Finally, a reason to call fundamentalists ‘medieval’

Posted: January 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

As an ancient series of posts here has exhaustively demonstrated, using the word “medieval” when you really just mean “stupid,” “backward,” or “wrong-headed”* is a pet peeve of mine.** The worst is when people attach it to fundamentalist Christians, the Westboro Baptist Church types (who picket at any funeral guaranteed to piss people off when picketed), because the “Answers in Genesis“, “God Hates Fags”*** way of reading the Bible is essentially hyper-Protestan and thus Early Modern at the earliest, really a feature of Puritan-era England during the Interregnum,**** to be more precise—so not medieval by about a century and a half.*****

But those of you who long for the chance to lay the medieval smack down on some modern day Biblical literalists without being countersmacked by yours truly, rejoice! For I say unto you, the people responsible for the ACE line of fundamentalist textbooks are now appear to have been for some time****** including the Loch Ness Monster as possible evidence against evolution in their Biology textbook designed for home schooled ninth-graders. Thus spake the ACE:

Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland? ‘Nessie’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.

While medieval Christians would’ve rolled their medieval eyes at people who thought that every word of the Bible was literally true,******* they did know there was a lot to be learned from the story of Nessie. As even Wikipedia will tell you, Capitulo XXVII of Adomnán’s seventh-century Life of St. Columba******** bears the first extant reference to the aquatic beasty haunting the Ness area. Observe:

On another occasion also, when the blessed man [Columba] was living for some days in the province of the Picts, he was obliged to cross the river Nesa [the Ness]; and when he reached the bank of the river, he saw some of the inhabitants burying an unfortunate man, who, according to the account of those who were burying him, was a short time before seized, as he was swimming, and bitten most severely by a monster that lived in the water.

It should come as no great shock to find that medievals believed in monsters, of course, even famous ones like Nessie.********* But did you know that they also used these monsters to conduct scientific experiments? As Adomnan describes it, after hearing of the monster Columba goes all Mr. Wizard/Bill Nye/Beakman and sets to experimenting, calmly and dispassionately, like a good scientist should:**********

The blessed man, on hearing this, was so far from being dismayed, that he directed one of his companions to swim over and row across the coble that was moored at the farther bank.

Columba’s not content to just go with the report of these men who say that a monster killed their friend. Men you come upon randomly whilst they are burying someone in the forest might have reason to lie about what happened pre decease of the buriee, after all. Even Adomnan himself, presumably following Columba’s blessed example, gets all sciency when he describes the predictable result of the saint’s experiment:

But the monster, which, so far from being satiated, was only roused for more prey, was lying at the bottom of the stream, and when it felt the water disturbed above by the man swimming, suddenly rushed out, and, giving an awful roar, darted after him, with its mouth wide open, as the man swam in the middle of the stream.

Note how careful Adomnan is to explain why the monster attacks and the physical mechanism of the attack. It’s practically Natural Geographic film narration.*********** Luckily for the blessed man’s test subject they call him Saint Columba for a reason.************

Then the blessed man observing this, raised his holy hand, while all the rest, brethren as well as strangers, were stupefied with terror, and, invoking the name of God, formed the saving sign of the cross in the air and commanded the ferocious monster, saying, “Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed.” Then at the voice of the saint, the monster was terrified, and fled more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes. […] Then the brethren seeing that the monster had gone back, and their comrade Lugne returned to them in the boat safe and sound, were struck with admiration, and gave glory to God in the blessed man. And even the barbarous heathens, who were present, were forced by the greatness of this miracle, which they themselves had seen, to magnify the God of the Christians.

So, you see, using the Loch Ness Monster to learn simultaneously about both biology and God’s glory is very medieval. The ACE editorial board is kicking it old school–sixth-century old school.

The one thing they seem to have missed in the Loch Ness story, though, is how hearsay is no adequate justification for belief, at least not in the sixth century. Columba believes in the monster only when he sees it. The barbarous heathens believe in God only when they see him working through Columba’s miracle. Screw this “faith is something you believe with no reason” nonsense–that, too, is just so Early Modern.

  1. * Or, increasingly, “Muslim”. []
  2. ** A peeve, I might add, I’ve tried to kill off through neglect, but the darn bugger keeps finding enough food on its own, even when I don’t put any out for days on end.†  
    †Perhaps there’s a no-kill shelter you can send your old pet peeves to, one that makes sure they get sent to a farm upstate. []
  3. *** By the by, anyone know if Westboro Church has always been in charge of And while we’re (not really) on the subject, why was there no Internet movement to preserve when its registration lapsed? A criminal oversight! []
  4. **** That dude who said the Earth was essentially 6000 years old on the basis of some Biblical ‘calculations’? He published that finding in 1650, the same year Harvard incorporated. []
  5. ***** And that’s using the most gracious definition of medieval, ending it around 1500, or with the (re)discovery (by Europeans) of the New World. []
  6. ****** If this story from a Scottish newspaper can be trusted  reliable on matters of American textbookery. []
  7. ******* For the letter killeth, and the spirit quickeneth []
  8. ******** Vita Columbae if you’re pedantic, Miss Jackson if you’re nasty. []
  9. ********* Whether they believed in Wolfmen, Draculas or Frankensteins has not yet been conclusively proven. []
  10. ********** And, like Mr. Wizard, he lets his volunteers do the actual heavy lifting while he watches on. We’re going to need another Timmy, indeed. []
  11. *********** Witness how the beast uses disturbance carried through the dark water to locate its prey. Evolution has gifted the monsters of the Ness with specialized sensory organs that allow them to use ambient vibrations for aquatic echolocation. []
  12. ************ A reason unrelated to his tendency to trick people into playing his Loch Ness Monster games, which are like Reindeer Games, but with more rending and teeth, and less Ben Affleck. []

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