As part of an exercise in shredding Steve Fuller, AC Grayling makes several felicitous comments. Fuller makes the “tired argument that modern science is the kindly gift of 16th-century religion,” and claims that “atheism has done precious little for science”. He’s got a few good answers to that one.
And what has atheism done for science? Well, let’s see: it removed the risk of scientists being burned at the stake for controverting the divinely revealed truth that “the lord hath laid the foundations of the earth so that it shall not be moved for ever” (Psalm 102, beloved of Bellarmine in his efforts to shut up the astronomers and philosophers of the era of Descartes). It removed the necessity of having to distort observations, facts, experimental results and observations to fit an antecedent doctrine as far from what observation and experiment revealed as one could possibly get. (Think about seeing the moons of Jupiter through a telescope in an age when the earth was – by order! – at the centre of the universe and man and his man-made religion was the most important thing in it, with the Pope and the Office of the Inquisition daring you to think otherwise.) In short, it liberated the mind and enquiries of mankind. Decreasing religious hegemony and rapidly increasing scientific and technological knowledge have gone pari passu during the last four centuries, in mutually reinforcing tandem: the less religion, the more science; the more science, the less religion. And this is a universal phenomenon (see the Pew polls on the decline of religion, even in the USA).