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 SecularActivism.org. “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 SecularActivism.org 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.

I’ll Be at ReasonCon: North Carolina

Photo of the Crowne Plaza Hickory Hotel. Looks like a one-floor but fascinatingly modern structure, including a beautuful glass-enclosed arched walkway at front..Although it’s almost sold out already, I will be the keynote speaker at ReasonCon in Hickory, North Carolina, in early May. Details here (also tickets and wait-list options there). As I write, there are only VIP tickets left, and those include the VIP launch party Friday night (9pm, May 2, 2014). [Update: They got a bigger venue after I originally posted. As of 16 April, ninety new free tickets became available. Snatch those up while you can!]. Otherwise, the option exists to submit your name to a wait-list for a free spot at the one-day con on Saturday (9am-5pm, May 3, 2014, with an after-party that night for all, starting at 7pm).

If you still want to attend the conference, and can’t afford the VIP ticks or even they get sold out [and if you find the new free tickets are all gone, too], it can’t hurt to submit a wait-list request to tell them what the demand really was, so if they do this again next year they might be able to accommodate more people, or (less likely but a dim possibility) they might find a way to make room this year and let you know you can get in after all. They also might succeed in streaming it live or recording it for YouTube (that is still in development), but they could still benefit from hearing how many wanted to go but couldn’t. Otherwise, there is some VIP access still available. As I look this moment there are 26 of those left at $65 and 22 more at $100 (the latter comes with free booze, if you are of legal age to take advantage of that). I’ll be at the launch party if my flights meet no delays (although, all told, I will be arriving at the party almost exactly when it starts, after traveling the whole day, so I’ll be on my second wind!).

This event is being put on by the MythUnderstood Alliance, and is the brainchild of Atheists on Air with Cash and Love. It will be held at the Crowne Plaza Hickory (1385 Lenoir Rhyne Blvd SE).

What’s unusual about this event is that I am going to do a marathon Q&A on the historicity of Jesus (up to 90 minutes, unless the audience runs out of questions first), after another 90 minutes of presentation (or near to…don’t worry, there are some breaks in there). I shall be endeavoring to make the latter at least as engaging and entertaining as a bad movie. So it won’t just be dry lecture. I’ll be playing up as many of the funny bits of the bible and modern scholarship as I can. My focus won’t just be on the historicity question, but on the whole broader question of the origins of Christianity: its context, but also what it looks like really happened, what its founding Jews actually thought they were doing by inventing it, and what they invented it for.

And I’m just the keynote! Also speaking that day will be Tracie Harris (of Atheist Community of Austin, Atheist Experience TV show, and Godless Bitches podcast fame) and Ryan Bell (of A Year Without God fame) and teen cult escapee Phoebe Cahours (who has an amazing story of getting away from the Amish, the Mennonites, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses–it seems her mother dragged her through several infamous Christian cults). Cash & Love will also have some things to say to the crowd. Overall it sounds like a very interesting and engaging day.

Appearing in San Luis Obispo

On Saturday, April 19 (2014), at 4pm (until 6pm), I will be presenting my case that a historical Jesus probably didn’t exist for Atheists United of San Luis Obispo (California), and taking questions from the audience. They say seats are limited, so it would help to join their meetup group and RSVP or let the organizers know you are coming (details for either here). Donations will be greatly appreciated (they rely on them to cover expenses). This will be held at the Senior Citizens Center-San Luis (1445 Santa Rosa Street, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401: map).

I will be selling and signing copies of Proving History and Hitler Homer Bible Christ. (Unfortunately On the Historicity of Jesus will not be printed until June.) Of course I’ll also sign anything you bring. See you there!

I’ll Be Debating the Historicity of Jesus in Ottawa, Canada

The Center for Inquiry Canada is hosting two events with me in early April in Ottawa (Ontario, Canada), sponsored by CFI Ottawa.

The first will be a debate between myself and Zeba Crook, professor of religious studies at Carleton University, on whether it’s likely a historical Jesus existed. Details here. (Although, amusingly, we certainly aren’t debating whether “a man named Jesus live[d] in Palestine 2000 years ago,” since plenty of men named Jesus did; of course, we’re only debating the particular Jesus claimed to be the author of Christianity). The next day I’ll be taking questions and speaking on various matters of philosophy for the Philosophy, Phood, and Phriends meetup. Details here.

The debate will be held on Saturday, April 5 (2014), at 7:30pm, at the Centrepointe Chamber Theatre (101 Centrepointe Drive, Ottawa, ON K2G 0B5; the theatre is located at the back). Admission is $15 (or just $5 if you are a CFI member; and new members can also get a free ticket). The format will be something like 20/20-10/10-5/5 (openings-rebuttals-closings), with the first to speak chosen at random on the day. Written questions will be taken from the audience.

The philosophy meet will be on Sunday, April 6 (2014) at 11:00am, in the CCOC Meeting Room (OPSEU Local 464, 2255 St Laurent Boulevard, Ottawa, ON K1G 6C4 464 Metcalfe St., near the Museum of Nature). $10 admission includes food and drinks ($5 for members of CFI). “Bring your questions–suggested topics include: metaphysics, naturalistic philosophy, morality, counter-apologetics.”

There may be copies of Proving History for sale at the first or possibly both events. But I will sign anything you bring (so you can buy any of my books online now and have them in time for that).

Appearing in San Jose Next Week

I will be speaking and taking questions on the best case to be made that Jesus didn’t exist, for the Atheist Community of San Jose next week, Wednesday, 2 April 2014, from 6:30 to 9:30pm (although I’d love to hang out later with anyone who’s free to do so, even though it’s a weeknight). Details here. We’ll be meeting in a banquet room at Harry’s Hofbrau (390 Saratoga Avenue, San Jose, CA).

Description:

Dr. Carrier’s new groundbreaking book On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt is the first book extensively challenging the historicity of Jesus to be published by a peer reviewed academic press (through the University of Sheffield). He also has several peer reviewed academic papers on the subject, which are now reprinted (along with many other papers of interest) in his other new book, Hitler Homer Bible Christ: The Historical Papers of Richard Carrier 1995-2013.

Dr. Carrier will briefly summarize his thesis and argument, explaining why he suspects Jesus never even existed as a historical man but was always imaginary. He will then answer questions from the audience.

The latter as well as Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus will be available for purchase. The latter demonstrates the invalidity of the methods and arguments used to argue for historical facts about Jesus, and presents a more reliable and testable way to argue for historical facts, using Bayes’ Theorem (in a way explained for non-mathematicians).

I will of course sign anything you bring, too.

Unfortunately, Sheffield-Phoenix is running behind in its production, so I won’t have copies of On the Historicity of Jesus to sell yet. But I will be talking about it.

Minor Corrections to Crossley’s Jesus in an Age of Neoliberalism

When Proving History came out, I had cited in it James Crossley’s well-known book Jesus in an Age of Terror as among several astute books criticizing the ideological biases of Jesus scholars–producing Jesuses that conveniently were just exactly what each scholar would have wanted, supporting contemporary political and religious opinions conveniently too well to be historically credible accounts of antiquity. As the abstract for Age of Terror summarizes it:

While owing much also to [a biased] Orientalist tradition, [the modern Arab-Israeli conflict] too is strongly echoed in scholarship of Christian origins where, for all the emphasis on the Jewishness of Jesus and the first Christians, it is extremely common to find Jesus or the first Christians being better than Judaism or overriding key symbols of Judaism as constructed by scholarship, done, ironically, by frequent ignoring of relevant Jewish texts. The end results of contemporary scholarship are not dramatically different from the results of the anti-Jewish and antisemitic scholarship of much of the twentieth century.

Ouch.

But I was not yet aware that Crossley had produced essentially a sequel (as it came out at the same time as Proving History): Jesus in an Age of Neoliberalism. This time his study…

…ranges across diverse topics: the dubious periodisation of the quest for the historical Jesus [based on the brilliant analysis of Bermejo-Rubio; I concur--ed.]; [the rising phenomenon of] ‘biblioblogging’; Jesus the ‘Great Man’ and western individualism; image-conscious Jesus scholarship; the ‘Jewishness’ of Jesus and the multicultural Other; evangelical and ‘mythical’ Jesuses; and the contradictions between personal beliefs and dominant ideological trends in the construction of historical Jesuses.

It was recently pointed out to me that this mention of ‘mythical’ Jesuses included some references to the recent debate over the historicity of Jesus, and even named me. But even besides that, this title would have made a perfect addition to my references on this topic in Proving History. So I bought it and have been skimming it for its utility.

In the process I caught a minor error that I should correct on the record for the benefit of posterity: Crossley cites my report on the Jesus Project conference in January of 2009 (Amherst Conference), and misreports something I said there, which in result misreports MacDonald’s position as well. I also find a problematic eliding of minority and female voices in the same chapter that is too commonly done when attempting to assess the New Atheism movement to go without comment. So I’ll say something on both.
[Read more...]

Historicity Stuff This Weekend

Two quick notes: (1) Tomorrow (Saturday the 15th, 2014, 8pm Central Time) I’ll be guesting on a Google hangout whatsit with Robert Price to talk about the “Christ myth theory,” with some stop-ins by David Fitzgerald, Neil Godfrey, and Raphael Lataster. Deets here. (And now the video is on YouTube.) And (2) the Society of Non-Theists at Purdue were impressively quick to get the video of my talk online (about why we conclude Acts is historical fiction and not a genuine history of early Christianity). That’s now here.

Critical Review of Maurice Casey’s Defense of the Historicity of Jesus

Cover image of Mauruce Casey's new book About Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?So far only two contemporary books have been written in defense of the historicity of Jesus (nothing properly comparable has been published in almost a hundred years). They both suck. Which is annoying, because it should not be hard to write a good book in defense of historicity. And to be “good” I don’t require that it be successful, or convincing (though I would welcome that!), just worth reading, honest, accurate, informative, well-organized, well-sourced, giving mythicism the best shot possible, and being as self-critical as anyone would want mythicists to be. But alas, what we have are two travesties.

I already exposed all the egregious errors of fact and logic in Bart Ehrman’s sad armchair failure at this. Which evidently provoked him to repeatedly lie about what happened, which I then also documented. I consider him disgraced as a scholar. If you have to tell lies to save face, rather than admit a mistake and do better, you are done in this business. Or certainly ought to be. Anyway, I’ve already summarized that sorry story, with links and summaries (Ehrman on Historicity Recap).

Now we have Maurice Casey’s book defending the historicity of Jesus, Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? (T&T Clark, 2014…if you want to spend less or have a searchable text, it’s also available on kindle). It’s hard to compare the two books. Ehrman is at least a talented writer and mostly coherent thinker. In Jesus, Casey is neither.

The best way to describe this book is to imagine a rambling weirdo running into a grove of orange trees with a hammer and in a random frenzy smacking half the low hanging fruit, and then beating his chest and declaring proudly how the trees are now barren. Indeed. This book consists of a wandering, disorganized stream-of-consciousness of half-intelligible pontificating that very much reminded me of Eric Jonrosh. Except Jonrosh was eloquent. Indeed, the first two chapters almost read like a junior high schooler’s meandering rant on a sleepover, a total he-said-then-she-said gossip fest, where for long bouts all he does is clutch a fluffy pillow and trash talk people and obsess over Stephanie Fisher, while waiting for his friend’s mother to bring the smores. You might think that surely I am being unfair. No. Seriously. Read it.

(And BTW, when I say obsessed with Stephanie Fisher, I mean obsessed. He references or quotes this wholly unpublished graduate student seventeen times. He also copiously fawns on her in his Preface, which by itself would have been sweet.)

Here I’ll first summarize my more in-depth take on the book in a few more paragraphs, then catalog some common themes that render the book simultaneously amusing, insufferable, and useless, then analyze its contents in greater detail. Those who don’t want to labor on through the more detailed analyses may be satisfied with only the following summary…

[Read more...]

Komarnitsky: Required Reading on the Resurrection of Jesus

Cover of Doubting Jesus' Resurrection by Kris Komarnitsky, subtitle "What Happened in the Black Box," tagline "An Inquiry into an Alternative Explanation of the Christian Origins," second edition, dark brown cover with a black box in middle in 3D aspect with a question mark on it and an arrow moving into it from the left with the words "Jesus Crucified" and an arrow moving out of it to the right with the words "Resurrection Belief."Five years ago Kris Komarnitsky produced a well crafted book, Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box? He has now extensively revised and updated it for the second edition, and that new version is now available, taking into account developments and new publications in the field, as well as newly examined comparative evidence that sheds light on why naturalistic explanations of the resurrection belief and empty tomb tales make far more sense than anything else. The big news is that it’s free on kindle this weekend (possibly only in the U.S.). [Update: apparently only Saturday; there will be another free offer on some future Saturday.]

Even though Komarnitsky is an amateur historian, his book is well researched and actually required reading on the subject of the resurrection of Jesus. I consider it an essential item to include on your reading list if you ever plan to debate that topic, formally or informally. He makes his reasoning clear and cites sources and scholarship, so you don’t have to rest on his authority. Anything you want to use from his work you can adapt to the purpose, and cite the underlying evidence and scholarship directly. I don’t agree with everything he concludes or assumes, but one of the merits of the book is that you can decide for yourself. He provides the evidence and reasoning, and doesn’t expect you to take him at his word.

I have often cited his book in my own work. And I was sufficiently impressed by it that I wrote the following promotional statement on its behalf:

Rare is it when a lay author puts in the effort of wide research, gathers the references to every point together, interacts with the leading disputes, and offers something soundly argued that hadn’t been so well argued before. Komarnitsky does all of that and presents a surprisingly excellent demonstration of how belief in the resurrection of Jesus could plausibly have originated by natural means. Though I don’t always agree with him, and some issues could be discussed at greater length, everything he argues is plausible, and his treatise as a whole is a must for anyone interested in the resurrection.

This new revised edition is even better. The improvements are substantial and more than warrant buying the new edition even if you already have the old one. Others have similarly been impressed by it, including Robert Price, even the infamous James McGrath. With fourteen customer reviews on Amazon it still averages five out of five stars (I must conclude the fundamentalists haven’t noticed it yet, so as to give it bad marks for no sound reason as they often do).

The basic thesis Komarnitsky explores is not to examine all the plausible natural explanations for the evidence, but to focus on only one coherent explanation and see how well even just that one theory holds up against the Christian alternative. He is aware that other explanations exist that are also far more plausible than the supernatural, and that this makes his ultimate conclusion (that Jesus did not really rise from the dead) even more probable (since the probability of that equals the sum of the posterior probabilities of all plausible alternatives, of which his is only one, so if even his is more probable than the supernatural, the supernatural is far less probable than even the converse of that).

One of many major improvements in the second edition is his adaptation of the anthropological work of professor Simon Dein of Durham University, who also endorses Komarnitsky’s book, and in the process explains this aspect of the new edition:

In this book Komarnitsky provides a compelling and convincing account of how the early Christians came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection. Building on my own research and documentation of a modern-day Jewish movement that rationalised their dead Messiah would resurrect from the dead, Komarnitsky argues clearly and concisely that the same basic cognitive process could have given birth to the Christian resurrection belief two thousand years ago. This book contains a wealth of biblical and social scholarship, and it is an important contribution to the study of early Christianity.

In addition to drawing on well-documented analogs like that, this book also surveys cite-worthy evidence regarding burial customs, legendary growth rates, and a great deal else. Even veteran experts will find it a handy source of references and ideas.

On Bermejo-Rubio’s Dispassionate Plea for a Historical Jesus

Fernando Bermejo-Rubio is one of the most impressive new scholars in biblical studies. His work on the “quests” for the historical Jesus is paradigm-challenging and superb (see The Fiction of the Three Quests). It is thus no surprise that he would publish the only defense of the historicity of Jesus against its opponents that is actually worth reading. Usually such tracts are awash with errors, distortions, a substitution of assumptions for facts, or blatant fallacies, or bundles of all of these–even when coming from experts who ought to know better (like Erhman, McGrath, and so on and so on and so on–and on and on–even Goodacre, a little, who otherwise did the best job I know short of Bermejo-Rubio, and indeed the two together make the strongest case overall).

Biblical scholars often read the online trade periodical The Bible and Interpretation (I have published with them myself, and have cited other articles there on my blog before). It’s somewhat informal, but run and read (and usually only contributed to) by serious scholars. Respected bible scholar Phillip Davies (himself a historicist) published his plea to take the question of historicity more skeptically there. Now, Bermejo-Rubio has published his best defense of historicity there: Prolegomena to a Dispassionate Plea for the Historicity of Jesus the Galilean. It’s not the best conceivable (since it isn’t comprehensive in the way I’d want the best defense to be), but it commits far fewer errors than any others I know.

I had read this months ago, but could only find time now to write about it (evidence of my backlog). But for anyone keen on hearing my response to his case, here you go.

[Read more...]