Christians, and especially the Catholic Church, love to whitewash their own failings by creating a revisionist history in which they are the heroes - the shining exemplars of virtue and wisdom, the light by which mankind emerges from the darkness, and the source of all good things that we have today. Even in the 20th century, the church has (fairly successfully) created a revisionist version of their relationships with the fascist regimes of Hitler and Mussolini, covering up the fact that many church officials actively cooperated with and supported the fascists, and that the pope stood by in silence while the atrocities raged in Europe. While there is plenty of documented evidence to dispute their modern revisionism, things become less clear-cut in the more distant past, when (at least in Europe) the church had more complete control over what could be published, and what should be suppressed. The most obvious example of this historical revisionism is the New Testament, which is still believed by millions of Christians, despite modern historical and scientific advances that make it increasingly untenable. And in between the modern era and the ancient, things were no different. Christians also want to paint a revisionist picture of the time when the church dominated virtually every aspect of life and culture in Europe - the period that has come to be known as the Dark Ages.
I talked about this before, when Victor Reppert seized upon a very glowing review of James Hannam's book God's Philosophers that attempts to debunk the notion that there ever was such a dark period in history, and instead presents a much more rosy picture in which wisdom prevailed and science flourished as a direct consequence of the Christian intellectual leadership in those days. And now, Victor's doing the same thing again. He makes three points about the dark ages that I would like to address:
First, dark meant originally dark to historical knowledge. Thus, Darkest Africa isn't dark because it was a bad place, or because the people had dark skin, it was dark because we were in the dark about it.OK. There's no need to distort the claims that people make. We all agree that there is a dearth of literature and information that comes from that period. But that's indicative of the times. One might ask, why isn't there much literature available to us from that time, as compared to earlier or later historical eras? The answer is obvious. They didn't produce much. Education was very limited. Secular learning institutions were shut down, and the church became the sole provider of education, which was limited to clergy members, and sometimes the aristocracy. Ordinary peasants had virtually no chance of receiving any kind of education. Those who were educated learned only what the church wanted to teach them, while material that was deemed to be heretical was suppressed. It is no accident that the word 'cleric' is etymologically the same as 'clerk'. The church had complete control over what was written and what was read.
Second, the Catholic Church as an institution was so weak during the early middle ages that the papacy was often sold to the highest bidder. Secular political leaders exercised a great deal of power over the church, not vice versa. The Investiture Controversy, one of the great issues of the 11th and 12th Centuries, was generated when a pope decided to put a stop to the installation of bishops and other church leaders by monarch. Is this religion ruling the world?Well, yes, it is. As Victor notes, when conflict arose between church and state, the pope put a stop to it, because he was the ultimate authority. But it is interesting to look at the nature of that conflict. The aristocracy wanted to appoint its own church officials, such as bishops and abbots. Why? Because the church had always been a major focus of power. The idea that state was a secular institution during the dark ages is a revisionist myth. The fact is that during the dark ages, the church and the aristocracy enjoyed a mutually beneficial power-sharing relationship. Kings were ordained by the church, and vested with a "divine right" to rule, and the state served as the enforcement arm of the church. The peasants, who served both God and king under a system of feudalism, got the raw end of the deal.
Third, there was considerable technological advance throughout the Middle Ages, as recounted here. The university system was developed in medieval times, and the university system is the reason why a global scientific community developed. That is why science didn't get off the ground in ancient Greece, but did get off the ground in Christian Europe.This is the biggest lie of all. It is blatant revisionism. There was NOT considerable technological advancement during the dark ages. The article Victor cites points out a few of the more notable examples of technological advancement: machinery powered by water and wind, and ‘exploitative’ agricultural techniques. But powered machinery was nothing new. The Greeks, Romans, and Chinese had developed sophisticated hydraulic power systems for industrial applications long before this. And those ‘exploitative’ agricultural techniques are referring to the use of a plow. Sure, it was a technological advancement, but one should also note that it is possible to list a whole millennium of technological advances in the dark ages of Europe on the back of an envelope. Compare that to the Romans, who were noted for their many technological achievements. And one should also note that the invention of the plow doesn't exactly equate to science.
I don't claim that there was no science during that time, but it was minimal. Note that I don't consider the revival of Aristotelian philosophy and scholasticism to be science. This is what was taught in those early universities of the late middle ages, still mostly under the control of the church. They may have played a role in reviving logical thinking that was not favored by the church up until that time, but they still didn't emphasize the kind of empirical investigation (introduced into Europe mainly from Arabic culture) that is the hallmark of science, which saw its real beginnings outside those universities, and was not allowed to flourish until the church began to lose its dominance, and the middle ages came to an end.