The Dark Ages

The Dark Ages March 16, 2015
Dark Ages.jpg

The above image was left by a commenter on my blog. It reflects a common trope about the “dark ages” which reflects not actual darkness, but modern lack of awareness about developments in science, philosophy, and universities in this period, often under the auspices of and with support from the Church. (Although I doubt it deserves the label one person has given it: “The most wrong thing on the internet ever.”) And even if it were correct about Christian dark ages in Europe, it would still be ignoring the amazing things happening in the Islamic world in that period, which in turn sparked the Renaissance, which the maker of the graph seems to think was a positive thing.

It always strikes be as ironic when people complain about the alleged negative impact of religion on scientific advancement and critical thinking, and in the process show themselves to be the ones who accept things they’ve heard uncritically.

Of related interest, there is a post By Derrick Peterson about this on the blog A Greater Courage which is in turn part of an excellent series about the modern myth of the conflict model of the history of the relationship between science and religion. Rhoda Hawkins talks about being a Christian as well as a scientist. And Dale McGowan shared thoughts on how to (and how not to) reconcile God and evolution.

 

"There are way more linguistic problems with Carrier's silly "cosmic sperm bank" argument than that. ..."

Response to Raphael Lataster
"Thank you for the reply Dr McGrath, I am very much aware, and have read ..."

Response to Raphael Lataster
"Ehrman is an atheist, as was Casey. Both are convinced that mythicism is bunk and ..."

Response to Raphael Lataster
"The way I read it is that Lataster makes the point that being a secular ..."

Response to Raphael Lataster

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Ian Wragg

    J.McG
    “(Although I doubt it deserves the label one person has given it: “The most wrong thing on the internet ever.”)”

    I think that title was changed by the hosts of that particular web page. Tim’s original article on his own page reads as follows.

    ‘And, almost without fail, someone digs up a graphic (see below), which I
    have come to dub “THE STUPIDEST THING ON THE INTERNET EVER”, and to
    flourish it triumphantly as though it is proof of something other than
    the fact that most people are utterly ignorant of history and unable to
    see that something called “Scientific Advancement” can’t be measured,
    let alone plotted on a graph.”

    http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/2009/10/gods-philosophers-how-medieval-world.html

  • Ignatz

    Nothing says “Empirical Rigor” like a graph with no numbers on its y-axis.

    It’s also fun that the genius in question was apparently unaware of the Fall of the Roman Empire.

  • How could anything in the Islamic world spark the Renaissance after it had been through severe decline?

    • Rather than try to fill you in on the history of that era in the Islamic world, and its influence on the Renaissance, in a blog comment, might I just recommend that you read something on the subject and answer your own question?

      • Until then, I will continue my line that if the Renaissance was “sparked” by anything, it was the invention of printing and the economic reset caused by the plague.

        • Why not at least read an online web source? Perhaps this one?
          http://people.opposingviews.com/did-islamic-empire-contribute-european-renaissance-8776.html

          • All this seems to be propaganda funded by the Emir of Qatar. If it actually is, I would not be surprised in the least bit. Some of the claims in that article are self-evidently ludicrous:
            “When the Islamic Moors settled in Spain, they introduced the concepts of terracing and irrigation to Europe.”
            “Not only did Muslims preserve and translate ancient classical texts that
            inspired Renaissance thinkers, but they also invented the scientific
            method and modern university system”
            so you can understand why I don’t trust any claim of so-called Islamic achievement without citations to actual scholarly sources for each claim.

          • Well, it would obviously be better to read a history book, but you seemed unwilling to do that. Why not read some scholarly articles on the subject then, rather than remain wilfully and stubbornly ignorant?

          • The most influential things (on my views) I’ve really read on the broader subject of the influence of the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates was a part of Perkins’ Fall of Rome and some archaeological accounts of Palestine under the Ummayyads and Abbasids. There does not seem to have been any strong decline in settlement or any evidence of forced conversion or destructive conquest, so the original Caliphs can be forgiven of charges of behaving like the rulers of the present Obama&Erdogan-created Raqqa-based state. Palestine was lucky to not be a victim of endless war under the Umayyads and Abbasids.

            However, just looking at the modern Muslim Arabs, it’s hard to find any intellectual streak in them. So I find it highly doubtful that the Muslim Arabs of a millennium and a third ago were anything more than idle adopters of technology and other knowledge from their Chinese and Byzantine neighbors. There might have been occasional streaks of genius among them, but I haven’t yet seen evidence of any elite polymath community in the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates anywhere near as strong as that existing in the pre-Christian Roman Empire.

          • That is kind of like saying, “Just looking at the modern Greeks, it’s hard to find any intellectual streak in them.” Do you have any idea how bigotted that sounds, not to mention how poor an argument it is for ignoring the historical evidence regarding earlier periods, since modern Greeks might never persuade you to think that their past included Plato and Aristotle either?

          • Yeah, modern Greece is only impressive for the Balkan Peninsula. But Greece is still an E.U. country. It still has major universities, solid life expectancy, and a thoroughly developed primary schooling system. There is an intellectual streak among modern Greeks, though I don’t think it’s anywhere near as developed, or anywhere near as egalitarian, as in, say, Japan or Sweden. Modern Greece is certainly a more intellectually developed country than, say, modern Tunisia.

            And Greece has still kept some of its ancient attributes, most obviously, institutional corruption and demagoguery. The present Greek finance minister is a perfect example of how Greece’s intellectual streak can combine with demagoguery.

            Also, the achievements of ancient Greeks are not exactly up for dispute. Archimedes, Pythagoras, Aristotle, etc., are unlikely to have been fictional characters. Similar evidence is why I continue to believe India once had a developed intellectual climate for its time.
            Edit:
            Also, here’s some paper consumption data:
            http://www.paperonweb.com/Greece.htm
            http://www.paperonweb.com/Chile.htm
            http://www.paperonweb.com/Tunisia.htm
            Chile is Greece’s closest Spanish American equivalent. Tunisia is far behind.
            Also, here’s a factoid:
            “The number of books translated into Arabic every year in the entire Arab world is one-fifth the number translated by Greece into Greek.”
            http://www.economist.com/node/14027674

          • Uh yeah, it really doesn’t need saying, the fruit is well evident.

            Islam, or Submission in English.
            Does not Produce anything Good.

            Every object with the title Islamic, has been stolen at least to one degree.

            Most notably.
            The Blue Mosque, designed by Ottomans , built by Ottomans, claimed to be Islamic.
            Slaves have been the ones who craft Islamic art, and do to Islam’s harams learning the crafts of infidels is punishable by death. Once the slaves are dead, the art is lost.
            They do have a profitable rug industry, but it has not changed much since the seventh century. And what scribing they allow is almost unreadable, very secret secret stuff.

            cf.
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_art#Modern_period
            Even Mohamed Himself is most likely a Falsehood, or a Parody. A Stolen Idea, little more.
            I believe The Bible calls him the False prophet.

          • Nick G

            Er, the Ottomans were Muslims. I think your ignorance of that simple fact tells us all we need to know about you.

          • The Ottomans were Muslim slaves.
            Untill the Oghuz Turks where force assimilated they new nothing of Allah and his Fake Profit.
            Force Assimilated, like Convert or Die!
            Can you Name something Islam has that is not stolen?
            The Quran is at least a Forgery, a type of theft.
            The Rugs aren’t even Muslim they are premuslim for sure.
            So ya one thing Muslims Claim that is Original.

          • OK, you had your second chance, having previously been banned for troll comments with bizarre spelling and unsubstantiated claims. One could obviously say the same thing about Christianity as you did about Islam – unoriginal, derivative, etc. I wish you had been interested in serious discussion.

          • Nick G

            The achievements of Arabic science (i.e., science done in the medium of Arabic, not necessarily by Arabs – more were Persians – or by Muslims – ,amy were Jews, Christians and even pagans) are also beyond dispute, other than by ignorant bigots like you. While it’s still arguable that Islamic civilization was most important as a preserver and transmitter of knowledge, there’s no doubt that Arabic science did make important original contributions particularly in mathematics, astronomy, optics and chemistry. Attributing the view to this effect of those recent scholars who have studied the matter – most of them neither Arabs nor Muslims – to “propaganda funded by the Emir of Qatar” is simply bonkers.

          • Attributing the view to this effect of those recent scholars who have
            studied the matter – most of them neither Arabs nor Muslims – to
            “propaganda funded by the Emir of Qatar” is simply bonkers.

            -My, my, you have an even lower opinion of the native Qataris than I do. I don’t doubt some discoveries came from the territories of the Ummayad and Abbasid Caliphates-the preservation of Roman civilization there and the expansion of trade and population in Iran at the time make this likely-but my previous claims made here still stand.

          • Also, James, imagine how much Byzantine achievement there might have been had not the Caliphate split the Mediterranean Sea.

          • histrogeek

            That’s an interesting speculation. Harry Turtledove, alternative history master and Byzantine history professor, had a great series of short stories on that point.
            One point in the Caliphate’s favor though, while they did cut Constantinople off from the southern and eastern Mediterranean, Islam accomplished what almost every Mediterranean ruler since Alexander had attempted, the union of Persia to with the Mediterranean. Baghdad was a magnificent center of learning before the Mongols torched it because it was able to combine the knowledge of Persia with that of Rome and Greece, the fusion that had made the Library of Alexandria the wonder it was. The Dar al Hakim had a similar impact on the medieval world, and unlike Alexandria it was able to bring in significant knowledge from India (most notably the “Arabic” numbers).

        • Nick G

          Why do you think the invention of printing happened? Did Gutenberg of Mainz just wake up one day and say to himself: “Hmm, I think I’ll invent moveable-type printing”? There had to be a demand – a market (surely this will appeal to you) for books, there had to be good quality paper at a reasonable price, there had to be alloys suitable for use in printing. Saying the invention of printing sparked the Renaissance is in any case like saying the invention of television sparked the industrial revolution – both are around two centuries too late. Attribution to “the economic reset caused by the plague” is a little less absurd, but is still too late – the first European university appeared around 1085 (Bologna) – the same time as the influx of knowledge from Islamic Spain; the mechanical clock was invented around 1270 – hardly the sign of a stagnant society – and spectacles, double-entry book-keeping, paper mills, musical notation, post-windmills and many other key inventions preceded the plague.

          • The Renaissance is typically defined as being after the High Middle Ages. The High Middle Ages is, obviously, another story.

    • Nick G

      Start with the Christian reconquest of Toledo in 1085, which made available much Arabic (and in translation, Greek) scholarship. Scholars – notably Adelard of Bath – went to Spain and studied with Jews and Muslims. Paper and “Arabic” numerals both came to Europe via Muslim Spain.

  • I’ve never believed it necessary to reconcile science-based medicine and voodoo. Or meteorology and appeals to the crop gods. Likewise, God&Evolution.

  • Michael Wilson

    Thanks for sharing the graph James. While it’s fun to imagine that had it not been for the dark ages we would have landed on the moon 500 years ago, but as you mentioned, the dark ages were a European thing and the rest of the world didn’t advance that quickly. Along with the Islamic world, there is also the the example of China, which was long the most advanced world civilization and despite its more liberal religious ideology did not begin the Industrial Age.

    • Yeah. Ming and Qing China had pretty stagnant intellectual cultures.

      • histrogeek

        More importantly for this chart, would be Tang China which was the era of the “Christian Dark Ages”. You know, the people who invented gunpowder and printing.
        The Ming were during the Renaissance and the Qing were during the early modern era.

        • Good point.

        • Nick G

          There was still plenty of innovation going on in Song China (moveable-type printing, although the European invention seems to have been independent), mechanical clocks (ditto – and the Chinese forgot them), gunpowder, the navigational compass – previously used in divination, windmills, the Bessemer process, coking coal, paper money. The Mongol conquest – and the preceding encroachments from the north – may have had a lot to do with the loss of innovative impetus in China; and the Mongol Empire also facilitated the transmission of Chinese inventions to Europe.

          • histrogeek

            Major military disasters have a lot to do with the decline of scientific and technical innovation (much more so than Christianity). The fall of Rome, the sack of Baghdad, the conquest of Song China were all followed by a long conservative period where innovation all but vanished and scholarly life focused inward.

  • And yes, the dark ages absolutely had actual darkness. See some of Richard Carrier’s older stuff on this. Most claimed Medieval achievements were actually Roman-era or earlier.

    • histrogeek

      There are eras with limited records, which was the original meaning of the “Dark” in Dark Ages. Southern Britain, much of Gaul/France, and the Low Countries dropped of the grid for awhile in the 5th and 6th Centuries as the last remains of the Roman education was defunded, dispersed, and nearly died out. Italy, Spain, and the Danube Basin had some decline in their records but never collapsed to the extent that areas further north and west did. On the other hand, that same era was accompanied by an expansion of Roman learning into new areas like Ireland and Germany.

      It’s hard to tell how much of Medieval achievements were the result of building on Roman achievements, how much came from innovations brought during the Medieval era to Europe from elsewhere (such as the stirrup and horse collar), and how much was indigenous development (such as longbows, three field crop rotation, or miniscule writing).

    • *chuckle* Carrier? Yes, of course. Who else would we turn to as an objective analyst here but a vehement anti-Christian activist with no background in medieval history? Let’s all ignore leading experts like David C Lindberg, Edward Grant and Ronald Numbers and listen to the unemployed blogger with a biased axe to grind! Who else but Carrier can guide us after all?

    • Nick G

      Oh, right. Like mechanical clocks, hourglasses, spectacles, post windmills, the heavy plough, artesian wells, stern-mounted rudders, various types of crane, the crossbow, the cannon, plate armour, musical notation, glass mirrors, universities, much of the apparatus of critical scholarship (punctuation, division of books into chapters and sections, tables of contents, runnning heads, systematic references to sources)… Much was also borrowed from elsewhere, but was post-Roman (paper – the most important – and its production was greatly improved in medieval Europe), gunpowder, the compass, the spinning wheel, “Arabic” numerals, lateen sails, the horse collar, the stirrup… In addition to the sources Tim O’Neill cites, try Jean Gimpel’s The Medieval Machine, Alfred W. Crosby’s The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society 1250-1600, and Arnold Pacey’s Technology in World Civilization.

  • histrogeek

    In so much as “the Christian Dark Ages” has any meaning, it refers to western Europe alone, mainly north of the Alps. Its cause was not the Church, which I’m guessing is meant to be the culprit, but the collapse of communications, literacy, and the overall infrastructure of the economy brought about mainly by the barbarian invasions.

    Every period of relative peace in western Europe, like the Christianization of Ireland and northern Britain prior to the Norse invasions, the Carolingian era, the Ottonian era, the Scholastic Revolution, etc. sees a major increase in scholarship, even “science” of the Aristotillian vein, usually with some support from the Church.

    And there really wasn’t a lot of science and scholarship going on in the Roman Empire between Marcus Aureilius’ death (chaos once again being the main culprit) and Justinian’s coronation.

    This graphic is just a rehash of Enlightenment-era prejudice dressed up to look like something serious.

    • Christianity still substantially limited intellectual inquiry after its adoption as a Roman Imperial state religion. This resulted, however, in the Catholic Church becoming the last bastion of intellectual knowledge in Dark Age Western Europe.

      • histrogeek

        There were some limitations at times, but these limitations were nothing compared to the collapse of the Roman education system in the West, which resulted in the Church being the last bastion of Roman educated people in the West.

        In the East astronomy, chemistry, and mechanics were going pretty well, at least as well as the late, pre-Christian Roman era. And then you have people like Boethius or Bede in the West who had no problem with the Church.

        Later pro-Roman historians, following Julian, vastly exaggerate the degree of original thinking going on before Constantine.

        • PorlockJunior

          How well were those fields going, in comparison to the Islamic world? (Speaking without claiming any expert knowledge of Byzantine culture.) To look at the vocabularies of astronomy and chemistry (as well as mathematics) is to see major influence from the Arabic language, which is a good sort of evidence of where the early workers in this society got their start. But that doesn’t rule out excellent work being done in Greek lands at the time.

          Not that etymology solves everything. Astrolabe, after all, is not an Arabic derivation, but the instrument is. And the astrolabe is a pleasant instrument to contemplate, not only for the elegance of the old examples of the device, but as a complement to the notions (elsewhere in this comments section, not implied at all by your posting) about the hopeless intellectual incapacity of Arabs.

          • “Not that etymology solves everything. Astrolabe, after all, is not an Arabic derivation, but the instrument is.”

            Ummm, no it isn’t. It was a Greek invention.

          • histrogeek

            In chemistry in particular there was the Greek Fire, which preceded the Arab invasions by almost a century. After the invasions, actually a bit before during the Byzantine-Persian Wars of Phocas and Heraculius, a lot of scientific innovations in Constantinople did decline because the available resources weren’t there.

            (Often ignored, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt had only very recently been retaken by the Empire when Caliph Omar showed up. Had the Byzantine-Persian Wars not been so
            long, Islam would likely have remained largely confined to the Arabian Peninsula.)

            The astrolabe is an interesting case. The principle
            was classical Greek, but the Arabs made it work. It was complex, but no one had a better instrument until the 17th Century.

            One of the reasons why Western scientific and technical language uses a lot of Arabic is that it was transmitted through the Arabs. We call our numbers “Arabic numerals” although they originated in Hindu India about 2
            centuries before Muhammad. The Spanish and Italian translators and adopters had no idea of course; they just knew Arabs had that number system.

            On the other hand, the Islamic world had many innovations that were all their own. Algebra as a system was definitely Islamic in origin (even if some of the techniques were Indian in origin). Lateen sails, critical for Atlantic exploration, were entirely Islamic in origin. The sail windmill used throughout the Mediterranean (so much so that it’s a cliche for Spanish and Greek tourism) was a Muslim invention. And so on.

      • “Christianity still substantially limited intellectual inquiry after its adoption as a Roman Imperial state religion.”

        It did? How? Give me one example of anyone’s inquiry into the natural world being restricted in any way by the Church between 500 and 1500 AD. Just one. Good luck.

        • mobius78

          Not quite within the time frame you requested, but Copernicus is a great example. And let’s not forget Thomas Moore, who was a catholic official in england who burned those who dared to own a bible in the vernacular. Who knew educating yourself about your own religion was such a terrible crime? Not those poor Englishmen that’s for sure.

          • “Not quite within the time frame you requested, but Copernicus is a great example.”

            No, not in my period. Since my period is the so-called “Dark Age in question, why can’t you come up with a single example? And Copernicus was encouraged by the Church and never censured by them in his time. That censure came as a reaction to the Galileo affair, which was more to do with politics than any attitude to science. The Church, in fact, had the scientists on their side at the time.

            ” And let’s not forget Thomas Moore, who was a catholic official in
            england who burned those who dared to own a bible in the vernacular.”

            What the hell has that got to do with science?

            ” Who knew educating yourself about your own religion was such a terrible crime?”

            My religion? I’m an atheist. So what the hell are you mumbling about?

          • histrogeek

            Not to encourage what is clearly long-standing myth with little historical backing, but we could toss in the persecution of Wycliffe (anti-scholarly, though questionably scientific) instead of bringing in More (seriously look on a timeline) and of course there are favorites William of Occam or Peter Abelard, beloved of the ignorant purveyors of that myth.

            (I know Peter Abelard was not persecuted by the Church, just some assholes within the Chuch. William of Occam comes closer, but since nearly every condemnation was posthumous, it’s hard to call it persecution in the traditional sense.)

          • I can’t see what Wycliffe has to do with science either. Abelard was disagreed with by some, agreed with by other

            and ultimately won the argument. No “persecution” there. Though I have had some in the Chorus of the Clueless assure me that he was castrated by the Church and not by his girlfriend’s dad. And one even assured me that the whole things was orchestrated by the Church to (and I am not making this up) prevent Abelard and Heloise breeding a strain of uber-rationalists that might threaten their power. Dan Brown hasn’t got a patch on the pseudo historical imagination of some of these loons. And yes, Occam wasn’t “persecuted” either.

          • histrogeek

            In fairness it was Heloise’s uncle who I’m pretty sure was ordained, but yes, it was not a church thing. Also Bernard of Clarveaux had some nasty things to say about Abelard but that was kind of Sharks/Jets thing between Bernard’s followers and Abelard’s.
            I like the eugenics rationalism. Now that’s a story that needs to be written . Astrolabe Stark, the 12th Century Iron Man.

          • histrogeek

            Some Biblical translations can be vaguely connected to linguistics and anthropology, though my understanding is this was not so much the case with Wycliffe, more Renaissance-era translators like Luther and Tyndale. It’s a pretty big stretch to call it science I’ll admit even then, and in Wycliffe’s case it’s almost impossible to make that leap.

          • domics

            how was Wycliffe persecuted?

          • histrogeek

            Wycliffe was condemned as a heretic and burned posthumously. While he was alive, he had political protection from John of Gaunt, sort of like how Luther was protected by the Great Elector.
            Persecution is probably too strong, though he was clearly skating on thin ice with the Church establishment.

          • KCT

            You believe in God or a Higher Power. You just don’t believe in the interpretation or the description of what Religion’s describe God to be. More and more people are starting to believe this way. If you believe in love and in happiness you know you sense God.

          • “You believe in God or a Higher Power.”

            No, I don’t. Please stop replying to my comments with these weird and weirdly inarticulate pronouncements.

          • KCT

            mobius78 was referring in general terms he was not directing it to you personally when he was referring to “Who knew educating yourself about your own religion was such a terrible crime?” Boy, know wonder people can’t seem to understand scriptures and determine the interpretations of them. Just listening to this forum explains it all.

          • “mobius78 was referring in general terms he was not directing it to you
            personally when he was referring to “Who knew educating yourself about
            your own religion was such a terrible crime?””

            You seem to need to brush up on the use of pronouns.

            “Boy, know wonder people can’t seem to understand scriptures and determine the interpretations of them.”

            And on spelling.

          • histrogeek

            “Who knew educating yourself about your own religion was such a terrible crime?”
            Far be it from my Anglican (Episcopal) self to defend the worst divorce lawyer in English history, but have you looked at the history around Biblical translations? And how it tended to be associated with the kind of behavior that a High Chancellor would disapprove of? Like the Lollard and Leveller uprisings associated with the Wycliffe’s translations? Or some problems going on in More’s time with a monk in the Holy Roman Empire who was translating the Bible into German?

            He wasn’t just doing this out of spite, and FYI he wasn’t doing it on behalf of the Pope.

          • SLB

            This DVD by PBS might interest you if you are interested in the mid evil time of the Catholic Church. It is call the “Secret Files of The Inquisition.” For centuries the historical records of the Inquisition have been locked away to become the subject of legend. In 1998 the Vatican opened these archives for the first time ever. Secret Files of the Inquisition unveils the incredible true story of the western world’s most potent religion and its
            determination to maintain power at any cost.
            From the pages of secret documents hidden in European archives comes a tale of faith and fervor, of torture and courage, of the fight for human rights and religious tolerance.
            Toronto Globe and Mail, Canada wrote
            “A profound and fascinating series…
            a ringing resonance for us today.” and
            from Sydney Herald
            “Complex…gripping…
            absolutely outstanding.” It makes one’s blood boil. This had been going on for 400 years.

          • SLB

            The Catholic Church has discredit the Pope’s who overseen the Catholic Church during these 400 hundred years. It was a dark time in the Catholic Church History. The last was around 1940.

          • domics

            To be precise in England many centuries after More
            anyone who owned a Bible that was not the Authorized version had a lot of trouble too (and in any case More had not burned anyone only for having a bible in the vernacular).

            Regarding to “Who knew educating yourself about your own religion was such a terrible crime?” then you do not come and complain that people believe that the earth is 4000 years old becuase it is their right to read the Bible and believe what they want.

  • Oh, and here are the author of that chart’s remarks on it:
    http://nobeliefs.com/comments10.htm
    http://nobeliefs.com/comments17.htm

    • Remarks that prove that the author of the idiotic chart doesn’t have the faintest clue about medieval history. Oh, but he knows it was a “Dark Age” because Richard Carrier told him so. That means he doesn’t need to actually educate himself on it or read any historians who specialise in relevant things like the revival of science in the high Middle Ages.

      • domics

        History? Mr Walker can not even understand news!
        For him the transfer of the Vatican Observatory to a more suitable place (as it has already happened in the past) with the approval of the scientists results in “unfortunately for Catholics, they can no longer use the observatory in their support for science.”
        Not only the Italian observatory is operating but Mr Walken seems unaware of the Vatican Observatory Research Group in Arizona with its Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope.

        • PorlockJunior

          Particularly amusing since the head of the V.O. in America till recently was George Coyne, a historian of science as well as an astronomer, who was one of John Paul II’s advisory group on the matter of Galileo. And was critical of the official decree for being too nice to the Inquisition. (Oversimplification, of course. His critique was more scholarly than that, and none the weaker for it.)
          He also didn’t approve of bishops in the 20-21st century who said dumb things about evolution.

  • Pseudonym

    Incidentally, does anyone else think that the slight increase in “scientific advancement” in Egyptian society is exaggerated compared to that in Medieval Europe?

    Quite apart from the fact that we didn’t regress to Egyptian-level science after 476 CE, Ancient Egypt is the poster child for stagnant societies.

    • histrogeek

      I often wonder if “stagnant” societies ought to be retired as a term. It implies a value judgement that may not be appropriate.
      Pharonic Egyptian society was certainly very conservative, and thanks to a variety of factors including blunt necessity, didn’t experience a lot of technical innovation found elsewhere, especially in metallurgy. On the other hand, very long-term stability, economic prosperity, and sustainability in the midst of continuous population growth are not to be scoffed.
      You are absolutely right that Europe (which is frankly all this chart can be applied to) was hardly at a Chacolithic stage of material development after 476 CE. Even the illiterate Germanics knew how to forge steel and tame horses, both of which were not known to the Egyptians until the New Kingdom.

      • Ancient Egyptians where master artists architects and politicians. The Sciences they knew have no comparison today. So what they didn’t ride horses. Their architecture survives millennia’s, their art is still influencing, we still use the ancient Egyptians social and class systems. Military Hierarchy and Tactics. I mean all the evidence says that the Ancient Egyptians where much more advanced than the modern man.

        • Nick G

          The Sciences they knew have no comparison today.

          Absurd nonsense. What sciences are you talking about?

          I mean all the evidence says that the Ancient Egyptians where much more advanced than the modern man.

          No, it doesn’t.

          • What Sciences; Architecture, Polotics, Military Tactics
            Its easy to say no nick but how? How is any modern architecture more advanced than the Great Pyramid?

  • Derrick Peterson

    Well I was wondering why the site traffic at my little corner of the internet went up, and now I know! Thanks for the shout-out James!

    I think the real dark ages might actually be these days, when we have such ready access to information, and yet such silly caricatures persist. Its like Umberto Eco wrote in the post-script to the Name of the Rose “Everyone has a–usually corrupt–opinion on the Middle ages.” And I mean if people are going to insist on making stupid graphs can we all at least agree to avoid making them with…what, Microsoft paint? At least put a little artistic pride in your misinformation people, geez.

    http://www.agreatercourage.blogspot.com

  • Andrew Dowling

    The funny thing is that most of pre-Christian Western Europe was inhabited by completely “a-intellectual” barbarian tribes that, throughout the Middle Ages, sought to burn down what vestiges of learning existed (monasteries). To romanticize that era is simply ridiculous . . it’s not like every tract of the Roman empire suddenly was inundated with scholars and artists once the treaty was signed/kingdom defeated.

    • histrogeek

      And of course once the Roman civil wars became a constant of political life around 180 (AD/CE), progress became more and more illusory in any event, though to their credit the physical infrastructure of the Empire remained impressively intact.

      As far as the barbarians, their intellectual development came as a direct result of Christianity far more than the Romans (although they were the same thing in many places), especially Ireland and Germany, but also the Franks, Angles, Saxons, Visigoths, etc. Christianity let them develop intellectually on their own terms rather than forced submission to Rome. It was a long ramp up in most places thanks to limited resources and a lack of order.

      The sack of the monasteries had less to do with a hate of learning than just the usual hunt for treasure. Monasteries were just rich villages. The priceless works destroyed were more because people set fire to towns after sacking them.

      • Andrew Dowling

        I know the monastery attacks were about loot and not hatred of learning (“they read books? Off with their heads!”) but just noting that to paint a broad stroke as “pre-Christendom=enlightened; post-Christendom=dark and narrow-minded” is a joke, and I think we’re in agreement on that 🙂

        And as you note, the Romans did leave a incredible legacy in Europe regarding infrastructure; that certainly can’t be denied.

        • histrogeek

          Absolutely. And it is interesting how much farther geographically learning spread, albeit in a more limited form thanks to the lack of resources, as a result of Christianity. Yay St. Patrick!

    • Nick G

      The barbarians who overthrew the Western Roman Empire were already Christians – although mostly Arians. By 700 all of western Europe, outside Scandinavia, was made up of (Trinitarian) Christian kingdoms. Most of Iberia was conquered by Muslim armies in the 8th century, and short-lived pagan states were set up by Vikings, but with those exceptions, western Europe consisted of Trinitarian Christian kingdoms from then onwards throughout the medieval period. The reference to “barbarian tribes that, throughout the Middle Ages, sought to burn down what vestiges of learning existed (monasteries)…” is therefore as anachronistic as the chart shown in the OP.

  • mobius78

    I’d just like to point out to everyone who’s bashing the guy that made the graph that he clearly made it with Europe and Europe alone in mind. It doesn’t talk about Indian, Islamic, or Chinese civilizations because it’s not about them.
    To the creator’s credit, it is hard to deny that the church was against any kind of advancement that hurt its power *cough*Jan Hus*cough*Copernicus*cough*Galileo*cough*.

    • With Europe and Europe alone it’s still abject garbage. First of all, the decline in “scientific advancement” began long before Christianity came to any kind of power, with a long decline from the Hellenic Era and a precipitous drop from the late second century AD. So to pin this on the Christians is gibberish.

      Secondly, the collapse of science in the early Middle Ages was simply a continuation of this decline trend massively exacerbated by a little thing called “the Fall of the Western Roman Empire”. There was a collapse in everything, not just science – that tends to happen when your whole civilisation falls apart. The fall of the Empire had nothing to do with Christianity – evidenced by the fact that the equally (or even more) Christian Eastern Empire did not collapse and continued for another 1000 years.

      Thirdly, from the twelfth century onwards we see a remarkable revival of learning in western Europe, thanks to the influx of lost learning via the Muslim world due to the work of Christian translators and scholars. This in turn led to the greatest revival of scientific inquiry since the Hellenic Era. Where is that in this stupid graph? Where are Albertus Magnus, Bacon, Heytesbury, Oresme, Buridan or Cusa? It seems the idiot who made this stupid thing was working from some children’s picture book grasp of history and has zero actual knowledge of the actual history of early science.

      Finally, what the hell has Jan Hus got to do with science? Coperncius was never bothered by the Church. On the contrary, he was sponsored by Bishop Giese of Culm, encouraged to publish by Cardinal Shoenburg and admired by Pope Clement VIII, who was delighted by a private lecture on his theory given in the Vatican gardens in 1533. And in the Galileo affair the church had the overwhelming majority of scientists and astronomers on its side and thought it was doing the right thing as a result.

      So, you were saying? What most people think the know about the so-called “Dark Ages” is nonsense. Do your homework better before commenting again.

    • domics

      “with Europe and Europe alone in mind”.
      What we call Greco-Roman science was done mainly outside Europe.
      Even ancient Greece including colonies in South Italy and Roman Italy did not consider themselves part of ‘Europe’ (a geographical concept very late) that by the Greeks and Romans was considered a land of barbarians as Romans were considered barbarians by the Greeks before. Then the author of that chart is a bit confused.
      What would be these scientific advancements in pre-Christian ‘Europe and Europe alone’ that Christianity stopped?