The Carrier Revival!

Greetings all! Alas I have joined the rebel alliance and launched my blog anew here at the totally godless Freethought Blogs, ubi veritas extrahetur! I won’t be bringing over my archives due to the difficulty of getting all the formatting right, so I have frozen my old blog and left its archives up for reference and posterity. To visit all my past bloggings just jump on over to my old Blogger page. Down the right margin there is a chronological hyperlinked archive followed by a keyword index cloud. I will also end this post with a hyperlinked list of my all-time favorite blog posts.

Introduction. For those who don’t know me, I’m Dr. Richard Carrier, historian and philosopher, author of several books, chapters, and articles in print and online. I’m most renowned for my book Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism, describing a complete godless worldview and why we should believe it’s probably true (covering semantics, epistemology, science & metaphysics, ethics & axiology, aesthetics, and politics), and my book Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn’t Need a Miracle to Succeed, where I teach fascinating facts about the religion, culture, sociology, anthropology, and history of the old Roman world (I received my doctorate in ancient intellectual history), all while engaging in the entertaining pursuit of making a particular Christian apologist look like an idiot. I’ve done a great deal else, of course. I particularly try to write articles that fellow atheists can use, in their pursuit of philosophy or historical truth (particularly when it comes to the ancient world, or taking on Christian nonsense). I’m also an avid Bayesian. You can learn all about me and the rest of my work at my home site:

What I’m Doing Now. Many already know, but I’m working to complete a two volume set on whether there really was a historical Jesus (I side in the negative, but with less certainty than many proclaim), the first of which is completed, peer reviewed, and due for release by Prometheus Books in April of 2012 (Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus). The next may appear near the end of that year (On the Historicity of Jesus Christ). I also have a book in peer review on Science Education in the Early Roman Empire and another waiting for completion on The Scientist in the Early Roman Empire. That plus my work as a national public speaker, blogger, academic writer, and online lecturer for CFI Institute Online, keeps me plenty busy.

What to Expect Here. I’ll be using this blog to announce my upcoming public appearances, and any new publications as soon as they’re available. But I will also be using it to expound on issues in philosophy, ancient history, or Christian apologetics, as the need or mood strikes me.

Rules. Since this is my first post at FTB, I will set the ground rules here, which are the same as they’ve always been. I will be experimenting with different methods of handling comments (active moderation, etc.) until I know what works best here (see Comments Crazy! for my latest decision on that), but whatever method I use, the same rules apply: comments must be on-topic (meaning, relevant to the blog post they are attached to), if they argue against me they must argue against things I actually said (comments that don’t I’ll feel free to delete), and must contain relevant facts (merely naming authors doesn’t count, for example, you have to actually make an argument or state your facts). Obviously threats, gratuitous obscenity, prayers and other blatant violations of ettiquette also warrant deletion. But merely disagreeing with me is not a condition for deletion. Relevance is, however. This isn’t an unmoderated forum. If you want to debate issues unrelated to what I’ve blogged, please use a public forum somewhere else online. I will also block anyone who persistently violates these rules, or ignores what I’ve written even after being directed to it, or who repeatedly ignores my requests for sources, evidence, or specific errors in disputes over the truth. I will also sometimes delete comments that don’t need to be there anymore (e.g. comments that identify a typo or bad link), not because I don’t like them (I actually love them!), but because once I’ve corrected the issue the comment is obsolete.

Grandfather Clause. I will keep one exception to the relevance rule: you may add comments to this inaugural blog post that respond to anything I have blogged at my old location (in the whole archive linked above). That might make this entry’s comments section a strange, free-wheeling bizarro land of disjointed conversation, but I’ll deal. In some cases this might even generate new blogs here that can continue the thread anew.

Favorite Oldies. Here are my favorite old blog posts (except on music, which I’ll blog about later)…


  1. Atheists in Foxholes (why you should care)
  2. Are Women Just Stupid? (asked & answered)
  3. Are We Doomed? (we’re harder to kill than you think)
  4. Atheist or Agnostic? (the debate is stupid)


  1. Darla the She-Goat (an evil goat can teach us metaethics)
  2. Moral Ontology (the physical substance of moral facts)
  3. Goal Theory Update (moral philosophy’s version of TMI)


  1. Does Free Will Matter? (belief in free will’s effect on social policy)
  2. Factual Politics (four-part series against anarcho-libertarianism)


  1. How to Be a Philosopher (for real)
  2. Defining the Supernatural (just like it sounds)
  3. Our Mathematical Universe (a mathematical universe doesn’t prove god)
  4. Statistics & Biogenesis (the origin of life doesn’t prove god)
  5. Rosenberg on Naturalism (battling the new nihilism)
  6. Epistemological End Game (on getting out of infinite regress)


  1. History Before 1950 (what makes a historian obsolete)
  2. Experimental History (yep, there is such a thing)
  3. Lynn White on Horse Stuff (clearing away the horseshit)
  4. Science & Medieval Christianity (correcting errors on both sides)
  5. Flynn’s Pile of Boners (on ancient vs. medieval science)
  6. Rosenberg on History (battling postmodernism)


  1. The Infidel Delusion (Christians act delusionally…again)
  2. Ignatian Vexation (why New Testament studies is fucked)
  3. Pauline Interpolations (examples of doctored texts in the Bible)


  1. Sack Lunch
  2. Silly Questionnaires



  1. says

    Congratulations for your new blog!

    […] all while engaging in the entertaining pursuit of making a particular Christian apologist look like an idiot.

    Who is it?

    • says

      J.P. Holding, author of The Impossible Faith. Hence the title of my own book. Now when people search for his book on Amazon, mine pops up directly underneath it. (His book was also subtitled “Why Christianity Succeeded When It Should Have Failed.”) He has a wide rep online, too, as something of a douche. But his arguments are not original, he just tries harder to defend them than most apologists do, thus exposing these arguments’ obvious flaws. If you’re interested, the Amazon description will fill you in.

  2. hazukiazuma says

    Of all the people here on FtB I think I’m most glad to have you. PZ introduced me, and John Loftus made me aware that there is such a thing as counter-apologetics, but in the end, I prefer history and text criticism over philosophy when dealing with Yahweh’s cultists.

    Your posts on the interpolations in the Bible were especially eye-opening, and most so when you tie things together, such as the connections between Daniel 9, the Dead Sea Scrolls’ pesher fragment, and a little thing called the entirety of Christian thought for the past 2000 years (LOL)! That was utterly mind-blowing. They sure didn’t teach me that in CCD.

    Also, I know this isn’t your specialty, but do you deal in refuting presuppositionalist apologetics at all? They seem to be the most prominent kind on the internet, and one must admit that if you’re not trained in logic their arguments seem extremely compelling.

    • says

      On presuppositionalism, I don’t think that’s important. You may notice it’s easy for a few cranks to appear to be “prominent on the internet” when in reality they are a laughed off fringe group even among fundamentalists. But if you need ammo for dealing with them, the closest I’ve come is my extensive refutation of the Argument from Reason (a respectable, non-stupid version of what the presuppers argue, in fact this version of the argument you should be informed about because it really is commonly voiced by evangelists and apologists and is gaining some popularity for the reason you note: it’s so arcane it looks impressive to people who aren’t up on the underlying philosophical assumptions, because it plays on the natural defects of human intuition). At any rate, see my Critical Review of Reppert’s Argument from Reason. I also briefly treat the issue in The End of Christianity, in a very efficiently worded paragraph specifically designed to head off most versions of the AfR (pp. 301-02).

    • says

      May also be good to add the revised version of Beversluis’ of “C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion” (2007); he also delves into Reppert’s version of the argument from reason, but not to the level Carrier does in his provided link.

    • Hazuki says

      Are they really so fringe? I can’t imagine something that causes so many atheist heads to explode would be laughed off by their compatriots. Any port in a storm and all that. Surely they’re not going to rely on evidentialist apologetics?

    • says

      I don’t think most apologists even know about atheist engagement with presuppositionalism, any more than vaguely. This is more of a tempest in a teapot. Which most people never even notice or care about. It’s similar to the way old earth creationists look at young earth creationists, even though the YECs task atheists far more. The difference is that OECs are in the minority, whereas in the case of Presuppositionalism vs. Argument from Reason, the former is in the minority, and by a much wider margin. Think Ray Comfort in the eyes of Michael Behe. Who is more embarrassed by whom in that equation?

  3. piero says

    I’ve been reading your blog for a few years now, and I must say I’ve learned more from it than from my formal education. Keep up the excellent work.

  4. Pablo says

    Man, I want those two new books so bad!!! That’s been a big missing part for me, I’m an atheist but I haven’t found anything (I haven’t looked that hard, for sure) that confirms or denies to me if Jesus was even real… It’s great you’re here now, welcome!

  5. MayanFootballer says

    I have got to say that I knew nothing of you until a couple of months ago when I saw “The God Who Wasn’t There”. I liked your arguments and I am looking forward to your other writings. Unfortunately, my local library doesn’t have your book “Sense & Goodness without God”, but I hope to get my hands on it soon.

    I saw your talk at Skepticon IV on As a math major, I was pleasantly surprised to see Bayes’ Theorem used for the skeptic cause.

    Cheers and welcome!

  6. Ticktockman says

    I’ve enjoyed your writing for years and look forward to sacrificing more of my free time on the altar of FtB. Cheers,


  7. says

    Welcome. Just what I need, another well written and engrossing blog to follow. Just one question, what’s your definition of “gratuitous”, cuz some of us (me) tend to curse a lot.

    • says

      Like the dictionary says, gratuitous = uncalled for; lacking good reason; unwarranted. But I’m flexible on there being warrant, call, or good reason. I actually hate language police and think people get way overwrought about words. Filtering sites so children can’t read them just because they say an argument “is totally fucked from the get go” annoys the fuck out of me. Joke intended. So I’m not against bad language. In fact I feel freer here at FtB to be looser with my own vocabulary, which would just be writing even more like I speak, and I think writing like you speak is the definition of good communicative writing. But using hard language in a wholly unnecessary or impertinent way (e.g. insensitively or crassly or with the sole intention of offending) is not something I tolerate. The language police can’t tell the difference between saying you want to fuck some girl and saying she’s fucking awesome, for example. The former is in almost all contexts gratuitous and just crass (I say almost, because, again, I am attuned to nuance), whereas the latter is just a common way of speaking that no one thinks twice about (no one in whose company I’d ever really enjoy myself, that is).

    • says

      Fucking a-ok then. Already immersed in t,he archives, I especially liked the “are we doomed” article. As a parent of young kids, it’s easy for me to get depressed when doomsaying is in the offing.

  8. articulett says

    It’s a pleasure to see you here!

    I’m clicking on the RSS feed to subscribe via Google, but it’s not working (I just get a wall of text and the statement: “This XML file does not appear to have any style information associated with it. The document tree is shown below.”) Does something need to be tweaked with the link or is there something I need to do differently?

    • says

      The feed link works for me, without difficulty. I have limited ability to test it on different platforms and browsers, though. I’ll notify the webmaster. But my only advice is to try again, and then try some different browsers/platforms and see if the problem persists.

    • says

      Has been peer reviewed. By a professor of mathematics who specializes in Bayes’ Theorem, and a professor of biblical studies. Getting reviewers was conducted by the publisher, at my request (I wanted it as vetted as any academic press book would be, which process is usually double-blind). I then made revisions to meet the reviewers’ requirements, which they submitted to me through the editor. I now know who the reviewers were, but I’m not sure if I have permission to publish their names. That’s generally not done. (I only did it for my chapter in TEC because I solicited the peers myself and specifically asked them for permission to name them, but this time I’m not in charge of the process; reviewers often prefer to remain anonymous so they can exercise more academic freedom.)

    • Stein says

      Well, if the reviewers are anonymous, how do we know how objective…or not…they may have been?

      I don’t mean to be picky, Richard, but I don’t think that helps your credibility.

      We wouldn’t like it if Holding said his books were “peer reviewed’ but wouldn’t say by who.

    • says

      This is how it works in all peer review in the academic community. So I suppose now you reject all peer review, for all academic journals and all academic presses?

      It is precisely because of what you are saying that peer reviewers ask for anonymity. You clearly intend to harass and disparage anyone who endorses my work. Which impedes academic freedom. Peer reviewers can’t be honest and unbiased if they have to fear retaliation for agreeing that some unpopular argument is well made and valid. It’s people like you who are forcing peer reviewers to be anonymous.

      If Holding had an article published in a peer reviewed journal (like New Testament Studies) or press (like the University of California Press), I would not care that I did not know who his reviewers were, because I know neither NTS nor UCP is going to lie about the fact that it was peer reviewed by qualified professors in the field. I would accept either as a peer reviewed work. Holding’s name being attached to it, or what he argued, would not matter to that–even if I disagreed with it, as many a false conclusion gets published under peer review, as that process only ensures the work is competently argued, not that it will hold up under further test. That’s how academics makes progress: publishing competently argued pieces, which either survive or do not survive further competently argued critiques. This is just as true in the hard sciences, where many a published, peer reviewed conclusion is later proved false, but the original report was worth heeding as warranting attention and further inquiry. So in any other field.

      So in this case the only question before you is whether you think I and Prometheus Books are lying when we say we know the reviewers were fully qualified professors in those respective fields. If you think we are, then it hardly matters what else I say, does it? And if you think we aren’t, what’s with all the bitching?

    • Trina says

      Richard, its not true that anonymous peer review is the only opition.

      OPEN PEER REVEIW is becoming an more and more accepted standard.

      Frankly, I don’t see that I have any obligation to take anyone’s word for it that no one would lie about anonymous peer review.

    • says

      Open peer review is not very popular. In fact it has had the expected consequence (open review journals have a hard time finding peer reviewers), and has not fared well. See the wikipedia entry on it.

      So that leaves you in a bind. You either must take people’s word on it, or else reject almost all peer reviewed journals and academic press books. Strange way for you to live.

      But don’t worry. We have no need of you. When it comes to generating a consensus in the field, skeptiweirdos like you are of no social significance.

    • Trina says

      Richard, your attitude makes me think I am on to something.

      First, the Wikipedia ariticle points out the problems with anonymous Peer Review as well.

      Second, I should point out that it not just a queston of “lying” about being peer reviewed, but of the qualifications of the “reviewers”.

      If they are biased, I want to know. For example, if Hector Avalos reviewed your work, I lose confidence because he has an ax to grind.

      And Richard, your famous arrogance is going to make people realize they have no need of you.

    • keansimmons says

      Everyone has biases Trina, especially you. You’re just looking for peer reviewers with biases similar to your own.

      Dr. Avalos would be fine by me. What axe does he have to grind-I’ve seen his axe. It’s very sharp. It needs no grinding.

    • says

      Trina, that’s precisely the kind of thinking that negates any peer review’s value. If you will automatically exclude all peer reviewers you disagree with, regardless of their qualifications, then nothing can ever be peer reviewed, because someone will always claim that bias in the peer reviewers negates the value of peer review. In effect, you are acting like the people whose opinion you claim to reject, by deciding solely on your bias against a person, and not on matters of a work’s actual quality. That’s what you are doing when you declare Hector Avalos is not a competent professional because he is biased. If a bias negates your competence, then competent professionals do not exist at all. The absurdity of your attitude would shock you if you encountered it in anyone else.

      The point of peer review is not to “endorse” a conclusion (that’s accomplished by an entirely different feature called an endorsement) but rather to ensure that a work meets the standards in the field, of both argument and evidence, and does not commit any egregious errors, and recognizes the issues that an expert should know to address. Thus a peer reviewer’s bias is irrelevant. All that matters is whether they are (a) qualified and (b) honest. Peer review serves the sole purpose of confirming that a work meets professional standards and is worth looking at and is not uninformed, crank, or incompetent.

      You are then supposed to evaluate the work on its own merits.

      Why you think Hector Avalos is neither honest nor competent to evaluate whether my work is of professional quality and worth examining is beyond me.

      It makes even less sense why you would think that if he reviewed my book, then my book is not of professional quality and worth examining. Because even his inability to determine that it is (if he is as incompetent as you are assuming–even though you’ve given no logically valid reason to believe he is) would not entail or even imply it is not.

      You are thus being massively illogical.

    • lpetrich says

      Peer review can be a good way of filtering out nonsense. Consider the controversy that the late Lynn Margulis had created two years ago when she got Donald Williamson’s infamous caterpillars-are-onychophorans paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

      He proposed that some lepidopteran ancestor crossbred with an onychophoran (velvet worm), thus producing the onychophoran-like caterpillar form. They do have some resemblance — if one does not look very closely. The PNAS soon published a rebuttal paper.

      The NAS changed its rules after that, and it no longer allows personally-communicated papers in the PNAS.

  9. says

    Good to see you at FTB, Richard! I recently watched Roger Nygard’s documentary The Nature of Existence, and I was pleased to see you crop up there. (You’re in the discs of bonus material also, which I’m currently working through.)

  10. how says

    Just found you via Ed Brayton’s “Dispatches…,” and I’m very sorry I haven’t read you before. I’m looking forward to learning a lot.

    And happy birthday!

  11. Dana Hunter says

    Welcome to rebel HQ! I’d say something long and flowery about how awesome it is to have you, and how this place gets better by the day, and probably finish up by raising a cyber-glass your way, but mention of your forthcoming books on the Romans has left me salivating too much for speech. Want nao!

  12. LadyBlack says

    Oh no, MORE interesting people! I will now attempt to become familiar with your work, whilst keeping an eye on the time. Just wanted to wave hello and send greetings (via Greta Christina’s site).

  13. Crommunist says

    Welcome to the FTBorg Collective. We will add your philosophical and pedagogical distinctiveness to our own

  14. otrame says

    Welcome, Richard. This place just keeps getting more and more interesting. So many different approaches. I am fascinated by history and am even more fascinated by the scholarship concerning the earliest days of Christianity, including the presence or absence of an actual Jesus. I am looking forward to getting to know your work.

    Now I am going to go watch your Skepticon talk. Sounds interesting. Again, glad you are here.

  15. J.D. says

    Dr. Carrier, I find your work interesting, but, let’s face it, you don’t appear to have any higher academic qualifications in Mathematics.

    Moreover, the competence of your use of Bayes Theorem had been challenged elsewhere, as you know.

    That is why I agree that it expecally important to know who Peer Reviewed your work in this area. This is going to be a complex work, and if I am going to devote the time to giving it serious consideration, I would like to have some indication that it will be worth it.

    • says

      J.D., a fully credentialed professor of mathematics expert in Bayes’ Theorem has peer reviewed my book. So you can either believe that’s a lie, or accept what it means. That’s how peer review works.

  16. LadyDreamgirl says

    As you mentioned having this thread open for commentary on your posts from your previous home I will take the opportunity to comment on the “Are Women Just Stupid?” post (in addition to offering the requisite welcome and congratulations on joining this most esteemed of blog communities).

    I’ve always thought that one of the big issues with “why are there no great women fill-in-the-blanks?” type questions is the issue of developmentally important time periods. For example, Leonardo daVinci, the ability for any individual, male or female, to make the type of wide ranging impact on human thought that he achieved is drastically reduced in the modern day. The window of opportunity for genius of his type has closed as more gaps in knowledge have been filled in.

    Genius or the appearance of it as history remembers individuals is far more complicated than the intellectual capabilities and contributions of the individual in question. History shows more male ‘geniuses’ because during the windows in human development that allowed for the influence of such singular intellects in such loud and theatrical ways the individuals who were permitted to be geniuses were male.

    If that proclamation seems a bit off topic, I apologize and would like to reiterate my welcome to FTB and say that I look forward to reading more of your work.

    • says

      That’s a valid point (and definitely thread-relevant to that blog and thus here), it’s one I sort of make when I briefly mention in Are Women Just Stupid? that the time has probably passed for anyone (man or woman) to become famous for a scientific discovery anymore. But you’re quite right that this is largely due to the fact that all the “big chits” have already been cashed, and all that’s left now are zillions of little discoveries that don’t seem as momentous and thus crowd each other out, or discoveries made by whole labs or teams that diffuse fame from any one person.

      Although as I understand it Leonardo daVinci is not a case of that: he did not publish any of his discoveries or inventions and they had zero effect on later science, so he was really just another brilliant Renaissance artist, of which in fact there were many, but perhaps that makes your point, too: those artists are more famous than, say, realists of the neoclassical period (or even today–can you name any great realists still living? It’s not because there are none, I assure you), simply because they made a huge revolution in human artistic standards and achievements that returned the medieval world back to classical ideals and then surpassed even those, and thus transformed the whole world. Precisely at a time when women were not as widely appreciated, employed, or apprenticed as painters. And yet there were many great female painters then: so that we don’t know about them may be more a product of later sexism in art history. But that’s outside my area of expertise so I can only speculate.

  17. sc_f34d31c0eb054f13969e9cb8ec8e73c0 says

    Hey, I was only vaguely aware of some of your work but having read your first post on FTB I’m really looking forward to following your new blog and catching up on some of the stuff on your old one. Starting with the paper on the argument from reason you linked above I guess.

  18. says

    On Goal Theory Update I asked a question about whether Goal Theory entails we have a moral obligation to animals. You answered:

    “Overall life satisfaction depends on being compassionate, and compassion compels you not to enjoy or want pointless torment to exist, no matter what or who is experiencing it. It would cause you pain, and thus diminish your life satisfaction, to be a cruel or wholly indifferent person. But destroying an animal, for example, is not destroying a person (an animal’s life is indifferent to when it dies, because it does not become anything and has no awareness of being something). Thus eating animals is fine as long as you aren’t torturing them.”

    I agree with this. However, I would like to ask two follow-up questions to further understand your point of view:

    1.) How do you feel about the quality of animals in so-called “factory farming”?
    2.) Do you think being compassionate entails that one must be a vegetarian? Why or why not?

    • says

      “Factory farming” tends to be misreported. When you investigate the actual conditions on most farms, especially those vending major industries like KFC or McDonalds, you find they are not as bad as PETA videos claim. They tend to mix ancient footage with recent (thus representing as current, conditions that have long since been abandoned), overstate the frequency of outlier events (e.g. accidents), and misrepresent farms in violation of existing laws or their own contracts with vendors (farms which then went out of business or underwent severe reforms after being exposed) as being the norm (that’s where a lot of their “horrific” video comes from: gotcha investigations of criminally negligent enterprises, not statistically common farm conditions). The industry is actually a lot smarter and cleaner than propagandists represent. In fact many of the conditions rights activists complain about are actually so bad for actual production efficiency and profit margin that no rational business would ever engage in them anyway, even if animals were vegetables. Of course stupid criminal mismanagement still occurs from time to time just as happens in any industry, but at the very least that means we should support the enforcement of the laws we already have (instead of defunding the FDA like the Republicans keep gunning to do). And husbandry laws like California’s should be normalized nationwide (and even set as requirements for import, thus forcing other nations to comply as well, if they want to do business with us).

      I also find that once you delete all the misrepresentations and outliers and then stick with actual, current, normal conditions, animal rights advocates often misconstrue what is “bad” for an animal, thinking animals are just like people and thus whatever we wouldn’t like they wouldn’t like, which is silly. Animals need a lot less than we do in order to be content and to experience normal stress levels or less (normal being the amount of occasional stress, highs and lows, that they would experience in the wild). Chickens, for example, are not miserable when in large crowded communities. There is a limit beyond which comfort declines (California state law, for example, now recognizes this), but their “personal boundary” space is a lot closer than it is for people, and often chickens voluntarily mass together for warmth and comfort. Thus seeing a hanger full of clucking chickens brushing against each other should not evoke tears. Animal quality of life has to be measured in terms of what is comfortable for that animal, and must recognize such facts as that animals aren’t aware of most things, and don’t aspire to be or do anything, and have no prospect of becoming anything, and thus should not be hastily anthropomorphized in these or other ways.

      Accordingly I think being a vegetarian out of “compassion” is irrational. I mean that in the classic sense: it’s a non sequitur, and thus illogical. It’s to treat animals like people, which they are not. I’ve looked and listened far and wide and there is just no logically valid argument that proceeds from “I ought to be compassionate” to “I ought to be a vegetarian.” Farming and eating animals is simply not evil, for the reason I stated, and you quoted (from my original comment here). I also addressed this once as the atheist correspondent for

      I also find vegetarians irrational in their acceptance of non-vegetarians. Either eating meat is not immoral, or everyone they know is as evil as they come. And yet they befriend us. What’s up with that? It’s as if we were all serial child molesters, while they refused to have sex with children because it’s wrong, but then come to laugh at our dinner parties, have sex with us, and help us move. It would seem vegetarians don’t really believe in their own convictions. Vegetarianism is just another phobia, one that has it’s own restaurants.

    • says

      Richard, I just wanted to point out that not all vegetarians/vegans have restricted diets out of concerns for animal welfare, but out of concerns for human welfare, specifically because of the environmental impacts of factory farming. As you probably know, factory farming (specifically for meat) is one of the greatest contributors to global warming and various other environmental problems. Anyone who cares about environmentalism should at least recognize that refraining from eating meat (or at least eating a lot less) is one of the best routes to achieving this goal.

      I don’t think it is that big of a leap to treat animals as “people” any more than it is a leap to treat year-old child as a person, and thus I think you’re not necessarily correct to dismiss outright claims of compassion toward animals as non sequiturs. What I’m getting at is that I’m not so sure an infant has cognitive capacities exceeding those of a dog or chimpanzee, and it follows that if we treat infants as people we should probably do the same for dogs and chimpanzees. I wouldn’t mind if we went the other route and decided to treat infants as equal to chimpanzees, either, so long as we’re being consistent, because frankly I’m not sure where to draw that vague line.

    • says

      Yes, there are other reasons to be a vegetarian, but I was only asked about the one reason, and I answered accordingly. Your additional reasons aren’t rational either, but since you brought them up, I was inspired to start a new blog thread on this: Meat Not Bad.

      (BTW, we don’t eat chimpanzees, so they are hardly relevant to a thread about factory farming. As it happens, I consider eating them immoral. Read Sense and Goodness without God, pp. 238-31.)

    • says

      Arguably, you could say that killing animals is slightly less wrong than killing an adult human (owing to differences in cognitive awareness and the like) and still maintain that vegetarianism/veganism are the more ethical choices.

      Also, I’d like to point out a more telling reason why it is silly to argue that vegetarians/vegans shouldn’t be friends with meat-eaters: because we live in a society where it is the norm to eat meat. It would be pretty tough to get by if we all treated meat-eaters like murderers or child rapists. Imagine trying to get a job if you acted that way and would treat coworkers and bosses like that. Imagine how lonely it could get in certain areas. Imagine the ostracization among families. There are social pressures that prevent people from acting this way, even if they DO feel that killing animals is just as wrong as killing a person. Further, most of us were previously meat-eaters as well, so it isn’t that difficult for us to understand how someone could mistakenly think eating meat is ethical growing up in a society where that is the norm, so holding them to that sort of strict standard would be pretty unreasonable. I bet you have friends or family who may be neo-conservatives who think all gays deserve to burn in hell, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to treat those people as monsters.

    • says

      …you could say that killing animals is slightly less wrong than killing an adult human…

      Are you sure you mean to say that? Only slightly less wrong? And yet we’re your pals?

      I’m sorry, but that is not logical behavior.

      Can you imagine saying “Hey, I live in a society where killing Jews in concentration camps is the norm. So why not make friends with all you Nazis? Heavens, I don’t want to make my life difficult!”

      If my friends and family were killing gay people, or even so much as lobbying for them to be killed, yes, I’d regard them as monsters. Why on earth wouldn’t you?

      Indeed, even if they just so much as actually believed gays deserved to burn in hell, I would disown them. I tolerate such people, and can be cordial with them and work with them professionally only because they aren’t actually killing anyone. But you’re talking about our being actual mass murderers, not of being just some weirdos who believe animals all burn in hell.

      Indeed someone who actively tortured animals (say, ran cock fights or dog fights or bear baiting games) would never be my friend, and I would look for every opportunity to not associate with them that I could, by finding communities of people of the same mind as me. Again I would not be laughing over drinks at their parties or falling in love with them or helping them move. It would be insane to do that. Yet that’s what you are doing. Can you not see how irrational that is?

    • says

      Either spanking one’s children is not immoral, or everyone who spanks their children is as evil as they come.

      Either withholding information from a patient is not immoral, or every doctor who does withhold information is as evil as they come.

      Either racial discrimination is not immoral, or everyone who does engage in racial discrimination is as evil as they come.


    • says


      I wasn’t saying anything at all about whether eating animals is morally wrong, or “mildly” morally wrong. I was offering a comment on your claim that “either x is not immoral, or people who do x are as evil as they come.” I wonder if you’re willing to renounce that statement?

      As for your other comments on vegeterianism, I’m not all that impressed. I’d be interested in finding out your sources of information which show that factory farming isn’t as bad as everybody else thinks it is.

      But aside from that, you complain that “animal rights advocates often misconstrue what is “bad” for an animal, thinking animals are just like people and thus whatever we wouldn’t like they wouldn’t like, which is silly.”

      Of course, the fact that some animal rights advocates often misconstrue things in this way doesn’t tell us anything about whether current factory farming conditions are acceptable. Take Peter Singer, for instance. More than three decades ago he published Animal Liberation, which has been subsequently revised and built upon in his other work. Does he misrepresent what’s “bad” for an animal in that book, or in his subsequent work? Does he assume that non-human animals are just like people? If not, then here we have a powerful advocate of getting rid of factory farms who doesn’t suffer the problem that you’re complaining about.

      An analogy would be fitting here. The fact that some mythicists often make bad arguments doesn’t say anything at all about whether or not a good argument can be, or has been, made. It’s certainly true that anti-mythicists shouldn’t be faulted for pointing out that a lot of things that mythicists say are suspect. But the anti-mythicists will still have to deal with the respectable mythicists on top of that (namely, you).

      You wrote: “Accordingly I think being a vegetarian out of “compassion” is irrational…. It’s to treat animals like people, which they are not.”

      Ah, all those irrational philosophers! (I say this because quite a few philosophers are vegetarians for basically this reason–including many in my department.) I wonder how many of them are aware of the fact that they are treating non-human animals like people… They should know better. But if you ask them, they’ll deny that they’re treating non-human animals like people. They’ll probably give plausible moral reasons in favor of their view. Perhaps you just think they’re vastly less informed about the empirical matters than you are? Or just not as good at thinking through the ethical issues?

      You wrote: “And yet they befriend us. What’s up with that?”

      Why would a Christian befriend a homosexual? The Christian (or, at least the one I have in mind) believes that the homosexual is doing something morally wrong, sinning against God. So the Christian who then befriends the homosexual is irrational for doing so; it seems like he or she must not really believe that homosexuality is immoral after all.

      Or, maybe, there are overriding reasons to befriend somebody who happens not to be a moral saint.

      Lastly, I wonder whether it would be acceptable, on your view, to cage, kill, and eat a human being who is severely mentally handicapped (to such a degree that they have the cognitive capacities of, say, an adult pig).

  19. says

    FWIW here are some interesting topics that might be worth writing about in future:

    – The Voynich Manuscript. Perhaps the script is deliberately meaningless. Or perhaps it is for the purpose of decoration or mystical rites or something. There are a few Latin words in some sections but they add up to about a dozen. That thing is just weird.

    – Anything about WW2 that might be curious, strange, misunderstood etc.

    – … which leads me to novels/screenplays written either about or around WW2. I really liked Enigma by Robert Harris and the screen adaptation of The Good German.

    – Data archiving. I’ve read a bit here and there. I am not as paranoid as some are about changing media formats, as you just transfer from one to the other. And hard drives are becoming more reliable and more capacious. But is that enough?

    – Old technologies which trump new ones (i.e. we got it right the first time). E.g. iron saucepans are better than aluminium ones (nevermind the lead ones…).

    – Old ergonomics which trump new ones. E.g. radial analogue dials for gauges in cars are better than linear ones, whether electro-mechanical or electronic.

    – Egypt. IR satellite imagery has enabled archaeologist Sarah Parcek to locate hidden foundations of lost or incompleted pyramids: Egyptology just got blown wide open!

    – On a related note, could Bayes’ Theorem help us determine whether or not the other six Wonders of the World ever existed?

    – The Old Testament seems to have taken historical events from long ago (fires, floods) and mythologized them. I wonder what hidden events from history we can prise from its pages? Does the Ark of the Covenant exist? (From your talk at Skepticon IV, it seems that Bayes’ Theorem is itself a kind of Ark – it’s powerful and some of its uses are state secrets).

    Well, hopefully those things are of interest to at least some of your readers. And thank you for the open thread.

    • says

      Karim, just to be clear, I did not say this is an open thread. You still must adhere to the rules I set forth above, you can just count this thread as extending that of any previous blog entry. This post, for example, is not relevant to any specific blog entry I’ve ever published. I have let it through here only to provide an example of the kind of thing I’m going to delete as being irrelevant and off topic. The only thing even remotely relevant is that you ask the somewhat redundant question whether Bayes’ Theorem can be used to answer historical questions, to which the answer from my talk is obviously yes, if there is any logically valid answer to be had. Beyond that, almost every subject you bring up is not within my areas of expertise so I won’t likely ever be discussing them.

  20. cgilder says

    I just skimmed through your lighter offerings because I am too exhausted to read philosophy at the moment. However, I am tickled at your inclusion of both A&E’s AND Keira Knightley’s Pride & Prejudice in your Silly Questions post. They both have their strong points, and I have watched both of them more times than I can count.

    • says

      Yes, I’m a Jane Austen fan. ‘Tis true! My favorite adaptation in fact is Persuasion with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds. Which almost no one has ever heard of, and most don’t get (it’s too subtle and quiet for average American audiences). But as a work of art it’s a masterpiece, in direction, performance, editing, writing, and every other element. It’s also really Austen’s most feminist work. And it’s just a wicked awesome romance.

    • Claire says

      I had to IMDB that one. I have only seen the version from 2007 with Sally Hawkins as Anne. PBS did a Jane Austen month last year to commemorate something, and showed a movie adaptation of each of her books. I was less than impressed with the Sally Hawkins version. Too much wailing & gnashing & emo-ness. Now I’ll have to Netflix the Amanda Root version. Trailer looks delicious.

      Persuasion is the only other Austen book (besides P&P) that I’ve read & reread to the point of having the book fall to pieces. At least they’re cheap to replace!

    • says

      Just be sure you watch it with no ambient noise or distractions. You have to catch every subtlety. It’s quite the opposite of wailing & gnashing & emo-ness. :-)

      I watched those PBS productions last year. Their Northanger Abbey was the best of all of them, and the best Northanger altogether I think.

  21. mick says

    I enjoy Richard Carrier as a writer and a thinker, although I sometimes disagree with him. One such disagreement rests in morality and vegetarianism. Namely, our disagreement is this: He thinks it is permissible for the average American to kill animals for their meat but I don’t. Here I’d like to criticize some of his views on this matter.

    Let me begin my criticism with quoting Carrier:

    “When you investigate the actual conditions on most farms, especially those vending major industries like KFC or McDonalds, you find they are not as bad as PETA videos claim. They tend to mix ancient footage with recent (thus representing as current, conditions that have long since been abandoned), overstate the frequency of outlier events (e.g. accidents), and misrepresent farms in violation of existing laws or their own contracts with vendors (farms which then went out of business or underwent severe reforms after being exposed) as being the norm (that’s where a lot of their “horrific” video comes from: gotcha investigations of criminally negligent enterprises, not statistically common farm conditions).”

    These claims might be true, but I don’t know that they are true partially because I’ve never investigated the actual conditions myself. However, Carrier does not further my knowledge, nor anyone else’s knowledge, with this passage since it is unsupported: There’s no argument or evidence for these claims, and so I’m unsure just what I’m expected to believe from this.
    This same criticism can be said here. Consider what Carrier says:

    “I also find that once you delete all the misrepresentations and outliers and then stick with actual, current, normal conditions, animal rights advocates often misconstrue what is “bad” for an animal, thinking animals are just like people and thus whatever we wouldn’t like they wouldn’t like, which is silly. Animals need a lot less than we do in order to be content and to experience normal stress levels or less (normal being the amount of occasional stress, highs and lows, that they would experience in the wild). Chickens, for example, are not miserable when in large crowded communities. There is a limit beyond which comfort declines (California state law, for example, now recognizes this), but their “personal boundary” space is a lot closer than it is for people, and often chickens voluntarily mass together for warmth and comfort. Thus seeing a hanger full of clucking chickens brushing against each other should not evoke tears. Animal quality of life has to be measured in terms of what is comfortable for that animal, and must recognize such facts as that animals aren’t aware of most things, and don’t aspire to be or do anything, and have no prospect of becoming anything, and thus should not be hastily anthropomorphized in these ways.”

    Here we find contentious claims regarding animal psychology which are not evidenced, not even in the slightest. Moreover, he states that “animal rights advocates often misconstrue what is “bad” for an animal, thinking animals are just like people and thus whatever we wouldn’t like they wouldn’t like, which is silly.” Well, I’d agree that such a claim would be silly! However, I can’t think of any serious animal rights advocate who states such a claim. You will neither find such a thing with Regan, Singer nor Beckoff, nor any other serious thinker. Thus, I feel compelled to ask: Who is Carrier talking about? Just who are these animal rights advocates? He doesn’t say.

    He furthers:

    “But destroying an animal humanely is not cruel. And it is not destroying a person. Again, an animal’s life is indifferent to when it dies, because it does not become anything and has no awareness of being something. Thus eating animals is fine as long as you aren’t torturing them (see my brief on this as the atheist correspondent for”

    Here he states that an animal is indifferent to when it dies because it does not become anything and has no awareness of being something. Not only is this stated without evidence (are you beginning to see a pattern?), but it is part of an argument which is logically invalid. There’s no logical inference which would entail his moral conclusion; and hence his argument is invalid.

    Validity aside, even if we presume that his premises are true, why should we only concern ourselves with whether it becomes anything (I’m not entirely sure what this is supposed to mean) or whether it is aware being something? After all, some profoundly delayed or mentally ill human beings probably do not (nor can they) have such traits, but yet we still grant them a right to life. Carrier needs to answer this.

    Furthermore, Carrier’s use of the word ‘indifference’ is suspect. Typically the word is use to proclaim a conscious apathy. Indifference implies conscious complacency. We think that someone who is indifferent to whether he lives or dies is complacent to whatever fate befalls him, and this lessens the moral weight of the problem since he has no consciously made objection to his fate. But if animals are not aware of the fate which is about to befall them, then in what way can we think of them as indifferent or complacent? Carrier plays with words here, I think.

    • says

      It’s telling how the last comment on the issue of eating animals fell away unanswered and hidden among a flurry of technical mumbo-jumbo. What a way to dodge sincere inquiry… Confirms ever more to me that eating animals is an indoctrinated habit that even the most astute minds forbid themselves to question.

    • says

      There wasn’t anything in that comment worth replying to. All you did was gainsay me. You complain about my not citing evidence, and then cite no evidence for your contrary assumptions. The rest just repeated things I already responded to in comments here and here. This suggests to me that you aren’t genuinely interested in finding out what the facts are. Why argue with such a person?

  22. mick says

    Sorry, this should say:

    We think that someone who is indifferent to whether he lives or dies is complacent to whatever fate befalls him, and this lessens the moral weight of the problem since he has consciously made no objection to his fate.

  23. says

    Note going forward: I am still experimenting with different methods of running comments. For a number of reasons I have come to dislike the threaded mode, and have gone back to time ordered comments. This has the disadvantage that your replies to a comment can be far from the original comment.

    There are three solutions:

    (1) name the person you are responding to (so one can search the thread for what they’ve said);

    (2) quote what you are responding to (and put the quoted material in blockquote or, better, italics, using the tags listed above, just remember to include the end tag; someone can then search a string from the quote and find the original comment);

    (3) or hyperlink to the comment you are responding to (using the href tag; the URL is in the original comment’s date stamp: right-click or control-click that and you get the option to “copy link location” or equivalent, which you can thus copy and then paste into the href tag).

    For newbs to coding, you put something in an href tag like this:

    Regarding ‹a href="http://whatever.etc"›this comment‹/a› I would say...

    Likewise to put something in italics you do it like this:

    Dude, that's ‹i›complicated‹/i›!

    And so on.

  24. Jim says

    You wrote:

    “Animals need a lot less than we do in order to be content and to experience normal stress levels or less (normal being the amount of occasional stress, highs and lows, that they would experience in the wild). Chickens, for example, are not miserable when in large crowded communities.”

    If this is true, then why do chickens need their beaks clipped so that they won’t peck each other to death. Your line of reasoning was used to justify vivisection.

    I posted about how over use of antibiotics on chicken farms has led to drug resistant pathogens and it was eliminated. Why?

    • says

      Jim, chickens are social animals, and like most social animals they use violence to maintain pecking order and fight for status and position. That’s what they do in the wild. It’s not a product of farming them.

      Your post about antibiotics I assume went into moderation (all new posters’ posts automatically go into moderation, as an anti-spam and anti-troll measure). If it’s in the box I’ll get to it.

  25. says

    Note to all: I have a large number of comments still waiting in the moderation queue. Commentators who have already had one comment approved will have future comments posted right away. But everyone else, please be patient. I have just been hit with a number of urgent deadline items, including final revisions and copyediting of all the chapters for my book Proving History and, at the same time, of two peer reviewed journal articles accepted for publication but requiring final edits. All of this takes a lot of time, but is top priority. So I will be very slow in getting back through my blog and its comment queue (likewise in responding to comments already posted).

    This is likely to be a common phenomenon, as I have a lot of paid work on my plate to complete (not least being completion of On the Historicity of Jesus Christ). So I am going to be a busy bee for some time. But right now the issue is a bunch of sudden deadlines sprung on me, so I can’t divide my time but have to go balls out on completing those.

  26. says

    Two items today:

    (a) The default settings closed comments on all posts after 30 days, so this thread got locked out for a week or so. I’ve caught that and changed the setting so comments can resume here.

    (b) I have had to implement a new comments policy. See my blog post Comments Crazy!

    The rest of this week I’ll be getting through the nearly a hundred comments still awaiting moderation and the nearly that many that posted but I haven’t even read yet. But after that I’ll be keeping better pace.

  27. says

    Bob Crane: Can you please go back to yr old blog? The constant pop-up ads here are so annoying. And the site is slow. Thanks.

    Turn off your popups setting in your browser and popups won’t bother you again. Indeed if you have any halfway decent browser, like Firefox, you can turn off all popups and still allow popups for some sites (where you still need them to work, e.g. the USPS postage calculator) by setting them as exceptions. For Firefox this is all in Preferences –> Content.

    As I have not experienced any delays in loading or navigating the site, my first suspicion is your browser sucks and you should update it (and perhaps your OS as well) or start using a more efficient browser. Unless, of course, blocking popups solves your speed problem. So try that first.

  28. says

    From a later comment:

    Dr. Carrier, I know this is off topic. But in your oppinion, when a nation moves from a republic to an empire, does it hasten it’s downfall? I have a friend that likes to say that the U.S. is the modern day Rome. I don’t find that sentiment comforting being that Rome fell, and left a great period of darkness following behinf it. In your oppinion is th U.S. a moderen day empire, and do you think we will become a fallen Rome?

    The U.S. is the only example I know (with the exception of China) of a successful empire. Not in the sense that we are lording it over subjugated colonies overseas (we aren’t). That is what the UK tried to do and its empire already collapsed (between the 1920s and 1960s), yet the UK is still going strong as a stable democratic nation (thus, no analogy to the Roman Empire there). Likewise other recent collapsed empires (most prominently Germany and France).

    No, the U.S. did something different: when we conquered our empire, we killed every living soul in it and repopulated the acquired territories with our own people. American imperialism was dubbed by its fans Manifest Destiny. The result was the United States. Which almost broke up once (the Civil War), but has since become only more indivisible than ever it was. Modern American imperialism is less engaged and therefore more flexible (and therefore less intrinsically perilous), since what we aim for now is influence rather than remote governance, and for that we could just buy what we can afford in any given year or decade (if we were smart about it).

    It is very unlikely the U.S. itself (our actual empire) will break up. Because it’s no longer an empire in the proper sense. It’s a federation of states with balanced representation in the halls of power (the reason we have two houses of Congress apportioned differently, one to ensure each state has equal representation, the other to ensure each state has representation proportional to its population: this is really an alliance of colonies), speaking a common language and (mostly) sharing common values, whose populations are increasingly homogenized (more and more, people in any given state are like people in another, with similar demographic diversity and mobility).

    The Roman Empire fell for reasons that won’t pertain to the U.S. (unless big changes occur; it looked like we were heading that way under Bush, but the swing away from that trajectory proves the American people weren’t keen on going there). In particular, they had no stable constitutional procedure for the peaceful succession of power, and no sound economic policy. Thus as dynasties fell, civil wars decided the next to rule. That is an inherently doomed system, because civil wars are a crap shoot, and because dynasties are inherently degenerative (due to regression to the mean and the statistical inevitability of a bad ruler when rulers are selected randomly and not for competence, e.g. by random collisions of sperm and egg). Eventually you’ll take down the whole empire that way. And that’s what happened in the 3rd century A.D., when the civil wars lasted a nearly continuous fifty years, ending in the collapse of the fiduciary economy (in large part due to the unending state of civil war).

    Imagine if the U.S. Civil War lasted fifty years, not five, and immediately afterward came the Great Depression. The U.S. would then certainly be done for. But that combination requires constant and protracted civil wars. Which are simply very improbable in present conditions.

    The U.S. is closer to the Athenian empire, which focused more on influence than colonial governance, and projected military power everywhere it could reach. The Athenians doomed themselves when they overextended their armed forces and sank in war-induced debt, then were hit by a lethally destructive plague, and defeated by a superior military alliance (and then eventually were just completely overrun by Alexander the Great before they could even contemplate a resurgence). But even this sequence of events has little in parallel with modern America. Its only common element is overextending military power causing massive escalating debt.

    And that’s the one thing we do have to worry about. We are investing far too much in military interventionism, and the debt this is incurring is crippling. It is not a sustainable strategy. If we don’t retract our military ambitions significantly, the American economy will collapse. What happens then is anyone’s guess. I think our fate at that point might more resemble what happened to the Russians in the 1990s: rising Orwellian fascism and cleptocracy and the reduction of the US to third world status (but not our collapse or dissolution). But that’s just a guess. The course of events can’t really be predicted.

    I wouldn’t be worried yet.

  29. says

    Also, the Roman Republic was never a republic in the same sense that we and our democratic cousins are today. Maybe not all Classicists would agree with me, but the Roman “Republic” for most of its duration, particularly the 1st century BCE, was primarily an aristocracy.

    The Senate poorly represented the population at Rome, let alone the foreign provinces. The movement from Republic to Empire involved the displacement of the power of a group of 100 or so families to becoming centralized under a duel family dynasty (i.e. the Julio-Claudians). For most classes of society, particular the provinces, this transition of power was actually an improvement. The emperor may be no democrat, but he was a representative for all orders of society, whereas the Senate primarily represented the top order. Nevertheless, most of our literature to document this period was written by Roman senators embittered by their political displacement and loss of power, so they color many of the emperors as tyrannical mad men, but modern historians debate how accurate these negative depictions really are. Also, the Roman Empire was a successful imperial system for about a good 250 years.

    The Pax Augusta was arguably the most prosperous period of Roman history. Nevertheless, the problem to establish an adequate constitution to accommodate the succession of principes did lead to the civil wars and political destabilization of the 3rd century CE. But the failure to establish a stable control over the military likewise lead to the collapse of the late Roman Republic in the 1st century BCE as well. Either way, I wouldn’t associate the the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire with the fall of ancient Roman civilization. The Roman Republic collapsed from constitutional problems from within, just as the Roman Empire later did. If anything, the Roman Empire strengthened and preserved the ancient Roman Civilization by an additional several centuries. I hate to sound so pro-emperor in all this, but I suppose that sometimes a dictator is better than an aristocracy, I suppose…

    • says

      The Roman Republic was a democracy (every male citizen had a vote) so it wasn’t strictly an aristocracy (which is a form of oligarchy), but the system was heavily rigged toward the equivalent of an increasingly fluid aristocracy, so it’s kind of a hybrid (which is one of the things its admirers, ancient and modern, liked about it, and one of the reasons we almost had a landholding requirement for obtaining office in the American constitution).

      Your remaining analysis is sound, IMO. Except for the assumption that things improved for provincials under the emperors. In fact, corruption in the imperial provincial bureaucracy rose to mafia levels. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. But that could at least have been manageable (good emperors could, and sometimes did, reduce the wantonness and gratuitousness of corruption in their ranks, but there was never any systematic effort to do so, so the end result was far more like a third world country today; although perhaps an expert in the modern British Empire could attest it was much the same then, as I suspect given everything indicated by the American Revolution).

  30. says

    Yeah, I will amend that to say that during the late Roman Republic the system leaned heavily de facto towards an aristocracy, but you are correct that it de iure fulfilled the requirements of an ancient democracy. Though I maintain that it was never either de iure or de facto as democratic as Athens, but that is a different matter.

    I was thinking particularly of the period under Augustus and Tiberius that the provincial management improved. That may have been too focused, but do you disagree that imperial provincial bureaucracy was better in the early Roman Empire than it was in the late Roman Republic? I agree that the later Roman Empire was a different story.

    • says

      …do you disagree that imperial provincial bureaucracy was better in the early Roman Empire than it was in the late Roman Republic?

      As I haven’t specifically studied that question, I can’t say for sure.

      Certainly, provincial administration became more peaceful and civilized, but I don’t think that had to do with the transition to the principate, but simply with the inevitable effect of time: once a province was pacified, an inevitable arc towards increasing peacefulness and political and social sophistication simply proceeded. That most provinces were conquered in the Late Republic thus would have more to do with any disparity. The problems of Roman corruption plaguing Judea, as documented by Josephus (and no notable difference to be found here under Augustus and Tiberius), reflect a newly assimilated province. Then look at Judea in the late second century. I wouldn’t say that was the consequence of imperial rule so much as simply the usual timeline from pacifying to stabilizing a province.

      But that’s just a hypothesis. I’d have to study the issue in more depth to say for sure.

  31. says

    That’s an interesting hypothesis, but I haven’t studied the issue enough either. It may have been post hoc of me to assume that the principate improved the provinces in the early Empire. Certainly the end of the civil war had to have improved things for the provinces (no longer being torn divided and plundered in Roman factual disputes), but that may not reflect an actual improvement in the administrative system, just the end of open conflict. Thanks for the feedback!

  32. says

    [Note: WordPress provides no way of relocating comments posted in the wrong threads to the correct thread, so this is a workaround. The following was posted in an unrelated thread. As it relates to something I blogged on old blog, it is suited only here.]

    Marian wrote:

    I agree the blog thing would be nice you evil anti mumbo jumbo guy, but I digress. In your talks you comment a lot on the psychology of the early Christians and their mental state or lack thereof. As such I would like to address the issue of veridical premonitions of the dead as addressed in…

    …by your opponent. I’m not a psychologist but a programmer so my world is all about the state of things.

    I would contest that this experience is an intense bout of “Déjà vu” caused by the reporting of the death of the individual and the images are ones created in the instant they heard about the death.

    While these articles are populist (it’s all I have access to) I refer you to

    Just a thought for the next time someone drops the “A devil killed my friend and I saw it in a dream last night” thing.

    Also good luck with the fight.

  33. Punchy says

    Atheism is not a thought process, it is a conclusion.

    Critical Thinking leads to atheism, and I don’t think there is need for “Critical Thinking”.

    Stop acting like a victim.

  34. peter woolcock says

    Hi Richard, Think your stuff is great. Have you come across my sceptical book ‘Western Values versus the Gospels’?

  35. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Richard Carrier:
    I was arguing with someone about supernaturalism, intrinsic methodological naturalism, and related issues. I think I identified some clear errors of reasoning in your earlier works, and I ask please for clarification and education, (or perhaps if I’m lucky I’ll happen to convince you that I’m right).

    Let me get some terms out of the way. This paper by Boudry et al (“How not to attack Intelligent Design Creationism”) defines two terms: intrinsic methodological naturalism and pragmatic methodological naturalism. Intrinsic methodological naturalism is the position that there is an intrinsic limitation to the methods of science, and that science has absolutely nothing to say about the supernatural. Pragmatic methodological naturalism is simply the position that any future claims that the supernatural exists are extremely unlikely to be true because of our vast prior evidence to the contrary (barring sufficient evidence to overcome our low Bayesian priors). I’m pretty sure that both of us hold that 1- intrinsic methodological naturalism is wrong-headed, and 2- pragmatic methodological naturalism is obviously the way to go (given our current prior evidence).

    I have read your article here on this subject, and the one of the linked articles here. (One of the links is broken which you say is mandatory reading before engaging with you. Sorry.)

    I believe that your position regarding the “right” definition of “supernatural” is about ontology and metaphysics, about the fundamental substance, about fundamental substance-irreducibility and/or fundamental causal-irreducibility. I believe that your definitions of “natural” and “supernatural” are not about mere appearances or “epistemology”. I think that you make this exceptionally clear with this quote:

    * The underlying mechanics of quantum phenomena might be physically beyond all observation and therefore untestable, but no one would then conclude that quantum mechanics is supernatural. Just because I can’t look inside a box does not make its contents supernatural.
    * Conversely, if I suddenly acquired the Force of the Jedi and could predict the future, control minds, move objects and defy the laws of physics, all merely by an act of will, ordinary people everywhere would call this a supernatural power, yet it would be entirely testable. Scientists could record and measure the nature and extent of my powers and confirm them well within the requirements of peer review.

    I agree very much with the spirit of the above quote. It is coherent and epistemically possible that someone has Star Wars force powers. That is a question which is scientifically testable. It has a distinct “yes” answer and a distinct “no” answer. I can imagine hypothetical compelling evidence for both a “yes” answer and a “no” answer.

    However, I think you go wrong about here:

    By analogy, it is always possible that there is a gigantic machine inside the earth that is changing the course of photons approaching the earth, fooling us into thinking the earth revolves around the sun. In this way the heliocentric theory could actually be false. But no scientist would claim we have not proven heliocentrism merely because of possibilities like this. Yet if a scientist will not tolerate such objections to heliocentrism, he cannot tolerate methodologically identical objections to any supernatural hypothesis that is as well established as heliocentrism. Therefore, this is not a valid objection to allowing supernatural hypotheses into science.

    If the supernatural existed, we should be able to accumulate evidence in support of it just as we have accumulated evidence of heliocentrism. Indeed, if the universe were as blatantly and pervasively supernatural as we have found it, instead, to be natural, then naturalism would be as untenable as supernaturalism is now. Supernaturalism would then be the default worldview. But even if the evidence was not that overwhelming, just as for heliocentrism, at some point the evidence could accumulate so high that you will have to admit a supernatural explanation is the best explanation there is. In fact, eventually the evidence could stack so high you will concede it’s the best explanation by far. It’s not reasonable to say “possibly, therefore probably” something else is going on. This is as irrational for a creationist to maintain against evidence for evolution as for a naturalist to maintain against the same quality of evidence for supernatural creation. If there were such evidence. It just so happens there isn’t. But no one should confuse an actual lack of evidence for the theoretical impossibility of having it.

    I agree that the mere possibility of a giant engine inside the Earth controlling the path of the Earth is not sufficient to prevent a reasonable person from making the reasonable and justified claim that Heliocentrism is true. Again, I fully agree with a proper Bayesian approach to this subject, and that the conclusion is that there is likely no such machine in the center of the Earth, and that the Heliocentrism is very likely true.

    However, I think you make a mistake in the second paragraph with the implicit comparison between “supernatural” and Heliocentrism. 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. I think this is a consequence that your definitions are about ontology and the fundamental nature of things and not about the observable nature of things.

    Perhaps the disagreement is here: 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 a way very similar to some of the thinking of logical positivism, in a certain sense I don’t even know what you mean when you say “the fundamental nature of something”, or when you are talking about fundamental causal irreducibility. You are seemingly defining terms that are completely and utterly detached from observable reality, and that’s where I think you have gone wrong. You seem to have gone into not even wrong territory. Again, I invoke your quote above concerning quantum mechanics, and I think your point is very true: (paraphrase) “lack of tools to access any internal substances or causal relations is not sufficient to conclude it is supernatural”.

    Again, just to be clear, I fully agree that if the usual model of Christian young Earth creationism were true, there would be plenty of actual evidence we could find, and it is totally conceivable that we could gather enough evidence to have a firmly supported conclusion that the usual model of Christian young Earth creationism is true. However, under your definitions, I think we could never conclude it’s “supernatural”. Similarly, we can never conclude that something is natural either – under your definitions. To use an example: materialism might be true to all possible tests we can employ, but our observable reality might itself just be a sleeper’s dream, specifically a sleeping supernatural mind. In that scenario, all of reality is supernatural. Your own quote above regarding quantum physics make this point exceedingly well:

    * The underlying mechanics of quantum phenomena might be physically beyond all observation and therefore untestable, but no one would then conclude that quantum mechanics is supernatural. Just because I can’t look inside a box does not make its contents supernatural.

    Just because I cannot look outside the box which is this universe and see the sleeper who is dreaming – that would not make the world any less supernatural under your definitions.

    Thus far, the only actual useful and meaningful definitions that I can find to back “natural” and “supernatural” are based on the modern scientific notion of materialism. Of course that might not match common usage – common usage might just be fucked. I think that one of my favorite ways of describing it comes from Baron d’Holbach. Offhand, he comes closest to describing what I mean when he writes that the whole world is just very small particles in constant motion, like a billiards table, operating according to simple mindless forces of physics. The “matter in motion” paradigm. Obviously, we’ve learned a few things since then which make the literal reading wrong, but I think there’s something important in that description, the idea that the universe is composed of many very small pieces, most of which are indistinguishable from many other, operating according to simple mathematical descriptions. Of course modern notions of physics change that from “particles to fields”. There’s also some amount of implicit locality and some amount of implicit pair-wise forces, which are also wrong AFAIK. However, I still think there’s some nontrivial and falsifiable notion buried in there which is the heart of materialism. I haven’t quite been able to lay my finger on it. Based on the above Boudry paper, I should probably read the work of Victor Stenger.

    One last question: Question Q: Does some thing X count as “natural” or “supernatural” under your definitions if X is wholly causally reducible to some mind thing Y which is itself wholly causally irreducible, e.g. Y is (wholly) supernatural? Let’s suppose we take the “natural” answer. In practice we can show that some things are causally reducible, which means it’s possible we could be justified in believing that such things are natural. Simultaneously, we would be forever unjustified in believing that anything is supernatural. At first glance, that seems like a contradiction, a situation which should not be allowed by proper Bayesian reasoning. However, I think the problem is in the language. I think that if we take “natural” as the answer to question Q, then we lack a proper true dichotomy between “natural” and “supernatural”, which conflicts with my subconscious understanding that “natural” and “supernatural” form a proper true dichotomy. In this case, “natural” would be defined as “observably causally reducible”, whereas “supernatural” would be defined as “a mind thing which is fundamentally causally irreducible” – not the same thing as “a mind thing which is observably causally irreducible”.

    PPS: I don’t hold to all of the tenants of logical positivism. Strong verification is obviously wrong. Weak verification in the context of foundherentism on the other hand – that sounds very much like the Bayesian approach you advocate.