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Naturalist atheists rewrite history, scholar admits, due to bias against religion

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From medievalist Tim O’Neill (an atheist) at History for Atheists:

The Church had always accepted that the Bible could be interpreted in a non-literal manner and that it should be if Biblical exegesis and rational analysis of the world conflicted. That’s why all those Biblical references that talk about a flat earth had long since been regarded as poetic rather than literal. So in 1615 Cardinal Bellarmine made it clear in his letter to Paolo Foscarini that the same could potentially happen with passages that were traditionally interpreted as saying the earth was fixed and unmoving:

“[I]f there were a true demonstration that the sun is at the centre of the world and the earth in the third heaven, and that the sun does not circle the earth but the earth circles the sun, then one would have to proceed with great care in explaining the Scriptures that appear contrary, and say rather that we do not understand them than what is demonstrated is false. But I will not believe that there is such a demonstration, until it is shown to me . . . . and in case of doubt one must not abandon the Holy Scripture as interpreted by the Holy Fathers.”

The problem was that Bellarmine was correct: in 1615 there was no such demonstration and the overwhelming scientific consensus was that Galileo and the handful of other heliocentrists were wrong. That consensus did not begin to change for another 90 years. So it was not a case of scientists challenging dogma and theologians ignoring science. It was a case of one or two scientists championing a fringe theory that was still full of holes and using it to reinterpret the Bible and the Church pointing to the scientific consensus of the day and saying they could not do this. The Church had science on its side.

The only other example that people who see medieval science as under the heel of massive theological restriction and “Renaissance” science freeing itself from this oppression is … Giordano Bruno. But as I’ve detailed elsewhere, his condemnation had nothing to do with science. The idea that medieval natural philosophy was constrained by theology and that later science was not is a fantasy, based on ignorance of the subject and patent ideological bias. More.

False history is a big problem in science. To the extent that we can learn anything from history, the first step is to get the story right.

Of course, if you just want to look as cool as a TV anchor’s hair, don’t read stuff like this.

See also: The warfare thesis exploded In general, do not trust science writers on topics involving religion. Too many are shallow thinkers with an aversion to homework. Some give the impression that getting the story wrong doesn’t matter. If we pay any attention to them, they are right.

33 Replies to “Naturalist atheists rewrite history, scholar admits, due to bias against religion

  1. 1
    vmahuna says:

    Note that “The Church” means, and has ALWAYS meant, The Roman Catholic Church. Any number of other sects, including some Protestant Christians, have NOT “accepted that the Bible could be interpreted in a non-literal manner”.

    This is a BIG plus for Catholics: we’re expected to THINK, not just memorize.

    Catholic Christianity is defined by the writings of Aquinas and Augustine, and the net sum of the, sometimes conflicting, statements from Rome. The Bible stories are fun reading, kinda like the brothers Grimm.

    So, the Catholic response to a discovery of ET would always be: Can we send you some missionaries, or have you already been Visited?

  2. 2
    Mung says:

    I think I have a book around here somewhere on how to witness to Catholics. Now let me see …

  3. 3
    Dionisio says:

    vmahuna @1,

    Note that “The Church” means, and has ALWAYS meant, The Roman Catholic Church.

    That’s wrong.

    Around 3 centuries before the Roman Empire established the Roman Catholic Church as the official imperial church, the word “church” and its exact meaning was already well known among all Christians. That’s what that word still means today and will mean always, until its founder ends this Age of Grace and takes His people to be with Him eternally.

    It’s written in the New Testament, which is shared by all the Christian abominations denominations:

    Matthew 16:18

    And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

    Matthew 18:17

    If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

    Acts 5:11

    And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

    Acts 8:1

    [ Saul Ravages the Church ] And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

    Acts 8:3

    But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

    Acts 9:31

    So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

    Acts 11:1

    [ Peter Reports to the Church ] Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.

    Acts 11:19

    [ The Church in Antioch ] Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews.

    Acts 11:22

    The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.

    Acts 11:26

    and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

    Acts 12:1

    [ James Killed and Peter Imprisoned ] About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church.

    Acts 12:5

    So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.

    Acts 13:1

    [ Barnabas and Saul Sent Off ] Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

    Acts 14:23

    And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

    Acts 14:27

    And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.

    Acts 15:3

    So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.

    Acts 15:4

    When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them.

    Acts 15:22

    [ The Council’s Letter to Gentile Believers ] Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers,

    Acts 15:41

    And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

    Acts 16:5

    So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.

    Acts 18:22

    When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch.

    Acts 20:17

    [ Paul Speaks to the Ephesian Elders ] Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.

    Acts 20:28

    Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

    Romans 16:1

    [ Personal Greetings ] I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae,

    Romans 16:4

    who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well.

    Any questions?

  4. 4
    News says:

    Guys, I’m not sure UD is the best place to air claims about the Catholic church vs. the Orthodox church or Protestant churches. There is a variety of other legitimately Christian churches =those who will affirm the Apostles’ Creed.

    I’m well acquainted with these disputes, because I belong to a small branch of the Roman Catholic Church, the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (Anglicanorum Coetibus). But I do not think they are profitable for our purposes as a group seeking to understand design in nature.

  5. 5
    Dionisio says:

    News,

    Agree. This is not the appropriate venue to discuss off-topic issues.

    However, the comment posted @1 defined an important term incorrectly and it should be corrected for the readers. That’s all my post @3 was about. Correcting an error in the definition given @1 for an important term.

    The comment @1 is off-topic and provoked two off-topic follow-up comments.

    Perhaps the best to do at this point is to remove all three posts 1, 2 and 3.

    Let’s stick to the topic, but most importantly, let’s not write historically inaccurate statements.

    Thanks.

  6. 6
    Mung says:

    If News took my comment as anything other than an attempt at humor, well …

    😉

    LoL. I actually do have a book. Reasoning From the Scriptures with Catholics. Like you can reason with a Catholic. How silly. OMG! Did I really write that?

    I’m saying ten hell lucifers now.

  7. 7
    Mung says:

    News, I appreciate your latitude. 🙂

    It’s your longitude I can’t tolerate!

  8. 8
    Mung says:

    News is all over the map!

    erm …

  9. 9
    anthropic says:

    Nowadays, either we all hang together, or we’ll all hang separately.

  10. 10
    EricMH says:

    While the Catholic Church accepts non literal interpretation, any such departure from the literal interpretation was based on well reasoned arguments from other more central scripture. As Dante explained regarding interpretation of his Divine Comedy, the three other layers of Biblical interpretation are based on the literal historical interpretation.

    It would be weird to say the Catholic Church departs from literalism since one of the most divisive doctrines is the Eucharist, and the Catholic understanding is based on taking Jesus’ words more literally than many Protestants do.

  11. 11
    jstanley01 says:

    Relativity means that you can make any point the center of the universe that you’d like. The only reason to make the sun the center of the solar system, rather than the earth, is that it is more parsimonious mathematically.

  12. 12
    EricMH says:

    @11 You are right, and if humans are the only intelligent life in the universe, then the Catholic Church’s point is more broadly correct.

    Also, according to Catholic theology, this is a bad thing. In Dante’s Inferno, the center of the universe is where all the bad stuff goes (bad goes down, good goes up), with Satan at the very center of the material world. The Catholic Church didn’t make the earth the center because it thought humans are super great, but because it thought humans are super horrible. Another point often misunderstood today.

  13. 13
    rvb8 says:

    Oh dear:)

    And religion is exposed once again as the great ‘bringer together, Heh:), of humanity.

    Now this site has moved from an atempt at science, ID, to a move towards philosophising about possible designers, to normality; sectarian schism.

    Sorry, atheists have no interest in this stupidity, you have at it.

  14. 14
    Bob O'H says:

    Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter

    That sounds like a group whose job it is to whisper in St. Peter’s ear to tell him what way his chair is facing.

  15. 15
    rvb8 says:

    Bob O’H @14?

    Heh:)

    I wonder which ‘Designer’ will win?

  16. 16
    Marfin says:

    The bible has both literal and figurative language and just like in everyday writings and speech God expects us to be smart enough to know the difference.Jesus was neither an actual door or an actual vine these are figurative,Jesus is the son of God this is literal.
    When I tell my wife I am going for a quick game of golf I wont be long the course is quiet I will FLY around, do you think she understand to take this figuratively or instead that they may have replaced their golf buggies with helicopters.

  17. 17
    Latemarch says:

    rvb8,

    Sorry, atheists have no interest in this stupidity, you have at it.

    Yet here you are on a third thread with theistic implications.
    Use my handle over at gmail if you want to talk about it.

  18. 18
    ET says:

    rvb8:

    Sorry, atheists have no interest in this stupidity,…

    Atheists are trapped in their own stupidity and willful ignorance. And stop talking about science as it is clear you don’t know what science entails.

  19. 19

    Dionisio @ 3: Excellent work. Thank you!

  20. 20

    ET @ 18: Smile. An a/mat claiming no interest in stupidity. Just when I think I’ve heard it all…

  21. 21

    Latemarch @ 17: The divine tug on rvb8 is clear…almost as clear as his resistance to it. Keep coming, rvb8.

  22. 22
    Florabama says:

    vmahuna @ 1, “Note that “The Church” means, and has ALWAYS meant, The Roman Catholic Church.”

    Demonstrably not true. There was no official Roman Catholic Church until degreed as such by Emperor Theodosius I in 380 AD. By my math that gives us 300 years or so without an official RCC. I know, I know, you claim Peter and the Apostles, but that’s just a claim of tradition that is likewise made by all Eastern Orthodox and Protestants. In fact every orthodox Christian denomination and every cult make the same claim and all have as much claim to it as RCCs do.

    “Any number of other sects, including some Protestant Christians, have NOT “accepted that the Bible could be interpreted in a non-literal manner”.

    Very very few. Even fundamentalist sects will admit some non-literal interpretations when questioned especially in regard to expressly poetic and wisdom literature in scripture, and their claims of “literal” usually refer to the miracles and supernatural claims of the Bible which RCCs claim to be literal as well. In fact, I can’t think of a Protestant denomination that would claim an exclusively literal hermeneutic.

    The RCC split 500 years thereabouts before the Protestant Reformation, so RCC was only exclusive for a lot less than half — about 700 years — of the church’s existence. To claim that any reference to the church is always to the RCC just doesn’t comport with history or reality.

  23. 23
    Dionisio says:

    Marfin @16:

    Good point. But some folks would take that figurative language as literal and won’t listen to any explanation whatsoever.

    Regarding your hypothetical golf illustration, perhaps some politely dissenting folks here would think you meant the latter. 🙂

  24. 24
    niteflyer says:

    evolution is a colossally stupid religion that you have to be brain dead monkey to believe in.

  25. 25
    Dionisio says:

    Truth Will Set You Free @19:

    It’s my pleasure. However, News @4 wasn’t very excited about it and I can see her valid point. The ID paradigm is not about philosophy or theology. But the topic of the OP –and specially the historically inaccurate comment @1– apparently opened a can of worms. Perhaps a lesson to learn from this incident?

    BTW, did you see the alias you use here (taken from John 8:31-32) in this old academic seal?
    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/0/09/Johns_Hopkins_University%27s_Academic_Seal.svg/500px-Johns_Hopkins_University%27s_Academic_Seal.svg.png

  26. 26
    rvb8 says:

    Two quick queries:

    1) Who decides which language is figurative and which is litteral? (Ken Ham knows the answer, and is at least honest.)

    2) How do you determine when God is being figurative or litteral?

    I mean you all seem to believe there was a ‘litteral’ resurrection, but not a litteral flood?

    I’m confused.

    A litteral ‘virgin birth’, but not a litteral Babel?

    Genuine questions for the faithful.

    Latemarch @17,

    I have no intention of using your gmail, ‘handle’. Another pointless discussion of ‘your’ reading of folk/fiction would bore me to tears.

    I’m just wondering how the ‘big tent’ of ID appears to be showing rents.

    Is it possible that unevidenced, translated, retranslated, retranslated, interpreted, reinterpreted, iron age texts, might cause divisions?

    The Muslims at least have one unalterable text, as silly and boring a copy of Judao/Christian writings, as it obviously is.

  27. 27
    Marfin says:

    RVB8- Resurrection,flood,virgin birth,Babel, all literal ,when you read any literary work or are in conversation with anyone you have to be able to decide what is literal and what is figurative, sometimes it may take a little working out but I believe if honest we all know its possible to tell the difference.Its like the claim the bible contradicts itself ,well you can make it seem that way ,but you can do the same with the rules of football(soccer to you philistines).You are watching a match with someone who does not know the rules and they say Its a foul if someone handles the ball, you say yes and they say well that guy handled the ball and it was not a foul and you say he is the goalkeeper he is allowed to handle the ball. Then he handles the ball and the ref gives a foul and your friend is perplexed saying I though he was allowed to handle the ball you say yes but not outside his box.Then a player handles the ball and the ref does not give a foul and once again your friend is perplexed and says whats going on he handled the ball and the ref did not give a foul , and you explain no he is taking a throw in he is allowed to handle the ball in this situation, to which your friend say this game is just full of contradictions.
    You see if we want to be honest we can see the truth but if we want to condemn the bible as full of contradictions and that you cannot tell literal from figurative you can be dishonest and not seek an explanation but if you had the same approach to everyday life you would not understand any instruction , conversation, sport, or rules of any kind.

  28. 28
    rvb8 says:

    Marfin,

    ahuh! So you decide, and another individual decides their literal.

    Basically, each individual decides: got it!

  29. 29
    Marfin says:

    RVB8- As my football analogy shows you can see contradiction where there is none if you choose to and in all walks of life you can see thing through distorted eyes,so if someone wants to believe the virgin birth was figurative you cannot stop them ,you cannot force someone to see whats staring them in the face.

  30. 30
    Florabama says:

    Rvb8, if you want to see “rents,” look at evolution. Here’s the front page of the website for the Third Way of Evolution: “…Neo-Darwinists have elevated Natural Selection into a unique creative force that solves all the difficult evolutionary problems without a real empirical basis…” How do you “interpret,’ “without a real empirical basis?” Is it figurative or literal?

  31. 31
    Mung says:

    rvb8:

    Who decides which language is figurative and which is litteral?

    Consensus. Just like science!

  32. 32
    Seversky says:

    Mung @ 31

    Consensus. Just like science!

    And how do you reach that consensus?

  33. 33
    Barb says:

    rvb8 asks: 1) Who decides which language is figurative and which is litteral? (Ken Ham knows the answer, and is at least honest.)

    2) How do you determine when God is being figurative or litteral?

    1. Reading comprehension, a basic skill taught to first graders.

    2. See #1. Read the context. If a particular chapter is referring to a dream or vision, it cannot be literal. Cross-examining the verse with other verses also helps.

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