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Beyond War and Peace: A Reappraisal of the Encounter between Christianity and Science

  • David C. Lindberg (a1) and Ronald L. Numbers (a2)


On a December evening in 1869, with memories of civil war still fresh in their minds, a large audience gathered in the great hall of Cooper Union in New York City to hear about another conflict, still taking its toll—“with battles fiercer, with sieges more persistent, with strategy more vigorous than in any of the comparatively petty warfares of Alexander, or Caesar, or Napoleon.” Although waged with pens rather than swords, and for minds rather than empires, this war, too had destroyed lives and reputations. The combatants? Science and Religion.



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1. “First of the Course of Scientific Lectures—Prof. White on ‘The Battlefields of Science,’” New York Daily Tribune, 18 12. 1869, p. 4.

2. Mazlish, Bruce, Preface to A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, by White, Andrew Dickson (abridged ed., New York, 1965), p. 13;White, Andrew Dickson, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, 2 vols. (New York, 1896), 1: viii. On White, see Altschuler, Glenn C., White, Andrew D.Educator, Historian, Diplomat (Ithaca, 1979).

3. “First of the Course of Scientific Lectures,” p. 4.

5. Ibid.; White, Andrew Dickson, The Warfare of Science (New York, 1876), p. 145; White, A History of the Warfare, 1: ix, xii. Although hints of White's distinction between religion and theology appear in his earlier works, the focus on dogmatic theology in his 1896 volumes seems to have been more of an afterthought—a misleading effort to distance himself from William Draper—than an essential premise. See Draper, , History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (New York, 1874). Henry Guerlac corroborates this judgment in an unpublished memoire, “Sartoniana and Forward,” where he notes that White had intended to entitle the 1896 book A History of the Warfare of Science and Religion, but was talked out of it by his collaborator, George Lincoln Burr.

6. Mazlish, Preface, p. 18; Sarton, George, “Introductory Essay,” in Science, Religion and Reality, ed. Needham, Joseph (New York, 1955), p. 14.

7. For a brilliant critique of the warfare metaphor, see Moore, James R., The Post-Darwinian Controversies: A Study of the Protestant Struggle to Come to Terms with Darwin in Great Britain and America, 1870–1900 (Cambridge, 1979), pp. 19122. See also Lindberg, David C. and Numbers, Ronald L., eds. God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science (Berkeley, 1986), passim; and Numbers, Ronald L., “Science and Religion,” in Historical Writing on American Science, ed. Kohlstedt, Sally Gregory and Rossiter, Margaret W., Osiris 1, 2d ser. (1985): 5980.

8. White, , A History of the Warfare, 1: 325. For a fuller account of science and the early church, see Lindberg, David C., “Science and the Early Church,” in God and Nature, pp. 1958.

9. White, , A History of the Warfare, 1: 375.

10. Augustine, , Enchiridion 3.9, trans. Outler, Albert C., Library of Christian Classics 7 (Philadelphia, 1955), pp. 341342.

11. Augustine, , Degenesi adhtteram 1.19; trans. Carre, Meyrick H., Realists and Nominalists (London, 1946), p. 19. For another translation, see Augustine, , The Literal Meaning of Genesis, trans. Taylor, John Hammond, S.J., 2 vols., Ancient Christian Writers 41–42 (New York, 1982), 1: 4243.

12. The themes of this and the preceding paragraph are more fully developed in Lindberg, , “Science and the Early Church,” pp. 2933.

13. For a good account of the effects of the condemnations, see Grant, Edward, “The Condemnation of 1277, God's Absolute Power, and Physical Thought in the Late Middle Ages,” Viator 10 (1979): 211244; reprinted in Grant's, EdwardStudies in Medieval Science and Natural Philosophy (London, 1981), article 13.

14. See Gary, Deason, “Reformation Theology and the Mechanistic Conception of Nature,” in God and Nature, pp. 181185.

15. White, , A History of the Warfare, 1: 123.

16. Ibid., 1: 123–124.

17. Oresme's discussion is translated and analyzed in Clagett, Marshall, The Science of Mechanics in the Middle Ages (Madison, 1959), pp. 600609.

18. On the sixteenth-century Catholic response to Copernicanism, see Westman, Robert S., “Copernicanism and the Churches,” pp. 8185, 8695.

19. White, , A History of the Warfare, 1: 26. On the Protestant response to Copernicanism, see Westman, , “Copernicanism and the Churches,” pp. 8185, 8998.

20. On Luther and Melanchthon see Gerrish, B. A., “The Reformation and the Rise of Modern Science,” in The Impact of the Church Upon Its Culture: Reappraisals of the History of Christianity, ed. Brauer, Jerald C. (Chicago, 1968), pp. 231265. For the latest word in the long debate over Calvin's position, see Stauffer, R., “Calvin et Copernic,” Revue de l'histoire des religions 179 (1971): 3140;White, Robert, “Calvin and Copernicus: The Problem Reconsidered. Calvin Theological Journal 15 (1980): 233243.

21. Westman, Robert S., “The Melanchthon Circle, Rheticus, and the Wittenberg Interpretation of the Copernican Theory,” Isis 66 (1976): 164193.

22. White, , A History of the Warfare, 1: 130131.

23. The text of the decree is given in Pedersen, Olaf, “Galileo and the Council of Trent: The Galileo Affair Revisited,” Journal for the History of Astronomy 14 (1983): 2829, n. 46.

24. On the issues between Galileo and his critics within the church, see ibid; also Shea, William R., “Galileo and the Church,” in God and Nature, pp. 118133.

25. On the course of events, see (in addition to the works by Petersen and Shea) Langford, Jerome J., Galileo, Science, and the Church (New York, 1966).

26. The struggle over heliocentrism was not the only battle during the period of the scientific revolution identified by White. For his discussion of the biomedical sciences, see A History of the Warfare, 1: 49–63. For contrasting views, see Numbers, Ronald L. and Sawyer, Ronald C., “Medicine and Christianity in the Modern World,” in Health/Medicine and the Faith Traditions, ed. Marty, Martin E. and Vaux, Kenneth L. (Philadelphia, 1982), pp. 134136; and Walsh, James J., The Popes and Science (New York, 1908).

27. White, , A History of the Warfare, 1: 22, 218.

28. Ibid., 1: 17–18.

29. Numbers, Ronald L., Creation by Natural Law: Laplace's Nebular Hypothesis in American Thought (Seattle, 1977).

30. Gillispie, Charles Coulston, Genesis and Geology: A Study in the Relations of Scientific Thought, Natural Theology, and Social Opinion in Great Britain, 1790–1850 (Cambridge, Mass., 1951);White, , A History of the Warfare, 1: 234. See also Rupke, Nicolas A., The Great Chain of History: William Buckland and the English School of Geology, 1814–1849 (Oxford, 1983).

31. Moore, James R., “Geologists and Interpreters of Genesis in the Nineteenth Century,” in God and Nature, pp. 322350. See also Martin J. S. Rudwick, “The Shape and Meaning of Earth-History,” ibid., pp. 296–321.

32. White, , A History of the Warfare, 1: 7071.

33. Lucas, J. R., “Wilberforce and Huxley: A Legendary Encounter,” The Historical Journal 22 (1979): 313330. See also Gilley, Sheridan, “The Huxley-Wilberforce Debate: A Reconsideration,” in Religion and Humanism, ed. Robbins, Keith, Studies in Church History 17 (Oxford, 1981), pp. 325340.

34. Quoted in Lucas, , “Wilberforce and Huxley,” pp. 317320.

35. Ibid., pp. 313–330.

36. Waggoner, Paul M, “The Historiography of the Scopes Trial: A Critical Re-evaluation,” Trinity Journal, n.s. 5 (1984): 155174;Numbers, Ronald L., “Creationism in 20th-Century America,” Science 218 (1982): 538544. See also Larson, Edward J., Trial and Error: The American Controversy over Creation and Evolution (New York, 1985).

37. White, , A History of the Warfare, 1: 68, 82. On the relationship between Darwinism and Calvinism, see Moore, , Post-Darwinian Controversies, pp. 280298, 334340. White's interpretation of the Darwinian debates is rejected also by Dupree, A. Hunter, “Christianity and the Scientific Community in the Age of Darwin,” in God and Nature, pp. 351368.

38. Moore, , Post-Darwinian Controversies, pp. 102103.

39. Gillespie, Neal C., Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation (Chicago, 1979), pp. 1213, 18, 53. Se also Ellegård, Alvar, Darwin and the General Reader: The Reception of Darwin's Theory of Evolution in the British Periodical Press, 1859–1872: (Goteborg, Sweden, 1958), p. 337.

40. Turner, Frank M., “The Victorian Conflict between Science and Religion: A Professional Dimension,” Isis 69 (1979): 356376.Chadwick, Owen has argued that the conflict between science and religion “was hypostatized, necessarily, out of a number of conflicts”; The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1975), pp. 163164.

41. See, for example, Daub, Edward E., “Demythologizing White's Warfare of Science with Theology,” American Biology Teacher 40 (1978): 553556.

42. See, for example, Hooykaas, R [eijer], Religion and the Rise of Modern Science (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1972); and Jaki, Stanley L., The Road of Science and the Ways to God (Chicago, 1978).

43. On the need for a neutral stance, see Rudwick, Martin, “Senses of the Natural World and Senses of God: Another Look at the Historical Relation of Science and Religion,” in The Sciences and Theology in the Twentieth Century, ed. Peacocke, A. R. (Notre Dame, 1981), pp. 241261.

44. Although we are aware of the danger that some readers might interpret our use of the terms “science” and “Christianity” as an unwarranted reification of these entities, we have retained this terminology as a convenient way of designating the various manifestations of Christianity and science.

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Church History
  • ISSN: 0009-6407
  • EISSN: 1755-2613
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