It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself. ~ Thomas Jefferson


C himunthu Banda, Hetherwick Ntaba, Vuwa Kaunda - government's spokesmen muddying human rights with the gay issue

Sunday, March 6, 2011

History of the Conflict between Religion & Science


Book review by Harold Williams, Vice Chairman, ASH

In 1878 John William Draper, son of a Wesleyan clergyman, scientist, philosopher, physician, chemist, historian, and photographer published in New York his History of the Conflict between Religion and Science. (Download free at  Before we consider the book we should consider the status of the author. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Scientists:
British–American chemist (1811–1882)

Draper, who was born in St. Helens, Lancashire, was educated at University College, London, before he emigrated to America in 1833. He qualified in medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in 1836. After a short period teaching in Virginia he moved to New York University (1838) where he taught chemistry and in 1841 helped to start the medical school of which he became president in 1850.

Most of his chemical work was done in the field of photochemistry. He was one of the first scientists to use Louis Daguerre's new invention (1837) of photography. He took the first photograph of the Moon in 1840 and in the same year took a photograph of his sister, Dorothy, which is the oldest surviving photographic study of the human face. In 1843 he obtained the first photographic plate of the solar spectrum. He was also one of the first to take photographs of specimens under a microscope. On the theoretical level Draper was one of the earliest to grasp that only those rays that are absorbed produce chemical change and that not all rays are equally powerful in their effect. He also, in a series of papers (1841–45), showed that the amount of chemical change is proportional to the intensity of the absorbed radiation multiplied by the time it has to act. Draper's work was continued and largely confirmed by the work of Robert Bunsen and Henry Roscoe in 1857. Draper's work also resulted in the development of actinometers (instruments to measure the intensity of light). He also wrote on a wide variety of other topics.
Draper's son Henry was an astronomer of note after whom the famous Harvard catalog of stellar spectra was named.
Since he wrote more than 120 years ago there have been amazing scientific discoveries especially in the fields of electriricty, communications, power generation, motorised transport, accelerating at a rate that he could not have envisaged. Yet his writings,  his understanding of the origins of the Universe, its immensity and its age; the development of thought and enquiry - whichever areas he explores in the book, nothing is dated. For economy of phrase yet clarity of meaning he has few equals. The book is concise yet comprehensive and wide-ranging. It has been a revelation to me.
More than fifty-five years ago I was a young 14-15 year old  living a monastic life at a Catholic Seminary in England studying for the priesthood. Life was a procession of visits to the splendid chapel - a magnicficent setting; hours of plain-chant singing;  Latin liturgy, clergy dressed in richly embroidered robes; candles lit;  incense thuribles swinging. But my readings of the New Testament persuaded me that what I was experiencing had nothing at all to do with what I was in the gospels. At that stage I left the seminary and gave up religious obsevance - much to the dismay of my devout mother.
Until I read Draper's book I had had no real and concise explanation for what I intuitively realised to have been true all those years ago. These outward displays were Roman add-ons.
We Humanists face many challenges from the beliefs of the religious, especially from the fundamentalists and pentecostals who are increasingly and worryingly influencing those in our society, the majority, who are unable to think or even dare think for themselves. This trend, if not stopped, will keep Malawi in the state of ignorance and mind-bondage that kept Europe in ignorance and poverty for 1200 years. Fortunately, this book, while being well-balanced, will give the Humanist apologist all the answers to any question whether it is the development of Christianity and Islam, authenticity of the 'holy' scriptures, the difference between science and religion, the nature of the 'soul' - or whatever. I can think of no question that has been asked of me that this book does not answer.
It is humiliating to think that Draper did not even have access to the latest discoveries such as those made by the Hubble telescope.
A large copy of the Hubble photo accompanying this post, large enough to set as 'wallpaper', can be downloaded at:  

The full description of the stellar event depicted can be downloaded at:

How can anyone who is intellectually honest with themselves contemplate the infinite 'immensity' of the Universe, in which humanity is a latecoming and insignificant part, continue to cling to the concept of a anthropomorphic god continually meddling in our insignificant affairs, concerned that we give 'it' continuing homage and praise?
Just look at the spleandour of the universe, even the magnificance of the death of a star which the Hubble photograph depicts. And man will probably disappear from this earth before our Sun dies a similar death.

No comments:

Post a Comment