The Science and Religion Quiz!

An ongoing theme in Western culture since the Enlightenment has been that religion is the enemy of scientific progress. To test your knowledge of how pervasive the problem has been, I've created the following quiz. The answers are at the end, but try not to look ahead.

1. When Galileo faced the Inquisition, he held that the Earth moved around the Sun, while the Inquisition believed that the Sun moved around the Earth. According to modern science:

a) the Inquisition was correct b) Galileo was correct c) neither was more or less correct than the other

2. Columbus had to fight the established Catholic doctrine that the Earth was flat before he could persuade anyone to back his attempt to reach the Indies in 1492:

a) true b) false

3. The Catholic Church holds:

a) the teaching of evolution is a sin b) the idea of evolution is perfectly compatible with Catholic doctrine

4. The geocentric model of the solar system was an important element of Christian doctrine because it gave man importance by placing him at the center of the universe:

a) true b) false

5. Kepler was moved to endorse the heliocentric solar system based on objective, scientific principles rather than religious belief:

a) true b) false

6. Everyone knows that religion is the enemy of clear scientific thinking, as evidenced by so many great scientists being atheists. Identify the atheists in the following list:

a) Aristotle b) Frances Bacon c) Galileo d) Descartes e) Pascal f) Newton g) Robert Boyle h) Michael Faraday i) Joseph Clerk Maxwell j) Gregor Mendel k) Louis Pasteur l) Max Planck m) Albert Einstein

7. According to the Dalai Lama, when science contradicts Buddhism:

a) science must have made a mistake b) the words of the Buddha should be amended

8. The scientific revolution replaced the worldview of the Middle Ages, one based almost entirely on faith, with a worldview in which faith plays little or no part:

a) true b) false


1. c. As Alfred North Whitehead puts it: u201CGalileo said that the earth moves and that the sun is fixed; the Inquisition said that the earth is fixed and the sun moves; and Newtonian astronomers… said that both the sun and the earth move. But now we say that any one of these three statements is equally true, provided that you have fixed your sense of u2018rest' and u2018motion' in the way required by the statement adoptedu201D (1967 [1925], Science and the Modern World, The Free Press: New York, pp. 183–184).

2. False. It was widely accepted in the Middle Ages that the Earth was spherical. The idea that medieval man generally believed it flat was invented in the 19th century:

See also: Eco, U. (1998) Serendipities: Language and Lunacy, Harcourt Brace & Company: San Diego, pp. 4–7.

3. b

4. False. The Church adopted this idea from Aristotle, who based it on his view of the natural world as an organism. Collingwood says the notion that the importance of the Copernican revolution consisted in diminishing the importance of man in the universe u201Cis an idea both philosophically foolish and historically false.u201D He points out that what was perhaps u201Cthe most widely read book of the Middle Ages,u201D Boethius' De Consolatione Philosophiae, contains a long passage on the u201Ctiny corneru201D of the universe occupied by man, whose place u201Chardly even deserves the name infinitesimalu201D (1960 [1945], The Idea of Nature, Oxford University Press: London, pp. 96–97).

5. False. Kepler was a Neoplatonist, and he favored the heliocentric model because his religious beliefs made it seem fitting that a divine white light be at the center of the world.

6. None of them were atheists.

7. b

8. False. Whitehead points out that Scholastic philosophers were not content unless they could offer rigorous proofs for God's existence and other elements of Church doctrine. By way of contrast, when Hume showed that the theory of induction was without logical grounds in the metaphysics of his time, he was widely ignored and the general faith in induction remained unabated. u201C[T]he clergy were in principle rationalists, whereas the men of science were content with a simple faith in the order of natureu201D (ibid., p. 51).

How did you do? I gave the quiz to a friend, a graduate of a top American university with a social science degree, and he got 7 out of 8 wrong.

The fact that many people u201Cknowu201D falsehoods about the history of science and religion is not, of course, a proof of the correctness of any particular religion, or even a defense of religion in general. My point is narrower: Even non-believers cannot benefit from having their heads filled with u201Chistoryu201D made up to support a particular ideology. To know who we really are, we need an undistorted view of what we've done. As Whitehead says: u201C[A]ll our ideas will be in a wrong perspective if we think that… in these controversies religion was always wrong, and that science was always right. The true facts of the case are very much more complex, and refuse to be summarized in these simple termsu201D (ibid., pp. 182–183).

February 15, 2003


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