Demolishing the atheist myths

This is a usefully thorough debunking of the oft-referenced myth concerning the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria:

If there is a story that forms the heart of New Atheist bad history, it’s the tale of the Great Library of Alexandria and its destruction by a Christian mob.  It’s the central moral fable of the Draper-White Thesis, where wise and rational Greeks and Romans store up all the wisdom of the pre-Christian ancient world in a single library, treasuring science and reason and bringing western civilisation to the brink of a technological and industrial revolution.  But then a screaming mob of irrational Christian zealots puts this treasure of science and learning to the torch, thus ushering in the Dark Ages and setting back technology by one thousand years.  It’s certainly a great story, retold in Carl Sagan’s seminal Cosmos TV series (1980) and in Alejandro Amenabar’s film Agora (2009).  The only problem is … it never happened.

So where are these people getting all this stuff that makes them so angry?  Unfortunately, this is another case where the average New Atheist’s grasp of history has been informed not by a historian, but by a scientist and where the scientist has, yet again, got pretty much everything wrong.  The main culprit here is, unfortunately, the late Carl Sagan…. It was his 1980 TV series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage that made him a household name.  It became the most widely watched public television series of the 1980s and virtually single-handedly established a new kind of public science education.  Sagan took a wide-ranging theme of the history of the cosmos and how we humans have come to understand it, using science and reason.  It was the way he used the history of science to explain scientific concepts that intrigued me as a teenager, though I was later to learn that Sagan was a much better scientist and presenter than he was a historian.

Sagan wrote the series and its accompanying best-selling book in 1978-79, in the shadow of the Cold War, the era of Apartheid and the wake of the Iranian Revolution and years of radical terrorism.  The final episode of the series, “Who Speaks for Earth?”, was a reflection on the future of humanity and a plea for sanity in the face of increasing threats to our civilisation.  And it’s in this context that Sagan tells a moral fable of the Great Library of Alexandria and its fall to the forces of irrationality and superstition:

The story that Sagan tells is a fine one and the morals he draws from it are admirable, but as a historical account it’s absolutely terrible.  He makes a number of dubious claims, presents speculation as fact and makes several flat out factual errors – true history pedants can find a detailed analysis everything he gets wrong or overstates in this post to the Reddit /r/badhistory group.  While he also makes the weird claim that Greco-Roman civilisation collapsed because of slavery, it’s the nineteenth century cliches about “the Dark Ages” that were finally relieved by the glorious “Renaissance” that form the basis of his depiction of western intellectual history.  In a weird inversion of the actual chronology, somehow Sagan puts the murder of Hypatia of Alexandria before the “abject surrender to mysticism”  which he says led to ” the mob [that] came to burn the [Great Library] down”.  The influence of his account of the murder of Hypatia is a topic for another article, but it’s his heartfelt paean to the Great Library, his allusions to the advances it could have inspired if it had survived, followed by his condemnation of the forces of “stagnation … pessimism …. [and] mysticism” which caused this jewel to be burned down that continue to inspire anger in many people.  Most of the expressions of outrage and hatred against the “religious barbarians” quoted above draw, directly or indirectly, on Sagan’s account.

It never ceases to amuse me how completely and utterly wrong the New Atheists have repeatedly proven to be about everything, from philosophy and theology to history and science. No wonder no one takes them seriously anymore.

Think about how embarrassing it must be to look upon the antics of the buffoons of the Intellectual Dork Web and realize that they are nevertheless considered to be an improvement on you by your globalist masters.


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