The Correspondence of John Tyndall, Volume 9: The Correspondence, November 1865–March 1868 (2022), with Michael D. Barton, Iwan Rhys Morus, and Geoffrey Belknap

Of Popes & Unicorns: Science, Christianity, and How the ‘Conflict Thesis’ Fooled the World (2022), with David Hutchings

This is the story of John Draper, Andrew White, and the conflict thesis: a centuries-old misconception that religion and science are at odds with one another.

Renowned scientist John William Draper (1811-1882) and celebrated historian-politician Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918) were certain that Enlightened Science and Dogmatic Christianity were mortal enemies—and they said as much to anyone who would listen. More than a century later, their grand and sweeping version of history dominates our landscape; Draper and White’s “conflict thesis” is still found in countless textbooks, lecture series, movies, novels, and more.

Yet, as it would later be discovered, they were mistaken. Their work has been torn to shreds by the experts, who have declared it totally at odds with reality. So how, if this is the case, does their wrongheaded narrative still live on? Who were these two men, and what, exactly, did they say? What is it about their God-versus-Science “conflict thesis” that convinced so many? And what–since both claimed to love Science and love Christ—were they actually trying to achieve in the first place?

In this book, physicist David Hutchings and historian of science and religion James C. Ungureanu dissect the work of Draper and White. They take readers on a journey through time, diving into the formation and fallacy of the conflict thesis and its polarizing impact on society.

The result is a tale of Flat Earths, of anesthetic, and of autopsies; of Creation and Evolution; of laser-eyed lizards and infinite worlds. It is a story of miracles and mathematicians; souls and Great Libraries; the Greeks, the scientific method, the Not-So-Dark-After-All Ages . . . and, of course, of popes and unicorns.

The book is an important contribution to the study of the warfare thesis. This book is a comprehensive story, and not discrete chapters. As a result, its content will likely be utilized in many different contexts and read for many years to come.

— Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

In Of Popes and Unicorns David Hutching and James Ungureanu give us brief biographies of Draper and White before diving into their books to test their assertions. They do a thorough, readable, and at times very witty, job of dismantling the conflict thesis, showing that many of Draper and White’s historical arguments are not just muddle headed or over-simplifications but rather are based on falsehoods and evidence that simply isn’t there. The ‘conflict thesis’ has long been discarded as inadequate scholarship. In some historical instances it is just plain false, in others it does not do justice to the complexity of the history involved. This is all well known among academic historians of science, but David Hutchings and James Ungureanu have done a very good job of making the facts page-turningly-accessible to a wider audience.

— Solas

The book’s engaging tone and adept use of anecdote and metaphor recommends it for a popular audience.

— Metascience

The real strength of this book is in its accessibility. It’s a fun read and written in a fairly light-hearted and even conversational style, punctuated by quirky historical episodes and interesting analogies. I had never heard of the fictional (and then, oddly, non-fictional) hamlet of Agloe, New York, but the authors tell the strange story of an invented town that then came – to – be, before putting it to use to illustrate a point. There are also enough topical references and jokes to make what could be a dull exposition on historiography a lively tour of science through history.

— Tim O’Neill (History for Atheists)

Enjoyable and light-hearted . . . an extremely useful jumping-off point for further reading.

— The American Conservative

Extremely informative and highly entertaining. The authors have not only dispelled the myths that support the conflict thesis, they’ve also explained where those myths came from and how they became so pervasive.

— James Hannam (author of The Genesis of Science)

Our understanding of history and what it passes down to us, at least from our frame of reference, is vested in our cultural context and the voices of those who reinforce it. The book sets to challenge this—or perhaps, one might say, to set the record straight. As its authors lift the lid on the historical narrative of the relationship between science and the church, they tell a story of those who have influenced this and laid out a conflict between the two—a conflict which Hutchings and Ungureanu argue is false. Science and faith, they show, can sit more comfortably together in our collective search for truth than one might first think, and we are much worse off when they do not. It’s important that we look back and reflect from time to time; Of Popes and Unicorns helps us do this in a thought-provoking way. But, above all, it’s simply a good, enjoyable read.

— Paul Hardaker (FInstP, FRMetS, Cmet, CEO of the Institute of Physics and Chair of the Board for Sense About Science)

In this robust critique, Hutchings and Ungureanu provide many fascinating insights into the historical roots of the idea that there is some intrinsic conflict between science and religion. What is truly startling is the way that this false narrative continues to permeate popular culture. In an engaging style, the book demonstrates that fake news is nothing new and shows how the creative conspiracy theories of the 19th century continue to exert their long tentacles into present-day thinking.

— Denis Alexander (Emeritus Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion and Emeritus Fellow, University of Cambridge)

This is a gripping, powerful, and vital story of the most successful and damaging conspiracy theory ever conceived. The sleuthing of Hutchings and Ungureanu is as engaging as the best detective writing and as meticulously researched. This is a book that every teacher, scientist, historian, and pastor needs to read. And, students: I wish I had this given to me when I was 14. Read it now. It really matters.

— Tom McLeish (FRS, Professor of Natural Philosophy, University of York)

In this highly entertaining account of one of the greatest intellectual deceptions ever inflicted upon the public, Hutchings and Ungureanu describe the main characters (with all their attendant eccentricities) who created and/or promulgated the conflict thesis. Despite the best efforts of historians of science to overturn it, this conflict remains stubbornly embedded in our collective consciousness, harming both religion and science. I can only hope that this book is widely read and that it plays its part in undoing that damage.

— Ard A. Louis (Professor of Theoretical Physics, University of Oxford)

Science, Religion and the Protestation Tradition: Retracing the Origins of Conflict (2019)

The story of the “conflict thesis” between science and religion—the notion of perennial conflict or warfare between the two—is part of our modern self-understanding. As the story goes, John William Draper (1811–1882) and Andrew Dickson White (1832–1918) constructed dramatic narratives in the nineteenth century that cast religion as the relentless enemy of scientific progress. And yet, despite its resilience in popular culture, historians today have largely debunked the conflict thesis. Unravelling its origins, James Ungureanu argues that Draper and White actually hoped their narratives would preserve religious belief. For them, science was ultimately a scapegoat for a much larger and more important argument dating back to the Protestant Reformation, where one theological tradition was pitted against another—a more progressive, liberal, and diffusive Christianity against a more traditional, conservative, and orthodox Christianity. By the mid-nineteenth century, narratives of conflict between “science and religion” were largely deployed between contending theological schools of thought. However, these narratives were later appropriated by secularists, freethinkers, and atheists as weapons against all religion. By revisiting its origins, development, and popularization, Ungureanu ultimately reveals that the “conflict thesis” was just one of the many unintended consequences of the Protestant Reformation.

Ungureanu’s book is well written, an impressive piece of scholarship and will be essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the origins of the conflict narrative.

Science & Christian Belief

Meticulously researched and routinely insightful, this book provides a refreshing contribution to the historiography of the ‘conflict thesis’ and develops a compelling argument for historians of science to give more weight to religious history when appraising matters of science and religion. Albeit aimed at the Protestant tradition, Ungureanu’s work proffers a veritable treasure trove of Western intellectual history and, as such, speaks to a much wider audience.

— Isis

Ungureanu . . . draws out the distinct positions held by Draper and White in enough detail to convince a reader that something other than a simple conflict between science and religion was being addressed in their work. His own work is comprehensively presented, meticulously documented, and exhaustively referenced.

— Reading Religion

Ungureanu’s is relevant history . . . This is fine scholarship, dense, detailed, and documented . . . It is also well written, with frequent pauses to review arguments and conclusions, and persuasive. Required reading for historians, this work should also interest nonspecialists curious about the complex origins of the infamous conflict thesis, its ideological uses, and the value of the history of religion for historians of science.

Perspectives in Science and Christian Faith

In a time of alternative facts, rampant conspiracy theories, climate change denial, and an apparent upsurge in flat-earthers, it is a breath of fresh air to read James Ungureanu’s erudite analysis of why so many people came to believe, and still do, that religion and science are implacable enemies. In six eminently readable chapters and an excellent summary conclusion . . . Ungureanu’s book makes an important contribution to understanding the role the Protestant Reformation played in paving the way for modernity and setting the stage for secularism.

Church History

James Ungureanu has undertaken extraordinarily exhaustive research and produced a book that offers an insightful, refreshing re-evaluation of two of the most influential figures in the modern history of religion and science. This book promises to reshape how historians understand the origin of the conflict thesis.

— David Mislin (Temple University)

Ungureanu develops an arresting reinterpretation of John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White, traditionally perpetrators of the ‘conflict thesis,’ but whose intentions, he argues, were not to attack ‘religion’ but to protect its progressive forms from obstructive theological orthodoxies. I highly recommend this book, which is particularly important for historians of liberal Protestantism and its secularizing legacy in late nineteenth-century Anglophonic debates about ‘science and religion.

— John Hedley Brooke (University of Oxford)

Ungureanu manages that most difficult task facing scholars writing for their own, as well as a more general readership, to keep up his narrative’s momentum and readability while at the same time refusing to trivialize or take short cuts. He does this very well, unfolding fascinating aspects of the emerging backdrop to Draper and White, such as the predominantly Anglo-American influences of the former and Germanic of the latter. The back-to-back chapters contrasting Anglican and American ecclesiastical responses to science are well-crafted, for example. But this is done as we delve into detail and read correspondence, tracts and less well-known. The major thesis, that the warfare narrative constitutes a major backfiring of an attack from one (liberal) wing of Christianity against another (conservative), unfolds with the inevitability of a slow-motion railroad crash. The reader can palpably feel the frustration of the avowed secularists who could not understand why Draper and White would not or could not see that their ‘purified (of theological doctrine) Christianity’ occupied a ‘land of bunk’.

— Tom McLeish (FRS, Professor of Natural Philosophy, University of York)

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