In 1633 one of history’s greatest scientists, Galileo Galilei, was found guilty of heresy and (under threat of torture), sent to be under house arrest where he remained for the rest of his life.
His crime? ‘Merely’ suggesting that the Earth was not, as was the church’s approved theory, the center of the Universe. Strange then, it is, that such a theory which would be laughable to utter anything against in this age, was punishable by such harsh methods.
As an atheist and student of astronomy, such stories, and many others like them, leave me feeling angry that religion has been responsible for such acts. It is not just the fact of the persecution and repression of one of science’s greatest achievers (and his theories), but also the fact that it took the church centuries (and indeed the start of an entire new millennium) to state an apology for, amongst other things, the trial of Galileo.
There are scientists who are religious, this is inevitable in a world where religion plays such a large part of people’s lives, and i am not here to argue this (though as an atheist this is a whole other argument), what i am asking is, does religion have a place to play in science?
My answer is firmly no. This is not such a black and white situation as what my answer may suggest. Even i must admit that religion, though it may not now, has had a direct benefit to science (and they are only too ready to point this out when it comes to their defence). Many of history’s greatest astronomers carried out their work for religious reasons, and much of the funding was thus religion sourced.
But this, i feel, is not the point. Despite theories being furthered in a literal sense in early scientific history through religion, the end results, that is the reasons given to such events as the rising and setting of the Sun, the motion of the planets, were based upon nothing but pleasing the church…giving them what they wanted to hear (i.e. “this happens, but it is god who ultimately causes it to happen”).
Now, human development is a part of our evolution, and it is safe to say (and i feel i must point this out incase it is brought up by a theist) that this wasn’t a case of the church forcing said scientists to declare hypotheses that they themselves didn’t believe in. Afterall what the church believed in, pretty much the whole of christian world believed. And there have of course been many great scientists who were firmly religious themselves. However, there is a major downfall to this defence of religion- the reason everyone believed what the church believe in, was because the church had spread such beliefs in the first place. It was not as if the church had adapted to popular belief, rather the other way round. So to claim now that the church has made a significant contribution to science, is in my opinion, completely wrong.
I could of course list the countless cases of religion holding back scientific progress, persecuting those such as Galileo, but i do not feel i am covering any ground not already well trod. But the point remains that, in a world where our current scientific theories threaten to upheave the church’s view on the world (and not for the first time), science must be seen as a separate entity to religion. It is important that we are objective in our research.
A good example of this was the famous confirmation of the Higgs Boson. On the day physicists confirmed the particle, news spread around the world of the discovery (which wasn’t even technically a discovery) of the ‘God Particle.’ This is a perfect example of where religion has leaked into science, creating a false sense of reality. There is of course, nothing remotely god-like about the Higgs, and those who write such things may want to look up their work before they go suggesting so.
Indeed i predict such a reaction when more light is shed on dark matter and energy (pun intended). I can just imagine such headlines such as ‘the stuff of gods discovered’ and a whole array of such awful things.
In the end, science firmly remains in the realm of science, and to people such as myself, religion remains firmly in the realm of fantasy.
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