Draper was a world-famous scientist he took the first proper photograph of the moon and discovered spectral lines and White was a highly respected historian and politician he founded Cornell University.
The Myth of Conflict
They were both big-picture thinkers and had a great deal of influence in Victorian intellectual circles on both sides of the Atlantic. What they had to say would matter — because people were going to listen. Listen they did. Example after example from centuries past were brought dramatically to life on their pages, rhythmically hammering home the key point: religion opposes science.
In the process, Draper and White introduced some big ideas which have stayed with us ever since. These include:. Conflict and Warfare were incredibly popular, going through multiple printings and translations. This conflict thesis is alive and well today, years later, in the works of people like Dawkins and the novelist Dan Brown of The Da Vinci Code fame — as well as in our schools.
However, over the last forty years, historians of science have revisited the conflict thesis and discovered that it is, broadly, a load of nonsense. Without the sceptical and corrective social and mass media of the form we now have, their ideas carried extra weight. Soon, they became considered mainstream knowledge; they have remained so for much of the public for more than a century. So what, then, is the truth? Briefly, there is not the space in an article like this for any in-depth study, but see the notes we can address the list in turn:. The simple fact is this: the conflict thesis — only invented in the last years — is wrong.
Instead, the evidence points broadly towards the Church having had a positive effect on science during its history. The true message we get when we look back through the centuries at Christianity and scientific thought is that they are not opposed at all — and no one thought they were. In fact, those committed Christians at the forefront of Enlightenment science often said that they were studying nature to get to know its creator better and for his glory.
Draper and White were incorrect, as are all those since who have taken their material and repeated it without checking it properly first. The conflict thesis is — as far as the experts are concerned — dead. They were advocates of Darwin's evolution and naturalism and opponents of anything else.
Today we know these people were frauds White's Warfare apparently did not sell as briskly as Draper's Conflict , but in the end it proved more influential, partly, it seems, because Draper's strident anti-Catholicism soon dated his work and because White's impressive documentation gave the appearance of sound scholarship. This book has become something of a running joke among historians of science and it is dutifully mentioned as a prime example of misinformation in the preface of most modern works on science and religion. The flat Earth is discussed in chapter 2 and one can almost sense White's confusion that hardly any of the sources support his hypothesis that Christians widely believed in it.
He finds himself grudgingly admitting that Clement, Origen, Ambrose, Augustine, Isodore, Albertus Magnus and Aquinas all accepted the Earth was a globe - in other words none of the great doctors of the church had considered the matter in doubt. White's impressive documentation gave the appearance of sound scholarship. So it wasn't sound scholarship. It was a prime example of misinformation. Although much criticism of Catholicism and organized religion in general is justified they exaggerated and misrepresented much information in their books.
These people were frauds.
The truth behind the 'fake news'
Nevertheless they occupied powerful positions within the world of mainstream science and had a lot of influence on it. This breed of naturalists still runs it today.
Modern atheists next to Darwin. But perhaps the most intriguing focus of the book is the reason why we allow this error to persist. Do we prefer to languish in a comfortable and familiar error rather than exert the effort necessary to discover the truth? But now, why did the false accounts of Letronne and Irving become melded and then, as early as the s, begin to be served up in schools and in schoolbooks as the solemn truth?
The answer is that the falsehood about the spherical earth became a colorful and unforgettable part of a larger falsehood: the falsehood of the eternal war between science good and religion bad throughout Western history.
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This vast web of falsehood was invented and propagated by the influential historian John William Draper and many prestigious followers, such as Andrew Dickson White , the president of Cornell University, who made sure that the false account was perpetrated in texts, encyclopedias, and even allegedly serious scholarship, down to the present day. A lively current version of the lie can be found in Daniel Boorstin 's The Discoverers , found in any bookshop or library. The reason for promoting both the specific lie about the sphericity of the earth and the general lie that religion and science are in natural and eternal conflict in Western society, is to defend Darwinism.
The answer is really only slightly more complicated than that bald statement. The flat-earth lie was ammunition against the creationists. The argument was simple and powerful, if not elegant: "Look how stupid these Christians are.
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They are always getting in the way of science and progress. These people who deny evolution today are exactly the same sort of people as those idiots who for at least a thousand years denied that the earth was round. How stupid can you get? Andrew Dickson White , the founding president of Cornell University, vowed that this institution would "afford an asylum for Science" where truth shall be sought for truth's sake, where it shall not be the main purpose of the Faculty to stretch or cut sciences exactly to fit 'Revealed Religion'. It was not so much that university intellectuals were giving up the idea of a deity, but that for at least some influential voices, the deity was now defined as scientific method.
The problem was rather that evolution as a grand scientific scheme was being used increasingly to undermine, rather than to support, traditional views of God and his design of the world.
Mark A. Despite a developing consensus among scholars that science and Christianity have not been at war, the notion of conflict has refused to die. James Hannam - Science and religion: a history of conflict?