Stark suggests that there is a similar problem with the process knownas
, because the term itself, coined by Voltaire, wasappropriated by various militant atheists and humanists who sought toclaim the credit for the rise of science. As Stark points out, "Thefalsehood that science required the defeat of religion was proclaimedby such self-appointed cheerleaders as Voltaire and Gibbon, whothemselves played no part in the scientific enterprise."
This depictionof the Enlightenment, as if it was some kind of clean secular breakfrom the past, persists today, but, as John Coffey points out, it could bemore accurately described as a religious process. This is because manyof those at the vanguard of the movement were Protestants (thoughcertainly not all orthodox) who sought to fuse religious andphilosophical ideas together. This is not to deny the role of certaingroups of atheist thinkers, but crucially these were not representativeof the Enlightenment as a whole. Furthermore, DominicErdozain argues that you can trace a lot of the unbelief of the timeback to expressly religious roots. It was a Christian conscience (ratherthan a secular or pagan one) that drove much of the Enlightenmentthought and a poignant example of this was the way in which Voltaireoften used Jesus—albeit his own interpretation of him—in order toattack the church.
It is always helpful, therefore, to bear in mind John Hedley Brookes'comments, when he reminds us that: "In many of the disputes thathave been conventionally analyzed in terms of some notional relationbetween science and religion, the underlying issues were principallyabout neither science nor religion, nor the relationship between them,but were matters of social, ethical or political concern in which theauthority of either science, religion or both was invoked (often on bothsides) to defend a view held on other grounds…"
As this suggests, simplistic ways of understanding history honorneither history nor the present.
Simon Wenham is research coordinator for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries inEurope.
Article adapted from Simon Wenham's, "Making History: The 'War' Between Science andReligion,"
, Issue 8 (Summer 2011), pp. 2-4.
Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion