by Bill Nugent
The thousand year period from 500 AD to 1500 AD has been called “Medieval Times” or “the Dark Ages.” The term “Dark Ages” was originally used to describe the architecture of the period and not used as a general term to describe all aspects of medieval civilization.
The middle ages were anything but dark in many respects and in fact many of the greatest advances of civilization occurred during this period. It is particularly ironic to hear secular college professors disdainfully refer to the middle ages as the dark ages because the concept of the university itself was birthed during this time. The University of Paris, founded circa 1170, was an outgrowth of the schools of the cathedral of Notre Dame.
In 1257 Robert de Sorbon endowed the university a large sum of money and later the University of Paris became known as the Sorbonne. Oxford University in England was founded in the twelfth century as a similar outgrowth of church schools. All the great universities were founded by Christians desiring to impart understanding of Christian theology, Christian values and practical knowledge. The arts and sciences flourished on the foundation of Christian revelation.
Ancient Rome adopted Christianity as its civil religion in the early fourth century and Rome fell at the end of the fifth century as the result of being overrun by barbarians from northwestern Europe. What followed was centuries of evangelization of these and other European tribes so that Europe eventually became a predominantly Christian continent. One direct result of this was that Europe became the first continent to abolish slavery. Slavery was replaced by the more humane feudal system under which serfs had rights, including the right to sue their masters at law.
Medieval Europe was far from utopia. It was a patchwork of tribes and cultures that had adopted Christianity as civil religion but nonetheless retained some pagan practices. The Christian moral code contained in the Bible did serve to restrain evil and give order to society. Many studies of medieval times point to the moral lapses of the period such as the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the witch hunts. Bad as these events were, and they were bad, they pale into insignificance compared to the events which occurred centuries later in the secular dominated 20th century when fascism and communism repudiated Christian morality altogether and murdered millions.
By one estimate 13,000 people were killed under the Spanish Inquisition over a period of 65 years. That was certainly a terrible tragedy but to put it in perspective 13,000 fatalities was a slow week under Stalin’s purges of the late 1930s. The Black Book of Communism, written by two French socialists, estimates that between 70 million and 100 million people were murdered by communist governments in the 20th century.
Another aspect of the so called dark ages is that the foundations of modern science were laid by Bible believing people of this period. Roger Bacon (1214-1294), Franciscan monk and professor at Oxford, said that “all science has its source in revelation, especially in holy scripture.” (The Wycliffe Biographical Dictionary of the Church page 26.) Bacon promoted the inductive method of scientific inquiry. This is in stark contrast to the deductive methods of Aristotle that were the standard from ancient times. Deductive analysis does not give much credence to experimentation and hence little pure science flourished in ancient times.
Roger Bacon and later Christian scholars such as Isaac Newton built scientific learning on the regularity principle found in the Bible. The regularity principle is the idea that since God is an intelligent being who has given us laws to live by and to order society, He must be a God who values order and therefore we can expect to find order or regularity in His physical creation. The physical elements must be subject to God’s physical laws. Therefore we can conduct experiments on a small part of His creation in a test tube and infer (induce) that the results of the experiment hold true for the whole creation. God’s creation is not random but is ordered. If water freezes at 32 degrees in Paris it will freeze at the same temperature in London.
Modern science came about largely by the adoption of the scientific method which came to us from the Christian worldview which comes from God’s revelation in the holy Bible. The advancement of science began in medieval times and accelerated greatly after the Protestant Reformation under Christian scholars such as Isaac Newton and Blaise Pascal. The Protestant Reformation resulted in the Bible being translated into the languages of the masses and being available for the first time in history to an entire continent of people. This Bible literate continent produced all of the pioneers of modern science.
Philosophical modernism is the idea that reason (or rationalism) supersedes revelation. Philosophical modernists cannot claim to have birthed modern science. The Bible which contains revelation presented in a rational, orderly way is what gave the underpinnings for experimental science. In recent decades we have seen the rise of postmodernism which is a rejection of both revelation and reason and results in the embrace of randomness, meaninglessness and emotion driven argumentation.
The middle ages show us that barbarian tribes can form ordered societies when they adopt Christian values. Modern science (i. e. experimental science) arose in no other place on earth or at any other time in history than late medieval Europe. The dark ages weren’t so dark after all.