Jerry Coyne’s Twisted History of Science and Religion
by Alex Berezow with Dr. James Hannam
Jerry Coyne is an esteemed evolutionary biologist. But, together with the other New Atheists, he vehemently berates religion in a way that can detract from his important work of explaining evolution to the layperson.
In his latest post on the topic, he promotes the false belief that there is a fundamental conflict between science and religion, and he even makes the wild (and admittedly unproven) claim “that had there been no Christianity, if after the fall of Rome atheism had pervaded the Western world, science would have developed earlier and be far more advanced than it is now.” (For some thoughts on that theory, see this post.)
Historians have long realized that the great conflict between science and religion is a myth. But it continues to be an article of faith among the New Atheists. In contrast to his views on evolution, Dr. Coyne thinks that he can ignore the evidence from history and disregard the settled view of experts in the field. But, being a scholar and a rational man, we’re sure that he will change his mind if shown to be wrong.
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So let’s examine some of the reasons Dr. Coyne presents for rejecting the consensus view of historians that Christianity has generally been supportive of science (notwithstanding some quarrels along the way).
Dr. Coyne states:
Christianity was around for a millennium without much science being done; “modern” science really started as a going concern in the 17th century. Why did that take so long if Christianity was so important in fostering science?
Actually, historians start the Western scientific tradition with the “12th Century Renaissance” 500 years before Galileo. If you want to know why there were not many people doing natural philosophy before that, the answer includes words like “barbarian invasions,” “collapse of civilization,” “Huns,” “Goths,” and “Vikings.” The fact that some scientific knowledge survived the upheaval after the fall of the Roman Empire was largely due to the Church…