1.  Introduction


A reasonable way to interpret the long history of the conflict between scientific and religious models is to see these institutions as competing for the same ground, rather than operating in different domains.

—Gili S. Drori et al[1]


The notion that science and religion have been long at war with one another is widespread but, as we will see, somewhat of an oversimplification. The warfare model is largely the consequence of two influential nineteenth-century books: A History of the Conflict between Religion and Science[2] by an English born American chemist John William Draper (d. 1882) and A History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom[3] by the co-founder and first president of Cornell university, Andrew Dickson White.

Draper had reacted angrily to proclamations from Rome asserting papal infallibility and claiming that revealed doctrine took precedence over the human sciences. He wrote that since coming to power in the fourth century the Catholic Church had displayed “a bitter and mortal animosity” toward science and had its hands “steeped in blood.”[4]

White’s attack on religion was much broader, not limited to the Catholic Church but like Draper, motivated at least partially by ideology. At secular Cornell he wished to create “an asylum for Science—where truth shall be sought for truth’s sake, not stretched or cut exactly to fit Revealed Religion.”[5] His book was largely in reaction to attacks from the religious community for his refusal to impose religious tests on students and faculty.[6] Nevertheless, White’s efforts at Cornell helped lead to the conversion of the great private universities in America and Europe from the church-centered institutions they were originally to the secular ones they are today.

The second volume of White’s tome documents the long history of meddling by religion in medicine: the legends of supernatural intervention in causing and curing disease including miracles and satanic influences; the resistance against dissection and other anatomical studies; opposition to surgery, inoculation, sanitation, and the use of anesthetics; and demonic possession. While we still have faith healers and faith healing cults, these are not part of my concern in this book, which is current intellectual battleground of theology and science.

Modern historical scholars, some with ideological motives of their own, have severely criticized the accuracy of Draper’s and White’s accounts, saying they oversimplified what was a far more complex relationship.[7] Historian John Hedley Brooke asserts that Draper and White’s arguments are “deeply flawed.” He objects to their assumption of a dichotomy between nature and supernature that he says oversimplifies the theologies of the past. He writes, “If a supernatural power was envisaged as working through, as distinct from interfering with, nature, the antithesis would partially collapse.” Or, he says, another way to put it is, “an explanation in terms of secondary causes need not exclude reference to primary causes.”[8]

In fact, a dichotomy does exist between nature and supernature. Later I will elaborate on the distinction between primary and secondary causes, but Brooke’s mistake here is to assume, without some kind of evidence or rationale, that the mere fact that primary causes are theoretically possible means that they actually have a substantial likelihood of existing. Time-and-again we will run into this line of reasoning by religious apologists. Just because science cannot prove Zeus does not exist, we can’t conclude he does.

The strongest indictment of Draper and White that I have seen is in The Great Courses lectures by chemist and historian Lawrence M. Principe, whose strong pro-religion bias comes out no matter how hard he tries to hide it and to appear even-handed.[9] According to Principe, Draper’s book is “one, long, vitriolic, anti-Catholic diatribe.” As for White, Principe says he “did not share the rabidity of Draper and did not sell as well,” but he also uses “fallacious arguments and suspect or bogus sources.”[10]

Let’s take a look at one example that casts doubt on Principe’s impartiality. He claims, without reference, that White said, “Earth’s sphericity was officially opposed by the Church.” Principe can then attack White for making this claim against Catholicism.  I have looked through White’s book, however, and find no claim regarding an official Church doctrine on the shape of Earth. White refers to certain figures in the early Church, such as Lactantius (c. 320) and John Chrysostom (d. 407), who mainly distrusted science of any sort. But in contrast to such figures, White notes, “Clement of Alexandria (c 215) and Origen (d. 254) had even supported [sphericity]” and “Ambrose (c. 340) and Augustine (d. 430) had tolerated it.” Furthermore, White adds, “Eminent authorities in later ages, like Albert the Great (d. 1280), St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274), Dante (d. 1321), and Vincent of Beauvais (c. 1200), felt obliged to accept the doctrine of the earth’s sphericity.”[11] On this point at least, Principe was attacking White for an error that White did not make.

In short, some historians have not been particularly careful or accurate in their criticisms of Draper and White.

Most discussions on the history of the interaction between science and religion focus on Europe, and, indeed, my main concern will be science and Christianity. However, it must be remembered that while Western Europe languished in the Dark Ages, science flourished for over seven hundred years during the Golden age of the Islamic empire. In a recent wonderful book, The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance, the distinguished Anglo-Iraqi physicist Jim Al-Khalili chronicles the contributions to human knowledge made by the great scholars of that period, about which I will have more to say.[12] Certainly there was little or no conflict between science and Islam during that period, when the international language of science was Arabic, the language of the Qur’an.

Nevertheless, while history cannot be neglected because of its effect on the present, the incompatibility between science and religion that we see today arises primarily from current conflicts, not from ancient history. So let me focus here on those.

In his 1999 book Rocks of Ages, the late renowned paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould proposed that science and religion are “non-overlapping magisteria” (NOMA).[13] He argued that the two knowledge systems deal with different aspects of life. Science, Gould wrote, is concerned with describing the “outer” world of our senses, while religion deals with the “inner” world of morality and meaning. NOMA recalls the position enunciated by Galileo when he ran into trouble with the Church for teaching that Earth goes around the sun. He is often quoted as saying, “The Holy Spirit’s intention is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how the heavens go,” although it is generally assumed that he was in turn quoting Cardinal Cesare Baronius (d. 1607).

     Many scientists—believers and nonbelievers—have adopted the NOMA position. Believing scientists compartmentalize their thinking by not incorporating into their religious thinking the doubt-everything position they were trained to take in their professions.

A prime example is geneticist, Francis Collins, who directed the Human Genome Project and at this writing directs the National Institutes of Health. His 2006 book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief,[14] was a bestseller. As we will see in more detail later, his so-called evidence is not, as you might have thought from the title, based on his deep knowledge of DNA. Rather it is based on his own inner feeling that the world is a moral place and only God could have made it that way. Nowhere does Collins come close to applying to this notion the critical skills exhibited in his outstanding scientific career.

Unlike Descartes, Newton, Kepler and many of the great founders of the post-Islamic scientific revolution (Galileo is a prominent exception), the modern-day believing scientist such as Collins does not incorporate God into their science. This even includes those scientists who happen to also be members of holy orders, such as the Belgian Catholic priest Georges-Henri LemaĒtre who proposed the big bang in 1927 but, as we will see in chapter 7, urged Pope Pius XII not to claim it as infallible proof that God exists.

Most nonbelieving scientists want to just do their research and stay out of any fights over religion. That makes the NOMA approach appealing because it allows these scientists to not worry much about what religion is or how it affects our social and political world.  In my view, though, these scientists are shirking their responsibility by conceding the realms of morality and public policy to the irrationality and brutality of faith.

            Neuroscientist and bestselling author Sam Harris observes, “the scientific community is predominantly secular and liberal—and the concessions that scientists have made to religious dogmatism have been breathtaking.”[15] He tells of attending a conference in the fall of 2006 at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California called “Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason, and Survival.” The other attendees included some of the leading figures in science. Harris remarks, “While at Salk I witnessed scientists giving voice to some of the most dishonest religious apologies I have ever heard. It is one thing to be told that the pope is a persistent champion of reason, that his opposition to embryonic stem-cell research is both morally principled and completely uncontaminated by religious dogmatism; it is quite another to be told this by a Stanford physician who sits in the President’s Council on Bioethics.”[16]

            We will see later how the American National Academy of Sciences along with several scientific societies and pro-science organizations such as the National Center for Science Education have compromised their principles in order to stay on good terms with religion. Even the prestigious science magazine Nature has adopted Gould’s NOMA, editorializing that problems arise between science and religion only when they “stray onto each other’s territories and stir up trouble.”[17]

            However, Gould’s proposal and these views from the top tiers of science do not describe the actual roles science and religion play in society. Traditional religions are based on the belief in divinely inspired scriptures and other revelations, and they do try to tell us what “is” based on those beliefs. In doing so, they have proved to be almost universally incorrect.

            Now, clever theologians will say that I am using science as my standard of what is correct and incorrect. Of course scriptures could be correct, but then we have to believe (as many fundamentalists do) that God is pulling the wool over our eyes, planting phony evidence that carbon-dated fossils, geological formations, and galaxies are older than the 6,000 years since creation implied in the Bible. The scientific descriptions of the world we observe with our senses and instruments aren’t necessarily correct just because they are science. They simply work better than those found in scriptures. And if religion doesn’t work in the sphere of nature, why should we expect it to work in the moral or other spheres?

            Nothing prevents science from concerning itself with issues of morality and purpose. If these questions involve observable phenomena, such as human behavior, they can be analyzed with the rational methods of science. In his 2011 book The Moral Landscape, Harris argues that science has an important role to play in analyzing moral questions and can be used to help develop objective moral truths. That doesn’t mean it has the final answers, but science should be allowed to participate in the dialogue. Science is more than making measurements and models; it is about applying empirical reasoning to every aspect of life.

            Many historians, scientists, and philosophers claim that, while a tension exists between science and religion, an essential harmony between the two can be maintained. Ian Barbour promoted this view in his 1997 book Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues. Barbour has both a PhD in physics and a Bachelor of Divinity degree. In 1999 he won the lucrative Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion given annually to someone who has advanced the reconciliation of science and religion.[18] Barbour’s work will be referred to often in the present book.

Also, in a recent book Science and Spirituality: Making Room for Faith in the Age of Science, philosopher Michael Ruse argues, “the basic, most important claims of the Christian religion lie beyond the scope of science. They do not and could not conflict with science for they live in realms where science does not go.”[19] But, once again, the fact that science cannot reject all conceivable worlds cannot be used to argue for their existence. Furthermore, many fundamental Christian claims do not lie beyond the scope of science: they conflict with it, The virgin birth, miracles, prophecies, revelations, the resurrection, are just a few of these.

            The John Templeton Foundation is behind much of the current effort to reconcile science and faith. Financier John Templeton’s legacy provides $70 million a year in grants to support research on “subjects ranging from complexity, evolution, and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will.”[20] The Foundation also provided support for another scholar, William Grassie, who has argued for the essential harmony of science and religion. I will also refer frequently to his 2010 book, The New Sciences of Religion.[21]

            Barbour, Grassie, and others have interpreted historical events as evidence for, though not complete harmony with, a positive relationship between science and religion where each has contributed constructively to the other. They have argued, for example, that Puritanism in England significantly contributed to the scientific revolution with its revolution against authority. So, they say, did Calvinist theology, in which people serve God not by shutting themselves away in a monastery or convent but by doing useful work. This is called the Protestant ethic.[22]

Science flourished in England after the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge was chartered by King Charles II in 1660, the year he was restored to the throne. The Society was formed from a group of royalists called the Oxford Circle who holed up in Oxford during the English Civil War. Spending their time dissecting human and animal cadavers, they established many anatomical facts, most notably that the brain is the primary organ of thought and that the heart is a pump that operates under the control of signals from the brain. The group, led by physician Thomas Willis (d. 1675), included the great architect Christopher Wren (d. 1723), the great chemist , Robert Boyle (d. 1691) and the great physicist Robert Hooke (d. 1703). Willis was pretty great himself.[23]

            The Puritans believed that God was revealed in the study of nature and gave strong encouragement to scientific work. However most English scientists, such as those in the Oxford Circle, were actually Anglicans who saw in natural laws an analogy with the rule of law in society. Furthermore, everyone began to realize how technology was a source of control over nature with the resulting enhancement of economic and political power.[24]

            There can be no dispute that the scientific revolution occurred in an atmosphere in which religious and scientific ideas were deeply intertwined. But religion still held the upper hand. In a lengthy essay “Puritanism, Separatism, and Science,” historian Charles Webster concludes, “No direction or energy toward science was undertaken without the assurance of Christian conscience, and no conceptual move was risked without confidence in its consistency with the Protestant idea of providence.”[25]

            It is difficult to extract precise causes of the scientific revolution from the complex history of the seventeenth century Europe except to say that it happened there and no place else. China had made significant advances in technology, but failed to develop science. And while science and learning flourished for a time in the Islamic world, there, too, a culture of scientific development failed to endure.

Barbour argues that the decline in science in the Islamic world was the result of the tight control of higher education by religious authorities. Although Barbour doesn’t say so, the same can be said of Christendom until the Reformation. Similarly, government authorities controlled education in China.  From this perspective, it was the new openness in Europe that made science possible.[26]

However, Europe would not have been closed to independent thinking in the first place except for the Catholic Church. Science had flourished in pagan Greece and Rome, and, as we have seen, in medieval Islam. Now, I am not claiming that the Roman Empire declined because of the growth of Christianity. It declined because of the depravity of its leaders and people and Church-based leaders and social institutions were there to pick up the pieces, producing an authoritarian society that brutally suppressed the slightest traces of free thinking.

I will say more about Islam later.

The totality of evidence indicates that, on the whole, over the millennia the Christian religion was more of a hindrance than a help to the development of science. Surely it is no coincidence that the onset of the Dark Ages coincided with the rise of Christianity.  It was only with the revolts against established ecclesiastic authorities in the Renaissance and Reformation that new avenues of thought were finally opened up allowing science to flourish.

            And, these new avenues of thought are what we really need to explore. My position is that artistic and social activities with no significant political ramifications are far less important when considering the compatibility of science and religion than are intellectual matters. Scientific thinking is not dissonant with Church art, music, and charitable work, or with the Church’s function of providing a structure where people can meet to enjoy one another’s company and help each other. However, as Harris says, “science and religion—being antithetical ways of thinking about the same reality—will never come to terms.”[27] So long as religious people do not attempt to force their beliefs on others, they are mostly only harming themselves by the folly of their faith. But when religious notions dominate the political scene, as they do in Muslim countries and to some extent in America today, the world is in big trouble.

Barbour lists examples where he claims religion and, in particular, Christianity, has had a positive influence on science:[28]

1.     The conviction that nature is intelligible contributed to the rational component of science. Monotheism combined the Greek view of orderliness and regularity with the biblical view of God as lawgiver.

2.     The Greeks had claimed that everything could be derived from first principles. Theists believe that God created the universe by an act of his own will. He didn’t have to. So the facts of nature cannot be derived from first principles but must be learned by observation and experiment.

3.     The Bible provides an affirmative view of nature. Creation implies the basic goodness of the world, or else God would not have made it.

None of these is very convincing. Without Christian monotheism the Greek (and Roman) view would not have been suppressed for a thousand years. And it’s really stretching things to attribute empiricism to a belief in creation. Furthermore, monotheists were hardly the first people to imagine a created universe or have an affirmative view of nature.

In honesty, Barbour must ask why the development of science in the Middle Ages, prior to the scientific revolution, was so meager—given that Greek ideas were prevalent in Europe by that time. He attributes this lack of progress to the dominance of the Catholic Church. Again it is surely no coincidence that the scientific revolution occurred just after the Renaissance and Reformation challenged Church dominance. Still Barbour concludes, “many historians of science [not most?] have acknowledged the importance of the Western religious tradition in molding assumptions about nature that were congenial to the scientific enterprise.”[29]

I will begin my narrative in the next chapter by going back to the very origins of science and religion as best we know them and trace their history through the Greeks, Romans, and early Christianity. I will describe how in the Middle Ages much of Greek and Roman science and philosophy was lost in Europe but preserved and developed to new heights in the Islamic empire. We will see how this knowledge gradually crept back into Europe as theologians such as Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas developed rational theologies that incorporated the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle and translated texts became available.

When the Roman Catholic Church founded the first universities in Europe, Aristotle became the prime authority.  Scholars used his logic as well as his science and philosophy to forge an amalgam of Greek and Christian thought that became known as scholasticism. While the value of reason and observation was recognized, these were generally viewed as inferior to revelation since they were the products of imperfect human activity, whereas revelation came directly from God. The Renaissance and Reformation defied the authority of the Church, and a new science blossomed in which revelation and authority were replaced as final arbiters of truth by observation and measurement. Significantly, the scientific revolution occurred outside the church-dominated universities, which remained steeped in Aristotelian scholasticism. Today, our secular universities lead the way in science while students at many church-connected universities and colleges are being taught creationism and other pseudosciences, along with mind-numbing Biblical apologetics.

Nevertheless, a clean break between science and religion did not take place immediately at the start of the scientific revolution. All of the great pioneers of science—Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton—were believers, although they hardly had a choice in the matter. Open nonbelief was nonexistent in the West at that time. Except for Galileo, these greats incorporated their beliefs into their science. Galileo was the only one of the great founders of the new science who tried to separate science from religion.

In the brief period in the eighteenth century called the Enlightenment, thinkers in Europe and America began to distinguish science and philosophy from theology. Deism flourished and atheism became intellectually respectable, at least in France, as we will see.

The great bulk of humanity did not go along with atheism, however. Christianity found a way to incorporate science within its own system with the notion of natural theology. In natural theology, human scientific observations and theories are seen as a way to learn more about the majesty of the creator who had made the natural world and its laws in the first place.

This was quite a reasonable position at the time. After all, prior to the mid-nineteenth century science had no natural explanation for the complexity we see around us, especially in living things. When geologists showed that Earth was much older than implied in the Bible, and Darwin provided both the evidence and the theory for how life evolved without the need for God, the foundations of religious belief began to crumble.

This resulted in a very specific conflict between science and religion that has lasted to the current day, with the most recent battles being over the intelligent design brand of creationism. While the Catholic Church and moderate Christians have claimed to have no problem with evolution, their own words demonstrate that they do not accept unguided Darwinian evolution.  Instead, they subscribe to a form of God-guided evolution that is just another form of intelligent design. We will have more to say about this in chapter 4.

The new physics of the twentieth century—relativity, quantum mechanics, and relativistic quantum field theory—have not struck many nerves with everyday religious believers since they are comprehended by only a tiny fraction of the public. In fact, these theories and the data that support them are monumentally misunderstood, misrepresented, and misused by many who naively write on these subjects without the years of study necessary to have any depth of knowledge.

This is especially the case with quantum mechanics, which has been made to look mysterious and weird, even by physicists who know better but think they can spark student and public interest, and sell their popular-level books, with overblown rhetoric.

While not technically theistic, modern quantum spiritualists and pseudoscientists should be included as part of the antiscience movement that is associated with religions and the transcendental world-view. Many members of this community assert that quantum mechanics tells us we can make our own reality just by thinking we can, and that it puts our minds in tune with a cosmic consciousness that pervades the universe. This claim results from a total misunderstanding of the wave-particle duality in which an object has the properties of a particle when you measure particle properties and the properties of a wave when you measure wave properties. Well, d’-uh. Do you expect an object to have a particle property when you measure a wave property, and a wave property when you measure a particle property? Physical objects have both properties, and no act of human consciousness has anything to say about it.

The other, more forgivable, misuse of quantum mechanics is that made by theologians who look for a way for God to act in the universe without violating the laws of physics. They think they can do this by appealing to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics that puts limits on what you can measure with precision. They imagine God poking his finger in to make particles change their motion without any physicist noticing. Sure, God can do that, but he would then be breaking a law of physics, which theologians say they are trying to avoid.

Theists and quantum spiritualists also claim that modern physics has eliminated the reductionism—the breaking the whole down into parts—that has marked physics and indeed all science from the time of Democritus. In fact the opposite is true. After flirting for a while with holism in the crazy sixties, when even I had hair almost down to my shoulders, by the late seventies physics had returned to an even deeper reductionism than before with the standard model of particles and forces. The whole is still equal to the sum of its parts, just as the Greek atomists said. We will see that this is another place where science and religion profoundly disagree.

Once again, some scientists and science writers who should know better have been roped into joining with theologians to announce a grand new scientific principle called emergence. They point to the fact that nature has a hierarchy of levels of complexity ranging from elementary particles to human society. At each level we find a new scientific discipline—physics, chemistry, biology, and so on up to sociology and political science. The scholars at each level do not derive their models from particle physics but develop models for each discipline by applying their own unique methods. The principles they uncover “emerge” from the level below by what is called “bottom-up causality.”

No one should expect particle physicists to answer every question. However, speculations are being widely bandied about that some emergent principles have the power to control entities at lower levels by way of “top-down” causality. At the very top of the pyramid, of course, is God up in heaven, acting down on us particles below. Emergence by bottom-up causality is trivial. Emergence by top-down causality is world-shaking. We will see what can be made of that.

On the cosmic scale, twentieth century cosmology has been also distorted by theists as constituting evidence for a creation of the universe when, in fact, modern cosmology points in just the opposite direction. Some previous gaps in our understanding of the physics of the cosmos provided some temporary comfort for those seeking evidence for a creator. However, these gaps were decisively plugged with astronomical discoveries as the century progressed. Today cosmologists can provide a variety of plausible, mathematically precise scenarios for an uncreated universe that violate no known laws of physics. Furthermore, we have every indication that, despite the well-confirmed big bang, the universe, defined as all there is, had no beginning and thus no creator. We will see that so-called “proofs” that the universe cannot be eternal are erroneous.

Combining a naēve understanding of physics and cosmology with their preformed unscientific beliefs, many theist authors have been trumpeting that the constants of physics are so delicately balanced that any deviation would make life impossible.  From this they conclude that the physical constants could only have been fine-tuned by God. This claim also can be shown to be erroneous, as we will seen in chapter 7.

Believing scientists and theologians have also said that they see evidence for divine purpose in the universe. This claim is likewise not supported by the evidence.

The fundamental religious belief is that transcendent reality beyond matter exists. Evidence for this reality is supposed to be found in human experiences termed mystical or spiritual. Specifically, a large amount of data has been accumulated over the years, and published in journals and books, on near-death experiences (NDEs). These occur in about 20 percent of people resuscitated from clinical death, or something close to it. They return with a memory of light at the end of a tunnel that they are convinced was a glimpse of heaven. (Few ever glimpse hell). We will look carefully at the data and conclude it has more plausible natural explanations.

We will also evaluate the data on reincarnation and psychic phenomena. Many dramatic claims that evidence for these wonders exists have been made for well over a century now, but these claims have never been independently confirmed. This discussion will be brought up-to-date with a critique of a recent highly publicized claim of retroactive causality published in a peer-reviewed psychology journal.

At the current stage of scientific development we can confidently say that no empirical or theoretical basis exists for assuming anything other than that we inhabit a universe made entirely of matter (and energy into which matter can be transformed, and vice versa). Please understand that this is not a dogmatic position. Of course we don’t know everything, and never will. The essential point is that within our existing knowledge we do not have a credible reason for requiring anything transcendent to explain anything we experience or observe.  All science is provisional, and if sufficient evidence that meets all the most rigorous scientific tests were to come along to demonstrate the existence of a world beyond matter and energy, then nonbelieving scientists will change their mind. We will challenge the wide array of current claims that scientific observations and theories are already pointing toward transcendence. We will see that these claims have no basis.

We will also see that other metaphors for the “stuff” of the universe such as information do not diminish the need for, and primacy of, matter.

The one major area where we do not yet have a plausible physical model that satisfies a consensus of experts in the field is the question of the nature of consciousness. We can now ascribe much more of human thinking processes to the material brain than ever imagined in the past, where the mind was universally believed to be composed of some immaterial, spiritual substance separate from the body. However, the door to some immaterial reality in human consciousness is still open a tiny crack and we will have to await further developments to see whether it, too, closes upon further scientific investigation.

Anther important issue where fundamental disagreement between science and religion exists concerns the source and nature of morality. Believers cannot see how our notions of good and evil can come from anyplace other than God. They are joined by many nonbelievers who think science has no right to say anything on the question. But scientists are investigating morality anyway and coming up with discoveries that few believers will like. While a primitive morality can be found in animals and early humans that evolved biologically, our modern ideas of morality more likely evolved socially as humans found ways to overcome some of their animal instincts by force of intellect.  Not only did these developments allow people to live together in some semblance of order, they also allowed us to use the ability to act cooperatively to obtain resources from the environment, to protect ourselves from predators, etc. The incompatibility between science and religion becomes especially striking on the question of the origin of morality and ethical behavior.

While the viewpoints of science and traditional religious beliefs are irreconcilable, contemporary, science-savvy theologians are seeking to develop a model of a deity that fits in with science. However, as we will see, such a model is necessarily more deistic than theistic as it has little in common with the God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, or with other ancient gods such as those of Hinduism and other faiths. All of those Gods can be ruled out beyond a reasonable doubt by the absence of evidence for their existence that should be there, but is not.

Finally, we will see why the incompatibility of science and religion is more than just an intellectual debate among scholars. Faith is a folly. It requires belief in a world beyond the senses with no basis in evidence for such a world and no reason to believe in it other than the vain hope that something else is out there. While a false belief may be comforting or even temporarily useful, it is a dubious guide to life or for the foundation of a successful society.

While not all believers have an uncompromising faith, and many recognize the power and value of science, we will see that an influential minority of American Christians see materialist science as an enemy that needs to be “renewed” so that God is restored to his rightful place in the scheme of things. Backed by the financial resources needed to get their opinions heard and to help elect officials who will legislate their line, this minority wields far more political power than its numbers justify. It has succeeded in watering down or eliminating the teaching of evolution in most high schools. Holding extremely conservative views that they justify theologically, the members of this minority join with unscrupulous politicians to protect the shortsighted economic interests of their financial backers. In this way they help thwart government actions recommended by scientific consensus that are needed to reduce the gradual destruction of the planet by the exponential growth of our species and its increasingly wasteful use of Earth’s finite resources.




[1] Gili S. Drori, et al., Science in the Modern World Polity: Institutionalization and Globalization, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003).

[2] John William Draper, History of the Conflict Between Science and religion, 7th ed., (London: Harry S. King, 1876).

[3] Andrew Dickson White, A History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom: Two Volumes in One, (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1993), first published in 1886.

[4] Draper, History of the Conflict Between Religion and Scienc, pp. 51-52, as discussed in David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers, God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter Between Christianity and Science, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), p. 1.

[5] As quoted in Lindberg and Numbers, God and Nature, p. 2.

[6] Ronald L. Numbers, “Aggressors, Victims, and Peacemakers: Historical Actors in the Drama of Science and Religion,” in The Science and religion Debate: Why Does it Continue?, ed. Harold W. Attridge (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), p. 31.

[7] Ian G. Barbour, Science and religion: Historical and Contemporary Issues, (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997); Lindberg and Numbers, God and Nature; David C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, Prehistory to A.D. 1450, 2nd ed., (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).

[8] John Hedley. Brooke, Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives, (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 15-16.

[9] Lawrence M. Principe, Science and Religion, Philosophy & Intellectual History (Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company, 2006).

[10] These quotations are from the Principe Course Guidebook, pp. 9-10.

[11] White, A History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom, p. 97.

[12] Jim al-Khalili, The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance, (New York: Penguin Press, 2011).

[13] Stephen Jay Gould, Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, (New York: Ballantine Pub. Group, 1999).

[14] Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, (New York: Free Press, 2006).

[15] Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, (New York: Free Press, 2010), pp. 5-6.

[16] Ibid, p. 23.

[17] Editorial, Nature 432 (2004): 657.

[18] Barbour, Science and religion.

[19] Michael Ruse, Science and Spirituality: Making Room for Faith in the Age of Science, (Cambridge [England]; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 234

[20] John Templeton Foundation, “Mission,” http://www.templeton.org/who-we-are/about-the-foundation/mission (accessed February 7, 2011).

[21] William Grassie, The New Sciences of Religion: Exploring Spirituality From the Outside in and Bottom Up, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).

[22] Ibid, p. 25.

[23] Carl Zimmer, Soul Made Flesh: The Discovery of the Brain - and How it Changed the World, (London: Heinemann, 2004).

[24] Ibid, p. 26.

[25] Charles Webster, “Puritanism, Separatism, and Science,” in Lindberg, and Ronald L. Numbers, God and Nature, pp. 192-217.

[26] Barbour, Science and religion, p. 27.

[27] Harris, The Moral Landscape, p. 10.

[28] Barbour, Science and religion, p. 28.

[29] Ibid, p. 29.