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If you shine powerful flashlights into the more benighted corners of university humanities departments, you can probably find people who still believe that Christianity historically opposed scientific inquiry, and actually held back human progress. This myth found eloquent expression some years ago in a Family Guy episode in which Baby Stewie and Brian the dog visit a hyper-advanced technological civilization. This proves to be the alternate world that would have existed in our own time if Christianity had failed, and civilization had thus escaped “the Dark Ages of scientific repression.” It’s an entertaining myth, which should find credibility, well, only among babies and dogs. But a program like Family Guy will reach a mass audience vastly bigger than the total readership of all the New Atheist tracts combined.
Some version of that Baby Stewie Theory surfaces regularly in seriously intended documentaries about the history of science, about pioneers like Galileo and Darwin. When you have a scientist who incontestably was passionately religious—think of Augustinian friar Gregor Mendel—then you have to portray him in perpetual conflict with the constricting orthodoxies of his faith.
Instance - Vision - Columbus - World - Derision
We think for instance of the popular vision of Columbus insisting that the world was round, to the derision of ignoramus monks who warned that he would fall off the edge. In reality, Christian scholars had known for a thousand years that the world was round. Their quarrel with Columbus was that the upstart navigator thought it was much smaller than they believed, and the Church consensus was dead right. Nobody could sail three thousand miles west of Spain and hit Japan. Still, the myth of Christian backwardness and superstition is too useful to be discarded because it just happens to be bogus.
This most beautiful system of sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of...
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