Christian Fundamentalism and Science
Liz Shields (c) 1998
In recent years there has been an upswing of Christian fundamentalist activity in America. Some of their activities that have made headlines include proposing legislation to reintroduce prayer into public schools, teach biblical creation in science classes, and abolish the constitutional sanction separating church and state (Tiffin 209).
These are just the latest events in Christian Fundamentalism's long historical movement of opposing mainstream progressive views. The modern form of Christian fundamentalism has largely branched into three main groups, each with common interests, but all standing against each other on specific details of belief. Since Christian fundamentalists are active in the American political system and social issues, perhaps it is wise to examine the historical background that has shaped the beliefs of this powerful minority group.
The first major dispute between science and Christianity involved the shape of the earth (Godfrey 289). Flat-earthers, through their interpretation of the bible, believe that the earth is indeed flat and not spherical or elliptical. They hold true that the known world is a circular plane, with the north poles at the center and ice walls standing at the southern boundaries (Godfrey 290).
According to the flat-earthers, the sun, moon, and planets circle above the earth at an altitude of six hundred miles (290). Thus the rising and setting is just an optical illusion caused by "atmospheric refraction and zetetic law of perspective" (290). All of these hypotheses have since been scientifically demonstrated as false. Although there are very few that still belong to the Flat Earth Society, the idea for the most part died in ancient Greece as a result of the calculations of Eratosthenes and Hipparchus.
Geocentrists and creationists do not agree with flat-earthers about the nature of the earth even though they believe in the inerrancy of the bible. It is a source of great amusement to those outside of Christian fundamentalism that geocentrists and creationists view flat-earthers as ultra-conservative and do not want to be associated with them in any way.
In contrast, geocentrists are viewed by other fundamentalists as relatively moderate. Their literal interpretation of the bible leads them to believe that the earth is at the center of the universe and everything revolves around it (Godfrey 291). However, Copernicus and later Galileo discovered that this was not the case.
Eventually the Copernican system was accepted into scientific thought. Geocentricism has lost it's appeal in the face of overwhelming evidence, but is still regarded by some pockets of fundamentalists as truth according to the bible. Modern geocentrists are "hovering" on the edge of respectability among creationists (292). But, for the most part, they are in disagreement with one another's views on biblical scripture.
Creationists, who often call themselves "creation scientists", are considered the most liberal and modernist of the three fundamentalist groups. Their literal interpretation of the bible leads them to believe that the bible is not only a valid scientific document, but the only valid scientific document. According to creationists, all true science must conform to their interpretations of the King James Version of the bible (Godfrey 294).
Creationist do not believe the earth is flat, nor do they hold that it is at the center of the universe. They do however, believe in the inerrancy of the bible on matters of a special creation, a relatively young earth, and the Noachian flood (Godfrey 294). Like geocentristism and flat-earthers ideology, creationism should have died out as well. However, creationists have taken up pseudoscientific principles to claim scientific status for their beliefs. At the same time, creationists denounce all scientific findings that conflict with scripture as "demonic inventions".
All Christian fundamentalists harbor extreme mistrust for the scientific establishment and modernism in general. Hence, flat-earthers, geocentrists and creationists have been labeled "Fundamentalists" by themselves as well as others. Their shared views on the inerrancy of the bible, special creation, young earth, and Noachian flood were all galvanized by Charles Darwin's publication of the "Origin of the Species" in 1859 (Godfrey 287).
Since that time, they have banded together into discrete camps: Flat-earthers, Geocentrists, and Creationists. The success of modern scientific theories have largely relegated all but the creationists to the status of mere oddities, but creationists have managed to survive by pretending to take up the standard of science.
Historically and in the present their rigid dogmatic view that the evidence of science must conform to holy scripture places them at odds with the scientific community. Furthermore, their view of science, the bible, and earth history have placed them in conflict with even the views of mainstream Christianity (Godfrey 293).
It is ironic that all three seek the comfort of a literal interpretation of the bible, yet they all interpret the scripture differently. But because Christian fundamentalists cannot stray from their black and white view of the universe, they continue to see science and progress as a mere illusion.
Godfrey, Laurie R. Scientists Confront Creationism. New York: Norton & Company, 1983.
Sagan, Carl. The Demon-Haunted World. New York: Ballantine, 1996.
Tiffin, Lee. Creationism's Upside-Down Pyramid: How Science Refutes Fundamentalism. New York: Prometheus Books, 1994.
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