Scientific Knowledge
Suppressed By Religion

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From: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
To: "matthew"
Subject: WebMaster: Positive Atheism Index
Date: Tuesday, July 24, 2001

We have the complete History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science by John William Draper. When we posted it, ours was the only copy online, but I think others have crept up since then. We converted it directly from the original, and by then we had perfected our current three-level process of proofreading. Many e-text conversions still run these things through an OCR and it doesn't look like they even checked them.

We still have not found the time to put up a carefully crafted e-text version of The History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in Christendom by Andrew Dickinson White, but several copies of this work exist on the Internet, and most of them are pretty readable. Since this work has probably influenced me more than any other single work, I will eventually convert my first edition to e-text, with notes linked to and from and links from the index. But I have deliberately placed this work on lower priority simply because it is widely available on the Web.

Warfare helped me to forge some important portions of my current viewpoint -- specifically, my attitudes toward the notion that religion has ever had anything good to offer humankind. I'd say that White's work influenced me at least as much as that of Thomas Paine. I am not calling it a reference book, by any means; much has been learned since it was written a little more than 100 years ago.

The gist of the book (that we had developed a certain level of scientific knowledge, but that science was suppressed by religion) is important to keep in mind in our personal outreach toward those who are not as active in their atheism (or perhaps not even aware of their atheism).

Along similar subjects, historian William E. H. Lecky wrote History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe and also History of European Morals (still unposted), both of which showcase the differences between when religion reigned supreme and the delicate twigs of rational thought broke through the cracks in that pavement and eventually grew to push aside entire foundations of dogmatic thinking. Eventually, rationalism broke up the ground and made quick the earth, paving the way room for the natural selection of ideas, freely compared and thoroughly scrutinized, competing for the assent of the community -- only until such time as a newer, better explanation comes along.

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I'll use this as an opportunity to plug our e-text conversion proofreading group: if you're interested in helping us proofread any of our converted e-texts, let me know. These are at various stages of completion, and if you, for example, plan to read Draper's book in its entirety, let me know and I'll give you the sheet that we use to find out what kinds of problems plagued this or that project, and thus what kinds of errors to look out for. While it's impossible to get a "perfect" copy o some of these works, it's safe to say that our editions are, for the most part, suitable for quoting. Many e-text conversions out there have been simply fed into a sheet-feeding OCR setup and posted without so much as a first-stage edit.

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I'm sure there are more modern works which cover aspects and elements of this, but these, particularly White's work, are the classic pieces in this respect. A good history of science work ought to at least note this fact, if not make it the centerpiece. It's no secret that hardly any stars or constellations were given Christian names when astronomy was in its heyday of discovery. Very few scientists during the Middle Ages and the Dark Ages came from within Christendom -- or when they did, they were prevented from making crucial contributions. The whole point of science is free discussion and careful scrutiny and critical inquiry. These activities were all forbidden under the iron rule of Christ.

The only thing I would caution is that I've read some modern authors who freely quote "historian" this or "scientist" that, but the people they quote are not widely recognized as historians or scientists -- apart from the dust-flap of their latest book, of course. This is why it is important to have a working grasp of sophistry and rhetorical fallacy. With these, combined with a good foundation in liberal scientific method, you can easily identify when something smells like a rat. You aren't any closer to the truth except in the sense that you can filter out many more lies with these tools than you could without them. I get a lot out of the Bibliography section of any book I read. For example, from the Bibliography (and Endnotes) of Richard Dawkins's Unweaving The Rainbow, I found enough "must-read" books to keep me busy for several months. I picked up on Lecky because he was so heavily referenced in Joseph Lewis's The Ten Commandments.

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The big thing to look out for in the classic Freethought works of the nineteenth century is that they all still thought that religion, particularly Christianity, was on its death-bed and on the verge of joining Zeus and Eris and the others in The Great Museum of Ancient Mythology. Only within the past decade or two have we discovered plausible explanations as to why people tend to be so utterly religious despite the widespread discrediting of religion and superstition.

Thus we have begun to think that knowledge is not enough: it wasn't back then because religion is still here, stronger than ever (at least in the US). Seeing this shortsightedness on the part of the nineteenth-century writers will help temper their conclusions and recommendations. Again, we don't know what the answers are, but here's one more clue as to what they arent.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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