Fascinating Website on the History of Conflict Between Science and Belief, a Must for Atheists

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This website could keep a guy away from his favorite bar for years, ...or drive him back to it.

Here are the opening paragraphs from the chapter From Genesis to Geology:

AMONG the philosophers of Greece we find, even at an early period, germs of geological truth, and, what is of vast importance, an atmosphere in which such germs could grow. These germs were transmitted to Roman thought; an atmosphere of tolerance continued; there was nothing which forbade unfettered reasoning regarding either the earth's strata or the remains of former life found in them, and under the Roman Empire a period of fruitful observation seemed sure to begin.

But, as Christianity took control of the world, there came a great change. The earliest attitude of the Church toward geology and its kindred sciences was indifferent, and even contemptuous. According to the prevailing belief, the earth was a "fallen world,'' and was soon to be destroyed. Why, then, should it be studied? Why, indeed, give a thought to it? The scorn which Lactantius and St. Augustine had cast upon the study of astronomy was extended largely to other sciences.

It is a trove and may be returned to again and again. This person's mind is amazing, isn't it?

White's work is full of interesting facts and ideas, but its major thesis of an eternal conflict between religion and science has not held up among modern historians of science, who criticize it as being too simple. You can find their argument at this site:

http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1987/PSCF9-87Lindberg.html

They may have  a point, but I'm inclined to favor White's side and there have been prominent historians of science who agreed with him—George Sarton for one.

Allan, some years ago while reading academic papers on literature from Victorian times to postmodern times, I concluded that no academic paper escapes attack by other academics. The competition is necessary; it's the means by which people win promotions or find opportunities elsewhere. (An exception of course is that those who attack the work of superiors might be obliged to seek opportunities elsewhere.)

I saw your link to criticisms of White's work and wondered if the criticisms would support my conclusion. I've read the introduction and drawn no conclusions. I've read a few lines of the paper and seen signs of a distance in more than time between White and his critics.

With the Inquisition so distant in time, Catholicism is more careful in its criticism of science. The "war" inside the Republican Party tells us the battle between evangelicals and science is still raging.

In this case there may be more going on than simple academic rivalry. The history of science has developed into a much different field in modern times than it was when White gave his famous lecture The Battlefields of Science, which eventually became his book.

White was criticized severely for his refusal to impose religious tests on students and faculty at Cornell, which he co-founded with Ezra Cornell. (This dispute is one of the seeds of the notion that universities instill infidelity.) He made the case for the independence of science from theology although he remained a believer all his life.

Since the middle of the twentieth century and the advent of atomic weaponry, the historians of science have focused their attention on the sociology of science—especially the ways in which it serves government and big business. They have emphasized the notion that science is not value free and interested only in establishing truth, but that it attempts to use its discoveries to promote values of its own. One of those values, or so they claim, is secularization of society.

Consequently the historical figures who promoted science in the nineteenth century—Draper, White, Huxley, Tyndal—are now viewed as having an ulterior motive and their contributions are consequently downgraded—unfairly in my view. The critics fix upon small  inaccuracies in White's book and accuse him of oversimplifying the history. Huxley, who coined the word agnostic comes in for a great deal of scorn.

The fact is that Tyndal and Huxley were good scientists who made significant contributions to their fields. That is the case with most practicing scientists today. It is true that the majority of scientists reject traditional theological dogmatism, but that is not their motivation for their work and it does not cast doubt over their results.

The attempt to portray scientists as mean-spirited secularists slavishly serving the interests of government and business has had some success with the public and results in the facile rejection of climate change.

Tom says: "The 'war' inside the Republican Party tells us the battle between evangelicals and science is still raging." It always will. One side bases its position entirely on myth, superstition, and dogma; the other, reason, rigorous testing, and sufficient proof to establish a theory. The two positions will never be reconciled unless belief is discarded in favor of fact. One thing is certain: either the bible or evolution is "right." The two are mutually exclusive.

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