Science and Christianity in Pulpit and Pew

Science and Christianity in Pulpit and Pew

Science and Christianity in Pulpit and Pew

Science and Christianity in Pulpit and Pew

Synopsis

As past president of both the History of Science Society and the American Society of Church History, Ronald L. Numbers is uniquely qualified to assess the historical relations between science and Christianity. In this collection of his most recent essays, he moves beyond the clichés of conflict and harmony to explore the tangled web of historical interactions involving scientific and religious beliefs.
In his lead essay he offers an unprecedented overview of the history of science and Christianity from the perspective of the ordinary people who filled the pews of churchesor loitered around outside. Unlike the elite scientists and theologians on whom most historians have focused, these vulgar Christians cared little about the discoveries of Copernicus, Newton, and Einstein. Instead, they worried about the causes of the diseases and disasters that directly affected their lives and about scientists preposterous attempts to trace human ancestry back to apes.
Far from dismissing opinion-makers in the pulpit, Numbers closely looks at two the most influential Protestant theologians in nineteenth-century America: Charles Hodge and William Henry Green. Hodge, after decades of struggling to harmonize Gods two revelationsin nature and in the Biblein the end famously described Darwinism as atheism. Green, on the basis of his careful biblical studies, concluded that Ussher's chronology was unreliable, thus opening the door for Christian anthropologists to accommodate the subsequent discovery of human antiquity.
In Science without God Numbers traces the millennia-long history of so-called methodological naturalism, the commitment to explaining the natural world without appeals to the supernatural. By the early nineteenth century this practice was becoming the defining characteristic of science; in the late twentieth century it became the central point of attack in the audacious attempt of intelligent designers to redefine science. Numbers ends his reassessment by arguing that although science has markedly changed the world we live in, it has contributed less to secularizing it than many have claimed.
Taken together, these accessible and authoritative essays form a perfect introduction to Christian attitudes towards science since the 17th century.

Excerpt

Once upon a time, not so long ago, the historical relationship between science and Christianity, indeed between science and religion generally, seemed simple. Prominent nineteenth-century scholars such as Andrew Dickson White (1832–1918) and John William Draper (1811–1882) assured their readers that science and religion existed in a state of perpetual opposition. White, in his earliest polemic on “The Battle-Fields of Science” (1869), depicted the religious struggle against science as “a war continued longer—with battles fiercer, with sieges more persistent, with strategy more vigorous than in any of the comparatively petty warfares of Alexander, or Cæsar, or Napoleon.” in his History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874), Draper identified the primary aggressor as the Roman Catholic Church, whose “mortal animosity” toward science had left its hands “steeped in blood.” Despite the efforts of less bellicose historians during the past quarter century or so to craft a more accurate and less prejudicial narrative, the notion of warfare between science and religion continues to thrive, particularly at both ends of the politicotheological spectrum. Secularists, ever fearful of religious encroachment, tend to see religion as the primary provoker of conflict; religious conservatives, dismayed by the allegedly corrosive effects of science on belief, identify hostile scientists as the assailants. It is truly, in the catchy phrase of the historian Jon H. Roberts, “The Idea That Wouldn’t Die.”

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