The War Between Science and Theology

The War Between Science and Theology

Yesterday we talked about how Eratosthenes accurately computed Earth’s circumference around 240 B.C. We also said that it is a myth that people in the middle ages and even in the time of Christopher Columbus believed that the world was flat. That myth was based on a fiction story about Columbus written by Washington Irving in 1828. The myth was reinforced by a scientist and a historian who initiated a war between science and theology.

Scientist and philosopher John William Draper wrote History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science in 1874. He claimed that the Church was hostile to the advancement of science. He claimed that the early Church fathers believed that scripture said the Earth is flat. That concept of a war between science and theology was further advanced and popularized by historian Andrew Dickson White in his book The Warfare of Science (1876). Darwin had published his work On the Origin of Species in 1859, and the war was on.

Creating a war between science and faith seems to have been a goal of Draper and White and many advocates of Darwin’s theory, such as Thomas Henry Huxley. The lack of scholarship on the part of Draper and White has been demonstrated. Meanwhile, Darwin’s theory has had to be revised to what is now known as Neo-Darwinism. Darwin thought that living cells were just globs of protoplasm. He had no idea that they are more like cities with factories, machines, and transportation systems operating on complex information contained in DNA. As biological science advances, Darwinian naturalism faces more challenges.

Historians of science David Lindberg and Ronald Numbers wrote in Beyond War and Peace: A Reappraisal of the Encounter between Christianity and Science (1986) that “there was scarcely a Christian scholar of the Middle Ages who did not acknowledge [Earth’s] sphericity and even know its approximate circumference.” What many writers, including Draper and White, had overlooked was that the leading early scientists were believers in God. In fact, their faith motivated their desire to know God through His creation.

We can still know God through His creation today. So the idea of a war between science and theology is not accurate. Science and faith are friends. “For his invisible attributes, that is, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world being understood through what he has made” (Romans 1:20 CSB).

— Roland Earnst © 2023