Who’s Being Anti-Science Now?

By Tom Gilson Published on April 21, 2018

The word is, Christianity is “Stupid.” It’s “Anti-intellectual.” And “Anti-science” above all. Very smart people say so in important magazines. I could tell you all kinds of reasons we’re anti-science — and why we’re not.

Christianity is anti-science because:

1. It was against science from the beginning. The Dark Ages, you know?

Yes, that’s the rumor. But look at where science grew up. The first scientific revolution (yes, there was more than one) was centered at Chartres Cathedral around 800 to 900 years ago. Right in the middle of the so-called “Dark Ages.” The Revolution was led almost 100 percent by Christians, many of them clergy.

2. But the Church persecuted the scientists in the Middle Ages!

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You think so? You’ve heard of Galileo getting burned at the stake for it? That’s the one great example of the Church persecuting science. 

In the meantime, though, Quick: Tell me another one! I dare you. Giordano Bruno? Wrong. Yes he was persecuted, but for his religious beliefs, not his science. Copernicus? Ha! He was a priest. And he wasn’t persecuted. Can you think of anyone else? I didn’t think so.

As for Galileo, his full story includes the part where he called the Pope “Simplicio.” And that’s a lot of what got him in hot water. Err, house arrest, actually. That’s as bad as it got for him.

3. Still, they all thought the earth was flat because the Bible said so!”

Yes, there is such a thing as a flat-earth myth. And the myth is that people used to believe in a flat earth. Never happened. Look, the main astronomy textbook in the Middle Ages was titled “Sphere.” And that was when the earth was in the middle of it. The round earth.

So, I’ll bet you can’t guess where we all got the idea that Medieval Europe thought the Earth was flat. The evidence seems to show it came from the same author who gave us a man who took a twenty-year nap — Rip Van Winkle — and a galloping Headless Horseman, in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Someone’s acting fairly anti-science here after all.

Washington Irving also wrote a multi-volume History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus back in 1828. He made up the story of people believing the earth was flat — hundreds of years after the fact.

This myth won’t die, despite the facts.

And It’s Even More Anti-Science Because:

4. Haven’t science and Christianity always been at war?

That’s another myth. This one came along even later, around the time of the Civil War. Two men, Andrew Dickson White and William Draper, were mostly responsible for it.

James Hannam, historian of science, charitably suggests, “It is worth briefly examining whether White was being entirely honest in his work.” Draper was definitely “engaged in polemic,” he says. White and Draper both “set out to prove what they already believed rather than take their conclusions from the facts.”

If you go to the experts in the field — historians of science — you’ll find them all wondering when that myth will die. Hannam shows what really happened in his book The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution? Christian propaganda, you say? It was shortlisted by the Royal Society — one of the world’s most prestigious scientific organizations — for its science book prize.

5. That still doesn’t prove Christianity isn’t stupid. Hasn’t science proved virgins don’t have children? That dead people don’t rise from the grave?

If you think it took modern science for people to figure that out, you’ve got a lot of learning to catch up on. They called these things miracles back then, too. Why? because they knew they didn’t happen naturally.

Now, science is the study of what happens naturally. So tell me, is the discipline that studies only what happens naturally the right one to prove that nothing else can happen? How could it be? No, it’s not science that says miracles can’t happen. It’s a philosophical bias that says, “If science can’t study it, then it’s not knowable.” And philosophy isn’t science. You’re confusing your disciplines here.

One other thing: Philosophy tells science what it can do and what it can’t do. It tells science that if science studies natural causes, it only studies natural causes. It can’t possibly tell us anything about super-natural causes.

6. Seriously, though, you’ve still got the one huge problem you can’t talk your way out of: Christians think the world was created 6,000 years ago in just six days.

Well, yes, that does pose a problem between science and some Christians. Certainly not all. Although I know some Christians won’t agree with me, I’m here to say that’s not an essential Christian belief. Lots and lots of firm, convinced, Bible-believing Christians see plenty of room in Genesis for it to be about something other than six literal days of creation.

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So I’ll own up to a little discomfort over that one. We’re not in complete agreement among ourselves, and some of us think the settled conclusions of mainstream science are wrong. But not all of us. You’re generalizing from a part to a whole here.

Counting the Score

I’d like to count the score here, if I may. In the process of criticizing Christianity for being anti-science, you have:

  1. Drawn your first conclusion in the face of overwhelming amounts of contradictory data.
  2. Generalized one isolated cased — Galileo — across centuries of Church-science interaction as if it represented the whole — and even distorted that one in the telling.
  3. Accepted belief in the flat-earth myth without bothering to examine any original-source evidence for it.
  4. Gone against all expert opinion in deciding that Christianity has been at war with science.
  5. Jumped disciplines, using the name “science” to justify a conclusion that isn’t in its field at all.
  6. And finally, on the age of the earth, committed another fallacy of generalizing from a non-representative sample.

Looks to me like someone’s acting fairly anti-science here after all.

Postscript

For those who will predictably come by and charge me with distorting skeptics’ opinions or presenting simplistic answers: I expect that from people who don’t understand satire, or who think an answer has to be completely explained, with all objections dealt with, or else it’s no answer at all. The whole answers fill whole books. I recommend:

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