P Z Myers screws up a critique of a religious writer

Myers said the following here:


I think I’m beginning to figure David B. Hart out. I’ve been totally mystified about why anyone would consider him a credible or interesting thinker since reading his essay belittling the New Atheists, which was dreary and wearying — I compared his prose style to that of Eeyore. But note: one of his central points in that essay was that these New Atheists aren’t as smart and brave as the Old Atheists, an idea that comes up again in a new essay.

Hart has now written a column praising Julian the Apostate, of all people. Julian was a very interesting person in history, a 4th century Roman emperor who resisted the Christianization of the empire begun by Constantine by openly rejecting Christianity and endorsing a revitalization of paganism. He’s something of a mixed bag for atheists: he’s a hero for opposing the dour old monotheism that was spreading through the culture, but also a bit of a flake for encouraging the old classical religions — he was not an atheist by any means. The novel by Gore Vidal, Julian, is an excellent introduction to the doomed rebellion against Christianity.

One thing Julian also was not is a friend to Catholicism, so it’s odd to see a Catholic writer heaping praise on him. But then you discover that Hart doesn’t admire him for his views or his intelligence or his cause (although he acknowledges them), it’s because Hart has the conservative disease of believing everything was better in the past, that there was a Golden Age, and that we’re living in an era of decline and defeat right now. To these cranky old farts of stodginess, we’re always living in perpetual decline. Julian is to be admired because he also thought the generations before him were better than the one he was living in.

As a scientist, one would think he would value accuracy over merely bashing religion for the fun of it. But he made a mistake and got busted for it!


Myers claims that Hart believes everything in the past was better, when Hart has written at length about the cruelty of the pre-Christian Classical world. Myers claims that the Middle Ages were a “trough” in terms of scientific progress, burdened by an “anti-scientific” Church, when in fact the Middle Ages were a time of great learning, sponsored by the Church; the Middle Ages were the time when science came into its own as a discipline (primarily because of the Aristotelian development in theology). The idea that the Middle Ages were a dark time for science or that the Church bore down on scientists is a well-known myth, and I think it not unlikely that Myers will soon be telling us that Christians believed in a flat earth. These falsehoods are simply Myers’ historical ignorance on display.

Myers’ central claim about Hart’s piece is that Hart believes that:

Substance is unimportant, just so long as he believed. It’s a strange world the modern defenders of religion live in, where they’ve given up hope in fighting for the specifics of their dogma, and are reduced to desperately hoping that someone somewhere will be nestled in a delusion of some kind.

Where Myers got this is a mystery. The claim that Hart doesn’t believe in fighting for the specifics of dogma is absurd given Hart’s well known track record of harshly criticizing other theologians over theological matters. Further, this claim contradicts Myers’ own (atrociously misguided) summary of Hart’s essay: Myers at least recognized that Hart “doesn’t admire [Julian] for his views” (one of the very few propositions in Myers post that is correct). So where does the claim come from?

My own view is that he’s just making it up. Myers has no concept of rigor for any kind of inquiry outside biology (and for all I know, not even in biology). He claims to attack every formulation of the arguments for the existence of God, yet he expresses dismay upon encountering the basic terminology. His description of Hart’s assessment of Julian is directly contrary to Hart’s own words. He thinks the Middle Ages were a dark time for science, overrun by an anti-scientific Church. And so on.

Which just gets me back to my original point: Myers shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Someone commented at the second blog entry:

Not to mention that Myers calls him a “Catholic,” when, in fact, he is Eastern Orthodox. So how many errors are we up to now?

# posted by Blogger Martin Cothran : 5:11 PM

A link to the second blog entry was posted at the first. The responses to that were:


A whine. And a demonstration of the fundamental difference: atheists bias to situational thinking, theist apologists to abstraction-based meanderings.

In abstract thinking no idea can ever be entirely eliminated, and abstraction is the way to think about dead and imaginary things. Situational thinking is what living things do about living things. And situational thinking is the elimination of all possible answers but one. (The concept of God will survive any and all abstract thinking. It doesn’t do well in situational thinking.)

Hart and people like John Gray are actually very easy to take apart once you recognize the extent to which they over- and misapply abstraction and turn it into the one admissible form of thinking about the things they like. As do you, Martin.


Hart’s not a Catholic, he’s Eastern Orthodox. If you don’t even care enough to get something that simple straight, why should I have any confidence at all that you understand his theology?


a) it’s not about Hart’s theology
b) in Julian’s day the two were the same thing, and to folks like us the difference isn’t material
c) have you heard of The Courtier’s Reply?


why should I have any confidence at all that you understand his theology delusional thinking?

Fixed it for you, making it more to our point. All religious thought is delusional. It starts with their inability to show conclusive physical evidence for their imaginary deity, and goes downhill from there. No sophistical theology ever.


I see: facts don’t matter, but patently fallacious rhetorical tricks like the notoriously bad “Courtier’s Reply” do. Thanks for clarifying that for me.


A difference that makes no difference is no difference. Only goddists worry about which particular cult or sect some other goddist belongs to.


Come now, Eric’s point is entirely valid. Why, how on earth can we debate the issue of how many angels are dancing on the head of a pin when you won’t even consider that perhaps they’re dancing the Charleston and not the Samba?


“A difference that makes no difference is no difference.”

Let’s test that.

“One thing Julian also was not is a friend to Catholicism, so it’s odd to see a Catholic writer heaping praise on him.”

Makes sense, but it’s not true. Let’s see some more:

“One thing Julian also was not is a friend to Catholicism, so it’s odd to see a Mormon writer heaping praise on him.”

“One thing Julian also was not is a friend to Catholicism, so it’s odd to see an atheistic writer heaping praise on him.”

“One thing Julian also was not is a friend to Catholicism, so it’s odd to see a Science Blogs writer heaping praise on him.”

Yep, makes no difference — if you don’t understand English, maybe.

And it went on from there. Finally, P Z himself said:


That was terrible. You know you’ve hit home when someone has to write something that overwrought and that longwinded to address what is actually a very simple point.

Here’s one more bigoted insult:


Eric the troll:

I see: facts don’t matter, but patently fallacious rhetorical tricks like the notoriously bad “Courtier’s Reply” do. Thanks for clarifying that for me.

Ah, but facts do matter.

There is zero proof that the gods exist.

Which is why religions multiply and diverge with time. If they are all made up fairy tales, one is as true as another.

The earth isn’t 6,000 years old and Noah did not have a boatload full of dinosaurs.

Facts matter, which is one reason why xianity is grasping at straws these days. No point in grasping at facts which will forever elude them.

One more fact for the road. Eric is an idiot troll.

Sorry, P Z, but ALL the comments above in red are bullshitting. If you and the other atheist fanatics were Honorable Skeptics instead, you would have simply owned up to your errors by saying, at least, “I’m sorry about misidentifying the religious affiliation of Hart! I will correct it in the blog entry above.” And then you could have edited it to say, “One thing Julian also was not is a friend to Christianity, so it’s odd to see a Christian writer heaping praise on him.” But you didn’t even do that! That makes you a coward!


Because I am honorable, I sometimes willingly concede points made by my opponents in debates with them. This should never be seen as a sign of weakness. When I know I am right about something, I will fight to the bitter end to support my case and discredit my opponent because in some cases I do see my battles as a struggle between light and darkness, good and evil, or ignorance and knowledge. But I am also willing at times to listen to my opponent and consider his point of view, especially if that person is known by me to be honorable. If we do not listen to others, how can we ever grow in knowledge?

I think this is a damning example of the “New Atheist” hypocrites using the same sort of bogus rhetoric they would condemn religious fundamentalists for!

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