Revelatory Evolution and Cosmological Creation Tales: when science is presented like a religion

When you sit down to watch a science documentary you’re probably expecting to learn something about science. You might even be hoping to pick up a few facts to impress your colleagues at the office or your friends at the pub. However, along with these nuggets of knowledge, a science programme will also present an image of science. This image is a product of the way science is talked about in the show and suggests something more fundamental about how scientific knowledge is produced and the status or quality of this knowledge. My research has focused on these images or representations of science in non-fiction programmes, and I argue that in some programmes science is presented in a way which makes it look like a religion. Continue reading Revelatory Evolution and Cosmological Creation Tales: when science is presented like a religion

Perpetuating the Myths

Herectics Example - Ben Nadler,Princeton University Press

By Thony Christie

***This post originally appeared on The Renaissance Mathematicus on May 17th, 2017 – for the original click here***

Since the re-emergence of science in Europe in the High Middle Ages down to the present the relationship between science and religion has been a very complex and multifaceted one that cannot be reduced to a simple formula or a handful of clichés. Many of the practitioners, who produced that science, were themselves active servants of their respective churches and many of their colleagues, whilst not clerics, were devoted believers and deeply religious. On the other hand there were those within the various church communities, who were deeply suspicious of or even openly hostile to the newly won scientific knowledge that they saw as a threat to their beliefs. Over the centuries positions changed constantly and oft radically and any historian, who wishes to investigate and understand that relationship at any particular time or in any given period needs to tread very carefully and above all not to approach their research with any preconceived conclusions or laden down with personal prejudices in one direction or another. Continue reading Perpetuating the Myths

Peter Harrison’s The Territories of Science and Religion: A New Peter Principle
The front cover of Harrison’s The Territories of Science and Religion.

Peter Harrison’s new book,[i] based on the Gifford Lectures that he delivered at the University of Edinburgh in 2011, is essential reading.  It is the most important study of the history of science and religion since the publication in 1991 of John Brooke’s Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives, in which Brooke laid out what has been called the “complexity thesis.”  That thesis has been the principle guiding almost all scholarship in the history of science and religion since 1991, so for at least the last 25 years.  In brief, Brooke argued (and he was by no means the first) that the conflict thesis, the notion that science and religion have been at war throughout history, was fatally flawed, and that any single thesis had to be rejected as the basis of a historiographical model.  Instead, scholars had to conduct empirical research on the period they were examining to determine the nature of the relationship between science and religion.  Brooke’s book inspired scholars to go back and look again at key moments in the past in order to find more complicated patterns than the simplistic emphasis on conflict that had reigned in earlier studies. Continue reading Peter Harrison’s The Territories of Science and Religion: A New Peter Principle

“The most pestilential book ever vomited from the jaws of hell”

Radicalism and science at the publisher John Chapman

In the latter nineteenth century several British doctors, philosophers and naturalists embraced scientific principles as the ones upon which society should best form itself for the future. The theory of evolution, the atomic theory of matter and the theory of the conservation of energy were the core theories upon which this new group hoped to reshape society for the modern period. Historians now call this group of high profile Brits the “scientific naturalists”. Herbert Spencer, whose philosophical exposition of evolutionary principles for society became highly influential, John Tyndall whose essays on religion were widely read and debated, and Thomas Henry Huxley, who later acquired the name “Darwin’s bulldog”, were tireless advocates of this scientifically infused world-view. Continue reading “The most pestilential book ever vomited from the jaws of hell”

What’s the best way to think about creationists?

What’s the best way for non-creationists to think about creationists?  Some view them, unhelpfully, as inescapably anti-modern, utterly unwilling to face facts.  This unwillingness is often supposed to be linked to religion itself, with religious belief understood as diametrically opposed to the scientific process.  Science, we are told, is about facing facts, being open to correction, being willing to be wrong.  Religion, we are sometimes told, is about none of those things. Continue reading What’s the best way to think about creationists?

Tracking Dinosaurs and Finding God

Photograph by Edward B. Davis.

***This post originally appeared on 07 January 2016, on Ted Davis’ blog, Reading the Book of Nature hosted on the BioLogos website***

Giant Birds and Dinosaur Footprints

In 1802, a twelve-year-old farm boy named Pliny Moody found an unusual object while plowing a field in South Hadley, Massachusetts—a big, flat stone bearing what appeared to be footprints of large birds, which some are said to have attributed to “Noah’s raven.” For decades they drew no scientific attention, but in 1835 a local stonemason, Dexter Marsh, noticed similar marks on a flag stone he had set aside for use in a sidewalk he was building near his house in nearby Greenfield. Others also saw them, including a physician, James Deane, who wrote to geologist Edward Hitchcock of Amherst College, describing what he called “the tracks of a turkey in relief” (Hitchcock, Reminiscences of Amherst College, cited below, p. 82). Continue reading Tracking Dinosaurs and Finding God

Darwin Day: Celebrating Without Deifying

Today, Friday February 12th 2016, is the 207th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. Celebrated around the world as ‘Darwin Day’, events across 6 continents from Tel-Aviv to Tokyo will commemorate the English naturalist’s work, explore his legacy, and discuss the current state of affairs in the field of Evolutionary Biology and beyond. Whilst the majority of those attending lectures or participating in events today may do so to simply learn more about Darwin’s work, it is an opportune time to consider more deeply ‘why Darwin?’ Why not Newton, Einstein or Turing Day? Further, are we naïve to presume that such commemorative days are purely about celebrating history and science? Is what on the surface seems like a secular celebration of a historical scientific figure, in danger of alienating those with religious beliefs, and deifying one figure above all others? Continue reading Darwin Day: Celebrating Without Deifying

Talking about science, religion and oneself

Copyright The British Library

Joseph Farman: “Well I mean as Scouts one went to church […] I don’t think I ever found it very attractive and […] when you sort of kept saying, ‘You use these three letters together, g-o-d, and I haven’t yet fathomed out what on Earth you mean by it’ and then they just say, ‘Well forget all about that, you know, it will come, it will come.’ [Laughs] To which the answer is […] that if you think in the silly ways which I do, I guess it never comes at all. [Laughs] There’s no room for it.  […] Science is thinking you know how things work. And so you make something work and it either works as you think it does, or it doesn’t work as you think it does, and now you move on. It’s no good sort of praying to God and if something doesn’t happen so – I mean this isn’t a test of anything.” Continue reading Talking about science, religion and oneself

Science and Secularisation

On Wednesday 18th November our new home, the Centre for Science, Knowledge and Belief in Society here at Newman University was launched with an inaugural seminar by the celebrated historian of science, Professor John Hedley-Brooke.

CSKBS LogoProfessor Hedley-Brooke, a former Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre at the University of Oxford, presented a skilful overview of the chequered history of science and religion, challenging the thesis Continue reading Science and Secularisation

A Look at the Professional Creationists and Anti-Creationists

***This post originally appeared on 22 October 2015, on Ted Davis’ blog, Reading the Book of Nature hosted on the BioLogos website***

Evolution and Religion: The Conflict Narrative in Crisis

Recent results of the social scientific research on creationism in the United States raise more questions than they answer, especially with respect to long-held assumptions of what creationism actually is and what motivates people who affirm it. For instance, one of the most frequently-quoted polls on creationism is Gallup’s long-running survey that asks whether people believe that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” The percentage of Americans who answer in the affirmative ranges at around 45%, a number that has proven rather stable over the years. Social science has employed several methods to get beyond the layer of fact-claims established by this kind of polling and laid bare a range of moral and social motives that are at the core of people’s reasons for identifying as creationists. Continue reading A Look at the Professional Creationists and Anti-Creationists