Correcting Historical Misconceptions Against Christianity

What the world would look like without Christianity according to the TV series Family Guy (season 8, episode 1) — an example of bad history being promoted in popular culture. Among historians, the idea that the Church suppressed science in the Middle Ages has been long debunked.

Popular culture (Hollywood, Netflix, popular personalities — you name it!) often trots out narratives such as the Church being hostile to science in the Middle Ages, the medieval period being a period of backwardness and ignorance, the Crusades being driven by power and greed, Christmas hijacking Saturnalia, a pagan winter festival, etc. How accurate are these narratives though? What is true and what is false?

In this post, I will list several articles by acclaimed history writer Tim O’Neill to “set the record straight” on these subjects. Although O’Neill is an atheist, he puts good history first. He is frustrated by the amount of bad history that gets promoted in atheist and skeptical circles as well as in popular culture in general. His blog, History for Atheists, communicates the findings of contemporary secular scholarship (which unfortunately, have not sufficiently penetrated popular culture) on different historical events related to Christianity. His blog has also been highly praised by scholars, with historian Tom Holland for example, calling his blog “brilliantly erudite”.[1] 

Personally, I am a big fan of O’Neill. His write-ups are very educational and a pleasure to read. I strongly recommend checking out his work!

Feel free to check out the following articles by O’Neill below.

Footnotes

  1. See the sidebar of O’Neill’s blog for Holland’s endorsement. Retrieved from: https://historyforatheists.com/
  2. I took a picture of the relevant portion of the article because it is located deep within O’Neill’s article, which is long. If you want to access the article in full you may do so here.

2 thoughts on “Correcting Historical Misconceptions Against Christianity”

  1. “Although O’Neill is an atheist, he puts good history first.”
    Historical research is a branch of science and hence uses methodological naturalism. So this quote contains a false opposition; compare the article at TalkOrigins on evolution theory vs. religion. There is no first and second as science and hence history isn’t about the god-question.

    1. “’Although O’Neill is an atheist, he puts good history first.’ Historical research is a branch of science and hence uses methodological naturalism.’”

      Hey there! When I said “Although O’Neill is an atheist, he puts good history first” I was merely saying that O’Neill does not let his atheism lead him to embrace historical myths that are appealing to atheists or hinder him from giving credit where credit is due history-wise.

      Many skeptics are too biased against religion to the point they cling to long-debunked Enlightenment myths (e.g. the Church was hostile to science in the Middle Ages) despite being shown clear evidence to the contrary. Many also refuse to credit Christianity for any positive contributions it has given the world, or at least, strongly downplay and minimize it. O’Neill isn’t like this and that’s admirable.

      “’Historical research is a branch of science and hence uses methodological naturalism.’”

      We are entering the area of philosophy of history but I partly disagree (though I am assuming your view at the moment, correct me if I’m wrong — maybe we agree with each other).

      I agree that historians cannot conclude that God was the cause of a miraculous event (an occurrence that defies scientific explanation and occurs in a context charged with religious significance) because the historian simply has no tools to conclude God was the cause of such an event. If a historian says that God was the cause of a miraculous event, then this is a personal conclusion arrived at apart from his assessment of the event as a historian.

      However, I disagree that historians cannot conclude that a miraculous event occurred, they can. They just have to leave the cause undetermined.

      For example, let’s say a man born blind went to Lourdes praying and hoping for a miracle and was healed instantaneously upon bathing in the waters. We have ample documents and testimony (from family, friends, doctors and witnesses at place of healing) to support the claim that the man was born blind and cured instantaneously at Lourdes. Of course, the historian can conclude that a miraculous event occurred but in his capacity as a historian, he cannot conclude that God was the cause of that event.

      If a claimed miraculous event enjoys a preponderance of evidence in its favor, then a historian is warranted in awarding historicity while leaving the cause of the event undetermined.

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