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    The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water,
    and breeds reptiles of the mind.
    William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

    Most of the important battles in which religion attacked science were lost centuries ago, but one in particular dominated the nineteenth century, and skirmishes have continued into the twenty-first century.

    Churchmen who were still unwilling to adopt to the findings of science were already becoming figures of ridicule in the late nineteenth centure, and would become an increasing embarrasment to more progressive clerics.

    Below is a centrefold cartoon published in Punch in January 1890, entitled Puck Presents Archdeacon Farrar's New Year's Hint - A Needed Course of Instruction For Our Religious Instructors. A figure resembling Hypatia but sized like a classical goddess, representing Science, is bathed in light and surrounded by scientific instruments. She explains the living truth of nature to Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Anglican bishops and priests, as well as to Presbyterian, Methodist, Universalist and Dutch Reformed Church leaders, and a Rabi. The text on the wall on the left quotes Frederic Farrar, Archdeacon of Westminster Abbey, whose views were clearly controversial:

    "No one who is acquainted with the history of science, and has sufficient honesty to accept facts, can possibly deny that scarcely a single truth of capital importance in science has ever been enunciated without having to struggle for life against the fury of theological dogmatists."


    "When, as is too often the case, a preacher poses as "Sir Oracle" against some scientific theory, while he is as conspicuously ignorant of science as he is of most other subjects, he presents a spectacle which is ridiculous alike to gods and men.

    Cartoon in Punch in January 1890, entitled Puck Presents Archdeacon Farrar's New Year's Hint - A Needed Course of Instruction For Our Religious Instructors. (see explanation above)



    Evolution and Genetics

    Extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science as the strangled snakes beside the cradle of Hercules.
    T. H. Huxley

    During the first half of the nineteenth century new discoveries continued to chip away at theological certainties. By the 1830s the geologist Charles Lyell had realised that for geology to become a respectable science it was necessary to accept that the forces that had sculpted Earth's surface in the past were just the same as those that operate now. The problem was that this implied hugely extended timescales. Lyell doubted the story of Noah's flood and felt obliged to resign his chair at King's College London in 1833. There were biological problems too. If species were immutable then the intestinal worm must have existed since the creation. Yet Adam and Eve lived in perfection until their fruity disobedience. So how did the intestinal worm survive between the creation and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden? This question presented a serious problem for the theologians. They eventually deduced that worm eggs must have existed before the fall, but were not hatched until after it.

    The Christian version of where fossils came from - Noah's flood
    Bibliothèque nationale de France, Français 174, detail of f. 83r (the Flood).
    Augustine, De civitate dei. Paris, beginning of the 15th century

    In England at least, the questions of Natural History were answered by Natural Theology, as developed in the work of William Paley, a fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge. Arguments were brought to bear to prove that various aspects of nature provided proof of the conscious work of a benign God. How thoughtful he had been to provide stomach linings to protect us from our own stomach acids. How clever to provide lions with big teeth. How wise to place polar bears in the Arctic instead of Sun-dried deserts. How considerate to provide rabbits with conspicuous white tails, so that they would be easier to shoot. How imaginative to provide so many harmful creatures to chastise us and so remind us of our sinfulness. Such explanations convinced many, but evidence continued to accumulate to show that species were not immutable. And there were other problems too. Why had God omitted to mention Australasian marsupials in his infallible book of all world knowledge?

    The whole question of the mutability of species was resolved by Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace. Darwin had originally been destined for the Church, and had attended Paley's old college at Cambridge. In the 1830s he sailed on board the Beagle as ship's naturalist. He was an outstanding observer, and widely read. Amongst other works he had read Malthus on population growth, and he took Lyell's Principles of Geology with him on the Beagle. He had also been exposed to some revolutionary ideas. His own grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, had speculated about evolution. When Charles came to prepare his journal for publication after his voyage he started to question his belief in the permanence of species. As one authority says:

    Darwin was struck by a number of facts observed during his voyage which seemed at odds with the view that each species had been individually created. The organic life and fossils he studied so intensively and collected with such assiduity seemed littered with clues, odd similarities, and juxtapositions. Why did closely allied animals replace one another as one travelled southwards? Why did extinct fossil species show such close structural relation to living animals? Above all, why, in the Galapagos Islands did the finches and the giant tortoises show slight variations from island to island, so that the local inhabitants could always tell from which island a tortoise had come? The more closely different species resembled each other in adjacent areas or in different epochs in the same area, the more likely did it seem that those species might share a common ancestor, and the less plausible seemed the hypothesis of a separate creation of each separate species*.

    The horror was that Darwin and Wallace proposed a mechanism (natural selection) by which new animal species could have come into existence. Worse still, it explained how complex organs — like eyes — could have come about without the need for divine assistance. This was a severe blow to the Church because, for the first time, there was a credible alternative explanation for the existence of mankind, although Darwin himself was careful to play this down.

    NY Graphic 7 December 1874, The Light of Science and the Spectres of Superstition

    Clergymen in nineteenth century England were often keen naturalists. Country parsons studied flora and fauna, and found in their studies repeated confirmation of God's creation. They knew the ways of nature, its complexity, its intricacy, its interrelationships and its curiosities. It had all been seen as evidence of a great design. But now Darwin and Wallace had blown a great hole in this bastion of certainty. Darwin himself, once a prospective candidate for the clergy, lost his Christian faith and in time came to regard Christian teaching as a "damnable doctrine"*. As he said: "The old argument of design in Nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered"*.

    Those country parsons knew too much about natural history to dismiss Darwin's theory, as uneducated fundamentalists could. As amateur naturalists they might themselves have wondered why God should have created the upland goose with webbed feet if it had never needed to swim. Why did vestigial organs exist? Why had God given to the bee a less than ideal defence — a sting that killed the bee itself if it was ever used? Why were there apparent family resemblances between horse and donkey, dog and wolf, rabbit and hare, sheep and goat, and so on? Like Darwin, amateur naturalists may well also have been horrified to think that their all-merciful God could have created something like the ichneumon wasps, whose parasitic larvae feed upon caterpillars from within their living bodies. As Darwin put it "What a book a devil's chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low, and horridly cruel works of nature!"*.

    Only the ignorant could ignore Darwin's discovery. His work was a bombshell that shook the Church of England and all other mainstream Churches to their foundations. Some clergymen left the Church. Others fought a rearguard action and tried to refute the theory. Some possible fronts had been foreseen by Darwin himself. For example, he had noted that any animal feature that existed for the benefit of another species, but did not confer any benefit on its own, would be fatal for his theory. Churchmen looked for such features, and some are still looking. No such feature has so far been found. Another possibility was to find an example of some feature that could not possibly be explained by evolution. This seemed a promising area, since many features had always been assumed to have been created by God purely for the delight of mankind. In Darwin's time there were quite a few possibilities, but they provided perfect scope for further research. (In investigating apparent anomalies scientists were to refine their understanding of evolution, for example identifying the gene and not the organism as the primary driver of evolution*, and understanding the role of sexual selection, competitive evolutionary races, and parasitism*.) Another argument used was that Darwin's theory failed to explain the development of complex organs, the classic example being the eye. As it turned out the eye provides a good case study showing how complex organs can evolve, since eyes have evolved many times over and there are living examples to illustrate each major stage of development*.

    In June 1860 Thomas Huxley faced Bishop Samuel Wilberforce in a public debate at Oxford. This is generally held to mark a turning point in the influence of the Church in England, but it would take a long time for its power to wane significantly. In 1864 it was still possible to muster almost 11,000 clergymen to sign a declaration that the whole of the Bible was the word of God. Academics who accepted the new ideas had to be careful if they wanted to keep their jobs. Inconvenient fossils were now explained away as tests of faith planted deliberately by God. The idea was that the discoveries concerning fossils would affect only those with inadequate faith and thus weed them out from true believers. Alternatively, perhaps some species had become extinct after all, but all this meant was that God had made a few "providential adjustments" for his own reasons to his perfect creation. Or perhaps there had been several separate creations. Perhaps the present one was only the last in a series of them, and only this one was described in the Bible.

    Professors who spoke out for science put their chairs at risk, as Lyell had done. In America the geologist Alexander Winchell lost his position at Vanderbilt University in 1878 for informing his students that they were descended from organisms that lived before the time of Adam. Such sackings continue even now, where the Church still exercises power. For example George Coyne was removed from his position as Director of the Vatican Observatory by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006, apparently for voicing his scientific views on evolution and doubting the so-called “intelligent design” hypothesis favoured by His Holiness*. Even so there are signs of movement. Well into the twentieth century the Roman Church held to the line that the creation story in Genesis was strictly historical but they and most other mainstream Churches have gone quiet on this question. Those chronologies of events alongside the text of Bibles could still be found into the twentieth century, but have now been abandoned.

    Cartoon from the Moody Bible Institute, by Urban Sereno Abell, March 1922.
    Abell's favourite targets were Modernism and evolutionary science.


    In 1925, the Tennessee legislature passed the BUTLER LAW, which forbade the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution in any public school or university.
    Other Southern states followed with similar legislation.


    OF THE





    CHAPTER NO. 27

    House Bill No. 185 (By Mr. Butler)

    AN ACT prohibiting the teaching of the Evolution Theory in all the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of Tennessee, which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, and to provide penalties for the violations thereof.

    Section 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.

    Section 2. Be it further enacted, That any teacher found guilty of the violation of this Act, Shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction, shall be fined not less than One Hundred $ (100.00) Dollars nor more than Five Hundred ($ 500.00) Dollars for each offense.

    Section 3. Be it further enacted, That this Act take effect from and after its passage, the public welfare requiring it.


    Passed March 13, 1925

    W.F. Barry,
    Speaker of the House of Representatives

    L.D. Hill,
    Speaker of the Senate


    Approved March 21, 1925.

    Austin Peay,


    As Darwin and Wallace were developing their ideas, the science of genetics was independently being pioneered by Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian monk, later Abbot of his monastery in Moravia. His work, published in 1866, was frowned upon by his superiors, even though its implications were not foreseen at the time. The significance of his work, and its relationship to that of Darwin, was not appreciated until the twentieth century. Nevertheless Mendel was consistently discouraged from pursuing his researches. In spite of this he made some of the most important biological breakthroughs of his age, although the full scope of his discoveries will never be known. The abbot who succeeded him was a conventional churchman with traditional Christian views of science, and so caused Mendel's scientific papers to be burned. Fortunately Mendel had already had some papers published. His work was rediscovered in the twentieth century, and provided a key step in unravelling the physical mechanism by which heredity and evolution operate. Mendel's discoveries were synthesised with Darwin's only in the 1930s , setting the scene for the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953.



    Creation Science

    Nothing is more dangerous than an idea, when you have only one idea.
    Alain (Émile-Auguste Chartier) (1868-1951), Propos sur la religion (1938), no. 74

    After a long series of defeats, mainstream Christians have given up the battle over evolution and retreated to more ethereal territory, whose existence is unknown to science. Relatively few crusaders are still prepared to sally forth to attack infidel scientists on solid ground, but some do. Skirmishes are still taking place, and Christian books are still being published that purport to disprove the theory of evolution.

    Most Christians in developed countries now accept the Theory of Evolution as being as much a fact as the Theory of Gravitation or the Germ Theory of Disease. More liberal denominations have accepted it as a fact since the 1870s, and others have gradually been catching up. In 1996 Pope John Paul II recognised that evolution was “more than a hypothesis”*. On the other hand his successor seems to favour so-called “intelligent design”. Some 65% of people in the USA still believe that human beings were created directly by God, and that apparently does not include those who believe in “intelligent design”*.

    Anglican churchmen embrace Darwin's theory with enthusiasm, claiming that it demonstrates the glory of God. This position was more credible when it was widely thought that mankind stood at the pinnacle of the evolutionary tree, for it could then be claimed that evolution had been God's vehicle for creating a being worthy to worship its creator. Unfortunately no evolutionary scientist now believes mankind to hold a special place in evolution. There is no pinnacle of evolution. We are at the end of one branch and there is nothing at all special about that branch. Furthermore like all other living branches, the one we occupy is still developing. We have not reached perfection, nor are we even evolving towards perfection. Like all living creatures on Earth we are evolving to best fit our changing environment. Another shock to those who sought to place humanity high aloft at the pinnacle of creation came when it was discovered that more than 98.5 per cent of human DNA is shared with chimpanzees, and over 50% with bananas.

    One reaction to such facts is simple denial. Fundamentalist Christians can still be found who deny a wide range of scientific discoveries, including the evidence that Earth is more than 6,000 years old. To do this it is necessary to reject the validity of carbon dating and similar techniques with other isotopes. They deny the reality of genetic mutation despite the fact that certain viruses (like the influenza virus) are known to mutate every year. They deny the power of selection, despite the power of artificial selection, as demonstrated, for example, by the wide variation in breeds of cats and dogs (which are attributable to selection by humans). They deny the significance of common skeletal forms and shared DNA patterns. They also refuse to accept that since the nineteenth century extensive fossil series have been discovered showing the development of a number of species. They dismiss the parallel taxonomies obtained by physical and genetic analysis. They find excuses for inconvenient bits of anatomy like the human coccyx. They also ignore the correspondence between embryonic development (ontogeny) and the evolution of the species (phylogeny), such as the gills developed by the human foetus in its early stages of development, a reminder of those of our ancient aquatic ancestors. Why do human foetuses grow a coat of hair and then lose it again at five months? Why do baleen whale foetuses grow sets of teeth that are later reabsorbed into the body? For most of us it is because ontology recapitulates phylogeny but for biblical literalists it is yet another great mystery, to set beside the mystery of why God arranged for around 99% of all species that he ever created to die out.

    Some apologists repeat old arguments that have long been refuted. For example, the argument that evolution fails to explain the development of complex organs, such as the eye. This argument is still used by fundamentalists who ignore its repeated refutation. Since there is no evidence to reject evolutionary theory, fundamentalist authors are often obliged to fall back on falsehoods and half-truths*. Apparently unaware of the state of modern science, even mainstream churchmen are still using arguments that display ignorance of the subject. The Bishop of Birmingham, Hugh Montefiore, has employed what has been called the Argument from Personal Incredulity. It may be summarised as follows: I can"t think of a reason why X should evolve, therefore there is no evolutionary reason. Consequently God must be responsible for it. To take a specific example: I can"t think of a reason why polar bears should evolve with white fur, therefore there is no evolutionary reason. Consequently God must be responsible for it. Apart from the obvious flaw in the argument, the bishop was apparently unaware that evolutionary scientists have a perfectly good explanation for the polar bear's white fur*.

    One of the main arguments against evolution put forward by creationists is Paley's long discredited argument that the world is too complex to have occurred "by chance" and so must have been designed by an intelligent entity. This argument betrays a misunderstanding of how evolution by natural selection operates. Although randomly-occurring genetic mutations play a part in evolution, the primary driver of the whole mechanism, natural selection, is the antithesis of a random or chance process: it is by definition selective i.e. non-random, non-chance. To continue trying to use Paly's argument therefore betrays not just a misunderstanding of evolution, but a wilful insistence on misunderstanding evolution.

    Poe's law, named after its author Nathan Poe, states that without a clear indication of the author's intent, it is difficult to tell the difference between an expression of sincere extremism and a parody of extremism.

    Elsewhere, even stranger ideas survived. In 1980 a judge in Georgia stated that the teaching of evolution was a direct cause of adultery and incest. In the next decade fundamentalists in the USA enjoyed a resurgence. Taking the word theory to mean what it does colloquially (a guess) rather than what it does scientifically (a rigorously tested hypothesis), they concluded that evolutionary theory was no more reliable than their creationist theory. Here was another example of the linguistic deceit in action, for the whole point about scientific theories is that they can be rationally tested, and a prime characteristic of religious beliefs is that they cannot. Despite this the ploy was partially successful. Proponents put forward the claim that creationism deserves equal scientific status, and equal time in school curriculae. In Texas, guidelines were issued stating that evolution should be presented as only a theory.

    Attempts were made to dress creationist arguments in secular clothes. Creationism, now presented as “intelligent design” was acclaimed by fundamentalist Christians as an alternative scientific theory, deserving of equal respect. In Kansas the School Board passed a resolution that alternative theories (“intelligent design” and evolution) should be given equal time on the scientific curriculum. This position became untenable when a third theory, that of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, was introduced to the fray with a similar request for equal time*.

    Having attracted the derision of the entire Western world, the fundamentalist Christian members of the board were roundly defeated in the next election and this line of purporting to give equal time to all “theories” was abandoned.

    The Flying Speghitti Monster has since become a standard tool for combatting any proposed legislation that favours particular religious groups in the US, as for example on the right.


    Origins of Life

    I sometimes think that God, in creating man, overestimated his ability
    Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

    The failure of science to explain the diversity of life can no longer be adduced as evidence for divine creation. But the origin of life was another matter. The failure of science to explain the origin of life could still be cited as evidence for divine creation. For the argument to work it was necessary to find something special about life, something that could be explained only by recourse to God.

    By the end of the eighteenth century the argument took the form that only living organisms could generate organic chemicals, and they did so because of some mysterious life force. Scientists could try to synthesise organic chemicals, but they would always fail because only God could do it. This doctrine was called vitalism. It was abandoned after Friedrich Wöhler showed how to synthesise an organic compound, urea, from ammonia and cyanic acid in 1828.

    After regrouping, the next theological offensive was to claim that, even though scientists could synthesise organic chemicals, they could not explain how the building blocks of life could have come into being. In 1952-3, Stanley Miller and Harold Urey demonstrated that an electric charge passed through an atmosphere of simple inorganic gases could produce amino acids and nitrogenous bases. It was now clear that complex organic compounds, the building blocks of life, could be made under natural conditions from a mixture of naturally occurring gases such as ammonia, nitrogen, methane, oxides of carbon and water vapour. Another line was looking untenable, so an alternative was required.

    The best alternative argument was that, however clever scientists were, they could not explain how Mendelian inheritance worked. The mechanisms were a divine secret. But not for long. Crick and Watson discovered the structure of DNA within months of Miller and Urey's experiments. Now the work of Darwin and Mendel fitted even more firmly into place.

    The next line was that however clever scientists were, they could not create life itself. The giving of life was the province of God alone, and he would not permit mere humans to usurp his prerogatives. But then scientists started to do exactly that. Complex self-replicating molecules have been developed in a number of laboratories*, and even if these discoveries are discounted (on the grounds that the environment is artificial, or life is more than molecular replication) there are other ways of creating life. Animals were cloned, hybrids created artificially, and human babies fertilised in a test tube. The human genome has been deciphered so that the only remaining constraints on creating human life are ethical ones. The Churches no longer assert that scientists will never be able to create life. On the contrary, many complain that they already can and do. Ardent Christians in various countries now campaign for ever tighter laws to stop them.



    When enough people share a delusion, it loses its status as a psychosis and gets a religious tax exemption instead.
    Ronald DeSousa

    For traditional Christianity, science was sinful. The Bible contained the answers to all questions. Consequently almost no progress in human knowledge occurred while the Church controlled learning. It impeded and regressed progress in all fields, except scientific warfare, for hundreds of years. It tried to extinguish the learning of the ancient world, and persecuted proto-scientists within its own dominions — herbalists, midwives, alchemists and others. Only in the late Middle Ages did people start to realise how much they had lost, and were then obliged to comb the known world for items of ancient knowledge that their Christian forbears had failed to destroy. When Europeans began to explore the world in the fifteenth century, they had to re-learn the arts of map-making and navigation from Ptolemy's Almegast, a compendium of Alexandrian learning dating from around AD 150 , shortly before Christians took over power in the Roman Empire.

    If Christians had encouraged the sort of theoretical enquiry permitted in ancient times, our knowledge today would certainly be much greater than it is. Without the restraints on free thought and suppression of contrary opinions, the theory of evolution might have been proposed centuries earlier than it was. If genuine rational enquiry had been encouraged, there is no other reason why technology should not have developed much earlier. Hypatia, or someone like her, might have developed advanced scientific methods. Electricity and magnetism might have been harnessed during the Dark Ages. Non-Euclidean geometry, the theory of relativity, non-standard algebras, atomic physics, modern technologies, and a host of other developments could have taken place 1,000 years ago. People then were essentially no different from people now. Their mental abilities were the same. The only difference was the influence of the Church.

    Arguably, one of the greatest crimes of the Church was to divert great minds into vapid speculation when those minds might have helped mankind in medical research or in a thousand other useful ways. Men like Aquinas and Duns Scotus spent their time speculating about the location of Hell and whether tears shed thed were salty, and a thousand other empty questions. The Jesuit Athanasius Kircher and many others spent their time working out how Noah's ark was constructed.

    Musical screeching catsKircher was one of the greatest ever minds of conventional Christendom. As a scientist he might have made important contributions to the world. As it is he is remembered by a few for his religiosity, his “vomiting machine”, his eaves-dropping statues, his cabalistic studies and a sort of musical instrument powered by screeching cats. Such men (and countless unknown women) might have rivalled Leonardo da Vinci or Galileo if the Church had not trammelled their minds by fictions.

    A bat-cat depicted as a real creature in Athanasius Kircher's China Monumentis (1667)

    One of the greatest disasters wrought by Christianity was the suppression of science for the 1500 years when Christian ideas reigned supreme. We all know about cases of proto-scientists like Michael Servetus and Giordano Bruno who were burned alive for questioning Christian views. We also know about cases where people were silenced by the prospect of being burned at the stake. A more subtle disaster was the waste of time caused by religious indoctrination. The greatest minds were trammelled in infancy so that (however great they were) they could never be fully liberated to achieve their full potential. Galileo was constrained by the orthodox view that planetary orbits must be circular. Kepler believed the traditional teaching that angels kept the planets moving. Newton wasted time trying to decipher the Bible's hidden secrets. Even Darwin frittered away his time as a young putative clergyman puzzling over bogus prophecies in the book of Daniel.

    Another way in which Christian teaching inhibited scientific progress was though social pressure. Anyone who carried out research that might question traditional teaching had been liable to be executed for blasphemy. As the Churches lost power, the threat became less, ranging from clerically inspired mob violence (eg Joseph Priestly), to loss of occupation (eg 19th century geologists), and social ostracism (eg William Godwin). This is one reason why almost all scientific progress up to the mid-nineteenth century was made by noblemen and rich scions of noble families. They moved in educated circles where traditional Church teachings were already held in contempt, and rich circles where the power of the Church was limited.

    For others the social pressure could enormous. One spectacular example of this was provided by Thomas Fairchild, a celebrated eighteenth century gardener in Hoxton, near the City of London. Fairchild was the first to create a plant hybrid in (perhaps before) 1717. He placed the pollen of Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) on the style of a gillyflower (Dianthus caryophyllus). The next year, the new hybrid flower, a type of carnation, came into bloom looking like neither of its parents, establishing sexual reproduction in plants. The infertile flower became known as "Fairchild's Mule." Hybrids had existed before Thomas Fairchild (Shakespeare makes reference to the question of their natural or unnatural qualities in "The Winters' Tale") but what Fairchild was doing was clearly blasphemous. It was "playing God", presuming to tamper with God's Creation, exactly the same religious objection still made by traditionalist Christians to modern genetic science. Fairchild worried about a backlash occasioned by his taking the power over creation into his own hands. To compound his crime, Fairchild had recognised that plants had sexes. He corresponded with Linnaeus who also recognised the existence of plant sexes. Cross-pollinating species manually was obscene as well as blasphemous, and a cause of righteous criticism of both Fairchild and Linnaeus.

    The significance of Fairchild's work was enormous. He became celebrated in scientific circles for his experiment, and presented a dried flower from his hybrid to the Royal Society in 1720. His work should have triggered much further research, but it did not. Outside the scientific community it was blasphemous to attempt to create a new species, because God had already created all the species he wanted on Earth. Fairchild did not pursue the obvious lines of further research, and neither did anyone else until his ideas were taken up again by horticulturalists a century later when the influence of Christianity had diminished further.

    Fairchild, a devout Christian, would live in fear of God's wrath for the rest of his life. He died in 1729, apparently still frightened about the prospects for his soul. He bequeathed twenty-five pounds to St Leonard's Church in the Hackney Rd for the endowment of an annual Whitsun sermon on either "The wonderful works of God in Creation" or "On the certainty of the resurrection of the dead, proved by certain changes of the animal and vegetable parts of creation". This annual event, evidently a form of atonement for his sins, became known as the "Vegetable Sermon" and is still held each year (attended by the Worshipful Company of Gardeners) providing a baleful reminder of the influence of the Anglican Church in the ninteenth century.

    Christianity has always made an enemy of science, although science has only ever made an enemy of ignorance. The Church declared war on science, and used every weapon it had: coercion, censorship, suppression, persecution, torture, imprisonment and the stake. The Church had God on its side in every battle, yet it lost every one, generally to a handful of independent and often self-financing freethinking eccentrics — always after a prolonged struggle. Christianity's book of all world knowledge, the Bible, was shown to be badly flawed in many ways. The Christian Churches, depending upon it, were consistently wrong. They were wrong about the age of the cosmos and of Earth. They were wrong about the length of time mankind had existed. They were wrong about geographic and climatic stability. They were wrong about the immutability of species and the occurrence of mass extinctions. Christians thought that they were right beyond all doubt and asserted that they were voicing God's eternal truths, as God himself confirmed to them from time to time, yet they were consistently and comprehensively wrong.

    As they retreated the Church fought rearguard actions. As it withdrew it was left with ever-smaller patches of territory. The God who once ruled everywhere became the God of the Gaps, as Einstein called him. Christianity now occupied gaps in scientific knowledge where science had not yet advanced. The God of the Gaps became ever less credible as the gaps became smaller and fewer. Protestants have learned to retreat ever more gracefully, and now rarely pick new fights. Roman Catholics generally hold out until faced with mass desertions by the faithful, then abandon territory as quietly as possible, and then claim that they never held that particular territory anyway. Fundamentalists imagine that they still hold territory that everyone else agrees was lost many years ago. At the other extreme liberal theologians are careful not to claim any territory at all that they might conceivably have to relinquish at any stage in the future and, to make doubly sure, have developed their own language comprehensible only to themselves and impenetrable to everyone else.

    Now the areas of conflict arise for different reasons, for example because academic disciplines have taken an interest in Christianity and its belief system. Archaeologists have uncovered acts of vandalism; chemists have revealed the frequency with which documents were forged; biologists and physicists have exposed miracle-working relics as frauds; historians have shown where and when doctrines originated; psychologists have identified factors that predispose people to religious belief; psychiatrists have revealed the nature of sadomasochistic and other sexual fantasies so popular in traditional Christianity; anthropologists have shown Christianity to be much the same as other religions in function and development; philosophers have discredited Christianity's "proofs" of God's existence, and indeed the whole of scholastic philosophy, just as astronomers comprehensively discredited the Church's cosmology. Scientific revelations are sometimes seen by the devout as unfair, and sometimes even as fabrications — as though scientists were attacking Christian belief, rather than exposing the truth.

    Not all religions take the Christian view of their relationship to science

    Christians are still generally antipathetic to scientific endeavour. Studies during the twentieth century revealed for example that Christians are vastly under-represented among American scientists. In one study Roman Catholics accounted for less than 1 per cent of the scientists surveyed, although they accounted for over 26 per cent of the population at large. Non-Christians on the other hand were vastly over-represented. Some 77 per cent of scientists were neither Protestant nor Roman Catholic, yet only 7 per cent of the population fell into this category*. Christian graduates saw a serious conflict between science and Church teachings*. A study concentrating on differences between academic disciplines revealed that fewer than 14 per cent of distinguished psychologists believed in God. No figures were available for philosophers, apparently because they found the concept meaningless, or at least inadequately defined*. Other studies revealed that the more eminent scientists were, the less likely they were to believe in God*, and another that the strength of religious belief is inversely related to scientific productivity*. Another study showed that the strength of religious belief is related to authoritarianism and inversely related to creativity*.




    Christian Carttons

    A German cartoon lampooning Darwin, 1900


    King's Business, 1922
    Modernism destroying Christian civilisation


    In this cartoon by the Catholic cartoonist Abell, atheists are quoted to show that Modernists are really atheists in diguise.


    In this cartoon by the Catholic cartoonist Abell, it is suggested that God has caused a drought as a punishment for tolerating Modernism


    In this cartoon by the Catholic cartoonist Abell, evolution and atheism are represented as undermining schools


    n this recent cartoon, evolution is represented as a supernatural belief system. Many fundamentals still consider it a sort of religion.


    Another modern creationist cartoon

    1923 Sun Sch Times July 14 Pace




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    §. John Burrow, in his Editor's Introduction to the Penguin edition of Darwin's Origin of Species.

    §. Charles Darwin, Autobiography (1958 edition), cited by Knight, Humanist Anthology, p 61. It is not absolutely clear from the text whether Darwin was referring to Christianity in general, or to the Christian doctrine of eternal punishment in particular:

    "Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress, and have never since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was correct. I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine."

    §. Charles Darwin, Autobiography (1958 edition), cited by Knight, Humanist Anthology, p 61.

    §. Charles Darwin (1809-82), Letter to J. D. Hooker, 13 th July 1856 (in Correspondence of Charles Darwin vol. 6 (1990)).

    §. See for example Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, new ed. Oxford University Press (New York, 1989).

    §. See for example Matt Ridley, The Red Queen, Penguin ( London, 1994).

    §. See for example Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden, pp 88 ff. for a simple explanation, also The Blind Watchmaker by the same author.

    §. “ Pope Sacks Astronomer OverEvolution Debate” Daily Mail 23 August 2006.

    §. Message delivered to the Pontifcal Academy of Sciences 22 October 1996. See for the full text in English.

    §. Wolpert, Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, p 212 reports, oddly that “Some 65 per cent of Americans believe that human beingswere directly created by God, while only 22% per cent believe in Darwinian evolution and intelligent design”. American scientists are more in line with their peers in Western Europe: over 90% of scientists belonging to the National Academy of Science in the USA are non-believers (p214).

    §. A spectacular example of a book opposed to evolutionary theory that relies heavily on falsehoods and invalid reasoning is Life — How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or Creation? published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society Of New York, Inc. International Bible Students Association, Brooklyn, New York, USA (1985).

    §. Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, pp 37-41, dealswith the bishop's Argument from Personal Incredulity and in particular the whiteness of polar bears.

    §. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is still flourishing. See

    §. At the time of writing, the latest breakthrough (2009) is the discovery, by John Sutherland of Manchester University, of a viable mechanism by which nucleotides, the building blocks of RNA, could have assembled themselves. New York Times 14 May 2009, pA23, A Leading Mystery of Life's Origins is Seemingly Solved.

    §. F. Bello, "The Young Scientists", Fortune, 49, (1954), pp 142-3.

    §. G. E. Lenski, The Religious Factor, revised edition, Doubleday (New York, 1963)

    §. J. H. Leuba (1934) "Religious beliefs of American Scientists", Harper's , 169, p 297.

    §. Several studies showing an inverse relationship between Christian belief and scientific eminence are cited by Argyle and Beit-Hallahmi in The Social Psychology of Religion, p 88.

    §. P. Heist et al (1961), "Personality and Scholarship", Science, 133, pp 362-7.

    §. Several studies showing an inverse relationship between creativity and authoritarianism, and religious belief are cited by Argyle and Beit-Hallahmi in The Social Psychology of Religion, pp 94-5.


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