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Religion and Science: Toward a Postmodern Truce

By Philip Clayton

Think of it as a family feud running across three generations. The first generation spans from the Greeks through the early medieval period. During this period, philosophy and theology set the terms of engagement. Knowledge for Aristotle and his medieval followers (epistēmē) was created in the image of philosophy. The Latin term for science, scientia, meant any form of organized inquiry. Unfortunately for the birth of modern science, in such a context one couldn’t even begin to make a case for the primacy of empirical observation, much less for quantum mechanics or evolutionary theory as we know them today.

Call the scientists and philosophers of modernity the next generation. The sons and daughters of the late medieval period simply had no choice. The only way they could carve out a space for their new empirical modes of inquiry was to flatly reject the medieval authorities and their assumptions. Thus Descartes proclaimed that everything is open to doubt; Francis Bacon berated the four “idols” of traditional philosophy and theology; and Galileo, somewhat more gently, wrote of The Book of Nature, written “in the language of mathematics,” as separate from the Book of Scripture.

This declaration of independence may have been peaceful at first. But it quickly deteriorated into a war fully as bloody as the French Revolution. Thus Andrew Dickson White rightly characterized the modern period as A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom.

Read the original article at: Religion Dispatches

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