The Church played a big part in holding back medical advances during the Middle Ages according to the BBCs GCSE Bitesize resource. The Church’s encouragement of prayer and superstition allied with an emphasis authority rather than observation and investigation was to blame. According to BBC Bitesize, the Church also forbade dissection and taught that disease was a punishment from God hence the downturn in new effective treatment during the dark ages. I urge you to read the remarkable BBC Bitesize page in question for yourself. The Darkened mind of Christian England was however briefly illuminated according to Bitesize when they bumped into superior Muslim doctors during the crusades. I kid you not.
This would all be fair game, however, if it were not for the fact that the claim that the Church enforced a blanket ban on dissection has been debunked as pure myth. A fact that Bitesize is either ignorant of or does not care about. Harvard scholar Katharine Park writes in her book “Secrets of Women: Gender, Generation and the Origins of Human Dissection;”
“It became clear to me from the religious end that the assumption we had about medieval bodies was not holding up. In the end, I wanted to make it clear there was no religious prohibition against dissection.”
If this is true, then where did the idea that is was prohibited come from?” It was a 19th century myth, like that before Christopher Columbus everyone thought the world was flat. People are absolutely wedded to a view that says ‘We are modern, and they were stupid.’ ”
The ‘religion vs progress’ narrative is nothing new, or we really ought to say ‘Christianity vs progress’ as the politically correct brigade have decreed that of all world religions only Christianity is fair game for mockery and scorn. Two nineteenth century scientists, John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White gave birth to this line of thinking. Both men were vehemently opposed to any theological input on matters which they considered to be the express domain of science. Both men would write forcefully on the subject, claiming that the Bible and the study of Theology were the single greatest roadblocks to scientific progress. Most would come to view their work as propaganda rather than fact, however the faulty ideas promulgated by these men have far outlived their books. I have no interest in attempting to absolve the Church of all historical wrongdoing. Indeed, some truly horrific acts have been perpetrated in the name of Christianity. However, that is not the point of discussion at present. It is a well documented fact that monastic communities almost single handedly ensured the survival of classical education, art and literacy in Britain during the dark ages after the collapse of the Roman Empire. In fact the spread of Christianity across 2nd century pagan Europe was a force for good in terms of academic progress.
Why then does the Bitesize website pin the blame nearly entirely on the Church? I don’t know. However, the use of language and tone does bely a certain unfounded bias. They claim one of the hinderances was the Church’s encouragement of “prayer and superstition.” Why put those words side by side? Precisely because the writer wants the reader to associate them, to think of them as synonymous, almost interchangeable. Who is the reader? A child, studying in preparation for their GCSEs, not supposing they will need to apply any critical thinking to evaluate this authoritative resource. I find this quite deplorable. It reads like a new atheist’s Instagram account; ‘Hey, guess who held up science during the Middle Ages? The Church. But then again, at least when they murdered thousands in the Crusades they bumped into superior Muslim Doctors.” It beggars belief, it really does. BBC, you should know better!
The Christian worldview affirms the study of the natural world and the advance of science. Order and uniformity in the natural world are necessitous to scientific methodology. Something we have no problem in affirming and expecting on the grounds that there is a Divine Creator who has made things to be as such. Many of the pioneers of modern science were devout Christians who saw no conflict between their beliefs and the advance of science; Descartes, Newton, Kepler, Galileo, Locke, Copernicus, Faraday, Kelvin and Pasteur to name just a few.
Now more than ever it is important that we teach our children the practice of critical thinking, of how to evaluate ideas and come to a reasonable conclusion. Ideologies are fed with sleight of hand to our children as soon as they are capable of comprehending them. We must teach our kids to use reason, logic and common sense to pick the good ones from the bad.
1. BBC Bitesize: Medieval Civilisation – http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/history/shp/middleages/medievalcivilisationrev3.shtml
2. Catholic Herald: Why are GCSE textbooks repeating bizarre anti-Catholic myths? http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2017/08/25/why-are-gcse-textbooks-repeating-bizarre-anti-catholic-myths/
3. Harvard Gazette: Debunking a Myth – In Medieval Christianity, Dissection was Often Practiced – Maya Shwayder http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/04/debunking-a-myth/
4. Galileo Goes to Jail; And other myths about science and religion – Edited by Ronald L. Numbers