Defining the Supernatural vs. Logical Positivism

In working slowly through a gigantic backlog of blog comments, I met with one that goes back to an old school question, about my project to demarcate the natural and the supernatural. The comment by Enlightenment Liberal is here. He is asking questions about the conclusion I argued here and in print here (with a followup here). The first, Defining the Supernatural, supports the others, Defining Naturalism I and II. His perspective can be summarized as “If we grant your definitions of ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’, I think that all hypotheses of the form ‘X is supernatural’ entail absolutely zero observable predictions about the world,” in particular because “I think that I have absolutely no basis to conclude that there is any relation or correlation at all between the fundamental nature of things and the observable nature of things,” in accordance with Logical Positivism.

So, is he right? Let’s explore… [Read more…]

Back in Manteca Next Month!

Logo for Stockton Area Atheists and Freethinkers, with a picture of Richard Carrier, and the word Colloquium, all against a blue-purple graphical background.Last year in I spoke on Proving History. Now I’m back to cover the second half of the story: On the Historicity of Jesus. I’ll survey some key details of ancient history and outline the theory defended in the book. There will also be a preshow dinner, and I’ll be attending, for those interested.

All the details here. In brief… [Read more…]

Did No One Know Blue in Ancient Rome?

So, apparently “No One Could See the Color Blue Until Modern Times.” I have it on the high authority of the Princeton Archae…er, I mean, the science section of the Business Insider. So its totes true.

Hm. This is the weirdest thing I’ve seen yet. Someone asked me (understandably, me being a guy with a Ph.D. in this stuff), “Is this true!?” Right away I thought…Iiiiiiiii doubt it.

Picture of the Ishtar Gate, an enornous ancient monument literally covered blue with lapis lazuli. Erected in the 6th century BC in Babylon, it survives intact to this day, in the Berlin Museum. [Read more…]

Join Our New Course This May: Debate 101: How to Be a Better Debater Live and Online!

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.This month I am teaming up with a colleague to impart to you our decades of experience in debate. That includes debating online and at live events. Learn basic skills, the usual tactics and how to disarm them, how to be more effective, and more. Register now!

As the course description says…

Photo of Jeff Lowder.We are both skilled and experienced debaters (Richard Carrier, Ph.D., and Jeff Lowder, a founder of the Internet Infidels, both of us have been active debaters in both venues since at least 1997). We are co-leading this special workshop to teach fundamental principles for more effective debating, particularly with faith-based opponents. Learn how to argue effectively at the podium under the clock. Photo of Richard Carrier.Learn the tricks and tactics that will be used against you so you can overcome them. Learn the most common mistakes to avoid and how. And learn the best methods of forming a persuasive argument. You can also improve your ability to be efficient and effective in online debates, and in any open ended argument. Join this unique opportunity during the month of May!

[Read more…]

Blog Comments Now Close after Six Days

It’s come time. I’m so cumulatively busy with all my work and life things, I can no longer find time to moderate comments on my blog beyond a fraction. I have struggled to keep up with the most recent and important ones, but I still have a backlog of nearly four hundred uncleared comments on various blog posts from last year. I hope to get to those eventually, since I consider them grandfathered in, although I might not answer them, for want of time.

Years ago I switched to full moderation. No comments ever post until I’ve seen and approved them. That has been extraordinarily effective at cutting down trolls to a tiny fraction, and even forcing them to start acting more like real people, in order to ensure their comments will ever post. Most importantly, it has driven away almost everyone who only wanted to graffiti my wall and became outraged that their Very Important Words will not be seen by anyone for days and days (and will only ever appear with my reply instantly attached, a fact for which I was accused of censorship, to the laughter of many).

I also don’t want to call upon unpaid labor to “hire” comment moderators to take over the task. I’m not a strong believer in unpaid labor. And I don’t earn enough to pay someone else what this job would deserve.

So, my only remaining option is to close down comments threads after a short time. I have thus revised my standing Comments Policy to say the following:

Comments Now Close after Six Days. Because I no longer have time to keep up with endless discussions in comments, I have had to set a fixed end-date on accepting comments at all. For now I am siding with Fake God on this one: after the sixth day, we rest. If you have something terribly important to send me after that, email me. Do not expect a reply. I receive a huge volume of email. I can only respond to a fraction of it. But I will at least see it. If it’s a valuable correction or piece of information, I will thank you. If it’s insulting, I will share it with my girlfriends, and we will laugh at you.

I have accordingly removed the grandfather clause of past yore (as now being rendered obsolete by this new rule) and renumerated the remaining blog rules. All else remains unchanged.

Everyone Is a Bayesian

Greg Mayer posted at Jerry Coyne’s blog on “Why I am not a Bayesian.” In his explanation, he goes wrong at three key points. And they are illustrative of common mistakes people make in trying to understand or apply Bayesian reasoning. In reality, Mayer is a Bayesian. He just doesn’t understand why. Here is the breakdown. [Read more…]

Avoiding Drama = Avoiding the Truth: On Michael Nugent’s Use of His Atheist Ireland Fiefdom to Attack PZ Myers

This is a quick source document for anyone who “hates drama” and doesn’t want to do much work to investigate what all the hubub is about. Why did Atheist Ireland write a dishonest disassociation letter against PZ Myers, and why did gullible nice guy Hemant Mehta fall for it? Details below. [Read more…]

In San Jose with Fitzgerald & Price!

This April 29 (a Wednesday evening) I’ll be in San Jose on panel for the discussion “Jesus: Mything in Action” alongside the always entertaining David Fitzgerald and Robert Price, at Harry’s Hofbrau at 7pm. There will be a lot of Q&A opportunity for the audience. So this will be awesome. They are encouraging Christians to attend with their toughest questions (in fact they say, “feel free to invite your Christian apologist friends”). And our host will be leading with the toughest questions he can find, too. Want to see us grilled about the claim that Jesus never really existed? Details and tickets here.

Take note: limited seating, so get your tickets early!

Description of what to expect: [Read more…]

Problems with the Mental Illness Model of Religion

Meme image that says when one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity, when many people suffer from a delusion, it is called religion, attributing it to Robert PirsigI posted over the past week several criticisms of Peter Boghossian that generally put me off him (especially this). I think he’s not a very good philosopher, and is far too wrong about far too many important things. Yesterday I expanded on one of those criticisms (his failure, perhaps even refusal, to study and thus understand contemporary feminism, expanding on my remarks in Why Atheism Needs Feminism). Today I introduce another, which is another special reading I had prepared for students of the class I co-taught with Boghossian last year (on his book A Manual for Creating Atheists). As with yesterday’s reading, he didn’t interact on the matter, so I don’t know what he thought of it. But again it’s time I just published this for everyone’s benefit, too, and as another corrective to his book.

Many have criticized Boghossian (and not just him, but many others) for arguing that religion should be classified as a mental illness. I believe some of those critiques have merit, and some do not. And those that have merit are largely only apt in what they have to say about the problems of vocabulary, presentation, and lack of nuance and sensitivity in treating the issue. Here are my thoughts on the matter. [Read more…]

A Primer on Fourth Wave Feminism

Photo from whoneedsfeminism.tumblr.com, showing a young attractive Asian girl standing before her wall of feminine art and holding up a handwritten sign that says I need feminism because society teaches us don't get raped rather than don't rape.Peter Boghossian often claims feminists today don’t care about the third world. That’s bullshit. In fact, almost everything he ever says about feminism today is bullshit. This article is a corrective. It’s time to clean the Augean stables.

Feminism is often badly understood by people who don’t study it well or don’t read widely among contemporary feminist authors. This is because the feminism culturally communicated to people is largely a mythical creation of feminism’s enemies, rather than what is really going on among feminists themselves. Much as the atheism communicated culturally to a large percentage of people (in the US, maybe as much as half the population) is largely a mythical creation of Christians, rather than what is really going on among atheists themselves. Jews and people of color face similar obstacles to understanding, as what “other people” know about them is often the promulgated stereotypes of racists and anti-semites, rather than reality. And when people just repeat what they’ve absorbed from their culture, they often have no idea how inaccurate that cultural knowledge is.

That’s why it’s important to check.

Cultural knowledge is often wrong. Religion itself, for example, is the most prominent example of cultural knowledge. That’s why Christian apologists struggle so hard to fabricate and disseminate false claims about history (from faked quotes of the Founding Fathers to a fictional history of science). For an analogy, comedian David Cross once joked about his experience with “cultural knowledge” of Jews in the South as a young man… [Read more…]