The War That Wasn’t
by Scott Dunkley
Many skeptics love to talk about the “war” between Science and Christianity. They characterize Christianity as one of the great evils of the world perpetrating ignorance and superstition while Science is in the noble and relentless pursuit of truth at all costs. Of course, because of Christianity’s vast reach and power, it has persecuted and suppressed Science in an ultimately fruitless attempt to hide its own fallacies. At least that’s how the story goes.
This narrative has been recounted by many, and has been recently re-popularized by secular writers such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. The basic charge is summarized by David Mills in his book Atheist Universe where he states “It is no coincidence, therefore, that Christianity’s longest period of sustained growth and influence occurred during what historians refer to as the Dark Ages.” He goes on to add, “Fifteen hundred years of progress were therefore stifled by the Christian church. Were it not for religious persecution and oppression of science, mankind might have landed on the moon in the year AD 650.”1 These are pretty strong statements. Are they true?
The Dark Ages
Let’s review the oft reported charge that the rise of Christianity was a proximate cause of the Dark Ages and suppressed 1,000+ years of advancement. While this theory receives a lot support among popular atheist writers, it has long been rejected by most historians2, 3, 4. The theory makes the common mistake of confusing correlation with causation. As an illustration, one could note that an increase in life expectancy during the first half of the 20th century happened at the same time as an increase in smoking rates and conclude that smoking causes people to live longer. Clearly, that is a ridiculous conclusion. Proponents of the “Christians caused the Dark Ages” narrative make the same mistake.
There are several reasons we know Christianity did not cause the Dark Ages…