Friday, August 17, 2007

Richard Carrier: One of the most important voices on the Internet

On his blog, Richard Carrier takes on an evil and insidious scheme to rewrite history. Christian authors and their supporting bloggers are becoming Dark Age deniers.

The Dark Ages are a bit of a problem for Christians. You see, classical civilization had science, mathematics, medicine, roads, irrigation, even democracy in places. But when Christianity became dominant in Rome, all of that came to an abrupt end. Christians, with their demand that no alternative viewpoints be heard, swept across the Western world, destroying libraries and silencing the voices of reason. Not for a year. Not for a century. But for at least 800 years. Talk about a holocaust!

Of course, this tends to look rather bad for Christianity. And for a long time, Christians had to admit that the Dark Ages were not their finest hour (or their finest 7 million hours).

But now, things are different. People aren't paying attention. Christians have learned that if you just keep lying, you probably won't get called on your bullshit. So the Dark Ages are now... a wonderful, conservative breath of fresh air after the irrational exuberance and excesses of the classical age.

There was no Dark Age, they say. People prefer the term "Middle Ages" now. True. But as Carrier says, any time you lose 90% of your knowledge, that's an age worthy of the term DARK!!!

Instead, the Christians tell us that the inventions of the Middle Ages were underrated. They claim that there was dramatic progress, but it just seemed like there wasn't any. Yes, folks, roads were an expensive luxury, an excess of the Roman era!

As a physicist, I can tell you that the sciences were pretty much died when Christianity put its boot on Europe's neck. There's a long litany of Greek advances, followed by nothing until the Renaissance. And those advances made in the Renaissance were imperiled by the church. Christians also say that the church was not against Galileo's work, only Galileo's bad attitude, and his sloppy experimentalism. Yeah, that's what it was. The church was so concerned about systematic error and statistics that they put Mr. G under house arrest for publishing his results. Funny thing is, the church also banned any mention of heliocentrism. Puts the revised Christian history of science to shame for the lie that it is.

I could go on all night, but it's better to read some of Carrier's posts (especially here and here) on the topic rather than getting everything second-hand from me.

This is scary stuff. Don't let the revisionists excise their injustices from the historical records.


J. Clark said...

Ah, yes, well at least you revealed your bias, you are a physicist and not a historian. Good thing because then we might have to put a boot on your neck with all that simplistic historical criticism. All that rhetoric about defending reason and then you go off and leave it at home. When you read something other than the "God delusion" you will have realized that Dawkins and his bosom buddy Hitchens are terrible historians because they are not historians at all. They're not even detectives. They are just a bundle of bumbling nerves firing off at the wrong times. It's just a matter of chemistry.
As if our labels for history (Dark Ages) are dogmatically definitive of a period. As if we are better off now.

Doctor Logic said...


Um, Richard Carrier is a historian.

I'm sincerely curious about this comment:

As if our labels for history (Dark Ages) are dogmatically definitive of a period. As if we are better off now.

Are you saying we're no better off now than we were in the Middle Ages?

By what measure?

Wakefield Tolbert said...

Long Post--but since you DO frame things in an interesting way, like Richie Rich says--"you're worth it".

If Carrier is a GOOD historian, I'm really good at being Chinese.
Despite an English name.

Carrier has NUMEROUS leaps and jumps not justified by true historians, like Martin Rudwick, Rodney Stark, and the mythbuster about the Solstice being the inspiration for Christmas (which it was not), Jeffrey Burton Russel. To name a few.

The history here, as well as with Copernicus and Galileo, is somewhat more mixed than is typically portrayed. But then, history always is.

Read also my posting from Beast Rabban, as well as Stark for example at:,filter.all/pub_detail.asp

According to real historians, like aforementioned Martin Rudwick, Jacob Bronowski and some others offer the "textbook" example of how smart people mangle history.

The TV series "The Ascent of Man" which portrays Galileo before dark hooded Sith Lords of the Church and a simplistic donnybrook of Good vs. Evil is a "travesty" of reportage. The only thing gleaned to be true in his mockery is that this can only result from a DELIBERATE choice to "ignore the historical research available." Said historical documentation can be found readily in Giorgio de Santillana, whose book The Crime of Galileo is widely considered the final word on the issue. Seems the major part of the Church was actually on Galileo's side, and the "clearest opposition came from secular authorities armed with secular ideas." The Pope was also--at one time--a member of the "Galileisti" (his followers) until secular authorities piped up with their own set of concerns.

And, of course, as with the Washington Irving mythologies that got transmogrified into 'just so' stories that in turn turned into "fact" about Christians allegedly once thinking the Earth was flat or that such false cosmology is found in the Jewish Scriptures (also untrue), it IS interesting to see just how long mythology can hang around as "science" and history.

And I'll bet good money in Vegas that Bronowski was one of these groggy elders like Asimov who thought the "Four Corners" of the Earth as mentioned in Scripture was really meaning that the Earth was flat as a cardboard box--not the ACTUAL interpretation of most real scholars who know of what they speak--the four cardinal directions.

Of course, I realize that lauding liars and con artists helps to this goal of historical revisionism and distortion.

As a sardonic acquaintance of mine recently quipped: "Funny how a nation of knuckle dragging bible worshippers is also the most technologically and economically advanced nation in the world. The mother of all non sequiturs is that progress in science and engineering is hampered by religious belief. The proof of the pudding is in the tasting and the proof in this case is that a nation founded on the principle of inalienable God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is the best thing going. Judeo-Christian belief, whether true or not with regard to divine inspiration, is unquestionably a successful formula for the attainment of high living standards in a free society. I don’t know who said it but Never argue with success and if "ain’t broke" don’t fix it are apt here."

If Christian belief were actually some kind of "barrier" to science or progress, it is hard to fathom WHY so many founders of modern science were true believers. Paracelsus, Boyle, and Newton wrote extensively on theology as well as science. Others, like Kepler and Helmont--filled their notebooks with prayers and praise and theological underpinnings. Of course there are dozens of others. Which speaking of underpinning soon brings us another point to make. Some historians in the overkill Moonbat Mode try and dismiss these theological insights as but irritating distractions from pure works. Yet we find that belief in the God of the Bible WAS the UNDERPINNING of many of these men's insights into a larger realm. It was more than mere expediency. Many of these early explorers of the Heavens used just that word and studied Creation on the assumption that God would have made an orderly Universe, not a Protean one where anything happens, and thus studied to better know the Creator of such wonders. In many if not most cases this was Prime Motivator One in the quest for greater material knowledge. They studied the Cosmos as a way to better understand God. It is the Christian conception of a God of Order that served as the foundation for later scientific insights--and yet today we see that some of us here think you can by analogy build certain skyscrapers with the basement first and then rip that ideological basement from under the rest and hope it stands. Not so. In the few episodes often mentioned over and over to utter exhaustion, like Copernicus and Galileo, the truth is that on the whole the Church had little to say about the findings per se but the implications of such to the moral order. That might have been in the wrong, but the Church actually (in these cases) defaulted to the SECULAR authorities at the time who were used to a worldview of the Aristotelians, and thus decided to fight along side THAT side of the coin.

Galileo never repudiated his faith. Never. Not once. The positivist modernist approach to historical revisionism like that of JB claims that his religious defense was mere expediency, but the behavior cannot be explained this way if see his determination to fit both realms side by side.

The other difficult reality is that Christianity has been in the forefront of advocating a philosophical stance that bolstered scientific progress. As for the relationship between science and religion, as one Brit scholar has said: "Western science was the product of devoutly religious men and women honestly seeking the mind of God as expressed in His glorious creation: nature. In doing so, they utilized and perfected powerful philosophical and mathematical tools, the same tools that inform theology. Some of the most powerful and correct insights into the nature of the Cosmos came directly from their theological experience. And in spite of some curiosities of how they arrived at the conclusion, there are numerous examples of how science came out of the idea that the universe was made by a God of order who gave man dominion over it.

The great Roman Catholic scientist and philosopher, Pierre Duhem, considered that science was a truly inclusive endeavor as everyone, regardless of their philosophical, religious or cultural background, could join together in examining the objective world of nature. He was absolutely right: the greatest achievements of the early Islamic scientists amply demonstrate this. (note: Hey! PC warriors: paying attention here?) Within the Abbasid scientific enterprise, Muslims worked alongside Christians, Jews, Sabians and very early Deists, avant le parole, such as Rhazes, to create a truly awesome and magnificent scientific achievement, which has informed and fructified science and philosophy."

It might also be instructive to peek at the writings of historian John Hedley Brook's taxonomic rehash on the numerous ways in which Christianity influence the development of science. Long story made short: Christian teachings have served as presuppositions for the whole scientific enterprise in the first place. Despite the mythology of Galileo and the Church which suckers in people like Bronowski and some others with coloring book notions about history (which is always to be read in context---on the whole the Church was actually not so much upset with his scientific ideas but rather what it perceived as repudiation of Aristotelian philosophy, which in turn THEY got from secular philosophers beforehand), the Church since the time of Aquinas has usually relegated the realm of science to scientists and philosophically mentioned that a Universe that ran according to rational laws was biblically one that actually made the most sense, from a deity that organized according to certain precepts. See historians Martin Rudwick and Rodney Stark on this and other common mythologies (like Copernicus) about how wildly modern revisionists with a chip on the shoulder have left out VAST swaths of context concerning those few incidents where religion and science got into a donnybrook. Thus for example, as Rudwick reminds us, modern types of religion bashers proudly boast that the Church fight with Copernicus was over mankind's "high place" in the Cosmos---when nothing could be further from the truth. Thus types as diverse as Newsweek, the boneheads of PBS, laudy-laud boy Jacob Bronowski, and Daniel Boorstien all take the swipe at the Church for "fighting" the "demotion of mankind's lofty place" in the scheme of things. Says Rudwick (a true historian, mind you), would that these liars and naysayers read the philosophical issues the Church faced at the time and understand ALSO that in Christian theology that Earth was NEVER a particularly noble place to be its "fallen state". The OPPOSITE was thought by the Church, as the outer rings of space were the Heavenly Realm and at the center of things much closer to home was Hell itself---the exact opposite of what is commonly assumed about the alleged Copernican battle with the Church. The Church actually had little to say about most of this, and the quotes and asides assembled to foster evidence of an "attack on science" combed out by unscrupulous men like Boorstien and Andrew Dickson White are probably apocryphal at best. So much for what the public schools and even college level "profs" on religion drill into skulls. Not reliable, Chico. Bronowski should have known better than to hand wave all this--but then, things wouldn't be so complicated and we'd have a history more difficult to lie about to the kiddies when things got sorted out. But then that's the pitch of modern public education. Keeping things neat and simple and Politically Correct for secularism. Which is another issue altogether. If Carrier is pitching what I think he is or seems to be, he needs some more consulting of texts other than Skepty Net.

Doctor Logic said...

Pointing to members of your own religious conspiracy (Hedley Brook, Stark, de Santillanna, etc) as references for your position isn't very convincing.

Not to put you on the spot, but what do you think of j. clark's comment above? Are we better off now than in the Dark Ages?

And why do we need to assume a God, assume that God is orderly, and assume that he would make an orderly universe we can comprehend, instead of simply assuming the universe is intelligible?

Wakefield Tolbert said...

New Year Greetings, DL.

Hope all is well with you and whatever crew you're charged with..

Pointing to members of your own religious conspiracy (Hedley Brook, Stark, de Santillanna, etc) as references for your position isn't very convincing.

Not to put you on the spot, but what do you think of j. clark's comment above? Are we better off now than in the Dark Ages?

And why do we need to assume a God, assume that God is orderly, and assume that he would make an orderly universe we can comprehend, instead of simply assuming the universe is intelligible?

No--but pointing to men who also did rigorous research, rather than the crayola crayon rending of history of liars like Andrew Dickson White, certainly SHOULD be more convincing. Though I realize that since history is not really on the burner here, I might be tossing sand in the wind.

Regardless, history is always more complicated than what most people think they know. But I DO know history better than most.

In a more recent post, you seemed to rail against "simplistic" modes of thinking allegedly mostly held by conservatives. Two points on this. Presumably due to traditionalism's wish to a return to "simpler" times.

First, this is not universally the case either. At least not totally for conservatives. Second, the main issue for conservatives is not so much for "simpler" times, but rather more moral insights into society and culture. Even traditional left-wingers like the late Time Mag culture critic William Henry III acknowledged some of this. His point was similar to that of Thomas Sowell and Charles Murray: Whether in culture, government, or the battleground of the public schools, many liberal experiments, while putatively for the common good and making us a more tolerant society, are prescriptions from untested assumptions that rarely get second glances.

Thus for example, as Sowell points out, the schools for decades have been the anvil on which student minds get pounded with all manner of silly bromides from educrats and the latest fashions and culture fads like "relevance" from Carl Rogers, and "social cohesion" considerations from John Dewey and Paul Blanchard, and men most have never heard of. IN fact, social cohesion can more often be had with just providing better teaching methods to those students who're willing to learn, and this in turn benefits us all.

Life is like that sometimes.

So no, the issue is not so much "simplicity" due to religious faith or whatnot, or the false return to the phony days of Ozzie and Harriet, but rather the effectiveness of proposals and balance and common sense.

Conservatives in the traditional side of wish lists recognize PCness as Cloud-Cuckoo-Land jibber jabber, and that while maybe some use PC to pine for a better and more tolerable world of everyone singing kum-ba-ya (and who can deny the need for getting along?), the reality is that in some cases this has gone too far. Far too far.

As to the realities of a complex world--well.....YES.. But that's JUST THE POINT of capitalism.
At least for technical progress, economics, and innovation.

Complexity in economics is not aided in most cases by micromanaging government oversight. We ALL engage in planning from buying things at the curb store to major corporate decisions that can be nixed by the regular Joe Customer down at the car lot. The permutations of this kind of complexity could only be handled by a god or demigod. You don't believe in the first, but you are pitching often for the latter. A demi-god called Government, a disembodied gargoyle that only pretends it can take care of us better than ourselves.
Talk of complexity is one thing. How you handle it is quite another.

Ironic, really. Conservatives being simplistically minded and pining for the good old days?

Nathaniel Brandon once mentioned the psychological need for some liberals to revert to what is called the "pastoral" view of existence, a la Laura Ingalls Wilder, where we used all these sumptious liberally minded PC nanny state social programs to end up (ironically, but on purpose) a simpler time in life. A life where the State hijacks and maintains all the primal urges that free individuals in more libertarian societies used to do themselves. Child rearing, health issues, jobs and job searches, etc. A life where major decisions are never to be handled by the commonweal, but bodies of experts and teams of bureacrats acting on our behalf. This Orwellian dystopia is approaching Europe. Which is why this advanced Nanny State society is heading to cultural extinction, with lavish social programs founded on bad math for pension plans but a dearth of babies, presuming government ownership of...well....everything. In a wonderful treatise on this, see also a book called The Servile State, prophetically written in 1912, long before most of the Welfare State and PCness got into full gear. The dark side of this, the servile state, is that you end up doing the opposite of creating a suave, sophisticated electorate.

You end up coddling and infantalizing the populace. In Europe today as in one example on the EU vote for a common constitution, the leaders took "yes" to mean "yes" and "no" to mean "YES."

I.E.--at a certain point it no longer matters for the most part what the citizens want. Government does it all. This is getting to be the case in some "advanced" liberal secularized democracies. When life becomes an extended picnic and sumptiously couched playtime, the big questions of life are mere irritants to such people. Terrorism? Sharia Law in Britain? London Tube bombings?

These promote outrage among the gunless, defenseless, coddled populations when they happen. But when the question about responding comes along?

Call me at the beach after I finish my merlot. Free day care vs., say, 15 weeks of paid vacation on your first job?

Now for Europeans, THAT's a winning hand!!!

Talk of scaling back benefits for the betterment of fiscal reasons?

Poppycock, they respond.

Government policies that encourage the native populations to defer babies until age 39 and limit them to 1.4 per family, statistically?

No worries, and the cultural demon of most babies now being born in Europe to women saying "praise Allah's ways!" and wearing the Hajib?

"Nothing to see here", they say--we need the immigrants to do the dirty work!

Of course, no one really doubts that society must have a balance between the public and private, but like liberal culture critic William Henry III once admitted, egalitarianism, while useful in its day, is beginning to flounder on the hard stones of elitism, and we are approaching the limits to what liberal policies can accomplish in trying to succor the unaccomplished. Must of liberalism is thus a prescription, if taken too far, from Cloud Cuckoo Land, and not logic and reason. See my posting on AIDS for more on this issue.

As to the last part of your objections, besides the Dark Ages being myth (and we now know that the fall of Rome is what created the dark chaos more than any religious input--Rome was well organized in her day but had pagan influences in governance), and that in fact Christianity was the boon to thinking for men of science in those days, the reason for the notion of God in the first place was the idea that Universes by definition cannot create themselves. To ask in the material sense about a material precursor to such would be like asking what is north of the North pole.

Nothing. At least not on one's standard compass. :)

AS to being better off. Of course we are. But knowledge cannot accrue all at once. That age was superior to the grunting, hooting, habits of the various Germanic tribes and to the subsistence lives of many cultures to this day. More innovation than is acknowledge occured in those "dark" times. These kinds of things are relative.

Materially many things ARE better.
Mercantialism and capitalism had its roots in those days, with freedom given to serfs after the Plague reduced labor resources and people had to move off the land and get paid for their skills even by the great kings. In turn, this led to the modern system of trade and thus the modern tax state that in turn funds the goodies liberals think come primarily from government treasure. (not quite!)

Morally better off, DL? That is another question, my friend.

We never tire of thinking quite highly of ourselves for our material accomplishments---including those of the variety that ended childhood disease, increased production and human fecundity, and by the admission of many of your ideological stripe now also do what was NOT done in the so-called Dark Ages:

Threatening the very biosphere.

Gotta find a way to keep the trees green too. Something you and I agree on in principle.

Yes, we have plumbing, sewage treament, infrastructure, real doctors rather than ones wearing tribal masks and holding herbs and doing bloodletting, cleaner potable water, vaccines, birth control, modern surgery, electricity, and...well..ya know.

But the scale of our decisions make some things all the more liable to harm others. And a return to simplicity in some matters is actually advocated by many of the liberal political stripe.

However, contra your claim about the "boot on the neck", the reality is that science was the stepchild of the kind of inquiry that Christianity encouraged.

I know you never claimed major historical insights, and no doubt you excel in your chosen field of programming and physics, whereas I myself have enough knowledge merely to understand some of the major terms and cause head-scratching. Touche' ahead of time.

But your almost hysteric acceptance of men who've been discredit for THEIR lousy, half-assed and caught in the act attempts at discreditation is curious.

(That's my actual "spot" at the moment.)

Doctor Logic said...


Gosh, that's a long comment.

I don't really see an answer to my question about whether we're better off today than in the Dark Ages (morally speaking).

On the one hand you suggest that man's threat to the environment is a modern moral failing. However, at the same time, you advocate more breeding and more freedom for individuals to destroy that environment. In your other comment you appeared to dismiss the plight of "cuddly polar bears".

These seem to me to be discordant opinions.

I think we're obviously much better off both morally and materially than we were a thousand years ago. The difference is that in our more populous and technological world, smaller moral deviations constitute a larger existential threat than they did before.

More population is not the answer because it threatens the environment and sustainability. Breeding your way to a bigger economy is a Ponzi scheme. We want to take the good and excise the bad. The solution is to increase productivity per person, improve human rationality, improve medicine, and potentially adapt to some limits on consumption. I believe that nanomanufacturing and artificial intelligence hold the keys to the kinds of advances we're looking for. Today, it's a delicate balance, because we have to survive until those technological solutions arrive.

Republicans have become an anti-intellectual movement. Sarah Palin was a disgusting, fascist example of this. Republicans employ the term "elitist" as a code word for educated people. And conservatives don't want any more elitists guiding America's future. I think that's too bad. The Average Joe is not the best architect for America's future. The Average Joe is too busy with his average life, and too challenged getting by with his average education. We can't be the monkey we have always been, and just hope for the best. We each have to be a better monkey, and rely on our best of us to find solutions.

Wakefield Tolbert said...

Not sure about tran-anthropomorphosism and monkeys to human analogies. That kind of thinking is risky, and not always scientific.

But worse worse still are the rhetorical insults from someone who'd know better than the bitter feminists (also, members of the elite) who are given to such name calling as fascist.

I've pointed out already the conservatives don't have the market cornered on "going home again" on tradition. The elite Emory professor who's a member of PETA, Eric Fraum and the "humanist" psychologists who want a "return to nature" and have us live like Laura Ingalls to save certain species, and then of course more than one yammering economists professor of this day from the Ivy League who thinks windmills and chicken manure can displace coal burning, or in some cases for that matter, we don't even need an industrial infrastrucute. Or that the best plannning emminates from government industrial policy.
These come to mind also.

(been there, done that, got the lousy T-shirt)

But this name "fascist"?

That's over the top.

In the terminology of "elitism" you have different kinds. You have traditional liberal Wiliam Henry III who DOES have special and valuable insights, and then you have Chicago's jibber machine of shakedowns which is now ascending to the throne. Then you have PC pieties and cultural relativism that infects all advanced Western societies, treats the populace as children, teaches that all cultures are equally valid and worthwhile, fish are on par with human beings, its OK to tell schoolchildren to fulfill their sexual animal instincts at age 12, marriage is for suckers or at least is no better than barfly hookups, free enterprise is evil, and pretensiously asserts that government has all the answers and that good intentions never pave a path to hell when you use force on people. We just got the word from two UCLA economists that government intervention in the economy is not only a non-help. It can prolong misery.

The response from the Obots, is that freedom is for icky tacky people who smoke Marlboro lights and go hunting.

Government, not private individualism, has the prowess and the algorythmic panache to solve all our problems.

So we're told.

This is the kind of presumptive "elitism" we disdain--the moronic, PC platidue, Cloud Cuckland professionally and politically self-absorbed Creep Class that never held anything in their lives other than cigars and golf clubs and coffee chatter--that we disdain. They infect every advanced Western nation, to little avail. They think Hamas is merely misunderstood, fawn over that bigfoot in camo gear named Fidel Castro for his "insights" and social "wisdom", and mock the average man's quotidian lifestyle of people like mine--the one's plunking down 50% of income to government coffers. Sorta like mocking a cow for giving milk right on scedule at sunrise.

On national security policy things might even be worse. During the dark Age of Reagan Thatcher Terror, nuclear destruction was all the rage, with public schoolkids sending letters to Andropov and drawing crayon pictures of mushroom clouds in class.

Today now that no less than two REAL threats to commonweal have evolved, Iran's little Adolf and Jim Jung Il, N. Korea's Bea Arthur look alike, two men far more likely to unleash their psychoses, the issue is no big deal. No worries. We'll defer to the UN.

I often what planet these individuals in media and among the political chatter class live on.

It isn't mine.

Wakefield Tolbert said...

Kinda of odd, just going over the posts over at Huffington, where Dan Agin is railing again at Mark Steyn and other windmill targets, at what HE terms "junk science"--though to be sure many scientists chimed in (as I expected) to point out that he seems to have more of an ideological agenda than a scientific one. Which I think could probably be graphed out in a series of dots with correlation of what some men CLAIM to be science to, say, the current situation in Gaza.

In my political science studies I made such plotting. Interesting. Thus for example if someone thinks that Israel is a monstrosity for having the "audacity of hope" to actually defend themselves against Hamas rocket attacks, these people can be correlated to show they've "proven" Global Warming is disaster for the globe.

And then this, from one little cheeky blighter:

Why give the chicken hawk gazette this attention? NRO is simply a cesspool of writings authored by insecure elitist reprobates.

Of course, the reprobate out from jail furlow no doubt was referring to the "elitist" National Review's take on the very insecure but fabulously wealthy Michelle Obama, who no doubt for the SECOND time in her life is actually proud to be an American--after making HUNDREDS of thousands of dollars a year. Must be racist undercurrents that kept her wealth in check?

SO: Republicans are blithering idiots in one breath, yet in the NEXT, this stupidity is said to control a cabal of nabobs, money bags, and sultanates who control and filter the opnions of scientists in media and book outlets to keep the Man in charge; and they live in gated manor houses and keep down and oppress others.


Elitist charges, mea culpa.

I guess.