Conflict thesis

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Galileo before the Holy Office by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury, a 19th century depiction of science clashing with religion
Galileo before the Holy Office by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury, a 19th century depiction of science clashing with religion

There is no single conflict thesis; rather there are two distinct conflict theses about the relationship between science and religion, corresponding to two understandings of the word "conflict." According to the first there is historical conflict, and according to the second there is epistemological conflict. Arguments in popular and even academic texts may fail to disambiguate these two understandings of the word "conflict" and equivocate because of this failure.

The historical conflict thesis, also known as the warfare thesis, the warfare model or the Draper-White thesis, is an interpretive model of the relationship between religion and science according to which interaction between religion and science almost inevitably leads to open hostility, with religion usually taking the part of the aggressor against new scientific ideas. The historical conflict thesis was a popular historiographical approach in the history of science during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but many historians of science and related academics consider that it has been superseded by subsequent historical research. It remains popular with a general audience[1]

The epistemological conflict thesis is of greater normative import than the historical conflict thesis and holds that the respective epistemologies of science and religion make them incompatible and competing worldviews. On this view, the fideism of religion and the scientific method of science are rationally irreconcilable.


[edit] The historical conflict thesis

[edit] Origins

The most influential exponents of the conflict thesis were John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White. In the early 1870s, Draper was invited to write a book on History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874). Reacting to recent papal edicts such as the doctrine of infallibility, he directed his criticism primarily against Roman Catholicism[2], while assessing Islam and Protestantism as having a friendly relationship toward science. The essence of the conflict thesis is summed up from a line in the preface to Draper's work:

The history of Science is not a mere record of isolated discoveries; it is a narrative of the conflict of two contending powers, the expansive force of the human intellect on one side, and the compression arising from traditionary faith and human interests on the other.

In 1896, White published the History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, the culmination of thirty years of research and publication on the subject. His target was any form of restrictive, dogmatic Christianity. In the introduction to his work, White emphasized that he had come to his position after facing difficulty in trying to assist Ezra Cornell in establishing a university which did not have any official affiliation with any particular religious sect.

Most advocates of the conflict thesis, like Draper and White, have focused on the alleged hostility of Christianity toward science, though Islam has received some criticism of its own.

[edit] Criticism

Subsequent historical research indicates that religion has a much more complex and close relationship with science than the conflict thesis presupposes. As is expressed by Gary Ferngren in his historical volume about Science & Religion:

While some historians had always regarded the Draper-White thesis as oversimplifying and distorting a complex relationship, in the late twentieth century it underwent a more systematic reevaluation. The result is the growing recognition among historians of science that the relationship of religion and science has been much more positive than is sometimes thought. Although popular images of controversy continue to exemplify the supposed hostility of Christianity to new scientific theories, studies have shown that Christianity has often nurtured and encouraged scientific endeavour, while at other times the two have co-existed without either tension or attempts at harmonization. If Galileo and the Scopes trial come to mind as examples of conflict, they were the exceptions rather than the rule.[3]

Today it is known that many scientific developments, such as Kepler's laws and the 19th century reformulation of physics in terms of energy, were explicitly driven by religious ideas. The Darwinian theory of evolution also owed much to the natural theology of the time: Darwin's emphasis in adaptation was directly inspired by Archdeacon William Paley's argument for the existence of God, based on the design-like nature of the eye.[4] Religious organizations figure prominently in the broader histories of many sciences, with many of the scientific minds until the professionalization of scientific enterprise (late 19th century) being clergy and other religious thinkers. Even the most prominent examples of conflict, such as the Galileo affair and the Scopes trial, were not purely instances of conflict between science and religion; personal and political factors also weighed heavily in the development of each.

[edit] Support

One reason for the current appeal of the conflict thesis is the existence of ongoing debates that seem to follow a pattern of religion versus science, or religion versus what some claim to be social progress, where this supposed progress is linked in some way to science or technology. Examples include the creation-evolution controversy and controversies over the use of birth control. For instance, the website, in their page on Religious Change And Past Religious Conflicts, while not entirely agreeing with White's attitude towards religion, writes that it gives a useful multistage model for understanding religious reactions to scientific innovations.

[edit] The epistemological conflict thesis

There is another possible conflict thesis which comes from a different interpretation of the word "conflict" and which is seldom acknowledged by exponents of the compatibility of science and religion. According to this conflict thesis (which can be called the "Epistemological Conflict Thesis"), the conflict between science and religion is epistemic. By virtue of their radically different epistemologies (knowledge by faith, revelation, and authority in the case of religion, and by reason, evidence, and skepticism in the case of science), the thesis brings into question the idea that scientific and religious worldviews are reconcilable. The epistemological conflict thesis is independent of the historical conflict thesis treated in the rest of this article in that the truth of one has no bearing on the truth of the other; the epistemological conflict thesis may be true and the historical conflict thesis false, or vice-versa.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Gary Ferngren (editor). Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8018-7038-0.
    "...while [John] Brooke's view [of a complexity thesis rather than historical conflict thesis] has gained widespread acceptance among professional historians of science, the traditional view remains strong elsewhere, not least in the popular mind. (p. x)
  2. ^ Alexander, D (2001), Rebuilding the Matrix, Lion Publishing, ISBN 0-7459-5116-3 (pg. 217)
  3. ^ Gary Ferngren (editor). Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8018-7038-0. (Introduction, p. ix)
  4. ^ Ruse, Michael. "Phil Dowe. Galileo, Darwin, and Hawking: The Interplay of Science, Reason, and Religion." Isis 97.2 (June 2006): 387(2). InfoTrac OneFile. Thomson Gale. CAPES. 24 Sep. 2006 [1].

[edit] External links

[edit] Further reading

  • Barbour, Ian G. When Science Meets Religion. HarperSanFrancisco, 2000.
  • Brooke, John H., Margaret Osler, and Jitse M. van der Meer, (editors). "Science in Theistic Contexts: Cognitive Dimensions," Osiris, 2nd ser., vol. 16(2001), ISBN 0-226-07565-6.
  • Ferngren, Gary (editor). Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8018-7038-0
  • Lindberg, David C. and Ronald L. Numbers, eds., God & Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter Between Christianity and Science. University of California Press, 1986.
  • Lindberg and Numbers, "Beyond War and Peace: A Reappraisal of the Encounter between Christianity and Science," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 39 (1987):140-49. (Can be found online here
  • Merton, Robert K. Science, Technology, and Society in Seventeenth Century England. Osiris 4(1938): 360-632. Reprinted New York: Harper & Row, 1970. (Advances the thesis that Puritanism contributed to the rise of science.)
  • Westfall, Richard S. Science and Religion in Seventeenth-Century England. New Haven: Yale Univ. Pr. 1958. Reprinted Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Pr., 1973. ISBN 0-472-06190-9