There was no scientific progress in the middles ages. Science made gained no ground at all until the end of the age of unreason. Right? So we’re told, anyway.
Here’s one way to represent it: a simplified picture of the progress of science since the year 500. It looks believable enough, doesn’t it? The curve assumes that in 500 there were about only 100 imaginary “knowledge science units” in the whole world. With that as a baseline, it’s easy to suppose that today there might be about a trillion.
This illustrates graphically what most of us take to be the true story. Pretty much nothing happened, scientifically, until the 1600s. Nothing. Then things finally began to tick upward, and at last science began to make progress. Now it’s climbing like a rocket. It must have had something to do with flinging off medieval superstition, right?
It’s very believable. But what if I were to tell you instead that this curve represents absolutely constant, unchanging, growth every single year from 500 until 2014? That’s exactly what it is. (The growth rate shown here is 1.5335% per annum. I chose that percentage so that it would land near 1 trillion this year. No other reason.)
Here’s the point. If we look back and see nothing happening in science before 1600, it might be because we don’t know how to see what’s there.
Suppose (as is too often the case, sadly!) someone knows nothing about the actual science that preceded the scientific “revolution.” Suppose they think there was nothing happening before then. This graphic shows how easily that could be a mere artifact of perception. Scientific knowledge could have been increasing at a perfectly steady pace, year after year after year, at the same rate it is now, and yet it would be very difficult from here to see anything happening before 1600.
But it gets more interesting yet. If you know some algebra, you know that you could cut the chart off at the year 1600 instead of 2014, adjust the y-scale, and the curve would look very nearly almost the same. People in 1600 could have looked back and seen something significant happening 300 years earlier, too. There were, in fact, several “scientific revolutions. This isn’t the place to go into the details. Suffice it to say, this is far from the whole story; there’s lots more to be learned from real history.
The point of these graphs isn’t to say that science has grown constantly all these centuries, but rather to break us free of prejudicial thinking built on a false supposition that science couldn’t have started growing until the “Scientific Revolution,” just because that’s when it seems to have taken off. The graphs don’t tell us the truth; history does. The graphs can serve, though, to open eyes blinded by false perceptions.
I recommend you learn more of that truth through James Hannam’s Genesis of Science. There really was visible scientific progress through the Middle Ages, and plenty of it. This helps us understand why it might be hard for us to see from our vantage point today.
(Adapted from a comment earlier today. See also the further context here. I am fully aware that these are idealized curves.)