Christianity and Science

Authored by: Gary B. Ferngren

The Routledge Companion to Religion and Science

Print publication date:  October  2011
Online publication date:  March  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415492447
eBook ISBN: 9780203803516
Adobe ISBN: 9781136634178


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For more than a century, the perceived relationship of Christianity to science has largely been informed by the thesis, expressed by John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White, that Christianity was hostile to science and had a long history of opposing scientific progress. The Draper–White thesis had its origins in the Enlightenment, with its view that the history of science was a series of conflicts between science and Christianity. This was believed especially true of the Roman Catholic Church, which was rooted in the church’s alleged intolerance of new ideas that challenged religious orthodoxy. White’s A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896) exercised much influence and has been repeatedly cited by both scientists and historians in support of the assertion that Christianity has throughout history hindered scientific progress. This view was always improbable, given the fact that many of the most distinguished scientific investigators, from the Scientific Revolution to the end of the nineteenth century, were practicing Christians. But by skillful manipulation of sources, White so convincingly argued his case that he is still regarded as an authority in spite of the fact that his work is replete with errors and misinterpretation. While the Draper–White thesis has frequently been challenged, it was only in the last three decades of the twentieth century that it was systematically examined by David Lindberg, Ronald Numbers, John Brooke, and other historians of science, who argued that the situation was much more complex. Indeed, John Brooke has suggested that the “conflict thesis” be replaced by a “complexity thesis” that takes into account the historical context of disputes between science and Christianity, which were characterized by a variety of attitudes and circumstances. “What we find,” writes David Lindberg, “is an interaction exhibiting all of the variety and complexity with which we are familiar in other realms of human endeavor: conflict, compromise, understanding, misunderstanding, accommodation, dialogue, alienation, the making of common cause, and the going of separate ways” (Ferngren 2000: 266).

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