Tim Hendrix on Proving History

Tim Hendrix wrote a critical analysis of my book Proving History two years ago, and recently made it available online. Coincidentally I also just discovered a review of the book in College & Research Libraries Reviews, which had been published in June of 2012 (pp. 368-69). That was only one long paragraph, but I was surprised it understood the book and took a positive angle on it, concluding:

The use of a mathematical theorem to establish reliable historical criteria can sound both threatening and misguided. However, Carrier describes and defends the theorem in layman’s terms, demonstrates that historians actually think in terms of probabilities while rarely quantifying them, shows how all other axioms and rules in historical methodology are compatible with the theorem, and then gives it a practical workout on recent studies on the historicity of Jesus … [in which] Carrier shows how the criteria for judging whether or not Jesus was a historical figure (coherence, embarrassment, multiple attestation, contextual plausibility, etc.) are replaceable by Bayes’s Theorem, which “if used correctly and honestly . . . won’t let you prove whatever you want, but only what the facts warrant.”

Hendrix (who has a Ph.D. relating to Bayesian studies) gives it a much closer look on its technical aspects in applying Bayes’ Theorem. There are some issues of grammar that suggest English might not be Hendrix’s first language (he also uses British spelling conventions), but his writing is good enough to work around that (most of the time).

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D.M. Murdock Battling Cancer & Needs Support

Photograph of D.M. Murdock.Fellow Jesus myth advocate D.M Murdock, widely known as Acharya S, is dealing with a particularly vicious onslaught of cancer. Given the fact that the U.S. is just about the only first world nation left that doesn’t cover its citizens’ non-elective medical bills, the best we can do is try to help each other pay for our very survival. Murdock and I don’t agree on a lot of things (and not just on the methodology or mythicism issues). But I’m pretty sure we do agree on this. And I believe she deserves a leg up. If you want to help her survive, both literally and financially, send a little her way. Her fundraiser is ongoing here.

Dinner for Patronage? At Skepticon This November!

Photo of Richard Carrier in white shirt, red and grey striped tie, and silver vest, speaking at the podium of Wonderfest.Want to secure a dinner conversation with me? Here’s how. Not only will I be at Skepticon this November 13th-15th (not to speak but just for fun!), but I’m helping Bo Bennett & Kile Jones launch their Secular Backstage service by offering up an opportunity to join me for dinner when I’m there! We are auctioning the opportunity, minimum bid $100. Closes in six days (or until we have a bidder), so spread the word, and let everyone know whom you think might be interested. Or put in a bid yourself! The money goes to support my ongoing independent scholarship and activism. So this is a worthwhile way to offer me your patronage, as well as bend my ear or pick my brain for at least an hour.

The occasion will be Friday the 13th (Day of Evil!) at or around 7pm. In Springfield, Missouri. And Skepticon is free, so this is all the more reason to go. Their website has all the info you need to plan.

Things we can talk about include… [Read more…]

Euhemerization Means Doing What Euhemerus Did

Photograph of a marble statue depicting Euhemerus as a bearded toga wearing bare shouldered man in thoughtful pose.Just a quickie today. Several people have asked this question in one form or another:

I’ve read a number of people who claim that your use of the term “euhemerization” is incorrect. These typically give definitions along the lines of the following in Wikipedia: “Euhemerism is an approach to the interpretation of mythology in which mythological accounts are presumed to have originated from real historical events or personages.” This is consistent with what you say about Euhemerus in Element 14 [of On the Historicity of Jesus, pp. 114-24], but in Element 45 [Ibid., p. 222] you use the term in the inverted sense, [whereby] people were invented based on gods, rather than gods being invented based on people.

I do wonder where the confusion arose among people (and I’ve seen a lot of them online) thinking euhemerization means turning a real person into a god. That’s not euhemerization. That’s deification. Julius Caesar was deified. He was not euhemerized. Euhemerized gods are always historically non-existent.

Obviously the word “euhemerize” means doing what Euhemerus did. That’s what the word means. Even just in its grammar (the -ize suffix in Greek and English means “to do like,” hence “to do like Euhemerus did”). But also in how it originated and why. Euhemerus took celestial (ahistorical) gods (Zeus and Uranus) and then turned them into historical men. Not the other way around. Therefore, anyone who does that is doing what Euhemerus did. They are therefore euhemerizing a god. Just as Euhemerus “euhemerized” Zeus and Uranus.

I don’t know why anyone thinks otherwise. Or how it would even make sense to think otherwise. But maybe this is what’s confusing people…

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The Question of Free Will Is a Gateway to Philosophy & Social Justice

Cover of Sam Harris's Book Free Will, which is the course text we will be using next month, red puppet theatre box showing the letters of the title hanging from puppet stringsPreparing to teach my online course on the science & philosophy of free will in a couple days reminded me, as I looked over the reading materials and thought-provoking questions I’ve prepared: this is my favorite class. Anyone who joins in will find in it a fascinating way to introduce yourself to the whole of philosophy, as it touches on everything from semantics to metaphysics to epistemology to political and moral reasoning, even aesthetics (such as through analyzing the lived experience of feeling free or trapped), and even leads you to a better understanding of consent, and the social role and value of personal autonomy, and the substantial reality of what it means to increase your own self actualization, and what it actually takes to do that (and what it actually means to fall short of it).

I think these are really good reasons to remind people again to take my course, if exploring these things with an experienced expert interests you. If so, you can register anytime from now through the first few days of August. You’ll also need to have or get a copy (print or electronic) of Sam Harris’s Free Will. The course officially starts this Saturday.

Rare Fine Bound Editions of My Books: Special Auction!

Photograph of the three fine bound volumes in dark brown artificial leather with gold lettering and decoration, standing on Dr. Carrier's desk..Yep. You might want. These are fabulous. And presently unique. But even if duplicated, they will remain extremely rare. I’m giddy at the craftsman’s work on them. They are an aesthetic achievement that harkens back to the old days of leather-bound books in private libraries. And I’m auctioning them off to help support my continuing enterprise as an independent scholar. So I have just two simple questions. Do you want an elegant fine bound hardcover edition of my most popular books? And at the same time to help support my continuing work, research, and activism? Then get in on this rare opportunity!

Summer is always slow for paying gigs. So I need to make up a $2000 shortfall in projected revenue for this quarter if I am to hit my target to get through the year. I have several special things in the works to do that. And this is the first: I have commissioned a local master craftsman and bookbinder to convert three of my books into what you see depicted. I have taken one copy each of Sense and Goodness without God, On the Historicity of Jesus, and Hitler Homer Bible Christ, and had them hand-bound in high quality artificial leather by an expert European craftsman, with gold lettering and styling, and stitched pages. Each will be inscribed personally, by me, in pen, to the auction-winner’s specifications (reasonable requests only, of course).

Any of these lovely books will adorn a library in prestigious fashion, old school, reminiscent of the days when monographs were elegantly crafted. It’s why I made them. Aesthetically, this is what books should always look like. But alas, few publishers produce books that look like this anymore.

Same as before, only the books are scattered and at different angles to see their binding and fronts.Four things to note: [Read more…]

Speaking at DragonCon. Need a Costumer!

Dragon Con logo, a yellow dragon outline on a blue ball, with the title arced across the front, photo of crowds behind.This is a call for someone to hire! I will be a featured guest speaker for Skeptrack at DragonCon in Atlanta, GA this September (4th-7th, 2015). I’ll give a new and fancier-than-ever talk on ancient technology (“Real Steam Punk”), possibly also be on a panel of some kind, have an hour table & signing slot somewhere on the schedule, and be in the parade dressed with other Famous Skeptics.  I’ll have fuller details in early August and blog then about all that. But it’s the parade I want to get a jump on now: I need a costume!

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Christians Freaking Out Over Freedom: Polyamory Edition

Photo Dr. Carrier took of his bottle and glass of wine at the airport. Venue menu on the table reads Carlolina Vintages. Bottle label reads Restless Soul Red Table Wine, from Old North State Winery. Label depicts drawing of a rising skeleton's arm lifting up a glass of wine.So when I came out as polyamorous in February, the godless Slymepit blew a gasket. But so did Christians. Their freakout was quaint. And hardly substantive. So I just filed it as something to amuse over when I had time. Now as I sit for hours in the Raleigh-Durham airport awaiting my flight home, drinking a lovely bottle of Carolina wine from the Old North State Winery, what better fun than to survey the Christian panic over poly?

First I’ll summarize a sample of some of what happened, then delve into a long treatment of the most thoughtful (albeit still totally wrong) example…

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Study the Science & Philosophy of Free Will with Me!

Logo for Partners for Secular Activism. The letters PSA in blue, in an art decco font, over a light grey watermark of a compass pointing near to north, all on a white backround.Join an affordable one-month online course in August, where I’ll teach and discuss the philosophy of free will, including the scientific facts relating to it, the legal evidence relating to it, the medical ethics relating to it, and more. Let others know, too! Anyone you know who might be interested. This is one of the ways I support my work in history and philosophy. And it’s useful. And fun!

This is your chance to ask a published philosopher and historian of philosophy all the questions you have about the subject, and also to become more informed about it and how to discuss it with others, as well as just hone and exercise your philosophical mind in general, on an important subject in law, morality, and life. A better understanding of this subject will benefit your personal life, your political thought, your attitudes toward prison reform, your understanding of consent and personal autonomy, and a great deal else.

The course begins next month (in roughly two weeks). It requires buying only one small, affordable textbook (Sam Harris’s Free Will, print or electronic). All other materials will be provided. The approach to Harris will be critical, but constructive, and backed with further materials showing the actual application of free will as a concept in the real world, not just in the ivory tower.

Among things covered will be:

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Black Lives Matter = Humanism at Work

Foundation Beyond Belief logo, a green tree or leaf like image that is actually the continents of prehistoric time, against a white background, tag line, Humanity at work.Brayton and Gaudette produced a really excellent video smartly summarizing the statistical facts about racism in America and why humanists should care about this and make even more effort to do something about it. Check it out on YouTube.

And if you like that, consider registering and attending the Humanism at Work conference later this month in Boston. It’s the annual conference of the Foundation Beyond Belief, the largest atheist charity I know. Check out their website for more.

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