Alternate History: Dark Enlightenment

Continuing the discussion from Florida's new Board of Education chairman: “I won’t support any evolution being taught as fact at all in any of our schools.”:

Imagine a world where the Age of Enlightenment never happened:

Where does this shift begin and what would the world look like now? What sort of systems of government would emerge? Would Absolutist Monarchies be the norm? Would the age of European Imperialism still have happened? Would there be a form of capitalism or not? Would we have the exact same technological developments?

Feel free to speculate wildly, but attempt to ground your vision in some real historical point in the past, working forward with what changes you believe would happen in the world without the Enlightenment…

@the_borderer, @Mister44!!! And everyone else!


Mine would be coloured by the series from Gregory Keyes
Where Newton focused on alchemy instead of physics, and it all goes down hill from there. Good series, starting point well rooted in history, but doesn’t go into modern times. I do recommend it for anyone interested in the enlightenment and how it all could have gone so very wrong.


You asked about techonlogy - I say “Why wouldn’t it still progress?” Monarchies and rich people were always pushing and paying for new advances. Unless those monarchs shunned technology, I’d think they would keep pushing for new advancements. Anyone not doing so would run the risk of being taken over by the monarchs next door who developed something to get ahead.

I could also see some weird mashup of economies where the monarchs own the major industries (The Royal Motor Company, for example), making basically state owned monopolies.

But I guess it would depend where the ideas of individual freedom were diverted into only thinking about king and country.

I think we’d still have many kinds of technological progress in the absence of the Enlightenment but it wouldn’t necessarily follow the same paths.

Whole fields of research might be taboo for conflicting with religious doctrine. For example, just think how much biotech is based on our understanding of evolution.


Or even anatomy. Leonardo DaVinci’s mucking around with dead bodies was very taboo. Religious people felt the body was sacred and that the dead shouldn’t be meddled with. Many religious people instead felt that the human body should be studied while still operational. Perhaps on some kind of sturdy platform


He did some, but he wasn’t alone. A generation later Vesalius really blew the doors off

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Good point, but I wonder if they still would have found DNA etc, just looking for something else. Like “Can you see the soul within a cell?”

Like a lot of early astronomy was the study of the heavens to understand God better. They were thought to be heavenly bodies, perfect in their shape and motion.

Early geology was partly founded searching for evidence of The Flood.

But astronomy was also heavily impeded by persecution of people like Galileo whose observations conflicted with those preconceptions.


I have to wonder if the scientific method would have developed, or developed as strongly, in that hypothetical. One of the objections to the “the search for natural laws” was the idea that it could “constrain the power of God” which, if you think about it, is pretty self-contradictory. If bronze age texts remained the final say as interpretted by TPTB, the development of scientific knowledge would have been throttled in the cradle.


That true, but it wasn’t just because of his discoveries, but because he dared tell the Church what those discoveries meant in relation to scripture, as well as personal relationships with some of the heads of the church. There was a lot of debate at the time about if Copernicus was right, and Galileo wasn’t the only one studying it. Eventually even their own Jesuits had to conclude they were right.

Still, since talking about the power of the monarchs, Galileo was still buried in a church in Florence, thanks to the efforts of a series of Italian rulers repeatedly petitioning for his tomb in the basilica of Santa Croce.

I guess it all depends on who is in power and if they are willing to bury advancements for some reason. I am not sure what the rational reason for that would be. History is full of examples of religious orders being the bastions of knowledge (The priests in medieval Europe, the Islamic Golden Era, etc). But it seems to me, either EVERYONE would have to regress and repress, or the nations that kept pushing for knowledge would eventually gang the upper hand.

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Couple of bits of random speculation here.

Politics and government would have looked vastly different. Without the age of Enlightenment, you would certainly not have had the two great Republican Experiments that were strongly influenced by Enlightenment Thinking- so No, USA and No French Republic/ Revolution. This leaves Europe in the hands of Absolutist Monarchies for far longer, and since the last of these did not collapse until well into the 20th century, it’s a fair bet that some of them would still be around today.

No French Revolution, also means no Revolutionary wars and no Napoleon. This in turn means that the map of Europe doesn’t get completely remade in the late 1700s, Crucially, the random strokes of fortune that placed Prussia in the position to become a European power and unify all the little Germanies under its banner, all never happen, so it’s likely that another force becomes the dominant power in central Europe. Bavaria, maybe, or Saxony? Perhaps the Germans would be dominated by a resurgent kingdom of Bohemia, or from the north by a strong Kalmar Union.? The only thing that’s certain is that maps would look very different.

as for the age of exploration and Imperialism, this would still go ahead, but probably with different players and different final outcomes. Even before the start of the Enlightenment, the Portugese were pushing forward with their age of exploration inspired by Henry the Navigator. Perhaps that first Early mover advantage would remain, and the Portugese empire would not have been as readily supplanted by other powers, or again, with Europe not seeing the same history of turmoil, perhaps other countries would have reached outwards.


And no Haitian revolution, either. I’d say the same sorts of racial identities that we saw come into full form in the 19th and 20th would not have evolved either. Maybe no Bacon’s rebellion prior to that, which was much more of a class-based attack on English governance in the colonies…

But this brings up another point - if we go back to where England does not break with Rome, does that mean the the English never become the colonial power that they did (which you note would probably include different powers coming to the fore.

And how does the Ottoman Empire fit into all this? If absolutism is dominating European political structures, what does that mean for European-Ottoman relations. Does the Ottoman model become an alternative to Western European absolutism, which tended to be far less tolerant of difference than the Ottoman tax and tolerate model.

And do you still have the Italian city-states developing early mercantile capitalism, or do we eventually see those being seen as too much of a threat to Monarchical power?


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