and the Deconstruction of the Conflict Thesis
Lindberg acknowledges two typical techniques used by White to explain early Christians’ lack of interest in empirical science: “First, the early Church denigrated the investigation of nature for its own sake: with the kingdom of heaven just around the corner, there was no time or energy to waste on irrelevancies.” For virtually every major scientific paradigm shift, White discerned a traditional religious figure opposing it: “The establishment of Christianity, beginning a new evolution in theology,” White intoned,
arrested the normal development of the physical sciences for over fifteen hundred years… The general belief derived from the New Testament was that the end of the world was at hand… This belief appears frequently throughout the entire period of the Middle Ages; but during the first thousand years it is clearly dominant. From Lactantius and Eusebius, in the third century, pouring contempt…over studies in astronomy to Peter Damian, the noted chancellor of Pope Gregory VII, in the eleventh century declaring all worldly sciences to be “absurdities” and “fooleries,” it becomes a very important element in the atmosphere of thought.Lindberg continues: “Second, whatever truth was discovered through patient observation and reasoning was forced to yield to the puerile opinions extracted by dogmatic superstitions from sacred writings. The result was a tyranny of ignorance and superstition that ‘perverted’ and ‘crushed’ true science.” White consistently uses this quarrelsome language throughout his Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom—“conflict,” “war,” “attack,” “besiege,” “battles,” “triumph,” “defeat,” “soldier,” and so on, appear dozens of times throughout the work. In the introduction to his abridgment, Warfare of Science, White even employs a direct analogy to historical and contemporary military leaders of what were, to him, far less serious conflicts in the long arc of history: “A hard contest it has been; a war waged longer, with battles fiercer, with sieges more persistent, with strategies more shrewd than in any of the comparatively transient warfare of Caesar or Napoleon or Moltke.” He continued to employ this rhetoric throughout his work. For example, White reestablished the familiar trope of a flat earth—which had not been seriously used to describe the shape of the earth since before the time of Plato—in his scathing denunciation of medieval geography:
Although the great majority of the early fathers of the Church, and especially Lactantius, sought to crush [the idea of a spherical earth] beneath the utterances attributed to Isaiah, David, and St. Paul, the better opinions of Eudoxus and Aristotle could not be forgotten. Clement of Alexandria and Origen had even supported it. Ambrose and Augustine tolerated it, and, after Cosmas had held sway a hundred years, it received new life from a great churchman of southern Europe, Isidore of Seville, who, however fettered by the dominant theology in many other things, braved it in this.
Although White acknowledged that some early Christians understood the physical geography bequeathed to them by the ancient Greeks, he mistrusted the Christian patristic writers who, in his mind, merely “tolerated” it in spite of their scriptural predilections. In his warfare metaphor, White drew the battle lines and pitted his soldiers against one another:
Columbus is the next warrior. The world has heard of his battles: how the Bishop of Ceuta worsted him in Portugal; how at the Junta of Salamanca the theologians overwhelmed him with quotations from St. Paul, and from St. Augustine. And even after Columbus was triumphant, and after his voyage had greatly strengthened the theory of the earth’s sphericity, the Church, by its highest authority, was again solemnly committed to the theory of the earth’s flatness…But in 1519 Science gains a crushing victory. Magellan makes his famous voyages. He proves the earth to be round, for his great expedition circumnavigates it…but this does not end the war.
As we have seen, the “perversion” and “crushing” of science demonstrated for White, not the pitfalls of religious belief, but the drawbacks of authoritarianism in religious institutions. Lindberg, whose specialty is the history of the physical sciences in late antiquity and the Middle Ages, presents numerous rejoinders in his voluminous writings in direct opposition to White’s dualistic arguments. For example, White decries Augustine’s positions on rationalism and empiricism and styles him as among the worst offenders in Western history:
Following [the] precept[s] of St. Augustine, there were developed, in every field, theological views of science, which have never led to a single truth—which, without exception, have forced mankind away from the truth, and have caused Christendom to stumble for centuries into abysses of error and sorrow. In meteorology, as in every other science which he dealt, Augustine based everything on the letter of the sacred text…
The influence of Augustine on not only Christian theology but also the Western intellectual and philosophical traditions need not be overstated. However, Lindberg describes Augustine’s concept of science, which consisted not as a barrier to spiritual truth but as a handmaiden to better comprehend the mysteries of God and His creations, thusly:
Augustine, who did so much to determine medieval attitudes, admonished his readers to set their hearts on the celestial and eternal, rather than the earthly and the temporal. Nonetheless, he acknowledged that the temporal could serve the eternal by supplying knowledge about nature that would contribute to the proper interpretation of Scripture and the development of Christian doctrine. And in his own works, Augustine displayed a sophisticated knowledge of Greek natural philosophy. Natural philosophy, like philosophy more generally, was to serve handmaiden functions.
Roger Bacon serves as another interesting character in the narrative White presents in his epic war between science and religion. In the thirteenth century, Roger Bacon, an English Franciscan friar and natural philosopher, was imprisoned for a period of ten years. Lindberg maintains a rather skeptical position of his incarceration:
Despite a widespread popular belief that Roger Bacon was imprisoned for his attack on authority and his urgent assertion of a novel scientific methodology, for example, Bacon in fact represented very old methodological traditions, and his imprisonment, if it occurred at all (which I doubt), probably resulted from his sympathies with the radical “poverty” wing of the Franciscan Order (a wholly theological matter), rather than from any scientific novelties that he may have proposed.
A devoted supporter of empirical observational techniques, Bacon made great strides in optics and the refraction of light, kept detailed astronomical observation, and anticipated the uses of gunpowder, among many other things. Bacon is often described as an eccentric—even by the even-tempered Lindberg—and portrayals of his odd personality, intertwined with his advocacy of notions seemingly out of step with medieval sensibilities, contribute to the misunderstanding that he was imprisoned for experimentation. White added to this archetypal character the prescience of a prophet:
It should be borne in mind that his method of investigation was even greater than its results. In an age when theological subtilizing was alone thought to give the title of scholar, he insisted on real reasoning and the aid of natural science by mathematics; in an age when experimenting was sure to cost a man his reputation, and was likely to cost him his life, he insisted on experimenting, and braved all its risks…. On this man came the brunt of the battle. The most conscientious men of his time thought it their duty to fight him, and they fought him steadily and bitterly. His sin was not disbelief in Christianity, not want of fidelity to the Church, not even dissent from the main lines of orthodoxy; on the contrary, he showed in all his writings a desire to strengthen Christianity, to build up the Church and to develop orthodoxy. He was attacked and condemned mainly because he did not believe that philosophy had become complete, and that nothing more was to be learned; he was condemned, as his opponents expressly declared, “on account of suspicious novelties.” 
Lindberg is highly skeptical of the allegation that Bacon’s difficulties with religious authorities originated from his dabbling with “scientific novelties” and it is telling that he preserves White’s language in his revision. Lindberg ventured to “rescue Bacon from the mythologizers and debunkers,” and he surely had White in mind when he proposed this reclamation of Bacon’s identity as “a brilliant, combative and somewhat eccentric schoolman of the thirteenth century endeavoring to take advantage of the new learning just then coming available while remaining true to traditional notions, patristic in origin, of the importance to be attached to philosophical knowledge,” rather than “a modern, out of step with his age, [or] a harbinger of things to come.” White positioned Bacon as an ally of science in his binary war, but Bacon, a Franciscan friar, confounded these clear-cut divisions by advocating both empiricism and adherence to Church doctrine. Lindberg forcefully redefines him not as the “champion of autonomous, secularized natural science against a repressive church,” but as a more dynamic figure with internal contradictions: “The growing autonomy and secularization of science were among the things he feared. But he also feared the suppression of new learning. He was endeavoring, therefore, to steer a middle course between two equally dangerous extremes. In this he reflects, in microcosm, the dilemma of the thirteenth century.” Indeed, he reflects the dilemma of simplifying any historical figure to the point of misrepresentation.
The trial of Galileo—the penultimate archetype in the story of religion leveling a crushing blow against an undeserving scientific mind—offers, of course, the most dramatic example of White’s Conflict Thesis in action. Galileo Galilei championed the heliocentric theory of Copernicus after his telescopic observations of the heavens in 1609 and 1610 yielded evidence of mountains and valleys on the moon, sunspots, the phases of Venus, and moons orbiting Jupiter. In 1632, he was brought before the Roman Inquisition to defend his position that the earth revolved around the sun. After the Inquisition found his views suspect of heresy, Galileo was forced to retract his offending statements, and he spent the remainder of his life under house arrest. Most modern interpretations of the trial have cast a far more nuanced light on the subject than the black-and-white affair promoted by White. According to Mario Biagioli, Galileo’s difficulties emerged out of the convoluted nature of early seventeenth century patronage dynamics. Galileo’s guilt was regarded by religious authorities as a double indignation—not only did he contest the official position of the Church on Copernicanism, but he also insulted his former benefactor. In his early years as a mathematics professor in Padua, Galileo received significant support from Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, later to become Pope Urban VIII. It is possible that with an ally in the upper echelons of the Church, Galileo believed he might escape retribution for publishing hypotheses subtly challenging established Church positions. It did not help matters that Galileo, in his groundbreaking Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, put the geocentric, Aristotelian-Ptolemaic system, of which Pope Urban VIII availed himself, in the mouth of a character named Simplicio. Although modeled upon a sixth century commentator on Aristotle, the unfortunate connotations of the name did not endear Galileo to his former patron.
White suffused this story with his usual aggressive language, claiming that “the whole war [between science and religion] was at last concentrated” on Galileo, against whom it “was long and bitter.” For White, Galileo’s trial also served as a proxy war for the Church to squelch the rising tide of Copernicus’ theory, and its conclusion brought a “victory for the Church” over his erroneous ideas. It would require the undeniable proofs of later observational science to herald “the retreat of the Church” after this victory:
In spite of all that has been said by the…apologists, there no longer remains the shadow of a doubt that the papal infallibility was committed fully and irrevocably against the double revolution of the earth. As the documents of Galileo’s trial show, Paul V, in 1616, pushed on with all his might the condemnation of Galileo and of the works of Copernicus and of all others teaching the motion of the earth around its axis and around the sun. So, too, the condemnation of Galileo in 1633, and in all the proceedings which led up to it and which followed it, Urban VIII was the central figure. Without his sanction no action could be taken.
However, Lindberg acknowledges the “complex realities” that better construe the proper nature of Galileo’s troubles with the authorities. He notes the obvious facts that are often obscured by didactic narratives of the affair:
Every one of the combatants, whether Church official or disciple of Galileo, called himself a Christian; and all, without exception, acknowledged the authority of the Bible. Many on both sides of the struggle, including Galileo, were theologically informed, capable of articulating carefully reasoned theological positions.
Lindberg is careful not to minimize the importance of the conflict over heliocentrism in sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe, but he also definitively states that “it is impossible to identify clearly defined battle lines falling along a divide separating heliocentric scientists, prepared to overlook the Bible or interpret it allegorically, from geocentric theologians or clergy, committed to church tradition and Biblical literalism.” Rather, the conflict was located “as much within the church (between opposing theories of biblical interpretation) and within science (between alternative cosmologies) as between science and religion.”
Science and religion are, arguably, the most potent forces in modern life. As human institutions with a history of entanglement, modern historians face a difficult task in attempting to delineate their complex historical and contemporary relationships. Simplifying this relationship as one of unmitigated conflict obscures the rich tapestry of cooperation in which theological precepts often motivated empirical discovery, and natural philosophy often augmented the authority of Scripture. The simple act of defining “science” and “religion” as unified monoliths, ossified into rigid categories that are immune to historical change, ignores the transformations and modifications both have undergone in their long histories. David C. Lindberg reminds us that “strictly speaking, ideas cannot clash and theoretical claims cannot, of themselves, engage in combat.” Obviously, Andrew Dickson White’s Conflict Thesis exerted immense influence over the historiography of science in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and still wields considerable clout among the general populace today. And certainly, White reflects the spirit of his own age of progress, enlightenment, and scientific optimism. However, Lindberg’s reinterpretation of this relationship presents a more fruitful method of inquiry. If the proper territory of the historian is the study of people, then we must always emphasize the human dimensions of both conflict and complexity in science and religion.
 White, Warfare of Science with Theology, 375-376.
 Lindberg, “Science and the Early Christian Church,” Isis 74 (1983): 510
 White, Warfare of Science with Theology, passim.
 Andrew Dickson White, Warfare of Science, 7.
 White, Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, vol. 1, 97.
 White, Warfare of Science, 20-21. The myth of the medieval acceptance of a flat earth derives almost entirely from Washington Irving’s mostly fictional biography The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, 1828. For a modern-day synthesis of historical scholarship on the endurance of this myth in popular culture and the American educational system, see Jeffrey Burton Russell’s Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishing, 1991).
 White, Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, vol. 1, 325.
 David C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, 600 B.C. to A.D. 1450 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 150-151.
 David C. Lindberg, “Medieval Science and Its Religious Context,” Osiris 10 (1995): 76.
 David C. Lindberg, “Science as Handmaiden: Roger Bacon and the Patristic Tradition,” Isis 78 (1987): 520.
 White, History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, vol. 1, 387.
 Lindberg, “Science as Handmaiden: Roger Bacon and the Patristic Tradition,” Isis 78 (1987): 520.
 Ibid., 534.
 David C. Lindberg, “Galileo, the Church, and the Cosmos,” in When Science and Christianity Meet (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 34-35 and 53-57. Galileo is the subject of an extraordinary amount of scholarship. See especially Giorgio Santillana, The Crime of Galileo (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955) for an adequate, if dated, general biography. For a more modern, politically contextualized study, see Mario Biagioli’s Galileo, Courtier: The Practice of Science in the Culture of Absolutism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).
 White, Warfare of Science with Theology vol. 1, 130.
 Ibid., 140.
 Lindberg, “Galileo, the Church, and the Cosmos,” 58.
 Ibid., 34.