In 1633 Galileo, struggling heroically for scientific truth, was tried by the Inquisition and compelled under threat of torture to recant his theory that the earth revolved around the sun. A broken man, he was forced to live out the rest of his years under house arrest, while his books were banned.
In this dramatic moment, the bitter struggle between science and religion showed itself in sharpest relief: the high-minded, noble Galileo striving for freedom of thought, against the dogmatic, closed-minded Catholic Church mired in superstition.
Or, at least, that’s the way the story has generally been told over the centuries. The “Galileo affair” is frequently rolled out to show the incompatibility of science and religion, two worldviews often seen in today’s world as irreconcilably opposed.
The Patterning Instinct, however, offers a different view of the relationship between Christianity and science. A careful reading of history shows that, rather than the two being implacable foes, science in fact belongs to the same cognitive family as Christianity: conceived by the same ancestor, incubated in Christianity’s embrace for a millennium, and coming of age as a staunch proponent of its Christian heritage.
In contrast to the chasm that exists today between fundamentalist Christians and scientific atheists, the book reveals how the structures of thought that led to Christianity also laid the foundations for what would emerge as scientific cognition. Even that heroic tale of Galileo’s struggle against the Inquisition turns out to contain layers of complexity that blur the stark relief in which it is usually told.
In modern times, the clash between science and religion may seem like the inevitable result of two fundamentally contrasting worldviews. However, it turns out that, far from being diametrically opposed, the Christian worldview served for centuries as an incubator for scientific cognition, which might never have flourished without it.