Earlier this week, I posted a reference to Carl Olson's blog postings about AC Grayling's recent articles in the Guardian Unlimited. In response, Grayling posted the same comment here that he posted in response to one of Carl Olson's posts. I told him I would respond to his comment about the "Dark Ages" over the week-end. Some explanation is required, as Grayling has refined his challenge in the course of the week.
On January 23, Grayling posted an article in the Guardian Unlimited arguing that Christianity should not be mentioned in the EU constitution because, he says, it "has a track record of opposing progress."
On January 29, however, the same publication’s other columnist and assistant editor, Madeleine Bunting, considered the controversy that the issue drew among bloggers including Grayling. Her comments on Grayling were less than flattering.
Grayling had said:
"By the accident of its being the myth chosen by Constantine for his purposes, it plunged Europe into the dark ages for the next thousand years - scarcely any literature or philosophy, and the forgetting of the arts and crafts of classical civilisation (quite literally a return to daub and wattle because the engineering required for towers and domes was lost), before a struggle to escape the church's narrow ignorance and oppression saw the rebirth of classical learning, and its ethos of inquiry and autonomy, in the Renaissance."
"Grayling's comic-book history is so extreme that it's funny. It wilfully omits how Christianity (and, incidentally, Islam) has fostered learning and science (even arches and domes) in Europe for hundreds of years - as well as providing the foundations for human rights and secularism itself. But it is his claim of the west's steady march of progress to the happy lands of a universal ideal of rationality and freedom that strikes so hollow. The more vehemently one hears liberal progressives claim progress, the more one wonders who they are trying to convince."
Carl Olson also picked up on Grayling’s series of articles, and Grayling posted a comment in response to Olson on Insight Scoop. When I picked up the conversation here, Grayling posted a copy of one of his Insight Scoop comments in the comments on this blog. In it, he defined his question as follows:
"The point is one of contrast, severe contrast. You can count the poets and philosophers on your fingers for this entire epoch (our 827 years, remember); against the richly flourishing cultures of the preceding and (2-3 centuries on) succeeding ages the dearth is so marked, so dramatic, that even though plenty of historians of the middle ages talk of continuity and pockets of culture (Saxon jewellery, Christian monasteries) they would have a hard time refuting this claim about the difference in civilisational levels.
"Such are the facts. The question now is why it happened. What made the Roman Empire collapse, and with it classical civilisation? Was it undermined from within so that it was less able to withstand attack from without? It appears so. By what? What was the major change of ethos that contributed massively to this collapse? I doubt that the historians will tell us that it was the widespread adoption, as the official religion of the Empire, of Hinduism."
Grayling defined the "Dark Ages" as "from 318 (summoning of the Council of Nicea) to 1145 (your choice: the beginning of the building of Chartres Cathedral)". He also stated that, in Carl Olson's response to him, he had not mentioned specific individuals living before 1145. I promised to mention specific individuals within that time frame.
Meanwhile, Grayling defined his challenges further in the course of the week. On January 29, Grayling responded to Bunting's commentary. In that second article, he opposes Bunting's assertion that Christianity has fostered learning and science in Europe for hundreds of years:
"The impression of confusion is heightened by Ms Bunting's version of history, which she opposed to mine by name. She tells us that Christianity has "fostered learning and science" in Europe for "hundreds of years".
"I challenge her to name one - even one small - contribution to science made by Christianity in its two thousand years; just one; and in the process perhaps she might kindly explain how, so late as 1615, after Galileo had seen the moons of Jupiter through his telescope, the great Cardinal Bellarmine could write: ". . . that the earth is very distant from the heavens, at the centre of the universe, and motionless."
I read his challenge in another Carl Olson post on Insight Scoop during my lunch break January 31 and posted this comment on Insight Scoop:
“In response to the request to name one small contribution to science made by Christianity:
"In the tenth century (the time frame that Professor Grayling identifies as the "Dark Ages"), Gerbert of Aurillac (who was a Benedictine monk, archbishop, and eventually became pope) made the following contributions to science: (1) invented and personally built an abacus which, according to his early biographer Richer, made it possible for people to mentally perform multiplication and division of numbers "in less time than it took to formulate them"; (2) wrote a treatise on the abacus for one of his students; (3) built wooden spheres to study the earth's zones and revolutions of planets and stars; (4) built an ocular tube to observe planets and stars, which is thought to have been used as a nocturnal to tell the time at night. One of his students is thought, more likely than Gerbert himself, to have written a text on the use of the astrolabe which is often attributed to Gerbert; however, the fragments of Constance on the astrolabe, written in Richenau in 1008 based upon a model from around 995 confirm the use of a treatise on astronomy by monks educated by the Church in the tenth century. Sorry I'm on my lunch hour, so that will have to do on short notice.”
Grayling later rewrote his challenge, drawing a distinction between accomplishments by the Church and accomplishments by individuals within the Church, and then admitted (in a comment he posted on his blog) that he had violated his own rule in crediting Islam -- rather than Muslim individuals -- with advances, while he drew a distinction between the Church and Christian individuals’ scientific advances.
On February 2, Grayling posted a third blog post, describing some of the responses to his earlier article as mentioned by Bunting on Feb. 1, and asking:
"I was in equal parts staggered and amused by this response, staggered because it seemed astonishing to me that anyone would seriously think it was not obvious that there were scientists who were (nominal or convinced) Christians, that science developed in countries many of which were (nominally or convinced) Christian countries, and so on, and amused because in their triumphalist teaching of how to suck eggs on this matter, the responders had so vastly missed the point of my challenge, even when I clarified it for them. For obviously and manifestly I did not ask Ms Bunting if there had even been Christian scientists, or whether science had been pursued in Christian countries. I challenged Ms Bunting to explain what Christianity, a body of beliefs and doctrine about virgin birth, miracles, resurrection of the dead, angels and archangels, voices from heaven, stigmata, and all the rest of the superstitious paraphernalia, had contributed to science.”
Carl Olson responded, "He . . . doesn't . . . listen . . ."
In a series of posts, I plan to respond to two questions, including references to specific Christians who lived in the fourth to twelfth centuries:
1. Did Christianity Cause the Dark Ages?
2. What has Christianity, as a body of beliefs, contributed to science?
I hope to have the first post ready shortly, as "Part 2: From Jesus to 410 A.D."