Science Always Defeats Religion

by James A Haught

The historic war between science and religion began in Ancient Greece, and it still roils more than two millennia later. Science has won every encounter, yet supernatural believers won’t surrender.

Classical Greece teemed with magical faith. Multitudes of animals were sacrificed to a bizarre array of invisible gods who supposedly lived atop Mount Olympus. Throngs gave money to oracles who allegedly conveyed messages from the gods. Even “sacred wars” were fought over wealth accumulated by oracle shrines.

Amid all this mumbo-jumbo, a few wise thinkers began seeking natural explanations, not supernatural ones. It was the birth of science—but it was risky, because believers killed nonbelievers.

Anaxagoras (500-428 BCE) taught that the sun and moon are natural objects, not deities. He was sentenced to death for impiety, but escaped into exile.

Protagoras (490-420 BCE) said he didn’t know whether gods exist—so he was banished from Athens. His writings were burned, and he drowned while fleeing at sea.

The most famous martyr was Socrates (470-399 BCE), who was sentenced to death for offenses including “not worshiping the gods worshiped by the state.”

Through centuries, believers often killed scientific thinkers, but science always proved correct.

Hypatia (c. 360-415 CE), a brilliant woman who headed Alexandria’s famed library of knowledge, was beaten to death by Christian followers of St. Cyril.

Rachel Weisz as Hypatia of Alexandria in the film Agora (2009)

Physician Michael Servetus (c. 1510-1553)—the first to learn that blood flows from the heart to the lungs and back—was burned in John Calvin’s Puritanical Geneva for doubting the Trinity.

Bruno Giordano (1548-1600) was burned by the Holy Inquisition for teaching that Earth circles the sun, and the universe is infinite. Galileo narrowly escaped the same fate for the same reason, but was sentenced to house arrest for life.

By the time that Charles Darwin (1809-1882) perceived evolution, western religion mostly had lost the power to kill nonconformists. His great breakthrough unleashed a religion-vs.-science battle that still rages today. It caused the notorious “Scopes Monkey Trial” in Tennessee in 1925, and still flares when fundamentalists try to ban evolution from public school science courses. They contend that a supernatural father-creator made all species in modern form about 6,000 years ago—while science proves that life goes back vastly further, and that new species evolved from former ones. Evolution has become the bedrock of modern biology.

Jim in the 1950s as a U.S. Navy Reservist, with his baby cousin.

The struggle between science and religion also arises when some strong believers let their children die because—trusting promises by Jesus that prayer will cure disease—they refuse to get medical help.

Nowadays, nearly everyone realizes that science is a colossal boon to humanity, curing disease, eliminating drudgery, advancing knowledge, opening worldwide communications and generally making life better. In 1900, the average lifespan was just 48 years, but now it’s near 80, thanks mostly to medical improvements. In contrast, religion gives the world little, and Islamic extremism causes constant slaughter.

Science wins every showdown, constantly undercutting religion’s supernatural dogmas. World-renowned biologist Richard Dawkins says faith “subverts science and saps the intellect.” Luckily, it’s still losing the war between science and religion.

 

Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail, and is writer-in-residence for the United Coalition of Reason. He may be reached by e-mail, either at haught@wvgazettemail.com or jhaught@unitedcor.org.

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1 Response

  1. November 24, 2017

    […] I follow the website for the United Coalition of Reason regularly. They had an article recently written by James Haught that looks at how science has clashed with religion over the course of time. That clash has exited from the time of Ancient Greece with Anaxagoras teaching that the sun and moon are natural objects while others believed them to be deities, up to modern times with the Scopes Monkey trial in Dayton, Tennessee. The article puts the perspective of religion clashing with science in much ot history regardless of the faith system.  You can read the article in “Science Always Defeats Religion.”  […]