Men of Science; Men of the Cloth
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There once was a preacher named Charlie D.
Whose degree was in Christianity
But he chose to take up Botany
So he sailed upon the H.M.S. B.
A fox of a man on a dog of a ship
Allowed his Christianity to slip
And concocted a 'theory' while at sea
Designed to make monkeys of you and me.
from the comic strip B.C. by Johnny Hart
The comic strip B.C. ceased to be funny long ago and it has been turned into a propaganda outlet for fundamentalist Christianity. The above doggerel from today's Sunday "funnies" shows the depths of falsehood and misrepresentation to which the author of the strip has sunk.
But he is right on one thing. Charles Darwin was educated to pursue a career as a Christian clergyman. And from the studies (most emphatically not "concoctions") of this Christian clergyman, we got the basis of the scientifically sound Theory of Evolution.
Darwin was not the first "man of God" to advance the cause of scientific truth, to the dismay of those who refuse to accept anything but biblical literalism, nor would he be the last.
Here are just a few that quickly come to mind.
Consider Roger Bacon, the 13th century Franciscan friar and scholar He took the view that advances in knowledge must come out of reasoning based on experiment and observation, and this thinking led to Francis Bacon's formulation of the scientific method some 300 years later.
Then there's Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian friar, whose work successfully established genetics as a science.
A further example is Georges Lemaitre, a Catholic priest from Belgium who was a mathematician and a colleague of Einstein. Lemaitre developed the Big Bang theory.
No doubt someone with sufficient time could show that hundreds, if not thousands, of scientists who happened to be clergymen have contributed to the advances of science over history. This is unsurprising as the church at one time was the only path to higher education.
But when we consider those I have mentioned, all from a religious background, and all of who have led the way to real knowledge over blind scriptural belief :
- Francis Bacon: championed knowledge from experiment and observation rather than blind acceptance of authority.
- Charles Darwin: Theory of Evolution which gives the lie to the myths of the creation of humankind, plants and animals.
- Gregor Mendel: The science of genetics, among other things, was eventually to provide an improved understanding of the mechanics of evolution.
- Georges Lemaitre: his concept of the Big Bang was to prove the best model for the origin of the universe; and like the Theory of Evolution, undermined the literal interpretation of creation myths.
All four, all in the Christian clergy, came up with ideas which fundamentalists reject. Yet of the four, only Darwin was to eventually reject Christianity - and that years after he published his great work of "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection."
Christian belief can coexist quite happily with scientific knowledge. The problem lies not with belief, nor with science, but in the wilful deliberate promulgation of ignorance; as in the B.C. quotation used to open this article.
- The Calgary Herald, Sunday May 1, 2005