Sunday, January 08, 2006

A patron for geologists!

Nicolas Steno has been beatified? Wow! I had no idea! They never mentioned that in my introductory geology classes, just his various laws (original horizontality, superposition, etc.). One of the pioneers of modern geology too!

Live and learn.

From this great Washington Post piece on the supposed war between science and religion (via Open Book).
When Steno proposed the geological investigation of the earth's strata, the loudest howls came from other scientists. One of the puzzles Steno addressed was that of fossilized seashells found high in mountains. Land and sea had shifted, he said. But there was already a "scientific" explanation: spontaneous growth within the rocks. So there was no need, as one contemporary put it, to "turn the world upside down for the sake of a shell." Ironically, the idea seemed to be more palatable among some theological conservatives than among rationalists: God could do whatever he wanted.

What about that most contentious of issues -- Genesis? Biblical scholars such as the 17th-century Anglican archbishop James Ussher had deduced from Scripture that the world was about 6,000 years old. Some observers at the time were indeed nervous that the earth's layers might reveal a much longer history. Young Earth creationists today refuse to countenance any deviation from Ussher's figure. But for mainstream 17th-century Christians, it was a non-issue. Allegorical interpretations of Genesis had been relatively uncontroversial at least since the time of Saint Augustine.

What was controversial was not the numerical date of creation, but whether there had been creation at all -- or if the earth and its inhabitants were eternal, as some radical philosophers asserted. For orthodox Christians, the eternalist heresy was scary indeed: No creation, no Creator; no Creator, no religion.
The historical relationship between science and religion has been as complex as any human relationship. There is no reason to think that this will change. The warfare thesis suits the polemical purposes of partisans in certain social and political debates. But it harms religion by portraying it as overly dogmatic and reactionary. It also harms science by portraying it as hostile or at least indifferent to the average person's spiritual needs.
Again, goes to show, how important good history is! :)

Two great links from the comments over at Open Book, posted by Kevin Jones.

Beyond War and Peace: A reappraisal of of the encounter between Christianity and Science.

The Mythical conflict between religion and science.

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