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  • Writer's picture Peter Kupisz

Middle Ages Were Not “Dark Ages”

Was the European Medieval Period really a “dark age” that retarded the growth of science? This assertion is rejected by historians of science, yet it is commonly made on the internet and often as part of criticism of Christianity. In the following quote, the atheist historian, Tim O’Neill, explains his rejection of, and frustration with, those who make this claim. In particular, he is frustrated by the fact that it is so often his fellow atheists who perpetuate this propaganda.

It’s not hard to kick this nonsense to pieces, especially since the people presenting it know next to nothing about history and have simply picked up these strange ideas from websites and popular books. The assertions collapse as soon as you hit them with hard evidence. I love to totally stump these propagators by asking them to present me with the name of one – just one – scientist burned, persecuted, or oppressed for their science in the Middle Ages. They always fail to come up with any. They usually try to crowbar Galileo back into the Middle Ages, which is amusing considering he was a contemporary of Descartes. When asked why they have failed to produce any such scientists given the Church was apparently so busily oppressing them, they often resort to claiming that the Evil Old Church did such a good job of oppression that everyone was too scared to practice science. By the time I produce a laundry list of Medieval scientists – like Albertus Magnus, Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, John Peckham, Duns Scotus, Thomas Bradwardine, Walter Burley, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead, John Dumbleton, Richard of Wallingford, Nicholas Oresme, Jean Buridan and Nicholas of Cusa – and ask why these men were happily pursuing science in the Middle Ages without molestation from the Church, my opponents usually scratch their heads in puzzlement at what just went wrong…

O'Neil goes on to point out that the false "conflict thesis," which underlies so much of the antagonism toward the Middle Ages, has been rejected by academic historians for a long time.

In the academic sphere, at least, the “Conflict Thesis” of a historical war between science and theology has been long since overturned. It is very odd that so many of my fellow atheists cling so desperately to a long-dead position that was only ever upheld by amateur Nineteenth Century polemicists and not the careful research of recent, objective, peer-reviewed historians. This is strange behavior for people who like to label themselves “rationalists”.

Learn More


James Hannam, “God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science,” Armarium Magnum (blog), October 17, 2009,



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