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The Hole Left by the Christian Dark Ages
Wednesday, April 14 2010 @ 05:27 PM CDT
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The Myth of Christianity Founding Modern Science and Medicine
Commentary by Jim Walker
Over the years I have received several letters from Christians who attempt to salvage their religion by claiming that Christianity established modern science and medicine. Without Christianity, they claim, we would not have modern science, medicine or hospitals.
Almost invariably, they mention scientists such as Isaac Newton, Kepler, Galileo, Tycho Brahe, Copernicus, Boyle, Haller, Euler, Vesalius, or others who believed in a Christian god. Moreover, some love to report that the Church continues to finance and encourage experimental science, including the Vatican Observatory as one of the oldest astronomical institutes in the world, and the Trinity College at the University of Cambridge which claims many alumni scientists. Therefore, from these examples (don't you see?) Christianity established modern science.
Nothing about this arrogant Christian claim could stand further from the truth.
Please understand that this kind of Christian apologetic argument fails for several reasons which fall into the trap of several fallacies including: appeal to ignorance (failing to understand the history of Christianity in how it did little to inspire science during the Dark Ages); confusing correlation with causation (just because a scientist accepts religion doesn't mean his science derived from religion); and non sequiturs (it doesn't follow that just because a few scientists believed in God that science resulted from it). The myth also spreads through the bandwagon fallacy (appealing to the popular notion that Christianity began modern science), and confirmation bias (list all the Christian scientists, but exclude their rejection of dogmas that conflicted with their science).
Just because Christians did scientific work has nothing to do with the founding of science. Not only does it not follow, but science existed long before Christianity, practiced by the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Nor did science derive from the pagan religions as even then, scientists sometimes held views contrary to the prevailing religions. The ancient theological opponents did not have the encompassing institutional power as did Christianity during the Dark Ages. The historian Richard Carrier observes, "In contrast, the groups that opposed science in classical antiquity were small, few, rare, and ultimately powerless. That is exactly the opposite of what happened under Christianity." During the medieval period the little science that did occur progressed with little religious influence or, in most cases, in spite of Christianity, but not because of it.
From its very beginning, the Church has served as a stumbling block against scientific progress. By the time Theodosius proclaimed Nicene Christianity a state religion in 380 CE, progressive science had already stopped. Richard Carrier (through personal correspondence) puts it this way: "Even pagans, though cherishing their scientific heritage (unlike Christians who generally did not), and applying that heritage more avidly than their Christian peers, appear to have given up on advancing science. And then pagans slowly died out, leaving only Christians who were even less interested in such advancement or how to achieve it." Up until this time, Greek and Roman science and medicine stood at the pinnacle of reasoned thought. Although the Christians conserved their own biblical and religious exegesis, they did little to conserve pagan scientific writings to the same degree. The little that the Christians did save just barely survived. As Kenneth Clark wrote, "What with prejudice and destruction, it's surprising that the literature of pre-Christian antiquity was preserved at all. And in fact it only just squeaked through. In so far as we are the heirs of Greece and Rome, we got through by the skin of our teeth." We owe the real foundations of science to the ancient Greeks and Romans, not to the Christians.
A Christian mob murdered the mathematician and philosophy teacher, Hypatia, in 415 CE. I use this date to mark the beginning of the Dark Ages, and its end at the beginning of the Renaissance in the 14th century because of the almost total lack of progressive science done during this period (most scholars today refer to the Dark Ages as the Early Middle Ages. See notes below). Hypatia's death serves as a convenient marking point, not because she died as the last pagan (pagan persecution lasted for centuries after) but because she lived as the last non-Christian of any merit that would teach science in the Western Christian world. Moreover, around this time, the Western Empire had begun to die. The Renaissance marks the approximate time when science began its catch-up with the ancient pagans.
As John Romer wrote in Testament, "As the Western Empire died, it left behind it empty cities with marble ruins lying like great skeletons, at their centres. Slowly the population was transformed into separate and modest nations of small farms and savage armies. There was little international trade and almost total illiteracy." Although Christianity did not cause the fall of the Roman Empire, its reliance on religion did little to improve conditions necessary for free scientific inquiry.
When Christians took over Europe, they abandoned many of the accomplishments of their predecessors. The great Roman aqueducts represented one of the greatest engineering feats of the ancient world that provided clean water to cities and industrial sites for centuries. The wonderful Roman roads once provided a way for transport throughout the Roman Empire. When the Christians took over they no longer supported these great public services and the aqueducts, sewers, and roads became ruins -- monuments to the past glory of Rome.
As Ruth Hurmence Green once wrote, "There was a time when religion ruled the world. It is known as The Dark Ages," yet the Church did little in regards to science. Although the Church educated their male clergy, in Western Europe the majority of women, the poor, and and serfs remained ignorant. The first schools didn't appear in Europe until around 400 years after the beginning of the Dark Ages. King Charlemagne started the schools, and over time the schools fused with the church to become cathedral schools, but these schools taught mostly to male students for careers in the church, not for scientific investigation into nature. Degree-granting universities didn't appear until centuries later.
Although the Church did not initially purposely set out to destroy scientific works, the atmosphere of faith over reason stymied much scientific thought. The few Christians that did any science during the early Dark Ages had little or no impact on later Renaissance scientists.
Many Christians believe that Christianity invented the first hospitals in the name of Christian charity, but the history of medical care betrays this belief. The earliest known institutions that claimed to provide cure came from the ancient pagans, long before Christianity. Albert Lyons writes, "Among the first Roman institutions to be dispensed with were those of law and medicine."
The earliest mention of cure centers came from Egyptians where they aimed to provide medical care in their temples. The Greeks also used their temples dedicated to the healer-god Asclepius where they admitted the sick (the medical profession still uses the Rod of Ascelepius, a serpent wound around a staff, as its medical symbol. The serpent, of course, represents Satan in Christian culture). The ancient Roman medical men had a fundamental understanding of medicine and used various surgical instruments and medicines that looked surprisingly similar to that of the late 19th century. The Romans created hospitals called valetudinaria for the care of sick slaves, gladiators and soldiers at around 100 BCE. Some credit the Sinhalese (Sri Lankans) as responsible for the introduction of the first dedicated hospitals (Sivikasotthi-Sala) to the world at around 4 BCE. The first teaching hospital came from the Persian Empire where physicians taught students, at the Academy of Gundishapur in the 6th and 7th centuries.
The first Christian medieval hospitals in the West conducted their institutions more through ecclesiastical means rather than medical. They did little to cure the sick by trying to advance medicine. They used these hospitals more as hostels (where the etymology of "hospital" came from), and almshouses for the poor. At their best Christian matrons used simple pagan folk methods such as simple foods, herbs, washing of wounds, etc. Dark Age Christian hospitals represented religious institutions, run mostly by nuns or monks, not by trained physicians (except for Eastern hospitals which, according to Richard Carrier, "were more similar to Asclepiea, with religious methods and hospice care combined with a few attending doctors applying pagan science of yore, even surgery." In spite of the honorable goal of treating the sick and poor, almost nothing happed to improve medical care. At its very best, Christian medicine did not advance past that of Galen, the Greek physician of 2nd century who wrote medical texts and whose theories dominated Western Christian medicine for over 1300 years. Not until the 1530s (during the Renaissance) did the physician Andreas Vesalius surpass Galen in the area of human anatomy.
During the Black Death in the 1300s, the Christian masses panicked and looked for supernatural solutions. They thought the plague came as an act of God, not nature. The Church could do nothing to fight the plague and, as a result, the people eventually began to question the ability of the Church to solve problems. This inspired William Langland, in a poem composed during the plague, to write:
"In religious orders and in all the realm among rich and poor
That prayers have no power to hinder these plagues.
For God is deaf nowadays and deigns not to hear us
And for our guilt grinds good men all up to death."
In "The Black Death," Philip Ziegler writes: "The picture one forms to explain this seeming ingratitude on the part of the people towards their priests is that of a clergy doing its daily work but with reluctance and some timidity; thereby incurring the worst of the danger but forfeiting the respect which it should have earned. Add to this a few notorious examples of priests deserting their flocks and of conspicuous courage on the part of certain wandering friars, and some idea can be formed of why the established Church emerged from the Black Death with such diminished credit." The historian, John Kelly also agrees with Ziegler: "Despite the losses sustained by the clergy, the plague weakened the authority and prestige of the institutional Church." The Church's failure to solve the plague opened the eyes of the people to look elsewhere for solutions instead of from prayers and priestly sermons. In, A distant mirror: the calamitous 14th century, Barbara Tuchman writes, "By a contrary trend, education was stimulated by concern for the survival of learning, which led to a spurt in the founding of universities. Notably the Emperor Charles IV, an intellectual, felt keenly the cause of 'precious knowledge which the mad rage of pestilential death has stifled throughout the wide realms of the world." He founded the University of Prague in the plague year of 1348 and issued imperial accreditation to five other universalities. . ."
As for those who expressed heretical thoughts contrary to Church dogma, things did not fair well for scientists. The early 1500s brought the Protestant Reformation along with wars of religion in Germany and France. Both Protestant and Catholic authorities reasoned that control of the press coordinated between Church and State could prevent the spread of heresy. The first Roman blacklisting occurred in 1559 under the direction of Pope Paul IV and entire works of some 550 authors got on the Roman index, including authors of subjects ranging from botany, medicine, geography, and cosmography. Christians burned the priest Giordano Bruno to death in 1600 for the charge of holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith. Bruno praised Copernicus for establishing a scientific explanation for heliocentrism and published dialogues on the subject. (By the way, The Greek thinker, Aristarchus of Samos, developed the first heliocentric theory around 270 BCE, not Copernicus as many Christians falsely believe.) Although the Church did not specifically kill Bruno for his scientific theories, his religious heresy, along with his astronomical theories fell prey to the results of religious dogma. In 1603, Bruno's works appeared on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Prohibited Books). The Prohibitorum aimed to protect the faith and morals of the faithful by preventing the reading of immoral books or works containing theological errors, although it also contained scientific works by the astronomer Johannes Kepler, Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, Blaise Pascal and others. (Click here for a list of authors and works on the Prohibitorum). It took until 1966 before Pope Paul VI finally abolished the Prohibitorum. Regardless of how these blacklists ultimately affected science or not, it shows that the Church had little interest in free enquiry, especially when it conflicted with Church dogma.
During a Roman Catholic Inquisition, they imprisoned Galileo for his heretical beliefs of a heliocentric solar system and forced him, under threat of torture, to recant. In spite of his recantation, Galileo had to spend the rest of his life under house arrest. Isaac Newton studied occult religion in secret. If some of the Anglican Christian authorities had discovered this, they would have labeled him a heretic (Newton also studied the pseudo-scientific practice of alchemy), but Newton's scientific work stood separate from his religious investigations. And how revealing to realize that although Newton made great advancements in science, not one of his religious investigations bore the slightest fruit, not to mention the valuable time he wasted that might have gone further to scientific advancement.
Science comes not from ideology or religion; it derives from natural human curiosity and the will to know, not the will to believe. Humans have an evolved innate built-in curiosity and science cannot survive without it. Even our early paleolithic ancestors knew how to make tools, predict the path of the sun through the celestial sphere and made star maps as depicted in the Lascaux cave paintings. You just can't have free scientific inquiry without curiosity. But humans also have the capacity to fool themselves and to believe without evidence (faith). The conflict between natural curiosity, skepticism and faith exists to this day.
The Old Testament starts with the condemnation of eating from the the tree of knowledge (Gen. 2:17) and the term "Doubting Thomas" derived from the New Testament (John 20:24-29) refers to one that refuses to believe something without direct evidence. Church fathers expanded on these unscientific biblical ideas.
Some of the most influential early church fathers, not only did not inspire curiosity, in many cases, they reviled it. Peter Harrison claims, "From the patristic period to the beginning of the seventeen century curiosity was regarded as an intellectual vice." Early church fathers such as Tertullian despised Greek philosophy, and issued warnings against curiosity. He thought that curiosity ought not range beyond the rule of faith; restless curiosity, the feature of heresy. The Christian apologist Lactantius wrote, "when God revealed the truth to man, He wished us only to know those things which it concerned man to know for the attainment of life; but as to the things which related to a profane and eager curiosity He was silent, that they might be secret. Why, then, do you inquire into things which you cannot know, and if you knew them you would not be happier." Augustine also warned against the dangers of curiosity in his Confessions, "For over and above that lust of the flesh which lies in the delight of all our senses and pleasures--whose slaves are wasted unto destruction as they go far from you--there can also be in the mind itself, through those same bodily senses, a certain vain desire and curiosity, not of taking delights in the body, but of making experiments with the body's aid, and cloaked under the name of learning and knowledge." Although these views did not represent the views of all the clergy, it certainly could not have helped develop an atmosphere of free inquiry. A common view of the church held that scriptural knowledge trumped knowledge gained through the senses. Augustine, in his Literal Commentary on Genesis, thought of scriptural knowledge as vastly superior to knowledge gained by other means but he worried that Christians might express absurd opinions on cosmological issues, thus provoking ridicule, so he thought Christians should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation. Although the medieval Christians did not condemn scientific investigation, they simply thought it inferior to knowledge gained through God. The whole of education throughout the middle ages (and only the late middle ages) appears nothing more than a catch-up with what the ancient pagans had long known. And when this attitude later met with pure non-religious scientific investigation, scientists had to fight, tooth-and-claw, against Christian dogma to get their ideas accepted and one still had to live as a Christian believer (pretend or not) or else fear ostracism, or ridicule.
Revealingly, the scientists that Christians usually cite, lived during the Renaissance or the Age of Enlightenment when the Church began to lose its power and the populace began to wake up from its religious stupor. None of them (except for a very few), lived during the Dark Ages. If the foundation of science depended on Christianity, then why-oh-why didn't science develop and flourish during the Dark Ages at the height of Christian power and influence? They had centuries to invent or advance astronomy, chemistry, and mathematics, but they didn't. Why not? Because to do good science, you need an environment that encourages scientific thought, and the Church did little in this regard.
It came from scientific and enlightenment minds that influenced religion to bend its ways to concede to science, not the other way around. The Renaissance and the period of the Enlightenment came as a result from people beginning to reject certain religious beliefs. Renaissance means 'rebirth' and represented a cultural movement based on humanism to regain ancient classical sources that the Church had long suppressed or ignored. Moreover, the Renaissance inspired new ways of thinking about, not only science, but literature, philosophy, art, politics, and religion. The Age of Enlightenment (beginning approximately around the 18th century) represented the time when reason trumped religion as the primary source for thought. It resulted in the first concepts of secularism and the blasphemous idea that one does not need religion at all for workable investigations into nature.
The Church also frowned on the practice of alchemy thus chemistry, without which the understanding of matter could not have happened. Although Democritus first theorized about the nature of atoms in 460 BCE, it took until the 1800s before John Dalton performed experiments about the nature of atomic matter. Astronomy got limited to calendric events, and any discovery that went against the Bible's version of the cosmos could not have occurred. Natural history (biology) could not develop because any thought that went against Genesis would put any researcher in conflict with the Church. In the Dark Ages, math did not develop past that of the ancients and any new developments in mathematics got borrowed from other cultures. Geometry, trigonometry, fractions, division, multiplication, decimals, and algebra developed long before the Dark Ages. The introduction of Hindu-Arabic numerals to Europe came to Leonardo of Pisa (also known as Fibonacci, famous for the Fibonacci numbers) but he did little to advance theories of mathematics. Although many cite Fibonacci for the Fibonacci sequence, he did not discover it as ancient Indians knew it well before the Christian Europeans. Even the Greeks developed the precursors to calculus. Arguably, the first original science done by Christians didn't occur until the beginning of the Renaissance by the Oxford Calculators, some 1,400 years after the beginning of Christianity!
Recently scholars recovered an ancient text called The Archimedes Palimpsest, a codex written by Archimedes that revealed that the Greeks knew about infinity (both infinities and infinitesimals) long before the advent of Christianity. Ironically a monk had used the Archimedes papers to create a prayer book. A monk (or monks) scraped off the Archimedes text and wrote prayers in Greek in its place (the monks reused parchment in those days because of its durability and value). Although it may not have been the intent of the monks to destroy Archimedes' text, the codex remained hidden for centuries until modern scientists found a way to retrieve the hidden text. Had the monks understood the Archimedes codex, they probably would have recognized its importance and protected it. The embarrassing question remains: why didn't they? Imagine how different the world might look today if, instead of overwriting the codex, they had developed Archimedes' math hundreds of years before Leibniz and Newton invented calculus in the late 1600s?
Not only the scientists but the scientific institutions that Christians usually cite also came well after the Dark Ages. The Trinity College in Cambridge didn't come into existence until 1546 and only because King Henry VIII wanted to close down the universities. Katherine Parr, the queen, intervened and convinced her husband not to close two of them but to combine them to create a new college. (Katherine Parr, by the way, held heretical and reformed ideas about religion that would have put her in danger by the Church only a few years earlier.) The British Kingdom confiscated the lands from the Church to establish the college, thus, the Trinity College only pays an indirect homage to religion in the name "Trinity" (of which Isaac Newton, by the way, did not believe in, among many other scientists).
Although a few minor observatories existed during the Renaissance period, the Vatican Observatory didn't come into existence until 1891, and not for scientific inquiry but to establish a better calendar to determine the time to celebrate religious events. It hardly stands as the best example of astronomical observation and I suspect that the Church's support comes mainly as a propaganda ploy to say in effect: "See, we support science too," when in fact, it still opposes many scientific truths, or utilities god-of-the-gaps thinking to justify only the most obvious scientific facts. The Greek, Roman, and Arabic names for the stars, planets and constellations also shows the absence of Christian influence. Unfortunately for Catholics, they can no longer use the observatory in their support for science because Pope Benedict XVI decided to dismantle the observatory to make more room for visiting diplomats.
Science never needed religion or any ideological system for its support or advancement, and the best scientific research centers today have nothing at all to do with religion. On the contrary, many faith-based systems oppose scientific inquiry that relies on evidence, free investigation, and reason. It also bears importance to reveal that throughout the history of science, not one scientific truth required god or any supernatural agent. On religion's end, it bears equal revelation to understand that religion and supernatural belief has never uncovered a single workable fact about nature or the universe. Not one. Everything we know about nature comes from scientific inquiry.
Scientific facts have never derived from religion, but religion has conceded to science. But even here, the Church's concessions to science have come through bitter delay. For example, not until 1992 did Pope John Paul II acquit Galileo, 359 years after his indictment of heresy! The Pope even conceded to the idea of evolution "as an effectively proven fact," over 130 years after Darwin's first publication of the fact. How in the world can anyone argue that Christianity founded modern science when the Church disagreed with the very people who made some of the most important scientific discoveries in history?
Protestant Christians like to point out that the Reformation changed Christianity for the better and they love to blame Islam for its backward scientific and political progress because it never went through a reformation as did Christianity. In a sense, Protestantism did improve the conditions for science, if only because the Reformation weakened the power of the Church, but it did little to encourage scientific investigation itself. Protestantism, from its very beginning, abhorred scientific reasoning. Martin Luther, its founder, condemned using reason and taught that faith alone should fill the minds of Christians. The Reformation only set Christians against Christians which resulted in hundreds of years of wars and intolerance. The only reason why Christianity appears more scientifically modern than Islam comes from the historical fact that Christianity conceded to science and reason through heretical enlightenment thinkers. As for Islam, it needs an Enlightenment, not a Reformation!
It also bears importance to realize that fundamental Christians never accept science on scientific facts alone but always with the condition that an invented theological explanation must accompany a scientific fact. Thus theists can only accept evolution by hypothesizing that god uses evolution as his method for creating life. The Big Bang theory can only earn acceptance when it accords with the belief of a god created universe (although many quantum physicists today think that the Big Bang didn't serve as an absolute beginning and probably never had one). These religious explanations use God-of-the-gaps thinking that, if you think about it, has as much relevance to factual knowledge as do Tinker Bell and Captain Hook.
And who represents the best and most honorable person of charitable medical care that religionists love to point to? Mother Teresa, of course. Unfortunately once one looks closely at her brand of care-giving, the idea of proper medical care goes out the window. Christopher Hitchens' reports that Mother Teresa's donated income went mostly to religious institutions, not the poor and suffering. Moreover, she wanted to keep the poor in poverty because of her faith of "Christ in the broken body," and that to come close to Jesus, the poor must suffer like Jesus. Even more damaging, her Church belief that condoms and other forms of contraception, went against God, allowed the poor to get infected with the HIV virus and other sexually transmitted diseases. More people died as a result of dangerous Church beliefs than Mother Teresa could ever have hoped to save.
Unfortunately, many Christian church authorities and Christian political leaders today, continue to place barriers against science. Many fundamentalist Christians reject modern biology, geology, and physics. Many deny global warming, birth control methods, stem cell research and other scientific advances that could save millions of people, if not, eventually, the entire human race. George W. Bush's administration kowtowed to the Religious Right and reduced scientific research in place of faith based initiatives. Many fundamentalist Christians want to eliminate Darwin's theory of evolution and replace it with theological Creationism. Some have even succeeded in using political means to change school boards across America to ban evolution from biology books and to teach Intelligent Design (an oxymoronic euphemism for Creationism) in its place. Scientists today sometimes still have to fight tooth-and-claw.
Christian faith healers still go around the world preaching that their god can immediately cure hidden diseases, blindness, arthritis, and many other disorders (except, oddly, for the visible ailments such as compound fractures, amputations, or even a simple pimple). When modern medicine does happen to cure them, they thank god instead of the doctors who actually saved them. Many devout Christians believe in miracles over modern science.
I don't know about you but when I search for a doctor to cure me, I don't want one who believes in superstitions, miracles, or divine intervention (for how could I ever know if he resorts to his faith rather than his medical training?). I want a doctor who uses the best scientific medical knowledge at his disposal and that means a doctor who doesn't hold Christian or any religious beliefs. When I want to understand how nature and the universe works, I read from scientific literature, not holy scripture. Scientists reveal the workings of nature, not priests, ministers or shamans.
The graph(†) above represents an approximate graph of the advancement of science through time.
The Christian Dark Ages represents a time in the history of Europe where scientific advancement not only halted but went backwards. The hole left by the Dark Ages bears the imprint of scientific ignorance that lasted longer than the Roman Empire. Imagine where scientific advancement would stand today if not for the scars left by Christianity.
During the Renaissance, and especially the Age of Enlightenment, people began to wake up. Many freethinkers and scientists rejected orthodox religion and replaced it with unitarianism, deism, or non-theistic philosophy. During the 1800s and after, scientists no longer had to fear religious persecution in any form. As never before in the history of mankind, scientists began to reject theocracy entirely. And what happened as a result of the freedom from religious influence? Science literally exploded with new ideas and discoveries! Since the early 1900s, the majority of the world's productive scientists held no theological beliefs, and the percentage of nonbelievers continued to rise every decade. Of course nontheism, in itself, cannot account for advances of science, but by eliminating religious beliefs that go contrary to science, it allows scientific research to go forth without unnecessary barriers.
Christianity, by its very biblical and supernatural nature, represents the antithesis of science, and its main claim to the advancement of science comes from its own weakening influence. Daniel Dennett observed that the Haggia Sofia in Constantinople, once served as the church of the Byzantine Empire, then a Mosque, and now exists as a museum, and predicts that the Vatican might one day turn into a Museum of Roman Christianity. It already has gone a long way toward that end. The Catholics once ruled Europe but now their their ruling territory (Vatican city), has gotten reduced to a mere 0.44 square kilometers, and much of that area already consists of museums (and a cheesy tourist gift shop). So bravo to those who dilute and weaken religion so that science can advance in an environment of free inquiry.
Extra: Check out my rebuttal to Mike Flynn's criticisms about this commentary: click here.
For a scholarly criticism of Flynn (and on my original flawed commentary), from an ancient-history scholar, see Richard Carrier's, Flynn's Pile of Boners. Release the hounds!
* The term "Dark Ages" doesn't come from some postmodern period. The term actually came just after the period itself from Petrarch in the 1330s to refer to to the European Dark Ages as compared to the more advanced classical times of the past. He thought the pagan Greek and Roman periods as a time of light and learning and that the entire Christian period (including in his lifetime) as dark and ignorant by comparison. Past historians used the term "Dark" to refer to the absence of information during this period. Today with more information available, these centuries no longer appear unknown to us, thus the term "Middle Ages" have, for the most part, replaced the old term. Nevertheless, many historians still use the Dark Ages to refer to the lack of scientific advancement made during this period.
In this commentary, I use "Dark Ages" in a similar sense as Petarch's but meaning the near absence of science during this period, with the added ability to compare it to modern times. In this comparative sense, the "science" and medicine of the European Dark Ages truly does appear like a dark hole because during this period, no notable intellectual advance occurred in science, math, medicine or engineering.
† Note about the graph: No doubt some will argue about the starting and ending dates of the various periods and yes, the Egyptian, Greek and Roman periods overlap, but the intent of the graph aims to show an approximate relationship through time. The vertical part of the graph represents a relative scale of scientific advancement compared to other periods. Historians, for example, would agree that the Romans in the first few centuries CE had more knowledge about nature (science) than the Greeks of 400 BCE, and that the Age of Enlightenment built on the scientific discoveries made during the Renaissance. Feel free to adjust the scale to your liking, but regardless of how you try to adjust the graph, it will do little to change the fact that scientific knowledge (or the loss of it) fell dramatically during the Christian Dark Ages. And if you don't like the chart, then make a better one!
Many errors pointed out by Mike Flynn and Richard Carrier have been corrected but perhaps not all. If you see any remaining errors, please let me know. As always, don't believe what you read, check the information yourself.
Commentary by Jim Walker
Originated: 22 May 2007
Additions/corrections: 20 Jan. 2010
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