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Friday, 17 September 2010

Flat Earth Faith?

I have often wondered at the assertion, usually directed at Christianity, that people thought the world was flat. This seems to be based on the 18th and 19th Century misrepresentation of artefacts such as the Mappa Mundi which were 'Spiritual Representations' of the world of faith, and never intended as representations of the "world." It even says so on the Mappa Mundi!

Christianity's scholars and philosophers followed Aristotle, Plato and Ptolemy and believed the world to be a sphere, Copernicus argued that Aristotle was wrong in placing us at the centre of the universe and Galileo initially got into trouble for contradicting what Copernicus had actually proved, not for heresy as is commonly believed and misrepresented. The evidence is there - for those who want to see it - in the form of documents in monastic libraries across Northern Europe - until the 'enlightened' French destroyed many of them when they pillaged the mpnasteries. Fortunately, many of the ancient documents survived in private hands and they include a remarkable canon of scientific writing, much of which dates back to the so-called "Dark Ages" another Victorian 'Enlightened' label.

I recently found a link, posted, I suspect, by someone wishing to promote Islam as the 'faith of enlightenment' which promotes all the achievements of Muslim scholars in the European "Dark Ages or Middle Ages period. The suggestion was that the Islamic society alone is resposible for all the advances which moved society forward. But this is far from accurate, copies of Aristotle, Plato, Ptolemy and others filled the libraries of Irish monasteries and those of Northern Europe during this period. Many scholars also studied the sciences and made some important discoveries. The film clip also failed to mention that during this period Europe had to fight off the Viking invasions, repeated attempts at invasion and forced conversion from the Muslim world and from the East in the form of the Mongol invasions which left little opportunity for purely scholarly pursuits. In the same period, Islam flourished in the comparative peace of a world made secure from invasion by conquest of its neighbours and rivals.

It is currently popular among some sections of the intelligentsia to paint Christianity as backward, corrupt and untrue and to try to portray every other culture as 'enlightened.' Comparisons are made between the state of medicine in Europe and that of Muslim Spain, yet the examples picked are always the best from Islam and the worst from Christianity. What this also overlooks is that the 'Golden Age' of Islam came to an abrupt end in 1258 with the fall and sacking of Baghdad by the Mongol invaders. The last Caliph was publically humilated and kept as a slave for the amusement of the conquerors and the faith turned in on itself, suppressing the liberal pursuit of the arts and sciences and Europe, at ;ast secure began to use its own scholars and scientists to build on the scholarship refugees from the east brought with them. This paved the way for the Rennaissance and the Age of Exploration from the West.

Again, proof of the fact that our society was already aware of much of this comes from the first transatlantic explorers. John Cabot, the 15th Century explorer hired by the Corproation of Bristol to seek out a new source for the beaver fur rapidly vanishing from Britain. He even wrote that his voyage to Nova Scotia was simply following in the wake of fishermen who regularly fished the Grand Banks and sometimes over wintered in America and Columbus was well aware of similar voyages.

Simple peasants may have believed the world flat, but no man of intelligence did, and it was never the 'doctrine' of mainstream Christianity, 'Enlightenment Propaganda' notwithstanding!

NOTE:This comment on the impact of the Fall of Bagdad from Wikipedia -

"Iraq in 1258 was very different from present day Iraq. Its agriculture was supported by canal networks thousands of years old. Baghdad was one of the most brilliant intellectual centers in the world. The Mongol destruction of Baghdad was a psychological blow from which Islam never recovered. Already Islam was turning inward, becoming more suspicious of conflicts between faith and reason and more conservative. With the sack of Baghdad, the intellectual flowering of Islam was snuffed out. Imagining the Athens of Pericles and Aristotle obliterated by a nuclear weapon begins to suggest the enormity of the blow. The Mongols filled in the irrigation canals and left Iraq too depopulated to restore them."

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