Tragedy of religion stifling science

    By Stephen Pastore​ | 8 December 2011

    Galileo explaining lunar topography to two cardinals. (Painting: Jean Leon Huens)

    It’s almost a cliche nowadays to hear people talk of where the world of computers will be in 50 years. Or where medical science will be. Advances are moving at such a rapid pace that few of us can imagine the technological future even 10 or 20 years from now. But few people realize how much time has been lost and how forces are gathering to slow or stop research that might enhance not only how long people live but the quality of that life.

    Organized religion has stifled science for more than a thousand years. Most of us are familiar with the story of Galileo who discovered that the Earth was not the center of the universe, nor even our sun, but that we were merely one speck among uncountable billions. The church put a stop to him with the threat of torture and death. The same was true of medicine; the study of human anatomy was forbidden.

    Imagine if the church had embraced discovery instead of persecuting scientists and other innovative thinkers. We would be a thousand years ahead of where we are now! Imagine humanity a thousand years into the future. Cancer would be long gone — in fact, every major disease would have been vanquished centuries ago. Is there any doubt we would long ago have traveled to other planets, eased the burdens on our fragile environment and solved all the problems (hunger, energy) we now so dread?

    These are all hypotheticals about the past, and we can’t go back. But the real tragedy, perhaps, is that religious persecution of science is still with us. There are political groups today that are feverishly trying to deny basic truths like evolution and the terrible effects of fossil fuel consumption on our planet.

    The Bush administration lost us eight years of stem-cell research; proposed cuts to environmental and biological research are being inched through Congress under the guise of “deficit reduction,” but are clearly attempts to kill research on right-wing religious grounds. Mississippi, 50th among states in job creation and money spent on education and children’s health has spent the past three years trying to fashion a law to circumvent Roe v. Wade, as if that were its most pressing problem. Most red states are still trying to kill off Darwin!

    Texas, one of the leading producers of fossil fuels in this country for the past 120 years, is attempting to teach creationism as a science — the irony? The oil industry scientists know full well that the oil on which they have built their economy took 200 million years to create and they are proposing to teach their children that the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

    Organized religion has always meddled with politics; Iran is the ultimate modern example. No mere chance that Rome, the center of world politics, became the seat of the Catholic Church. In the Middle Ages​, the church was politics (no coincidence that this era is also known as the Dark Ages). That’s why the Founding Fathers so clearly separated religion from government in our Constitution.

    Despite lip service to the contrary, conservatives want to completely undo this. While hysterically screaming to “keep the government out of our lives,” they want government agents to interview pregnant women, their parents and their significant others to control women’s reproductive rights on religious grounds. Is this any different from some Muslims “circumcising” young girls?

    Like 17-year locusts, American religious conservatives periodically hatch from some hidden place: Puritans burn “witches” at the stake; ministers of the gospel preach the virtue of servitude to black slaves in the South; the KKK burns crosses; Prohibition; the McCarthy hearings; George W. (two times!); the “devout” murder doctors at birth control clinics; right-wing megachurches pray for Armageddon, declaring a sitting American president to be the anti-Christ.

    Listen carefully and you can hear their wings buzzing around the Republican presidential hopefuls; left unchecked, they will greedily devour our freedoms, our rights, our innate dignity as human beings and whatever abilities we may yet possess to save this planet and its inhabitants from what seems today to be a dire future. God help us if we allow them to thrive.

    Stephen R. Pastore is a novelist, playwright, poet and literary biographer/bibliographer.

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    1. Absolutely! So sorry for you living in the us but I suspect we aren't far behind in the uk. Not with the imported US Christian zealots now intent on using their money to influence our social fabric too. This is a country where " liberal " is a compliment and we'd like to keep it that way!

    2. "God help us if we allow them to thrive." What kind of foolish comment and ending to an anti-religion story is that? You got the rest right though. You must suffer from cognitive dissonance. Either that or you're trying to be a f………. ass!

    3. How is your last statement any different than the very people you accuse of "stifling science"? Sounds like you want to root religious people out – and that sounds very much like a crusade. How is that any different from what you accuse religious people of? Do you know who started the science of genetics? Gregor Mendel – a monk. The person who first proposed the Big Bang Theory was a Catholic priest. The university, the place where scientific research began, was started by the church to use the mind to glorify God. There is no inherent conflict between science and religion. You clearly subscribe to a "warfare" model for relating the two, and I don't think you really understand religion – or science for that matter. Ironically your position is exactly the same as religious fundamentalists who think science is stifling their religion. Those who deny climate change are not religiously motivated but POLITICALLY motivated and invested in making money by means of fossil fuels. The environmental crisis began when scientists like Francis Bacon proposed "penetrating the inner mysteries of earth". This was not a religious motivation – it was the motivation to go further and get more. And greed, I dare say, is not a religious virtue. There are fundamentalists who deny evolution, to be sure, but they do it on the same grounds as your premise: that if you accept evolution as a valid theory you must be an atheist. But that's just not true. You might want to do some research next time before you make unfounded accusations based on false premises. Oh, and I'm a Democrat, too.

      • Well, how nice to point out the few instances when religion didn't stand in the way, which they did the majority of the time. Didn't point out how Islam (or ONE Islamic leader) shut down science and mathematics for over a thousand years (and Islamic countries have never recovered) by declaring them Satanic. THAT is the power of religion. While your monks and priests "discovered" things already available through the burned Library of Alexandria (and Islam burned a few themselves….religions like burning libraries) the general public was kept abysmally stupid through that same Church. Hardly a trade-off.


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