Historians of science and religion usually trace the origins of the “conflict thesis,” the notion that science and religion have been in perennial “conflict” or “warfare,” to the historical narratives of John William Draper (1811–1882) and Andrew Dickson White (1832–1918). While Draper and White have been designated cofounders of the conflict thesis, there has been little research on how contemporaries responded to their narratives. This paper examines the early reception of these narratives by considering the extensive commentary they received in British and American periodicals from 1856 to 1900. Sampling a selection of this material suggests that while many rejected Draper and White's interpretation of the past, many others agreed with them in affirming that theological dogmatism came into conflict with the advance of human knowledge. This essay also suggests that Draper and White may have had a more nuanced position about the history of science and religion than has been contended by modern scholars. Whatever their intentions, however, their historical narratives had the unintended consequence of creating in the minds of their contemporaries and later generations the belief that science and religion have been and are at war.
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