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The science-religion conflict: an invented tradition?

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text_The science-religion conflict

The science-religion conflict: an invented tradition?

seminar room of group Science, Reason and Faith.
Jaume Navarro. Pamplona, 16 January 2018.


Jaume Navarro holds a degree in Physics and a PhD in History of Science from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (1998). He has been researcher at Cambridge University, Imperial College (London) and the Max Planck Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte (Berlin). He is currently a lecturer researcher at Ikerbasque in San Sebastian and a member of the Praxis Group at School of Philosophy (UPV/EHU).


The relationship between science and religion is big business today, especially in the Anglo-American world. These relations are often simplified and presented by some as a struggle between modern reason and obscurantist superstitions or, from another extreme, between divinely revealed truth and pretentious scientism. But most scientists and philosophers remain indifferent to the so-called "conflict thesis" and identify more with one of the other three categories of Barbour's typology proposal : indifference, dialogue or integration. However, the wide diffusion of the conflict thesis in the public sphere calls for a historical study to reveal its origins and current popularity.

To offer a series of past examples of clashes between the two and judge them from our perspective would not shed much light on the roots of the thesis: "science and religion are always in conflict". According to Eric Hobsbawm, the notion of "invented tradition" is useful for a better historical understanding of the category "science-religion".

The term "scientist" as we now know it was coined in 1833, and the person who fit into this new sense of the term needed a community to belong to and to defend himself against possible intruders such as philosophers, amateur naturalists and, also, clergymen. Achieving this community led to the formation of an "invented tradition" which had as one of its consequences the thesis of conflict.

This seminar room sets out some of the elements that shape the complex relationships between these different actors and which are, in the opinion of speaker, at the root of the origin of the conflict thesis. A more extensive and detailed account of the content of seminar room can be found on the Mapping ignorance page.