The Claim

asapScience has a video about the role of science in the society. In their video, they claim:

When we look to history we see that ignoring science has led to the crumbling of societies. Ancient Greece was a time of great learning around around ideas of space, time and light and during the subsequent Roman Empire these ideas were mostly embraced however the Romans were complacent with the learning of the Greeks and little innovation or exploration of new ideas around science and knowledge took place during this era. With shifting government and values, emphasis on reason and science slipped away and Rome eventually fell into the dark ages.


  • Does it seem that civilisation survival/"health"/thrive correlate with technological advances / investment in science?

  • Does it seem legit to you to claim that the greeks were "good scientists" and it helped their society while romans were "bad scientists" and this yield to the decline of their society?


I am aware the the term scientist did not exist at that time and I might well be using it poorly. One can replace the term "scientist" by "scholar", "philosopher", "natural philosopher" and "science" by "knowledge exploration" or anything else that might apply.

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    Sorry - I can't really work with the "good" "bad" dichotomy; I'm more interested in understanding what happened than I am in imposing my teleology on the process. I suspect that civilizations with robust economies, secure borders and domestic legitimacy have more resources for science; when one of those things fails, science is likely to suffer. – Mark C. Wallace Oct 12 '15 at 2:22
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    That passage seems to be playing to the old trope of the Dark Ages as a time of scientific regress, which is not accurate. – Semaphore Oct 12 '15 at 4:05
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    Define science.. Define survival / health of a civilization... One can argue, the Romans were more successful civilization than the Greeks.. – Greg Oct 12 '15 at 15:07
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    If the romans were "bad scientists", how did they build the Roman Empire at all (conquering even "good scientists" from Greece)?. How come the Empire was defeated at by peoples who were still less technologically advanced that the Roman themselves? – SJuan76 Oct 12 '15 at 15:57
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    "science" "civilisation" "society". This is pretty much ideological dreck. – Samuel Russell Oct 12 '15 at 22:01

On my opinion, this statement "When we look to history we see that ignoring science has led to the crumbling of societies" is not confirmed by history. Societies, or civilizations come and go and there is no evidence that this is somehow related to the development of science.

Science, in its present form, was mostly created by the Hellenistic Greeks, and this society did not exist longer than other societies. Neither it was stronger or more durable in any sense. Some of the later societies continued the development of Hellenistic science. A millenium later this ancient science was picked by the Western European society, but it does not exist long enough yet to make any conclusions.

On comparison of Greeks and Romans. Most of those who say that the Romans were not interested in science, miss the point, that the lands where the Greeks lived were also incorporated in the Roman empire, and that science existed there for long time. So for example Ptolemy and Diophantus should be listed in "Science of the Roman empire". And these are among the best examples of science that ever existed.

It is true that most scientific work was written in the Greek language. But this is not enough to label this science as Greek. (In early Western Europe, most of the science was written in Latin, and we do not call it "Roman science" because of this).

EDIT. Another aspect of the question is that in the present time, the physical survival of mankind depends on science. The Earth would be unable to support its present population without modern scientific technology of food production. But this situation is quite recent.


The quote seems to be resting its entire thesis on a neglect of science being the cause of the collapse of the Roman Empire.

If they had other good examples of this thesis in action, they probably should have used one of those instead. There are hundreds of different theories for the cause of the fall of the Roman Empire floating around. Its one of the oldest and most storied arguments in historiography. Back during the 80's, historian Alexander Demandt counted 210 different theories in the literature, and I think its fair to say a few more new ones have been put forth in the intervening three decades.

So any attempt pass off a single one of them, in a short aside with no explanation, as the one and only true cause of the fall of the Roman Empire strikes me as highly intellectually dishonest.

  • I heard that the roman people lived in slums and they were piled so high, that the top layers were made wood. I also heard that there had to be towers to watch the houses made of wood, to see if they would catch on fire. – Tevo77777 Oct 12 '15 at 23:46

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