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'Science vs. Religion' and Martyrs of Science

Any objective history of the Catholic Church will reveal no genuine conflict between faith and science. The reason we hear so much about Galileo is because there are so few other situations where any case can be made that the Catholic Church, as an institution, has opposed science. It has already been demonstrated that the Church actively promoted the interests of science from the 11th century to the present day, and even writers whose entire objective is demonstrating persecution of scientists, (see here, and here) can find no cases other than Galileo where the Catholic Church can be said to have conflated scientific investigation with heresy.

Almost all the cases in the articles listed above refer to the persecution of scientists under Protestant Moslem, or local governments, rather than the Catholic church. The names of Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) and Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639) are sometimes raised, as scientists who were tried by the inquisition, but upon closer inspection, the charges brought against them were strictly related to heretical ideas that had nothing to do with their scientific activities.

In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas, the Church's most esteemed theologian, wrote a treatise on the impossibility of any true conflict between faith and reason. He pointed out that faith and reason are two ways of arriving at one truth, and any apparent conflict is due to a failure of understanding or knowledge, rather than genuine opposition.

The 'Conflict Thesis' of Science vs. Religion

The idea that there is a conflict between Science and the Catholic Church is anti-historical, but was embraced in the last few centuries by secularists who wanted to reduce the influence of the Church in Academia. In the 18th century, French anti-clerical free-thinkers, led by Diderot, published an Encyclopedia that promoted science as a secular activity and portrayed the Church as backward and superstitious. This lead to the transfer of control of many Catholic education institutions to state control during the Revolutionary period in France. But the great push for secular education in English speaking countries didn't come until after the Darwinian controversy in the late 19th century.

Most of the false notions of a 'Science vs. Religion' in Britain and America can be traced back to two 19th academics, John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White. Both were anti-Catholic and strong proponents of secular education. The Darwin controversy raised the serious issue of whether the theory of Evolution contradicted Christian teaching, so backers of evolution—who had no real scientific proofs of their theories—embraced an utterly false historical basis for promoting the idea that the Church was in eternal conflict with science.

In 1896 White published "A History of the Warfare of Science and Theology." In spite of its extremely dubious scholarship, it's overall thesis was cited extensively by persons who sought to promote secular education and wanted academic cover for their claims. In spite of the fact that the main claims of the book were debunked early by serious contemporary scholars, the books is still cited today by adherents of the "Conflict Thesis", who are invariably anti-Christian advocates of state-supported secular education. A representative example of a rant against the Catholic Church based on White's book can be found here.

The following review of White's "Warfare of Science with Theology" was written by an eminent historian of Medicine in the early 1900's. (See Wikipedia for more details).

"The story of the supposed opposition of the Church . . to science in any of its branches, is founded entirely on mistaken notions. Most of it is quite imaginary. Much of it is due to the exaggeration of the significance of the Galileo incident. Only those who know nothing about the history of medicine and of science continue to harbor it. That Dr. White's book, contradicted as it is so directly by all serious histories of medicine and of science, should have been read by so many thousands in this country, and should have been taken seriously by educated men, physicians, teachers, and even professors of science who want to know the history of their own sciences, only shows how easily even supposedly educated men may be led to follow their prejudices rather than their mental faculties."

Who are the Real Martyrs of Science?

The great irony of the "Conflict Thesis" is that it is modern atheistic states, rather than Christian governments, that are the real oppressors of science. Hundreds of scientists have been imprisoned, exiled, or killed by secular, anti-Christian governments, simply because totalitarian states cannot abide by truth that contradicts the political interests of it rulers.

The first scientist killed by a secular totalitarian state was Antoine Lavoisier during the French Revolution. He was a world renowned scientist, the discoverer of Oxygen, and known as the "Father of Chemistry", but he was tried and executed for crimes against the state. Although the executions stopped shortly after the death of Lavoisier, the French Revolutionary government closed and/or secularized dozens of academies and Universities that had historically been governed by the Catholic Church. The process of secularizing Catholic research institutions impacted the livelihoods and academic freedom of French scholars and scientists for generations. Scientists and Scholars who refused to sign an oath of loyalty to the revolutionary government were exiled, while those who adopted a secular, rationalist agenda were honored and promoted.

The manner in which Atheistic secular governments corrupt science is two-fold. The first affects those who comply with government priorities, including those scientists who end up co-operating in utterly immoral enterprises. The second affects those who resist government control or speak truth in the face of tyranny. Such dissident scientists are often fired or blacklisted, exiled, imprisoned or even killed by totalitarian governments.

But besides harming individual scientists, the natural goods and purpose of science itself are also distorted by atheistic governments who refuse to acknowledge the natural moral law. Secular governments in both totalitarian and democratic nations often insist that scientists adopt a rationalist worldview that permits the pursuit of highly unethical, and anti-human scientific research. The 20th century has seen government support of science research in morally problematic areas such as eugenics, euthanasia, chemical weapons, cloning, weapons of mass destruction, and psychological warfare. The co-operation of scientists with the Nazi regime is well known, and in this article a reporter discusses the problem of 'apoltiical' scientists who did little to resist cooperating with the Nazi's.

By far the worst oppressor of dissident scientists in the 20th century was the Soviet Union. Both Nazi Germany and Communist China were appalling totalitarian governments, but the Nazi's tended to corrupt rather than persecute scientists, and pre-Communist China lacked the western scientific tradition altogether. Soviet Union, however, purported to be 'pro-science' and referred to its government philosophy as "scientific socialism". But in reality absolute obedience to the political priorities of the state, and willingness to overlook uncomfortable scientific "truths" was required to work in peace.

The coercive oppression of scientists who did not entirely cooperate with the government's "Five year" plans began in the first decades of Soviet Rule. By the time Stalin consolidated power in the mid 20's a Secret Police organization (GPU) and forced labor camp system were in place. Soon after the systematic persecution of Russian Scientists, Scholars and Academics who were suspected of "wrecking" the Communist economy began in earnest.

Tchernavin and the 'Academic Case'

Vladimir Tchernavin was a Russian fishery scientist working in Murmansk when he was arrested on unspecified charges. After a year of imprisonment during which he was tortured in an effort to obtain a "confession", he was sent to a slave labor camp in the North. Using his knowledge of the area he escaped from the Labor camp, crossed to freedom by way of Finland, and wrote a book, I speak for the Silent   recounting his experience. Tchernavin was the first educated person to escape for the Soviet slave camps, and his book, published in the early thirties, gave shocking insights into the way the Soviet Union oppressed scientists and intellectuals and used slave labor to fill government coffers.

Tchernavin's book, although entirely true, was considered "anti-Soviet propaganda" by much of the Western press, and mostly ignored by the secular academia. This is in spite of the fact that his final chapter, 'The Academic Case' gave details about the systematic persecution and imprisonment of Soviet scientists and intellectuals. Tchernavin's book was published before Stalin's Great Purge became known and many western intellectuals still wanted to believe the best about the Soviet government. In the 1930's, the Western academic establishment was actively jettisoning its Christian heritage in favor of a secular technocratic worldview, and Tchernavin's hair-raising stories of Soviet oppression of science did not fit the narrative.

Four years after "I Speak for the Silent" was published, Hitler invaded Poland and the allies sought to partner with the Soviet Union in their War against Hitler. Again there was a compelling reason to ignore human rights abuses and pretend Tchernavin's testimony against the Soviet Union did not exist. To this day, his book, although of great historical importance, remains almost unknown.

A report on the "Academic Case", detailing early Soviet oppression of Scientists and Scholars can be found here.