Dark Age Fantasy

Chartres Cathedral

Every religion provides its adherents with an origin story–an explanation for who the faithful are and how their creed came to be.

Nu-atheism is no exception. Some would argue that atheism isn’t a religion but a lack of belief. Science and logic prove this claim false. Human beings are wired to worship. The only people who have no gods are nutcases who think they are God.

Listen to atheists spawned by Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and the like, and it soon becomes apparent that they worship their intellects and their egos. Like all faiths, theirs has a creation myth.

An integral part of the atheist creation narrative is belief in the Christian Dark Ages. During this benighted period, the story goes, Europeans lost the advances of Greece and Rome. Stifled by the Church, further technological advancement would have to wait for the Renaissance, which was mainly a warm up for the Enlightenment.

Most religions’ origin stories are set during purposefully vague past epochs. When a time frame is given at all, it’s in nebulous terms like, “a long time ago,” or, “in the primordial chaos before time.”

Nu-atheism is one of the few religions that sets a key part of its origin story during a concrete span of time. The “Dark Ages”, in the original Medieval usage, referred to either the 13th or the 10th and 11th centuries, but Reformation and Enlightenment writers later expanded its duration from the fall of Rome to the Renaissance.

Conveniently, the concrete historical setting of this particular creation myth allows us to conclusively debunk it.

Any historians worth their salt have been disavowing the concept of the Dark Ages for years.

So have honest atheists, for that matter. Here’s Tim O’Neill’s review of Hannam, wherein he demolishes the internet atheist dogma that scientific advancement stalled in the Middle Ages.

It’s not hard to kick this nonsense to pieces, especially since the people presenting it know next to nothing about history and have simply picked up these strange ideas from websites and popular books. The assertions collapse as soon as you hit them with hard evidence. I love to totally stump these propagators by asking them to present me with the name of one – just one – scientist burned, persecuted, or oppressed for their science in the Middle Ages. They always fail to come up with any. They usually try to crowbar Galileo back into the Middle Ages, which is amusing considering he was a contemporary of Descartes. When asked why they have failed to produce any such scientists given the Church was apparently so busily oppressing them, they often resort to claiming that the Evil Old Church did such a good job of oppression that everyone was too scared to practice science. By the time I produce a laundry list of Medieval scientists – like Albertus Magnus, Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, John Peckham, Duns Scotus, Thomas Bradwardine, Walter Burley, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead, John Dumbleton, Richard of Wallingford, Nicholas Oresme, Jean Buridan and Nicholas of Cusa – and ask why these men were happily pursuing science in the Middle Ages without molestation from the Church, my opponents usually scratch their heads in puzzlement at what just went wrong.

If there were no Dark Ages, why is belief in the Dark Age myth so widespread? First, people need stories that reinforce their identities. A story that reaffirms who you are over and against someone else is especially powerful. Knowing you’re not them is vital to knowing who you are.

For atheists who get their medieval history from Family Guy, an essential part of who they’re not is the superstitious rubes that razed the ancient libraries and burned free thinkers at the stake. To them, it doesn’t matter that that those rubes never existed.

Second, the black legend of the Dark Ages is another Christian own-goal. It was Protestants who took the ball from Petrarch, ran with it, and passed it down the field to Enlightenment secular humanists. Much like the campfire tales about the Crusades, propaganda spread by the Reformers as part of their own origin story came back to bite them.

This post isn’t to knock all religious origin stories set during a concrete point in history. The existence and ministry of Jesus, for example, is better attested than the lives of Socrates, Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar.

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