The old chestnut that the church encouraged the view that the earth is flat has been debunked so many times that it seems pointless to do so again. But despite a hundred years of effort from historians of science, the legend refuses to die. The myth that the Catholic church tried to ban zero has grown more popular in recent years. The journalist Charles Seife managed to write an entire book Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea about how zero was banned without ever realising his central argument has no foundation in fact.
The church also never tried to ban human dissection. I was amused to hear this story promulgated on the BBC show QI which usually prides itself in puncturing the conventional wisdom. The related myth that Vesalius, author of a famous book on anatomy published in , had a run-in with the Spanish Inquisition, is also discounted by historians.
Short Essay about SCIENCE AND RELIGION-New Speech Essay Topic
This would have been a silly thing to do, but thankfully it never happened. The story appears to be based on misreading a contemporary chronicle. Finally, various martyrs for science have been canonised. It is a sad fact that both Catholics and Protestants were engaged in the despicable practice of burning heretics.
But no one was ever executed for their scientific views. For a long time it was supposed that the Renaissance thinker Giordano Bruno had died for his science.
Social Problems 54 2 Francis Collins photo courtesy of the National Institutes of Health. Science and religion: Reconcilable differences. With the loud protests of a small number of religious groups over teaching scientific concepts like evolution and the Big Bang in public schools, and the equally loud proclamations of a few scientists with personal, anti-religious philosophies, it can sometimes seem as though science and religion are at war. News outlets offer plenty of reports of school board meetings, congressional sessions, and Sunday sermons in which scientists and religious leaders launch attacks at one another.
Also Cardinal Newman devoted a treatise to the discussion of the development of doctrine. He wrote it before he became a great Roman Catholic ecclesiastic, but throughout his life it was never retracted and continually reissued. Science is even more changeable than theology. No man of science could subscribe without qualification to Galileo's beliefs, or to Newton's beliefs, or to all his own scientific beliefs of ten years ago. In both regions of thought, additions, distinctions, and modifications have been introduced.
So that now, even when the same assertion is made to-day as was made a thousand or fifteen hundred years ago, it is made subject to limitations or expansions of meaning which were not contemplated at the earlier epoch. We are told by logicians that a proposition must be either true or false, and that there is no middle term.
But in practice we may know that a proposition expresses an important truth, but that it is subject to limitations and qualifications which at present remain undiscovered. It is a general feature of our knowledge that we are insistently aware of important truths; and yet that the only formulations of these truths which we are able to make presuppose a general standpoint of conceptions which may have to be modified. I will give you two illustrations, both from science. Galileo said that the earth moves and that the sun is fixed; the Inquisition said that the earth is fixed and that the sun moves; and Newtonian astronomers, adopting an absolute theory of space, said that both the sun and the earth move.
But now we say that any one of these three statements is equally true, provided that you have fixed your sense of 'rest' and 'motion' in the way required by the statement adopted. At the date of Galileo's controversy with the Inquisition, Galileo's' way of stating the facts was, beyond question, the fruitful procedure for the sake of scientific research.
But in itself it was not more true than the formulation of the Inquisition.
The Dialogue Between Science & Religion
But at that time the modern concepts of relative motion were in nobody's mind, so that the statements were made in ignorance of the qualifications required for their more perfect truth. Yet this question of the motions of the earth and the sun expresses a real fact in the universe, and all sides had got hold of important truths concerning it.
But, with the knowledge of those times, the truths appeared to be inconsistent. Again I will give you another example taken from the state of modern physical science.
Since the time of Newton and Huyghens in the seventeenth century there have been two theories as to the physical nature of light. Newton's theory was that a beam of light consists of a stream of very minute particles, or corpuscles, and that we have the sensation of light when these corpuscles strike the retinas of our eyes. Huyghens's theory was that light consists of very minute waves of trembling in an all-pervading ether, and that these waves are traveling along a beam of light. The two theories are contradictory.
In the eighteenth century Newton's theory was believed, in the nineteenth century Huyghens's theory was believed. Today there is one large group of phenomena which can be explained only on the wave theory, and another large group which can be explained only on the corpuscular theory. Scientists have to leave it at that, and wait for the future, in the hope of attaining some wider vision which reconciles both.
We should apply these same principles to the questions in which there is a variance between science and religion. We should believe nothing in either sphere of thought which does not appear to us to be certified by solid reasons based upon the critical research either of ourselves or of competent authorities.
But, granting that we have honestly taken this precaution, a clash between the two on points of detail where they overlap should not lead us hastily to abandon doctrines for which we have solid evidence. It may be that we are more interested in one set of doctrines than in the other. But, if we have any sense of perspective and of the history of thought, we shall wait and refrain from mutual anathemas.
We should wait; but we should not wait passively, or in despair. The clash is a sign that there are wider truths and finer perspectives within which a reconciliation of a deeper religion and a more subtle science will be found.
Is intelligent life special?
In one sense, therefore, the conflict between science and religion is a slight matter which has been unduly emphasized. A mere logical contradiction cannot in itself point to more than the necessity of some readjustments, possibly of a very minor character, on both sides. Remember the widely different aspects of events which are dealt with in science and in religion respectively.
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Science is concerned with the general conditions which are observed to regulate physical phenomena, whereas religion is wholly wrapped up in the contemplation of moral and aesthetic values. On the one side there is the law of gravitation, and on the other the contemplation of the beauty of holiness. What one side sees the other misses, and vice versa.
Sample essay on the relation between Science and Religion
For physical science you have in these lives merely ordinary examples of the operation of the principles of physiological chemistry, and of the dynamics of nervous reactions; for religion you have lives of the most profound significance in the history of the world.. Can you be surprised that, in the absence of a perfect and complete phrasing of the principles of science and the principles of. It would be a miracle if it were not so. It would, however, be missing the point to think that we need not trouble ourselves about the conflict between science and religion.
In an intellectual age there can be no active interest which puts aside all hope of a vision of the harmony of truth. To acquiesce in discrepancy is destructive of candor and of moral cleanliness. It belongs to the self-respect of intellect to pursue every tangle of thought to its final unravelment.
If you check that impulse, you will get no religion and no science from an awakened thoughtfulness. The important question is, In what spirit are we going to face the issue? There we come to something absolutely vital. A clash of doctrines is not a disaster — it is an opportunity. I will explain my meaning by some illustrations from science. The weight of an atom of nitrogen was well known.
Also it was an established scientific doctrine that the average weight of such atoms in any considerable mass will be always the same. Two experimenters, the late Lord Rayleigh and the late Sir William Ramsay, found that if they obtained nitrogen by two different methods, each equally effective for that purpose, they always observed a persistent slight difference between the average weights of the atoms in the two cases. Now I ask you, would it have been rational of these men to have despaired because of this conflict between chemical theory and scientific observation? Suppose that for some reason the chemical doctrine had been highly prized throughout some district as the foundation of its social order would it have been wise, would it have been candid, would it have been moral, to forbid the disclosure of the fact that the experiments produced discordant results?
Or, on the other hand, should Sir William Ramsay and Lord Rayleigh have proclaimed that chemical theory was now a detected delusion? We see at once that either of these ways would have been a method of facing the issue in an entirely wrong spirit. What Rayleigh and Ramsay did do was this. They at once perceived that they had hit upon a line of investigation which would disclose some subtlety of chemical theory that had hitherto eluded observation. The discrepancy was not a disaster — it was an opportunity to increase the sweep of chemical knowledge. You all know the end of the story: finally argon was discovered, a new chemical element which had lurked undetected, mixed with the nitrogen.
But the story has a sequel which forms my second illustration. This discovery drew attention to the importance of observing accurately minute differences in chemical substances as obtained by different methods. Further researches of the most careful accuracy were undertaken. Finally another physicist, Ashton, working in the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge in England, discovered that even the same element might assume two or more distinct forms, termed 'isotopes,' and that the law of the constancy of average atomic weight holds for each of these forms, but as between the different isotopes differs slightly.
The research has effected a great stride in the power of chemical theory, far transcending in importance the discovery of argon, from which it originated. The moral of these stories lies on the surface, and I will leave to you their application to the case of religion and science.