Jerry Coyne is contesting the thesis that Christianity played a crucial role in the rise of the enterprise of modern science. At Real Clear Science, Alex Berezow & James Hannam (The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution) offer a response:
“Historians have long realized that the great conflict between science and religion is a myth. But it continues to be an article of faith among the New Atheists. In contrast to his views on evolution, Dr. Coyne thinks that he can ignore the evidence from history and disregard the settled view of experts in the field. But, being a scholar and a rational man, we’re sure that he will change his mind if shown to be wrong.”
Although all of Coyne’s points demonstrate simplistic thinking regarding the history of science and religion, for me, two in particular stuck out:
“7. If religion promulgated the search for knowledge, it also gave rise to erroneous, revelation-based “scientific” conclusions that surely impeded progress. Those include creation ex nihilo, the Great Flood, a geocentric universe, and so on.”
Except that nothing in science whatsoever has disproven creation ex nihilo—that doctrine God created the entire universe out of nothing, rather than by working with preexisting, eternal matter, as most pre-Judeo-Christian cosmologies assumed. Coyne may perhaps be confusing creation ex nihilo with a fundamentalist sort of special creation, but the latter is not the teaching of the Church, although it has been a not-uncommon opinion (Catholics are, in fact, free to think for themselves on this question). As for the Great Flood or geocentrism, aside from the fact that Galileo ended up living out his days under a fairly comfortable house arrest, it is not clear how either of those held up “scientific progress”—indeed, other thinkers continued studying and writing about the heliocentric vs. geocentric models contemporaneously with the Galileo affair, without trouble from the Church—mostly because the hostility between the Church and Galileo was exacerbated by the strong-willed personalities involved, and not an innate hostility to new scientific ideas. Once the evidence supported it, the model was accepted, and the Church’s bungling of the Galileo case became an atypical quirk of history.
“8. Early scientists were Christians, at least in the west, because everyone was a Christian then. You would have been an apostate, or burnt at the stake, had you denied that faith. If you’re going to give Christianity credit for science, you have to give it credit for nearly everything, including art, architecture, music, and so on.”