Busting the “Dark Ages” Myth

Recently a good friend mentioned “the Dark Ages,” and I nearly flew into a wild rage. Well, no, it was more like severe annoyance. Actually, now that I think of it, maybe it was just a mild depression.

The “Dark Ages” weren’t dark. Not only was there plenty of sunshine, but culture and civilization were merrily rowing along as well.
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400 Years Ago Today, Galileo Didn’t Invent the Telescope

There are many myths about Galileo. One is that he invented the telescope. (He didn’t. Hans Lippershey gets the honors. A year afterward, on this date four hundred years ago, Galileo demonstrated his version of the device to merchants in Venice. (The sale price was not a pound of flesh.)

Here’s a little quiz to see how good you are at separating fact from fiction. Jot down which you think are true and which are false:

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160 Million

I was with a group of friends recently when another common myth of western civilization was trotted out as if it were gospel. “We all know religion has caused more violence and death than anything else.”

“Well, actually, that’s not true,” I ventured.

Heads turned. Mouths gaped. The planet itself seemed to wobble on its axis. “What facts do you have to support that?” said the historian in the group, eyebrow arched.
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Not the Center of the Universe

This really bugs me.

People who should know better–including Ph.D.s–keep making the same mistake. I just read it in a 2008 book, which I will not name to protect the guilty.

The Myth. In the Middle Ages people believed the sun went around the earth because it put the earth and humanity at the center of the universe–elevating the prominence of humanity in the cosmos.

The Fact. According to Medieval cosmology, the hierarchy of the cosmos was from the outer extremes (most important and most perfect) down to the center (least important and least perfect). Aristotle said that the heavenly realms were so superior that they were made of something entirely different from the four elements of earth, water, air and fire. The fifth element–the quintessence, or aether–was found only in the heavenlies. In other words, the closer to the center something was, the less ethereal, and thus the more imperfect it was.

Earth, being irregular (mountains, valleys, etc.), changing and subject to corruption, was the least perfect. The moon, as Medieval cosmologists could clearly see, also had imperfections but fewer than earth. The planets were more perfect (but had an irregular motion accounted for by epicycles). The realm of stars was even more perfect. Beyond that, well, heaven of course. Some cosmologies also put the most imperfect–hell–at the very center of the earth itself.

So putting earth at the center of the cosmos was not a statement of human hubris but of human humility.

There, I feel better already.

The Serial Comma and the Plagues of Egypt

In another blog I promised to wrestle the serial comma into abject submission. Watch and be amazed.

Many writers and grammarians and punctuationists have traditionally preferred adding a comma before the word and in a list. So, for example, they would write, “I had bananas, blueberries, and strawberries on my corn flakes this morning.” (This, of course, is not to be confused with the cereal comma.)

At InterVarsity Press, we have a general policy of not using a serial comma. Many are horrified, disgusted, shocked, dismayed, repulsed and find themselves on antidepressants as a result of this. Why have we done so?
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