War between science and religion: The Draper-White thesis and ideas about the Voynich manuscript

An ill-founded thesis by Draper and White gained popular appeal from the last quarter of the nineteenth century. It so excited the popular imagination, and so deeply infected popular notions about medieval Europe that its reflection is clearly seen in the attitudes and assumptions which Wilfrid Voynich and William Friedman brought to their study of the Voynich manuscript.

Nor did such attitudes fade after the second world war.  They are still endemic today among a certain set of self-proclaimed ‘skeptic-rationalists’.

As antidote I recommend Thony Christie’s recent post:

‘Perpetuating the myths’,thonyc.wordpress.com (May 17th., 2017)

-a taste of his style:

Throughout the twentieth century historians of science have striven to undo the damage done by the Draper-White thesis and return the history of the relationship between science and religion to the complex and multifaceted reality … They were not helped in recent decades by the emergence of the so-called New Atheists and the ill considered and unfortunately often historically ignorant anti-religious polemics spewed out by the likes of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, supposedly in the name of freedom of thought. I have, although a life-long atheist myself, on more than one occasion taken up arms..

Thony’s ‘Renaissance Mathematicus’ blog is as well-regarded as widely liked. And at the time of writing Thony has 5,402 followers.

His post includes a recommendation:

‘The Great Myths 3: Giordano Bruno was a Martyr for Science’ .

a post by Tim O’Neill, (who is not the Voyichero T.O’N.).

Speaking of Bruno, this other Tim writes:

Despite the fact that he can’t be called a scientist and nothing he did was remotely like science (even by sixteenth century standards), New Atheist pseudo history desperately needs Bruno to be a martyr for science, because without him the whole “Christianity suppressed science” dogma has no martyrs at all.


Header credits.

The (fantasy) image of Roger Bacon with telescope from 1936 while the Wilfrid story was still the only story.  Edward Lutz, Roger Bacon’s Contribution to Knowledge,  Franciscan Studies No. 17.

The (cartoon) image of Galileo and telescope from a sure-to-be-profitable graphic novel by Steven and Ben Nadler, Heretics!  


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