The Caricaturing of Christians in Science

Christian students entering into the field of science will face great challenges, especially if they choose to question the naturalistic worldview that dominates todays scientific establishment. Christians doing science has been given a bad rep by the media in recent years. Books like Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens God is Not Great, along with docu-dramatizations such as Bill Maher's recent Religulous, have brought much public attention to the New Atheism, which seems to have as its fundamental mission the eradication of all forms of religion, with Christianity at the top of the hit list. At the same time, the public hears news about such situations as the Dover, Penn. trials on the teaching of Intelligent Design in schools. Or rather, the public hears the media portrayals of the Dover ID trials, which often do injustice to the actual circumstances. More often than not, media portrayal of cases involving religion and science are incomplete, inaccurate, and biased. Conventional wisdom is that Faith and Science are like Oil and Water — they don’t mix. Or worse, they are like Sodium and Water, with explosive results when they do mix.

But like a Newton's cradle, when a ball strikes on one side, another ball rebounds in reaction. This wave of anti-religious media has caused a number of books to be written in response, such as God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? by John Lennox (spoiler alert: his answer is "no!"), What's So Great About Christianity? by Dinesh D'Souza, and The Devil's Delusion by David Berlinski. The potential positive result is that those people who take the time to carefully read and think through the points presented by both sides will realize that Christianity does have a reasonable response to all the attacks against it that have been raised by the New Atheists. But the ones who approach both sides with an even hand are rare; most people simply subscribe to the misportrayals of the other position given by their preferred side. And sometimes these misportrayals are so ubiquitous that even those who are being misportrayed believe that this is actually the way things are.

Consider these three common statements about the history of science and Christianity, gleaned and paraphrased from various articles and web postings:

  • Medieval Christians believed that the Earth was flat, until Columbus proved the Church wrong.
  • The Trial of Galileo was an example of how the Church placed dogmatic religious belief in geocentrism over the scientific evidence for heliocentrism.
  • The Scientific Revolution was a triumph of reason over religion, as the early scientists applied science to undermine the authority of the Church.
When I asked my high school students which of these statements were true, just about all of them stated that at least one was true, when in fact all three of these commonly held beliefs are false. My students, many of whom had attended Christian schools throughout their education, had somehow learned these myths in their classes or simply from the media portrayal of the history of Christianity and science.

The general belief is that Christians have always been opposed to science, holding on against the evidence to “anti-scientific” views such as:
  • A flat Earth
  • Geocentrism
  • The Universe was created by design
Belief in a flat Earth and geocentrism have been proven to be scientifically false, while the supernatural creation of the universe has not. But because of the perceived association between Christians and the first two erroneous positions, when Christians today try to present the scientific merits of a created universe, we are given the same credibility as if we were trying to make the case for a flat Earth or a solar system with the Earth at the center. Christians are caricaturized as being such close minded simpletons that we adhere to a wooden, literal reading of the Bible rather than accept what “Science” plainly reveals to all who think rationally.

Here's an example of this caricature (credit Steve Sack, Star Tribune, August 5, 2005):


This is the history that most people—Christians included—believe. But it is a false history, and it is one that Christians should strive to correct in the public perception. My goal with this series of posts is to provide the means to address the previous 3 myths about the history of science and Christianity, so that we can set them on a solid historical footing as we prepare them to be ambassadors for Christ. For when it comes to science and Christianity, history is in fact on our side.

Consider the conclusion of historian of science Colin Russell in his essay, The Conflict Metaphor and its Social Origins:
The common belief that… the actual relations between religion and science over the last few centuries have been marked by deep and enduring hostility… is not only historically inaccurate, but actually a caricature so grotesque that what needs to be explained is how it could possibly have achieved any degree of respectability” (quoted in John Lennox, God’s Undertaker, p. 26-27).
In my next post we will go back and consider the origins of this "conflict thesis" and address the Flat Earth Myth.

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2 comments:

  1. MedicineMan said...

    Kendalf,

    You might also find some of this information helpful to you:

    Scopes Trial

    Galileo

    Religion vs Science

    Religious scientists

    Science info

    Lots of links (sorry about that); but what you're doing is a good thing, and worth supporting.

  2. Kendalf said...

    Thanks for the links, MedicineMan! It's great to know that there are so many resources available providing the whole story of these caricatures and myths!

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