Good review of a book on the so-called Dark Ages (Medieval). The Dark Age Myth: An Atheist Reviews “God’s Philosophers”
How the myths that led to the creation of “The Most Wrong Thing On the Internet Ever” is well documented in several recent books on the the history of science. But Hannam wisely tackles it in the opening pages of his book, since it would be likely to form the basis for many general readers to be suspicious of the idea of a Medieval foundation for modern science. A festering melange of Enlightenment bigotry, Protestant papism-bashing, French anti-clericism, and Classicist snobbery have all combined to make the Medieval period a by-word for backwardness, superstition and primitivism, and the opposite of everything the average person associates with science and reason.
Hannam sketches how polemicists like Thomas Huxley, John William Draper, and Andrew Dickson White, all with their own anti-Christian axes to grind, managed to shape the still current idea that the Middle Ages was devoid of science and reason. And how it was not until real historians bothered to question the polemicists through the work of early pioneers in the field like Pierre Duhem, Lynn Thorndike, and the author of my astrolabe book, Robert T. Gunther, that the distortions of the axe-grinders began to be corrected by proper, unbiased research.
He weakens things a bit by calling the current research (which he agrees with) “unbiased” but none of this was really new to me in general outline although many of the details were. One bit to note, regarding Galileo and his generation:
Hannam gives the context for all this in suitable detail in a section of the book that also explains how the Humanism of the “Renaissance” led a new wave of scholars, who sought not only to idolize and emulate the ancients, but to turn their backs on the achievements of recent scholars like Duns Scotus, Bardwardine, Buridan, and Orseme. Thus many of their discoveries and advances were either ignored and forgotten (only to be rediscovered independently later) or scorned but quietly appropriated. The case for Galileo using the work of Medieval scholars without acknowledgement is fairly damning. In their eagerness to dump Medieval “dialectic” and ape the Greeks and Romans – which made the “Renaissance” a curiously conservative and rather retrograde movement in many ways – they discarded genuine developments and advancements by Medieval scholars. That a thinker of the calibre of Duns Scotus could become mainly known as the etymology of the word “dunce” is deeply ironic.
This is fairly typical: to distinguish one’s own work, it’s common to tear down the work of the previous generation. The New Archaeology made a big deal out of making the culture historians out to be totally unscientific collectors of interesting objects and tinkerers with chronology, while they, in contrast, were enlightened Scientific Anthropologists.
I may snag Hannam’s book. Currently I’m reading Asbridge’s history of the Crusades which has really changed my views (which were admittedly rather 2-dimensional) of the period. Also made me appreciate my life, given the horrors and deprivations the typical soldier around the turn of the last millennium faced.
UPDATE: On the subject of the Crusades, one bit of the book really kind of disturbed me. Seems during the 5th (I think) Crusade, they had to ferry knights to shore (at Damietta) from some of the larger ships to some smaller craft. Apparently, one knight mistimed his jump to the smaller boat and, being weighed down by mail, etc.. . . . drowned. Can you imagine that? You leave your home to travel for months on a Holy Crusade to fight for Christ and then before you even set foot in the Holy Land, you die jumping from one boat to another.