Blogger Tim O’Neill, who has a Master of Arts degree in medieval literature and who describes himself as a “Wry, dry, rather sarcastic, eccentric, occasionally arrogant Irish-Australian atheist bastard,” has created a blog site dedicated to educating New Atheists about some basic facts of history. His latest article, Scientists and “Rationalists” Getting the Historical Jesus Completely Wrong, is a highly entertaining read.
In his first blog article, Why “History for Atheists”?, O’Neill explains his motives for creating his new blog (green bolding mine – VJT):
Does the world need yet another blog? Perhaps not, but it seems I do. Back in 2009 I began Armarium Magnum, focused on history book reviews; mostly of books on ancient and medieval history. Occasionally I’ve strayed from that theme into broader articles on history generally and, in particular, on my pet hate – ideologically-driven pseudo history. I tend to be an equal opportunity curmudgeon when it comes to people distorting history to suit a biased agenda. I’m just as happy to kick an evangelical Christian for tying evidence into Gordian knots to keep the infancy narratives in the gospels of Matthew and Luke from contradicting history and each other as I am to tackle a Holocaust denier. But in the last decade or so I’ve became increasingly aware of and bothered by a particular brand of biased pseudo history: what I call New Atheist Bad History.
This varies from lazy repetitions of popular misconceptions, like perpetuating the myth that the medieval Church taught that the earth was flat, to full blown conglomerations of elaborate fringe theory, like the cluster of fervid and contrived pseudo history that is the Jesus Myth hypothesis. But the list of historical ideas the New Atheists and their online acolytes get wildly wrong is long. Amongst other things, many of them believe:
- That Christianity caused the “Dark Ages” by systematically destroying almost all ancient Greco-Roman learning,
- That Christians burned down the Great Library of Alexandria and that Hypatia of Alexandria was murdered because of a Christian hatred of science
- That Constantine was a crypto-pagan who adopted Christianity as a cynical political ploy (and personally created the Bible [see also here – VJT])
- That scientists were oppressed during the Middle Ages and science stagnated completely until “the Renaissance”
- That “the Inquisition” was a kind of Europe-wide medieval Gestapo and that the medieval Church was an all-powerful totalitarian theocracy
- That Giordano Bruno was a wise and brave astronomer and cosmologist who was burned at the stake because the Church hated science
- That the Galileo Affair was a straightforward case of religion ignoring evidence and trying to suppress scientific advancement
- That Pope Pius XII was a friend and ally of the Nazis [article upvoted by O’Neill – VJT] who turned a blind eye to the Holocaust and helped Nazis escape justice
[The above links to O’Neill’s articles were inserted by me – VJT.]
And Yes, I Am an Atheist Myself
Let’s get this out of the way now – I am an atheist. I have been an atheist for my entire adult life, I am a former state president of the Australian Skeptics and a card-carrying, paid up, subscribing member of the Atheist Foundation of Australia. I have an online history as an atheist in posts on Usenet groups of yore such as sci.sekptic and alt.atheism that dates all the way back to 1992 and have been an active member of many atheist fora including the old Richard Dawkins forums and of Rational Skepticism. I can state categorically that I have no belief in any God or gods, which is – as we keep having to explain to believers – all that being an atheist entails.
So I often get questioned as to why I take the time to debunk NABH [New Atheist Bad History – VJT] and my status as a “real atheist” is questioned regularly as well. I bother with these topics for two very simple reasons. Firstly, I love history, including the history of religions, especially Christianity. I’m a humanist in the true sense of the word and, as the motto from Terence goes “Humani nil a me alienum puto” ( I am human and nothing that is human is alien to me). Secondly, as a rationalist, I like to take rationalism seriously. So I go where the evidence takes me on history as with everything else. However much an idea may appeal to me emotionally, if the historical evidence doesn’t support it, I can’t accept it. Many New Atheists don’t seem capable of putting their emotions aside and looking at the evidence.
The new blog looks very promising. Readers are also invited to check out this 2006 interview with O’Neill, as well as his Website debunking Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code (see here for detailed rebuttals).
So, will O’Neill’s new blog succeed in its goal of educating the New Atheists? What do readers think?