Posts Tagged 'Dark Ages'

Islam and Science

Scholars always have to come up with some new thing, and currently in vogue is the alleged contribution of Islam to modern science. This myth is based on a historical prejudice against the western Middle Ages (a very old term, originally coined as a term of deprecation) and the so-called ‘Dark Ages’, in order to introduce such terms as Renaissance (from the moribund or dead) and Enlightenment (from the benighted and dark). The use of such value-laden terms is part of the propaganda, or ‘narrative’, as the Postmodernists would have it, but having written off the period from AD 500 to 1500 as one of profound darkness and ignorance, it is embarrassing and inconvenient for historians to find increasing evidence that there were significant scientific and technological advances in Christendom during this period. For those who wish to keep up the pretence of the narrative, it has become necessary to invent an external agent as the source of learning, and as Islam arose during this period it is easiest and most convenient to hitch the wagon to that.

That, however, is a perversion of history. It is true that there was development of astronomy, medicine, mathematics and chemistry in the so-called Golden Age of Islam (another loaded descriptor); the question is, what had these to do with Islam, and what did Islam do with such disciplines? The answer is that they had practically nothing to do with Islam, and Islam ultimately destroyed them. The rise and fall of ‘Islamic science’ is closely mirrored by the rise of ‘atheistic science’ in our own day. Atheistic materialism has done a smash-and-grab raid on everything nurtured on Christian foundations, and claims to be the only ‘real’ science, yet is in the process of destroying science, as did Islam. Neither atheism nor Islam have a satisfactory philosophical basis for science, and they develop authority structures against ‘heterodox’ thinkers and practitioners. How Islam destroyed science will be dealt with in a future post.

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Phoney War

The premise that science and Christianity are in conflict is without foundation. Many atheists have a vested interest in promulgating the idea, to the extent that it has become a myth. As with all propaganda, if a falsehood is repeated long enough and often enough it erodes and eventually supplants the truth.

Vocabulary is very useful in propaganda. At school I was correctly taught that the period known as the ‘Dark Ages’ is called thus by historians because there are few extant writings from that period – its history is dark and obscure for us. This is the view of sensible historians, but unscrupulous popularizers, and those with particular axes to grind, would prefer to put it the other way around, that the ages were ‘dark’ because the populace were superstitious and unlearned. By pushing this line, it becomes easier to get acceptance of the word ‘Enlightenment’ to describe the so-called Age of Reason in the eighteenth century, as if light came in and dispelled darkness when ‘reason’ was elevated to the highest authority, displacing divine revelation. But, of course, this ushered in unitarianism, deism, and eventually atheism, which, from a Christian worldview, were wandering in ever-increasing darkness, the blind leading the blind so that both are now fallen in the ditch.

Edward Gibbon, described by the historian Franco Venturi as “The English Giant of the Enlightenment” makes a good examplar of a prejudiced historian in his famous and highly influential work in 6 volumes (1776-88) The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Not only does Gibbon excoriate Christianity for its enfeebling effect on a virile civilization (a theme recapitulated with a good deal less learning and erudition in the nineteenth century by the philosopher and God-hater, Nietzsche) and for supplanting “the great culture that preceded it”, but he also describes the Middle Ages as “the triumph of barbarism”, which is an utter travesty. Gibbon ignorantly writes off the Roman Empire that continued in Byzantium for a thousand years after the western part of the empire was overrun in the fifth century as “a tedious and uniform tale of weakness and misery” which bequeathed nothing to posterity, and his definition that “wars, and the administration of public affairs, are the principal subjects of history” is excessively narrow. To Gibbon’s credit, he did immense research on primary sources, but this simply makes his end product the more blameworthy. As J.C. Stobart pointed out

…this is one of the cases which prove that History is made not so much by heroes or natural forces as by historians.

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