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.


  1. Good to see more people talk about this. The Renaissance and Enlightenment set science back specifically because the myth of the Dark Ages caused then to either discard or ignore Medieval science only to 'discover' something known for centuries. Even the word 'medieval' implies.it was just a holding period between the glory days of Rome and the Enlightenment.

    I may be wrong, but I also think this is why the Eastern Romans are called 'Byzantines' despite Byzantium being renamed Constantinople decades before the empires split and despite the fact that they called themselves Roman. I reminded people that the Roman Empire didn't actually fall until the medieval period was over.

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  2. Brian

    And don't forget the 2nd Black legend: that of Spain's.

    Ken Follett in his Pillars of the earth makes a fascinating point. He's an atheist who grew up in Plymouth brethern household and despite being surrounded by some of most beautiful cathedrals Christendom they were so indifferent as to be oblivious. Follet was so intrigued that his research led to Pillars of the earth and its sequels.

    Tl;Dr early Protestants sure came across as very Islamic.


    1. Most of Protestantism's theology originates from Wycliff. He changed a lot of theological opinions after visiting Morocco and all of them just happened to be things held in common with Islam, such as faith alone, scripture alone, universal priesthood, etc. Things that were, prior to him, completely alien to Christians everywhere.

      The more I've learned about this the more I'm convinced that Protestantism is actually a synthesis of Catholicism and Islam.

    2. He changed a lot of *his* theological opinions

    3. Chris

      Very interesting. A synthesis. More like a wrap consuming its host alive and then killing it when fully formed.
      Victor Davis Hanson remarked about how aghast the Southern Europeansxwere when they learned about Protestantism.


  3. Brian




  4. The good thing about historical claims is they are verifiable. For instance, Robert Spencer notwithstanding, Mohammed definitely existed. It's just that the liar/lunatic/Prophet argument is... considerably less weighted toward the divine.

    I will never forget how ANGRY I was, as an atheist libertarian, the first time I heard someone suggest that the Dark Ages weren't all that dark, really. (Lefty professor in community college. The battle lines were more flexible then.) Why, if left unchecked this calumny would plunge us all into unreason and tyranny!

    If that's not the voice of religious dogma, I couldn't tell you what is.

    1. That's a powerful testimonial to the Dark Ages as an atheist creation myth.

      Origin stories establish identity, in this case, "We're the rational ones, unlike those irrational Dark Age dupes."

      Challenging that origin story is taken as an attack on the adherent's identity, hence the anger response.

  5. If you look at the main animating ideas of Protestantism it's pretty clear it's mostly a child of Catholicism. The origin is schismatic, and the concerns are shared. Protestants and Catholics alike repeatedly look for a disparate or external origin beyond the obvious. Generally, in my experience, Protestants are looking for a way that Catholicism wasn't their REAL dad.

    Protestants and Catholics both try to center the entire history of Europe on the schism, each sweeping to themselves every imagined trend and consequence - now for the negative, now for the positive.

    It's all myth-making. Christianity has always had internal rivalries and variant interpretations. From the outside, by and large, any "but of course if you believe THAT you must fall prey to...." arguments apply equally to us all, either from atheists or from other religions.

    That was my big realization some years back. There's no peace to be made with outsiders (dare I say infidel?) by posing as the Good Kind of Christian; we're all dedicated to foolishness and offensiveness, as per: "unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness"

    Sorry. Bit rambly. 4AM and I'm very unwell. God bless.