TOPIC 6:
The Scientific Dark Ages?

Introduction

Scientific advance is often considered to have significantly declined at the end of the Ancient Greek civilization. It then resurfaced in Renaissance Europe in the 16th Century AD after more than 1000 years of hibernation. If that were true, how and why did science resurface? Where was the knowledge of the Greeks stored or did science simply start from the beginning again?

The reality is that the pursuit of science never stopped. It just wasn't as visible to the whole world. During the time of the Ancient Greeks, they were the center of the world and science and philosophy developed together without restraint. Religion in Ancient Greece was a personal one with temples but no well-established priesthood. Science and the Religion of the Ancient Greek Gods posed no serious threat to one another. Admittedly, early philosophers proposed several alternative religions and human philosophies to rival the Ancient Greek gods, but there does not appear to have been any serious controversies between them. The controversies occurred between opposing philosophical groups: the Stoics versus the Epicurians versus the Pythagoreans, etc.

Also, it must be noted that, with the possible exceptions of the Academy and Lyceum in Athens and the Library and Museum in Alexandria, scientific development was due to a relatively few isolated individuals. Thus, the visibility of science even in the Ancient Greek world depended on a continuity of individuals. Even at the height of scientific thought in the 4th and 3rd Centuries BC, there were probably never more than a handful of people making important original scientific contributions in any one generation.

During the collapse of the Roman Empire (transfer of the capital to Constantinople in 330 AD, sack of Rome by Alaric in 410 AD, capture of Alexandria by the Arabs in 642 AD) two religions arose that were (are) monolithic and significantly impacted science ­ Catholicism and Islam. We will explore how these religions influence the continuity and development of science. We also should consider the influence of science in other cultures. Was science present in India or China or elsewhere?

 

The Rise of Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church

The rise of Christianity within the Roman Empire (Constantine, 305-337 AD, was the first Christian Emperor) built upon, in part, previous philosophical and cultural perspectives. Thus, early on in the development of Christian Doctrine, we see Greek philosophical and (to a lesser extent) scientific ideas being explored. To some degree, Christianity rejected any inqui