Thursday, March 27, 2014

Let us now damn infamous events

I was right! There is a bigger world out there!

 You know, I sometimes think that if you can't get history right, how can you possibly understand the present?

The first episode of the new Cosmos graphically illustrates this with the story of Giordano Bruno, a 16th-century monk who argued that the sun was a star like all the rest, and that every star had its own planets and its own living beings. Bruno wasn’t a scientist, as the show makes clear: his cosmological views flowed from his mystical, pantheist theology, not from evidence. But that made no difference to the Inquisition, which imprisoned and tortured Bruno, and when he refused to recant, burned him at the stake. His statue still stands in the Campo dei Fiori where he was executed, facing the Vatican as if accusing those who murdered him.

Um:  no (Well, the statue is probably there, but the rest is not accurate at all).

There’s also Bruno’s contemporary, Galileo Galilei, the astronomer who discovered the moons of Jupiter and argued for the heliocentric solar system. As a reward for his revolutionary scientific work, he was judged suspect of heresy by the Inquisition and forced to abjure his own work under threat of torture; his books were banned and he was sentenced to house arrest for the remainder of his life. The story of Galileo’s persecution is so well-known that I’d hesitate to retell it yet again, if it weren’t for the fact that church apologists like Jay Wesley Richards are still defending and soft-pedaling it. 
That could be because Richards understands history better than you do.

In fact, even Bruno’s torture and execution still have their defenders, like the creationist site Evolution News and Views, or professional outrage-monger William Donohue of the Catholic League, who ludicrously claimed that the Spanish Inquisition was a good thing. A Catholic cardinal, Angelo Sodano, likewise said in 2000 that the inquisitors who condemned Bruno “had the desire to serve freedom and promote the common good and did everything possible to save his life.” 
Donohue is an idiot; I will gladly so stipulate; and creationist are by definition for shite.  As to the views of the Cardinal, perhaps you want to start by taking them seriously and considering whether they have any validity, rather than rejecting them because, well, he's a cardinal, and obviously a very ignorant man.  Right?

And from Carl Sagan’s original series, one more cautionary tale: the story of Hypatia of Alexandria, a philosopher, astronomer and mathematician who lived in fourth-century Egypt in the waning days of the Roman Empire. Christianity was on the rise and bent on stamping out pagan ideas, and Hypatia was despised by the local bishop, Cyril of Alexandria, who hated her for her friendship with the governor and the different worldview she represented. Despite the personal danger she was in, she continued to study and to teach until, one day, she was assaulted in the street by a mob of Christian fanatics who dragged her from her chariot and hacked her to death with tiles. Her works were destroyed, her books lost. Cyril was made a saint. (Hypatia’s life and death were dramatized in the 2009 film Agora, starring Rachel Weisz.) 
I'm sure, whatever quality the film is, it's also a font of historical accuracy and information, as so many historical films are.  As for the rest, as usual, it's a bit more complicated than that.  Here is an historical account, which I do not offer as the final word on the fate of Hypatia; but I do point out the sources I am confronted with here are Carl Sagan's TV show, and a movie starring Rachel Weisz.

There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the  philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and  science, as to far surpass all the  philosophers  of her own time. Having succeeded to the  school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner, which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not unfrequently appeared in public in presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in coming to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more. Yet even she fell a victim to the political jealousy which at that time prevailed. For as she had frequent interviews with Orestes, it was calumniously reported among the Christian populace, that it was she who prevented Orestes from being reconciled to the bishop [i.e., Cyril]. Some of them therefore, hurried away by a fierce and bigoted zeal, whose ringleader was a reader named Peter waylaid her returning home, and dragging her from her carriage, they took her to the church called Cæsareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her with tiles. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them. This affair brought not the least opprobrium, not only upon Cyril but also upon the whole Alexandrian church. And surely nothing can be farther from the spirit of Christianity than the allowance of massacres, fights, and transactions of that sort. This happened in the month of March during Lent, in the fourth year of Cyril's episcopate, under the tenth consulate of Honorius, and the sixth of Theodosius

This is from the Church History of Socrates Scholasticus, a man who was not a fan of Cyril's, as you'll note from some of the passages there.  He doesn't praise Cyril, and in fact holds him accountable for the conditions that led to Hypatia's death.  I won't praise Cyril, or defend his actions in Alexandria (the Jews were driven out, for one thing; kind of hard to justify that, even by the standards of the 4th century).  But the death of Hypatia came from the mob, not Cyril (how much he did to quell, or encourage, the mob violence is another matter).  And it came in the midst of a power struggle over who would control Alexandria (did I mention the Jews were driven out?  Does that give you a clue as to what was going on?)  The history is that Hypatia was killed by a mob based on a groundless rumor, and the church history accepted by the Roman Catholic church clearly states this was an undeserved death, and makes no mention of hostility towards Hypatia's views on philosophy, mathematics, or astronomy.  You might still say that's a biased account.  Fine; got anything besides a TV show and a movie to base that on?

But this kind of persecution isn’t just a relic of ancient history. While we’re thankfully past the days when scientists could be stoned in the streets or imprisoned by church tribunals, the anti-science spirit is alive and virulent in the world today,  waving away facts that disagree with its ideology and seeking to silence or intimidate those who speak inconvenient truths.

 Uh, you might want to remove that log from your own eye, before complaining about the speck in theirs. Just saying'....  Because unless there are mobs rioting in the streets of American cities and church leaders driving out Jews or other groups from those cities (the "sundown cities" are not so far back in our rearview mirror of history), or murdering people because of wild rumors, then yes, this kind of persecution is precisely a relic of ancient history.  Nobody is put to death for perceived heresies anymore (Bruno) or locked up in order to control the dissemination of their views (Galileo), by the church or the state, and no one is going to be.  Even in thoroughly insane (in many ways) Texas, members of the State Board of Education were so extreme they lost their races to be re-elected in a GOP primary.  Granted, the Board is still extreme to my way of thinking, but persecution?


Just stop, please; you look as silly as the fundies who claim acceptance of homosexuals comes from Satan and God is going to punish us for respecting each other.


  1. Atheists lie as much as fundamentalists will, perhaps more so because the fundamentalists believe in sin and that it is a sin to lie. That has been one of the hard lessons of the past decade of reading atheists online. They don't care if they lie and they don't care if other atheists are lying, generally.

    Carl Sagan's show was full of historical nonsense, much of it seemingly derived from the same old lie Brit anti-Catholic mythology that was originally cooked up by some of the more dishonest Anglicans of the past. The Anglicans have, largely, recanted much of that but the atheists took it up and embroidered a bit more onto it.

    Salon, Alternet, Raw Story, myriads of other allegedly leftist websites, I am finding it hard to not consider them as about as reliable as CNN and, in some cases, FOX. Any website that can carry C. J. Werleman, Amanda Marcotte, Valerie Tarico and others who have been, repeatedly, exposed for lying in their pieces is not reliable for much else. I'm not going to pretend for them anymore.

  2. It's akin to what "everybody knows" about the "Dark Ages," that they were "Dark" because of the Church and it's anti-science attitudes.

    Even though "science" didn't get started until the Enlightenment, and the Renaissance was as cruel and benighted in its own way as the "Medieval" period it said preceded it (we only call it any "period" at all because the Renaissance started it, and gave it a pejorative title to make themselves look better).

    I'm just tired of the ignorance that refuses to seek knowledge.

  3. Oh, but they're the Brights.