Dark Ages

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There is a commonly held idea that the middle ages in Europe (476 CE-1500 CE) were a backwards period of stagnation and scientific degeneracy, caused by the brutal suppression of science by the Catholic Church, and eventually overcome due to the work of enlightened thinkers such as Galileo and Newton. The idea of these ‘dark ages’ has existed since the 14th century, and has continued to gain popularity through the early modern era as historians used it to compare their ‘enlightened times’ to the ‘dark and primitive ages’ of the past. While this narrative is not entirely without merit, the number of manuscripts produced during this time period was significantly lower than the times proceeding it (Buringh, Zanden. 2009), it fails to portray …show more content…

Ignoring the semantic argument that the term ‘scientist was not coined until 1834 (NPR, 2010), the fact remains that academics at the time were working exclusively within the field of natural philosophy. While this may appear to be another semantic quibble, the differences between the methodology, fundamental assumptions, and most importantly goals, of these two forms of natural inquiry make it impossible to make a completely accurate comparison between the progress made by each discipline. Natural philosophy was performed in the hope that, by understanding how the natural world works, they could better understand God and his creation. In order to do this, natural philosophers would observe the natural world and then use logic and reasoning to explain how natural phenomena would occur. Religious texts, as well as the texts of classical natural philosophers such as Aristotle, were used as the foundation of this reasoning as it was believed that these works contained near irrefutable truth. (Historical context) In contrast, modern science is performed by testing ideas with experiments, using previously proven hypotheses as foundations, and typically done in order to benefit mankind. (Heilbron, 2003) These fundamental differences make apples to apples comparisons of ‘scientific progress’ in the middle ages difficult, as …show more content…

The church encouraged literacy, and invested heavily in teaching people to read ( although admittedly it was only enough to read the bible). The Church also placed large amounts of resources into educating its clergy; Monasteries were dedicated to the acquisition and translation of both classic and foreign texts into latin, and served as places where philosophers could use the bible and works of classical era philosophers to reason out how the world worked. As time went on, cathedral schools were formed in order to teach clergy logic and reason, so that they would be able to better participate in theological debates. Slowly the scope of these schools began to expand to include the natural inquiry as a means to understand god, and as their cirruculum encompassed more and more secular activities they began to see students that were more interested in natural philosophy than they were theology. Cathedral schools would then slowly evolve into the first universities. (Hannam, 2007) These early universities were effectively managed by the Church, and as such had a significant amount of freedom from local politics. However they were also self-governing, allowing them the academic freedom to pursue what studies they wanted. The relative autonomy given to these institutions was revolutionary, and helped to kick-start European work in natural

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