Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Myth of the “Dark Ages of Christianity” is No Laughing Matter

Most of you can remember exactly where you were when you first heard the tale of Christopher Columbus and his raw courage in the face of mutinous sailors who were in mortal terror of sailing over the edge of a flat earth. Who among us is not familiar with the term “Dark Ages”?

Sociologist Rodney Stark points out in his book The Victory of Reason that what we’re largely unfamiliar with is the reality that far from being “benighted fanatics clinging to Scriptural claims that the earth was flat” for the “first fifteen centuries of the Christian epic, nearly unanimous scholarly opinion pronounced the earth spherical.” Likewise, only in the revisionist history of skeptics like John Stewart and Stephen Colbert are the “Dark Ages” dark and the Renaissance enlightened.

What really happened is a matter of history and evidence. The millennium that encompassed Greek and Roman history is more correctly characterized by irrational superstition than rational supposition. Greco-Roman thought was shackled to the illogical presupposition of an eternal universe that was ministered by moody gods. Little wonder that almost a thousand years after Aristotle, Roman aristocrats, spoon-fed at the table of Greek enlightenment, dwelt in drafty domains and never dreamed of a coming Christian epic in which the invention of chimneys, clocks, and capitalism would revolutionize Western Civilization.

In place of a rational God who orders the universe according to knowable principles, Greek sages and their Roman counterparts fixated on the capriciousness of the gods. As such, Socrates would render astronomical observations a “waste of time,” and Plato persuaded devotees to “leave the starry heavens alone.” They obsessed on astrology, but left astronomy an unexplored domain. They mastered the magic of alchemy, and remained blithely ignorant of the majesty inherent in chemistry.

Even more shamefully, “enlightened” Greco-Roman civilization had scant regard for human equality. As a slave master, Plato reasoned that “nature creates a slavish people lacking the mental capacity for virtue or culture, and fit only to serve.” And Aristotle famously remarked, “some are marked out for subjugation, others for rule.” Of course, women fared no better, for in Rome female babies routinely expired in the shadow of Nero’s image—their tragic cries a testimony to the terrors of sexual inequality.

Here’s my point: The notion that the enlightenment of the Greco-Roman world was separated from enlightenment in the modern world by the Dark Ages of Christianity is nothing more than useful propaganda. It was Christianity and Christianity alone that shattered the superstitions of the Greco-Roman world. An unbiased reading of history demonstrates conclusively that the rise of Western Civilization is inextricably linked to the DNA of a biblical worldview.

Well, today, that biblical worldview is mocked by culturally corrosive comedy, and our children are at stake, because for every five-hundred hours they spend in church, a 17 year old has spent more than fifty-thousand interacting with the mass media.

For more on culturally corrosive comedy, listen to my interview with Ted Baehr, co-author (with Tom Snyder) of “Culturally Corrosive Comedy: The Daily Show and The Colbert Report,” Christian Research Journal 33, 2 (2010).

Listen to the show


Amanda said...

Hi Hank! Sorry to hijack your fantastic blog... but I wanted to see if I could help out the Christina Research Institute!

I won a cupcake recipe contest and get to win 10% of the profit from my cupcakes sales for the month of July. Now, I have promised 50% to the gal who told me about the contest, but I would like to donate the other 50% to CRI.

The more I got to thinking about it, the more I thought, he maybe Hank knows folks or has listeners in Boynton, Fl who could go to the shop and buy this cupcake to increase your cut!

I have nothing to do with the contest other then its my recipe... but I would love to make July a HUGE month in sales for this particular cupcake so that we can send you a big check!!

Let me know yours thoughts please!
Here is the link to the website:

God bless-

Anonymous said...

During the Protestant Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries, Protestants wrote of the Middle Ages as a period of Catholic corruption. Just as Petrarch's writing was not an attack on Christianity per se – along with his humanism, he was deeply occupied with the search for God – neither was this an attack on Christianity: it was a drive to restore what Protestants saw as biblical Christianity.

The Magdeburg Centuries was a celebrated work of ecclesiastical history compiled by Lutheran scholars and published between 1559 and 1574. Devoting a volume to each century, it covered the first thirteen centuries of Christianity up to 1298. The work was virulently anti-Catholic. Identifying the Pope as the Antichrist, it painted a "dark" picture of church history after the fifth century, characterizing it as "increments of errors and their corrupting influences".

In response to the Protestants, Roman Catholics developed a counter-image, depicting the High Middle Ages in particular as a period of social and religious harmony, and not "dark" at all.[14] The most important Catholic reply to the Magdeburg Centuries was the Annales Ecclesiastici by Cardinal Caesar Baronius. Baronius was a trained historian who kept theology in the background and produced a work that the Encyclopædia Britannica in 1911 described as "far surpassing anything before his day"[15] and that Acton regarded as "the greatest history of the Church ever written".[16] The Annales, covering the first twelve centuries of Christianity up to 1198, was published in twelve volumes between 1588 and 1607. It was in Volume X that Baronius coined the term "dark age" for the period between the end of the Carolingian Empire in 888[17] and the first inklings of the Gregorian Reform under Pope Clement II in 1046:
“The new age (saeculum) which was beginning, for its harshness and barrenness of good could well be called iron, for its baseness and abounding evil leaden, and moreover for its lack of writers (inopia scriptorum) dark (obscurum).[18] ”

Significantly, Baronius termed the age "dark" because of the paucity of written records capable of throwing light on it for the historian. The "lack of writers" he referred to may be illustrated by comparing the number of volumes in Migne's Patrologia Latina containing the work of Latin writers from the 10th century (the heart of the age he called "dark") with the number of volumes containing the work of writers from the preceding and succeeding centuries. (Of course, only a minority of these writers were historians.)
Volumes of Patrologia Latina per century[19]
Century Migne Volume No. of
No. Volumes
7th 80-88 8
8th 89-96 7
9th 97-130 33
10th 131-138 7
11th 139-151 12
12th 162-191 39
13th 192-217 25

Of course, 'saeculum obscurum' is better translated as the 'obscure age'.
Wikipedia (again)
The first British historian to use the term was most likely Gilbert Burnet, in the form "darker ages", which appears several times in his work in the last quarter of the 17th century. His earliest use of it seems to have been in 1679 in the "Epistle Dedicatory" to Volume I of The History of the Reformation of the Church of England, where he writes: "The design of the reformation was to restore Christianity to what it was at first, and to purge it of those corruptions, with which it was overrun in the later and darker ages."[20] He uses it again in 1682 in Volume II of the History, where he dismisses the story of "St George's fighting with the dragon" as "a legend formed in the darker ages to support the humour of chivalry".[21] Burnet was a Protestant and his use of the term is invariably pejorative.

Boris said...

Just google and you'll see that many Christians still believe the earth doesn't move because the Bible tells them so.

Anonymous said...

Hello Hank! This is "Dawn from Nashville" actually Donna...I think your screener misunderstood my name. I am the Atheist who spoke with you about your misuse of the word "chance" with regard to evolution. I doubt you remember because you speak with hundreds of people each week but I remember because I was extremely nervous to speak on the radio and even more nervous to speak with you. I enjoy your program so much! I know that might sound odd coming from an Atheist but, probably like your faithful listeners, I love hearing educated, thoughtful discussions about religion. Yours are, to me, particularly thoughtful and seamless. This clearly illustrates to me your sincere devotion to the subject and I honestly appreciate your points of view. As you surely know, it is uncommon and refreshing to know anyone of the Christian faith who actually has a really thorough understanding of their own faith much less other faiths. This brings me to my question. I'll keep it to one question tonight but I have many others as I'm sure you presume. If, as you continually pre port, the idea of a creator is supported by this "age of scientific enlightenment" why the need for faith? Thank you in advance for your answer and thoughts on the subject. I mean no disrespect or ill-intent by contacting you. I would never try to dissuade anyone from believing...I, too, was once a believer and it was quite comforting...I simply respect your level of knowledge and would love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Thanks again! Donna Clark If you care to begin an email correspondence my address is

Beagle said...

I believe Boris is Hank. I've never heard such eloquent and convincing arguments for both sides of this argument.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Boris! I bet it just KILLS you to not be able to leave any comments on!! LOL! Thanks for sharing that...I had a BIG laugh!

Anonymous said...

What is faith in God? It is decidely not belief in God in the absence of any evidence for His existence. I believe in God for the same reason I believe in gravity; I see the effect it has on me, I see the effect it has on the environment, and I have access to the historical record. I think this subject is best discussed by C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity). He describes two types of faith, one that keeps the Christian going in the face of doubt (doubt being an emotion not reason). The other is a belief tnat Christ can live through you if you surrender your will to him rather than trying so hard on your own accord to "be a good Christian". I would recommend Mere Christianity to everyone.