies and taking territory. We're talking about how people perceive the relationship between science and religion or, perhaps , what goes on in an individual's mind when confronted with the claims of science and religion. Warfare is a metaphor, of course, but the recognition that its application to the relationship between science and religion is both seductive and tenacious suggests that people respond to it and feel that it has validity . Metaphors are thrown around all the time, but they only survive if they resonate with people. For example, some American sports promoter once referred to the college basketball tournament as "March Madness," and the metaphor stuck. The tournament does not actually drive basketball fans "mad" in the clinical sense of that term, but the metaphor seemed apt to those who follow the sport. Once the phrase took hold, it helped to feed the "madness." Similarly, some 19th-century partisan spoke of "warfare" or "conflict" between science and religion, and that characterization seemed apt to enough people that it stuck, and thereafter probably reinforced the sense of discord. So far as I can tell, the warLike Shea, I'm not talking about an actual war between science and religion as if mental constructs can fight like countries do ... . We're talking about . . . what goes on in an individual's mind when confronted with the claims ofscience and religion. fare metaphor remains as alive today as it was in the past. Shea opens his essay by summarizing how the Galileo affair informed the science and religion debate over three centuries. In the 17th century, he says, Protestants used it to club Catholicism. Enlightenment secularists turned it on all Christianity during the 18th century. And in the 19th century it applied against religion generally. As evidence, Shea cites two histories of the "conflict" written during the 19th century, one by John William Draper and the other by Andrew Dickson White. I presume that Shea chose the books by Draper and White as his examples because they were written as works of history and his essay is about historiography. It should be noted, however, that Draper and White were not primarily historians. Draper was a chemist and White had become a college president . Other 19th-century histories presented religion as fostering science, with some Protestant historians claiming that the Reformation jump-started science and some Catholic historians praising the Roman Church's support for science. Thus, as history, the works of Draper and White were not necessarily representative of their time. Further, they did not so much attack religion generally (which Shea says was characteristic of the 19th-century depiction of the Galileo Affair) as Catholicism in particular. This was especially true ofDraper's book. The view that science was a war with all religion did not dominate 19th-century historical...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6438
Print ISSN
1941-4188
Pages
pp. 9-11
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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