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Encyclopedia > Chronological snobbery

Chronological snobbery is the logical fallacy that the thinking, art, or science of an earlier time is inherently inferior when compared to that of the present. It occurs when someone makes the presumption that since civilization has advanced in certain (usually scientific) areas, people of earlier time periods must have been on the whole less intelligent in all areas. "If they used to think the sun revolved around the Earth, why should we even listen to what they have to say about the problem of evil?" In philosophy, the term logical fallacy properly refers to a formal fallacy: a flaw in the structure of a deductive argument which renders the argument invalid. ...

An example

G. B. Tennyson offers the following first-hand account of chronological snobbery in action:

I was attending a lecture with a varied but exclusively university-oriented audience of some five hundred when the lecturer, a Ph.D. in physics, said, almost in passing, "Remember that only three hundred years ago men actually believed the world was flat!" Considerable knowing laughter greeted this astonishing misrepresentation (or, should I say, falsehood?), and the assembled all murmured a kind of self-congratulatory hum of satisfaction with their own superior knowledge. At another point the lecturer dropped a reference to the onetime belief that the sun revolved around the earth. More laughter. The physicist, it was apparent, was merely offering burnt incense at the altar of some of our twentieth-century idols.[1]

God, lightning bolts, and similar applications

A further step is to assume that ancient people made up fanciful theories in lieu of scientific explanations, such as, "Men used to think that God (or Thor) threw lightning bolts when He was angry, but now we know that lightning is just a massive build-up of static electricity." The actual evidence of ancient people having this belief is hardly different from a count of present day people with the same belief. Confucius, Socrates, Buddha, Cicero, Archimedes and other sages, old as they are, left no suggestion of this.

To the contrary, there are many examples of similarity between ancient cultures and our own. Students of Plato's Academy argued against the soothsayers who were telling people that they could predict the future by reading goat entrails, much as Carl Sagan spoke his contempt for modern horoscopes. To compare a modern Sagan against an ancient soothsayer is as false as to compare an ancient Aristotle with a modern astrologer. For prophecy in the context of revealed religions see Prophet. ... Dr. Carl Edward Sagan (November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996) was an American astronomer, astrobiologist, and highly successful science popularizer. ... In astrology, a horoscope is a chart or diagram representing the positions of the planets, other celestial bodies, and sensitive angles at the time of any event, such as a persons birth. ...

According to passages from the Bible, it is particularly clear that Jewish people did not believe that God was in natural disasters. In 1 Kings 19:11-12 we find a story of Elijah that says, "Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence." In the silence, the story goes, Elijah met God. One chapter earlier (1 Kings 18:38) the author does attribute that God sent lightning from sky, but it came on a presumably cloudless day at the instant it was commanded from Elijah for the purposes of revealing God's glory by lighting an altar (doused in water) on fire. Furthermore, the Book of Job (quite possibly the oldest book we have) is written precisely to explain that bad things (like natural disasters and plagues) happen to righteous people. People of those days recognized that nature and its fury is undirected. To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ...

Usage of the term

Owen Barfield alludes to this presumption in his books Speaker's Meaning, History in English Words, and Worlds Apart. [2] Fellow Inkling, C. S. Lewis, also uses the term in his partial autobiography, Surprised by Joy. Owen Barfield (November 9, 1898–December 14, 1997) was a British philosopher, author, poet, and critic. ... The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford where the Inklings met on Thursday nights from 1939. ... C.S. Lewis Clive Staples Lewis (29 November 1898–22 November 1963), commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis, and by his friends as Jack, was an Irish author and scholar of mixed Irish, English, and Welsh ancestry. ...


  1.   Owen Barfield: Man and Meaning
  2.   http://www.owenbarfield.com/Encyclopedia_Barfieldiana/Lexicon/Chronological.html

  Results from FactBites:
chronological age - definition of chronological age by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia. (140 words)
The number of years a person has lived, used especially in psychometrics as a standard against which certain variables, such as behavior and intelligence, are measured.
chronological age - age measured by the time (years and months) that something or someone has existed; "his chronological age was 71 years"
This information should not be considered complete, up to date, and is not intended to be used in place of a visit, consultation, or advice of a legal, medical, or any other professional.
Harmonization of the Gospels (1976 words)
Rather than make statements of "chronological snobbery" (as C. Lewish put it), let's put ourselves into the first century and the minds and experiences of these writers and see why they would write things differently.
A second idea is that Matthew, copying Mark, has followed a normal literary procedure for the day, in that he has left out other accounts by Mark (1:23-6 of the demoniac; also the blind man of 8:22-26) and so has chronologically displaced them, quite intentionally.
Of course we do not agree that Matthew copied Mark, at least not in his original Aramaic edition; but the same process could conceivably have taken place using common oral tradition or an Aramaic original.
  More results at FactBites »



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