A Short History of Science and Religion - Modern Times
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Article Index
A Short History of Science and Religion
The Ancient World
The Greek Contribution
Rise of Christtianity
Dark and Middle Ages
Rise of Science and Philosophy
Galileo, Newton, Kant
Modern Times
Personal Theology
All Pages

The 20th and 21st Centuries- Rise of Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism, and Progressiveism

Albert Einstein - Before moving to religious movements of the last century, no discussion of science Einstein and religion would be complete without at least mentioning Albert Einstein (1879-1955). Einstein was born of Jewish parents, but was never a practicing Jew during his lifetime. Throughout his life Einstein believed in God, but not a god who intercedes into the daily physics of the universe. Einstein's great contribution was, of course, his ideas on relativity. These notions have had tremendous impact on the understanding of basic physics, and in fact upset many of the tenets set down by Newton. Einstein never liked quantum mechanics, yet his early work set the stage for the development of this branch of physics. At the quantum level strange random events occur, and "communication" takes place instantaneously across large distances. To the lay person, the quantum world remains shrouded in mystery. His work powerfully drove home the inadequacy of ancient religious understandings of science, and it forced religious believers to examine even more deeply their own god theology and their reconciliation between modern science and religion.

The Rise of Fundamentalism  - In the 19th century there were two significant movements in Christianity that would be played out in the coming centuries - conservatism and liberalism. Liberalism in particular adopted many of the ideas from the philosophy of the times, and rejected the more orthodox teachings of Christianity. Finally, in the 20th century some Christians had had enough. They set out to formalize what it meant to be a Christian. Fundamentalism was born in the 1920s. Theologians at the conservative Princeton Theological Seminary played a role in this movement with their writings. In 1909, Lyman Steward, a businessman and Christian philanthropist, wrote a 12-volume series called The Fundamentals. This series of books became the foundation for the fundamentalist movement in the United States. Fundamentalists belong to all the major Christian denominations, and fundamentalism exists in all of the major religions today (especially troubling is the current Islamic fundamentalism and its beliefs regarding the lack of sanctity of human life). The fundamentalist belief often assumes the Bible is inerrant; hence, the fundamentalist cosmology follows that of the Iron and Bronze age understanding of the Bible. For example, fundamentalists may believe that the earth was formed as recently as 4,000 years ago. Evolution is rejected out of hand. The experimentation with stem cells is also another point of departure between many fundamentalists and scientists. There are many points of disagreement withscientific findings.

Evangelicalism is often confused with fundamentalism, although the two movements share some common characteristics. Evangelicalism is often characterized by Biblical inerrancy, and this causes conflicts between evangelicals and modern science.

Progressive Christianity is a relative new movement that can be considered to be a branch off of liberal Christianity of the 19th century. Progressive Christians have a metaphorical understanding of the Bible, and attempt to reconcile modern science with their Christian beliefs.

There are a number of late 20th century and early 21st century writers on the subject of religion and science, many of them having a negative view toward religion. These include Richard Dawkins, Steven Weinberg, Sam Harris, and many others. There are also progressive Christian writers, as well as many writers with a more fundamentalist viewpoint.

The Argument Over the Creation - Conservative and fundamentalist Christians reject the evolutionary and "big bang" stories of the history of the planet, and insist on adhering to the Biblical stories of the creation (there are two of them) in Genesis. "Creationism" is a word that has been coined to describe the process whereby God created the universe in 7 days. Scientists were content to let religious believers have the right to believe in creationism until they began in intercede in the schools and change the way science was taught to children. Scientists became alarmed and felt that this jeopardized the scientific future and competitiveness of the U.S. in the world economy. Thus, there have been bitter, vocal outbreaks between the two camps over the creation story. "Intelligent design" is another way to suggest that God interceded into the evolutionary process by laying out the design of life found in nature. Scientists reject this theory as well, and consider it a threat to an enlightened, modern understanding of biology, cosmology, and the other natural sciences. This battle still rages in the United States.