There is an atheist out there on the internet who should hang his head in shame and disgrace. In 26 minutes of presentation in a debate with an apologist the video record shows he took up 3 whole minutes (667 words) repeating what he had read in books at school and had heard from science writers not realizing he was repeating a popular misconception, a misconception he had almost certainly been taught in school as fact. He dared to say that people in the Middle Ages thought the world was flat. That’s as good as getting EVERYTHING about history wrong, we learn from the author of History for Atheists (“ARON RA” GETS EVERYTHING WRONG), earning nothing less than a blistering 6,280-word response which included the following excoriation of both mind and character:
his profound ignorance of history
burst of pseudo historical gibberish
virtually everything he said was wrong.
When he turns to history, however, the results are truly woeful,
I make no apologies for coming down hard on crappy pseudo history like this. Nelson may be a well-meaning fool, but he is a fool nonetheless.
no excuse for peddling the lazy nonsense he spouts about history
doing it with such blithe pomposity
is terrible at history and believes many stupid and erroneous things.
someone with little to no grasp of the relevant material
he swaggers and bloviates
We all have our bad days when we get a bit cranky.
Oh yes, here are some choice criticisms of our atheist’s presumed sources:
relying on bungled online rehashing of nineteenth century myths and confused nonsense by fellow polemicists.
has read some stuff that he likes from fellow historically illiterate polemicists and decides to present it as fact.
One thing I learned in my educational psychology classes was that the best way to correct facts and gaps in knowledge is to do exactly what the chair of the debate said at the beginning:
And we just ask that you be respectful.
I like that approach.
Yes, Aaron Ra or Nelson, you were guilty of repeating a popular misconception, not only among atheists but even among many Christians. Gosh, I believed what you said for years when I was a God-fearing Protestant. And I am sure I was even taught the same erroneous information in school at some point.
So let’s take a step back and see what has gone wrong. How did this piece of fiction come to be so widely accepted as a fact of history? This will be a slice of History for Atheists and Theists.
The rest of this post consists of notes from Russell’s book, Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians. Russell does nothing to hide his view that faith and science are not really incompatible but we can live with that (up to a point).
You Are Not Alone
To begin, let’s try to reassure any of you who have believed this little datum that you are not alone. A 1991 book by Jeffrey Burton Russell contains the following
This Flat Error remains popular. It is still found in many textbooks and encyclopedias. . . .
By the 1980s, a large number of textbooks and encyclopedias had corrected the story, but the Flat Error was restated in a widely read book by the former Librarian of Congress, Daniel Boorstin, The Discoverers (1983). Boorstin wrote :
A Europe-wide phenomenon of scholarly amnesia . . . afflicted the continent from A.D. 300 to at least 1300. During those centuries Christian faith and dogma suppressed the useful image of the world that had been so slowly, so painfully, and so scrupulously drawn by ancient geographers.
He called this alleged hiatus the “Great Interruption.” His fourteenth chapter, “A Flat Earth Returns,” derided the “legion of Christian geographers” who followed the geographical path marked out by a sixth-century eccentric. In fact the eccentric Cosmas Indicopleustes had no followers whatever: his works were ignored or dismissed with derision throughout the Middle Ages.
How could Boorstin disseminate the Flat Error and the public accept it uncritically?
Those damned librarians! (But he was also a historian.)
So what went wrong? Russell takes us on a journey through the literature that led us astray. It had much to do with the evolution debate of the nineteenth century inflaming passions over reason, and with the centuries-old Protestant distrust of Catholics.
An early culprit was Andrew Dickson White who wrote in 1896 . . .
Many a bold navigator, who was quite ready to brave pirates and tempests, trembled at the thought of tumbling with his ship into one of the openings into hell which a widespread belief placed in the Atlantic at some unknown distance from Europe. This terror among sailors was one of the main obstacles in the great voyage of Columbus.
But the voyage towards wholesale acceptance of error was not a smooth one: Continue reading “When an Atheist Gets EVERYTHING Wrong”