Atheist historian Tim O’Neill on his fellow atheists and historical illiteracy:
“We atheists and freethinkers regularly deride believers for their irrational thinking, lack of critical analysis and tendency to cling to ideas out of faith even when confronted by contrary evidence. Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to talk about being rational, and criticise others for not being so, than it is to practice what we preach. Everyone has their biases and “confirmation bias” – the tendency to favour information that confirms our prior beliefs – is an innate psychological propensity that is hard to counter even when we are aware of it. This means that atheists can, in many cases, be as bad as believers in accepting appealing ideas without checking their facts, holding to common misconceptions in the face of contrary evidence and liking neat, simple stories over messy, complex and more detailed alternatives that happen to be more solidly supported by the evidence.
The idea that the medieval Church taught the earth was flat, that Columbus bravely defied their primitive Biblical superstition and proved they were wrong by sailing to America is a great story. Unfortunately, it’s historical nonsense – a fable with zero basis in reality. It’s bad enough that I have had the experience of intelligent and educated atheists repeating this story as an example of the Church holding back progress without bothering to check if it’s true. What’s worse is that I’ve also experienced atheists who have been shown extensive, clear evidence that the medieval Church taught the earth was round and that the myth of medieval Flat Earth belief was invented by the novelist Washington Irving in 1828, and they have simply refused to believe that the myth could be wrong.
Neat historical fables such as the ones about Christians burning down the Great Library of Alexandria (they didn’t) or murdering Hypatia because of their hatred of her learning and science (ditto) are appealing parables. Which means some atheists fight tooth and nail to preserve them even when confronted with clear evidence that they are pseudo historical fairy tales. Fundamentalists aren’t the only ones who can be dogmatic about their myths.”
Read the full article here:
Here are other writings of Tim O’Neill where he debunks anti-religious atheist myths:
1) The Dark Age Myth and the Conflict Thesis Myth
In the academic sphere, at least, the “Conflict Thesis” of a historical war between science and theology has been long since overturned. It is very odd that so many of my fellow atheists cling so desperately to a long-dead position that was only ever upheld by amateur Nineteenth Century polemicists and not the careful research of recent, objective, peer-reviewed historians. This is strange behavior for people who like to label themselves “rationalists”.
2) The Galileo Affair
Most people understand the trial of Galileo Galilei as a key example of religious bigotry clashing with the advance of science and the textbook case of “Medieval” ignorance and superstition being superseded by reason and science. In fact, the whole rather complex affair was not the black-and-white “science vs religion” fable of popular imagination and the positions of both Galileo and of the various churchmen involved were varied and complex.
3) Cartoons and Fables – How Cosmos Got the Story of Bruno Wrong
4) Hypatia the Myth
Not that there is anything very new or original about this – Hypatia has long been pressed into service as a martyr for science by those with agendas that have nothing to do with the accurate presentation of history. As Maria Dzielska has detailed in her study of Hypatia in history and myth, Hypatia of Alexandria, virtually every age since her death that has heard her story has appropriated it and forced it to serve some polemical purpose.
5) The myth of a Christian mob destroying the Great Library of Alexandria
6) the “Jesus Myth” hypothesis
More recently the “Jesus Myth” hypothesis has experienced something of a revival, largely via the internet, blogging, and “print on demand” self-publishing services. But its proponents are almost never scholars, many of them have a very poor grasp of the evidence, and almost all have clear ideological objectives. Broadly speaking, they fall into two main categories: (1) New Agers claiming Christianity is actually paganism rebadged and (2) anti-Christian atheist activists seeking to use their “exposure” of historical Jesus scholarship to undermine Christianity.
Part 1: http://www.strangenotions.com/an-atheist-historian-examines-the-evidence-for-jesus-part-1-of-2/
Part 2: http://www.strangenotions.com/an-atheist-historian-examines-the-evidence-for-jesus-part-2-of-2/
Tim O’Neill is an atheist blogger who specializes in reviews of books on ancient and medieval history as well as atheism and historiography. He holds a Master of Arts in Medieval Literature from the University of Tasmania and is a subscribing member of the Australian Atheist Foundation and the Australian Skeptics. He is also the author of the History versus The Da Vinci Code website and is currently working on a book with the working title History for Atheists: How Not to Use History in Debates About Religion. He finds the fact that he irritates many theists and atheists in equal measure a sign that he’s probably doing some good.
Follow his blog at: http://armariummagnus.blogspot.ca/