My last critique of this anti-theist movement will examine the claim of New Atheists that science and religion oppose each other. Further evaluation will determine if such a statement is backed by historical evidence. New Atheists are not the first philosophers who try to make this polarization between science and religion.
Books in the 1800s spoke about this “conflict thesis” and continue to take a hold on society today. Two well known examples of ‘persecuted’ men used to prove this thesis are Galileo and Charles Darwin. New Atheists would use these men to attempt to prove that religious societies have a deep inclination to oppose scientific advancements with persecution and degradation. To be fair, the Catholic wing of Christianity was somewhat hostile to those two men and their ideas. The Catholic Church was reluctant to share the spotlight with scientists whose theories contradicted Catholic tradition.
Colin Russell, a respected historian, says that although the Church sometimes tried to suppress new scientific theories, the conflict thesis “hinders the recognition of other relationships between science and religion.”1 History shows that men of faith often led the ranks of famous and influential scientists. Sir Francis Bacon wrote two books that complemented each other entitled Nature and Scripture. Bacon once said, “A little science estranges a man from God. A lot of science brings him back.” According to Tiner and Burke’s biography of Johannes Kepler, Kepler says, “The world of nature, the world of man, the world of God- all three fit together.”2 Kepler would not agree with Richard Dawkins when he claims, “I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.”3 In the same book in which Kepler established his third principle of planetary motion (which mathematically related the time a planet takes to complete an orbit of the sun and the average distance of that planet away from the sun) he also said, “Great is God our Lord, great is His power and there is no end to His wisdom.”4
Robert Boyle who was one of the first pioneers of the modern, experimental scientific method. Most New Atheists who argue on the grounds of science are working off foundations which Boyle helped lay. This scientist spent a good deal of his life writing theological works and sponsoring translations of the Bible. This fact from history contradicts Christopher Hitchens when he says, “Its no coincidence, no accident, that almost every scientific advancement has been made in the teeth of religious opposition of one form or another who says we should not be tampering with God’s design.”5 Boyle’s ideas achieved great popularity during his lifetime. He believed that his faith set him free to explore science properly.
Despite the picture that New Atheists desire to paint, science and religion enjoyed a great relationship throughout history. Ronald L. Numbers agrees when he says that the conflict thesis is “historically bankrupt.”6 Not only does history disagree with Hitchens and Dawkins’ conflict thesis, but some of their famous peers disagree with it as well. Michael Ruse says, “I think there is something socially and psychologically unhealthy about the course that the debate has taken, especially by those on my side of the fence.”7 This unhealthy debate New Atheists prolong pits religion against science in an unfair and misleading light.
New Atheists deny historical and logical proof with the claim that scientific discoveries are met with serious opposition from religion. This denial betrays the scientists of history which include: Joule, Kelvin, Boyle, Faraday, Bacon, Newton, and many other men. These same men attest that a belief in God actually fosters a love and dedication for science. This claim of conflict falls under the category of a faith claim, which again, contradicts the disavowal of faith that New Atheism espouses.
To see my conclusions that I draw from the faith statements of New Atheism, click here.
To read my paper which covers all critiques and conclusions, click on the following: Revised New Atheism Paper
Colin A. Russell, “The Conflict of Science and Religion,” in Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction ed. Gary Ferngren (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 7.
John H. Tiner and Rod Burke, Johannes Kepler: Giant of Faith and Science (Milford, Mich.: Mott Media, 1977), 172.
Richard Dawkins, “Is Science A Religion,” (Boston: January, 1996), Speech.
Tiner and Burke, 178.
Christopher Hitchens, “How Religion Poisons Everything,” Forum.
Ronald L. Numbers, Galileo Goes to Jail: And Other Myths about Science and Religion (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2009), 64; 80.
Michael Ruse, “Has Humanism Become a Religion?”, Aeon Magazine, October 1, 2012, http://www.aeonmagazine.com/world-views/michael-ruse-humanism-religion/(accessed December 6, 2012).