Once in a while, in an argument over the validity of historical beliefs and values, the point will arise that the era of the people wrapped up in the events from which those beliefs came was one of fairly stunning ignorance. The people who first came to believe in this or that theological doctrine or religious story, it might be pointed out, believed at the same time that the Earth was flat and had corners
; that the Sun orbitted the Earth
; that illnesses were caused by evil spirits and could best be fought with wards and charms and prayers (instead of sanitation and medication); that the brain
was no more than an organ for cooling the blood
, and that kingdoms undreamt lay physically far below the surface of the Earth. And so, it follows, whatever was then believed or thought ought not to be given much weight.
But embracers of the ideologies deemed to derive from more ancient times might argue that it is eras more modern which, despite advances in the attainment is sterile technological information, are the ones deprived, having lost wisdom and forgotten deep knowledge. Such a view posits that it is more modern beliefs and values which ought to be weighed lightly when the views of ancient ages are contrasted against them. Both of these views have been slapped with the label, 'chronological snobbery' -- such phrase having been created by C. S. Lewis
for this purpose -- though it is most aggressively applied against arguments which seek to dismiss the value of past beliefs, and specifically to undermine anti-religious arguments premised on the general ignorance of those who wrote the Bible, the Qu'ran, and other books of those eras (not to mention the historically characteristic unhygeinic filthiness of the times).
Naturally, one is open to charges of chronological snobbery whenever one suggests that knowledge is progressive, and points out that more modern beliefs have very often ultimately utterly displaced past beliefs. I have most recently observed the actual accusation of 'chronological snobbery' in action in a friendly but impassioned discussion between a Christian
friend and a Muslim
friend. My Muslim friend insisted that the Qur'an
corrected historical and doctrinal errors of the Judeo-Christian Bible
, deemed by Islam
to be a humanly corrupted work. And because the Qu'ran was the more recent work -- and because, the Muslim proponent contended, nothing else had been sent along to correct any errors which might be in it
-- it must be taken as true over the JCB. My Christian friend decried this as chronological snobbery, a simple fallacy of 'date makes right'; but then turned around and insisted that it was because the JCB came first
(and was already believed by the people of those earlier times to be without error and so without need of correction), that it was JCB must thusly be taken as true -- which characterization my Muslim friend found to be equally an act of chronological snobbery. I earned no sympathy from either for pointing out that the works of Hinduism
preceded the JCB (and were believed by Hindus to be, at any rate, more 'correct' than other religious texts), while the asserted revelations of Mormonism
and the Bahá'í
faith are but a few to have postdated the Qu'ran.
And it has been suggested by others, not unfairly, that it is identically chronological snobbery to dismiss belief in Zeus
and his extended family of deities, each having discreet authority over various domains. The Ancient Greeks who largely held to these beliefs were after all not so terribly ignorant, having been at the same time the inventors of concepts such as democracy (after a cloistered fashion), algebra, and many other things we now deem considerable advancements over the past. And, indeed, the very tactics labeled as chronological snobbery may be seen to work both ways when applied against modern science -- for example, when anti-evolutionists attack the shortcomings of the model set forth by Charles Darwin
(as if it were the last word in the field and had not itself been improved upon, if not outright superseded in many respects by the very scientific methods of study Darwin himself would have championed). And, when the religiosity of scientific champions is made note of, in observance of the fact that even those who debunked older scientific beliefs yet maintained the theological beliefs arising from those same eras.
But chronological snobbery, despite the negative implication intended by Lewis with his use of the word, 'snobbery,' is not inherently a bad approach. Galileo
really did produce a more accurate planetary model than predecessor Ptolemy
physics describe things better than those of Newton
, who in turn superseded Aristotle
. And in the realm of the theological, it is difficult to argue that the progression from polytheism
is an advance, and yet at the same time argue that that further progressions (to Deism
perhaps, or Atheism
, as the facts will out) is not an advance as well-- since, after all, the search for truth must be geared to reaching conclusions which are 'true' and not simpy those which are 'satisfying' or which match what has come before. (Pandeism
, I confess, though a modernized model in its recent resurgence, traces back to ideas of the Milesians
of Ancient Greece
And finally, it must not be left unacknowledged that history
itself is unlike other disciplines in that its reports are objectively unreliable and unreplicable -- the more so the further back it is sought to be traced. One can not duplicate in a laboratory the specific intrigues which led to the First World War
or the overthrow of this or that Roman emperor, or the development of any especial religious tradition. Even today we see that what is not directly recorded is subject to multiple accounts, whether manufactured or simply errant. The problem is that history moves within the other sciences -- no new discovery of some ancient document or totem will change the speed of light or alter the workings of DNA, but a new discovery about the workings of DNA can change the interpretation of some historical event if this working can be shown to have affected events upon which ideas were premised. And if a more recently discovered universal principle can be enunciated which accounts for, even predicts, the past occurrence and reporting of phenomena regarded as spiritual, then it may not much matter what has happened historically in terms of revelations, miracles, prophecies, egrigori, and such, for they swim in the waters of the meta theory and are submerged into it.