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Thread: Dark Ages and Science

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    Dark Ages and Science

    Dark Ages and Science
    The Dark Ages and Science
    Wise Young, Ph.D., M.D.
    June 1, 2007

    I came across an interesting chart on internet, showing the effect of “the hole left by the Christian Dark Ages”.




    Aside from the clear absence of any Y-axis units that would suggest that the creator of this chart used real data to measure “scientific achievement”, I wondered whether the so-called Dark Ages could really be put at the feet of Christianity. After all, the United States is currently the most Christian of the major nations and is contributing more science than any other country. Is science and Christianity inevitably opposed so that the rise of one results in the fall of the other?

    I decided to look at this question in two ways. One is to look at “dark ages” of other civilizations, to see whether there are any parallels with the so-called Ecclesiastical Dark Ages of Europe. The second is to actually examine the scientific beliefs during the Dark Ages. It suggests that the graph is wrong and that it just represents an untenable Euro-centric and anti-christian view of history. As it turns out, the there were dark ages at other times for the other great civilizations, i.e. in India and briefly in China during the Three Kingdom period.

    There were also periods that were intensively creative in terms of science in the various situations. For example, during the Renaissance in Europe, Christianity was prevalent and history is replete with clashes between Christianity and scientists but the Renaissance nevertheless occurred. Thus, I think that it is incorrect to blame the Dark Ages on Christianity. Rather, I think that the Dark Ages were probably economic and due to other problems and suffering people may seek out religions during difficult times. Let's see if this is true.

    The Indian Dark Ages (Vedic)

    Interestingly, India was the first to have its Dark Age, long before the Roman Empire fell. Many historians regard the period from 1500 BC to 1000 AD as the Dark Ages of the Indian Continent. The “Vedic Dark Ages” ended the golden period of Brahmanic Science supported by the great Indus civilization ( Source. The “Vedic Dark Ages” is characterized by absence of written records for nearly 2000 years.

    When the Indus Valley Civilization collapsed in 1500 BC, only the Brahman knew how to read. When the Arabic scientist Al-Beruni visited India in 1000 AD, he pointed out that the Brahmans had become memorizers of the old texts, suggesting not only stagnation of civilization but failure to use writing as a means to recording history. These Vedic texts, some of which were composed in the early centuries AD, held superstitious beliefs that earth was supported by a serpent, that earth is flat, earth is surrounded by water, the the universe is filled with alcohol. Medicine used Ayurvedic medicine containing urine and dung of various animals as ingredients.

    The backwardness of Vedic India was in spite of the presence of literate civilizations close by, a very high level of medical practice in Persia, very sophisticated astronomy, complex astronomical and physics achievements by Greeks who entered India in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and China being close to its peak of scientific and military power during many of the years. There is no evidence that Christianity had anything to do with this remarkable decline of an entire population for nearly 2500 years. The fall began well before Christ appeared and continued long after the Roman and Greek civilization reached their nadir.

    Interestingly, it was during the Vedic Dark Age that the Buddhist culture flourished and began to spread into other countries, particularly China in the 220-600 AD. This was in the form of literature, calligraphy, sculpture, and carvings. Indian Buddhist beliefs of reincarnation, personal responsibility, and charity spread and took root in over half of the world, including almost all of East and Southeast Asia. The appearance of religion during “Dark Ages” may not be because religion causes the Dark Ages but because people turn to religion during the Dark Ages.

    The Arabic Enlightenment during the European Dark Ages

    The Ecclesiastical Dark Ages began about 500 AD and extended to about 1500 AD. For nearly 1000 years, the only hope of the people in Europe was their belief in Christianity and hope that life in heaven would be better than earth. Very little science or advances in technology occurred during this period. The great civilizations of Greece and Rome had collapsed. The little learning and innovation that was occurring in Europe occurred in little pockets and monastaries where written language still persisted. Europe started to come out of its Dark Ages in 1450. This period became the Renaissance, coupled with the discovery of America and the beginning of modern science and history. The Rennaissance of course owes much of its existence to the presence and development of sciences in the arabic world. The emergence of Europe from their Dark Age coincided with the end of the Vedic Dark Age in India.

    The lights of Arabic and muslim science science burned brightly during the so-called Dark Ages in Europe and India Source). Coinciding with the Dark Ages in Europe, the years 700 to 1000 were golden years of Arab conquest of Northern Africa and western Europe, spreading and expanding the knowledge the Greeks, Egyptians, and Indians. The Arabs of course had their religion and written language. In the early centuries AD, Mohammed Al Khwarizma worte a book whose title became the basis of the name algebra. Omarh Khyyam developed general methods for finding general solutions for solving third through fifth order roots of equations. Al-Karaji studied polynomials with infinite numbers of terms ( source). Egypt's Library of Alexandria was a mecca for scholars of the ancient world.

    The Persian scientist Rhazes (Abu-Bakr Muhammed ibn Zakariyya Ar-Razi) was born near Tehran in 845 AD and was the first to distinguish between measles and smallpox. Muhammed Ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi was born in Uzbekistan and is credited for the invention and naming of algebra. Arabic numerals transformed the world of mathematics. The most famous physician of the Middle Ages was Alhazen (Abu-'Ali Al-Hasan Ibn Al-Haytham), born in Basra, Iraq around 965 AD. He studied optics and realized that the eye has a lens. He almost made the first pinhole camera and parabolic mirrors. Johannes Kepler later used his findings in designing the telescopes. The Arabic astronomer Albategnius (Abu'Abdulah Huhammed ibn Jabir al-Battani) was no small fry. He improved the work of the ancient Greeks, including Ptolemy, by calculating the positions of the sun and earth.

    In the depths of the Ecclesiastical Dark Ages, the Arabs were at their brightest right on the edge of the darkness. In 1350, the Alhambra in Granada was the star of the Muslim world. The Caliphate of Cordoba had created the center of academic studies well beyond any in the world of the time, except perhaps for Baghdad and Istanbul. Their grasp of mathematics, chemistry, probability (gambling), engineering, and agricultural sciences were unprecedented. The elegant knowledge and technology of the Arabic civilization contrasted sharply with ignorant and backward Europeans living in dark castles and poverty. So, the Dark Ages was only in Europe and there was much science going on elsewhere in the world. Although the Arabic and Muslim culture continued to dominate Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Northern AFrica well into the 19th Century, Arabic scientific accomplishments clearly paled in comparison with those of the British and the Americans.

    The Chinese Dark Age and the Mongolian Empire.

    The Han Dynasty dominated China from about 200 BC to 220 AD. During this period, long before anybody had any comparable tchnology, three Chinese inventions transformed society: paper, compass, and gunpowder. In addition, the Chinese already had a large body of observations on plants and animals, astronomy, and mathematics. They started using the printing press and the moveable type several hundred years before the Gutenberg bible.

    After the Han Dynasty collapsed, a period of civil war and strife dominated China for several hundred years. Three kingdoms vied with each other for power until 489, embroiling China in continuous warfare. During this period, like the Ecclesiastical Dark Age in Europe, the suffering population embraced religion, Buddhism. It is interesting that Nestorian Christianity entered Western China during this period as well. So, it is very interesting that the Chinese had a Dark Ages from about 220 to 489 AD, preceding the European Dark Ages from 500-1500 AD. From 500-1300, the Sui and Tang Dynasties united China into what some historians believe was the greatest and most powerful Chinese Dynasties Source.

    In the 1300's, the Mongols brought Chinese culture, science, and technology to the West. In 1300's, Genghis Khan burst onto the world. Wielding a new military technology involving horse-back ridden archery, the Mongols conquered Russia, terrorized most of Middle Europe, and twice sacked Baghdad. But, perhaps the most unexpected was the scientific and technological contributions of the Mongolians. Genghis Khan imposed what has been called “Pax Mongoica”, a period of facilitated cultural exchange and trade between the East, West, and Middle East during the 13th and 14th Century. The commercial and political connections established 700 years ago persist today.

    Genghis and his descendants brought advances of agricultural and military sciences to the countries they conquered. Thus, for example, they may have been credited with the transfer of gunpowder from China to the West but their far greater accomplishment was the transfer of seeds of many vegetables, grains, and trees from Europe to Asia and vice-versa. Jack Weatherford in a book entitled the “Genghis Khan and th Making of the Modern World” claimed that the Mongols was the first to bring an unprecedented tolerance for religion and cultures of other people, a consensus driven rule of government, a meritocratic culture, road building, the first long-distance postal system, and paper money. But, more than anything else, they shook up the system and forced a more open and tolerant society, brought trade and economic prosperity to much of Europe, laying the groundworks for the Rennaissance. Finally, many of Genghis Khans descendants were Christian.

    In summary, little evidence supports the theory that the Dark Age in Europe resulted from Christianity or the dominance of religions is associated with the decline of science. Dark Ages come for many reasons including war, economic ruin, the collapse of an empire, climate changes, and other factors. On the other hand, religions do tend to flourish during Dark Ages. Thus, Christianity boomed during the Ecclesiastical Dark Ages in Europe. Buddhist arose during the Vedic Period and spread to China during the Three Kingdom Period when turmoil and war dominated China for nearly 300 years. However, the Arabic enlightenment is a strong argument against ascent of religion being necessary associated with a decline of science.
    Last edited by Wise Young; 06-01-2007 at 09:16 AM.

  2. #2
    Awesome article Dr. Young. I wonder how far mankind would be if it wasn't for all the dark ages that we've had.
    C-5/6, 7-9-2000
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    Make the best out of today because yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come. Nobody knows that better than those of us that have almost died from spinal cord injury.

  3. #3
    Senior Member artsyguy1954's Avatar
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    Wise, I am seriously worried that we are headed for another dark age due to a backlash caused by the unfortunate abuses of science and technology. (Nuclear bombs and biological warfare come to mind.) We still spend way too much on figuring out bigger, faster, and "better" ways to kill each other.
    If all that money and scientific talent was spent on solving the problems of cancer, SCI, world poverty, world hunger, over population, etc etc... we would have these problems solved by now. IMO
    Last edited by artsyguy1954; 06-06-2007 at 02:45 AM.
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    Senior Member rdf's Avatar
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    I had always thought that the fall of the Roman Empire set back science/technology in the West. If not for that, there might be a cure to regenerate and make viable the injured spinal cord. The Romans and Greeks and Arabs were rather advanced in science and medicine. They even had catheters, albeit they were made of metal.

    Same for the Chinese.

    Just imagine all the knowledge in the world in Roman times. The library in Alexandria alone had much of the known science in the world in its tomes.

    The Crusades had a huge impact on the West in this area, in that they jump-started science/technology in the West.

    It's always been amazing to me that probably even 50 or 100,000 years ago there were humans who were much smarter than I'll ever be. You'd think that basic (born with) human intelligence would increase as time progresses, but I don't think that's true as a whole, across the spectrum.
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    Senior Member artsyguy1954's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rdf
    I had always thought that the fall of the Roman Empire set back science/technology in the West. If not for that, there might be a cure to regenerate and make viable the injured spinal cord. The Romans and Greeks and Arabs were rather advanced in science and medicine. They even had catheters, albeit they were made of metal.

    Same for the Chinese.
    The fall of the Roman Empire (with nothing equal or better to replace it) was a disaster for the western world and stopped its progress for a thousand years. To think that the Romans already had the recipe for concrete (which was then forgotten again.) And the Chinese had the movable type long before the Europeans and Gutenberg ended up reinventing the "wheel" so to speak hundreds of years later. What a sad waste of time.

    Quote Originally Posted by rdf
    It's always been amazing to me that probably even 50 or 100,000 years ago there were humans who were much smarter than I'll ever be. You'd think that basic (born with) human intelligence would increase as time progresses, but I don't think that's true as a whole, across the spectrum.
    Our intelligence seems to have evolved considerably in the last 10 000 years or so. (But according to scientists, we are still only using 5% of our brain. Wise would know for sure if this is true. We are definitely lagging behind in the wisdom department. IMO
    Last edited by artsyguy1954; 06-06-2007 at 02:46 AM.
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  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by artsyguy1954
    Wise, I am seriously worried that we are headed for another dark age due to a backlash caused by the unfortunate abuses of science and technology. (Nuclear bombs and biological warfare come to mind.) We still spend way too much on figuring bigger, faster, and "better" ways to kill each other.
    If all that money and scientific talent was spent on solving the problems of cancer, SCI, world poverty, world hunger, over population, etc etc... we would have these problems solved by now. IMO
    guy,

    The United States is still the scientific superpower of the world but it is rapidly losing that status. Already, as I pointed out in another topic, Japan has surpassed the United States in terms of patent applications, while Korea and China may soon catch up. The following figure http://www.wipo.int/ipstats/en/stati....html#P93_7755, shows that the increase in filings by residents (people from the country) suggests that Japan's rate of patent applications is even more impressive than the number of applications files in Japan or the United States. In 2004, residents of Japan filed 370,000 patent applications compared to 185,000 applications from residents in United States. While Chinese residents filed only 60,000 patent applications, it is +557% greater than it was in 1995 and in 2004 exceeded the applications from residents of Germany.


    If you visit any of the top graduate schools of this country, you will find that a majority of the graduate students are not U.S. citizens. When the students stayed in the United States, that was okay. However, since 9/11, many of the students are heading back to their own countries. This is certainly the case with students from Asia who comprise a majority of the foreign students in the United States. In and of itself, it is not a bad thing for the United States to train foreign students. What is frightening is that U.S. graduate schools have not been able to find qualified American graduate students. Over the last 20 years, our students have fallen far behind all the other major countries of the world in terms of their scientific performance.

    The poverty of science education in the United States has been recognized for over 20 years and significant investments into science education have helped move the United States from 14th place in 1995 to 7th place in 2003, as shown in the attached file. Note that the 2006 results will be published in December 2007 (see http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/ for update). In 2003, Singapore topped the list of countries in 8th grader science scores, followed by Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Hungary, and Netherlands. By the way, I have been teaching in Hong Kong and I can feel the difference in scientific knowledge of the audience.

    Wise.
    Last edited by Wise Young; 06-05-2007 at 06:09 AM.

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    Senior Member rdf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by artsguy
    Our intelligence seems to have evolved considerably in the last 10 000 years or so. (But according to scientists, we are still only using 5% of our brain. Wise would know for sure if this is true. We are definitely lagging behind in the wisdom department. IMO
    The intelligence that we're born with hasn't evolved at all since we first became modern humans. That's what I'm surprised at, so maybe our inate intelligence isn't something that evolves...it's instinct we're born with, and our environment gives us knowledge, I'm thinkin.

    And that we use only 10% of our brains I believe is a myth. I was reading an article the other day about tests that have disproved this legend. I'll try to find it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by rdf
    The intelligence that we're born with hasn't evolved at all since we first became modern humans. That's what I'm surprised at, so maybe our inate intelligence isn't something that evolves...it's instinct we're born with, and our environment gives us knowledge, I'm thinkin.

    And that we use only 10% of our brains I believe is a myth. I was reading an article the other day about tests that have disproved this legend. I'll try to find it.
    It may be true that we only use 10% of our brain at a time but in a period of a several hours, we probably use 100% of our brain. Much data in fact now suggests that our cortices are very plastic. For example, the visual cortex can be recruited to carry out somatosensory activiteis (such as reading Braille) after a person has been blind-folded for less than a day. I have long wanted to test the visual function of people with spinal cord injury because I have imagined that they have recruited their somatosensory function (which they presumably are no longer using) for their visual recognition system. I have often joked with friends who have spinal cord injury that they should learn a new language. Wise.

  9. #9
    Concerning the United States and the lack of educated
    people. WE have been spoonfed..we are consumers.
    Only consumers. From toddlers to the grave. BUY BUY BUY. Even if what you are buying is not worth a plug nickel. BUY.

    It takes a hunger to accomplish anything really. And our hunger doesn't exist anymore
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lindox
    Concerning the United States and the lack of educated
    people. WE have been spoonfed..we are consumers.
    Only consumers. From toddlers to the grave. BUY BUY BUY. Even if what you are buying is not worth a plug nickel. BUY.

    It takes a hunger to accomplish anything really. And our hunger doesn't exist anymore
    I'm hungry. I've always been hungry and I'm hungry now.

    Voc.- How many of us read and check the meanings of unfamiliar words as we go? How many check the meanings of words they use in posting if uncertain of their meaning? Check spelling?

    Science- How many will read a post by Wise or others containing unfamiliar scientific terms - and use a science dictionary to expand their understanding and penetrate the text of the post?

    We know the typical posts so we know the answer.
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