There’s No Time to Explain

Photograph of an American M1 Abrams battle tank rolling down a street.My brother in law, Brian Parra, has launched a groovy new podcast, There’s No Time to Explain. And I was his first interview subject (episode 1). It’s an example of my favorite kind of podcast, where we both chat about all kinds of things that mostly aren’t the usual things I’m talking about over and over.

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Why the Smart Money Is on the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife Being a Forgery

Photo of the Gospel of Jesus's Wife papyrus fragment, a rectangle with seven or eight lines of sloppy writing in Coptic, courtesy of Harvard University.I was going to do a news roundup of several new developments in ancient manuscript studies, until one of them turned out to be a roller-coaster ride down a rabbit hole filled with all manner of twists and turns. The subject? The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife. The other news I’ll post on separately. Because this one. Boy. It needs an article all unto itself.

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Speaking at Darwin on the Palouse (WA)

Banner for the Palouse event. White background. Various nature greens in the lettering and logo. Logo is like a Picaso sleek stylized merger of an abstract finch and the Palouse hills. Text says Darwin on the Palouse, the date, the tagline Celebrating Science and Reason, the location and time and that it's free, the two speakers names and talk titles, and the sponsors.This year the annual Darwin on the Palouse event will be on February 6 (2016). I’ll be a featured speaker. The event begins at 6:30pm and is being held in the junior ballroom at Washington State University. Free to all. Details here. The event is sponsored by the Palouse Coalition of Reason and the American Humanist Association. My talk will be:

Ancient Roman Creationism: Scientific Pagans vs. Armchair Christians

Dr. Carrier will discuss the ancient debate between creationists and natural selectionists, how ancient “intelligent design” advocates were far more scientific than their counterparts today, and what this means for the actual origins of real science. In the process he will survey the achievements and methods of ancient science and how it laid the foundation for modern science, and then examine the rhetoric against it by early Christians and how it hasn’t changed in near 2,000 years.

I’ll be followed by Glenn Branch of the NCSE, speaking on “After Kitzmiller, What Is Next for Creationism?” Which I’m also looking forward to! Description:

Kitzmiller v. Dover, the 2005 case establishing the unconstitutionality of teaching intelligent design creationism in the public schools, was a pivotal event in the history of the creationism/evolution controversy in the United States. Branch will discuss why Kitzmiller was the effective end of the second phase of anti-evolution strategy and what the third phase is going to be like.

Come one come all! I’ll be selling and signing books. And hanging out after. I’ll also be in the area for the day. I don’t know what plans have been made, so I may be busy, but anyone interested in the possibility of hanging out, feel free to let me know, by email or Facebook message.

Tai Solarin: The Greatest Nigerian Atheist & Humanist

Cover of Babalola's book on Tai Solarin, with the title, subtitle, and author in black on white background, with a photograph of a young Tai Solarin in black and white against the background.Do you want to cuddle in with an interesting biography on a subject you probably never imagined reading about? Then I have a book recommendation for you. It’s a little personal. And a lot about humanism as a movement today, and its global importance, not just local.

In 1995 I wrote an essay on Tai Solarin for my African History course, just a year after his death. Which I soon after published on the Secular Web (“Tai Solarin: His Life, Ideas, and Accomplishments“). Because I thought this guy needed way more press. I often did this in my history courses: ask the prof who the most famous atheist was in the culture we were studying, and research and write about them. Because famous atheists in other cultures? Not usually much talked about. In my Ancient China course, this would be Wang Ch’ung, for whose discovery I am forever grateful (thank you, Professor David Keightley!). In my African History course, it was Tai Solarin (thank you, Dr. Ola Washington!).

If you want a quick introduction to the man and his importance to the history of Nigeria, and Africa, and atheism and humanism therein, definitely read or skim my article. There is now of course a Wikipedia entry on him. Which relies a lot on my essay and its research, but adds even more. And now also a website dedicated to his memory and biography.

I researched my article largely through reading archived African newspapers at UCLA. As well as Norm Allen’s interview of him in Free Inquiry. And the few books there were by and about him. And ever since I posted it online, I’ve had a lot of people express their gratitude for publishing it. Both people who knew him or of him, and his work, in particular his co-founding (with his wife Sheila) and running of the most famous secular humanist school in the country…or possibly anywhere (the Mayflower School); and people who had never heard of him and were so pleased to have had the opportunity to.

Now, of course, his memory is everywhere on the internet.

But a new development of note has transpired:

Dr. Dele Babalola (M.D.), though himself a Christian, has written the most admiring and comprehensive and personal biography of Tai Solarin and his school. By a mile. Babalola was a student at Mayflower when Solarin was still teaching there. He has numerous personal memories and recollections of him and his friends and family, and of the school and what it was like, and some of his fellow students there and what became of them. As a historian, I value works like this. This is memory that would have been lost had it not been written down and made available to the world. And that material only enhances Babalola’s general biographical treatment, which is also well-researched and well-informed. He consulted historians and leading lights in African and African-American humanism, as well as all manner of sources besides. Babalola covers Solarin’s whole life, including his path from Christianity to Secular Humanism, and the political and social context of his goals and accomplishments.

This is a great read for anyone curious to get a look into the memory of someone who was there and knew the man, and who gathers the facts well beyond, of a great humanist, atheist, and champion of education, and his creation of a secular humanist academy where one might least expect. Tai Solarin was the most famous atheist and humanist not just in Nigeria, but all of Africa. His fame and influence there can be equated with that of Dawkins or Harris in America or the UK. Though unlike them he co-founded and ran a school that taught humanism and its values. A school that still operates today, teaching some 6000 pupils a year.

Definitely get a look at this book. Get a peak at what’s going on and has gone on in the rest of the world, through the lens of the life and achievements of a great humanist and educationalist: Tai Solarin: Africa’s Greatest Educationist and Humanist by Dele Babalola. Available in print and kindle, hard cover and soft.

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Dear readers: I’d love it if you could show your appreciation or support my work with a one time donation through PayPal or become a regular Patron for even just a dollar a post. Simple information posts like this I don’t count for that. But I write on all manner of other subjects, from history and philosophy, and socio-political concerns, to traditional counter-apologetics. For more options, including buying my books in any format, visit my Support page. You can also follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

Bart Ehrman vs. Robert Price & Richard Carrier vs. Justin Bass: The Debates Are On! (Get Your Tickets Now)

Mythicist Milwaukee logo.Two debates are happening next year (2016), sponsored by Mythicist Milwaukee as part of their Buzzed Belief debate series. Details here. You can get tickets now, through links there, and start making plans to travel and lodge where you can for these momentous debates.

First up…

Saturday, March 19, 2016 – 7-10 pm
Shank Hall, 1434 N Farwell Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53202
Richard Carrier and Justin Bass
Are There Reliable Sources for the Miraculous Resurrection of Jesus?

FREE admission with advanced reservation. $5 at the door.

The resurrection of Jesus is the Christian religious belief that, after being put to death, Jesus rose again from the dead. It is the central tenet of Christian theology and part of the Nicene Creed. His resurrection is covered in the Scriptures; but are these writings reliable? 

That’s right. We aren’t doing that tired old “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” debate that’s been done to death and resurrected a million times. This time, we are debating what we should always have been debating first before that, yet never have before now: Are the sources we have for that even sufficiently reliable to establish that claim?—even if the claim itself happened to be true! The letters of Paul and the Gospels. Can we even count on them for this? Should we just not even?

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Next up…

Friday, October 21, 2016 – 6-9 pm
Turner Hall, 1034 N 4th St, Milwaukee, WI 53203
Dr. Robert Price and Bart D. Ehrman
Did Jesus Exist?

$30* Early bird (tickets limited reg. price $60) ends 3/20/16
$47* Mythicist Milwaukee members at the door
$60* Regular Price after 3/20/16

$105* Early Bird Debate & VIP Meet-and-Greet (Reg. Price $160) ends 3/20/16
$160* Debate & VIP Meet-and-Greet after 3/20/16

*All tickets include FREE entrance to the Mythinformation Conference III

One of the most anticipated debates in the secular and theist realm alike realm is finally here! These two New Testament scholars are coming together to discuss the hotly debated topic of the existence of a historical Jesus Christ.

This was that debate they asked to get funded earlier, and they got the funding! This will actually help Robert Price make ends meet (Ehrman, already well off, will donate his honorarium to charity). And it will be the first time Bart Ehrman has ever debated the historicity of Jesus. This will be a historic event. I won’t be debating, but I will likely be included in the VIP crew. And of course I’ll be available for a post-debate analysis.

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For either or both, get your tickets now!

Lataster on the Historicity of Jesus Being a Debate Among Atheists

Cover of Raphael Lataster's book Jesus Did Not Exist, A Debate Among Atheists, with Richard Carrier. Shows an annular solar eclipse.Raphael Lataster, an Australian doctoral student in religious studies, has published a book recently, Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate among Atheists, examining the debate over the historicity of Jesus by focusing only on what atheist and agnostic experts are saying, and not Christian believers—regarding the latter as too biased to consider; since any good arguments they have should be as convincing to experts who aren’t believers anyway, so really we should only be looking at the debate among atheists.

It’s a good point. Unfortunately, atheist academic monographs defending historicity don’t exist. The only two so far written this century, by Bart Ehrman and Maurice Casey, were neither published by academic presses, nor underwent any formal peer review. But Lataster works with what the academy has given him. And so he surveys the merits of those two books anyway. And compares them with mine, On the Historicity of Jesus, which was published by an academic press and did pass formal academic peer review. His own result is historicity agnosticism. And a lot of serious criticism of how the academy has handled this debate, judging by the only two books it has produced so far in defense of what the academy often claims should be so well demonstrated as to be irrefutable.

I was commissioned to write a foreword and afterword to the book, and to read the manuscript and provide any advice I had towards its improvement or the correction of any obvious errors or omissions. Lataster operated independently. He did not necessarily heed all of my advice. Whatever remains in the book is now his responsibility to defend. But I will make some comments on the matter below. In particular, I discuss in his book’s afterword what I expected critics will attempt to do, like attack its tone rather than its content—or lie about its contents. That process has already begun… [Read more…]

Science Then: The Bible vs. The Greeks Edition

Did the Bible predict modern science better than ancient scientists did? Funny to ask. Because naive Muslims have been making the same embarrassing claim for the Koran. Over a decade ago I published an article showing how silly conservative Muslim apologists were for claiming the Koran miraculously predicted scientific facts, by demonstrating that the Epicureans (and I just used the De Rerum Natura of Lucretius at that, and thus left out many other items that could have been added), who were the least fully scientific of the philosophers of the era who produced scientific results, got right a hell of a lot more, and more precisely and clearly declared their results, than the Koran, and all explicitly through just armchair reasoning from basic observations. No miraculous communications from angels. No telecom with the gods.

That article was Predicting Modern Science: Epicurus vs. Mohammed. In that I show several logical flaws in these kinds of arguments: (1) they use a fake translation (they ignore the actual language of the text in its actual context) to “invent” a better fit with modern science post hoc (a common scam run by psychics called retrofitting); (2) they ignore the fact that mere armchair thinking often had already produced the same conclusion or comparable conclusions and often in fact more and better conclusions (thus negating any claim that such “hits” required miraculous powers or informants); (3) they get ancient science wrong (e.g. they claim that ancient scientists hadn’t discovered a thing, when in fact they had); (4) they cherry pick bizarre data so as to rely on luck giving them hits (in any vast enough tome of baloney, you will inevitably find random matches with the truth by mere chance), but miss the fact that if one actually had a miraculous line to prescient scientific knowledge, you’d be reporting way more useful shit than this (compare the relative utility of knowing that cosmic expansion or heliocentrism are true, and knowing the germ theory of disease or the basic principles of electricity—for a religion that supposedly prioritizes the welfare of humanity).

Now there is an image going around (evidently even favorably shared by actual scientists in some cases) making the same stupid claim for the Christian Bible. It’s so bad I was laughing out loud before I even finished the third line. It has been debunked before (e.g. here and here). But since ancient science is my field, I figured my own fisk would be of use to the world. So here goes… [Read more…]

Appearing in Kenya! (And You Can Watch)

Blue meme ad for the event, with the twitter hashtag #christisahoax, 31 October 2015, Metro Hotel 5:00pm, and twitter handle @atheistsinkenya.Early this Saturday morning I’ll be joining Robert Price, David Fitzgerald, and Harrison Mumia of Atheists in Kenya in a live broadcast event held in the Metro Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya. I won’t actually be in Africa (at least not this time!). This will be a Google Hangout and Q&A before a live Kenyan audience. The subject? The existence of Jesus and the truth of the Bible, Old Testament and New. Expect interesting questions from the audience in this highly religious country. And experience a feel for the rise of atheist activism in Kenya, as Mumia is heading what may be the highest profile organization of nonbelievers on the continent.

The event Presentation: Did Christ Ever Exist? will happen this Saturday, October 31 (2015). Though it will be an evening event there, it will start at 7am in the morning here in California. And it will be possible to watch from around the world. For more details follow the link!

(The link for viewing should be posted on that Facebook page shortly before it airs. Many thanks to Mythicist Milwaukee for inspiring and helping put on this event!)

Did Muhammad Exist? (Why That Question Is Hard to Answer)

Cover of Robert Spencer's book Did Mohammad Exist? with subtitle An Inquiry into Islam's Obscure Origins, black cover with antique looking painted flames in which resides an image of Mohammad, face erased. Yellow title. White subtitle and author credit. Also tagline for the author says New York Times bestselling author.I get asked this a lot. “Why not apply your methods and skills to the question of whether Muhammad actually existed or not?” My answer is always the same: I will not likely ever be able to do that, because it would require getting a whole second Ph.D. in Medieval Arabic Studies & Languages (and those languages include not just Medieval Arabic, but also Syriac at the very least). And I must emphasize, I would need not just a good command of the languages (as I do the Greek and Latin required for studying the origins of Christianity), but also “a strong grasp of the historical, cultural, political, social, economic, and religious context” of the origins of Islam (Proving History, p. 18), and that happens to include numerous relevant yet distinct cultural contexts (not just of the Middle East and North Africa, but Byzantine as well).

And I’m not going to do that. Because that period bores the shit out of me. If I ever get a second Ph.D., it will be in contemporary philosophy, to improve myself even further in that area, or a modern science. But Medieval Arabic Studies? Sorry. No. I have all these skills with respect to the origins of Christianity, so I am well qualified to produce peer reviewed studies of the historicity of Jesus (hence my book On the Historicity of Jesus, published at the University of Sheffield). But not so for Islam. We need someone to do that who has parallel skills in that field. I can competently communicate the findings of experts in the field. But on this topic, those findings are confusing and disputed at present.

Okay. So. Lacking my ability to test the question myself, or fully vet anyone else’s case as an expert, can I at least answer whether there is any plausibility to the claim that there was no Muhammad, that he was invented by early Arabic military leaders to give a name to a text they cobbled together to inspire their soldiers and build a new civilization on? In other words, that he was invented in exactly the same way and for exactly the same reasons as the militaristic Jews invented Moses?

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