The Great Myths 14: “The Inquisition” – Myths and History
History for Atheists
by Tim O'Neill
2d ago
Along with “the Witch Craze” and “the Crusades”, the violence and oppression of “the Inquisition” is part of a triumvirate of historical atrocities that is usually invoked by anti-theists as proof of the wickedness of Christianity in particular and religion in general. “Everyone knows” these things were evil, even though what most people know about each of these things is largely wrong. This is perhaps most the case with “the Inquisition”; given that there was never a single institution by that name and most people’s conception of inquisitions are cartoonish clichés based on popular media whic ..read more
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The Crappy Golden Orrery Award 2023
History for Atheists
by Tim O'Neill
1M ago
Here is my annual year in review survey for History for Atheists in 2023. But I am happy to announce the return of the much loved Crappy Golden Orrery Award for the most egregious, boneheaded and/or stupid bad history by an atheist in 2023. A lack of suitable candidates meant it was not awarded last year, but 2023 saw some prime examples of terrible takes on history by anti-theists, with some stiff competition for this unprestigious prize. Tune in to see who takes it out this year. (And for anyone who wants to know what actually happened at the Council of Nicaea, see The Great Myths 4: Consta ..read more
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Interview – Dr. Philipp Nothaft on the Date of Christmas
History for Atheists
by Tim O'Neill
2M ago
My guest today is Dr Philipp Nothaft. Philipp is a Fellow of All Souls Oxford and a historian specializing in astronomy, astrology and calendars in late antiquity, the Middle Ages and early modern Europe. He’s also the author of a key paper on the question of why Christmas falls on December 25th, which is our main topic today. It’s often claimed in pop history that Christians stole a pagan feast day and made it into Christmas, and this is a version of a thesis scholars developed in the late nineteenth century. But Philipp and several other recent scholars have bolstered an alternative theory t ..read more
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Review – Alec Ryrie “Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt”
History for Atheists
by Tim O'Neill
3M ago
Alec Ryrie, Unbelievers – An Emotional History of Doubt (William Collins, 2019) 262 pp. We unbelievers are often mentioned in passing in histories of religion, but there are only a few works of history that focus on those of us who reject religion or who never held religious beliefs at all. This one is by a scholar who is a Christian, but one who strives to give a balanced and nuanced view of how various modern Western strains of unbelief arose and where they came from. Unusually, Ryrie focuses on the emotional rather than the rational roots of modern unbelief and the result is an interesting ..read more
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The Closing of the Athenian Academy
History for Atheists
by Tim O'Neill
6M ago
In 529 AD Damascius, the last head of the Academy in Athens, closed down the philosophical school and, with several fellow scholars, went into exile in Persia. This is often portrayed as the final act in “the closing of the western mind” and the beginning of “the darkening age”; the symbolic closing of an institution founded by Plato himself almost a millennium earlier. It is regularly portrayed in popular writing and anti-theist polemic as the end of ancient science and rationalism in the west and the beginning of a one thousand year medieval dark age. But is this true? What was the Academy a ..read more
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Interview – Andrew Henry on Easter and “Pagan Origins”
History for Atheists
by Tim O'Neill
11M ago
My latest guest is Dr Andrew Henry, who is an adjunct professor at George Washington University in Washington DC and a specialist in late antique Mediterranean religion. He is also the writer and presenter of the excellent Religion for Breakfast YouTube channel, where he has several videos debunking claims about the supposed “pagan origins” of Christian festivals. In this conversation we discuss the various claims about the supposed “pagan origin” of the date of and customs surrounding Easter. We go on to talk about why this “pagan origins” idea is so persistent and his work trying to bring a ..read more
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Interview – Joseph A.P. Wilson on Was Paul Sexist?
History for Atheists
by Tim O'Neill
1y ago
Both conservative Christians and many atheist activists point to 1Corinthians 14:34-35 and note how Paul forbids women to speak in church. The Christians do this to maintain that women should not preach and cannot be pastors or priests. The atheists usually do so to hold this up as evidence that Paul was a misogynist and Christianity is inherently sexist. But did Paul really write this? And was it Christianity which made the Greco-Roman world less egalitarian or was it actually … the other way around? In this interview, I speak with Dr Joseph A. P. Wilson of Fairfield University and explore th ..read more
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Cats and the Black Death
History for Atheists
by Tim O'Neill
1y ago
Some atheists and even some prominent scientists claim that the Black Death was caused or at least made worse by a wholesale massacre of cats ordered by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. But is this true? And where did this strange story come from? In this episode on the History for Atheists video channel we look at this claim and several others associated with it, examine the history of the pandemic of the 1340s known as the Black Death and discover the source of these common but, actually, completely false ideas. For those who prefer the audio version, the Podcast edition is now ..read more
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PZ Myers and the Mythicists
History for Atheists
by Tim O'Neill
1y ago
Atheist activist and blogger PZ Myers has been on a journey regarding the likely existence of a historical Jesus and has been pretty honest about its stages. After a period of finding Jesus Mythicism at least compelling, if not wholly convincing, he has passed through a fairly thoughtful period of “Jesus agnosticism”, but now appears to accept the consensus position of almost all critical scholars: a historical Jesus most likely existed. This has not gone down well with some of his fan base, but it seems to be something of a trend among many of the less dogmatic type of atheist activist – ther ..read more
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Interview – Sebastian Major on Galileo and History Myths
History for Atheists
by Tim O'Neill
1y ago
My guest today is Sebastian Major, writer and presenter of the excellent “Our Fake History” podcast. Sebastian recently presented a three part episode on the Galileo Affair, debunking the many historical myths surrounding Galileo. He did a fine job, but he also took on board some criticisms I had of what he said. And so he was also happy to come on “History for Atheists” to discuss Galileo, how hard it is to get complex history right and some thoughts about the persistence of bad history in the popular sphere. I highly recommend Sebastian’s work on “Our Fake History” and would encourage everyo ..read more
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