Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Can Science and Religion Be Friends?

By Peter Harrison

Some scientists would prefer religion to become extinct but it defiantly prospers – peaceful co-existence is the enduring paradigm.

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In 1966, anthropologist Anthony Wallace confidently predicted that “belief in supernatural powers is doomed to die out, all over the world, as a result of the increasing adequacy and diffusion of scientific knowledge”.

In the 20th century it was common for social scientists to predict the global demise of religion as a consequence of the growth of science and technology. Support for this position seemed to come from a number of quarters, in particular, the centuries-long conflict between science and religion along with empirical evidence of a precipitous decline in Church attendance in European countries.

It is now clear, for better or worse, that religion is back with a vengeance. We are confronted on a daily basis by discomforting news of militant Islamists hell-bent on establishing a global Caliphate. Young Earth creationism, once a curiosity restricted to North America, has become a worldwide phenomenon. Less threatening, but equally significant, are the global spread of Pentecostalism, the successes of Christianity in Africa and Asia, and religious revival in Russia.

How could we have got the forecast so wrong?

It turns out that premature predictions of the end of religion were based on a number of false assumptions. For a start, as historians of science have consistently demonstrated, Western history was not characterised by an enduring...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.