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Separation of Science and Religion

The idea that science and religion are at war with one another is actually fairly recent. It really only arose in the last third of the nineteenth century, after the publication of Darwin's book on evolution. In the wake of the furor over Darwin's idea that humans were descended from apes, some people on both sides tried to paint the other side as the enemy.

A key factor here was the publication of two best-selling books, which specifically portrayed religion as the enemy of science. One book, by John Draper, a medical school professor in New York city, was called "History of the Conflict Between Science and Religion" (1874). The other, written by Andrew Dickson White - the first president of Cornell University and a great champion of science - was a long, detailed, two volume work with the more inflammatory title "The History of the Warfare Between Science and Theology in Christendom" (1896). According to Draper, the Roman Catholic Church in particular was the enemy of science, "ferociously suppressing by the sword and the stake every attempt at progress." White, whose book was extremely influential, saw the conflict between science and religion as nothing less than "a war waged longer, with battles fiercer, with sieges more persistent, with strategy more shrewd than any of the comparatively transient warfare of Caesar or Napoleon."

Although at the time there were many people - both scientists and religious believers - who did not see a conflict between the two worlds, the warfare view became deeply entrenched in many people's minds, and it has continued to influence thinking throughout the twentieth century. This is particularly so in America, where the even today conflicts between science and religion tend to be much more bitter and divisive than in other Western nations.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Margaret Wertheim

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