I’ll Be at the St. Louis Skeptics in the Pub Next Week! (UPDATED)

Artsy photo of a bottle of nondescript gin at a bar.Next Friday, June the 19th, in St. Louis, at Heavy Riff Brewing on 6413 Clayton Avenue (unless the venue is changed due to higher than expected attendance), starting at 6:30pm. I’ll just be there to hang out, answer questions, have conversations, drink. I may have some of my books on hand to sell and sign (I do take credit cards). Bob Blaskiewicz will also be hanging out with us. Details here. See you there!

Update: The venue has changed . It’s now at Pat’s Bar and Grill
on 6400 Oakland Avenue (St. Louis). Upstairs. I’ll give a brief talk on something. The venue is expensive unless we attendees buy enough food and drink, so come hungry and thirsty and run up your tabs! Unfortunately my talk in Mid Rivers was so well received I nearly sold out of the books I brought with me. I only have two copies left each of OHJ and WNC. And those will likely go fast. But if you already own one of my books and want it signed, bring it!

Help Win Secular Students Week; Play a Board Game with Richard Carrier

Photo of a game in play of Star Trek Catan, which Richard Carrier took while playing with his family.Okay, so. The Secular Student Alliance, one of the best run and most important atheist community organizations we have, is running a fundraiser this week. They want to reach 500 new donors by June 17th. I asked them what minimum donation would count and they said $5. And I said “phhhhllllt!” to that. For my haughty self will only count donors who give at least $35, the minimum to become a supporting member for a year. Because, hey, You Should Join the SSA (At the Very Least!). I mean, if you want to cultivate the best future for atheism, or do not want to live in a world where Campus Crusade for Christ outspends us tenfold on winning over college students. So I’ll ask the SSA after the 17th if they got at least 500 donations of at least $35. And if they do, this is what I’ll do…

I will play a board game with the top five donors who want the pleasure of my gaming company. In person. (Or via live feed if they prefer.) That is, the five who (1) gave the biggest donations and (2) want in on my offer. If you score (1) and (2) on that (and ties will be won by chronological order of donation: s/he who donates first, gets the prize!), then you will get to choose one of the following two options:

  • We can schedule a live feed game anytime that suits us both (I can do Skype, Google Hangout, and Facetime), and you can invite as many other players as you want to join in on your end. This option presents some technical challenges we’d work out in advance (possibly requiring you to also invite one non-player attendee to be my physical proxy for holding cards and moving pieces and whatnot).
  • Every time I will be in your city for any other reason (and you might be able to cajole some local organization(s) to create that reason) I’ll check ahead of time with you if we can arrange a game date, with you and again as many others as you want to invite, until it happens.

The upside of the first option is that it can happen as soon as we have a mutually open schedule. Because the downside of the second option is that it may be a very long time before I pass through your town. The offer is good until fulfilled, though. It is also good for encounters in other cities, but you’d have to let me know about that well enough in advance to see if we can make that work (e.g. if you’ll be attending a conference I’ll also be at, and you bring the game you want to play, etc.).

What board games? Pretty much any tabletop game you have and can teach me to play. Including most card games. I’m already well familiar with various sets of Catan, for example. Depicted above is a photo I took of the state of play of a fun game of Star Trek Catan I enjoyed with my parents and sister recently. I also like some really obscure and complicated things you’ve probably never heard of, like Iron Dragon, Titan, Merchant of Venus (original set; never buy the new one, which they dumbed down to stupidville). Talisman of course. Love Shogun (now known by the stupid name Samurai Swords because a certain novelist was a dick). Oh, hey, and, you know, the game I invented when I was a teenager. Back then I actually used to play Squad Leader a lot, too (and still have an old ASL set). I own some version of Axis and Allies and Conquest of the Empire (sort of a Roman Empire version of Axis and Allies). Various other stuff. Yes, I know how to play Cards against Humanity. And poker. And Scrabble. And traditional Mah Jong. Etcetera Etcetera. But you can teach me stuff, too! Someone recently taught me the delightful game Gloom. So, you know, it can be almost anything you want. (But no Role Playing Games. I’m reserving that get for a special future fundraiser. For this get, it’s board games only, or any card games that aren’t collection based, e.g. I won’t play Magic: The Gathering).

Even if you aren’t into gaming. Help the SSA out and make me proud. To hit their target of 500 donors, and my dream of 500 donors at $35 level or more, tell lots of people about this post, spread the word, especially to any friends you know are into tabletop gaming. And donate yourself. And if you want to try for winning a game meet with me, try to donate a lot!

If you want to know more, the SSA this week is collecting a number of special guest blogs and interviews of am.azing students they’ve helped who have inspiring or fascinating stories about it. Check those out.

* Plus, be aware! If the SSA meets their goal of 500 new donors, they unlock a $20,000 challenge grant! So you have even more incentive to give just something. Even just five dollars! *

Myths of Charity: The Enduring Sham of Arthur Brooks

Photo of an actual Louisiana Disaster Assistance debit card or automated benefit card, produced by the department of social services.Six years ago Arthur Brooks published Who Really Cares (which has gone through several subtitles, from America’s Charity Divide to Who Gives, Who Doesn’t, and Why It Matters to The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism). This book is still triumphantly cited by many conservatives and libertarians as proving various dubious things, but especially two in particular: that atheists are less charitable than religious believers, and that privatizing all social welfare would improve social welfare.

But this book is largely a sham. It cooks the numbers and uses devious logical tricks to make it seem as though its conclusions are true, when in fact they demonstrably are not (or at best are demonstrably undemonstrated). A good skeptic doesn’t just believe what she reads; she checks the facts and the logic to make sure she’s not being snowed. Sadly, libertarians (usually men) who cite this book at me (as happened last year in a private communication) are bad skeptics. Because they don’t treat this book skeptically. At all. It just corroborates their ideology, so obviously it can’t be incorrect about anything, and one shouldn’t even think to check if it is.

This struck me the moment that exchange happened: a notable man claimed to me that data in Who Really Cares proves that “the working poor” give “three times more” to charity than anyone “on public assistance” at the same income level, and therefore public welfare makes people less charitable. Of course, right away I was suspicious, since it seems absurd to think someone who can only survive by receiving charity should be expected to give anything to charity. (Can you imagine badmouthing a disabled homeless person dependent on your soup kitchen and group home for not giving anything to charity…that lousy miser!)

But more importantly to today’s lesson, I was immediately suspicious of the statistic. [Read more…]

Next Weekend: Appearing in Missouri for the Mid Rivers Ethical Society!

Cover of Richard Carrier's book Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. Image on cover is Carrier's One and Only Oil painting, of a spaceman on the ladder of a planetary lander somewhere with alien plant growth.I’m honored to be delivering a platform presentation next Sunday (June 14, 2015) for the Ethical Society of Mid Rivers, Missouri, at 10:30 a.m. The meeting is at the University of Missouri Extension Center (260 Brown Road) in Saint Peters, Missouri.

I’ll be speaking on “Naturalism as a Worldview and Its Connection to Social Justice.” My book Sense and Goodness without God defends a complete philosophy of life called Naturalism, the view that nature is all there is, with no supernatural powers or beings. This was written ten years ago. Now I will summarize its aims and contribution, and how it still relates to advancing the cause of humanism today. Learn how to defend a benevolent atheism not just as what we don’t believe in, but what we do believe in (scientifically and evidentially), and how that should inform the construction and pursuit of our humanist values, especially in light of current events. I’ll be selling and signing copies of Sense and Goodness without God, and possibly some copies of On the Historicity of Jesus and Why I Am Not a Christian.

For a whole week after that I’ll be in St. Louis. Anyone who might want to meet for lunch or a drink somewhere during the week, feel free to email or message me on Facebook (my message reception is open to the public). I’ll consider all requests, although my plans are building, so I will have to decline most, I expect. Group meets will get priority (so if you have a bunch of people who want to get together and hang out, that will certainly get my attention). And I won’t have transportation, so that’s a complication to overcome. In any case, if you will be emailing or messaging me about this, do please open with a convincing discourse on why and when you want to meet and how I can be sure you are not evil. That will be greatly appreciated!

The Historicity of Paul the Apostle

Face of Paul as found in a Renaissance painting by Albrecht Durer.I am often enough asked what evidence there is for the historical existence of Paul that a summary write up would be handy to refer people to. This also has use as some scholars ignorantly claim that any standard that would deny the historicity of Jesus would entail denying the historicity of Paul (like that renowned fool James McGrath). Such a statement can only be uttered by someone who stalwartly doesn’t know (or is stubbornly refusing to hear) why the historicity of Jesus is said to be improbable.

The best formal attempt to argue for the non-historicity of Paul is that of Hermann Detering (see The Fabricated Paul). I cannot ascertain his qualifications in the field. But his writings are well-informed. They just trip over logic a lot. His case is not sound. Nor is anyone else’s I’ve examined. They falter on basic methodology (like ignoring the effect prior probability must have on a conclusion, or conflating possibility with probability) and sometimes even facts (e.g., Detering seems to think self-referencing signatures commonly appear only in forgery; in fact, they are commonly found on real letters—I’ve seen several examples in papyrological journals).

By contrast, the following is a basic run-down on why the historicity of Paul is actually, unlike Jesus, highly probable… [Read more…]

How To Do Wrong Right

Picture of a traffic sign in green with white lettering and border against a cloudy sky, which has arrows pointing both right and left, one labeled Right Way, the other labeled Wrong Way.After my post last month asking for a date the following week, many very positive and some slightly negative things transpired in result. The date went well. I chose a very lovely person who replied to my advertisement awesomely. We hit it off very well and are now in a relationship (mutually open). Others asked me out on future dates that have happened or will. Still others were inspired by my post to strike up an exploratory correspondence from afar, and some of those encounters might become future relationships. The hostility that was generated came mostly from sexists or anti-feminists with weird hangups. Some feminists had problems with it but weren’t hostile. I also received a lot of wonderful support.

This post won’t be about that.

Today I’m going to bring up one particular issue that has come up many times before in my discussions with movement insiders across the spectrum. The meta-question is, how do we draw the line, or even tell the difference, between honest, open, consensual, sex-positive behavior, and behavior that should be criticized and disapproved. But within that umbrella is one particular aspect: everyone screws up from time to time; and we can’t pillory the whole world. So what is a positive and constructive way to deal with correctable error, and what distinguishes that from behavior beyond the pale?

Of course, the Slymepit won’t care about that distinction. Even though they insist they do, they just horribly attack and harass anyone and everyone who ever defends any standard or policy whatever. And regardless of what those of the Slymepit profess, in actual practice they are the scary, amoral nihilists of this movement. They are also beyond facts, reality, or reason. So this post is not intended to educate them. They are uneducable.

Who I’m writing for now, is everyone else. [Read more…]

Help Miri Mogilevsky Keep Writing for a Living

Snapshot from a corner of Miri Mogilevsy's Patreon page, showing you can give a dollar amount per blog post to become a patron of her writing, and that she has at writing eleven patrons contributing a total of sixty-seven dollars a month so far.I have long been a fan of Miri Mogilevsky’s excellent writing on society, science, and sexuality, among many other topics, including feminism and other aspects of social justice. As well as her speaking and teaching. I’ve also been considering launching my own Patreon account later this year. But I’d like to see a colleague get it functional in action in the way I see Mogilevsky doing it now. And really, I’d just love to see her supported as a writer.

Her Patreon launch is really great. It’s inspiring me to develop my own someday and she’s given me great ideas for it. Check it out. You can become a patron of her work for just a dollar a month even. Or more. There are also some special goals she’ll meet for greater investments.

It’s worth it. I’ve cited and used her work many times (e.g. [1] and [2]). And I would value getting to do that more often. She nails certain subjects I want to find good articles on far better than I ever could. Including topics in Polyamory (e.g. [1] and [2]). She writes well, clearly, completely, and thoughtfully. I have enjoyed countless of her articles here at FtB as well as for Daily Dot, xoJane, Everyday Feminism, Friendly Atheist, Salon, and other venues. To get a feel for her contributions, just skim her blog archive for the month of this April alone.

-:-

I’ve posted about this not only because I’m a big fan of Miri’s and support her work and think some readers of mine might share both sentiments, but also because I’m becoming more interested in the anarchic Patreon model of employment for authors and artists. I think more authors I like might do this in future. As perhaps will I. So stay tuned!

Help Rescue Our Colleagues from Murderers

Profile photo of Bangladeshi author and activist Taslima NasrinThis is a big one. We’ve been working secretly on rescuing our own Taslima Nasrin from a hit list in her own county and have now gotten her to safety at some continuing expense that we could really use your help with. We would also like to save several other atheist bloggers on the same death list. Perhaps more in similar future circumstances if we can. We’ve worked with the Center for Inquiry on this and they’ve established the Freethought Emergency Fund. CFI has released a detailed press release with everything you need to know about that. And Ed Brayton has now provided more of the back story for those curious about what we did and whom to thank for making this possible.

But here is the gist of what’s needed now and why:

We must take these threats very seriously. Three writers have been viciously murdered in three months, with the last death, that of Ananta Bijoy Das, occurring just a couple of weeks ago.

Because of the very real danger to her life [the murderers are now naming her as their next target], Taslima has decided to leave India. For the indefinite future, to preserve her life, she will need to stay in the United States— where she currently has no job or home.

We at the Center for Inquiry are doing all we can to keep her out of harm’s way. But we need your help.

We’re asking you to Donate Now so Taslima can remain safe in the United States. We will need to provide assistance with food, housing, and the means to get safely settled.

If we raise more than is needed for Taslima, we will use the remainder to establish an emergency fund to help assist other dissidents in similarly perilous situations. Without going into detail, CFI has already been contacted by other writers on the subcontinent who have received threats against their lives and who have requested assistance. We are withholding their names for their own safety.

Donate if you can. Any amount helps, especially if you also spread this around and convince many more to give as much as you did or more. Let’s help save fellow atheists targeted for murder if we can, so they can continue writing and agitating for change in their country through the safety of the internet and a secular society humanist enough to protect them.

Reminder: Learn How to Question or Defend the Historicity of Jesus

Hey! Want to know how to defend the historicity of Jesus against naysayers? This class is for you. Want to know how to be the most irrefutable naysayer? This class is also for you. Join now. Ask all the questions you want for a month. Offer all the challenges you want. Bend the ear and get the thoughtful responses of an expert with a Ph.D. in ancient history from Columbia University who has extensively studied the subject. Encounter the best attempts to rebut him (me!) and the best arguments pro and con. Class starts tomorrow! Registration will remain open for the next five days. And note that the course text is available not only in print but also on kindle or nook and epub.