Welcome to the New Look Blog

Welcome to the New Look Blog

When I began “History for Atheists” in October 2015 it was largely as an opportunity to put down some summaries of why certain persistent New Atheist pseudo historical myths are wrong, curate the positions of expert historians and other scholars on relevant issues and direct readers to reliable information on history.  This was at least, in part, because I found myself writing refutations to the same nonsense claims over and over again and was starting to find the repetition pretty wearisome.  I also had (and still have) the idea of writing a book on the subject of New Atheist bad history and saw some of these posts as the basis for some future chapters in that work, particularly the posts in my “Great Myths” series.

So originally this blog was largely so I could post a link to a given article and say “see this – it debunks what you’re claiming in detail” rather than bashing out yet another forum post or blog comment on Hypatia’s murder, Galileo’s trials or Bruno’s execution etc.  I originally put it up on Blogger because it’s free, it’s easy to use and generally pretty workable as a platform.  Two years later, however, “History for Atheists” now has a sizeable and solid audience of regular readers, an active comments section and is getting traffic that spikes significantly higher every month.  This means I recently decided it was time the blog graduated from its humble beginnings and got its own domain name and the bells and whistles that WordPress.org can provide.

As you can see, I’ve brought the previous posts and comments over to the new platform and, apart from a few minor formatting muddles and a couple of other bugs that I’m still trying to fix, the transition has gone fairly smoothly.  I’m on a steep learning curve to get myself conversant with WordPress’ tools and add-ons and have been tinkering with some CSS, so expect to see periodic changes over the next few weeks, hopefully for the better.  Please let me know if there are any links or redirects which don’t work or any other functionality issues that I may not have noticed.

Over the next couple of months I hope to tackle the major myth of the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria as part of the “Great Myths” series.  And just today I received my copy of Edward J. Watts’ highly anticipated new book Hypatia: The Life and Legend of an Ancient Philosopher (Oxford: 2017).  This is the first scholarly monograph on Hypatia by a historian of the period (as opposed to pop histories by non-academics and hobbyists) since Maria Dzielka’s excellent Hypatia of Alexandria (Harvard: 1996) over 20 years ago, so it’s a welcome addition to literature on a subject that is often infested with nonsense in popular treatments.  Last year I had the pleasure of reading Watts’ superb book The Final Pagan Generation (University of California Press: 2015) and his analysis there showed an enormous depth of understanding of the later Roman Empire’s transition from paganism to Christianity which was refreshingly free of modern ideological biases and baggage.  It seems he is going to be drawing on that knowledge and perspective to focus on Alexandria in Hypatia’s time as a microcosm of late fourth century culture, society and religion, rather than as the usual Gibbonian moral fable about the beginning of “the dark ages”.  I’ll make sure I’ve read his book before posting on the pseudo history that surrounds the death of Hypatia.

While I’m posting about the blog rather than posting on it, any suggestions or feedback is very welcome in the comments section below.

Best regards,

Tim O’Neill

11 thoughts on “Welcome to the New Look Blog

  1. Tim, my ascetic sense is fairly poor, but the new look is great to me.

    As far as suggestions, I recall you mentioning in a comment that many new atheists have adopted the bizarre Christian fundie argument that the crusades were actually defensive campaigns against Islamic expansion. Is it possible you’ll write about new atheist pseudohistory on Islam in the future? If nothing else, I suspect you’ll be able to add “Islamic apologist” and, if you’re lucky, “terrorism apologist” alongside “Crypto-Catholic” and the other laughable accusations you’ve had thrown at you over the years.




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    1. Yes, it’s odd but I have seen this idea popping up on atheist blogs and fora recently. It seems to be because many New Atheists are buying into the anti-Islam (as opposed to anti-Islamic extremists) rhetoric of people like Sam Harris and so their ideological bigotry against Islam seems to be overriding their ideological distaste for their cartoonish ideas about medieval Christianity. This is an interesting dynamic, but I’m guessing it’s driven by the fact that Islam and Islamism is much more current and topical. I can’t recall exactly which New Atheist luminaries I’ve seen peddling the “Crusades as defensive wars against Islam” idea (Jerry Coyne perhaps?) but the next time I see a particularly egregious example of it I will post on why it’s bad history.

      I’m not as well-versed in Islamic history as I’d like to be – I have too many books to read to keep up on the periods and topics I am already into. I have a reasonable grasp of relevant topics in the history of Islam that intersect with subjects like the Twelfth Century Revival, the Crusades, military history and aspects of medieval science, but not enough for me to summarise scholarship outside of those areas. One idea that does seem to be getting traction in atheist circles is that the Islamic world just preserved Greek science and didn’t add anything to it. In a recent comment on his blog the inevitable Richard Carrier dismissed the idea of any significant scientific work in the Islamic world saying there was “less than is claimed” (true to some extent, given that some modern Islamic apologists exaggerate this greatly) and “no major advances … and only small improvements” (which is much less true). Other less well-informed New Atheist bigots go much further and claim the Muslim world added nothing at all, which is absolute nonsense, but Carrier is downplaying important developments in the Muslim world in much the same way he does with similar developments in medieval Europe. This is because these things don’t fit with his New Atheist pseudo historical fantasy world where the gloriously rational Greeks and Romans were on the brink of a scientific and industrial revolution until wicked Christianity ruined everything and where Christian perspectives somehow played no role in the European Scientific Revolution because religion is completely bad. Or something.

      But my knowledge of Islamic (proto-)science isn’t detailed enough for me to discuss this at length with any confidence. Maybe I could invite someone to write a guest post.




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      1. I would argue that the problem is neither in religion nor in fundamentalism but in culture. Most Islamic countries are based on the concept of “honor culture” which differs from western concept of “dignity” culture. They are not alone, e.g. Catholic Sicily is also “honor” based.

        Atheists don’t like to admit it because changing culture is a lot harder than debunking religion. And progressives hate it too because it would mean criticizing non-western cultures as inferior.




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  2. I really like the image layout at the top, but it is somewhat annoying to have to scroll down immediately upon loading any page.

    Short of changing the layout on posts, it might be worth seeing if it’s possible to make the page position shift down to match the start of the post upon loading the page.

    That’s arguably a more aesthetic than functional change, but I figure it’s worth pointing out.




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    1. Thanks Chris. I’m using and modifying a theme designed by someone else and that change is, so far, beyond my CSS skills. But I agree and maybe I’ll be able to change it once I get a bit more adept at this stuff.




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      1. I know how to do that in JavaScript but there’s probably pure CSS solution somewhere. But if the page shifts down automatically, it is not certain why have the banner at all.




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  3. “Over the next couple of months I hope to tackle the major myth of the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria as part of the “Great Myths” series.”

    *cries tears of joy in anticipation*

    If I have to read ONE MORE uninformed post, comment, tweet, or reblog of the usual “Man, if only the Library of Alexandria hadn’t been destroyed! What a tragedy for the world!” kind, my head will explode and my angry ghost will gibber and howl on the Internet for eternity.

    I’m only a very amateur layperson with a shallow knowledge of history, and I try correcting this kind of thing when it pops up, as do others who are better informed than me, but boy does it get wearisome. Having a handy “look, go read this and get informed” post to point them to may not change a lot of minds, but it might help educate the merely ill-informed (as distinct from those with various axes to grind).

    New look site is very fancy! Congratulations!




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    1. I’m glad you like the new look Martha.

      Yes, the Great Library stuff from New Atheists is pretty tedious and my article will include some choice examples of the “if it hadn’t been destroyed by those pseky Christians we’d all be living on Mars or the Jovian moons by now” comments that infest any mention of the Great Library.

      It seems the myths of the Great Library are up there with the ones about the death of Hypatia and the trials of Galileo as the Unholy Trinity of New Atheist Bad History (though Jesus Mythicism is up there as well I suppose).




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  4. I tripped across this blog about a week ago, and I love it! My interests can broadly by characterized under the banners of ontology and epistemology, which naturally runs the gamut of theology, science, philosophy and sometimes (unfortunately), politics.

    I’m nothing more than a layperson regarding any of these fields, so I rarely comment, but I can honestly say this is the first really good blog I’ve run across in the past several years.
    I follow a few other blogs that I regard to be of excellent quality, but with the explosion of internet access for every crank and ‘expert’ with an agenda, new, well researched and coherently phrased information is getting harder and harder to find.

    I’m glad I found you. 🙂




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  5. The new look of your blog is very classy, congratulations! I will certainly drop by more often to see what is new. Just out of curiosity: Will you take up commenting on Quora again come July or do you intend to concentrate more on your blog?




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