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Encyclopedia > Conflict thesis
Galileo before the Holy Office by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury, a classic depiction of science clashing with religion
Galileo before the Holy Office by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury, a classic depiction of science clashing with religion

Note to readers: This article is a draft and is currently incomplete. Please see the talk page for additional information. Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury (1797 - 1890), French painter, was born at Cologne. ...

The conflict thesis, also known as the warfare thesis, the warfare model or the Draper-White thesis, is an interpretive model of the relationship between religion and science. According to the conflict thesis, any interaction between religion and science almost inevitably leads to open hostility, with religion usually taking the part of the aggressor against new scientific ideas. The conflict thesis was a popular historiographical approach in the history of science during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but many historians of science and related academics no longer accept it. It remains popular with a general audience. The relationship between science and religion takes many forms. ... Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Science For the scientific journal named Science, see Science (journal). ... Historiography is the study of the way history is and has been written. ... Science is a body of verifiable empirical knowledge, a global community of scholars, and a set of techniques for investigating the universe known as the scientific method. ...



The most influential exponents of the conflict thesis were John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White. In the early 1870s, Draper was invited to write a book on History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874). He directed his criticism primarily against Roman Catholicism, while assessing Islam and Protestantism as having a friendly relationship toward science. In 1896, White published the History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, the culmination of thirty years of research and publication on the subject. His target was any form of restrictive, dogamtic Christianity. Historians of science David Lindberg and Ron Numbers have written that: John William Draper (1811 - 1882), U.S. (English-born) chemist was a historian & photographer. ... Andrew Dickson White in 1885 Andrew Dickson White (November 7, 1832 – November 4, 1918) was an American diplomat, author, and educator, most known as the co-founder of Cornell University. ... The Roman Catholic Church, most often spoken of simply as the Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with over one billion members. ... Islam (Arabic: ; ( (help· info)), submission (to the will of God)) is a monotheistic faith, considered one of the Abrahamic religions, and the worlds second-largest religion. ... Protestantism is a movement within Christianity, representing the splitting away from the Roman Catholic Church during the mid-to-late Renaissance in Europe—a period known as the Protestant Reformation. ...

White's Warfare apparently did not sell as briskly as Draper's Conflict, but in the end it proved more influential, partly, it seems, because Draper's strident anti-Catholicism soon dated his work and because [of] White's impressive documentation. . . (Lindberg and Numbers 1986, p. 3).

Most advocates of the conflict thesis, like Draper and White, have focused on the alleged hostility of Christianity toward science, though Islam has received some criticism of its own.


Historians now recognize that religion has a much more complex and close relationship with science than the conflict thesis presupposes. Many scientific developments, such as Kepler's laws and the 19th century reformulation of physics in terms of energy, were explicitly driven by religious ideas, and religious organizations figure prominently in the broader histories of many sciences. Even the most prominent examples of conflict, such as the Galileo affair and the Scopes trial, were not purely instances of conflict between science and religion; personal and political factors also weighed heavily in the development of each. Johannes Keplers primary contributions to astronomy/astrophysics were his three laws of planetary motion. ... In 1610 Galileo published his Starry Messenger, describing the surprising observations that he had made with the new telescope. ... Clarence Darrow (left) and William Jennings Bryan (right) chat in court during the trial. ...


One reason for the current appeal of the conflict thesis is the existence of ongoing debates that seem to follow a pattern of religion versus science, or religion versus what some claim to be social progress, where this supposed progress is linked in some way to science or technology. Examples include the creation-evolution controversy and controversies over the use of birth control. For instance, the website religioustolerance.org, in their page on Religious Change And Past Religious Conflicts, while not entirely agreeing with White's attitude towards religion, writes that it gives a useful multistage model for understanding religious reactions to scientific innovations. Social progress is defined as a progress of society, which makes this society better. ... The creation-evolution controversy (also termed the creation vs. ... Birth control is a regimen of one or more actions, devices, or medications followed in order to deliberately prevent or reduce the likelihood of a woman giving birth or becoming pregnant. ...

See also

There are many stories that inform our understanding of the history of science and technology. ... The notion of a Flat Earth refers to the idea that the inhabited surface of the Earth is flat, rather than curved (see Spherical Earth). ... Religious intolerance is intolerance motivated by ones own religious beliefs, generally against anothers religious beliefs. ... Freedom of religion is the individuals right or freedom to hold whatever religious beliefs he or she wishes, or none at all. ...

External links

  • The Mythical Conflict between Science and Religion - Article criticizing the Draper-White thesis.

Further Reading

  • Ian G. Barbour, When Science Meets Religion. HarperSanFrancisco, 2000.
  • Gary Ferngren (editor). Science & Religion: A Historical Introduction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8018-7038-0
  • David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers, eds., God & Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter Between Christianity and Science. University of California Press, 1986.
  • Lindberg and Numbers, "Beyond War and Peace: A Reappraisal of the Encounter between Christianity and Science," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 39 (1987):140-49. (Can be found online here



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