Wednesday, February 01, 2006

What Was That All Really About, Anyway?

If you've been keeping up with events on this post recently, you know that a very long, knock-down, drag-out debate took place in the comment thread for the post talking about the Chinese world map supposedly dating from the Ming Dynasty. A hitherto unseen poster using the handle Goemagog pointed out that my "flat Earth" comment was in error, naming a book I obviously hadn't read as his source. When I expressed some skepticism, what followed was a very long and tumultuous debate.

No, actually "tumultuous" is not an accurate term. It got ugly. Between smart-aleck remarks, my debate partner made the strong implication that the church never really interfered with or inhibited scientific research at all during the Renaissance period. When I continued to be skeptical, citing my own education (rather than living in the Google universe), I was given one (obscure, apparently written by a student) web site as "proof" followed by a blistering assault on my character in which it was implied that my university education was, at best, "rumors" and, at worst, a figment of my own imagination. I was also accused rather frothily of having a pathological hatred of religion. None of this made any sense, so I couldn't help but wonder about my increasingly hostile opponent's true motives.

I decided to do some research of my own, so I spent quite a bit of time with Google and Yahoo checking out various sites (trying as much as possible to stick to ones that had documented source material or were in and of themselves "respectable" outfits). I came up with a lot of material, and the evidence definitely did NOT support the position that the church never interfered with science during the Renaissance period. On the contrary; I couldn't find any real evidence that it didn't. There were plenty of examples. There were names, dates, and events, and I made sure to provide plenty of links to them in a comment I posted to support that position. As it turned out, that comment was neither responded to nor acknowledged it in any way. My debate partner simply continued to assert (with no further source material) that his argument was correct. Even though I had accepted his claim of the flat Earth myth by then, I still had to wonder what he was really on about.

As it turns out, others did, too. The same anonymous poster (no, I can honestly say that it's not me) that finally provided that link that would've ended it all in the first place, did some research of their own, and this is what they told me they found (cut and pasted from their e-mail):

"I read through the Wikipedia link (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_Earth) that Anonymous (me) provided and saw the corrections about medieval views of the flat Earth, but that wasn't it.

Most Flat Earth sites kept referring to a historian by the name of Dr. Jeffrey Russell of UCSB. I poked through the offsite links at Wikipedia and noticed that Russell is featured most prominently at the UCSB Veritas Forum (http://www.veritas-ucsb.org/), a national group of people of whose purpose is "having the Forum ... promote dialogue about Truth and to explore the ultimate questions of life, society, and the human condition, and how they relate to Truth found in Jesus Christ," but that wasn't it.

.I checked their library which features a number of Russell's books (http://www.veritas-ucsb.org/library/index.html#4). Their book selection was rather interesting and was close to it, but that wasn't it.

I followed one of the links to the main legitimate source of the debunking the origins and common thought regarding Christianity and the Flat Earth during medieval times, The Myth of the Flat Earth by Dr. Russell (1997) (http://www.veritas-ucsb.org/library/russell/FlatEarth.html). This passage is it...

"The reason for promoting both the specific lie about the sphericity of the earth and the general lie that religion and science are in natural and eternal conflict in Western society, is to defend Darwinism. The answer is really only slightly more complicated than that bald statement. The flat-earth lie was ammunition against the creationists. The argument was simple and powerful, if not elegant: "Look how stupid these Christians are. They are always getting in the way of science and progress. These people who deny evolution today are exactly the same sort of people as those idiots who for at least a thousand years denied that the earth was round. How stupid can you get?""

So you see, it is a big secular conspiracy to destroy Christianity. This is the fire in the belly of Goemagog and the reason Pa've and Vulgarius didn't join in is that this issue hasn't gathered enough steam yet...but I think it could. Once the mighty right-wing Wurlitzer starts playing, it will be the talk of America.

It was difficult to find a non-evangelical (or just Christian?) treatment of all this, but I finally found it at a site called Ethical Atheist. (http://www.ethicalatheist.com/docs/flat_earth_myth_ch4.html) They apparently had a dialog with Dr. Russell and summarized it thusly:

"As we stated in email correspondence directly to Mr. Russell, we sincerely apologize for our previous rash approach. While we still disagree on some issues, there is no reason not to live in peace. Mr. Russell responded, "Good. Peace it is.".

While our view has changed significantly on the timeframe and extent of flat earth thinking, we believe the title "The Myth of the Flat Earth" is a misnomer. It's not a myth in that it never occurred. It's more a matter of when and by whom. We now tend to agree with Russell in his discussion on the lack of flat earth thinking in medieval times. Doing this research has been very enlightening in this respect. But, we will remain open to all new evidence that presents itself regarding flat earth thinking. We're convinced that Russell will too.

However, what still annoys us is Russell's claims of attacks on Christianity, anti-religion conspiracies and a myth promoted by supporters of evolution. Contrary to Russell, who sees the entire matter as a myth produced as "ammunition against the creationists", we see his accusations as "ammunition for the creationists in their fight against evolutionists"."
"


Is this what it's really all about? Is it an attempt to start a new culture war by wrapping an element of truth up in several layers of cold, hard zealotry and wielding it as a weapon to try to force a belief (or a version thereof, at any rate) on others? Just as any legal case against a famous member of a minority group these days seems to bring rash accusations of "racism", is it now the case that we have to whitewash history or be accused of "a pathological hatred of religion"? Is accepting historical truth (or scientific research, for that matter) a form of heresy, then? I really hope this is a terrible misunderstanding.

There has never been any reason for science and religion to be mutually exclusive, and trying to rewrite history to prove a point is ludicrous at best and dangerous at worst. We don't need to return to the days of Cardinal Bellarmine or the Inquisition under any label or denomination. In this day and age, even the relatively conservative popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have done a lot of owning up to and atoning for the Catholic Church's darker past chapters so that they can reach ahead to the future. That is most honorable and enviable of them, and I really pray that modern American Christians in general can at least be that enlightened.

"He who has ears, let him hear."

Now let me put on my flame-retardant clothing...

46 comments:

Don Snabulus said...

A Paul Harvey says, "Now we know the rest of the story. Good day."

The book containing Dr. Russell's scholarly work (someone who worked with primary source material!) came out in 1997. It will take some time before it gains acceptance. It will only take longer if the messengers turn it into a culture war issue as the Chinese map post vividly showed.

The Moody Minstrel said...

In case anybody's interested, that last line in quotes comes from Matthew chapter 13, where it pops up repeatedly.

Jesus is telling a crowd different parables (mainly involving grain and whether or not it takes proper root or winds up growing among weeds, etc.). When his disciples ask him why, he says that, as the prophet Isaiah foretold, most people wouldn't listen to him if he told them the truth anyway, so he gives them puzzles and lets the ones with half a real mind reason them out.

I say this because I tend to feel the same way about the Book of Genesis. So what if it doesn't mesh with what we now know about geology, astro-physics, biology, or anthropology (or simple logic, for that matter)? The important thing, i.e. the Word of God, most likely lies in the lessons to be learned from those stories rather than the literal meaning of the stories themselves. Going to so much toil and froth over whether the Earth is only several thousand years old or millions is quibbling over moot and irrelevant details.

John 3:16. 'nuff said.

Okay, I'll go back to praying in my closet and practicing Zen meditation.

Vulgarius said...

Sorry that I missed the rest of that conversation. Guard stuff is accellerating and I may drop out from the radar now and then.

But I'm having a little problem with this post due to its length. Can you summerize so I dont get the context(s) wrong? I probably agree on at least some of it, but I would rather not mistake somthing.

Anonymous said...

Moody had an error his Chinese map post that said Renaissance Christians in power believed in a flat Earth.

Goemagog pointed it out and tried to tie that to a notion that all persecution of the time was questionable. Called Moody dishonest.

Moody admitted error on Christian flat earth myth but gave evidence that persecution was still rampant among those in power.

Don said longtime posters to this site (including you, Vulgarius) are all honest despite their differences.

Various vitriolic repartee went back and forth which went on between Goe, Moody, and Don.

Last comment was Flat Earth Wikipedia link which contained links to more reliable sources.

Dr. Russell is a historian at UCSB (Cal Santa Barbara) who is a devoted Christian and debunked the Renaissance Christians believing in flat earth myth in 1997. Secular humanists agree with him.

In this post, Moody wonders why it couldn't have been pointed out this way to begin with.

That is about as short as I can make it.

Vulgarius said...

Thanks. And Moody I was not trying to personally attack you in my replies on the map incident. Hope there was not a mistake there.

Seymour said...

Man, I'm sorry I missed all the fuss. I was busy absorbing my latest prey. Mmmmmmmm, absorbing.

Anonymous said...

Goe, summarized and discarded.

Vulgarius said...

"Man, I'm sorry I missed all the fuss. I was busy absorbing my latest prey. Mmmmmmmm, absorbing."

Whos aborbing who?.... Are you really so certain?

fneyn

Were Irish terrorists... who dont do anything

Seymour said...

If there's any absorbing going on, I'm the one that's doing it!

Now carry on with the rest of the Posts.


whzekevi-Kevin's Bizarro World equivalent.

Vulgarius said...

Well. Okay but make sure you keep a set of Depends handy just in case the humidity changes.

Goemagog said...

Minstrel left out his inability to find a single source that supports his original belief that most contemporaries of columbus thought the world was flat because of "the r-word".

Goe, was proven right even after you tried to change the subject.

Pa've said...

GO FIND GOOGLE "EARTH" PROGRAM.

With this new software, you can literally, spot my house from the sky, and zoom in on it, can't quite read license plates. Most area of Google Earth not all that detailed, but one thing is for certain. The earth is FLAT LIKE MY MONITOR!

It only seems flat because my monitor is two dimensional. Like many people's flawed thinking, can only see ideas in one or two dimensions, very limiting.

ALSO, very irritating.

I know the earth is round, because I have been around the earth. I have traveled all the way around the globe in two directions. East Met West.

There is no debate about why the earth appears flat but is in fact round. The reason is "LIMITED SCOPE OF VISION."

This very same limited scope is what prevents an open mind from examining both sides of an arguement and coming to a logical conclusion. There can be only one correct conclusion as to whether the earth is round or flat.

There are many conclusions as to whether we evolved, were created, are some kind of combination of the two.

Of that argument one thing is certain. It doesn't matter a hill of beans because we can't go back in time to change it, and none of us are going to live long enough to see the lizard evolve into a chicken. (without lab based gene tampering, that is)

I think that two people who love to debate have just found each other, and we can look forward to many years of sparring in the future, so polish your mouse ball, and stand back.

Anonymous said...

Goe, didn't read the post.

Anonymous said...

Goe, right about one thing. Wrong about everything else.

Anonymous said...

Goe, get a life.

Anonymous said...

Goe, the.

Anonymous said...

Goe, tell it on the mountain.

Anonymous said...

Goe, call someone who cares.

Anonymous said...

Goe, the comment pumper upper.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Now that I can finally get a word in edgewise...

Vulgarius, don't worry. I never took it as a personal attack, and I hope you didn't get me wrong, either. You were reaffirming your position, as is proper, and I was reaffirming mine. It has been pointed out to me that I need to be a bit more careful with my choice of lingo, as I might inadvertently offend the wrong people. For example, I keep getting "fundamentalist" and "dominionist" mixed up.

Seymour, maybe it's better you were away from it all.

Goemagog, I have reiterated it and reiterated it to the point of nausea (and you still cannot or will not get it for some reason) that I made that remark (intended, as I said, as a sarcastic comment,) because it was a commonly-held notion. A misconception, as it turns out, but still a commonly-held notion. It was something I'd learned in grade school and hadn't yet been given a reason to unlearn. If, at the very start, you'd given me a solid link like the one that the anonymous poster finally did after all those dozens of (totally unnecessary) vitriolic comments, I would have bought it immediately. Instead, you chose egomania, mud-slinging, and bully-pulpit demagoguery, none of which incline me to take note.

Pa've, you should get an award for that. As I've said before with other regular visitors to this site, I'll happily debate as long as the tone remains informative and civil. Once the trash-talking starts, the debate is more or less over.

All those anonymouses, well you probably didn't need to go quite THAT far, but...

Seymour said...

Was anyone called a Nazi?? It ain't a flame war till the National Socialists get referenced.



elbizld-snizzle my faddizzle!

Vulgarius said...

No NAZI's here. Just lots of anonymice! EEEEEk!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Goe, back to where you came from.

Anonymous said...

Hoe, a garden tool.

Anonymous said...

Doe, a deer. A female deer.

Anonymous said...

Roe, a little baby fish.

Anonymous said...

Coe, an aging British miler.

Anonymous said...

Froe, 'sup biatches

Anonymous said...

Zoe, a girl monster on Sesame Street

Anonymous said...

Toe, a foot appendage

Anonymous said...

Aloe, a healing plant.

Anonymous said...

Joe, a diner cook

DewKid said...

Poe, the red teletubby

Anonymous said...

Woe, is me.

Anonymous said...

Doe!!! Not so anonymous anymore...

DewKid said...

(stupid anonymous button)

Pandabonium said...

More fuel for the pyre....

http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/
0,6109,594060,00.html

Top 10 Literary Hoaxes

The Moody Minstrel said...

In case anyone's interested, concerning my remark about Cardinal Bellarmine (the cardinal that gave the original orders that both got Giordani Bruno burnt at the stake as a heretic and forbade Galileo from defending Copernicanism), I found something interesting in the Catholic Church's own encyclopedia which I'd like to pass on:

He (Bellarmine) took up too--as is witnessed by his letter to Galileo's friend Foscarini--exactly the right attitude towards scientific theories in seeming contradiction with Scripture. If, as was undoubtedly the case then with Galileo's heliocentric theory, a scientific theory is insufficiently proved, it should be advanced only as an hypothesis; but if, as is the case with this theory now, it is solidly demonstrated, care must be taken to interpret Scripture only in accordance with it.
(boldface mine)

Dang, but them Catholics could be enlightened sometimes. I wish more Christians could think like that nowadays!

(Of course, as it turned out, Pope Urban VIII, Galileo's "admirer", gave Galileo permission to write about the "hypothesis" of a heliocentric universe only to change his mind and have him arrested - based on Bellarmine's original order. You know what they say about power...and absolute power...but that's a problem with the institution rather than the faith.)

The Moody Minstrel said...

Alright, I realize I left myself wide open with that, so I'll also point out that the Catholic Encyclopedia also agrees with other sources that Bellarmine was willing to tolerate the Copernican idea of a heliocentric universe only so long as it was a "crackpot theory". Once people started taking it seriously (and Giordano Bruno started vociferously touting it), he went ballistic, officially declared it heresy, ordered Bruno arrested (and later burnt at the stake, though there's some debate as to the exact reason), and ordered Galileo not to touch it. That order was apparently the main gist of the trial, though Pope Urban VIII (Galileo's former benefactor) was the one that actually carried it out (because he was upset that Galileo had actually shown Copernicanism to be feasible).

I hope I haven't belabored this point too much, but this is fascinating stuff.

Anonymous said...

I Doe, sn't think DewKid wrote all the anonymous posts. Me did too.

(Noe, te to self, Roe is fish eggs...not fish.)

Seymour said...

Anonymous is getting silly.
Very silly indeed.

I might have to tell my sister on him!

DewKid said...

Just to be fair, my first Anonymous post on this blog was the Zoe reference. Some OTHER anonymous started a trend of Goe-frocking, and I joined in with my own embellishments.

Hmmm, it seems we've scared our tantalizing friend away.

Pandabonium said...

Sorry to see Goe, well, Go.

Perhaps he has gone off to join the 12 step program which I belong to: "And on, and on, and on, Anon."

Neocon Fish said...

Anonymous said...

"(Noe, te to self, Roe is fish eggs...not fish.) "


Not if you are an anti-abortionist.

Goemagog said...

Busy isn't the same as gone.

And minstrel, you could have googled flat earth yourself in a matter of seconds. wikipedia is often edited which makes it unreliable on any issue of contention.

Goe, should go back to sleep.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Yes, Goe, I realize I could and probably should have. My bad, I admit, but I don't usually feel the need to Google search "common knowledge" unless someone gives me a serious recommendation to do so. Your take on it was to suggest I read a book, and then we suddenly wound up in that protracted "did the church really inhibit science" flame war.

Wikipedia seems to be under attack for various reasons, but that's no reason to ditch it outright. I tend to use it as a stepping stone to other sources, i.e. I pick out names and what-not to use as key words for additional searches. It has proven quite useful that way.