As most of you who know me have found out, I spend a fair amount of time on this site not just making friends and having conversations, but also have debates which usually center around history. I am not a professional historian, but I am pretty well-read on the subject and consider it one of my hobbies, so I usually find myself debating with people not very familiar with the issues.

What I've noticed is that many atheists are not as historically literate as they think (I've come to blame this on the fact that for many people, science is what drives them away for religion, so most people on this site come from a scientific background rather than a historical one), and so they've usually accepted some historical myths which may or may not include:

- the New Testament canon was chosen by Constantine based on which ideas were most likely to help him as an Emperor

- Jesus never existed as a historical figure and is a construction of Messianic ideals/conglomeration of multiple preachers/alien

- the Roman Empire fell because it incorporated Christianity

- "the Vatican" suppressed science during the "Dark Ages" and basically whenever it could, burning many scientists in the process

- the Vatican actively helped National Socialism before, during and after the Second World War

- the Vatican blew up the Crab Nebula

- etcetera...

As it turns out these ideas are at the core of many people's atheism and their arguments against Christianity, which I believe to be a bad thing since (a) much of it is wrong bordering on the conspiratorial and (b) any half-informed Christian debater is going to kick your ass on this issue.

I'm not very fond of either result, but since these myths just refuse to die (and I get tired of refuting them sometimes) I thought I'd create a series of blog posts on these subjects to give you an idea of what we do and do not know about these subjects and what arguments (against Christianity) are sound and which are not.

I'll also probably tackle other issues from time to time and give you some arguments against Christianity from an atheist historical perspective (debunk the resurrection argument, expose the Turin Shroud as a fake, etcetera).

The first series is probably going to be about Jesus Mythicism. CP Hold is actually doing a series on his blog trying to refute the arguments against Jesus Mythicism (and doing a fantastically poor job). But he's chosen not to allow my comments, for reasons best known to him. So I guess I'll just address his arguments on my own blog and debunk some other stuff while I'm at it ;)

Stay tuned and kind regards,

Mathieu

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Comment by Matt VDB on January 12, 2012 at 4:36pm

Matt, maybe everything I have read about Bruno and Copernicus and Galileo is bullshit.


Actually, the moment someone mentions Bruno in a discussion about science in the Middle Ages, I'm certain that they've been reading bullshit.

And it is a good thing that they were because protestantism is a progression away from mother church towards atheism. 


And towards witch-burnings and literalist creationism. But hey. 

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on January 12, 2012 at 4:26pm

Rob, maybe the rcc should be praised for delaying the progress of science. Ultimately it may extend our existence. And even if you think christianity did not persecute scientists it certainly did impose a cookie cutter world view where questioning was discouraged-not the environment to produce sciencia.

Comment by Rob van Senten on January 12, 2012 at 3:55pm

@Glen, I think that the kindest thing I said about the RCC is that it's more of a grey area than it is black or white. Yes, an institution that is run by old men that decide by which rules people 3 generations younger should live is something that just can't work well in any society that advances at a decent pace for instance. Dogma is the enemy of reason in my opinion, and organized religion (emphasis on organized, I have no quarrel with individual believers) is it's flag bearer.

Millions of people die needlessly of AIDS and the pope decides that condoms are bad, it makes me want to scream. 

I place blame were I think blame should be put, and I do not like to paint with too broad a brush if I can easily prevent it. 

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on January 12, 2012 at 3:10pm

Rob, the greater the concentration of power in the church the greater the mischief orchestrated by the little devils. There may well be misconceptions aplenty about this period of history. But I wonder if one revision is replacing another.

Why dont we look at the misunderstood KKK? Or so many other awful human institutions. Tis better to paint with too broad a brush than to give quarter.

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on January 12, 2012 at 3:05pm

Matt, maybe everything I have read about Bruno and Copernicus and Galileo is bullshit. I dont know. Or maybe you are padding my ass with gas bubbles. What have you substantiated?  Incidentally,  I decided recently not to read a book about Galileo when a little voice inside said Peter thinks it is boring. It has been rehashed to death.

Maybe those bibles were unchained. And it is a good thing that they were because protestantism is a progression away from mother church towards atheism. Had the roman catholic dictators been more cunning they would have discouraged the formation of the various religious orders. Of course when their power or doctrine threatened the church there was persecution for those orders too. 

You deny that it is a dictatorship? Dictating every aspect of life is in the spirit of freedom, right? Inquisitions and crusades and various religious wars also in the spirit of magnanimous freedom, right. Dictating rules against birth control in the poorest countries, supporting laws putting gays to death, supporting racism, spreading the black death to scapegoat the Jews, (little joke there) having the unmitigated nerve to divide the world between spanish and portugese not dictatorial is it? Speaking ex cathedra tantamount to infallible word of god not dictatorial either, is it. I can see a president trying that. Stay tuned, some of the republican candidates might like that idea.

You have to be an equal opportunity hater to get things straight. And if that is true aint neither of us gonna get there. Hallellujjaaaaah!

Comment by Rob van Senten on January 12, 2012 at 12:49pm

@Glen,

The church has persecuted scientists and has committed atrocities to many, many people. However, the picture is not as bleak as many people seem to think nowadays. There were plenty of great scientists (for their day) and the church actively supported and opposed some of them.

In the trial of Galileo religious (dogmatic) arguments were used to show that Galileo was wrong, to me as a scientific rationalist this just doesn't make sense and I see it as antithetical to the scientific method, and therefor detrimental to progress. People were tortured and killed because they committed thought crimes, I mean how dictatorial can you get?

Perhaps I've not been clear on my position on the matter of whether the RCC is mostly a force for good or evil, I would be tempted to agree with Cristopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry (video) that the church is mostly a force for evil. (don't watch the video Mathieu if you don't want you to tear up again)

Yet, there are so many misconceptions about this period of history and the role that the RCC played in it that I'm somehow forced to defend at least as what I think is the current historic understanding of the matter. If you would know me, you would probably think this is funny, because I would probably be the last person my friends would expect to present the RCC in anything but a negative perspective. 

Comment by Matt VDB on January 12, 2012 at 12:16pm

Matt, Whenver the realization occurred he was forced to recant because his opinion was contrary to church dogma. And the admission was very recent. So even if their realization was during the lifetime of Newton they still waited three centuries to pronounce their error.


No Glen, I've already told you the reality of the case twice now. He was not forced to recant heliocentrism because neither did Copernicus. But he did have to stop teaching the theory as fact as long as the scientific objections were still major. I know everybody tries to twist this into a story of heroism on Galileo's part, but the fact is his scientific case was rather weak and to then teach it as fact was a dumb move on his part.

And the Vatican recanted their objections to heliocentrism in 1721, after Newton's law of inertia had been firmly established. John Paul II apology on the way the case was handled is tangential to this issue.

The bible was chained to the pulpit to deny access.


Bullshit. If they were chained to the pulpit how come we have so many Bibles owned by merchants and middle class people? Translated in the vernacular, no less.

You're simply endlessly repeating your assertions with no evidence to show for it. I won't indulge you any further.


The church is a dictatorship which will do anything to perpetuate its power.


It isn't, but believe what you like about the Church, I don't particularly mind. I'll just correct you whenever you present unsubstantiated falsehoods as evidence for that.

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on January 12, 2012 at 11:21am

Rob, I disagree with your first and third paragraphs. Agree on the middle paragraph.

For my money faith and dogma are anathema to reason and morality. You guys may be correct regarding mythology of church persecution of scientists. I do not know. Or at least there may be exaggeration. But it does not change what it is, and what is its nature.

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on January 12, 2012 at 11:17am

Matt, Whenver the realization occurred he was forced to recant because his opinion was contrary to church dogma. And the admission was very recent. So even if their realization was during the lifetime of Newton they still waited three centuries to pronounce their error.

The bible was chained to the pulpit to deny access. The printing press came in the 15th century during the time of the first stirrings of protestantism. And Luther made a big deal about every man having access to the bible. In particular he detested the monopolization of "knowledge" where there was no scriptural evidence in favor of the pope. Pretty sure Knox and Calvin and the rest were of the same opinion.

The church is a dictatorship which will do anything to perpetuate its power. It has made concessions to science of necessity, not because it supports a rational world view. Even today we see their ugliness opposing stem cell research because it is a threat to their dogma. The lives that can be saved be damned.

Comment by Rob van Senten on January 12, 2012 at 9:48am

@Glen, 

I'm pretty sure that the Roman Catholic Church said recently that they regretted the manner in which they handled Galileo's case, yet his theory has been accepted by the church long ago. 

Many people were ostracized and persecuted for their beliefs and opinions, most (illiterate) people had no access to religious books, and if they did they couldn't read them. The church was not very interested in educating the masses, controlling the masses was more their style, it seems. 

The reality of the influence of the Catholic church in is more of a gray area then it is black or white in regards to effect. They did some reasonably good things as well as committed horrible atrocities.

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