The Great Clashes between Science and Religion Have Often Been about Something Else

In Magisteria: The Entangled Histories of Science and Religion, Nicholas Spencer examines the interactions between these two realms in the West since the 15th century, highlighting cooperation well as conflict. Jamie Boulding writes in his review:

The book’s [last] three sections are framed by three major incidents in the history of science and religion, which Spencer sees as central to sustaining the popular myth of endless conflict: the Galileo affair, which seemed to pit Copernicus’s heliocentrism against the Catholic Church; the Huxley–Wilberforce debate, which seemed to pit Darwin’s new theory of evolution against Christian belief in Victorian England; and the Scopes “monkey trial,” which seemed to perform a similar role in Tennessee 65 years later.

In each case, Spencer complicates the familiar narrative of scientific advancement sweeping away religious superstition. Galileo’s trial was as much about personality clashes, political considerations, and broader religious upheaval as it was about heliocentrism, which senior Church figures initially received warmly. The Huxley–Wilberforce debate had little public impact until decades later, and it wasn’t narrowly focused on evolution, which Darwin did not in any event view as incompatible with theism. The Scopes trial, according to one of the defense lawyers, was not just about science and religion, but about science and the idiosyncratic populism of William Jennings Bryan, who led the prosecution.

In this sense, Spencer’s book suggests that the supposedly epic clashes between science and religion tell us more about ourselves and our cultural and political battles than they do about scientific inquiry or religious belief. It’s no coincidence that the narrative of conflict between science and religion emerged in the late 19th century just as science was establishing, professionalizing, and seeking cultural territory for itself in Victorian society.

Then and now, the conflict narrative is a function of society’s need to legitimize the status and significance of science. In America today, science (or some version of it) has displaced religion as the approved elite ideology: “In this house, we believe science is real . . . ”.

Read more at Public Discourse

More about: Charles Darwin, Science and Religion


What Is the Biden Administration Thinking?

In the aftermath of the rescue of four Israeli hostages on Friday, John Podhoretz observes some “clarifying moments.” The third strikes me as the most important:

Clarifying Moment #3 came with the news that the Biden administration is still calling for negotiations leading to a ceasefire after, by my count, the seventh rejection of the same by Hamas since Bibi Netanyahu’s secret offer a couple of weeks ago. Secretary of State Blinken, a man who cannot say no, including when someone suggests it would be smart for him to play high-school guitar while Ukraine burns, will be back in the region for the eighth time to urge Hamas to accept the deal. Why is this clarifying? Because it now suggests, here and for all time, that the Biden team is stupid.

Supposedly the carrot the [White House] is dangling in the region is a tripartite security deal with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Which would, of course, be a good thing. But like the stupid people they are now proving to be, they seem not to understand the very thing that led the Saudis to view Israel as a potential ally more than a decade ago: the idea that Israel means business and does what it must to survive and built itself a tech sector the Saudis want to learn from. Allowing Hamas to survive, which is implicitly part of the big American deal, will not lead to normalization. The Saudis do not want an Iranian vassal state in Palestine. Their entire foreign-policy purpose is to counter Iran. I know that. You know that. Everybody in the world knows that. Even Tony Blinken’s guitar is gently weeping at his dangling a carrot to Israel and Saudi Arabia that neither wants, needs, nor will accept.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Antony Blinken, Gaza War 2023, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship