on 11 March 2012
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.
Not everyone will necessarily want to read this book cover-to-cover, I rather suspect many will prefer to dip in and read on the matters that interest them the most. I hope in doing so they do not restrict themselves to those for one "side" or the other. And for those who then want to learn about the subject in greater detail I recommend the truly fascinating series of lectures on "Science and Religion" from the Teaching Company.
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.
on 9 April 2011
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.