Mar 20 2014

Two Interviews

Two interviews of me have been published online recently. One at anti-theism (on my stance against religion generally). Another in the Washington Times Community (which is not just about me, but quotes me and others on our take on the nativity story and later legends about Jesus): Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.


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  1. 1

    Apparently, your “false teachings are easy to pin down” and
    ‘Dr.’ Carrier attacks the four gospel writers varying accounts (not differing),
    which is the favorite means to try to discredit the veracity of the New Testament
    writers. He approaches his treatise counting in the hopes his unlearned readers are simple-minded enough not to consider variances by four seperate individuals, in differing locations, at different times.
    CONSIDER, for example four witnesses to an accident 25 feet away from one another, or at a large party from each corner of a huge room, with throngs of people in the center witnessing a fight in the center. Some points can not be disputed, but one will vary from the other merely by locale.”

    Obviously, not worth your time to respond to (or even mine for that matter), but it seems that as is often the case, knowledge of the subject has little to do with how confident a person is in their opinions. I would hope that there are some readers who aren’t so set in their thinking that they can look at it and say “hmm, the two accounts really are totally different and contradictory. If I didn’t come into this assuming they were both true, what would I be more likely to think – that they were fiction, or that the convoluted justifications are reasonable?”

    1. 1.1
      Richard Carrier

      I fail to see a single coherent example of anything you are claiming. If you want to see what we are actually talking about, read my example in The Christian Delusion, pp. 294-96. This is simply not ordinary witness disagreement. This is obvious and massive contradiction. The kind that discredits witnesses. In real courts of law. All the time.

    2. 1.2

      You misunderstand
      The use of the word “apparently” was to indicate that this is what people (well one person) commenting on the piece are claiming. I thought it was clear, by saying it is not worthy of your response that I was quoting from the comments and from the rest of my comment that I do not disagree with your point, but was instead lamenting tht no matter how well argued or researched the points you make, there are a large number of people, who have little if any knowledge in the subject, that will just dismiss it and assume that their limited knowledge is superior to all the study you have done

    3. Richard Carrier

      That was not apparent. ;-)

      But as you now say, definitely.

  2. 2

    Hi Richard
    Thanks for a good read. Just to let you know that your links to part 4 and 5 need some attention as something has gone wrong with them! (you prolly missed off http:// or something). Please delete after reading!

    1. 2.1
      Richard Carrier

      Yes, sometimes that happens in WordPress. I have to go in and fix them. Will do.

  3. 3
    Sleeper (from Sci blogs)

    The last two links are borked.

    1. 3.1
      Richard Carrier

      See upthread. They are just missing the http://. Fixed.

  4. 4

    A quote from one of the interviews: “It was a common (although not universal) tradition in antiquity not to narrate the childhoods of demigods and heroes”.

    Is there any material on that, either primary or secondary (articles/books)?

    1. 4.1
      Richard Carrier

      In Quest of the Hero is the principal starting point.

  5. 5


    Can you tell me if you will cite in the long-awaited OHJ the book from 1995 The Open Tomb: A New Approach, Mark’s Passover Haggadah (± 72C.E.) of Carel Hanhart ?

    I have read this <a href="http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Israel%27s+Scripture+Traditions+and+the+Synoptic+Gospels%3A+Story+Shaping…-a055540708" review and from Vridar about that book, and although there are some clear possibiliter fallacies (Secret Mark), I find what I like more, for example

    The post-70 Judean situation that Hanhart’s thesis requires was an oppressive regime, under which life would quite normally generate a subversive language. Thus, the Markan text is dominated by language of indirection designed for esoteric use: code words, midrashic linguistic markers, word plays.

    Mark has interpreted the crisis of 70 C.E. in terms of Paul’s theology of God’s salvific plan. That helps us appreciate the novel strategy pursued here of claiming that Mark has retrojected Paul into the passion narrative itself, as the naked youth and the youth in a white robe in the tomb.

    Hanhart claims that Mark’s open tomb story is properly seen as a Passover Haggadah written for his own people, a “midrashic aggadah expressing his indomitable faith and hope in God in a time of great crisis” (p. ix).

    If this book is too out-of-date to be cited and read now, the same quoted topics will are discussed better in OHJ?

    very thanks,


    1. 5.1
      Richard Carrier

      Too much speculation to be of use to OHJ. I leave it to others to evaluate on its own terms. I cannot use it for the thesis of OHJ.

      But I do use the more definite work of Carmichael on Passover Haggadah in Mark. It’s much more restrained in its claims, and thus much more secure in its conclusions. Mark’s Gospel is a Passover Haggadah. But it does not follow from that that everything (or even a significant fraction) of what Hanhart says is then true. This is an example of over-reaching by piling a zillion speculations onto what would normally be a far more modest thesis, thereby burying the strong argument in a mountain of weak ones, rendering it invisible.

  6. 6
    Curious guy

    “Consequently, we are about 1500 years less advanced in all those domains than we would be today had pagan philosophy won out over Christianity. Had Christianity not existed to seize power when it did (and assuming no horrid analog arose in its place to do so), we would be living now in a world 1500 years more technologically and scientifically advanced–and 1500 years more politically and socially advanced. We would not be struggling in every domain of our lives with the wreckage of inhuman attitudes about sexuality or social justice or liberty, inhuman attitudes entrenched in our culture and thus our psyches solely because of Christianity. All the battles we are fighting today, against the abuse of the poor, against war mongering, against hostility to sexual freedom and enjoyment, against oppression of women and gays, would have been resolved centuries ago, in favor of human liberty. Christianity has been holding us back. It holds us back still.”

    I’m curious what pagan philosophy you are talking about here. Not sure how you are going to prove your statement that Christianity made us 1500 years less advanced as a historian? I’m curious about your method and approach to proving that statement if proving it is possible.

    What about other asian countries where Christianity did not play a dominate role? I guess you are using them as some kind of reference point or evidence for your argument?

    1. 6.1
      Richard Carrier

      I answer that in the chapter that concludes The Christian Delusion (“Christianity Was Not Responsible for Modern Science,” pp. 396-419.

      Regarding non-Western cultures, they never developed a logically formalized math and science at all. Whereas we had those in ancient Greece and Rome. Then Christians chucked them, and didn’t get back to using them properly for about a thousand years. Whereas had they been pro-science, they would have continued its development uninterrupted from 200 AD to 1700 AD, and we would have experienced 1500 years of scientific and technological advancement that we otherwise didn’t (the period from 1500-1700 AD saw some advancement beyond the state of knowledge in 200 AD, but much less than would have been the case had Christianity not been getting in the way even then, e.g. locking up Galileo and encouraging people to oppose scientists rather than help them, or waste their time on pointless things, e.g. Newton spent half his time on biblical prophecy nonsense–had he devoted that time to science, he would have doubled his advances).

      Thus, we were set back in the West by about 1500 years. Whereas China, for example, never had these things to begin with, so it can’t ever have “lost” them so as to have “set them back” from any trajectory they were ever actually on in the first place. The West, meanwhile, was on a trajectory of formal scientific progress. Which Christianity then arrested for 1500 years (1000 completely, 500 substantially).

      On the difference between Eastern and Western “science” see The Ambitions of Curiosity by Lloyd (the world’s leading expert in the comparative history of ancient Chinese and Greek science).

  7. 7


    What is the provenance of the New Testament book of Revelation?

    1. 7.1
      Richard Carrier

      The where is unknown. Speculations abound. None are convincing enough to trust as certain. The book itself sort of claims it was composed on an island in the Aegean. But it’s not exactly clear (it only says that’s where the “revelation” supposedly occurred).

      The who is unknown. It claims someone named John of Patmos, about whom nothing reliable is known.

      The when is the late 80s-early 90s AD (based on internal evidence). On why we know that, see Hitler Homer Bible Christ, p. 390, n. 44.

      The context is Jewish Christianity (Revelation is anti-Pauline and opposes the notion of a Gentile Christianity; a property it shares with the books of James and Matthew).

    2. 7.2

      Thanks. Would it be fair to describe Revelation as an anti-Roman/anti-gentile polemic?

    3. Richard Carrier


    4. 7.3

      Thanks again. One more question: who is Revelation 3:9 referring to? Gentile Christians?

    5. Richard Carrier

      Probably but there is considerable debate over it. I haven’t explored further.

  8. 8
    Curious guy

    “All the battles we are fighting today, against the abuse of the poor, against war mongering, against hostility to sexual freedom and enjoyment, against oppression of women and gays, would have been resolved centuries ago, in favor of human liberty.”

    My question is why China, a country where Christianity is not dominant, could not achieve what you have stated?

    I am not challenging you, just curious. I had to work with four Chinese atheists, well one became a buddhist later, and they were all against homosexuality. One specifically told me he would leave work if he had to work with a gay guy. By the way, they came to the US for work and study so they were not american Chinese. The other three said they will work with a gay guy but not be friends with him and one of them told me that she will be uncomfortable if a gay guy acted “feminine”. In order not to make the work environment hostile I decided not to come out to them. I tried to understand why they are so against gays even though they are not christians. There must be some explanations to it. So I would like to hear your thoughts on this when you get a chance.

    1. 8.1
      Richard Carrier

      China never had a formal scientific or mathematical system. It thus had no tradition of systematic progress to lose. It simply limped along with happenstance progress like all other cultures did that never achieved the formal logic, mathematics, and science that the Greeks developed and the Romans adopted (and that the Christians then essentially abandoned for a thousand years).

      On why China never hit upon the key innovations that the Greeks did, which made formal logic, math, and science possible, I am not certain. Lloyd, the first guy to read on this, has his own theories (see upthread for a link). But Cromer has another take that somewhat overlaps Lloyd’s and might have some merit to add: Uncommon Sense.

      Note that it’s important to distinguish formal logic, math, and science (which allow reliable theoretical progress in understanding the world) and technological advancement (which actually requires little to no scientific knowledge, or logic, and only an ad hoc practical math, not formalized mathematical systems). The former can contribute considerably to the latter, but the latter can proceed at a certain pace without the former. Thus the Chinese were great technologists (and hit upon a lot of the same advances, plus a few the West missed). But they were lousy scientists. And that ultimately put a cap on the amount of technological advancement they could achieve. Which is why China got pretty impressive technologically by about or just after the Han era and then mostly stagnated technologically for a thousand years or more, until the West arrived bringing modern science with it. The why of that is a task for experts in Chinese history to answer, but the answers appear to be similar to e.g. why Muslims dropped the same ball that the Greeks handed them almost as quickly as the Christians did: political-ideological hostility to the necessary values (curiosity, empiricism, progressivism).

  9. 9

    Links to Parts 4 and 5 are broken. Also, there seems to be a story you didn’t link:

    1. 9.1
      Richard Carrier

      That’s link 5. Links 4 and 5 were only missing the http://. Fixed.

  10. 10

    from the first link you say:

    No one believes in god with any fervor without using it to anchor forceful beliefs about how society should conform to the theist’s will.

    which to me seems like a rather strong claim (even within christianity).

    so where is this strong statement coming from? do you see that kind of thing even in the liberal believers?

    1. 10.1
      Richard Carrier

      There are only two kinds of “liberal believers,” those who don’t really believe in god with any fervor (who would not be covered by my statement) and those who do. For the latter, the answer to your question is yes. They base their moral beliefs on it and endeavor to enact those beliefs politically or socially. I covered this two paragraphs later:

      Not all delusions are equally dangerous, of course. There are friendlier delusions, more tolerant theologies and ideologies. I can get along with many a theist or dogmatist because of that. But these still enable those worse. And they are not themselves free of harm, and are still to be criticized for that. For a good survey of the dangers of even liberal and tolerant religions (and any comparable nonrational or non-evidence-based ideologies), just see chapters four through seven of Greta Christina’s book Why Are You Atheists So Angry.

  11. 11
    Jason Dupuy

    I think the quote from Parsons is awesome. I’d like to have it hanging over my desk. I’m an academic but not a philosopher, so my knowledge of philosophy is uneven, but based on my anecdotal experiences, I’ve seen philosophers who are atheists but still, based on their trainings in logic, have a kind of admiration for the nutty internal consistency that theistic philosophers make. It’s wrong, but they admire the rigor that went into it, in the same way that I might admire the world building that goes into a good science fiction or fantasy novel. Have you had much experience with this?

  12. 12

    The idea that curiosity, empiricism, and progress are necessary for doing science, is that an idea that others have discussed?

    It must be said that science depends on a non-empirical principle: simplicity or Occam’s Razor. Consider fitting a curve through some points. For many fitting functions, if one has enough parameters, one will always be able to fit it. Yet we prefer functions with relatively few parameters, and functions that have simple forms or that are derived from some theory.

    Then there’s the question of the validity of induction. Might that also be considered a non-empirical principle? A problem with induction is that if treated as a form of deduction, it’s a fallacy: Affirming the Consequent and Denying the Antecedent. Or at least so it seems. I don’t think that any philosopher has succeeded in deriving induction from deduction.

    1. 12.1
      Richard Carrier

      Scholarship on the role of valuing curiosity etc. is cited in my chapter on this in Christian Delusion.

      As to the rest:

      Logic is a prerequisite for science but not sufficient for it, in just the same way higher cognition is a prerequisite for science but not sufficient for it. Many an anti-scientific religious worldview is perfectly logical. And embraced by beings possessed of higher cognition.

      But in a fundamental sense, Occam’s Razor is empirical. Because it is a fact about epistemic probabilities, which are empirical probabilities: Proving History, index, “Ockham’s Razor.” But even more fundamentally, this is actually reductively true of all math and logic: Sense and Goodness without God II.3.2, pp. 53-54, cf. Proving History, Axiom 4, pp. 23-26. Indeed, all axioms on which all math is based are only believed true insofar as they are verified empirically, they cannot be verified deductively. This is also true of all logic, which reduces to a single law, the law of non-contradiction, which is believed because of observation, as explained in the preceding two books, and also in my Critique of Reppert on the ontology of logic. Thus all deduction reduces to empirical authority (which is one of the most important discoveries in the philosophy of math and logic of the last hundred years, e.g. Gödel), and those who reject empirical authority are often anti-logic (e.g. the recent Christian attack on set theory).

      Likewise the validity of induction. It is used because it is observed to work, while non-inductive methods are observed not to work; a Bayesian probability results, and Bayesian probabilities are epistemic probabilities, i.e. empirical probabilities. And contrary to your assumption, Bayesian proofs of induction are deductive, and would not commit either of the fallacies you cite (one can also avoid Gödel by using a Willard-validated Peano arithmetic for your probabilities when building a Bayesian proof). But even these proofs remain empirical at the base level: the cognition of properly basic beliefs (Epistemological Endgame). Only those who recognize that are guaranteed of avoiding the pitfalls of hyper-rationalism (and anti-empirical deployments of logic).

  13. 13
    Curious guy

    What about Issac Newton.. He believed in God but his faith didn’t prevent(?) him from contributing a lot in math and science. How would you explain people like Issac Newton. Is he an example that could be used against your hypothesis or could you come up with a plausible and reasonable explanation for Christian scientists like Newton. I’m just curious about your thoughts on it when you get a chance. Much appreciated.

    1. 13.1
      Richard Carrier

      Note that I never say theists can’t be scientists. To the contrary, in Christian Delusion I point out that most of the great pagan scientists were theists. Rather, Christianity was hostile to the scientific values of paganism until it rediscovered and reintegrated those pagan values (from reading and acceding to pagan literature on the point). So Christianity had to be re-paganized to become genuinely pro-science. And that is precisely what happened in the Renaissance that paved the way for the Scientific Revolution, which Newton represents the culmination of. And that is why the Scientific Revolution did not occur until that had happened, and thus why it took over a thousand years to get back on track. Thanks to Christian hostility to scientific values.

  14. 14

    I think that Christian apologists will object to your characterization of early Christianity as rejecting curiosity, empiricism, and progress. In fact, many of them seem to believe that Christianity is the only scientific, rationalistic religion that there ever was.

    I’ve even seen some such apologists defend the later Middle Ages in Europe as some sort of Golden Age of Free Inquiry, claiming that nobody was ever persecuted for heretical scientific ideas, for instance. But I once saw someone claim that a common way of presenting far-out ideas was to present them as purely hypothetical. That is what Copernicus’s friend Osiander did to Copernicus’s magnum opus. Galileo, however, didn’t want to be adding disclaimers to his discussions of heliocentrism stating that heliocentrism was purely hypothetical. Though he made a valiant effort to get the Church to consider heliocentrism a legitimate hypothesis, he failed.

    1. 14.1
      Richard Carrier

      I think that Christian apologists will object to your characterization of early Christianity as rejecting curiosity, empiricism, and progress.

      Of course. They even object to calling the Dark Ages bad. Or saying Christianity was pro-slavery for 1700 years. Or that Christians actually fought women’s suffrage. Or pretty much any true thing that shows Christianity has been majority bad throughout history.

      They can’t handle the truth.

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