Breaking Glass

Wisdom and Science

Societies live by their mythologies, which become so passionately held that it’s usually risky to challenge them.  Having said that, one major component of contemporary secularist mythology really has to be confronted, because it is so influential, so widely reflected in even the saner mass media, and so totally wrong.  I’m referring to the familiar theory that Christianity is opposed to any form of scientific advance, which means that human progress defines itself in opposition to religion.

Although you can find some version of that view in any number of New Atheist rants, it surfaces regularly in seriously intended documentaries about the history of science, about pioneers like Galileo and Darwin.  When you have a scientist who incontestably was passionately religious—think of Augustinian friar Gregor Mendel—then you have to portray him in perpetual conflict with the constricting orthodoxies of his faith.  One recent newspaper cartoon imagined how much better the world might have been if the Bible had contained a single verse saying, “The world is full of interesting stuff.  Go out and discover it!”  Of course, such a phrase perfectly epitomizes the historic Christian attitude to science.  In large measure, that attitude explains why the West created the modern world.

The obscurantist myth is easy to explain.  If a society regards progress as a fundamental part of...

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