Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think

By Elaine Howard Ecklund | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
The Real Religious Lives of Scientists

It is a centuries-old debate: Is there truly an inescapable conflict between science and religion? Many today—mostly scientists and policy makers—argue that there is, and the existence of this “irreconcilable” difference is coddled as fact. But how then does one explain a scientist such as Margaret, a chemist who teaches a Sunday school class? What about scientists like Evelyn, who embraces a spirituality that she feels is more compatible with science than traditional religion. Or the physicist Arik who, well before science took root in his mind, decided at a young age that he did not believe in God?1 These are real people, not stereotypes. We can’t simply assume that they live in conflict with their religion or that they avoid religion because it conflicts with their science. We need to ask them why they walk the paths they do.


A LONG HISTORY OF THE CONFLICT
PARADIGM

Galileo, a father of modern science, insisted that the earth revolved around the sun—not the other way around, as then commonly believed. According to the Church, this contradicted Holy Scripture. The scientific findings did not conflict with religion, Galileo argued; unfortunately, the people in charge didn’t agree.2

The idea that religion and science are necessarily in conflict has been institutionalized by our nation’s elite universities. When Cornell was established in 1865, Andrew Dickson White—one of the university’s founders—announced that it would be different from the other colleges of the time; it would be a safe place for science, protected from the authorities and constraints of theology.3 The idea that science was oppressed by religion—and would over time even replace religion—was nicely encapsulated in the title of White’s landmark volume, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom.4

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