Did tbe Church restrict scientific thought or development during the "Dark Ages"?

Hello my friends, I have asked this question due to the fact the implications contained herein have caused a great deal of uncertainty for myself. This has more or less occurred due reading what one could describe as a scathing unrelenting dissection and criticism of Rodney Stark’s book The Victory of Reason by Andrew Bernstein.The essay is titled The Tragedy of Theology: How religion created and extended the Dark Ages and was a rational, extensive essay with a multiplicity of sources. Needless to day, it has caused me to question the Medieval Church’s methods of promoting science, if it is even noted as a promoter of scientific inquiry and investigation. I have very reason to believe the Church did such sponsoring but in wanting to believe this, I do not wish to drift into an idealistic rendition of the Church’s involvement in promoting science. If I am ever presented with the situation that I have to defend the Church for creating and extending the Dark Ages in Europe, knowing well it did as the assertion implies, I wish to have the intellectual fortitude to concede that point. Needless to say, if any of you can provide refutations to the notion the Church was anti-scientific during the Dark Ages, please do. I do not wish to be appear as being in contention with the Church, but in saying that, the Church either leaves scarps or a feast to which we must explain and/or defend. Thank you for reading.

A couple of resources to start your researches:



First, true historians don’t even use the term “dark ages” any more. The preferred term is “middle ages” that began with the deposition of the last Roman Emperor in Italy in the year 476 and end with Martin Luther’s 95 theses in 1517. The term “dark ages” was abandoned when it was realized that the times weren’t as dark as some would like to think. The collapse of the Western Empire along with an economy that had been getting worse since the 4th century and the migration of barbarian hoards is what caused the flame of light to diminish in Europe, not a holding back on scientific research by the Church.

The Church was actually the founder of the university system and the leading scientific and philosophical minds of the Middle Ages were usually churchmen in one form or another. It is a supremely ironic position to take in insisting that the Church is the reason for a lack of scientific progress when it was the Church that created the system under which science progressed. As in most things, the subject is hardly black and white.

Yeah, but wasn’t Galileo persecuted by the Church for teaching a heliocentric theory that the Catholic Church hundreds of years later asserted was correct? Why doesn’t the Galileo affair indicate that the Church erred in matters of science?

If the movement of the sun in Joshua 10:12-13 wasn’t intended to be interpreted in literal fashion, then what else can be meant by the medieval Church’s rejection of Galileo’s proposed “accomodative language” interpretation, except that the church was supremely certain of the truth of a bible interpretation that actually turned out to be wrong?

From what I remember reading once upon a time, the scandal with Galileo had a semblance of guilt on both sides. Galileo’s fault from what I believe was that he asserted that that the heliocentric model was true without offering evidence as to how it was true. Later on, of course as we have found that the Earth revolves around the sun. The Church, in response, sought to reconcile the lack of empiricism on the part of Galileo without disregarding his theory by leaving the question open to investigation. Galileo unfortunately insisted that it was the truth and the scandal erupted into common narrative when he insulted the Pope and he was promptly put under house arrest I believe. Science as we know it today would not function without the backing up of an assertion about the natural world with evidence. Whether this is right completely right (highly unlikely) but for the most part, that’s what I remember from a piece I read once.

Details about the Galileo Controversy:


A good book:



I have a couple of books which produce many of Galileo’s letters, and therein, Galileo was the one who suggested his heliocentric model could be squared with scripture by interpreting scripture references as “language of appearance”. He and Bellermine went a few rounds about whether scriptural statements about geology were to be interpreted this way, and, as you might guess, the traditional Catholic procedure of interpreting them literally, won out.

If you want a good dissection of Galileo’s position by a science fiction writer, Michael Flynn has a very good series of blogposts.

Basically, Galileo was only right about heliocentrism… because his reasoning was dead wrong. Dead unscientific, too.

It’s like if I said that 2 + 2 = 4, because unicorns have two eyes and four hooves but only one horn. And then imagine that my proof was, “Because I said so.” Obviously the math fact would just happen to be correct, but unicorns would have nothing to do with it!

In fact, I would make it harder for people to agree with 2 + 2 being equal to 4, because they’d be thinking, “I don’t want people to think I’m like that crazy unicorn chick…”

So just wait until you see why Galileo thought the Sun was at the center of the solar system, and in fact, the universe. Hooboy. Worse than unicorns.

Anyway, here’s Mike Flynn’s Galileo blogposts. He calls them “The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown.”

You will also see the interesting fact that science flourished during the Scholastic bits of the Middle Ages, but faltered under the Humanists of the Renaissance. (Because Nature is boring and art and poetry are what’s cool. If you’re a Humanist.) Eventually people got back to that science thing, partly due to those crazy Jesuits. Protestants basically tried to ignore all the monk and Jesuit bits of science, and eventually just rewrote history to forget them. Catholics just kept doing science all along, mostly.

If you can read Latin, there are some really neat medieval scientific treatises out there.

The term “Dark Ages” had more to do with the lack of written record than actual “darkness”. I think those that fancy the enlightenment period are especially fond of that phraseology. The truth is, there were a great many advances, in medicine and technology, which are, you know, sciences, during that time period, and since we now have a good bit more written record, most historians have discarded the phrase all together.

Hi, Austere!
…have you head about the European union? …well, they are engaged in the rewriting of history–excluding everything Christian as if the world evolved without the Christian influence… if you truly want to know about the Church and Science check out these two sources:

Father Spitzer’s Universe:

MAGIS CENTER Provides Responses to Four Popular Secular Myths (click on the desired landing page icon below)

  1. The false conflict between Faith and Science.
  2. The false conflict between Suffering and the Love of God.
  3. The false conflict between Virtue and Freedom.
  4. The false conflict between the historical Jesus and “the Jesus of the Gospels.” (magiscenter.com/)

…and The Catholic Church Builder of Civilization:

EWTN: Contrary to popular opinion, the Catholic Church has been responsible for the vast bulk of what we treasure in Western Civilization. Dr. Thomas Woods Jr. takes you beyond pseudo-historical attempts to minimize the Church’s contributions to society, revealing how She has played an integral role in the sciences, the university system, western moral principles, law, economics, and much else besides. Grab your compass and get ready to take a journey through history, you’re sure to see the Catholic Church everywhere you turn. (youtube.com/watch?v=m5siHd1P5zk)

I followed this series when it aired on EWTN… and loved it! I’ve just opened the link… so hope this help… I’m going to view it right now!

Maran atha!


I am quite aware of why Galileo thought Heliocentrism was true. I find nothing in his arguments even remotely approaching the absurdity of unicorns. Can you quote Galileo directly to support your contention?

Let me second what has been said, then ignored, several times: to the extent anyone competent speaks of “the Dark Ages,” that term has to do with the period after the Western Roman Empire’s withdrawal (from Britain by mid-5th C, and gradually from effective power throughout Northern and Western Europe, witnessed by the effectiveness of Viking raids from roughly 7-9th C, and the Moorish subjugation of Spain in the 8th C). By the end of the 10th C (so by the 990s) you are pretty definitely dealing with a very different state of affairs, with kings and bishops and statutes and contracts all over the place. You can very roughly take it that when the Vikings who settled in France adopted Frankish horse culture (rather than oxen for cultivation) and came to be called “Normans,” the Dark Ages were pretty well over. (Not that the Normans didn’t do a lot of “acting out” over the next few centuries!)

And during “the Dark Ages,” pretty much nothing supported the transmission and diffusion of learning, and the improvement of useful arts for the common good, except the Church.

The trouble they got in later has been mostly made up by 19C slanderers, but there were some cases in which–long after “the Dark Ages”–teachers in the Church squashed what they thought were “errors,” but turned out to be right.

Usually, this was because the Church was long accustomed to defending society from what made “the Dark Ages” dark, that is, unbridled paganism and lack of common laws and institutions for transmitting and diffusing learning from generation to generation and place to place.

Sometimes, though, we ought to freely admit that there were people who–like the people we see around us, and I hope we strive not to be–just wanted to squash rivals or hide their own corruption. There is no harm in being truthful about history.

But if you are, you will end up admitting that what Jesus Christ founded was an engine for Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, for the salvation of souls and the renovation of the world.


Sounds about right to me :thumbsup:

In some ways yes. But in some ways, not at all.

No. He was sanctioned for attempting to preach it in place of the Gospel in Church. (He was a priest as well as a scientist.)

Why doesn’t the Galileo affair indicate that the Church erred in matters of science?

Because what he did that he was sanctioned for had nothing to do with science, as such. He was free to hold whatever opinions he wanted, and even publish them for peer review; what he was not allowed to do was use them as a subject for preaching in Church, as if the Church had approved them for proclaiming during the Liturgy as Holy Writ.

I have been told by someone who should know, that if Galileo had done to the Academy of Sciences today, what he did to the Church back in his own day, no one today would ever have heard of him - he would have been bounced out the servant’s entrance and down the back stairs to the dumpster, on his head, invited never to darken the door again, and all of his research would have been shredded and then burned.

I don’t think we need to feel sorry for Galileo - he got off pretty easy, all things considered, especially now that he’s considered a hero, even though his theory actually turned out to have a few errors in it.

From a great review of this book, broken up into paragraphs:

What Langford convincingly shows from research into primary documents:
The Catholic Church was more receptive to the heliocentric theory than the universities. Pope Clement requested a hearing of Copernicus’ theory in the Vatican gardens, and was “quite favorably impressed” with the theory. Copernicus was afraid of persecution from his peers, the universities, not the Catholic Church.

His fears were well founded, as Galileo discovered years later. Galileo received the full weight of academic condemnation and ridicule for daring to buck the Ptolemic status quo. When professors realized peer pressure wouldn’t silence Galileo, they turned to the Church for help.

Fortunately, a good portion of the Church was behind Galileo. The head of one Jesuit college wrote to Galileo to say that his astronomers and mathematicians had confirmed his theory, but wanted more proof. Galileo’s efforts were further encouraged by Pope Urban. His first trial resulted in being admonished not to teach it as fact, but was welcome to teach it as theory.

Unfortunately, by the time of his second trial in 1633, he had managed to alienate his support, partly by insisting his theory be taught as fact. One of his proofs was tides–he believed they were cause by the Earth sloshing the oceans. He also insisted on circular orbits, and refused to consider Kepler’s calculations on elliptical orbits, which would have corrected errors he and others found in his model.

He was tried a second time for teaching the theory as fact, not for teaching the theory. He was never tortured or shown a dungeon. His house arrest consisted of a five-room apartment with a servant at his disposal, and was free to roam Rome while awaiting trial. After the trial, he was released. True he was threatened with imprisonment, but at his age, Langford asserts, both he and the court officials knew it would not be carried out; the sentence would have been mitigated.

I think we’re missing the forest for the trees here. The Roman Catholic Church didn’t try to retard the progress of science. And of course we may attribute the establishment of universities etc. to the church. This is a matter of history. However, true to any institution which has gained in influence and power in the world, the churches motivation was control. She wanted to keep the direction and progress of science under her control and influence. Keep the control of scientific discovery, keep control of educational instruction, keep control of cultural evolution and you ensure your future survival . Those in charge at the time felt that the church would be in danger of being lost otherwise. Ironically I believe the all too human leadership of the church at the time focused more on keeping the church a powerful force in the world with all too secular devices than in the focus on faith and protection in the things of God. Of course they would do this under the guise of making these secular things “godly” things. Many of the problems encountered by the church were created because of the actions of the church as a result. Hence we have the pope apologizing for the churches past transgressions.
In thinking she can do no wrong because God has charged her with spreading his revelations the church in her pride has caused herself to be a stumbling block for many. A sad situation indeed.

Okay, I just finished writing a big post answering that article and it came out to almost 4,000 words, way longer than CAF wants me to post. Instead, let me just quote a few portions of my answer and I’ll link you to a Google Doc where you can read the whole thing if you want, okay?

[The] author [claims] that “Europe suffered through zero economic growth in the centuries from 500 AD to 1500.” This was a staggering claim to me. … [The] only way to there could be zero economic growth for 1000 years would be if all the existing money simply got shuffled around. That would mean no new jobs were created, or if any were, they were canceled out by an equal number of jobs that got eliminated.

However, that just sounds ridiculous to me. … Just take the monks as an example. When you colonize an uninhabited area, as they did, you automatically bring an economy to a place where it didn’t exist before. People bring the economy, at Least a bartering economy, and eventually a monetary one. … they started out with areas where there were Zero people and Zero economies, and they created communities there where people produced goods and traded them. …

…[The] problem for the early medieval period is that any growing community was constantly looted and destroyed by Danish pirates. (Vikings…) … the decline of literacy and the primitive sewage systems…were [Also] due to barbarian raids… It was only with the peace and stability provided by emperors like Charlemagne, King Alfred, and the Ottonian Dynasty that an economy could take off…[and those kings] all prove that wherever the barbarians were defeated, learning sprang up as a consequence. … Learning also took off in places where the vikings never entered. …

The author complains that the west learned Latin but not Greek. However, Irish monks were noted for excelling at Greek. …John Scotus Eriugena…translat[ed]…the works of Pseudo-Dionysius. The Irish Catholic philosopher Dicuil was also knowledgeable of the Greek classics…[such as] Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, and Hecataeus… [T]he Greek-speaking Catholics of the Byzantine empire [had Aristotle’s] works… Arabs aren’t the only ones responsible for keeping the works of Aristotle alive during the so-called “dark ages.” Catholics at the University of Constantinople copied Aristotle’s works and taught from them works as well. …

The author claims that the Greeks added to a variety of scientific fields, but “the Christians replaced efforts to understand the world with an attempt to know God.” … In the field of astronomy, St. Bede the Venerable’s astronomical works made astonishing discoveries that had not been made by the Greek and Latin astronomers, such as the relationship between the tides and the phases of the moon. In medicine…Paul of Aegina wrote the most influential work on [medicine]…[There were] Catholic medical schools like the School of Salerno and the medical college of the University of Constantinople. In geography, we have Dicuil. In physics, we have John Philoponus. In engineering, we have Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus. In chemistry, we have Kallinikos of Constantinople. In clockwork, we have St. Boethius. All these people were from the so-called “dark ages.”

As the above examples show, the truth is that “dark age” Catholics contributed new material and useful compendiums of previous data to all the fields mentioned by this article. …

[One] contradiction [in the article] touches his claim that Boethius was “the last serious philosopher for 350 years.” My first thought was, What about John Scotus Eriugena? And St. Paschasius Radbertus, and Bl. Rabanus Maurus, and St. Cyril the Philosopher? They were all serious Catholic philosophers from right in the middle of that 350 years where he denies any “serious” philosophers. … Catholics made important contributions to philosophy during this period including the development of the just war tradition and solving the problem of universals. The Church’s thinking on social doctrine is also notable at this time, with its study of natural law and its implications for human society. …

In the section on how the Church was Responsible for the “dark ages,” the author also complains about suppression of “free thought.” … It is also laughable that he claims freethought was “best exemplified by heretics and dissidents.” He cites the Cathars in this regard, which I thought was hilarious because this author is a libertarian. His whole political system, which they pride on being rational, is based on the fulfillment of contracts. but the Cathars denied the validity of all foundational western contracts because they were all based on oaths, which the Cathars thought were immoral. They were the opposite of free thinkers from the libertarian perspective and would be as subversive of a libertarian political system as they were to the feudal system.

A similar point can be made about Arius and the Donatists. …these two heresies were just as irrational and opposed to free thinking as the Cathar heresy.

The author also has a problematic view of mystery…faith and reason…[and] our belief in the spiritual world…

His section on the persecution of heretics is problematic for several reasons. He names the Arians, Donatists, and Cathars as groups that were unjustly suppressed, but he fails to mentions that these groups persecuted Catholicism first, and what Catholics were doing was defending themselves. …

Lastly, we come to Galileo, and the Inquisition. … However, Galileo was not punished primarily for his scientific theories, but for a combination of teaching theology without a license and being a jerk toward the pope and other scientists. …

I think that answers most of his criticisms. Let me know if this helps!

Here is a link to where you can read the full version: drive.google.com/open?id=1ApXQiT0IXG0yTSg_SPGA90j6mxKq7dBDwZurpopmoCs

That was an excellent account my friend, the fact that he is not a medieval scholar or historian is something I must have glanced over, and such distinctions are important to weighing a person’s opinion on a matter. I remember hearing a quote once by Thomas Sowell, an economist, who said, “We believe in some things because they are demonstrably true while we believe in other things because they are asserted repeatedly.” That statement could sum up a vast majority of the Church’s misinterpreted history. Thank you once again for the essay my friend and I respect the fact that you took the time to write a rebuttal.

The book you want is God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science

It talks all about science and the Church in the Middle Ages

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