I have the impression that most people, if asked about the relationship between science and Christianity, would be inclined to speak of a conflict. The idea has become widespread that these are two separate realms and they are more or less constantly at war. Television has probably done much to sustain this image. Dramatized versions of the trial of Galileo or the Inherit the Wind version of the Scopes Trial make for good viewing. But the idea of strife was not born with television drama; it can be dated to at least the last century, when books with titles like History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science and History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom did a good deal to convey the noise of battle.

There undoubtedly have been, and continue to be, disagreements between scientists and Christian believers over many things. But the idea that Christianity and science have constantly been at loggerheads is a gross distortion of the historical record. As we approach 2000, this would seem to be a good moment to pause and reflect on some of the ways in which Christianity has contributed to scientific achievement. And there is no better way to begin than to reflect on the very origins of modern science in the seventeenth century.

Science, as we think of it today, emerged about three hundred years ago. To be sure, there were many notable achievements in the late Middle Ages that led to important developments in natural philosophy, and the contributions made by medieval Islam should not be ignored. But here I want to say something about the significance of the Reformation for the cultivation of the new scientific outlook. Even John William Draper, author of History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science, maintained that science was the "twin sister" of the Reformation.

The Reformers believed that God had revealed himself to humanity in two ways—in Scripture and in nature. This enabled them to engage in the scientific investigation of the natural world. By doing so they believed they were displaying the activity of the Creator. Indeed, Robert Boyle, the great English student of chemistry, believed that scientists more than anyone else glorified God in the pursuit of their tasks because it was given to them to interrogate God's creation. At the same time, the Protestant Reformers tended toward a radical individualism. In part, this encouraged them to question received authority in science and to engage in the direct observation of nature. To people like this, it was not sufficient to be book-learned; it was not enough to know what the Ancients had said about the size of the world, the shape of the earth, or the character of the globe's inhabitants. Such matters could only be resolved by direct investigation of the real world.

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Evidence also suggests that the English Puritans had an important role to play in promoting the new science of the seventeenth century. Of course there was no single unified movement called "Puritanism"; the Puritans displayed many different views on a range of important theological and political subjects. And yet there were some common threads. Many shared a profound belief in "the priesthood of all believers," and this tended toward the democratization of religious institutions and an anti-authoritarian attitude in matters of civil and religious polity. When it came to science, Puritans often enthusiastically embraced the more "humble" sciences like agriculture, forestry, medicine, marine technology, and land-surveying. It is not surprising that many of them departed from convention by communicating their findings not in Latin, the language of the learned, but in English, the language of the people. They often made pleas for less abstract learning and for greater use of maps, models, and experiments.

John Webster, for instance, looked forward to the time when what he called the "sound learning" of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo would be established "and the rotten and ruinous fabric of Aristotle and Ptolemy rejected and laid aside." Many agreed with Calvin that scientific information was not to be gleaned from the pages of Scripture.

This is not intended to deny that there were Puritan opponents of the new learning, or that science was practiced by Catholics or less orthodox groups. But it is to say that the Puritan version of Christianity sometimes had an important role to play in cultivating the new science.

Positive links between Christianity and science were not restricted to the seventeenth century, of course. In the succeeding generations the idea that we live in a designed world whose structure carries the imprint of the Creator encouraged the development of a branch of learning known as natural theology. Concerned to display how the Creation bore the stamp of God, the writers of such works regularly presented the latest scientific findings and often themselves engaged in scientific research to illustrate their convictions. This tradition persists today and finds expression in the words of Harvard astrophysicist Owen Gingerich, who once wrote about the way our atmosphere changed over to oxygen: "The perfect timing of this complex configuration of circumstances is enough to amaze and bewilder many of my friends who look at all this in purely mechanistic terms—the survival of life on earth seems such a close shave as to border on the miraculous. Can we not see here the designer's hand at work?" Gingerich's argument may not persuade everyone. And I have no doubt that many alternative explanations are available. But his assertion at least illustrates the point that science and Christianity have not always been enemies; frequently they have been friends.

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Why then has the image of a protracted death struggle between science and Christianity become so commonplace? Two factors, I think, are especially important—what has been called the Enlightenment project and the professionalization of science in the nineteenth century.

First, the Enlightenment encouraged a supreme confidence in the power of reason and evidence, over against tradition and authority, to solve the ills of humanity. This confidence in reason served to marginalize religious faith and boost scientific method. Not that this happened overnight, or that it took the same shape everywhere (Scotland, for example, was markedly different from France). But, in the long run the objectivizing tendencies of science triumphed over other forms of knowing, including religious knowing. Undoubtedly this has had benefits. Seeking objectivity has helped to remove superstition, prejudice, and bias from scientific inquiry. I personally prefer auto mechanics who don't attribute carburetor failure to the work of the devil. Yet, the craving for scientific objectivity has often colluded in the suppression of intuition, the elimination of values, and the dehumanizing of people.

Second, the professionalization of science in the nineteenth century further contributed to the expansion of science's imperial rule. During that period, the new scientists (the word only came into being last century) engaged in a battle with the clergy for cultural authority in Victorian society. What often looked like an intellectual conflict between science and Christianity was actually a social struggle between scientists and clergy for cultural domination.

The new professional scientists, to secure the kind of role they wanted to enjoy in society, used scientific knowledge as the vehicle for sidelining what they caricatured as an old-fashioned clerical clique. This was the conquest of one elite over another.

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Thinking about science and religion in these terms helps us to see that both are, to some extent at least, social practices. As such they are situated within the cultural conditions of their time. Just as it makes sense to speak of Greek Orthodoxy, or the Dutch Reformed, or Scottish Presbyterianism, or American evangelicalism, so too it is right to think of medieval Arabic science, or seventeenth-century English science, or American science in the age of Jefferson. Both science and religion bear the stamp of cultural particularities. So it would be less than wise to allow Enlightenment decisions about what science should be, or the social struggles of our Victorian ancestors, to determine how we approach questions of science and faith today.

We should also realize that we too are culturally situated. How we think of the relationship between science and Christianity bears the mark of our own time. Triumphalism of either a scientistic or fundamentalist stripe is unwise. Far better to encourage conversations between scientists and theologians, on the suspicion that science is as likely to tell all there is to know about the Creation as theology is to fathom the unsearchable depths of the Creator.

David N. Livingstone teaches in the School of Geosciences at The Queen's University of Belfast, Northern Ireland.

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