Saturday, November 05, 2005


Giving the Dark Ages a Bad Name

Are those of us who write that intelligent design "theorists" want to take science back to the the Dark Ages actually being unfair to that much maligned period in human history?

Phillip Ball, in a thoughtful piece at, says perhaps we are. The "twelfth and thirteenth centuries had their own renaissance, and produced figures like Adelard who were every bit as rationalistic as Copernicus," says Ball.

To prove his point, Ball cites William of Conches, a twelfth-century philosopher and theologian as proof that rational thought hadn't disappeared entirely:
"Ignorant themselves of the forces of nature and wanting to have company in their ignorance, they don't want people to look into anything; they want us to believe like peasants and not ask the reasons behind things."

The notion that the Middle Ages were an unalloyed time of ignorance and superstition is a bit outdated, according to Ball. Historians no longer use the term Dark Ages because they now recognize that "for the Islamic world the seventh and eighth centuries were something of a golden age of learning and culture."

Although RSR hates to give up a good punch line, the recognition that anti-rationalism has surfaced from time to time now for centuries, and probably always will, is a valuable insight. An insight that reinforces the central thesis of Ball's essay that it is wrong to suppose the distortion of science and history by fundamentalists is a battle scientists must fight alone.


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