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Episode 15

Discovering Religion: Episode 15 – Past Supression of Science

Up to this point in the series I worked to consolidate and simplify the great wealth of information upon which the foundation of evolutionary theory is based and to present the viewer with the resultant conflicts that arise in the creationist’s perception of a Young-Earth, the Purpose of Christ, and The Flood. We have discussed the Semantics of Science and Darwin’s discovery of the mechanisms of Natural Selection. In addition, we have delved in great detail into the mountains of factual evidence of evolution, including transitional species such as Acanthostega, Pakicetus, Ambulocetus, Durodon, Basilosaurus, and Archaeopteryx, as well as the multitudes of vestigial structures found in plants, animals, and the human body.

Together we have traced the timeline of human evolution: from the 3 million year old fossilized remains of Australopithecus found on the African savannah to the arrival of Cro-Magnon and the extinction Neanderthal 30,000 years ago at the end of Europe’s last great Ice Age. We have also explored Evolution’s powerful ability to predict the  structural relationships of flora and fauna. And finally, we’ve examined the scientifically verifiable evidence that shows genetic variations can lead to adaptations within a species, known as microevolution, and within an isolated population, over time these same genetic variations may accumulate leading to animal speciation, known as macroevolution.

Yet, despite how convincing all this evidence might seem, creationists continue to reject these universally accepted scientific discoveries and attempt to suppress the information that humans, like all other modern-day animals, have evolved from lower species. Evangelical Creationists fight hardest against evolution because their unwavering adherence to dogmatic scripture directly conflicts with our most basic understanding  of modern science. In their attempts to justify personal beliefs, creationists often willfully spread misinformation with the aim of confusing their audience  about the facts of evolution and the kinds of predictions the theory of evolution actually makes.

Its not clear what assumption Comfort has made about the natural evolution of life on Earth. It appears as though Comfort believes the individual male and female sexes were somehow able to self-replicate, evolving independently of one another over millions of years and then, for some unexplained reason, Comfort claims all animal life was suddenly required located each other in order to procreate.

If Comfort’s argument was truly logical, how would he explain the development of different dog breeds? Surly the way the Chawowoa  or Great Dane came to exist was not by a spontaneous event, independent of the opposite sex. Animals of both the male and female gender evolve together, where beneficial traits from each animal that help them survive, or in the case of dog breeding the traits that humans find more appealing, are passed on to every successive generation. This clip serves to demonstrate how creationists make absolutely no attempt to obtain the most basic understanding of the scientific principles they attempt to refute.

But this concerted Christian movement to manipulate scientific information is nothing new. In fact, throughout history Christian officials have been notorious antagonists of any scientific knowledge seen to contradict a literal reading of the Bible. Centuries before Charles Darwin sparked controversy over his Theory of Evolution, the Church was deeply embroiled in the suppression any scientific discoveries found to conflict with dogmatic Christian beliefs.

During the Middle Ages, and throughout the Renaissance, the Church was constantly plagued by Europe’s renewed interest in Greek and Arabic literature.  The twelfth and thirteenth centuries was a time marked by devoutly religious Christian belief and scholarly study of the Bible, but little in the way of the physical sciences, such as biology, chemistry, and physics were known, let alone taught at any major university. During the early part of the Middle Ages many intellectuals took it upon themselves to delve into the works of such men as al-Haytham, an Arabic engineer best known for his work with optics and light, and Aristotle, a Greek philosopher who wrote on subjects such as logic, nature, physics, the origin of the Earth and Universe, and much more.

In the thirteenth century a monk by the name of Roger Bacon made astounding discoveries that eventually lead to his persecution by the Church. Bacon attended Oxford University in England, where he later became a professor and immersed himself in the works of Eastern philosophers, in particular al-Haytham. Although Bacon was a devout Christian from a wealthy family, his intensive scientific research drained much of his fortune, and in 1251 he was compelled to join the Franciscan friary in order to make use of their resources and facilities.

Bacon investigated many controversial subjects of his era. He dabbled in astrology and was a well-known alchemist that developed a recipe for gunpowder. Bacon also studied al-Haytham’s research on optics and light, making an important discovery, among many others, that rainbows could be easily created under laboratory conditions using a beam of sunlight and a prism. However, during Bacon’s era rainbows were widely perceived as miracles — as stated in Genesis Chapter 9 verse 12-16, which describes God’s promise to never again destroy the Earth with water — creating rainbows to serve as His covenant. Bacon saw that rainbows, as all things in the world, were governed by the physical laws of nature and was not some miraculous phenomenon of divine origin.

When his fellow friars discovered Bacon’s criticisms of the Bible and the implications of his work, he was branded a heretic and placed in solitary confinement. During his twelve long years of imprisonment, Bacon was not allowed to speak to anyone or confess  his sins, the purpose being that he would be unable to repent and thus would go to hell for eternity. Due to a change in Franciscan leadership, Bacon was eventually released from prison in 1290, where he reportedly died just 4 years later.

One of the most famous cases of Christianity’s past suppression of science involved Galileo Galilei, in 1633. Galileo was fascinated with mathematics and the magnification of lenses, leading to the development of a telescope powerful enough to make detailed observations of the moon.   Galileo was amazed to find the moon was not a perfect sphere as he had been taught, but rough and mountainous. Upon his examination of Jupiter, Galileo found there were four additional points of light. Over several days he plotted their movement and discovered they orbited the planet, as they were in fact Jupiter’s moons.

Galileo showed that in order to account for his observations, the sun must be the center of the universe, or rather our solar system, and subsequently all the planets, including the Earth, orbit the sun.  Although the Greek philosopher Aristarchus of Samos (310-230 BC) claimed the planets revolved around the Sun 1400 years before Galileo, the Church strongly believed in the commonly accepted geo-centric model put forth by Aristotle. Galileo, at 70 years of age, was threaded with torture and sentenced to live in prison, which was eventually reduced to permanent house-arrest after he renounced his scientific discoveries.

The Catholic Church of the Middle Ages was not indiscriminately suppressing ALL scientific knowledge. In fact many Christians, from antiquity to present day, have greatly contributed to the advancement of natural science and mathematics; however, the Church WAS actively engaged in the ruthless suppression of information they deemed as undermining their “orthodox” Christian worldview, and ultimately the divine authority of the Church itself. Roger Bacon and Galileo Galilei are just 2 examples out of many Christian theologians that were unjustly excommunicated or even burnt at the stake for holding marginal ecclesiastical views.

Heretical Christians burnt at the stake:
Jan Hus (1415)
Savonarola (1498)
Patrick Hamilton (1528)
John Frith (1533)
William Tyndale (1536)
Michael Servetus (1553)
Giordano Bruno (1600)
Avvakum Petrov (1682)
Hugh Latimer (1555)
Nicholas Ridley (1555)
Thomas Cranmer (1556)

Although Galileo died a heretic in the eyes of his own religion, he remained a devout Christian for the entirety of his life by finding a way to reconcile the discrepancies he found between the Bible and the natural world. However, among certain Christians  in the   united states the trend is moving in exactly the opposite direction of Galileo’s decree. Even now, in the 21st century, Christians continue to do battle with any scientific information that appears to diminish their perception of an Earth and Universe specially created by God for mankind. But modern-day Christians are not content with debating the intellectual and philosophical discrepancies between a natural evolution and a supernatural creation, for they are also attempting to extend their influence into the political arena, with much more serious consequences.