Peculiarities in the “war between science and religion”

One can often disprove the media’s propaganda without even knowing the facts of the matter, just because the official story is incoherent.  An example I’ve already given is our feminist crusade in Afghanistan.  If the Taliban were simultaneously as unpopular and as poor at governing as we have been led to believe, this war would not still be going on.  Another example is the supposed “war between science and religion” that was allegedly waged in Europe from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries.  One could always do some historical research and prove that this story is factually false.  But, actually, the story couldn’t be true, because it doesn’t make sense.

According to this story, at the beginning of the war, “religion” was by far the stronger party.  Over the centuries, “science” kept being proven right, and “religion” kept being proven wrong, until finally people wised up, and “science” came out on top, so that today, we scientists–the oracles of “science”–rightly enjoy our nearly godlike authority over the enlightened masses.  What’s wrong with this picture?

First, our own observations indicate that this war is very one-sided.  Lots of partisans of “science” attacking religion, which they publicly equate with superstition and ignorance.  On the other hand, when was the last time you heard a religious leader assert that science is incompatible with his creed?  Or that the scientific method is impious or otherwise sinful or unreliable?  Well, sure, you’ll say, of course we don’t see that now.  Now science has the upper hand, and religious leaders are cowed by it.  But, remember, this isn’t how it always was.  According to the official story, “religion” used to have much the upper hand in power and prestige.  Surely if we go back to the sixteenth century, we will find prominent churchmen condemning the insipient scientific enterprise, calling the whole thing wicked, ungodly, or dangerous.  Does anybody have these quotes?  I haven’t seen them.  And I’m sure if they were there, the media would bring them to our attention.  Was the Church afraid to admit that it was at war with religion then?  Why?  At the time, if someone had said “science is incompatible with Christianity”, what would have been, for 99% of the people at the time, an argument against science, not against Christianity.  That is a crucial part of the official story.  If science enjoyed its current prestige during the Middle Ages, then it would be hard to regard those times as an era of “darkness” compared to our “enlightenment”.  Furthermore, if science held its current prestige then, at the apex of confessional strength and aggression, it would be impossible to maintain that religion is a serious threat to the scientific enterprise.

So, during the first half of this war, the churches could have condemned science with little danger to themselves, but they didn’t.  That brings us to the second question.  Why didn’t they?  If science and religion are locked in permanent conflict, why didn’t “religion” squash “science” like a bug when it had the chance?  Perhaps clerics were worried that they would lose out on technical advances to other, more science-friendly societies?  Not likely.  Science didn’t become practically useful until around the nineteenth century.  Before that, it was mostly speculation about the heavens, and that sort of thing.  Was it because confessional differences kept the churches from acting in unison to hound their common enemy?  But why should united action be necessary?  Ecclesiastic divisions didn’t keep Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, etc. from each separately attacking atheism, adultery, and other things obviously inimical to the Christian faith in general.  If “science” is at war with “religion” in general, or even with Christianity in general, we would have expected science to have been treated like atheism or Arianism.

But religion did attack, they say.  Here they’ll usually say something about the trial of Galileo or the Scopes monkey trial.  But that won’t do.  First, because a five century war should consist of more than two skirmishes.  After all, the question is not whether some scientist might run afoul of some cleric, or whether some denomination might find some scientific theory objectionable.  Of course these things might happen.  At most, this proves that science and religion are capable of friction, which I don’t deny.  But the “war” story demands more than this–namely, that they are inevitably and irreconcilably opposed.  To prove this, more than occasional friction is required.  After all, far more artists than scientists have gotten in trouble with the Church, but no one would claim that there’s an eternal war between “religion” and “art”.  No, what we should see is some systematic effort on the part of “religion” to suppress science.  No one even makes a beginning of this.

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