Monday, September 8, 2003

New Testament Rant

Wow... it's been quite a while since I last posted. I'm at Gordon College now, and getting quite settled in. Today begins the second full week of classes. Mostly things are going well, I think. But I want to rant about something.

Today in New Testament class the professor mentioned in passing that the disciple John, the disciple Jesus loved, did not believe or know that the earth was round. This comment bothered me. Contrary to what most middle school history and science textbooks tell us, the overwhelming majority of intelligent people since the time of Empedocles (c. 450 B.C.) have not only believed the world to be round, but have also been able to calculate (since the time of Pythagoras) the approximate size of the earth. (Columbus was opposed on his voyage not because people believed he would "fall off" the "flat" earth, as many erroneous textbooks say, but because he was wrong about the size of the earth and people knew it. Where he believed Asia would be, he by sheer luck found N. and S. America - or he would have died at sea.) In fact, not only did the Greeks, Romans, Medievals, and early Christians not believe the earth to be flat; no one before the 1830's A.D. believed that those people believed the earth to be flat.

Around 1830, the idea was established almost contemporaneously (but entirely coincidentally - no connection between the two men) by a Frenchman and an American. One was Antoine-Jean Letronne (1787-1848), an academic with strong anti-religious prejudices. In his work "On the Cosmographical Ideas of the Church Fathers," he drew up both geography and history to misrepresent the Church fathers and their medieval successors as believing in a flat earth. The aforementioned American was the storyteller Washington Irving (1783-1859), who wrote historical fiction under the guise of history. He is responsible for inventing the image most hold today of Columbus appearing before inquisitors and theologicans at a council of Salamanca, all of whom believed (so said Irving) that the earth was flat. Yes, there was a meeting at Salamanca in 1491, shortly before Columbus embarked on his voyage, but Irving's version of this council is misleading, and more than that, entirely inaccurate.

The false accounts of Irving and Letronne became mainstream "knowledge" within the schools and textbooks as soon as the 1860s, not just as an incorrect conception of the history of Western thought, but as part of a larger falsehood - concerning the "war" between science and religion throughout Western history. This view of the separation between religion and science was invented and propagated by people such as John Draper and Andrew Dickson White, who worked to have the view circulated in texts, encyclopedias, and more... up to the present day. I believe that the reason "historians" such as these men promoted not only the specific lie about beliefs concerning the sphericity of the earth but also the general lie that religion and science are in conflict with one another is a defense of Darwinism and naturalism. Crudely stated, the argument inherent in their view would seem to be this: "See, Christians are stupid people. They interfere with science and progress in civilization. The same sects of people denying evolution and arguing with Darwinism today were denying basic facts such as the sphericity of the earth for at least a thousand years. Obviously, they were wrong about the earth... and they're just interfering with the progress of naturalism and science by arguing with Darwinism." And... it's simply not true. Throughout history the arts and sciences alike have flourished under Christendom. The entire concept of a "Dark Ages" - and thus of the "rebirth" or the "Renaissance" following - was a creation primarily of people in the 19th century. In truth, the Byzantine Empire flourished until 1450 A.D. - a culture of uninterrupted progress and development in the arts and sciences under the university of Constantinople (controlled by Christians) from about 400 A.D. until Islam sacked Constantinople in the 1450's.

The underlying issue here seems very important to me - This secular view of history has so infiltrated our anti-intellectual culture today that most Christian intellectuals have also adopted this view and then pasted Christ over it. This bothers me. And that's putting it mildly.

I'm reading a book (well, trying to, when I have time) called The Stripping of the Altars. It's about traditional religion in England from 1400-1580, and it's full of lots of interesting ideas to think about concerning the Reformation. Really, it's just adding to my questions and concerns with the Protestant, and particularly evangelical, churches in which I've grown up. I'm not sure I can really be an evangelical in good conscience anymore... but that is another topic for another rant for another time.

I'm also trying to find time to re-read the Iliad... fascinating book. I love it. I wish I had time to learn...well...just...everything about everything.

Oh yeah, and I'm practicing the violin, too. That's what I'm here for, after all. Sometimes I love it, and sometimes I don't. But hopefully, it's worth it. And I love my teacher here! But sometimes all the hours of practice just seems like... too much. And there are so many other things I want to do too; learn history and literature and philosophy and theology and apologetics and everything! So how do I justify devoting myself to just one thing? But I guess we all have to do it at some point. And I love the violin, I really do. I'm starting a Beethoven sonata, a Telemann fantasy, and continuing my work on the Barber concerto. Oh... and at my lesson last week I officially graduated from Kreutzer to Rode! Words cannot express my delight and jubilation at this. Because I didn't start violin until relatively rather late in life, and because I haven't had teachers who pushed me or had the diligence and initiative to make myself do etudes and scales and such, I've been doing various Kreutzer etudes for far too long now... and I finally get to leave them all behind and start Rode! I feel so grown up.

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