Perhaps in no department of the history of science has more nonsense been talked, than with regard to the neglect of experiment and observation in the Middle Ages. The men who made the series of experiments necessary to enable them to raise the magnificent Gothic cathedrals; who built the fine old municipal buildings and abbeys and castles; who spanned wide rivers with bridges, and yet had the intelligence and the skill to decorate all of these buildings as effectively as they did,–cannot be considered either as impractical or lacking in powers of observation. As I show in the chapter The Medieval University Man and Science, Dante, the poet and literary man of the thirteenth century, had his mind stored with quite as much material information with regard to physical science and nature study, as any modern educated man. It is true that the men of the Middle Ages did not make observations on exactly the same things that we do, but to say either that they lacked powers of observation, or did not use their powers or failed to appreciate the value of such powers, is simply a display of ignorance of what they actually did.

On the other hand, when it comes to the question of the principles of experimental science and the value they placed on them, these men of the medieval universities, when sympathetically studied, prove to have been quite as sensible as the scientists of our own time.

James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)


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