Monday, May 7, 2018

Western Technological Development to 1648

In his book, The Betrayal of the West (1978), historian and cultural critic Jacques Ellul wrote that Western Civilization is unique in its affirmation of three values: freedom, reason, and the dignity of the individual.

Western tradition, beginning with Aristotle, identifies Thales of Miletus as the first philosopher and dates the beginning of Western philosophy from 585 BC. In that year, Thales was the first to predict an eclipse of the sun. Thales used reason to understand creational effects and their causes. By doing so, he was able to establish freedom, in this case some critical distance, between human beings and these effects.

In An Historian’s Approach to Religion (1956), English historian Arnold Toynbee highlights the invention or intentional spread of major technological innovations in the West before 1648:

First century BC: The Romans, in possession of Gallia which has much arable land but few people, invent a primitive but effective reaper which significantly boosts agricultural production.

AD 400-1100: despite the Dark Age, water mills spread throughout the former western provinces of the Roman Empire.

600: “The decisive invention, which opened the way for all the rest by producing a margin of wealth beyond what was required for bare subsistence, was the heavy plough…” (Toynbee, 224). This plow allowed the much heavier soils of northern Europe to be successfully cultivated.

900-1100: Westerners defy tradition by using reason to intentionally modify the ancient harness used with oxen to create a new harness capable of taking full advantage of the power of horses, mules, and donkeys in plowing.

1000: Westerners invent the crossbow and, with it, the first new developments in body armor and shields since Roman times.

1100: Windmills begin their spread wherever useful throughout Latin Christendom.

1400s: Westerners design, build, and rig ships that are qualitatively better than any other ships on Earth and are eventually able to sail around the world. With that unprecedented success, they are able to take command of the oceans, discover new lands, and take control of them.

Before and during the Age of Christendom (AD 1-1648), Westerners intentionally used reason to free themselves from control by the rest of creation. They used it to observe creational effects and determine their creational causes. By doing so, they were able to develop and disseminate technological innovations that worked with creation to increase its fruitfulness but also harness its power. More ominously, they were also able to increase their own power over others through developments in military and transportation technologies.

Copyright © 2018 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.