James Hannam explores the nature of the often reported but seldom documented age-old conflict between science and religion:
A couple of years ago, I had the privilege of giving a talk at the Royal Society in London on medieval natural philosophy. During the course of my talk, I mentioned that the great conflict between science and religion is a myth. I also covered a few of the more egregious legends that feed the myth, such as the claim that medieval people thought that the Earth is flat. Afterwards, not expecting to hear anything more on the conflict myth, I took questions. But one of the first was about Roger Bacon and William of Ockham. Weren’t they examples of scientists persecuted by the Church?
That’s the strange thing about the conflict myth: much of the evidence for it is bogus. Most people are not only ignorant of the real history of science and religion, but what they think they know is actually untrue. My interrogator at the Royal Society was misinformed about Bacon and Ockham, but had accepted what he’d heard about them because it was consistent with his overall image of the medieval Church. It’s safe to say that, when properly investigated, almost none of the allegations behind the conflict myth stack up. That’s why we hear so much about the trial of Galileo. It’s the one unambiguous example of where the Church got it wrong (even if it was not the unambiguous attack on science by religion often supposed).
So I thought readers of Strange Notions might enjoy some of the weird and wonderful ways that non-believers have told me, with a straight face, that the Church held back science. I’ll also briefly debunk each of the myths just in case you hear them yourselves.