The Final Word on Whether the Church Opposed Zero?

Those of you who have been following the topic of zero here know how Bede of Bede's Library has been indespensible in his knowledge of the time period and his research. The issue was raised after I read Charles C. Mann's book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. I blogged on the issue and wondered what evidence there was that, as 1491 claimed, the use of zero in Europe was opposed by the church. As he stated, zero "didn't appear in Europe until the twelfth century. Even then European governments and the Vatican resisted zero--a something that stood for nothing -- as foreign and un-Christian." Mann, 1491, page 19.

Mr. Mann responded here, listing his references and admitting the phrasing of his book was poor on this point. He still believed, however, that his sources indicated that "in europe, governments and church authorities resisted zero."

Bede responded and said that he would look into the referenced sources and get back to us with more later. He has now done so. As I said before, Bede's knowledge of this area is extensive, as he has a Masters in Historical Research and is working on his PhD in the History of Science.

After checking all of the references cited by Mr. Mann, as well as another book on the subject (and having previously ready many primary sources dealing with mathematics from the time period), Bede reports that none of the sources actually support the idea that there was church opposition to zero. Either the books literarlly did not make the accusation, were only conjecturing, or merely asserted it without sourcing. Bede concludes:

In summary, it seems that the church trying to ban zero is another anti-Christian myth that just won't die. But if anyone knows better, please let me know. The only thing I like less than being proved wrong is to continue being wrong longer than necessary!

I actually do not assert that this is necessarily the final word on the issue and echo Bede's request for more information if anyone has any actual evidence that the church, or some church leaders, opposed the use of zero.


John R. said…
I don't have any evidence to add to the discussion, but wanted to comment that if the church had opposed zero, does it really hurt the credibility of Scripture then or now?

By "church" I assume we are talking about Romanism centered in the Vatican. That "church" did so many other crazy things, piling a resistance to zero on the heap wouldn't make much difference. Would it? (Honest question.)

Christ and the Scriptures remain truth even though organizations--of all stripes-- in history do weird things.

I know that secularists want to paint Christians as absolute idiots in a day when debating Intelligent Design rages on.

Anyway, finding the truth of history is always helpful, but I am not biting my nails over the verdict.

Good stuff. Very interesting.


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