Unreasoned Faith: the ongoing conflict between science and religion
By Richard Flavin

     Historians of science remain divided on the current legitimacy of a ‘conflict thesis’ between science and religion.  Some avoid addressing the subject or minimize its pertinency (Gribbin 2002), others limit their arguments to traditional Judeo-Christianity (Lindberg & Numbers 1986, 2003), while most use the general theory of evolution with specific attention shown to the Darwin/Wallace model of evolution through “Natural Selection” as their focus (e.g. Gillespie 1979; Ruse 2006).  Fanatical Jewish and Christian sects and cults are seldom mentioned, other major and minor religions are usually ignored, and fundamentalism in all organized religious groups are openly hostile to selective scientific facts and theories.  I would argue that many of these authors have engaged in sloppy and biased scholarship when confronting the ‘conflict thesis’.

Covers of notable works by John William Draper (1811-1882) and Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918).

     While the criticisms of the so-called Draper-White thesis (which gave rise to our contemporary usage of conflict thesis to mean a warring between science and religion) have shown the authors (Draper 1874; White 1896) to be dilettantish and incorrect in many of their historical reconstructions (e.g. Moore 1979; Hannan 2003), it may be argued that its central tenet remains viable for amendment.

Contemporary tools used in FGM (as opposed to the old chunk of rock), a victim of FGM and the BC/BS logo.

     The tradition of circumcision continues to be practiced in many nations despite scientific evidence that (except in special cases) the procedure is unnecessary for males (e.g. Gollaher 1994; Grimes 1980) and is regarded as body mutilation when young girls are forced to undergo the procedure (Walker & Parmar 1993).  Prof. Raphael Patai (Fairleigh Dickinson, anthropology) wrote: "In societies where female circumcision is practiced, it is regarded as shameful for a woman to remain uncircumcised. A favorite curse in Oman is, 'Oh, you misbegotten of an uncircumcised mother!'(Patai 1959; p. 204)."  Female circumcision is, while predominately practiced in Islamic and animistic cultures, attested to in certain Christian sects throughout the world (Murray 1976; Chelala 1998), including America (Robinett 2006).  Though condemned by certain religious groups (YoursDaily 1996), human rights organizations, and made illegal in many countries (Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance paid for clitoridectomies until 1977 and in 1996 it was finally outlawed by the USA), circumcisions of both young males and females are still performed today.  It’s religion against science.

Michael Servetus (1509-1553), Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Pope Pius XII (1876-1958), Pope John Paul II (1920=2005) and Prof. R. Dawkins.

     With its apostolic tradition, and in spite of the 1054 split with Eastern Orthodoxy and the later Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church has remained the quintessential (read: the one ‘true’) Christian authority on sacred and, much too often, secular matters.  While history still has its way concerning the Catholic approach to the emergence of modern science (Michael Servetus, Galileo Galilei, etc.), with the general theory of evolution the Church has shown remarkable modernity (Artigas et al. 2006).  The so-called “ensoulment theory” first suggested in 1950 (Pius XII 1950) and later reenforced by Pope John Paul II (John Paul II 1996), who also extended a compromise between Catholicism and science, proposing that if scientists allowed for God to have at some point endowed humans with a ‘soul’(which many scientists have no problem associating the concept of a ‘soul’ with the uniquely human trait of sentiency and self-awareness), appeared to be a reasonable compromise.  The address was an admirable attempt of reconciliation, though not without certain critics.  Prof. Richard Dawkins (Oxford, Charles Simonyi Professor in the Public Understanding of Science) lambasted the effort by describing Pope John Paul II’s comments as “casuistical double-talk (Dawkins 1999).”  It’s science against religion (in this case, Catholicism).

A pic of Prohibition-Era hysteria, Byran and Darrow, and John T. Scopes.

     Protestant Christianity, however, immediately took offence against the Darwin/Wallace theory of Natural Selection (Moore 1979).  Pres. Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State, Col. William Jennings Byran (served 1913-1915, resigning prematurely) was a Presbyterian Christian who was extremely influential in convincing the American government to institute its “Prohibition Era” against the usage of alcohol, as well a being the instigator and part of the prosecution team for the (in)famous Scopes Trial of 1925 (Larson 1997).  It was religion against science and the conflict continues until this day.

Reconstructed drawings of the evolutionary emergence of the modern human and a pic of George Clooney.
     In the USA, the religious revolt against the scientific theory of evolution has remained open and seemingly unending.  Protestant Christianity has been unrelenting in its attack, most often abusing the majority opinions of local school-boards (e.g. DeWolf et al. 2006; Anonymous 2006).  Such anti-evolution attacks continue from such recognized religions as the Mormonite cult (see below), Scientology with its fantastic extraterrestrial origins for humans (Grünschloss 2004; p. 427), the Unification Church (i.e. “Moonies”) with their insistence on a twisted, yet somewhat literal interpretation of the Hebrew Book of Genesis (Chryssides 1991), the Hare Krishna cult (Cremo & Thompson 1998), which in a large part represents current Hindu beliefs, and the extremist Hasidic Hebrews (Greene 1996), among others.  Oddly enough, mainstream Judaism doesn’t seem to have a problem with evolution as they regard much of their early scripture as allegorical and misunderstood by non-Hebrew speakers and scholars (Nussbaum 2006 contra Goldberg 2000).  Catholics might be “riding the fence,” after a fashion, concerning the general theory of evolution, however many recognized religions are vigorously anti-science and anti-evolution.  The conflict thesis, regardless of the associated hypocrisy of selected usage of science by religion, would appear to remain a valid anthropological model.   Honestly, the Amish communities seem to be doing fine...

1844 broadside showing charcters from the Book of Mormon and early announcement for The Book of Abraham (Smith 1851).

     Most accepted religions today (IRS 2004) abuse their tax-exempt status and regularly influence American law and policy (Brown 1990).  The Mormonite cult is a leading example of an anti-science position and its increasing influence on law, education and government leadership.  Its primary ‘scripture’, The Book of Mormon (Smith 1830) has recently been described as an “American forgery (Oestreicher 2002; p. 84),” though some authors herald the expansionism of the Mormonite cult as inevitable (Bloom 1992).  In 1967 the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art returned the common mummy-wrappings that Smith had “translated” as The Book of Abraham (Smith 1851), and, later, the Smithsonian Institute issued a statement that they could find no evidence that anything in Smith’s writings (Mormonite ‘scripture’) was scientifically plausible (e.g. Smithsonian 1979; Holmes 1992).  Smith’s occult background has been critically examined (e.g. Paul 1992; Brooke 1994; Owens 1995) and the absurd archaeological claims of the Book of Mormon have been disputed (Williams 1991).  That Idaho, a state with the second largest Mormon population behind Utah, is the last state to use the firing squad in its execution of criminals (per the Mormon doctrine of “Blood Atonement,” see: Young 1857, p. 54).  From 2002 to 2007, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had a Mormon governor, Willard Mitt Romney, who is now a leading candidate for the Republican nomination for the 2008 Presidential Election.  It’s not known if Romney abides by blood oaths and Mormon penalties (Senate Doc. 486 1906), but his service in Massachusetts was arguably anti-science, (against stem-cell research, believing homosexuality as an abomination, supporting anti-abortion legislation, etc; see Eastland 2005).  It’s religion (or a religious ‘cult’) against science once more.

1972 letter by “Commodore” L. Ron Hubbard about Narconon, a Narconon book cover, and Stan.

     The Church of Scientology’s detoxification program, Narconon, though forbidden to operate in many nations and several American states, has with despicable lobbying tactics, infiltrated such local school districts as those in Massachusetts (Mallia 1998).  While many newspaper articles, magazine feature stories, decisions from some American and several international courts have explicitly ridiculed Narconon’s methods as pseudoscience, I’ve yet to locate a reference from our NIMH or any peer-reviewed scientific journal.  Perhaps, as in the case of Scientology’s Narconon program, ‘conflict thesis’ wouldn’t be appropriate because it doesn’t appear that science is fighting back against a particular religion (or religious cult).

The Ten Commandments in Indiana, Alabama, and with Chuck Heston.

     Most, if not all, religions arrogantly regard themselves as the repositories of ethics, morality, and in too many cases, science.  In America, we’ve endured several costly battles to prevent the incorporation of the pseudoscientific theory of “Intelligent Design,” the latest politically correct term for Creationism, into our public schools, as well as the absurd instances that copies of the Hebrew “Ten Commandments” be permanently installed in several court houses (regardless of various examples, i.e.  the hypothetical original-destroyed {EX 20: 1-26], reconstructed Hebrew version [passim EX. 24: 7], Catholic, assorted Protestant, and the often ignored version in the Samaritan Pentateuch.).  And, in a disappointing display of theocratic neurosis, our Chief Executive, Pres. George W. Bush is on record saying “"I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn’t do my job (Brubaker 2004; Lincoln 2004.)"  This essay concerns the current relevance of the conflict thesis between science and religion, however for the sake of completeness, God and government should be briefly discussed.

The Pledge to the Flag, as published in 1892, and students (pre-1942) saluting the American flag.

     "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all," are the published words of the original version of the Pledge of Allegiance, by Francis Bellamy in the September 8, 1892 issue of The Youth's Companion.  Bellamy was an ex-Baptist minister who had been recently fired for his Christian Socialist sermons, and The Youth’s Companion was a popular children’s magazine (some say having the first or second highest print-run of any periodical in America at the time) published at 201 Columbus Avenue (now 142 Berkeley Street), and known today as “The Pledge of Allegiance” building and which was deigned by Henry Hobson Richardson, who also built the nearby Trinity Church in Copley Square, as well as Harvard University’s Sever Hall.  The issue of The Youth’s Companion was to mark the quadricentennial anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the Americas also encouraged The Pledge to be recited with a straight-arm salute later adopted by the Italian fascists and German Nazis.  At the time of the composition of The Pledge, Bellamy was the chairman of a committee of state superintendents of education in the National Education Association.  The addition of the word "to" before "the Republic" in the October 1892 issue of The Youth’s Companion was made for reasons not yet clear, though probably through the recommendation of either the co-publisher, Daniel Ford, or a department head, James Upham.

     Other changes in The Pledge would soon occur, some with profound consequences.  During the 1923 and 1924 National Flag Conferences (sponsored by The American Legion and The Daughters of the American Revolution), The Pledge’s words “my flag” were changed to “the Flag of the United States of America.”  It’s said that Bellamy didn’t approve of the change, but was powerless against an act of Congress (i.e. ‘Flag Day’ and its associated duties which included the recitation of The Pledge of Allegiance).

Knights of Columbus emblem, Rev. George Docherty, and Gene Cernan saluting the flag on the Moon.

     The Order of the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic fraternal service organization, began in 1953 to recommend the addition of the words “under God” to The Pledge.  During a service by the Rev. George Docherty, Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower heard: “Apart from the mention of the phrase 'the United States of America,' it could be the pledge of any republic. In fact, I could hear little Muscovites repeat a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag in Moscow (OCRT 2007)."  Congress passed the recommended change immediately, though Bellamy’s daughter was outspoken against the amendment (Baer 1992).

     A little more than a century ago, a well intentioned union between science and religion was introduced in Chicago.  “There are not two antagonistic truths, one religious, the other scientific.  There is but one truth, which is to be discovered by scientific methods and applied in our religious life.  Truth is one, and the recognition of truth is the basis of all genuine religion (Carus 1896; p. 8).”  Carus wrote that his approach was “fusing religion in the furnace of science, and by sifting our religious traditions in the sieve of critique (Carus 1896; p. 117),”and also, that the ‘new’ “Religion of Science” is that same old religion (i.e. Judeo-Christianity), but “purified of its paganism (Carus 1896; p. 117).”

The first World Parliament of Religions held at the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, IL in 1893.

     The nineteenth century introduced the modern scientific method, with Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection to explain the evolution of life-forms combined with Huxley’s coinage of agnostic (one who doesn’t know [about God]) being the easiest examples.   Chicago was a city undergoing a tremendous change during that time.  D. L. Moody established The Moody Bible Institute (originally known as the Chicago Evangelization Society) in 1886,  The University of Chicago was founded in 1890  by the American Baptist Education Society and John D. Rockefeller, and in 1893, the same year as Carus’ “The Religion of Science,” the first World Parliament of Religions (organized by Unitarians and Universalists of the Free Religious Association) was held at the World's Columbian Exposition (which also introduced Cream of Wheat hot cereal, Aunt Jemima syrup, Juicy Fruit gum, perhaps the hamburger, among many other American iconic items).  It was a great time for Chicago and, also, for science and religion.

Five minutes before midnight...

     It was recently announced that the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has moved the Doomsday Clock to five minutes before midnight (Mitchell 2007).  While the change mentions climate change and tensions between governments, I would offer that ‘conflict thesis’ is involved, as Israel has announced plans to bomb Iran (Gradstein 2007) and America has also admitted they too have similar plans (Donovan 2007).

     The influence of science and religion on government and culture is undeniable, yet so too are the conflicting (and often confusing) recommendations by science and religion.  I suggest that both need to try harder.


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Acknowledgments and a Note to the Reader:

     Assoc. Prof. Steven J. Harris (Harvard, History of Science) helped tremendously by introducing me to the works of Carus, Goldberg and many others.  His recommendations and challenges will influence me for many years to come.  Also, an intimate associate pointed out some typos for which I thank her ...by not filing a restraining order against her.  For the general reader; honesty requires that I admit to not having read Dawkins’ The God Delusion (though I did buy it a few weeks back ‘cause it’s on the NYT’s bestseller list and was irresistibly cheap.)  Nor have I read the two popular books by Sam Harris (The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation).  I did, however, read Dawkins' The Skeptical Inquirer article and though I’m familiar with this somewhat recent pop-atheism, I lean toward dereligification without the lose of spirituality, allegory and metaphor.  I’ll now read Dawkins and Harris, though I doubt it will require me to change much (if anything) about this feature article I’ve written.  My personal fav remains The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan (1996. New York: Randon House).

Live, love, learn and have fun,

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