By Warren C. Brown
Engineering and Science, Vol.62:2 (2000)
Introduction: In 1986, the physicists Paul Ginsparg and Sheldon Glashow used the Middle Ages as a metaphor to express their concern with the way that string theory seemed to be increasingly divorced from verifiable reality. They charged string theory with being a kind of “medieval theology” that would undermine science itself: “For the first time since the Dark Ages, we can see how our noble search may end up with faith replacing science once again.”
Ginsparg and Glashow’s comments reflect one of the more common popular images of the Middle Ages. From a modern perspective, the term “medieval” frequently connotes either religion carried to the point of superstition or religious and intellectual intolerance: the Inquisition, faith smothering reason, and Joan of Arc burning at the stake. In other words, the adjective “medieval” is often used to represent the antithesis of our post- Enlightenment/post-scientific-revolution way of viewing the world.