I've always wanted to do a book on secular mythology. Secular types often think of religion as being mythology and secularism being a "myth-free" religion. But the funny thing is that the mythologies that grow in the secular world tend to be much more often third-hand, and largely false stories that get repeated over and over for the propoganda effect. A few quick examples:
- Galileo - the Galileo story that most people know is flagrantly in error. Galileo was actually paid by the Church to investigate the heliocentric theory. What he did wrong was (a) offend the pope (the person whose name was "stupid" in his allegory quoted the pope), (b) claimed that he had proven something when he hadn't, and (c) claimed authority over the church for the interpretation of scripture. The RCC at the time had nothing but support for Galileo's scientific investigations, but it could not stand for Galileo's own personal problems. Galileo's model of the solar system was actually inferior to those of the geocentrists of his day, and his lynchpin argument for the movement of the earth was the tides, which he claimed were due to the sloshing around of the seas (the heliocentrists had correctly correlated the tides with gravity). Also, Galileo, because he was committed to a circular orbit, still had epicycles, while the Kepler (a contemporary) had moved to ellipses and did not have epicycles (Galileo did not bother to read Kepler's work). It would be over a century after Galileo was dead that the evidence, as well as theoretical underpinnings, began to go in Galileo's favor with the works of Newton. Galileo lived a very comfortable life, and wrote his most important contributions to science when he was in his home imprisonment.
- The flat earth myth - the idea that before Columbus the world was believed to be flat is patently false. Columbus's detractors did not disagree with him over the roundness of the earth, but rather with the distance he would have to travel to get there. It turns out that Columbus's detractors were correct, and in order to fudge his victory Columbus named the tribes he encountered as "Indians". In fact, all throughout the middle ages the fact that the earth was round was not only known, its approximate circumference was also known.
- The McCarthy myth - McCarthyism is a favorite label by secularists. But it turns out that McCarthy was largely right. The until-now classified Venona project turns out to support most of McCarthy's major claims. In fact, even the HUAC was infiltrated with at least one communist - congressman Samuel Dickstein who was later found to be on the Soviet payroll.
- The Scopes trial - sadly, most people only know about the Scopes trial through "Inherit the Wind". It turns out, inherit the wind has almost no historical value whatsoever. John Scopes never taught evolution, but merely claimed to have done so in order for the ACLU to be able to try the law. Scopes was never arrested, or even in danger of losing money. The only one who hysterically shouted in court was the ACLU's attorney, Clarence Darrow, who objected when Bryan quoted his previous defenses of criminals, where Darrow himself had named evolutionary theory as causing criminal behavior. Bryan was not a young-earth Creationist, though Price, on whom Bryan relied, was. Darrow tricked Bryan into taking the stand, saying that he (Darrow) would take the stand the next day for Bryan's questioning, but then called an end to the trial before that could happen.
There's a lot more. What's your favorite secular myth?