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In the history of ideas, the continuity thesis is the hypothesis that there was no radical discontinuity between the intellectual development of the Middle Ages and the developments in the Renaissance and early modern period. Thus the idea of an intellectual or scientific revolution following the Renaissance is—according to the continuity thesis—a myth. Some continuity theorists point to earlier intellectual revolutions occurring in the Middle Ages, usually referring to either a European "Renaissance of the 12th century" or a medieval "Muslim scientific revolution", as a sign of continuity. Despite the many points that have been brought up by proponents of the continuity thesis, a majority of scholars still support the traditional view of the Scientific Revolution occurring in the 16th and 17th centuries, with the only exception being Ibn al-Haytham's Book of Optics which is widely considered a revolution in the fields of optics and visual perception. (See Scientific Revolution for the traditional view.)


The idea of a continuity, rather than contrast between medieval and modern thought, begins with Pierre Duhem, the French physicist and philosopher of science. It is set out in his ten volume work on the history of science, Le système du monde: histoire des doctrines cosmologiques de Platon à Copernic. Unlike many former historians such as Voltaire and Condorcet, who did not consider the Middle Ages to be of much intellectual importance , he tried to show that the Roman Catholic Church had helped foster the development of Western science. His work was prompted by his research into the origins of statics, where he encountered the works of medieval mathematicians and philosophers such as Nicole Oresme and Roger Bacon. He consequently came to regard them as the founders of modern science, their having in his view anticipated many of the discoveries of Galileo and later thinkers. Duhem concluded that "the mechanics and physics of which modern times are justifiably proud proceed, by an uninterrupted series of scarcely perceptible improvements, from doctrines professed in the heart of the medieval schools.".


Another notable supporter of the continuity thesis was George Sarton (1884-1956), who is regarded as the father of the history of science. In The History of Science and the New Humanism (1931), George Sarton put much stress on the historical continuity of science,George Sarton (1931), The History of Science and the New Humanism, p. 36-37.
(cf. Professor Aydin Sayili, George Sarton and The History of Science, FSTC) and in his Introduction to the History of Science, he shed much light on the historical continuity of medieval science in particular among the Muslim scientists and European Scholastics.

Sarton further noted that the development of science stagnated during the Renaissance, due to Renaissance humanism putting more emphasis on form over fact, grammar over substance, and the adoration of ancient authorities over empirical investigation. As a result, he stated that science had to be introduced to Western culture twice: first in the 12th century during the Arabic-Latin translation movement, and again in the 17th century during what became known as the "Scientific Revolution". He said this was due to the first appearance of science being swept away by Renaissance humanism before science had to be re-introduced again in the 17th century.

Sarton wrote in the Introduction to the History of Science:

Franklin and Pasnau

More recently the Australian mathematician and historian of science James Franklin has argued that the idea of a European Renaissance is a myth. He characterizes the myth as the view that around the fifteenth century (ca. 1400s AD/CE):

  • There was a sudden dawning of a new outlook on the world after a thousand years of darkness
  • Ancient learning was rediscovered
  • New ideas about intellectual inquiry and freedom replaced reliance on authority
  • Scientific investigation replaced the sterile disputes of the schools.

He claims that the Renaissance was in fact a period when thought declined significantly, bringing to an end a period of advance in the late Middle Ages, and that the twelfth century was the "real, true, and unqualified renaissance". For example, the rediscovery of ancient knowledge, which the later Italian humanists claimed for themselves, was actually accomplished in the twelfth century.

Franklin cites many examples of scientific advances in the medieval period that predate or anticipate later 'discoveries'. For example, the first advances in geometrical optics and mechanics were in the twelfth century. The first steps in understanding motion, and continuous variation in general, occurred in the fourteenth centuries with the work of the scientists of the Merton School, at Oxford in the 1330s and 1340s. (Franklin notes that there is no phrase in ancient Greek or Latin equivalent to "kilometres per hour"). Nicole Oresme, who wrote on theology and money, devoted much of his effort to science and mathematics and invented graphs, was the first to perform calculations involving probability, and the first to compare the workings of the universe to a clock. (See also Grant 1974.)

But little of importance occurs in any other branches of science in the two centuries between Oresme and Copernicus. Like other historians of this period, Franklin attributes the decline to the plague of 1348-1350, (the black death), which killed a third of the people in Europe. Huizinga's examination of this period suggests a tendency towards elaborate theory of signs, which Franklin compares with the degeneracy of modern Marxism. He cites the late Renaissance naturalist Aldrovandi, who considered his account of the snake incomplete until he had treated it in its anatomical, heraldic, allegorical, medicinal, anecdotal, historical and mythical aspects. He marks the fifteenth century as coinciding with the decline of literature. Chaucer died in 1400; the next writers that are widely read are Erasmus, More, Rabelais and Machiavelli, just after 1500. "It is hard to think of any writer in English between Chaucer and Spenser who is now read even by the most enthusiastic students. The gap is almost two hundred years." He points to the development of astrology and alchemy in the heyday of the Renaissance.

Franklin concedes that in painting the Renaissance really did excel, but unfortunately the artistic skill of the Renaissance concealed its incompetence in anything else. He cites Da Vinci, who was supposed to be good at everything, but who on examination, "had nothing of importance to say on most subjects". (A standard history of mathematics, according to Franklin, (E. T. Bell's The Development of Mathematics, 1940), says that "[Leonardo's] published jottings on mathematics are trivial, even puerile, and show no mathematical talent whatever." The invention of printing he compares to television, which produced "a flood of drivel catering to the lowest common denominator of the paying public, plus a quantity of propaganda paid for by the sponsors".

The philosopher and historian Robert Pasnau makes a similar, but more extreme claim that "modernity came in the late twelfth century, with Averroes' magisterial revival of Aristotle and its almost immediate embrace by the Latin West."

Pasnau argues (p. 4) that in some branches of 17th century philosophy, the insights of the scholastic era fall into neglect and disrepute. He disputes the modernist view of medieval thought as subservient to the views of Aristotle. By contrast "scholastic philosophers agree among themselves no more than does any group of philosophers from any historical period." Furthermore, the almost unknown period between 1400 and 1600 was not barren, but gave rise to vast quantities of material, much of which still survives. This complicates any generalizations about the supposedly novel developments in the seventeenth-century. He claims that the concerns of scholasticism are largely continuous with the central themes of the modern era, that early modern philosophy, though different in tone and style, is a natural progression out of later medieval debates, and that a grasp of the scholastic background is essential to an understanding of the philosophy of Descartes, Locke, and others.


Robert Briffault (1876-1948) also criticized the idea of a Renaissance taking place in the 15th century. He instead argued that "a real Renaissance" took place centuries earlier in the Islamic civilization at the turn of the millennium.

Graham and Saliba

In 1973, A.C. Graham criticized the notion of "modern science", arguing that "The question may also be raised whether Ptolemy or even Copernicus and Kepler were in principle any nearer to modern science than the Chinese and the Maya, or indeed than the first astronomer, whoever he may have been, who allowed observations to outweigh numerological considerations of symmetry in his calculations of the month and the year." In 1999, George Saliba, in his review of Toby E. Huff's The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West, also criticized the notion of "modern science", arguing how one would define terms like "modern science" or "modernity". After quoting Graham, Saliba notes that "the empirical emphasis placed by that very first astronomer on the value of his observations set the inescapable course to modern science. So where would the origins of modern science then lie?"

In 1994, Saliba considered a "scientific revolution" in astronomy to have taken place in the 13th and 14th centuries, just after the "Islamic Golden Age" and just before the "Copernican Revolution". He described it as a "Maragha Revolution", "Maragha School Revolution" or "Scientific Revolution before the Renaissance" in reference to the Maragha schoolmarker of Muslim astronomers, who made a number of important advances in astronomy.


In The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages, Edward Grant argues that the origins of modern science lie in the Middle Ages and was due to the cumulative efforts of the Hellenic, Islamic and Christian civilizations:


Gary Hatfield, in his "Was the Scientific Revolution Really a Revolution of Science?", argues that while the "Scientific Revolution" of the 17th century did have several individual "revolutions", he does not consider the period to be a "scientific" revolution. Some of his reasons include science still being tied to metaphysics at the time, experimental physics not being separated from natural philosophy until the end of the 18th century, and comparable individual "revolutions" in different sciences continued occurring before and after the 17th century, such as Ibn al-Haytham's earlier revolution in visual theory and the later optical revolution of Faraday and Maxwell.

Sabra and Hogendijk

A. I. Sabra and J. P. Hogendijk argue that there was an earlier "revolution" in optics in the 11th century, which was primarily due to the Book of Optics written by Ibn al-Haytham (known as "Alhazen" in the West), who was responsible for a radical transformation of optics and vision which "goes to the heart of the basic assumptions of the traditional system."


Another contrary view has been recently proposed by Arun Bala in his dialogical history of the birth of modern science. Bala argues that the changes involved in the Scientific Revolution – the mathematical realist turn, the mechanical philosophy, the corpuscular philosophy, the central role assigned to the Sun in Copernican heliocentrism - have to be seen as rooted in multicultural influences on Europe. Islamic science gave the first exemplar of a mathematical realist theory with Alhazen's Book of Optics in which physical light rays traveled along mathematical straight lines. The swift transfer of Chinese mechanical technologies in the medieval era shifted European sensibilities to perceive the world in the image of a machine. The Indian number system, which developed in close association with atomism in India, carried implicitly a new mode of mathematical atomic thinking. And the heliocentric theory which assigned central status to the sun, as well as Newton’s concept of force acting at a distance, were rooted in ancient Egyptian religious ideas associated with Hermeticism. Bala argues that by ignoring such multicultural impacts we have been led to a Eurocentric conception of the Scientific Revolution.

Other scholars

Several other historians, notably Donald Routledge Hill, Ahmad Y Hassan, and Abdus Salam, consider a "scientific revolution" to have taken place during the "Islamic Golden Age", which they have referred to as a "Muslim scientific revolution".

Robert Briffault,Robert Briffault, p. 191. Will Durant, Fielding H. Garrison, Alexander von Humboldt and Muhammad Iqbal have also attempted to trace back the foundations of modern science to medieval Muslim scientists, who they consider pioneers of the experimental scientific method.

Medieval theories foreshadowing Newton's laws of motion were proposed by several different medieval scientists, such as the law of inertia being developed by Ibn al-Haytham (Alhacen) and Avicenna. The concept of momentum and the proportionality between force and acceleration in Newton's second law of motion were first discovered by Avicenna and Hibat Allah Abu'l-Barakat al-Baghdaadi

Abel B.

Franco (October 2003).

"Avempace, Projectile Motion, and Impetus Theory", Journal of the History of Ideas 64 (4), p.

521-546 [528].) respectively, while the concept of reaction foreshadowing Newton's third law of motion was discovered by Ibn Bajjah (Avempace).Shlomo Pines (1964), "La dynamique d’Ibn Bajja", in Mélanges Alexandre Koyré, I, 442-468 [462, 468], Paris.

Abel B.

Franco (October 2003).

"Avempace, Projectile Motion, and Impetus Theory", Journal of the History of Ideas 64 (4), p.

521-546 [543].) Theories foreshadowing Newton's law of gravity were also developed by Muhammad ibn Musa, Ibn al-Haytham, and al-Khazini.

Many historians of science have seen other ancient and medieval antecedents of ideas from the "Scientific Revolution". It is widely accepted that Copernicus's De revolutionibus followed the outline and method set by Ptolemy in his Almagest and adapted the geocentric model of the Maragheh schoolmarker in a heliocentric context, and that Galileo's mathematical treatment of acceleration and his concept of impetus grew out of earlier medieval analyses of motion, especially those of Avicenna, Ibn Bajjah, Jean Buridan, and the Oxford Calculators. The first experimental refutations of Galen's theory of four humours and Aristotle's theory of four classical elements also dates back to al-Razi (Rhazes), while human blood circulation and pulmonary circulation were first described by Ibn al-Nafis several centuries before the "Scientific Revolution".


  1. Robert Briffault, p. 188.
  2. Dear, Peter. Revolutionizing the Sciences: European Knowledge and its Ambitions, 1500-1700. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Pr., 2001.
  3. Margolis, Howard. It Started with Copernicus. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002
  4. Westfall, Richard S. The Construction of Modern Science: Mechanisms and Mechanics. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1971. Reprinted Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Pr., 1977.
  5. Duhem 1905 vol. 1, part iv, p. 38
  6. E. Garfield (2003). "The life and career of George Sarton: the father of the history of science", J Hist Behav Sci 21 (2), p. 107-117.
  7. Professor Aydin Sayili, George Sarton and The History of Science, FSTC.
  8. Eric Cochrane (1976), "Science and Humanism in the Italian Renaissance", The American Historical Review 81 (5), p. 1039-1057.
  9. Franklin, The Renaissance Myth, Quadrant 26(11), 51-60 (Nov. 1982)
  10. ibidem p. 60
  11. ibidem
  12. Huizinga 1919
  13. Pasnau 2006
  14. Robert Briffault, p. 188-191.
  15. George Saliba (1994), A History of Arabic Astronomy: Planetary Theories During the Golden Age of Islam, p. 245, 250, 256-257. New York University Press, ISBN 0814780237.
  16. Edward Grant (1996), The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages: Their Religious, Institutional, and Intellectual Contexts, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  17. Bala, 2006
  18. Ahmad Y Hassan and Donald Routledge Hill (1986), Islamic Technology: An Illustrated History, p. 282, Cambridge University Press.
  19. Abdus Salam, H. R. Dalafi, Mohamed Hassan (1994). Renaissance of Sciences in Islamic Countries, p. 162. World Scientific, ISBN 9971507137.
  20. Abid Ullah Jan (2006), After Fascism: Muslims and the struggle for self-determination, "Islam, the West, and the Question of Dominance", Pragmatic Publishings, ISBN 978-0-9733687-5-8.
  21. Salah Zaimeche (2003), An Introduction to Muslim Science, FSTC.
  22. Will Durant (1980), The Age of Faith (The Story of Civilization, Volume 4), p. 162-186. Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0671012002.
  23. Fielding H. Garrison, History of Medicine.
  24. Dr. Kasem Ajram (1992). Miracle of Islamic Science, Appendix B. Knowledge House Publishers. ISBN 0911119434.
  25. Muhammad Iqbal (1934, 1999). The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. Kazi Publications. ISBN 0686184823.
  26. Abdus Salam (1984), "Islam and Science". In C. H. Lai (1987), Ideals and Realities: Selected Essays of Abdus Salam, 2nd ed., World Scientific, Singapore, p. 179-213.
  27. Fernando Espinoza (2005). "An analysis of the historical development of ideas about motion and its implications for teaching", Physics Education 40 (2), p. 141.
  28. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, "Islamic Conception Of Intellectual Life", in Philip P. Wiener (ed.), Dictionary of the History of Ideas, Vol. 2, p. 65, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1973-1974.
  29. Robert Briffault (1938). The Making of Humanity, p. 191.
  30. Nader El-Bizri (2006), "Ibn al-Haytham or Alhazen", in Josef W. Meri (2006), Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopaedia, Vol. II, p. 343-345, Routledge, New York, London.
  31. Mariam Rozhanskaya and I. S. Levinova (1996), "Statics", in Roshdi Rashed, ed., Encyclopaedia of the History of Arabic Science, Vol. 2, p. 622. London and New York: Routledge.
  32. A survey of the debate over the significance of these antecedents is in D. C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, 600 B.C. to A.D. 1450, (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Pr., 1992), pp. 355-68.
  33. Otto Neugebauer, "On the Planetary Theory of Copernicus," Vistas in Astronomy, 10(1968):89-103; reprinted in Otto Neugebauer, Astronomy and History: Selected Essays (New York: Springer, 1983), pp. 491-505.
  34. George Saliba (1999). Whose Science is Arabic Science in Renaissance Europe? Columbia University. The relationship between Copernicus and the Maragheh school is detailed in Toby Huff, The Rise of Early Modern Science, Cambridge University Press.
  35. Galileo Galilei, Two New Sciences, trans. Stillman Drake, (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Pr., 1974), pp 217, 225, 296-7.
  36. Marshall Clagett, The Science of Mechanics in the Middle Ages, (Madison, Univ. of Wisconsin Pr., 1961), pp. 218-19, 252-5, 346, 409-16, 547, 576-8, 673-82; Anneliese Maier, "Galileo and the Scholastic Theory of Impetus," pp. 103-123 in On the Threshold of Exact Science: Selected Writings of Anneliese Maier on Late Medieval Natural Philosophy, (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Pr., 1982).
  37. Ernest A. Moody (1951). "Galileo and Avempace: The Dynamics of the Leaning Tower Experiment (I)", Journal of the History of Ideas 12 (2), p. 163-193.
  38. G. Stolyarov II (2002), "Rhazes: The Thinking Western Physician", The Rational Argumentator, Issue VI.
  39. S. A. Al-Dabbagh (1978). "Ibn Al-Nafis and the pulmonary circulation", The Lancet 1, p. 1148.


  • Bala, Arun, The Dialogue of Civilizations in the Birth of Modern Science. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. ISBN 978-1-4039-7468-6.
  • Briffault, Robert, The Making of Humanity.
  • Duhem, Pierre, Les origines de la statique, Harvard University Press 1905.
  • Franklin , J., "The Renaissance Myth", Quadrant 26 (11), Nov. 1982, pp. 51-60.
  • Franklin, J., The Science of Conjecture, Evidence and Probability before Pascal, 2002.
  • Grant, E., Sourcebook in Medieval Science, Harvard University Press 1974.
  • Huff, Toby E., The Rise of Early Modern Science, Cambridge University Press 1993.
  • Huizinga, J., The Waning of the Middle Ages, 1919.
  • Pasnau, R., "The Origins of Modern Philosophy ", ms, Colorado 2006.

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