The overall theme of the book is fighting myths of Christianity with sober historical facts. He does not ignore the not-so-friendly aspects of those doing bad things in the name of Christianity. For instance he mentions the people killed in witch burnings is appalling and admits there were some missionaries that did more harm than good. But he does let readers know legitimate and relevant information of history that paint a rather different overall picture than what many popular myths have insinuated. Some of the historical information he presents might raise an eyebrow or two. Below are a couple of examples.
Some myths of Galileo made it appear that this scientist had the scientific facts on his side and that the Church was against heliocentric theory, ignoring the scientific evidence, for religious reasons, thereby making this a simple "science vs. religion" dispute. To give a taste of what he says, what the author puts into light is that the secular scientists of that era were actually against heliocentric theory, the evidence supporting heliocentric theory had not yet arrived, and that the Church really didn't care much about defending geocentricism at all, pointing out that it had let Copernicus publish the idea before Galileo was born and that many of Galileo's supporters were in the Church rather than among secular scientists. The motives behind the Catholic Church forcing Galileo to renounce heliocentricism and the lenient punishment are also explained, though the explanation of motives could have been done more thoroughly. While the Catholic Church is not portrayed as perfectly saintly, the notion of the whole conflict centering on "science vs. religion" is refuted fairly well.
The witch craze is put into perspective with some surprising facts. The number of witch trials was lowest precisely where the Church and the Inquisition were involved. The Church was also more skeptical of witch accusations than one might expect (the more radical ones anyway, such as claiming to have slept with Satan), and the author provided examples to illustrate that point. In the so-called burning times, the substantial majority of towns and villages never experienced a single witch trial. While he acknowledges that the number of people died in Europe, North America etc. (most recent estimates total to about 150 to 300 people per year, a total of 40,000 to 100,000 overall; he mentions that some exaggerations of the numbers have been falsely stretched into the millions) is a terrible enough catalog of human suffering, he puts it into perspective with the far greater amounts of bloodshed in recent history. For instance, the Battle of Somme in 1916 killed a million people in five months, twenty five thousand the first day. The point is reinforced with several more notable historical facts of the twentieth century.
What is somewhat disappointing is that he goes into a little, but only a very little, into how these myths emerged. I would like to have learned more about that in a book such as this. Another possible flaw is that on the section of Darwin, he mentions that the acceptance of Darwin's theory was patchy at best (which is in fact true), but what he leaves out is that most (though certainly not all) still nonetheless accepted some form of biological evolution; many scientists accepted evolution because of the book yet rejected Darwin's theory of it. This may have inadvertently left a false impression in the mind of the reader. All things considered though, the benefits and enlightening historical data still outweigh its possible flaws and I highly recommend this book to those who have a historical interest in Christianity, as well as those people who have been suspicious of such anti-religious claims of Christian history.
No need to hesitate. Buy this beautifully researched, insightful book.
The author looks at 6 primary beliefs that define the modern world, tracing their development as fictions cultivated by 18-20th century Enlightenment humanists who distorted their opponents beliefs and history, even fabricating quote attributions in the process. The goal was to replace Christian understanding of God, reality and man with naturalist beliefs, derived from Greek paganism, thus move authority from God to man (specifically, them).
Because of the author's gentle style, some readers new to the debate over humanism vs. religion & science may find it valuable to first read "Atheism and the Erosion of Freedom" (Morey), to understand the underlying assumptions driving the Humanist project.
"Inventing the Flat Earth" (Russell) is another outstanding book that focuses on a single issue: the fabrication of the idea (in the 1820's) that medieval people thought the world flat, so as to discredit the church and construct a Dark Age to be be corrected by Enlightened moderns.
Included in "6 Myths":
#1) Remember plucky Galileo, who stood against the might of the church armed only with the flame of reason and a telescope? Tortured by the Inquisition and condemned as a heretic for showing humans lived on an insignificant speck orbiting a common star nowhere special in the Universe, a realization that devastated a now-undermined church? Well, nothing in the above humanist story is true.
Copernicus proposed the Earth revolved around the Sun decades before Galileo. It was widely discusssed, but evidence was lacking. The Roman Catholic Church provisionally accepted the view of Aristotle, that everything revolved around the Earth, pending other information. Geocentrism was a Greek idea, not a Biblical one.
While people debated heliocentrism, a matter of no significance in the Bible, (the main opponents of heliocentrism were other astronomers with pride vested in understanding of concentric spheres, NOT clergy), Galileo got in trouble for implying the Pope, who had gone out of his way to befriend Galileo, (even penning an ode to him in 1620), was a simpleton. Further, Galileo asserted that the Bible was written for the common man and did not need a church to interpret. This was strikingly similar to arguments of the earlier John Calvin and the Protestant Reformation, to which the Roman Catholic Church WAS acutely sensitive, contributing to Galileo's arrest.
The choicest morsel here is one that always baffled me: the notion that heliocentrism somehow devastated the church by removing Man from the center of creation. This shows total ignorance of Biblical Christianity which ACTUALLY says all things were made NOT for humans, but for the Son of God. Their value arises from God's delight in them.
When the Enlightenment lapsed back into Greek idiom, it confused mankind being given "dominion" (leadership responsibility) with the Greek understanding: "domination". The idea that nature's reason for existence is its usefulness to mankind is a Greek one, coming from Aristotle, not the Bible. It was extended by the Romans, who treated the natural environment as a conquered province. At times the confusion did seep into the church, via writings influenced by Hellenism, such as Aquinas, but was expelled during the Reformation.
At the time of Galileo, the Earth being at the center of the universe was NOT AN HONOR. It was the outer celestial spheres that were pure and divine. The Universe became more corrupt as you moved to the center, which is why Dante put Hell in the center of the Earth. The Earth was held to be corrupt due to mankind's Fall and sinful nature.
When Galileo asserted the Earth was ACTUALLY a heavenly body, far from demoting it, he elevated it (and mankind) in importance. And he wrote so. Which is what endeared him to the humanistic (ego/pride-centered) "Enlightenment" intellects.
Chapter #2) Darwin: completed the Copernican revolution for humanists, by seeming to remove God and Original Sin. Materialistic, undirected evolution meant human thought, ego/pride and power were the actual pivots around which the universe revolved, not God. The book documents an array of historical fabrications used to caricature the church's position on evolution. Humanists need to reinforce their view of themselves as rational and tolerant (because they are not), needing an enemy to attack so as to avoid self-examination (see my review of "Why People Believe Weird Things"(Shermer)). This is one reason there seem to be countless books railing against the danger of believing in pseudo-science like dowsing, but one is hard pressed to find anything pro-dowsing. Shadow-boxing?).
#3) The Environment. Shows how, contrary to the humanist myth that Bible-based human "dominion" caused environmental degradation, it is actually Greek and Roman thought, revived by the Enlightenment project (while suppressing Christianity through caricature and demonization), that gives the go ahead. To a Christian, a tree is part of Creation, designed by God. The Puritans were strong, original environmentalists, opposing animal cruelty even as their detractors lied to cartoon their motives as the opposite. It is in Christian societies where modern environmental awareness was founded and developed.
#4) The Missionaries -- shows how terms like "savage" and "barbarian" and "civilization" are foreign to Biblical understanding, but are prominent in "Enlightened" thought. Actual Christianity sees all humans as being made in the image of God thus having intrinsic worth. Accordingly, it is in Christian societies where slavery was legally banned and the idea of "human rights" has root.
#5) Human body -- punctures the idea the Christianity means sexual repression, and shows why humanists needed to invent the caricature.
#6) Witchcraft -- documents the real history, grossly exagerrated by humanists. 20 people died in Salem. But hundreds of millions have been killed and enslaved this century trying to create secular Utopias, be they communist, socialist, or fascist.
This skeletal summary doesn't do the book justice. Get the book. Read carefully.