It’s just sad. The arguments the apologists for religion make seem to be getting more and more pathetic, and more and more unconvincing. There is going to be a lecture, announced in the Times Higher Education supplement, by someone trying to reconcile science and religion in the history of the Royal Society. How is he going to do it? By arguing that members of the society in 1663 were religious. Woo hoo. They also wore funny powdered wigs, treated syphilis with mercury, and argued that there had to be precisely seven planets because it was a number sacred to geometers, but I doubt that he’ll be resurrecting those old ideas.
While an early memorandum of the Royal Society declared that fellows would avoid “meddling with divinity, metaphysics, morals”, its 1663 charter stated that its activities would be devoted “to the glory of God the creator, and the advantage of the human race”.
Officers were even required to swear an oath on “the holy Gospels of God”.
In reality, Professor Harrison said, “almost without exception, early modern natural philosophers cherished religious convictions, although these were not invariably orthodox. Some – but by no means all – made the point that they were motivated to pursue scientific inquiry on account of these religious commitments.”
Far from being militant atheists, they “believed that the disinterested study of the structures of living things could offer independent support for the truth of the Christian religion, and refute atheism”.
Yes, so? They were wrong.
Believers have been trying for centuries to find objective evidence for the truth of Christian mythology. The fact that they’ve been searching is not in itself evidence for their superstitions. The fact that they have not come up with such evidence, though, and haven’t even made any progress in coming up with a convincing argument, does suggest that they’ve failed. It’s simply meaningless to declare that people 350 years ago felt that their religion motivated their pursuit of science; it does not support the validity of the religious part. They might as well argue that the people who built Stonehenge 5000 years ago were motivated by their pagan beliefs to study astronomy — the astronomy is cool, but animism is not hallowed by its antiquity.
It’s an unpersuasive mess. It’s also tainted by association; the lecture is sponsored by the Faraday Institute, which is just a mouthpiece for the Templeton Foundation. Ho hum. Get some new arguments, guys.