THE GREAT RIFT by Michael E. Hobart


Literacy, Numeracy, and the Religion-Science Divide
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Why can’t religion and science be reconciled? Because of math.

Building on a long career studying information technologies, Hobart (Emeritus, History/Bryant Univ.; Science and Religion in the Thought of Nicolas Malebranche, 1982, etc.) holds that when science and religion relied on verbal literacy—i.e., on explanations in words—it was possible for them to tell much the same story. When, beginning in the Renaissance, the ancient foundations of “modern, relational numeracy” expanded into the full-blown mathematics of calculus, non-Euclidean geometry, and so forth, science had a full vocabulary, so to speak, to explain the universe, and this vocabulary had no need of the divine. The information technologies of literacy and numeracy were sufficiently different that the two realms evolved into “non-overlapping magisteria” that increasingly did not, and indeed could not, talk to each other. Hobart takes a long view of both science and religion, enlisting Aristotle here and Steven Jay Gould there to examine the origins and development of this apparently irreconcilable rift. Of special importance to his narrative is Galileo, who took up the Copernican heliocentric heresy but, unwilling to suffer the fate of heretics, backed away from his early view that the universe ticked along just fine without a supreme being in favor of a tendency to keep quiet about doctrinal matters: “Humans still had purposes, and those purposes could still reflect divine concern for human life and its ultimate redemption, but they resided outside the pale of scientific explanation.” For the most part, it has been that way ever since. Scientists do not often venture into theology except to profess atheism, and theologians do not often venture into science except to say that the universe must have been specially created. Throughout the book, Hobart writes accessibly, and on the occasions when he ventures into the information technology of numbers, he backs up what he says with words, a help to readers who are less numerate than Leibniz and Euler.

A sturdy contribution to the history of science.

Pub Date: April 16th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-674-98363-2
Page count: 560pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
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