Live, This Sunday, on Atheist Analysis!

Advert for the episode of Atheist Analysis, graphically representing the basic info in the post, plus a picture of Richard Carrier editied to have him holding Bayes' Theorem in his hand.The vidcast Atheist Analysis, which streams live at 10pm Eastern this Sunday (Feb. 22) and takes questions from the audience during the show, will be interviewing me. The topic: why Bayes’ Theorem is awesome. (Also, of course, what Bayes’ Theorem is, how non-mathematicians can understand and use it, and especially how it models reasoning about claims in history.) After me they are interviewing FtB founder Ed Brayton, to talk about his comedy, and efforts to make the atheism movement more inclusive and ethical. And then up is Michigan activist Mitch Kale (I think they mean Mitch Kahle) and (I presume) his local fights for church state separation. So it sounds like a pretty good show to catch!

Tune in!

My Online Course on the Bible Starts Tomorrow. Join in. Learn Cool Stuff!

How screwed up are the manuscripts of the New Testament? What aren’t Christian preachers and apologists telling the public? How can you know when they are trying to pull the wool over your eyes about what’s in the Bible…or if they even know they are reporting the facts correctly?

How can you tell which Bible translation is the most honest for any given passage?

How have books been transmitted to us from the ancient world two thousand years ago? Is their text reliable enough to trust? Why? Or why not?

Do the Gospels really disagree on when Jesus was born? Do modern Bibles really contain known forgeries? Has the Gospel of Mark been doctored after the fact?

Answers to those questions, and more, will be covered in this course.

But what questions do you have about the New Testament? Like about its formation and transmission, its survival and accuracy, how it’s translated, what Christians claim about what it says. Or any question in the subject of New Testament studies, or the study of Greco-Roman texts generally.

This is your chance to ask an expert and get as full a response as you want, with as much follow up as you want, within the month of February. So join this class and take advantage of it!

Only one course text is required (and you can get it on kindle): my anthology Hitler Homer Bible Christ.

See you there!

Join My New Course This February: Intro to Biblical Scholarship on the New Testament

Starting February 1 (2015) I will be teaching an online course, Introduction to Biblical Scholarship on the New Testament. Click that to register.

The required course text (which students should purchase as soon as possible) is my personal anthology Hitler Homer Bible Christ (available there in print or kindle). We will use its contents as springboards for learning and discussing all manner of issues related to textual, historical, and literary analysis in New Testament studies. All other course materials (articles and/or video lectures) will be provided for free, including research papers by various scholars we’ll discuss, and excerpts from critical scholarly editions of the Bible in the original Greek (and no prior knowledge of Greek will be required), public online tools, and other readings and resources. And that’s not all…

Official Course Description:

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Null Hypothesis My Ass (A Christmas Harangue)

Letter to the editor of Christian Apologetics Ministries (

You unbelievable wingnuts. You should totally fire your Professor of Apologetics, Jonathon Hold, from his position at your supposed Iowa University of Religion for being a baloneyhead. His article proposing The Null Hypothesis Project is full of vomitous flabergastery.

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A Bayesian Brief on Comments at TAM

I was asked about remarks made by Chris Guest (President of the Australian Skeptics, Victorian Branch) at this year’s TAM. He gave a quick twenty minute talk on Bayesian reasoning and its abuses, with which I entirely concur. (This talk begins with Guest’s introduction at timestamp 48:30.) He criticizes my work briefly at the end, but understanding his remarks there require understanding his remarks throughout the talk. His only mistake is that when he gets to my work, he makes one crucial mathematical error that invalidates his entire critique…
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Knitting Fans, Behold Some Awesome Ancient Roman Tech!

There’s this guy, you see, who knitted his way to a solution to an infamous problem in Roman history. This might be a bit premature (since academic journals haven’t weighed in yet), but I am persuaded that the mystery of the ancient Roman dodecahedrons has been solved. And why I’m persuaded affords a handy example for teaching how Bayesian reasoning works in making good historical inferences. [Update: This case likewise shows how Bayesian reasoning can incorporate new facts so as to change what’s likely: experts in the comments to this article subsequently persuaded me that a full accounting of the facts in my Bayesian model does not get as positive a result for this thesis as I had initially thought.]

A What?

Photograph of a bronze dodecahedron recovered from the ancient Roman Empire, described in the text.I suppose I should begin by explaining what a “mysterious ancient Roman dodecahedron” is. It’s not just any dodecahedron from ancient Rome (I’ll show you an unrelated example shortly), but a very peculiarly consistent oddity that no one has been able to explain (mainly because no writing survives mentioning it). It’s a common object. Some hundred or so have been found, originating in the 2nd century A.D. and spanning a couple of centuries afterward. But only in France and northern and eastern Europe. It’s weird looking. And has peculiar features. Some are of stone manufacture, but most are cast bronze.

Another example like the one above, this one lacks the grooves mentioned in the text.Some typical examples (one from Wikipedia, another from the Birmingham Musem) are shown to the right. Each is a twelve-sided hollow object, the sides generally symmetrical (an isohedron, so it looks a little like a twelve-sided die, something old-school role-playing-gamers will recognize), but every side has a circular hole in it, and the holes are different sizes, but the pattern of sizes (the sequence and arrangement) is the same on every object, even though the size of the object (and thus size of the holes) varies considerably, from kind of tiny (one and a half inches total diameter) to about the size of what would have then been a large adult fist (a little over four inches). The holes also sometimes have a sequence of parallel carved rings around them (sort of like gutters or guidelines in the face of the object), but many do not, so these appear to be a decorative flourish (a typical accent found in Roman tech of the time, where common utilitarian objects can be prettied up with some artsy flourishes like that).

But importantly, every corner of these objects has a solid knob sticking out of it, a bollard narrower at its base than at its tip (many of these just look like attached spheres), for twenty knobs in all. This most of all prevents the twelve-sided die analogy from quite being right, that plus the fact that the holes being of different size means each face has a different weight. They also aren’t inscribed with anything…a fact that is far more crucial to determining their purpose than you might at first think.

Just search “Roman dedocahedron” in Google Images and you’ll find dozens of examples. And yet…

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Offering Classes on Historical Method and the Historicity of Jesus

I am still teaching the science and philosophy of free will this June (that class starts next week; you can register here). But now my courses for July and August are also open for early registration (and there is a limit on how many students I take on per class, so they might fill up; I will offer them again next year).


For July (and this in preparation for August) I will be teaching a course on historical methods: Thinking Like a Historian: Historical Methods, Practice and Theory (details and registration here). Description:

Cover of Richard Carrier's book Proving History. Illuminated stained glass Jesus in darkened room as peered at through a cross cut-out in an iron cathedral door. Title and author name below.Learn how to question and investigate claims about history. Study not only the logic of historical reasoning and argument, but also a lot of the practical tips and tricks real historians employ to test and check claims. Learn the particular skills of skeptical and critical thinking about history. Primary topics: Best practices among historians; historical methods as modes of reasoning (both criteria-based and Bayesian); examples of flawed reasoning and bad arguments in peer reviewed history journals and monographs (and how to spot them as a layperson); and what to do to critically examine a claim using both immediate heuristics and procedures for more labor-intensive inquiry.

The required course text we will be working through chapter by chapter is Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus, but I will be providing additional readings and discussion across several fields and subjects in history (the focus won’t be wholly or even mostly on Jesus; that will just be a working example).


For August (and this will benefit from having taken the preceding course in July) I will be teaching a course on the historicity of Jesus: Questioning or Defending the Historicity of Jesus (details and registration here). Description:

Cover of Richard Carrier's book On the Historicity of Jesus. Medieval icon image of Jesus holding a codex, on a plain brown background, title above in white text, author below in white text.This course discusses the best arguments for and against the historical existence of Jesus (as the putative founder of Christianity), and we will proceed step-by-step through ways to approach them and evaluate them. Working from the first peer reviewed academic book arguing Jesus might not have existed, taught by the author himself, you will learn how to distinguish good arguments from bad, and about the background and context of the origins of Christianity as a whole. This is the best opportunity to ask Dr. Carrier, who holds a PhD in ancient history from Columbia University, all your questions about his controversial research and the historical(?) figure of Jesus. Main issues to cover: understanding the complex background to the origins of Christianity (unit 1, OHJ chs. 4, 5, & 7); comparing the competing theories of how and why Christianity began (unit 2, OHJ chs. 1, 2, & 3); understanding the Gospels and Acts as mythology and whether historical facts about Jesus can be extracted from them (unit 3, OHJ chs. 6, 9, & 10); and exploring the arguments for and against evidence for a historical Jesus in the authentic Epistles of Paul and literature outside the New Testament (unit 4, OHJ chs. 8, 11, & 12).

The required course text we will be working through chapter by chapter is On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt, although I will be providing additional readings (such as from defenders of historicity). That is expected to be available by the end of June, and you might want to order it as soon as that, so as to be assured of having it in time for the course (I will announce on this blog as soon as the book can be ordered or pre-ordered). Unfortunately there will not be an electronic copy in time for August, but I have an option for the visually impaired (so if you can’t read a print book, just write to me once you register, to inquire about an alternative).


I should note that technically mine is not “the first peer reviewed academic book arguing Jesus might not have existed” if you include Thomas Brodie’s recent book from the same press, Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery, although that is actually a memoir of how he came to that conclusion, and not an organized argument for it (e.g. he does little to address defenses of historicity or offer an alternative theory of the origin of Christianity). See my review.


On Evaluating Arguments from Consensus

I have often been asked how we should evaluate arguments from consensus. That’s where someone says “the consensus of experts is that P, therefore we should agree P is true.” On the one hand, this looks like an Argument from Authority, a recognized fallacy. On the other hand, we commonly think it should add weight to a conclusion that the relevant experts endorse it. Science itself is based on this assumption. As is religion, lest a religionist think they can defeat science by rejecting all appeals to authority–because such a tack would defeat all religion as well, even your own judgment, since if all appeals to authority are invalid, so is every appeal to yourself as an authority (on your religion, or even on your own life and experience).

And yet, it is often enough the case that a consensus of experts is wrong (as proved even by the fact that the scientific consensus has frequently changed, as has the consensus in any other domain of expertise, from history to motorboat repair). And our brains are cognitively biased to over-trust those we accept as authorities (the Asch effect), putting us at significant risk of false belief if we are not sufficiently critical of our relying on an expert. It’s only more complicated when we have warring experts and have to choose between them, even though we are not experts ourselves.

So what do we do?

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Secular Organizations Can Get Free Course Admission

Are you part of a secular, atheist, humanist, or other organization? Or know someone who is? Let that org’s leadership know that before this July they can get a deal for access to any course this year we are gradually building to teach online at “An organization, large or small, gets a certificate for one of its leaders to take a free course during 2014, if 30 members join the email list before July 1st. Just mention the organization name when asked how you heard about us.” They just need to contact John Shook to inquire.

Go to to see the current course offerings. Many more will be developed and taught before the end of the year (possibly dozens). For example, besides my Naturalism 101 course that I’m teaching now, I will also be teaching courses this year on the science and philosophy of free will, on historical methods (theory and practice), on the historicity of Jesus, and more (I’m considering offering courses on ancient science, economics, and technology, on Bayes’ Theorem and counter-apologetics, and others; feel free to make requests in comments here for courses you’d take if I taught them). And I am not the only instructor on board. We are contracting more and more teachers of skill or renown, to teach far more diverse offerings.