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Science and Christianity are often depicted as mortal enemies. After all, the Christian church taught for centuries that the earth was flat, and did everything in its power to stifle scientific development... didn't it? In fact, the conflict thesis is a narrow view of the history of science and religion, and is rejected by the majority of modern historians. As historian Gary Ferngren writes,

While some historians had always regarded the Draper-White [conflict] thesis as oversimplifying and distorting a complex relationship, in the late twentieth century it underwent a more systematic reevaluation. The result is the growing recognition among historians of science that the relationship of religion and science has been much more positive than is sometimes thought. Although popular images of controversy continue to exemplify the supposed hostility of Christianity to new scientific theories, studies have shown that Christianity has often nurtured and encouraged scientific endeavour, while at other times the two have co-existed without either tension or attempts at harmonization. If Galileo and the Scopes trial come to mind as examples of conflict, they were the exceptions rather than the rule.[1]

A short history of the idea

Up until the late 1800's the church was seen as a big supporter of science. The idea that science and religion (more specifically Christianity) were in conflict was popularized by Draper and White.

In his book History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874) Draper wrote that religion and science are "absolutely incompatible; they cannot exist together". He expressed the view that science and religion could never be compatible. Since the Roman empire, Christianity (and catholics in particular) had been trying to stifle science:

The history of Science is not a mere record of isolated discoveries; it is a narrative of the conflict of two contending powers, the expansive force of the human intellect on one side, and the compression arising from traditionary faith and human interests on the other... They left religious affairs to chance, and accordingly those affairs fell into the hands of ignorant and infuriated ecclesiastics, parasites, eunuchs and slaves.[2]

In 1896, Andrew Dickson White published his History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom.

The flat earth

Alternative models


  1. Gary Ferngren (editor). Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8018-7038-0. (Introduction, p. ix)
  2. John William Draper, History of the Conflict Religion, D. Appleton and Co. (1881)


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