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


Being a Critic of Israel Means Never Having to Explain How It Should Defend Itself

April 23 2018

The ever-worsening situation of Jews in Europe, writes Bret Stephens, should serve as a reminder of the need for a Jewish state. Israel’s critics, he suggests, should reflect more deeply on that need:

Israel did not come into existence to serve as another showcase of the victimization of Jews. It exists to end the victimization of Jews.

That’s a point that Israel’s restless critics could stand to learn. On Friday, Palestinians in Gaza returned for the fourth time to the border fence with Israel, in protests promoted by Hamas. The explicit purpose of Hamas leaders is to breach the fence and march on Jerusalem. Israel cannot possibly allow this—doing so would create a precedent that would encourage similar protests, and more death, along all of Israel’s borders—and has repeatedly used deadly force to counter it.

The armchair corporals of Western punditry think this is excessive. It would be helpful if they could suggest alternative military tactics to an Israeli government dealing with an urgent crisis against an adversary sworn to its destruction. They don’t.

It would also be helpful if they could explain how they can insist on Israel’s retreat to the 1967 borders and then scold Israel when it defends those borders. They can’t. If the armchair corporals want to persist in demands for withdrawals that for 25 years have led to more Palestinian violence, not less, the least they can do is be ferocious in defense of Israel’s inarguable sovereignty. Somehow they almost never are. . . .

[T]o the extent that the diaspora’s objections [to Israeli policies] are prompted by the nonchalance of the supposedly nonvulnerable when it comes to Israel’s security choices, then the complaints are worse than feckless. They provide moral sustenance for Hamas in its efforts to win sympathy for its strategy of wanton aggression and reckless endangerment. And they foster the illusion that there’s some easy and morally stainless way by which Jews can exercise the responsibilities of political power.

Read more at New York Times

More about: Anti-Semitism, Gaza Strip, Israel & Zionism