The Church and Science

Much has been said and written over the last two centuries about the conflict between the church and science. The discussions expose some interesting contradictions. The science that is considered important in these discussions is not the science that is considered important amongst active scientists. Looking beyond the choice of topics, the discussions themselves are not conducted the way a scientist would. Maybe it is time to revisit the discussion, paying more attention to science.

Science is divided into disciplines and subdisciplines. The relationships between disciplines is often subtle. The map of modern science below illustrates these relationships (more information on the map is available at The bubble size represents the relative number of papers from the discipline and the size of the arrows represent the amount of inter-referencing between disciplines. The map was developed from the computer analysis of hundreds of thousands of scientific articles. Molecular Biology, Medicine, Neuroscience and general Physics are very prominent in the diagram and Astronomy and Astrophysics are relatively unimportant. This is the opposite of what you will see in discussions of the conflict between church and science. We are asked to trust that the tiny bubble with the weak connections (just above the Physics bubble) can stand in for all of science. Scientists would neither ask for that trust or give it.

Even more troubling than the curious selection of topics is the unscientific nature of the discussions. When theories are discussed, key observational data that either supported or contradicted a theory are completely ignored. A scientific discussion of whether or not the earth revolves around the sun necessarily involves a discussion of stellar parallax. Yet it is typically ignored (see Copernicus and Stellar Parallax). More surprising is that in discussing models there is no interest at all in how well models fit the observational data. The Copernican model is very frequently mentioned in discussions of the church and science. Statistical comparisons of the performance of the Copernican model against its major competitors (i.e Tychonic, Capellan) are not. In fact, they are yet to be done . A hallmark of the scientific process is that attention must be paid to the credibility of sources. That is not the case here either. This is why almost two centuries were wasted on a myth, the Flat Earth Myth.

If the treatment of science is naive, the treatment of history is moreso. Here, history is interpreted through a select group of 'celebrity' scientists. A problem here is choosing the celebrities. Why are Bruno, Galileo, and Darwin considered and Mendel, LeMaitre, Schwann and Pasteur not. Selections are subject to bias. Bias that can result in some strained logic. Mendel is excluded from the discussion because it is proposed that he conducted his experiments in his spare time. This required that Mendel could perform 29,000 intricate plant crosses, manage two hectares of research plots, and maintain the greenhouse that stored his controls...all by himself in his spare time (see Mendel and Darwin).

There is a problem with the "great man" approach that is more serious than bias. It simply doesn't work. At least that is what modern historians think. They turned their backs on the approach over a century ago. We can see why by just looking at biology. The "great man" approach would completely ignore photosynthesis. This is because there was no "great man" in photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is a story of centuries of incremental steps. The "greatest" man of modern biology is Charles Darwin. But it is difficult to identify even one practical benefit from his theory. And his theories have very little effect on the most active areas of biological research, Cell and Molecular Biology.

This ebook is intended to put the conflict thesis under the microscope. Oddly, this requires taking a broader view. Much broader. Assuming the development of western science started with Aristotle, the shared history of the church and science encompasses about 2000 years. The conflict thesis focuses almost exclusively on about 60 of those years in the seventeenth century. If we are to pass judgement of scientists of the distant past maybe we should compare them to scientists of the recent past (see Wegener and Continental Drift). Since Galileo is so important in these discussions, his story will be revisited paying more attention to science (see Galileo's Battle for the Heavens) and what his contemporaries were doing ( see Galileo's Contemporaries). We will also revisit the question of what science is (see Modern Science) and scientific censorship (see Duhem and DaVinci). Most importantly, more of science will be considered, addressing a broader set of scientific issues.

Copyright Joseph Sant (2014).
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