Mappa Mundi as Metaphor for Atheist Ignorance

As an addendum to a recent discussion in this space, readers are strongly urged to take the time to read this fascinating bit of debunkery by an atheist, who, unlike most of his ilk, knows some history and gives credit to Christians for things they actually accomplished.

Medieval Maps and Monsters

The writer here, one Tim O’Neill, takes to task his fellow atheist, a Mr. Seidensticker, for an article mocking mappa mundi and the depicted monsters decorating the corners, as an example of the antiscientific obscurantism prevailing whenever Christian ruled the West — a period of time that apparently has somewhat elastic borders, given the rhetorical need to assign all Christian accomplishments to non-Christians.

The particular monsters mentioned are very near and dear to my heart, since I placed them lovingly in my own work Somewhither using parallel timelines as my terra incognita rather than the continents speculated by the ancients to exist in antipodian or perioecian hemispeheres of the globe. (I can attest independently, based on my reading of Pliny and so on, that the mythic beasties were of ancient pagan provinance rather than medieval.)

Here is the concluding passage:

And Seidensticker is definitely guilty of trying to get the Hereford mappa to conform to his taste and finding it distasteful when it did not. Because of his ignorance of history generally and medieval history in particular, he has come to conclusions about the mappa driven almost entirely by his prejudices rather any detailed understanding. He assumes, wrongly, that its monsters and mythic beasts are somehow a product of the ignorance imposed by the medieval Church, when in fact they are drawn almost totally from ancient non-Christian sources like Pliny and Solinus. He thinks the Church stifled real scientific inquiry, when it was in fact the ancients who accepted these mythic details unquestioningly and, by contrast, it was far-travelling medieval churchmen who used reason, evidence and observation to question them. And he thinks the Hereford mappa shows medieval geography and cartography was hopelessly primitive, when in fact it existed alongside an increasingly sophisticated tradition that was eventually to lead to modern cartography. The main ignorance and irrationality on display here is not that of Richard de Bello and his fellow medieval clergy, but a profoundly and wilfully ignorant New Atheist bigot, who scorns things he simply does not understand out of irrational prejudice. We atheists need to stop doing that.