Monday, January 25, 2010

HoS Micropost: Science vs. Religion, again

Posted by Darin Hayton on 01/25 at 12:56 PM

Why do people who want there to be a conflict between science and religion continue to fabricate one? This happened in the 19th century when John W. Draper and Andrew D. White first popularized the conflict. These two seem to have set the terms that continue to frame most accusations about some dogmatic religion (or Church) rejecting all possible evidence (read modern science) in order to silence, imprison, and often to execute some free-thinking scientist. Not only are the terms used problematic—e.g., evidence, scientist, science, religion (which is often left intentionally vague)—but the violence done to the historical record is equally if not more appalling—e.g., assertions about the importance of (modern-looking) ideas and claims about the motivations for the persecution have little or no evidentiary basis.

A recent version of this appears over at Jason Rosenhouse’s Evolution Blog, when he holds Giordano Bruno up as a martyr for science and then, further, uses this now fact as evidence that Ronald Numbers is a bad historian because he doesn’t agree: “Department of Low Standards.” Jason’s position seems to be that any conflict that can, by our standards, be understood as science vs. religion was, indeed, science vs. religion.

In a nice rebuttal to this position, Renaissance Mathematicus has taken Jason to task for casting Bruno as a scientist: “Bruno was not scientific.”

If Jason had read the chapter by Jole Shackelford—“Myth 7. That Giordano Bruno was the First Martyr of Modern Science”—in Numbers’s volume, he would have seen some of these same points. Edward Gosselin and Lawrence S. Lerner’s nice translation of Bruno’s The Ash Wednesday Supper: La Cena de le ceneri also provides a nice picture of exactly how unscientific Bruno was.

Tags: andrew white, giordano bruno, history of science, john draper, religion vs. science