Critical Thinking in the 21st Century: What’s New and Why It Matters

Picture of me at the podium with the opening slide showing by video insert (just has the title of the talk on it).Video of my brief talk at this year’s SSA Leadership Conference is now available [here]. I also have a handy page with explanations and links to all the books and resources I mentioned, and a bit more, as well as a link to my sideshow (with downsampled images and without animations) [here]. A major limitation was that it was a 40 minute talk that I had to squeeze into 20 minutes, which makes some points a bit awkward as I zip past slides that I could have said much more about (and you might detect my frustration at points trying to cut everything down to time).

My overall point was that we need to master traditional critical thinking skills (logic, fallacies, principles of questioning and inquiry) as well as the relevant aspects of cognitive science (everything science has learned about brain bugs that interfere with our ability to critically reason or reason well, so we can control, compensate, or correct for them) and the basic principles of Bayesian reasoning (since all empirical reasoning is modeled with it, and it helps us better understand when evidence is needed or enough, and what concepts like “more evidence” actually mean, and how to identify just where the faulty assumptions are in anyone’s reasoning from observation to conclusion, whether your own or someone else’s).

The talk, slideshow, and web page will help you get up to speed on all three aspects of critical thinking in the 21st century.


  1. Giuseppe says

    what do you think about this article of Rivka Nir,

    “Josephus’ Account of John the Baptist: A Christian Interpolation?”

    published in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus (2012) 32-62.

    So the apologist:

    If I have understand well, as it’s possible to see exclusively the proto-orthodox baptism as a implicit, polemic target, into that construct

    ‘immersion is good not when … but only when…’,

    so then is more probable that the author of passage was not Josephus [that didn’t know orthodox christians, but perhaps only the judeo-christians] but a judeo-christian.

    The alternative is that was Josephus to polemize against the indebit proto-orthodox appropriation of (pre-christian or judeo-christian) baptism of John the Baptist, then making in ths way Josephus an indirect witness of proto-orthodox christians (very improbable), when even the proto-orthodox Epistle to Hebrews (10:22) had still the judeo-christian baptism.

    Best regards,

    • says

      I have long agreed with the notion that that passage has been tampered with by Christians (the aside about baptism is almost certainly a Christian insertion, in whole or in part). But that Josephus discussed John the Baptist is attested in Origen and makes sense in context (his account does not agree with Christian accounts and is more politically sophisticated, suggesting it’s what Josephus actually wrote), so I don’t think a case can be made that the whole thing is a Christian insertion.

    • says

      Transcript, no. Slides, yes. And an ancillary guide. See the link in this article to that guide, and in that guide (which basically summarizes every salient detail of the talk, so it’s the next best thing to a transcript, or maybe even better than one) is a link to the slideshow (without animations and in lower resolution, but still).

  2. Giuseppe says

    Hi Richard,
    I discussed with a Christian (autodidact) scholar about your argument about the celestial figure Jesus described by Philo in very similar terms to Paul’s Christ.

    His opinion is that in Zechariah 3:8 the high priest Ιησους may not be the Ανατολη who is proclaimed in Zechariah 6.12.

    From Zechariah 3.8 he deduce that the angel of God is just saying to Jesus that God will send the Ανατολη (then distinct from Jesus).
    The Branch (i.e. the greek Ανατολη in the LXX) is the Jew Messiah, cf. Jer. 23.5 and 33.15. therefore the Ανατολη is not Jesus but it is a messianic figure.

    Then he re-read, in the light of this information, Zechariah 6:11-12 (here is the angel of God speaking to the prophet Zechariah), in this way:
    So the prophet has told Jesus son of Jehozadak that Ανατολη will arrive, and will help Jesus and Zorobabel to rebuild the temple.

    in Zechariah 4:11 and 4:14

    11 Then answered I, and said unto him, What are these two olive trees upon the right side of the candlestick and upon the left side thereof?

    14 Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth.

    the candlestick is allegory for Ανατολη, while the ”two anointed ones” will be, when the
    same Ανατολη/Messiah will arrive, the same Jesus son of Jehozadak and Zerobabel.

    For Richard Carrier, Philo is talking about the man described in Zechariah 6. The man who is there named Jesus.

    But, contra Carrier, the objection is that Philo is talking about the messianic title Ανατολη described in Zechariah 3:8, 4:14 and 6:12, alias the Jew Messiah, and then Philo isn’t talking about Jesus son of Jehozadak.

    In other terms, Philo (and Zechariah, too) is saying that Jesus, without the help of the Logos (= Ανατολη, who is not Jesus), would not be able to rebuild the Temple. So the Logos/Ανατολη, on his arrival on heart, will be joined by Jesus to his right, and to his left from Zorobabel, the two future high priests to the sides of the ”candlestick” (Zechariah 4:11), alias the Ανατολη , alias the Messiah/Logos .

    So Richard Carrier:
    Philo indicates he is aware the phrase refers to a man, and then says he rejects that interpretation because it would be an odd thing to say of a man; then he concludes it refers to the same Logos superbeing that he talks about here and several other places.

    But in this other interpretation Philo is talking about Ανατολη, i.e. the future Jew Messiah (then not Jesus), and then he says he rejects the traditional Jew interpretation about Messiah (that the Messiah will be only a man, though chosen from God) because it would be an odd thing to say of a man, etc., then he concludes it refers to the same Logos superbeing that he talks about here and several other places, but never meaning Jesus son of Jehozadak, being the latter only a future high priest togheter with Zorobabel.

    I’m sorry for the length of post (and off-topic), but I confess that the objection would make sense, and I want to know what you think about.
    Very thanks,

    • says

      That is all illogical, and an example of desperate Christian apologetics.

      In Zech. 6, God tells Zechariah to crown Jesus and say to Jesus “Behold, the man whose name is Rising…and he shall build the temple of Jehovah…and he shall be a priest upon his throne” and then he is to give crowns to others, “the crowns shall be to Helem, and to Tobijah, and to Jedaiah, and to Hen the son of Zephaniah, for a memorial in the temple of Jehovah. And they that are far off shall come and build in the temple of Jehovah, and you [Jesus] shall know that Jehovah of hosts hath sent me [Zechariah] unto you.”

      There is no one else present. Therefore, Jesus can’t have been commanded to “behold” some third figure…there is no third figure. The only ones present are Zechariah and Jesus, and the crowning ceremony clearly indicates Zechariah is speaking of the one he just crowned. He is the one who will build the temple and sit as its priest (remember, Zechariah was originally speaking of the legendary first high priest of the second temple…who did in fact supervise the building of it…and the passage clearly imagines this as happening right then, not some future time, as if accomplished by someone else).

      Insofar as the language is messianic, Zechariah is figuring this Jesus as the messiah.

      This is clear even in Zech. 3 where the same thing happens: Jesus is crowned and told this:

      “Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: If you [Jesus] will walk in my ways, and if you [Jesus] will keep my charge, then you [Jesus] also shall judge my house, and shall also keep my courts, and I will give you [Jesus] a place of access among these that stand by. Hear now, O Jesus the high priest, you and your fellows that sit before thee. For they [i.e. not you] are men that are for a sign–for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the Branch. For, behold, the stone that I have set before Jesus; upon one stone are seven eyes: behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, saith Jehovah of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day. In that day, saith Jehovah of hosts, shall you [Jesus] invite every man his neighbor under the vine and under the fig-tree.”

      There is no third person here, no separate messiah. God is saying Jesus is the servant, that he is the one who will judge all things (3:7), he is the one whom his companions will witness doing these things (3:8), and he is the one who will bring peace on the final day of judgment (3:10). No other person is mentioned doing any of this or being in any way involved in any of it.

      Zechariah is thus figuring Jesus as the messiah (albeit, when he wrote, he was saying this of the Jesus ben Jehozadak, the legendary first high priest of the second temple, shortly after the end of the Jewish exile, long before the first century; but it is this meaning that Philo is explicitly rejecting).

      Thus, in ch, 6, this statement is simply false: “So the prophet has told Jesus son of Jehozadak that Ανατολη will arrive, and will help Jesus and Zorobabel to rebuild the temple.” There is absolutely no mention of a third man coming to “help” build the temple. The only ones mentioned as helping are the named subordinates who also receive crowns…none of whom is the Ανατολη.

      And that’s even apart from when we get to the final argument:

      That we would have a speech delivered to a crowned-by-god Jesus, who is described as the Son of God (son of Jehovah the Righteous), spoken of messianically this way (e.g. his standing as judge and bringing peace in the final day), being linked to a being who has all the same unusual attributes Paul and other Christians attributed to their Jesus (firstborn, son of god, preexistent being, agent of creation–and then, cosmic high priest, and logos) is massively improbable as a coincidence.

      Yet to suppose Zechariah (and thus Philo) were “just happening” to link those same attributes to someone only beheld by this messianically-acting Jesus the Son of God, requires assuming that massively improbable coincidence occurred. Whereas reading the text as it is actually written, in the way Zechariah clearly intended it, which Philo changed in only one single respect (making the key figure cosmic rather than human), requires positing no such massive coincidence.

  3. Giuseppe says

    ok, Richard, problem solved even before your clarification. In a nutshell, who is crowned and hailed Anatolé (in Zech. 6:12) is in the original ancient reading of Zechariah Zerobabel and not Joshua (because Zerobabel is the king from whom will descend the Messiah). Then in step to the Septuagint, who read Philo, Joshua replaced Zerobabel as the one who is crowned and hailed Anatolé. It does not matter that before the Septuagint, in more ancient Zechariah now lost, Zerobabel appeared in place of Joshua.
    So I’m sure: for Philo Joshua/Jesus is called Anatole and no one else. Your argument (about Philo and name of Jesus) is very solid.
    excuse of my trouble with Christian apologetics. Thank you anyway


    • says

      That’s simply not true.

      Indeed, every statement you just made is false.

      Zech. 4 is about the king Zerubbabel, not the priest or the son of god or the Anatolê; and Zerubbabel is not in Zech. 3 or 6, Jesus is.

      You can’t play around with the text like this. Chs. 3 and 6 are about Jesus, not Zerubbabel. Because they say so. Ch. 4 is about Zerubbabel, not a priest or a son of God or one Rising or anyone crowned by Zechariach, because it mentions no such things.

      Unless you are privy to some other manuscript reading than is in the standard texts? If so, cite your source.

  4. Giuseppe says

    you’re right. To insinuate the doubt as to who the original Zechariah meant by Anatolé (Zerubbabel instead of Jesus?) were these words

    Since I probably know about obscure ancient traditions than most, I thought I would shed some likelihood on the question of Whether Philo really believed to the Logos was named Jesus based on Zechariah 6:12. The Hebrew text as we now have it is corrupt but there are of course some obvious arguments against this proposition. Generally Jews do not associate the figures of the anatole with the high priest Joshua, but rather Zerubbabel. Christians working from the Greek text – When They do comment on the passage – the anatole tend to identify with Jesus the high priest.

    but still, even in this case, one must assume a replacement of Zerubbabel with Joshua in 6:12 before Philo could read the text: in that case, anatolè means ”sprout” that is distinct from ”sprouted”, ”germinated”, that is, the future messiah of the Davidic lineage (and then of crowned man in 6:12). I wanted to be convinced especially that it was the crowned in 6:11 (whoever he was) to be hailed Anatolé in 6:12.
    Now I know, thank you.
    Bye from Italy

    • says

      Let me get this straight. The text says the opposite of what you want. So you are assuming there was a manuscript that said the opposite of what it does now (despite there being zero evidence any such manuscript ever existed), and that that was the manuscript Philo was reading. Therefore your conclusion is true.


  5. Giuseppe says

    I (would) say that there was a manuscript that said the opposite of what it does now (despite there being zero evidence any such manuscript ever existed), and that that was NOT the manuscript Philo was reading: Philo was reading the same manuscript that we read now (anatolé=Jesus). All here. In this view, Zac 4:14 is important: the ”candlestick” is the future anatolé, and its sides are Jesus and Zerubbabel. Jesus is the religious power, and Zerubabbel is the civil power. Then in original text, Zerubabbel was hailed anatolé and Jesus was at his right. But after the interpolation, Jesus was King/Anatolé and not Zerubabbel. Your ”argument from extreme improbability of a coincidence” is saved, in anyway. But it’s true that the hypothesis ”interpolation at last minute before Philo” is entirely ad hoc : zero evidence for this, that I know.
    (not for nothing that I find it also in the notes of my Bible :) that is introduced by well-known biblist and Catholic prelate Gianfranco Ravasi)

    • says

      Okay. So your conclusion requires positing something existed for which we have no evidence whatever.

      To bring this back around to the topic of my article (critical thinking), you are presenting me with an argument that is formally unsound.

      In the language of logic, an argument is valid if the conclusion follows from the premises. An argument is then sound if the premises are demonstrated to be true. An argument that is not sound is to be rejected.

      Therefore, your argument is to be rejected. You have no evidence supporting your conclusion.