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Does the History of Science and Religion Change Depending on the Narrator? Some Atheist and Agnostic Perspectives

BERNARD LIGHTMAN
S & CB 24 (2)
October 2012

Abstract

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the strategy of unbelievers revolved around attempting, without too much success, to draw out of Newtonianism some kind of justification for their materialism and their atheism. This affected how they viewed the historical relations between science and religion. But after the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859, evolutionary theory offered new opportunities for unbelievers for dealing with the Newton problem. It allowed them to create a new vision of science from the ground up using evolution, and not Newtonian physics, as their starting point. By separating science and religion into two separate spheres, they were now free to construct a religiously neutral scientific system and to offer a re-interpretation of the history of science and religion that relegated Newtonianism to the sidelines. But, in contrast to contemporary unbelievers, they saw themselves as agnostics who valued religion as an intrinsic dimension of the human condition.

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