Dinesh D Souza, The Greatness of Christianity: Table of Contents
Cf. Dinesh D’souza, What’s So Great About Christianity, at Amazon
“I believe the idea that Galileo’s trial was a kind of Greek tragedy, a showdown between blind faith and enlightened reason, to be naively erroneous.” —Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers
DESPITE THE ROLE OF CHRISTIANITY in the origin and development of science, the theme of the warfare between science and religion persists. What gives this narrative its enduring power? It is the reported cases of church persecution of scientists like Copernicus and Galileo. Atheist writers have taken up this theme with a vengeance. Daniel Dennett singles out the Catholic church and faults “its unfortunate legacy of persecution of its own scientists.” Bruce Jakosky writes, “Copernicus’s views were not embraced by the church; the history of his persecution is well known.” Carl Sagan portrays Galileo “in a Catholic dungeon threatened with torture” for his “heretical view that the earth moved about the sun.” Noting that Galileo was “not absolved of heresy until 1992,” Sam Harris recalls the Christian tradition of “torturing scholars to the point of madness for merely speculating about the nature of the stars.”
There is a Star Wars quality to the science versus religion narrative. It is typically portrayed as a battle between good and evil: The goodguys developed a new way of acquiring knowledge based on testing and evidence. The forces of darkness were captive to old doctrines derived from sacred books, such as the long-held belief that earth is flat. Despite their ignorance, the forces of darkness occupied the seats of political power. Fearful that their old way of superstition was threatened, the dark forces suppressed and persecuted those who dissented from orthodoxy. A terrible battle ensued. Many good people were accused of heresy merely for advancing valid scientific theories. Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for saying the universe is infinite. Copernicus and Galileowere persecuted for showing that the earth revolves around the sun. Fortunately, this sad history now is behind us; the forces of light have prevailed over the forces of darkness. Today science is on the advance and religion is on the retreat. Scientists can now work unmolested and the Catholic church has even apologized for its treatment of Galileo. The moral of the story is that we should always be grateful for the rise of science and vigilant in guarding against the fanaticism of religion.
This thrilling drama suffers from only one limitation: it is not true. Historian David Lindberg writes, “There was no warfare between science and the church.” Indeed, historians are virtually unanimous in holding that the whole science versus religion story is a nineteenth-century fabrication. The names of the fabricators are known. The first is John William Draper, who introduced the “warfare” model in his popular 1874 book History of the Conflict between Religion and Science. This book is full of whoppers and lies, and is today read mostly as a case study in fin de siecle anti-religious prejudice. The second source is Andrew Dickson White, the first president of Cornell University, whose 1896 two- volume study History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom is a more sophisticated warfare account, but no less misleading than Draper’s.