Tag Archives: scientific revolution

The supposed warfare between science and religion: A historian of science speaks out


The interview with eminent historian of science Dr. David Lindberg excerpted here first appeared in issue #76 of Christian History.

The Christian Face of the Scientific Revolution: Christian History Interview – Natural Adversaries?
Historian David Lindberg shows that Christianity and science are not at war – and may never have been.
David Lindberg

Has Christianity always warred with science? Or, conversely, did Christianity create science? CH asked David Lindberg, Hilldale Professor Emeritus of the History of Science and currently director of the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin.

And he should know. Lindberg specializes in the history of medieval and early modern science, especially the interaction between science and religion. His Beginnings of Western Science (University of Chicago Press, 1992) is an oft-translated standard in the field. He is also currently the general editor, jointly with Ronald Numbers, of the forthcoming eight-volume. Cambridge History of Science

Many people today have a sense that the church has always tried to quash science. Is this, indeed, the case?

This view is known as the “warfare thesis.” It originated in the seventeenth century, but it came into its own with certain radical thinkers of the French Enlightenment. These people were eager to condemn the Catholic Church and went on the attack against it. So, for example, the Marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794), a mathematician and philosopher, assured his readers that Christianity’s ascension during the Middle Ages resulted in “the complete decadence of philosophy and the sciences.” Continue reading

Galileo’s trial NOT a clash between science and religion. Get over it.


Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Justus Susterma...

Galileo Galilei

“The notion that Galileo’s trial was a conflict between science and religion should be dead. Anyone who works seriously on Galileo doesn’t accept that interpretation anymore.”

So says Thomas Mayer, a historian at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill. Here’s a clip from the article:

Records riddled with holes
The Roman Inquisition began in 1542 — 22 years before Galileo’s birth — as part of the Catholic Church‘s Counter-Reformation against the spread of Protestantism, but it represented a less harsh affair than the previously established Spanish Inquisition.

Galileo’s first trial ended with the Inquisition issuing a formal order, called a precept, in 1616 demanding he stop teaching or defending the heliocentric model. His decision to ignore the precept ultimately led to the second trial 15 years later.

But some people have argued that Galileo never actually received the precept from the Inquisition. By their logic, the astronomer misunderstood the formal order as a mere rap on the knuckles. Continue reading

The Western scientist-missionary allowed entry to China’s Forbidden City: Matteo Ricci


Matteo Ricci "Painted in 1610 by the Chin...

One of my all-time favorite gospel-translating saints is the 16th-century Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci. By “gospel-translating,” I mean the apologetic and missionary move of entering a culture and finding the best points of connection to the gospel, thereby the better to present the gospel in a compelling way.

Here’s an excerpt from a sketch of Ricci that highlights this “translating” aspect of his ministry. Many thanks to Msgr. David Q. Liptak:

Father Ricci is especially significant because, as Pope Benedict explains, he represents in a missionary “a unique case of a felicitous synthesis between the proclamation of the Gospel and the Dialogue with the culture of the people to whom he brought it.” Moreover, he constitutes “an example of balance between doctrinal clarity and prudent pastoral action.”

Inculturation was his genius, therefore. Continue reading

Galileo as secularist hero . . . and Catholic saint


A museum in Florence, Italy is now displaying two fingers and a tooth from Galileo Galilei as “secular relics.” The relics, disinterred in the 18th century and until recently lost from public view, resurfaced recently and are now on display at Florence’s Galileo Museum.

What’s odd about this (typical) spin on Galileo as a secularist hero is that he was a devout Catholic whose motives, early research, and behavior during the ecclesiastical trial all stemmed from his deep faith. For a thorough Christian-historical account of the “Galileo Affair,” check out this article by Virginia Stem Owens. Here’s a taste:

Say the name Galileo, and most people picture the astronomer standing before scowling Inquisition judges, forced to recant his claim that the earth revolves about the sun.

To secular scholars, Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was a martyr to religious bigotry, demonstrating how pious superstition can shackle human knowledge. To Protestant historians, Galileo’s fate is a sharp contrast to the freedom other Enlightenment luminaries, like Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, and Johannes Kepler, enjoyed in Reformation regions.

But there’s more to Galileo’s story. Continue reading

Potpourri of the day: Civil War evangelists, Pool of Siloam and ancient monks’ cells discovered, the sublime Angelico, Christianity & European culture, and “the abbot and the pendulum”


Here’s another one of those “candy bowls” containing brief news items on Christian-historical topics. I compiled this one for issue 88 (on C. S. Lewis) of Christian History & Biography:

Living History
Compiled by Chris Armstrong

The War for Souls

With its own national association (www.cwreenactors.com) and magazine (www.campchase.com) serving an estimated 50,000 re–enactors in the U.S., Civil War re–enactment thrives today. However, until a few years ago, the re–enactors who worked so painstakingly to replicate each detail accurately often overlooked an entire group of participants. On the battlefields and in the camps, these men fought a different war—the war for souls—and some paid the ultimate price. They were the roughly 1,200 to 1,400 Confederate chaplains, 3,000 Union chaplains, and 5,000 Christian Commission volunteers.

Alan Farley won’t let reenactors forget the chaplains or the faith that animated them. Farley, an evangelist who began attending these events as a child in 1984, now portrays General Lee’s chaplain—and presents the gospel—at Virginia reenactments. Continue reading

Those odd, brilliant men and their scientific schemes: the religious back-story of the Royal Society


When I arrived at Christianity Today International back in 2002 as the fresh-faced managing editor of Christian History, I was told that our next issue was going to be on some aspect of science. Through our usual rollicking brainstorming process (how I miss those days), we narrowed the topic down to the scientific revolution–in particular, the faith of that revolution’s leaders. The result was Issue #76: The Christian Face of the Scientific Revolution.

Not only did I get to edit my very first issue of the magazine I had read and loved since the early ’80s, but I also got to write an article. I chose that fascinating cabal of brilliant and eccentric men: England’s Royal Society. And I soon discovered that those men, while sharing Christian faith, had to overcome ecclesiastical division: some were royalist Anglicans and some radical Puritans.

My research unearthed three “aha” moments: The first was how downright eccentric these people were: they collected bizarre oddments, proposed outlandish “silver-bullet” theories with the promise that they would change the world, and (many of them) continued to work the age-old magic of alchemy in the hope of forging gold from cheap materials.

The second surprise was that in the name of science, these religiously diverse people were able to work together in a time of significant national division across Anglican-Puritan lines. And the third was that in forging that unity, the members of the Royal Society quite unintentionally laid the groundwork for the deism that poisoned the well of 18th- and 19th-century Western faith. Here’s the story:

The Christian Virtuosi
The Royal Society defended religion but laid the groundwork for irreligion.
Chris Armstrong

November 28, 1660, a group of English thinkers gathered at Gresham College, London, to hear a lecture by the young astronomy professor and future architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Christopher Wren. As they talked among themselves after Wren’s lecture, they agreed to form a society dedicated, as their full, official name later stated, to “Improving Natural Knowledge.” Continue reading

Religion & science post #3: Christian fathers of the scientific revolution, and more


Third and final post on religion & science, at least for today. The following is the candy bowl of factoids I compiled for the front of Christian History Issue #76: The Christian Face of the Scientific Revolution. Included is a list of “fathers of modern science,” all of whom explored science out of Christian motives:

The Christian Face of the Scientific Revolution: Did You Know?
Interesting and unusual facts about Christians in the scientific revolution.

Astronomer by Night, Canon by Day

When Nicolaus Copernicus wasn’t redrawing the celestial map, he held down a day job as a Catholic canon (ecclesiastical administrator). As the Reformation grew rapidly and extended its influence in Poland, Copernicus and his respected friend Tiedemann Giese, later bishop of Varmia, remained open to some of the new ideas. Continue reading