Karen Armstrong's book The Battle for God has, by giving a historical background, helped me understand two conflicts: science vs. religion and the literal vs. figurative interpretation of the Bible. Quotes from various pages:
In the past, people "evolved two way of thinking, speaking, and acquiring knowledge, which scholars have called mythos and logos. Both were essential; they were regarded as complementary ways of arriving at truth, and each had its special area of competence. Myth was regarded as primary; it was concerned with what was thought to be timeless and constant in our existence....Myth was not concerned with practical matters, but with meaning."
"Logos was the rational, pragmatic and scientific thought that enabled men and women to function well in the world. We may have lost the sense of mythos in the West today, but we are very familiar with logos, which is the basis of our society."
"By the eighteenth century... the people of Europe and America had achieved such astonishing success in science and technology that they began to think that logos was the only means to truth and began to discount mythos as false and superstitious."
"Reason and logos were improving the lot of men and women in the modern world in a myriad practical ways, but they were not competent to the deal with those ultimate questions that human beings seem forced, by their very nature, to ask and which, hitherto, had been the preserve of mythos. As a result, despair and alienation... have been a part of the modern experience."
If the Western mind has been increasingly dominated by logos since the eighteenth century, then we've been gradually seeing the world in a more literal, scientific light since that time. One result of this is that Christians have been interpreting the Bible more literally, making it clash with scientific facts. This has been a factor in producing what we have today: people either rejecting religion in favor of science, or rejecting science in favor of religion.