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Thread: What do you make of Tim O'Neil's "History for Atheists"?

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    What do you make of Tim O'Neil's "History for Atheists"?

    THE GREAT MYTHS

    History for Atheists’ “Great Myths” series is a collection of longer articles that addresses the most persistent and widespread myths about history that tend to be used by anti-theist activists. This is an ongoing project, so the list below will be added to as the series continues, with new additions made about every two to three months. Future additions will include:

    - Hypatia of Alexandria’s murder and the claim she was a martyr for science and learning
    - The claim that the medieval Church retarded the development of technology and that the Middle Ages was a technically stagnant period as a result
    - Several articles on the Galileo Affair and its historical, political and cultural contexts and how a caricature of Galileo’s story has come to predominate in popular culture
    - Articles on the relationship between the Nazi regime and the Papacy and the Christian churches responses to the Holocaust
    - The claim that Soviet and other twentieth century Communist regimes’ oppression had nothing to do with atheism
    The author has articles about some of what he considers to be "the great myths":

    What to make of all of this?

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    Formerly Joedad
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    At first glance it strikes me as revisionism and apologetics.

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    Contributor blastula's Avatar
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    I've come across his stuff for awhile and I think he's credible and usually right. He's not a historian, but he cites them or primary sources.

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    The article on why Giordano Bruno was not a martyred scientist but was a neoplatonic mystic with little interest in empiricism rings true to what I had read about him.

    I think it's important to rethink atheist talking points and make sure the facts are straight. So I applaud this effort.

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    Veteran Member Lion IRC's Avatar
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    About the author;
    "As a rationalist, I believe strongly that people should..."

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    New Member Tim ONeill's Avatar
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    I'm glad some people have found my site useful. Though there are a couple of odd comments here:

    Quote Originally Posted by T.G.G. Moogly View Post
    At first glance it strikes me as revisionism and apologetics.
    My articles present the current consensus positions of modern professional historians. That is the exact opposite of "revisionism". And "apologism" for what, exactly? Accurate history, perhaps? Checking your facts? Not relying on popular cliches and Hollywood for your knowledge of history?

    Quote Originally Posted by Lion IRC View Post
    About the author;
    "As a rationalist, I believe strongly that people should..."
    I have no idea what this truncated semi-quote is supposed to be saying. What I said was:

    "As a rationalist, I believe strongly that people should do all they can to put emotion, wishful thinking and ideology aside when examining any subject and that they should acquaint themselves as thoroughly as possible with the relevant scholarship and take account of any consensus of experts in any field before taking a position."

    That seems pretty reasonable to me. You disagree? And why did you chop off most of the sentence? Very odd ...

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    Contributor Cheerful Charlie's Avatar
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    A lot of the points Tim ONeill makes are indeed old and well documented more or less by sober historians. Avoiding debunked claims by atheists is always a good idea because many theists will jump on any such error and use that to deny anything else that particular atheist has to say. Though a few of these things have a few twists and turns, history is often messy and complex. Bruno did indeed speculate there could be other planets with life, which ticked off the orthodox Catholics, but it was really a minor point in the final scheme of things that lead to Bruno's execution. Galileo did offer to let the orthodox Catholics who opposed him see with their own eyes the heavens in his telescope, and some notably refused the offer. And went on in some cases to make up ridiculous claims to deny what Galileo's telescope revealed, such as the moon was not a perfect sphere. And of course, the silliness of the flood of Noah myth and creationism's glaring errors does no stop the more foolish claims of many theists. Or make them think.
    Cheerful Charlie

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    New Member Tim ONeill's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cheerful Charlie View Post
    Bruno did indeed speculate there could be other planets with life, which ticked off the orthodox Catholics, but it was really a minor point in the final scheme of things that lead to Bruno's execution.
    It actually wasn't that minor, though it was only one of a number of "heretical" ideas that got him burned. The key points that get ignored are (i) he got that idea from a Cardinal of the Catholic Church, Nicholas of Cusa, so it was not that it was some inherently terrible idea, it was more how he combined it with the rest of his kooky mystical cosmology and (ii) it was not a scientific conception of multiple worlds, but a purely speculative and metaphysical one.

    Galileo did offer to let the orthodox Catholics who opposed him see with their own eyes the heavens in his telescope, and some notably refused the offer.
    Ummm, no. That's a myth. Firstly, the people who resisted the implications of his discoveries were Aristotelian professors, not clergy. The Jesuits and the Papal astronomers actually embraced his new method, made their own telescopes and checked his observations and then celebrated his discoveries by giving him an honorary degree. It was his academic peers who resisted most, but not because they were "orthodox Catholics", but because he was defying centuries of Greek natural philosophy. No-one refused to look through his telescope. Galileo’s friend Paolo Gualdo, who was a professor of Aristotle at the University of Padua, was not convinced by the blurry images seen in these early instruments and said they gave him a headache - which shows he did look through his friend's telescope. Galileo made a joke when his he heard of the death of of Guilio Libri, another Aristotelian this time at the University of Pisa, that “never having wanted to see [the moons of Jupiter] on Earth, perhaps he’ll see them on the way to heaven?” This may be as close as we get to anyone possibly actually refusing to observe Galileo's discovery, though even here it's hard to tell.

    And went on in some cases to make up ridiculous claims to deny what Galileo's telescope revealed, such as the moon was not a perfect sphere.
    Yes, but - again - that was trying to preserve Aristotelian cosmology, not religious orthodoxy. That resistance tells us about the conservatism of long-established scientific ideas, but tells us nothing much about religion. As I've already noted, the religious thinkers of the time embraced his discoveries quite quickly and celebrated them when they had verified them. It was the academic establishment which resisted.

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    Contributor Cheerful Charlie's Avatar
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    The fact that Galileo offered to demonstrate that his telescoped showed what he claimed to some orthodox Catholics who refused to take him up on the offer came from Galileo himself who related that in a letter to a sympathetic friend of his.

    From Wikipedia

    My dear Kepler, what would you say of the learned here, who, replete with the pertinacity of the asp, have steadfastly refused to cast a glance through the telescope? What shall we make of this? Shall we laugh, or shall we cry?
    Letter to Johannes Kepler (1610), as quoted in The Crime of Galileo (1955) by Giorgio De Santillana

    And the ridiculous claims about the moon were made and passed for thinking by the theologians, who had made Aristotle part of the foundations of their theology. Not something that is by any means dead. Witness the blog and writings of Ed Feser, Orthodox Catholic apologist extraordinaire. Their theology held the moon was a perfect sphere, which it is not, again, amply demonstrated by examining the moon with a telescope. Which Galileo did. Their bigotry over rode the observable facts in their mind.

    In smashing uncritical errors, one should tread carefully lest we carelessly overstate our case.
    Cheerful Charlie

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    New Member Tim ONeill's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cheerful Charlie View Post
    The fact that Galileo offered to demonstrate that his telescoped showed what he claimed to some orthodox Catholics who refused to take him up on the offer came from Galileo himself who related that in a letter to a sympathetic friend of his.
    Unfortunately Santillana didn't bother to footnote that quote. I and others have made searches on the collected letters of Galileo and found it nowhere. And all other attempts to find this alleged letter lead back to ... Santillana's book. This is the problem with relying on Wiki rather than having a good grasp of the relevant material. That aside, what I said was the myth was the idea that the Catholic clergy refused to do so. As I said, they actually embraced the new technology while conservative academics like Gualdo and Libri were still rejecting it.

    And the ridiculous claims about the moon were made and passed for thinking by the theologians, who had made Aristotle part of the foundations of their theology.
    The objections made by the academics in question - none of whom were theologians - were based on arguments from physics and optics. The only people who took part in the discussion around Galileo's new telescopic discoveries who were theologians were the Jesuits like Christopher Clavius, Christoph Grienberger, Paolo Lembo and Odo van Malecote. And they did what a proper rationalist should do - recreated the relevant equipment, repeated the observations and confirmed his findings. It was not the clergy who rejected his discoveries and the people who did so did not do so because of theology.

    In smashing uncritical errors, one should tread carefully lest we carelessly overstate our case.
    I'm pretty sure where I'm treading. I'd politely suggest trying to lecture people who have studied this stuff for decades on the basis of a quick Google of Wiki is not the wisest course of action.

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