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A Muddled Attempt to Revive the Controversy between Science and Religion

Since the 1970s, historians have come to agree that the notion of an inherent conflict between science and religion—a notion dating back at least to the trial of Galileo—is a myth. The historian Yves Gingras, in his book Science and Religion: An Impossible Dialogue, seeks to overthrow this consensus. But, to Peter Harrison, the consensus is right, and Gingras’s argument is unconvincing:

[O]n a number of occasions, Gingras makes much of prohibitions and book censorship [of scientific work by the medieval and Renaissance Church] on the assumption that this is a sign of an enduring battle between science and religion, or at least between the institutions that stand in for them. But this reading results from a failure to understand the universality of regimes of censorship and their ultimate goal. Legislative restrictions placed on the expression of religious, political, moral—and, in a small minority of cases, scientific—views might have served to maintain the power of particular institutions, but their goal was also the preservation of social order. . . .

Matters become even more complicated when we consider other institutions that were part of the Catholic Church. [The Church created] the medieval universities, which were the chief sites of scientific activity in the Latin Middle Ages. Subsequently, the Collegio Romano, founded in 1551, provided considerable institutional support for the sciences conducted by members of the Jesuit order, with a particular focus on astronomy and mathematics. . . . In fact, between the 12th and 18th centuries the Catholic Church’s material and moral support for the study of astronomy was unmatched by any other institution. In light of this, the unfortunate prosecution of Galileo is beginning to look like the exception rather than the rule. Affording emblematic status to the Galileo affair is a little like proposing, on the basis of the Athenians’ equally notorious trial and execution of Socrates, that the ancient Greeks were implacably opposed to philosophy. . . .

Gingras’s rehearsal of well-known historical episodes thus turns up nothing new, and his focus on institutions simply reinforces what historians of science have been saying all along: the historical picture is complicated, and while we can construct tensions that are analogous to our modern “science and religion,” conflict is neither inevitable nor does it constitute an enduring pattern.

Read more at Los Angeles Review of Books

More about: Catholic Church, History & Ideas, Middle Ages, Science, Science and Religion

Putting Aside the Pious Lies about the Israel-Palestinian Conflict

Jan. 23 2018

In light of recent developments, including Mahmoud Abbas’s unusually frank speech to the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s leadership, Moshe Arens advocates jettisoning some frequently mouthed but clearly false assumptions about Israel’s situation, beginning with the idea that the U.S. should act as a neutral party in negotiations between Jerusalem and Ramallah. (Free registration may be required.)

The United States cannot be, and has never been, neutral in mediating the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It is the leader of the world’s democratic community of nations and cannot assume a neutral position between democratic Israel and the Palestinians, whether represented by an autocratic leadership that glorifies acts of terror or by Islamic fundamentalists who carry out acts of terror. . . .

In recent years the tectonic shifts in the Arab world, the lower price of oil, and the decreased importance attached to the Palestinian issue in much of the region, have essentially removed the main incentive the United States had in past years to stay involved in the conflict. . . .

Despite the conventional wisdom that the core issues—such as Jerusalem or the fate of Israeli settlements beyond the 1949 armistice lines—are the major stumbling blocks to an agreement, the issue for which there seems to be no solution in sight at the moment is making sure that any Israeli military withdrawal will not result in rockets being launched against Israel’s population centers from areas that are turned over to the Palestinians. . . .

Does that mean that Israel is left with a choice between a state with a Palestinian majority or an apartheid state, as claimed by Israel’s left? This imaginary dilemma is based on a deterministic theory of history, which disregards all other possible alternatives in the years to come, and on questionable demographic predictions. What the left is really saying is this: better rockets on Tel Aviv than a continuation of Israeli military control over Judea and Samaria. There is little support in Israel for that view.

Read more at Haaretz

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Mahmoud Abbas, Peace Process, US-Israel relations