What Is Stellar War?

Snippet of the Stellar War sales page banner from GameCrafter, showing the title of Richard Carrier's game against a background of a NASA image of stars in a nebula. Some card faces are shown, including a Secret Agent card and a Fighter Attack card.Answer: a card game I invented in high school. (That’s back in the 1980s, for those who never noticed my birth year in Facebook.) I created it by hand with tape and cutouts and a photocopier using paper-card stock. My friends and family played it for years.

Why mention it now? Well, because now you can buy it. And it’s not just tape and cutouts and photocopied card-paper anymore. It’s an almost professional quality game set now, thanks to GameCrafter, essentially the “CreateSpace” of card and board game publishing (design-by-web-interface, publish-on-demand). If you want to check it out, then see the sales page for my now-resurrected childhood card game Stellar War.

Photo of hand-crafted pale wooden box containing Brother Sam's table game Superstructure, the Superstructure logo in red across the top.Why do this now? Well, because I was inspired by Brother Sam Singleton. Or as many know him, game designer (and jack of many other trades) Roger Scott Jackson (his pals call him RoSco). He designed a game back around the same time I did, called Superstructure, and he just recently resurrected it, with the help of his wife Cari. His IndieGogo funding campaign went off well (it even got a story in the Charleston Gazette). RoSco made a YouTube video about the project and now you can buy a hand-made reproduction of the complete game (at BestGameBuilt…note the amusing headline there).

This made me think, “Hmm. Technology has changed a lot since then. Maybe they have PODs for games now?” So I looked around and discovered GameCrafter, which I can now say (having completed one whole project with them) is a really excellent company as far as its online design and accounts interface. Its product is just a touch below professional corporate game manufacture (which is still far better than tape and cutouts and card-paper), and its pricing is high, but that’s unavoidable because this is one-off manufacturing (if you pay them to build just one box set for you, then you are going to have to pay a lot more than if you bought a thousand units at bulk wholesale price).

You can buy a Stellar War box-set set for fifty dollars. The price would be nearly half that (which is honestly more like what it’s worth) if I did a full production run of five hundred units and ran my own distribution network, but I’ll never sell enough of them to justify that, so I’ve made it available for die hard fans and table-game geeks like me who won’t mind dropping fifty bucks on a unique and entertaining bit of Richard Carrier’s creative past–and to enjoy a fun game your friends are unlikely to have even heard of!

A photo of Richard Carrier's card-game Stellar War in mid-play. Several decks of cards, a die, and cards upright on the table showing space frigates and dreadnaughts and missile attacks and lunar space stations and chain reactions and all manner of whatnot positioned around a table.Though I invented Stellar War in the 1980s, in 1998 I revised it slightly in order to pitch it to a major game company, which finally passed on the project because it did not fit the then-growing trend in tradeable card games. Other than that I’ve only had my hand-crafted mock-up set ever since the 80s (even a hand-made card-paper box–I built three or four complete sets for myself, friends, and family). With modern computer tech I redesigned all the cards and rulebook to look smart and professional. But I kept all my original hand-drawn graphic art. So as you play, you are staring at spaceships and commando helmets and lightning bolts that I drew by hand as a teenager…nearly thirty years ago.

You can learn all about the game, and see shots of the game in play, and, if you feel so inclined, buy one for yourself (or as a Christmas gift for a friend!) at GameCrafter.

I have another amusing game in the works at GameCrafter now–History or Hogswallop!?–which I invented just a few years ago to teach historical methods to kids and teens at Camp Quest West (it has consequently been very well playtested). So stay tuned for that!

Sense and Goodness on Kindle for Three Bucks!

Image from Amazon of the cover of Sense and Goodness without God, kindle edition.Amazon is running a special on my critically acclaimed book Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism for kindle. I don’t know how long this special price will last. But it’s something worth taking advantage of. Just three dollars (and three cents). That’s an 88% discount off the print edition list price. Check it out!

And now I’m off to Sacramento for Freethought Day…

Strange Notions: Questioning the Historicity of Jesus

The Catholic website Strange Notions asked me to write two brief articles on why questioning the historicity of Jesus is more plausible than commonly assumed. I was asked to respond to two earlier challenges to that thesis on their site, written from the perspective of Catholic apologetics: Did Jesus Exist? An Alternate Approach by Jimmy Akin and Four Reasons I Think Jesus Really Existed by Trent Horn.

My first article, responding to Akin, is Questioning the Historicity of Jesus. My second, responding to Horn, is Defending Mythicism: A New Approach to Christian Origins. Together these have accumulated almost two hundred comments, often long and thoughtful, which sadly I haven’t the time to read through. (If anyone has the gumption to do it and would like to summarize the whole thread and/or report to me which comments might be worth my attention or blogging a reply, feel free to post anything like that in comments here.)

Akin then replied to me in Jesus Did Exist: A Response to Richard Carrier. And then Horn replied in Four Reasons to Believe in Jesus: A Reply to Richard Carrier. Here I shall respond to those… [Read more…]

Heroic Values in Classical Literary Depictions of the Soul: Greece, Rome, China

Something unusual for today. Rummaging through my old papers it returned to my attention that I had never published my senior thesis. So I have put it on my website and am making it available: Richard Carrier, “Heroic Values in Classical Literary Depictions of the Soul: Heroes and Ghosts in Virgil, Homer, and Tso Ch’iu-ming,” Senior Honors Thesis UCB (1997; rev. ed. 2004). For the entry at my publications page at Academia.edu I wrote this description:

Compares the language, depictions, and explanations relating to ghosts (as souls of the dead) in ancient Greek, Roman, and Chinese classics and finds connections between them and those cultures’ respective understandings of the ideal hero.

[BTW, anyone not already aware of my Academia.edu page might want to bookmark it, as it has become my main collection of entries for my more formal work online and in print; although just print publications I keep updated on my cv and publications list, which is the same list but without the rest of the cv. And all new publications I always announce, of course, here on my blog.]

In the paper itself, I explain the text now online with this leading remark:

The following essay was my senior honors thesis at UC Berkeley for the awarding of the Bachelor’s degree in History (minor in Classical Civilizations). It was originally written in 1997. In 2004 I reorganized and numbered its sections, updated its references, revised some sentences, and added some paragraphs, all with the intent to consider publication, but decided I was no longer confident in its core thesis. There are interesting insights and information here, but ultimately the evidence of afterlife beliefs and heroic ideals in ancient Greece, Rome, and China is a little more complicated than this. I am publishing it now only for the sake of what utility and interest in may have. But I no longer fully endorse all of its conclusions, and its treatment of the evidence is not adequately broad to be considered thorough. It’s quite good as an undergraduate thesis. It probably won me my doctoral fellowship. But it meets only minimum standards for graduate level work. — Richard Carrier, Ph.D.

To give you an idea of what’s in it, I will produce here a table of contents and some excerpts: [Read more…]

Critical Thinking in the 21st Century: What’s New and Why It Matters

Picture of me at the podium with the opening slide showing by video insert (just has the title of the talk on it).Video of my brief talk at this year’s SSA Leadership Conference is now available [here]. I also have a handy page with explanations and links to all the books and resources I mentioned, and a bit more, as well as a link to my sideshow (with downsampled images and without animations) [here]. A major limitation was that it was a 40 minute talk that I had to squeeze into 20 minutes, which makes some points a bit awkward as I zip past slides that I could have said much more about (and you might detect my frustration at points trying to cut everything down to time).

My overall point was that we need to master traditional critical thinking skills (logic, fallacies, principles of questioning and inquiry) as well as the relevant aspects of cognitive science (everything science has learned about brain bugs that interfere with our ability to critically reason or reason well, so we can control, compensate, or correct for them) and the basic principles of Bayesian reasoning (since all empirical reasoning is modeled with it, and it helps us better understand when evidence is needed or enough, and what concepts like “more evidence” actually mean, and how to identify just where the faulty assumptions are in anyone’s reasoning from observation to conclusion, whether your own or someone else’s).

The talk, slideshow, and web page will help you get up to speed on all three aspects of critical thinking in the 21st century.

Not the Impossible Faith Now an Audio Book!

Cover of AudioBook Not the Impossible FaithMy 2009 book Not the Impossible Faith is now available as an audio book. As I did for Sense and Goodness without God and Why I Am Not a Christian, I voiced the text for Pitchstone Publishing. You can buy NIF now through Audible.com or Amazon.com and also iTunes.

As usual, this is a somewhat “abridged” version, in the sense that it contains none of the chapter endnotes (and thus the sources are not there, nor any of the note anchors in the text itself). So for the visually impaired I have assembled those as a single PDF which you can run through a text-to-speech reader if needed (although you’ll have to guess where the notes refer to in the main text; the PDF only segregates them by chapter): see NIFaudiobookNotes.pdf.

There is also a PDF edition of the whole book for under three dollars [here] or an eBook edition for under six dollars [here] or kindle edition for about the same [here]. A voice-to-text on any of those will presumably include the note anchors as well as the notes, but alas it won’t be a human-voiced main text.

Zindler-Price Anthology: Contra Ehrman

Frank Zindler and Bob Price have edited their own anthology of “responses” to Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist? For this project Zindler bought the rights from me to include a special summary edition of my blogging on the same subject (see Ehrman on Historicity Recap). This anthology is now available through American Atheist Press as Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth: An Evaluation of Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? (also available on kindle).

The rights to my contribution were procured through a single-payment contract, so I won’t be getting any royalties from the sale of this book (if you want to buy it and still want me to get a cut, then you can buy it through the above link, which is to the respective sales page in my Amazon store, where I get a kickback on any sale). I also had (and have) no editorial control over this book or its publication. My contribution does contain some new material not included in my blogging, but the most important addition (quotations from the Egyptian Pyramid Texts) will be included in my next book, On the Historicity of Jesus Christ, and the rest is pretty much already what’s available online (either in or linked from Recap), although I made various improvements in wording throughout.

I required a disclaimer to be included (in the Foreword generally and in the first paragraph of my chapter specifically), since I do not endorse much of what gets said elsewhere in this book. I was sure of this even before I read it, but having at last read it I can now confirm my expectation was correct. In fact, I consider much of it terrible. But it is fair enough to say that each chapter represents the best of what you can expect from each contributor of late. So if you want to see what each mythicist author is most often like in their manner of argumentation and quality of research, this is the anthology for you, although at 567 pages from disparate authors, it can be a challenge to get through.

That’s the sum of it. But those who want to know more can read on… [Read more…]

Sense and Goodness without God Now an Audio Book

Cover for AudioBook edition of Sense and Goodness without GodMy flagship defense of a naturalist worldview (and of philosophy in general), Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism, is now available as an audio book, through Audible.com. It’s a fairly faithful reading, so even things I’d probably change now (mostly minor stuff) is still in there (I didn’t want to deviate too much into creating a second edition just yet), but I still had to leave out many of the internal cross references and all the bibliographies.

To get those bibliographies in audio, you still have to get something like the kindle edition and run voice-to-text on them. They frequently appear at the end of each section, and there are a lot of them. So to make that task easier, I’ve compiled a single PDF file on my website (Bibliographies for the Original 2005 Edition) that just has the bibliographies, one after another, on which you can then run text-to-speech (so you don’t have to try and search the book for where the bibliographies are, a tedious task for the visually impaired).

Do note that those bibliographies are obviously ten years out of date (I completed the book in early 2004, and it was published in 2005), but I wanted to make speech-conversion available for the original edition of the book. Even if I were to update these bibliographies, I would usually just be adding the most recent best works. The ones in there now are still relevant to their respective topics and represent what I was working from at the time. And there are still a lot of crucial readings and good recommendations in there. I have found that leading works published after 2003 (which I have been keeping track of) almost always further confirm my conclusions, or provide better and more up-to-date explanations of why the facts I was relying on are correct.

Jesus in Josephus

Now that the world has ended, my peer reviewed article on Josephus just came out: “Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200” in the Journal of Early Christian Studies 
(vol. 20, no. 4, Winter 2012), 
pp. 489-514.

The official description is:

Analysis of the evidence from the works of Origen, Eusebius, and Hegesippus concludes that the reference to “Christ” in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200 is probably an accidental interpolation or scribal emendation and that the passage was never originally about Christ or Christians. It referred not to James the brother of Jesus Christ, but probably to James the brother of the Jewish high priest Jesus ben Damneus.

My proof of that is pretty conclusive. But this article also summarizes a sufficient case to reject the Testimonium Flavianum as well (the other, longer reference to Jesus in Josephus), in that case as a deliberate fabrication (see note 1, pp. 489-90, and discussion of the Arabic quotation on pp. 493-94). And I cite the leading scholarship on both. So it’s really a complete article on both references to Jesus in Josephus.

Further evidence that the longer reference is a Christian fabrication lies in an article I didn’t cite, however, but that is nevertheless required reading on the matter: G.J. Goldberg, “The Coincidences of the Testimonium of Josephus and the Emmaus Narrative of Luke,” in the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha (vol. 13, 1995), pp. 59-77. Goldberg demonstrates nineteen unique correspondences between Luke’s Emmaus account and the Testimonium Flavianum, all nineteen in exactly the same order (with some order and word variations only within each item). There are some narrative differences (which are expected due to the contexts being different and as a result of common kinds of authorial embellishment), and there is a twentieth correspondence out of order (identifying Jesus as “the Christ”). But otherwise, the coincidences here are very improbable on any other hypothesis than dependence.

Goldberg also shows that the Testimonium contains vocabulary and phrasing that is particularly Christian (indeed, Lukan) and un-Josephan. He concludes that this means either a Christian wrote it or Josephus slavishly copied a Christian source, and contrary to what Goldberg concludes, the latter is wholly implausible (Josephus would treat such a source more critically, creatively, and informedly).

That, combined with the arguments I assemble in my article for JECS, spells the final death knell for any hope of restoring any part of the Testimonium Flavianum. It is 100% Christian fabrication.

Historicity News: Thallus et Alius

I have a slew of things to report. I was thinking of doing some book reviews, for example, but I am not going to have the time. With my England trip coming up and my push to hunker down and finish On the Historicity of Jesus Christ, I will have much less time for blogging over the next two months. So I’m just going to summarize some things of late, including a new publication of mine, new books by others, and major events in the field, over the course of three posts.

First, my peer reviewed paper on Thallus has just been published (my paper on Josephus is soon to follow). The full citation is Richard Carrier, “Thallus and the Darkness at Christ’s Death,” Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 8 (2011-2012): 185-91. [It was available online, as part of Volume 8, as a downloadable PDF, but only until it appeared in print]. The conclusion is that Thallus never mentioned Jesus in any capacity, and must therefore be removed from all lists of authors attesting to Jesus. In fact, we have what is certainly a direct quotation of what Thallus said in Eusebius: that in the year 32 “the sun was eclipsed, Bithynia was struck by an earthquake, and in the city of Nicaea many buildings fell.”

If anyone wants to update Wikipedia’s article on Thallus to quote and/or cite this peer reviewed article, please feel free. It currently quotes my very old online essay on the matter; whereas the new paper is not only peer reviewed, but contains additional arguments confirming the conclusion, improves various points, and skips over unnecessary digressions.

Second, in yesterday’s post “Understanding Bayesian History” I responded to a scientist’s critique of my book Proving History, and he posted a well written reply in comments there, which I much appreciated and to which I have responded in kind, and that exchange makes a lot of things clearer, especially as to my objectives in writing PH and how to improve upon it, and regarding what his concerns actually were. I consider this a model of constructive dialogue, so it’s worth looking at.

Next I’ll report on two new books I’ve read that relate to the question of historicity.