Ron Numbers is one of our leading historians of science and pseudo-science — his The Creationists is the definitive account of that strange movement — and he has edited a fascinating new book called Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion. At the Harvard UP website you can download a nice excerpt from the book as a PDF. The “warfare model,” the notion that science and religion are somehow necessarily inimical to each other, arises far later than most people think — in the later nineteen century, more or less — and that period is the origin of many of the myths that are debunked in Galileo Goes to Jail. There’s a nice interview with Numbers here in which he says that he doesn't actually expect the warfare model to recede in influence anytime soon:

In recent years there's been a lot of activity, focusing on the relationship between science and religion, often with an eye towards showing the harmony between science and religion. As a historian it's hard for me to say what fruit this effort will bear. But, I guess that I'm somewhat sceptical about much of importance coming out of it. I think most people are fairly entrenched in their opinions. Whether it's their dedication to fundamentalist Christianity, or atheistic science, and I think that it will be very hard for those who are advocating the harmony of science and religion to make the sort of progress that they want.

This is not encouraging. But anyone who reads Galileo Goes to Jail will find that old conflictual model harder to sustain.


  1. Dr. Jacobs,
    I, and I'm sure many others, love "more than 95 theses" please don't take it down! You've earned a prominent spot on my bookmark list (I seriously need to make an Alan Jacob's file). Your thoughts and ideas are poignant, funny, thought provoking, etc. You get the idea, I'm a fan (plus my kids love Malcolm, he might as well be our dog). You, kind sir, have taught me much.
    Thank you

  2. Caroline, thanks much for the kind words. I hope to keep the tumblelog going somehow, but I can't promise at the moment.

    Tony, no, not yet. I'm a couple of books behind on Johnson, I want to read The Ghost Map first.

  3. I am quite sure that science pushes back the frontiers of superstition, which in turn I believe creates ever more space for love.

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