Chapter 11 is entitled, How to Manufacture a War: History like the Universe, Is Larger and More Interesting Than You Thought. In this chapter Wallace recounts the story of Galileo and his battle with the church as the beginning of the “war” analogy between science and faith. Anyone who is familiar with the story knows it isn’t as simple as has often been portrayed. The simplistic version casts Galileo as the valiant empiricist fighting the superstitious ignorance of the Roman Catholic hierarchy and contending for the TRVTH of the sun-centered model of the cosmos.
In matter of fact, had Galileo not been such a pompous, self-promoting, ass who presumed to insult the initially friendly and supportive Pope Urban VIII, he could have continued his astronomical inquiries without the humiliating recantation of Copernican theory he was eventually forced to make. SimplyCatholic has a nice summary here. In 1624, Galileo was assured by the Pope that he could discuss the Copernican system, but only as a mathematical theory and not as a physical reality. In other words, he was free to treat the sun-centered system as a working hypothesis, but as he lacked the empirical evidence he later derived, he could not teach it as fact. Instead, he created the Dialogue, which presented the arguments for a Copernican system as a three-way conversation in which he caricatured the Pope as “Simplicio”, a dim-witted traditionalist who favored the earth-centered system. The Pope, the former Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, was a longtime friend and protector of Galileo; who really had no good reason to insult and verbally abuse his friend.
Nevertheless, from the trial transcript:
We pronounce this Our final sentence: We pronounce, judge, and declare, that you, the said Galileo . . . have rendered yourself vehemently suspected by this Holy Office of heresy, that is, of having believed and held the doctrine (which is false and contrary to the Holy and Divine Scriptures) that the sun is the center of the world, and that it does not move from east to west, and that the earth does move, and is not the center of the world; also, that an opinion can be held and supported as probable, after it has been declared and finally decreed contrary to the Holy Scripture…
The church at that time took a stand that attempted to draw a scientific conclusion on the basis of statements from the Bible. And that conclusion turned out to be wrong. As Wallace says:
We remember Galileo today because he was right, and on two counts. First he nailed the narrow question of what goes around what. But he was also right about science itself. At stake in the Galileo affair was not just the arrangement of the planets or even what was true and false. It was concerned with how we know what’s true and false, and who gets to say what’s true and false. Therefore, the fight had to do with authority and power, and it grew intensely political. If the church had not wielded so much political power, the war might not have arisen in the first place.
But arise it did. In 1874, John William Draper published his book, History of the Conflict between Religion and Science. In it he surveys Western history and concludes that, at every turn, the church has gone to war against the growth of scientific knowledge, citing the Galileo affair as clear proof of his thesis. Historian Andrew Dickson White followed in 1896 with, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, again casting history in terms of conflict. The thing is, as Wallace notes, that no historian takes these books seriously today; their war talk has been discounted, their claims weakened by lack of evidence. At the same time, following the publishing of Darwin’s Origin of the Species in 1859, Thomas Henry Huxley vigorously defended the work as a scientific popularizer. Unlike some contemporaries who sought a reconciliation between science and theology, Huxley framed the debate over Creation and evolution in black-and-white, either/or terms and was unforgiving of colleagues who straddled the fence.
And so, their damage was done, in good part because of Draper and White, the “war” came to America. In the early Twentieth century, an influential group of Christians began to push back against liberal movements in biblical studies – in particular, an approach to Scripture know as historical criticism, which questioned belief in the Bible as a literal document. This group responded to historical criticism by publishing a series of pamphlets entitled The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth. The series purported to establish the nonnegotiable truths of Christianity and shored up belief in the factual truth of Genesis, among other things. They became known as the fundamentalists and they looked to Draper’s and White’s books as confirmation that religion and science were naturally opposed to one another.
This culminated, due to the wall-to-wall media coverage, in the Scopes trial of 1925, which brought the war between religion and science to a national audience. The aftermath of the Scopes trial saw the rise of “creationism” especially in regards to its anti-evolution aspect. The age of the earth and the universality of the Noachian Flood weren’t as much in evidence in early 20th century creationism. The primary promoter of “flood geology” during the early twentieth century was George McCready Price, but he had comparatively little influence among evangelicals because he was a Seventh-day Adventist, a church treated warily by many conservative Protestants. According to the Wikipedia page:
By the 1950s, most evangelical scientists scorned flood geology, and those who accepted the theory were increasingly marginalized within the American Scientific Affiliation (founded 1941), an evangelical organization that gradually shifted from strict creationism to progressive creationism and theistic evolution. In 1954, Bernard Ramm, an evangelical apologist and theologian closely associated with the ASA, published The Christian View of Science and Scripture, which attacked the notion that “biblical inspiration implied that the Bible was a reliable source of scientific data.” Ramm ridiculed both flood geology and the gap theory, and one ASA member credited Ramm with providing a way for a majority of Christian biologists to accept evolution.
But the publication of The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and its Scientific Implications in 1961, a book by young Earth creationists John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris succeeded in elevating young Earth creationism and its “creation science” to a position of fundamentalist orthodoxy. And with the publication of their book came the rise of the “creation ministries” such as The Institute for Creation Research, Creation Ministries International and Answers in Genesis; all dedicated to arguing for the scientific credibility of a literalistic but modernistic interpretation of Genesis 1-11.
Fundamentalists somewhat withdrew from the public stage after the Scope’s Trial, preferring instead to nurture their own institutions such as Bob Jones University. But in the late 1970’s, under the leadership of men like the late Jerry Falwell, and his Moral Majority, re-entered the public arena with their support for the presidency of Ronald Reagan and the “culture wars”. Part of the culture war mentality was to advocate for the teaching of creationism in public schools. After losing a number of court cases, men such as Phillip Johnson, Stephen Meyer, Michael Behe, William Dembski, and David Berlinski and the Discovery Institute tried to claim that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. These advocates of intelligent design from a Christian standpoint sought to keep God and the Bible out of the discussion, and present intelligent design in the language of science as though it were a scientific hypothesis. The high-water mark for the Intelligent Design movement was when the Dover Area School District of York County, Pennsylvania changed its biology teaching curriculum to require that intelligent design be presented as an alternative to evolution theory. This was challenged in Federal Court in 2005 in the case known as Kitzmiller and Dover. The plaintiffs successfully argued that intelligent design is a form of creationism, and that the school board policy violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Which brings us, more or less, down to today. Wallace ends his chapter with the rise of the New Atheists, but to me they are already old hat and irrelevant. I’m going to indulge in a “David Brooks- A Ridiculously Optimistic History of the Next Decade” (see the Imonk sidebar for link) type of fantasy.
Trump is re-elected in 2020, but by 2024, as boomers continue to do the world a favor by dying off, and younger people take over, Americans are fed up and Trumpism withers away in ignominy. The Evangelical leaders who supported Trump have so disgraced themselves that Mega-Churchianity declines precipitously. The younger generation that has been more inclined to accept mainstream science and evolution and less inclined to believe in creationism becomes the new Christian majority. The Creation Museum and Ark Encounter close for lack of customers, Bob Jones and Liberty University wither to the size of community colleges, and America’s long decline in STEM education begins to reverse itself. I retire to a beach on Aruba to drink mai tai’s and write occasional essays for Internet Monk, which is now run by Michael Spencer’s grandchildren and the daughter of this guy.