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Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion Hardcover – 3 Apr 2009

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 298 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1 edition (3 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674033272
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674033276
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 15 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,102,644 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Science and religion tackled in the scholarly and well-researched collection put together by Ronald Numbers.
-- New Scientist, 4 April 2009

About the Author

Ronald L. Numbers is Hilldale Professor of the History of Science and Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is author of The Creationists (Harvard).

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Iain S. Palin on 11 Mar. 2012
Format: Paperback
John Draper and Andrew White have a lot to answer for. These are the two influential Nineteenth-Century writers who framed and popularised - for personal reasons that went far beyond the scholarly - the idea that science and religion are, and almost always have been, automatically in conflict. Their legacy lives with us today, not just in the vociferous champions of an either/or position, but in the popular assumption that underlies so much writing about science.

A careful reading of history shows that the Draper-White "warfare scenario" is flawed as a general statement, and that many of the "facts" that people hold to be true are nothing of the sort. But few people have the chance or inclination to go into the history in detail, and popular notions can be hard to change: which makes this book both timely and useful.

It sets out to examine and rebut some of the commonly held beliefs in this area, and has two strengths to recommend it: its structure as a series of short but detailed essays, which makes it easy to read case-by-case, and the fact that it gives time to both "sides". Thus we have refutations of ideas such as that the Church taught (and people believed) that the Earth was flat, that dissection was forbidden, and that churchmen were the main opponents to the use of anaesthesia in childbirth. We also see rebutted such ideas as that Einstein believed in a personal God, that Darwin lost his faith because of his ideas on evolution (but repented and was saved just before his death), and that the teachings of Darwin and Haeckel fed directly into the development of Nazi philosophy. These are just some examples, there are other ideas tackled, in a wide-ranging (if slightly uneven) series of essays.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Peter Davies TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 8 Jan. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book. It shows well the misuse of history and science in service of other agendas. It shows necessary myths being generated to support political and metaphysical positions, rather than to advance accurate description of either historic events or science.

It is fun to read. Each chapter is short and well written. The examples are sufficient to make you realise that many people are misusing science to other agendas other than genuinely finding out about the world.

It is a very useful book and illuminates many current arguments, and makes them look rather silly. Almost as silly as the belief that many people ever did believe in a flat earth. (See myth 3)

Recommended reading to those interested in the intersection of science and religion. The relationship between them is more accommodating, more interesting and more complex than many of us realise. This book shows us the myths, and exposes their falsity.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Stuart Pearson on 9 April 2011
Format: Paperback
At last a book on science and religion without an axe to grind save the truth. The constant reworking of history by christians and particularly the new atheism movement, at times makes my blood boil. Here we have a neutral perspective that has a just pop at both sides while simply dealing with the facts. If I had one complaint, I would have liked more. That's not to imply their is insufficiant content their is, it's just, that I so enjoyed the simple telling of the facts.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Miguel Pupo Correia on 2 Oct. 2014
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 18 reviews
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Historical interdependence of science and religion 6 Feb. 2010
By Mark S - Published on
Format: Hardcover
"Galileo Goes to Jail" is a collection of twenty-five essays detailing the misconceptions (or "myths" as used in the popular, not academic, sense) about the encounters between science and religion throughout Western history. Written by authors who are acknowledged experts in their respective fields, many myths are dispelled with thorough research and an unbiased, critical eye. Although amateur historians (Charles Freeman, Rodney Stark), professional historians (Richard Westfall, Jonathan Israel) and scientists (R.C Lewontin, Richard Dawkins, S.J. Gould) are cited as purveyors of some of the myths, the common thread of these essays is that the myths originated with the two late-nineteenth Americans - John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White.

As is typical with any collection of essays, some are not as good as the rest. In this book, Myths #22 and 23 are disappointments in an otherwise enjoyable and thought-provoking collection of essays. Myth #22 doesn't really argue against (or for) "Quantum Physics Demonstrated Free Will". Indeed, Daniel Patrick Thurs writes simply, "And its spread is due to a very good reason. It is in one sense, absolutely true," and then he writes, "If the historian as historian has any role, it is to expose the roots of such controversy rather than to leap into the fray and parrot the arguments of one side or another" (p. 197). And so the essay goes on - not really saying much of anything of interest or insight. I don't know why this essay was included. The intention of Myth #23 is to refute the claim that intelligent design is scientific. Michael Ruse states: "Taking my advice, the judge decided that `the essential characteristics of science' included naturalness, tentativeness, testability, and falsifiability - and ruled that creation failed to meet these criteria" (p. 211). But then he fails to show in any systematic way how each of these tenets do not apply to ID. He then goes on to criticize William Whewell's delineation of science and religion, saying that "[Whewell] felt it necessary to bring in God to explain the origin of organisms, but he carefully noted that this was not science" (p. 222), is merely a "cop-out option" (p. 212). In the end, Ruse presents his own cop-out option: he simply shows his disgust for the ID view without really arguing against it. I do not believe that ID is a science, but I do believe that one should at least be intellectually forthright when disagreeing with another's opinion and present cogent arguments.

In spite of these two examples, this book provides a highly recommended survey into the complex interrelationship between science and religion, each intellectually underpinning the other, intertwined in an intricate whole, so that to separate one from the other undermines our understanding and appreciation of both.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
A mixed bag... 3 Dec. 2012
By William Kerney - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I really had high hopes for this book. There are indeed a number of myths that are commonly held to be true by our popular culture: that religion and science conflict, that Christians are or were flat earthers, that the Church prohibited dissection, that Galileo went to jail for his beliefs, that science displaces faith, and so forth.

The book addresses each of these topics (and more), which is great. What isn't as great is the mixed quality of the essays. Many of them seem to take at face value all the myths - except the one they are refuting!

It's frustrating seeing a Marxist scholar write the title chapter on Galileo Goes to Jail, for example. While he refutes the myth that he went to jail, he basically accepts the rest of the Conflict Thesis uncritically - the theory by Draper and White that the rest of the book disproves.
89 of 121 people found the following review helpful
Good Book but it has a few faults 23 Mar. 2009
By The History Detective - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I do recommended this book and I applaud, as mentioned in the intro, that all of the authors of this book, which includes many atheists, wanted to get the correct version of history out there. As both a history guy and an Engineer this subject greatly interests me, so I was very excited to read this book. Though I may be a conservative and believe strongly in God, I like many of the authors, do want to see history be fair and balanced or be taught without any bias and by the facts. However, this is very difficult with most of the history books, professors, and media out there being very left of center. With that said this book does a very good job in destroying some of the religion vs. science myths that unfortunately have permeated our society for a long time.

The Good: The book does a very good job at getting at the myths that have been created by men such as Draper, White, and Gibbon and have unfortunately been retold over and over again in classrooms around the world. These articles clearly and concretely made the case that the mythical "Dark Ages" never happened, that no one believed the Earth was Flat in the Middle Ages, the fact that the Catholic Church, Christianity and the Noble rulers of Europe have greatly supported science both financially and rhetorically and also by setting up universities and societies, that the Galileo story and its circumstances are greatly over exaggerated and untrue, that religion has played a very important role as the driving force in the lives of many of humanities greatest scientists, that Bruno was not killed for his science but for heresy, and that human dissection and other medically linked issues were not banned by the Church.

The Bad: I do have a problem with 3 myths in the book. I have a small problem with Myth 4 and I guess that the atheists and those left of center had to try and save some face in myths 9 and 21.

Myth 4 - I agree that Islam was tolerant to science and made some very important contributions to science during the Middle Ages. However, I do disagree with the author in that like many others I believe Islamic science mainly carried on and maintained what the Greeks had done and did not do a tremendous amount to advance any of their ideas. However in my experience the inverse of this myth is far more prevalent in school. If you sit in the majority of college classrooms you get a story that sounds more like that Middle Eastern, Eastern and South American civilizations invented faster than Light travel and matter-antimatter reactors thousands of years ago and Europeans simply came along and stole their ideas or ignored them. Now give credit where credit is due, but in terms of scientific advancements, culture, and overall human progress the contributions made by Western civilization have out paced the rest of the world combined by a very large margin. I know it's politically incorrect to say, but that's the way history has played out and I am just tired of all of the spin.

Myth 9 - is pretty ridiculous, I mean sure almost anyone can prove that anything is never 100% true, but as is it is shown in many of the other articles in the book, Christianity has played a HUGE role in the development of science. Sure the types of government and wealth also play a role in where science has developed, but Christianity also had a HUGE effect on the patterns of wealth and the governments that has made Western civilization so successful. As mentioned in other articles the Catholic Church and Christianity greatly supported science financially and rhetorically, while European nobles were also great patrons of the sciences. Christianity was also an important driver in the personal lives of many of the greatest scientists of all time. I think all of the quotations that were used to support the authors statement were taken out of context and the authors was grasping at the notion that somehow all conservatives and those who see the value of religion ,especially Christianity, are racists or close minded.

Myth 21 - Again like the other two myths I believe the opposite of Myth 21 is far more prevalent. I see a hell of a lot more claims that Einstein was an atheist rather than he believed in a personal God. Though to the author's credit he does point out that Einstein rejected atheism as well. From his own quotations it is clear that Einstein believed in something along the lines of Spinoza's God or held a belief of something like Deism, while rejecting the beliefs and doctrine of the mainstream religions. I agree that anyone should be taken to task if they say Einstein believed in a Judeo-Christian God, but the authors should re-title the article to be something more neutral like "Myths about Einstein views on Religion".

Other minor things include that I think there was a bit too much on evolution in the book. I know this is a hot button issue for many, but it just does not interest me too much. To me it just comes down to the individuals own beliefs.

I think it would have bee nice if the great scientific, agricultural and commercial advancements made during the entirety of Middle Ages be further expanded upon. A mention of the Carolingian Renaissance would also have been nice.

It would have also been nice if an article was exclusively dedicated to the importance of religion or the belief in God in the personal lives of some of the world's greatest scientists. I mean the list of scientists who believed in some from of a higher power far outweigh those who have not.

Overall I still highly recommend.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A Great Read that Clears up a lot of Misunderstanding 21 Feb. 2014
By Nick Kaspar - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is filled with essays by leading scholars of the history of religion and science. Some are believers, some are not, and some lie somewhere in between. All the essays written are insightful and offer excellent counter arguments to the simplistic idea that religion and science are in a never ending conflict with each other. Each essay is well argued and supported with copious notes and citations to historical documents. After reading "Galileo goes to Jail," you will walk away with a deeper understanding of the nuanced relationship between science and religion. This is a must read for anyone interested in the science and religion.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Easy to Read and Interesting 5 Aug. 2014
By Joelice - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This books consist of 25 essays written by different authors, with contrasting beliefs and points of views. But they all agreed that there are 25 commons myths about science and religion. This book does an excellent work in debunking common myths that have been heard from both sides (religion and science). Some essays are better than others, but overall, the message is clear: don't believe any argument or presupposition just because someone told you so, go to the primary sources and compare with the official and popular version. The example from Galileo is very enlightening!
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