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The Cultural Particularity of Conflict between “Religion” and “Science” in a Global Context

The Cultural Particularity of Conflict between “Religion” and “Science” in a Global Context

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The Cultural Particularity of Conflict between
“Religion” and “Science” in a Global Context

Author: Frank L. Pasquale
The Cultural Particularity of Conflict between
“Religion” and “Science” in a Global Context

Author: Frank L. Pasquale

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10/29/2013

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The Cultural Particularity of Conict between“Religion” and “Science” in a Global Context
Frank L. Pasquale 
 “S
cience” and “religion” are oundational concepts in Western thought. They are widely spoken o, and conceived o, as monolithic and adversarialphenomena. They are both, however, in the words o anthropologist Beatrice Whiting, incredibly complex “packaged variables.” As such, they are meaningulgeneralizations, but also misleading and sometimes counterproductive ones,rather than homogeneous realities. They are particularly counterproductive inthe orm, “religion
versus 
science.” Upon close scrutiny it becomes apparentthat—depending upon the denitions o “religion(s)” or “the sciences” beingemployed—there is no necessary or wholesale confict between somethingcalled “religion” and something called “science.” There are, rather, particular“religious” ideas and ideologies o time, place, and culture that have conficted with particular acts, ndings, or theories emerging rom the natural sciences onparticular subjects.Few literate people, i any, reject the laws o thermodynamics, the periodictable o the elements, or the concept o gravity on religious or any other grounds. And even with regard to biological and human evolution, i we step back romthe nearly obsessive preoccupation with this topic in the United States, only a minority o literate people worldwide exhibit whole-cloth philosophical or“religious” rejection o it.
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 The very habit o speaking
as though 
there is necessary and wholesaleconfict between “science” and “religion” is problematic. “Religion”-“science”adversarialism, conceived and broadcast as established act, makes or sensationalheadlines and high-energy crossre on cable television programs. But it doeslittle to advance human understanding or to promote
reasonable 
plural co-existence inormed by substantial appreciation or scientic learning. Moreover,
 
70
S
eculariSm
& S
cience
 
in
 
 the
21
St
c
entury
it may well erode the global competitiveness o societies that devote substantialattention and resources to such preoccupations.In what ollows, several tendencies among the most ardent partisans o apurported wholesale battle between “science” and “religion” are challenged:overgeneralization and over-simplication on both sides o thisargument.ailure to recognize and acknowledge the
 particularity 
o “conficts”between “science” and “religion.”a noticeable tendency among some science” partisans to view “religion” as a monolithic threat to all rational or scienticthought, and or some “religious”partisans to view “science” andsome o its most important ndings as signicant threats to any and all orms o “religious aith” and to the moral health o society.Implications o the purported dispute between “science” and “religion” orscientic, technological, and economic competitiveness will also be considered.
Historical Particularity
The concepts o “religion” and “science” emerged within the Western intellectualtradition. They have been viewed in many quarters as intimately related, yetantagonistic, phenomena. A standard cavalcade o celebrated fashpoints ishabitually cited, among them conficts between Roman Catholic orthodoxy and Copernicus or Galileo Galilei; scriptural literalist rejection o “Darwinismand the evolutionary descent o man; and religious obstacles to empiricalmedicine. Bertrand Russell, in
Religion and Science,
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does a customarily lucid job o recounting these and other examples o orthodox suppression o naturaldiscoveries in biology, geology, physics, anatomy, physiology, and the practiceo medicine.This duly noted, however, another Russell (historian o science Colin A.)has observed that the “confict thesis…obscures the rich diversity o ideas inboth science and religion” and “ignores many documented examples o scienceand religion operating in close alliance.”Neither o these has ever been monolithic, and there was seldom aunied reaction rom either. Thus, in the case o Galileo, it was theRoman Catholic, not the Protestant, wing o Christianity that appearedto be at odds with science. In the Darwinian controversy, a uniormresponse was lacking even within one branch o Protestantism….Moreover, the scientic community was deeply divided over religion
 
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4. t
he
c
ultural
P
articularity
 
of
c
onflict
 
between
“r
eligion
and
“S
cience
in Victorian England, the mathematical physicists being ar moresympathetic than the scientic naturalists. The confict thesis ails torecognize such variety.
3
Upon close consideration o the historical record, there is ample reason toquestion the assumption or assertion o necessary and wholesale religion-scienceconfict, even within a Christian context. Moreover, it becomes airly clear thatthe natural sciences as we now know them may well have never emerged withoutcertain ideas that grew out o the Christian intellectual tradition. Alred North Whitehead,
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or example, observed that the distinctive charactero Christian theism in Europe played a critical role in the emergence o an equally distinctive ocus on the systematic discovery o rational principles underlyingnature. It was, he suggested, the concept o a personied, rational, and
universal 
 God (particularly by the time o the Middle Ages) that laid the oundation orthe “scientic” conviction that behind the welter o seemingly disparate naturalevents lay uniying principles that were universal and discoverable through reasonand empirical method. This did not happen, or example, in China, despitemuch earlier emergence o technological achievements ar in advance o Europe,as amply documented by Joseph Needham.
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As Shigeru Nakayama notes:The Platonic conviction that eternal patterns underlie the fux o natureis so central to the Western tradition that it might seem that no scienceis possible without it….[A]lthough Chinese science assumed thatregularities were there or the nding they believed that the ultimatetexture o reality was too subtle to be ully measured or comprehendedby empirical investigation. The Japanese paid even less attention to thegeneral while showing an even keener curiosity about the particularand the evanescent.
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  A sharply drawn distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” orces,processes, or phenomena was a consequential development in human thought,particularly as developed in the West. There is no similar distinction observablein preliterate cultural worldviews, nor is it any more likely to have been made by prehistoric humans. Rather, extrapolating rom what we do know o preliteratecultures, there was an indistinguishable interplay o what we now view as“natural” and “supernatural,” or “empirical” and “magical,” in early attempts topredict, control, and come to grips with the nature o physical reality. A gradual teasing apart o natural and magical or supernatural conceptionshas been a transormative development in human history. James Thrower
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 documents the roots o an “alternative [naturalistic] tradition” in surviving

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